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|The Great Canadian - A Passionate Affair|
|Written by Tony Forder|
|Tuesday, 11 October 2011 17:37|
The 19th annual Great Canadian Beer Festival presented a kaleidoscope of leprechauns, mimes, jugglers, musicians, costumed beer lovers and of course all manner of brewers and beers.
British Columbia is catching up to the coastal American states below them with breweries sprouting up faster than autumn mushrooms. It is no accident that the GCBF exists in BC's capital, the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island - with four brewpubs and five microbreweries, and more projects waiting in the wings, it is definitely a brewing hotspot.
The festival's first edition in 1993 hosted 18 breweries in an indoor location with a capacity of 1,500 people. This year's edition, held outdoors at Royal Athletic Park (under beautiful skies), featured 55 breweries, 190 different beers (30 of them cask-conditioned) and a sold-out crowd of 8,000 over two days.
The layout featured breweries in quadrants, allowing access on two sides of each corner booth -- one side for the beer and one for those which to purchase t-shirts or talk with brewers. Lines were tolerably long -- 5 mins for the most part with exceptions like newcomers Coal Harbour from Vancouver. While their 20-hecto brewhouse is not yet complete, they brewed some special casks for the fest - the word was get early to the espresso-infused Bourbon Aged Breakfast Stout and Pandora's Box Fig Saison.
Tofino Brewing Co. is another newcomer. Located about halfway up the Vancouver Island's 450 mile west coast, Tofino is a growing tourist and artistic community. The brewery managed to entice highly regarded brewer Dave Woodward, formerly of High Mountain Brewing at Whistler,to create instant classics like Hoppin' Creatin' IPA.
David Beardsell, another industry veteran, was pouring beers from his 1-year-old brewpub, Noble Pig in Kamloops. He had recreated what to his mind was an authentic (cask conditioned) India Pale Ale, with significant amount of smoked malt. Before modern kilning techniques, all beers had a smoky flavor, he insisted, because grains were dried over wood fires.
More than half the breweries represented were from BC. From across the water in the Vancouver region came Central City with the Red Racer ESB and IPA; venerable Steamworks with a cask Espresso Stout; Whistler, brewing again after a hiatus; and Dead Frog with fruity flavors like Pepper Lime Lager and a catchy slogan, "Nothing Goes Down Like a Cold Dead Frog."
Crannog Ales is one of the more colorful breweries from BC's interior. Brian and Rebecca MacIsaac use ingredients from their own organic farm; the Celtic artwork is from Brian's hand. The Back Hand of God Stout was a crowd favorite. Three other all-organic breweries were featured at the fest: Nelson, from Nelson BC, Beau's All Natural from Ontario and Hopworks Urban Brewery from Portland, OR.
Twenty-two breweries from the US were represented and while many were repped by distributors -- Brooklyn, Stone, Rogue, Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, Lost Coast -- many breweries from the Seattle area made the trip in person -- Elysian, Port Townsend, Big Time, Sound and Three Skulls. Charles and Rosanne Finkel, sporting their new Pike Place Kilt Lifter bike shirts, rode their tandem up from Seattle (with the help of the Clipper ferry). Their staff transported casks of Monk Uncle Tripel and the dark and delicious 5X Imperial Stout. Upringht Brewing and Ninkasi made the trip up from Portland, the latter opening eyes and tastebuds with Tricerahops Double IPA.
Founded by Gerry Heiter and John Rowland, the festival has evolved into a well-oiled machine. With 550 volunteers, and 50 captains Heiter says he could pretty much take the day off come festival time. Of course he doesn't. As for Rowland, he leads a pre-event media tour, rings the opening bell and plays host to family members.
The festival provides an annual reunion for brewing veterans, a welcome for new brewers and a chance for the locals to dress up and have fun tasting beer.
Ken Desmarets has been coming to the festival for 17 years representing one brewery or another. Now fronting Washington's Port Townsend Brewing Co., he said it's the camaraderie that keeps him coming back. "It's the camaraderie of the people who run the show and of the people who go. It's great to engage with everyone. It's a plain great time, it's well run and well attended."
With 19 years under our respective belts, ASN and the GCBF are twins, It's about time I made it out there.
Victoria's Brewpubs & Breweries
The grandaddy of the Victoria brewpubs is Spinnakers, opened by Paul Hadfield in 1984. This year the venerable brewpub teamed up with the Deschutes brewery of Oregon to host a five-course pre-fest beer dinner. The highlight was a keg of 20th anniversary Black Butte Porter that rep Lance was able to get across the border.
Canoe has spacious dining and decks overlooking the harbor while Buckerfields Brewing in the Swan Hotel is the most prolific with its 20-hecto system.
Newest in town is Moon Under Water, opened by Ron Bradley and his wife Bonnie. Bradley is an industry veteran who founded the Bowe Island brewery, sold it, opened a winery in the Okanagan Valley, then returned to his real passion with Victoria's newest brewpub. "We realized we preferred drinking beer," he said. Moon Under Water's signature is session ales.
Of Victoria's craft breweries, Vancouver Island Brewing is the most visible and best equipped to go toe-to-toe with the big boys. Phillips poured a 10th anniversary ale at the fest as well as their popular IPA and Amnesia Double IPA.
Driftwood probably has the largest "geek" following with an eclectic range of beers. Their cask 13% + Old Cellar Dweller Barleywine and Twenty Pounder Double IPA were not for the faint of heart. Lighthouse has a solid line of beers and poured casks of Imperial Stout and a spicy Belgian IPA. Hoyne Brewing will be joining the fray soon.