Monday, September 17, 2012

Great Canadian Beer Festival

This year’s Great Canadian Beer Festival was their 20th anniversary! It took multiple attempts online to secure tickets to Saturday’s festivities in Victoria, BC, but it was worth the wait. The event ran September 7th and 8th at the Royal Athletic Park and hosted fifty-seven breweries and 174 beers (twenty-five of which were cask conditioned). I heard that the festival had over 8,000 people in attendance over the two days. That’s a lot of beer-loving, costume wearing people! We didn’t wear a funky outfit, I just had on my Stone Brewing “Fizzy Yellow Beer is for Wussies” and Kelly had on his Pony Bar shirt. That’s as much of a costume as we could muster but some people went all out renting and making costumes. You crazy beer people.

But our GCBF weekend didn’t start in Victoria, we warmed up at St. Augustine’s in Vancouver on the Thursday prior. First off, if you haven’t been to St. Augustine’s, you’re missing out! They have forty rotating taps and they brilliantly have the quantity remaining of each keg listed on two TV screens and it’s also LIVE on their website. That’s right beer nerds, if you see that your favourite beer is running low, quickly distract your buddies with “hey, that guy with the beard over there, isn’t that [insert brewer here]?” and quickly order another pint. You’re welcome.

Now where was I? Oh right, Half Pints. Beerthirst was re-launching the presence of an amazing craft brewery from Winnipeg, Half Pints Brewing Co. I’d already gotten to know co-owner Nicole Barry a bit through Twitter, and as you know, Twitter relationships are akin to being blood sisters. Really. I jest, but I was really looking forward to hanging out with Nicole and sharing some of her beers. She’s one awesome beer chick! Until now, I’d only had the Little Scrapper IPA, which I enjoyed thoroughly again this night, but when someone tells me there’s a Double IPA, my heart flutters. Don’t tell my husband. Their seasonal beer, Humulus Ludicrous, is their Double IPA and it didn’t disappoint! It’s a malty DIPA and as they describe it, it has “a stupid amount of Centennial and Cascade hops during the brewing process and finish with running the sweet hot wort through a hopback (stuffed with more hops) on its way to the fermenting vessel.” That’s not it though because as it ages, there are an additional three dryhop additions. I. Love. You. And by the way, stupid is as stupid does (thanks Forrest Gump) – so sign me up for stupid if it mean more hoppy goodness.
Humulus Ludicrous
Norm & Tom from Beerthirst

The third beer they debuted was the Noche de Los Alejibres, a black lager. It’s a nice, deep brown colour and had a great malty aroma. Me like! The evening was a lot of fun, and a wee bit late for a school night, so Friday was a Red Bull day. Oh the things we do for great beers.

Saturday morning, we hopped on the ferry and made our way to downtown Victoria. After checking in, we didn’t make it to the park until opening time of noon so we encountered a very long line up. Very long. Stupid long – around the block and around the next block long. But I must say, it did move along well and by 12:45 we were inside buying tokens and plotting out our beers. The place was packed and definitely had a mix of craft beer geeks and others who like beer, but perhaps don’t have an experienced palate (yet). As evidenced by the extremely long line up at Dead Frog. They certainly have a following and market the hell out of their “do it froggy style” logo, but I’ve tried Mandarin Orange and Pepper Lime Lager and wouldn’t rate either of them as more than a two. Maybe they’re going after the Bud Lite Lime drinker, who knows, but as far as craft brewers in BC goes, I’ve written them off. But, to each their own, so continue your froggy style drinking.

Ferry ride to Victoria

Ferry ride to Victoria

Dead Frog is considered a craft brewer but I was surprised that Granville Island and Okanagan Springs were in attendance as they’re owned by Molson Coors and Sleemen Breweries respectively. The festival organizers tout the festival as craft beer so they must use a different definition than I would. Maybe they don’t look at ownership and production size to determine craft breweries? Not to say there wasn’t a lot of great craft beer to choose from, it was just a surprise that these two breweries would qualify to be there. And, by the way, when you see a cask from Vern Lambourne (brew master for Granville Island), drink it. All of it. He’s an amazing brewer so it’s unfortunate that Granville Island didn’t take the opportunity to bring a cask (or three) of his magical beers.

Thanks @TCB17 for the pic :)

I wish we’d gone both Friday and Saturday, as five hours is not enough time to try a sample of all of the beers that piqued my interest. Having my husband with me, we share all of our beers so at least we get double the amount of tasters to try. Given our limited time, we still had to be somewhat selective and didn’t sample beers that we’d already had before (unless it was a cask). The standouts for us were:

Central City – Red Racer ESB (cask); you could smell the hopes a foot away. I love this beer and find it to be one of the best ESB’s brewed locally. On cask, even better!

Double Trouble Brewery – Hops and Robbers IPA; this was the first time I’ve tried this beer and I loved this fruity IPA. Lots of fruit, hops and caramel notes.

Firehall – Holy Smoke Stout; I love stouts and smoked beers so this was a hit with me. Roasted coffee, chocolate and smokiness from a malt smoked over a beach wood fire. Yum.

Great Lakes Brewing – Karma Citra IPA; a great IPA with a nice balance and clean but bitter finish.

Lighthouse Brewing – Blackberry Black Saison (cask); a great cask that was infused with Gabriola Island blackberries.

Microbrasserie Charlevoix – Vache Folle Imperial Milk Stout; had a nice balanced coffee and chocolate taste and the right amount of sweetness. Very enjoyable indeed!

Moon Under Water – Tranquility IPA; this IPA has Cascadian hops and four specialty malts. It has a great balance and the usual fruity goodness.

Noble Pig Brewery – Belgian Pepper Saison; the pepper was definitely coming through but it made the saison unique.  Their Mocha Porter was also well done.

Parallel 49 – Schadenfreud Pumpkin Oktoberfest; ah yes, the pumpkin beers are back! If you like a spicy/nutmeg version, this one’s for you. I really enjoyed the spice.

Trou du Diable – La Saison du Tracteur; a nice, dry saison. La Buteuse; a dry, hoppy triple. Both great beers and the first time I’d had anything from this brewery.

Wellington Brewery- Imperial Stout; as always, I’m happy to try any imperial stout. This one is a great example with the dark coffee/chocolate flavours along with liquorice and black current.

In typical fashion, after an afternoon (and a sunny one at that) of drinking, we were sleepy. Back we went to the room for a quick nap before dinner with friends. Friday night was the night to go out, it seemed, as everyone was looking exhausted by Saturday night. You know the movie The Hangover? Well let’s just say that on Friday night, there was a rickshaw hit and run that left quite the nasty wound that looked like a kidney was stolen (he didn’t find himself in a bathtub of ice, though), a mystery mustachio man in a cab and some double underwear sightings. So maybe not a tiger and Mike Tyson, but a GCBF Victoria version of the movie. See, we should have gone on Friday!

Tony & Charlie the Unicorn having a pint

Stone Brewing shirt - trying to educate the Dead Frog love-in

Best sign of the festival :)
Sunday morning we caught up with Nicole at Floyd’s Diner for breakfast and since we were there around 9am, we got in before the hipsters packed the place. They clearly wouldn’t be caught dead eating bacon before 11am. What a menu! There were so many yummy looking choices, it was hard to pick. Great place to get to, if you can sneak in before the hipsters.

We’ll definitely be going back to GCBF next year but this time, for the entire weekend. I’m brushing up on my tiger taming and Mike Tyson translation skills before we go, though. As for a costume, I’m going to dress up as a brewer to get the coveted bracelet to bypass the entrance line and sit in the brewer’s tent. Time to grow a beard…

1 comment:

  1. Craft is an attitude, a dedication to great beer. No reason a macro can't make craft beer. Sierra Nevada makes craft beer. If Granville can do it, I wish they would do even more! There are plenty of brewpubs that aren't about craft beer, instead knocking off poorly executed copies of light macro boring beer. It's just that micros are usually more dedicated to craft than macros. I think breweries like SN have shown that craft isn't about size.