Re-envisioned beer fest boasts cool lineup of brews 0
One of the main difficulties that occurs in talking about the Canadian beer scene is that the country is so large that different areas develop independently of each other. British Columbia has a large number of craft breweries making high-quality products, but you’d remain blissfully unaware of the fact it if you lived anywhere east of Saskatchewan.
Consider the Great Canadian Beer Festival, our oldest beer festival, which takes place annually in Victoria Sept. 7 and 8. The name suggests that it is representative of the entirety of Canada’s output of beer. Historically, it has been mostly representative of the Pacific Northwest including Washington and Oregon. It’s not remotely surprising that breweries in B.C. should have more in common with their Cascadian neighbours than they would with the rest of Canada. For one thing, the distance between them is not insurmountable. For another, they’re all used to the same amount of rain.
This year’s edition, the 20th anniversary, is more popular than ever. The 8,000 tickets for the event sold out on the 23rd of July, approximately 48 hours after sales opened. Such is the reputation of the festival – it has been made the kind of event that you have to plan ahead for. The 57 participating breweries will be serving 176 different varieties of beer and four varieties of cider. The real difference this year is that only two of those breweries are from the United States.
The change in direction has to do with the manner in which the festival had been importing beer from the United States. For a long time, an arrangement between the U.S. Consulate and the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade had ensured that beer for the festival would be treated as a very large (and slightly boozy) diplomatic pouch. The caveat was that the proceeds had to be donated to a charity. Last year, the festival’s liquor privileges were pulled the day before the event and reinstated three hours before the doors opened.
Rather than deal with the possibility of it happening again, the founders of the festival, Gerry Hieter and John Rowling, journeyed east to visit the Mondial De La Biere in Montreal and Ontario Craft Beer Week in search of breweries that might be interested in showcasing their wares in Victoria. According to Hieter, interest was so vast that they had to start turning applicants away.
This move has resulted in an impressive lineup of brews for attendees. While the overwhelming majority of breweries are from B.C., there is representation from the Yukon, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Quebec is represented by five breweries (Le Trou du Diable from Shawinigan has even managed the logistical difficulty of sending a cask ale). Ontario has managed to contribute nine breweries to the festival, rather than the two which have represented the province for the last four years.
This kind of proximity, with brewery representatives interacting with each other, is the kind of thing that helps foster a sense of national camaraderie between breweries. It has already resulted in a collaborative brew between Ontario’s Great Lakes Brewery and B.C.’s Phillips Brewing Company. Who knows? With enough of this kind of communication and collaborative effort, we may eventually end up with a national craft beer association.
If nothing else, the change means that the Great Canadian Beer Festival is closer to living up to its name than ever before by representing to beer drinkers a wide swath of what Canada has to offer.
Jordan St.John writes about beer at saintjohnswort.ca. He encourages festival goers to wear sunscreen.