Great Canadian Beer Festival

What could be nicer on a blisteringly hot Indian Summer day in the Pacific Northwest than a chance to try any of 192 beers brewed in the Great White North? This was my first GCBF and was not quite sure what to expect.

Let me put the lowlights on the table first. The expectations set by the title GREAT CANADIAN BEER FESTIVAL would be selections of craft beers (or even commercial beers) from major population centers in each Canadian province. If this had been billed as THE GREAT BRITISH COLUMBIA beer festival, it would have been truer to the experience, and just as appealing. There. Now the good stuff.

It began with a 5:00 AM wake up alarm to be at the Victoria Clipper dock in Seattle by 6:00 AM.  I was not sure if my clock even had a 5AM setting.

The Clipper – that deserves a blog all on its own – was a marvelously enjoyable experience. Effortless check in. Comfy seats. Glass smooth waters all the way up to the Straits of Juan De Fuca. Saw a few seals, but no orca pods. We did see the smoke from the wildfires on the Olympic penninsula. So sad.

Well, we left the boat and did some minor sightseeing on the way to Swans (aka Buckerfield Brewery) Restaurant and Hotel. I am giving them some free publicity (http://www.swanshotel.com/) due to some extraordinary customer service on top of some delicious food and brews; notably the Two Rivers Burger (I would eat one of those for lunch every day), and a nice variety in their sampler. I tried their:

  • Old Towne Bavarian Lager
  • Pandora Pale Ale
  • Buckerfield’s Bitter (ESB)
  • Appleton Brown Ale
  • Riley’s Scotch Ale
  • Oatmeal Stout

All were very well constructed with the Brown being surprisingly delicious. Details on the ABV, etc. are here (http://www.swanshotel.com/brewery/our_brews.php ).

So now it is about 12:30 PM and the festival starts at 3:00 PM. Off we go to a nearby watering hole named Canoe, which as I remembered from a stopover on the return voyage of a Glacier Bay Alaskan cruise a couple years ago, also had a nice brown ale – Beaver Brown Ale.

Canoe was suffering a beer shortage on some of their more interesting offerings, as kegs were being set aside for the GCBF. They had a few for sampling. Mostly highly hopped styes. We did a bit more walking around the wharf and up the hill and found ourselves at Royal Athletic Park, site of the GCBF.

We were about 10th in line, which quickly grew to 20, and 30 and then around the corner. Approximately 4,000 people were expected to attend. The gentleman in front of me, a native of Victoria, was on his sixth GCBF. He said it has gotten larger every year with more interesting beers. He was excited about how many pumpkin ales were listed,  and the large influx of US brewers  attending. The gentleman behind me hailed from Bremerton. We had a nice chat about the first annual Bremerton Beer Festival held last month and shared hopes for the growth of that festival. He was eagerly anticipating the several fruit infused beers. This festival sells out very quickly every year. I was fortunate to get my order in on the first day the tickets went on sale.

At 3:00, the fences parted and we all went through a ticket, bag and ID check. They gave me a “commerative” plastic cup and headed to the token purchase booth. I opted for the 16 tokens for $20. I will attach a file to the blog that shows the 58 brewers and the 192 beers they brought and highlight the ones that caught my attention. I especially like Dead Frog Brewery’s (Aldergrove, BC) selections of:

Mandarin Amber Ale – A succulent, robust, innovative amber ale so refreshing it’s like running naked through the snow!
Toasted Coconut Wit- Traditionally unfiltered, fresh, lightly spice wheat ale infused with coconuts toasted to perfection in the oven of the Island Goddess!
Nut Brown Ale – Full-bodied, refreshing premium dark ale with a wealth of taste sensations roused by roasted malts, hints of chocolate and espresso.
Pepper Lime Lager – Pepper and lime and Dead Frog go together like hot days and wet beaches.

All the festival beers were good, some very good, especially in the 90+ degree breezeless heat. There was ample covered seating. Very good thinking on someone’s part. This provided lots of opportunity for conversation with fellow revelers. Very friendly folk.

The first six tastes went down pretty fast, and then I launched into camera mode (still in editing – come back). If you are into people watching at festivals, there was no shortage of delightful sights.

The day wore on and we wore out. The sun was hot we were beginning to melt. The lines were getting longer too so we decided it was time to head back down to the Clipper dock for the 7:00 sailing back home. Once again, the boat ride was smooth and fast and I got to my house about 10:40 PM. Long day, but well worth it.

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Okay – so here is my beef about this festival. The GABF brings brewers from 49 of the 50 states (none from West Virginia this year). There is a large festival in Toronto in August (which I will be going to next year) that has more brewers, more beers and a wider representation from across Canada.

I get it, though. From the brewer’s perspective participating in the festival is a great way show people your craftsmanship, but more to establish brand recognition. Brewers who do not sell their beer in western Canada were noticeably absent.

Another interesting resource I found was the Canadian Brewing Awards, an annual competition. Most of the awards went to British Columbia and Ontario brewers.

For more information about the awards competition, visit http://www.canadianbrewingawards.com . The 2011 winners will be announced soon.

Faces at the Festival

Photos and content by Bob Shoemaker
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