Sunday, September 22, 2013

Great Canadian Beer Fest 2013

Lighthouse Switchback Randalled with hops!
Last year we went to Saturday’s session of the Great Canadian Beer Festival (GCBF) in Victoria. What we quickly determined was that one day wasn’t enough time to sample everything we were itching to try so this year, we went both Friday and Saturday (September 6 & 7). The other benefit of going over on Friday is the ability to visit breweries since most are closed on the weekends. We hit up two of my favouites, Driftwood Brewing and Lighthouse Brewery for growlers (with a fill, of course). A fresh Fat Tug IPA from Driftwood had to be our choice and at Lighthouse, we took home the Robust Porter that was a one-off brew. This is why you visit breweries as you’d miss out on unique beers that might not make it over to us in Vancouver.

GCBF has been held in beautiful Victoria, BC since 1993 and continues to grow in popularity every year and this year’s Saturday tickets sold out in minutes. Something unique to this festival is the costume component. This stems from the first year GCBF was held on Halloween weekend and even though the festival moved to September, the tradition of costumes continued. Many groups dress up in similar outfits and it’s pretty amazing to see the creativity some people have.

Costumes and creepy Ernie & Bert playing music

spent grain from Driftwood
Lighthouse Robust Porter & Driftwood Fat Tug IPA

The festival has over 550 volunteers, puts more than $250,000 of direct spending into the local economy and $16,000 of proceeds from last year’s festival were donated to local charities.

The festival costs $30 for Friday’s 3pm – 8pm session and $35 on Saturday 12pm – 6pm. The cost does not include any beer tokens, thus you purchase tokens on entry. It’s held at Royal Athletic Park and there is ample space on the grassy field for the booths, line-ups and the 8,000 people that converge over the two days. This year’s weather wasn’t hot and sunny thus, there were some marshy areas on the field. You’d think an athletic field would have good drainage, no? Nice work, athletic field planners. Six food vendors are on site ranging from pretzels to Caribbean food and what we tried was quite tasty.

Fifty-eight breweries were in attendance  and even though it’s the great Canadian beer fest, there was one craft cidery and seven US breweries in attendance with their local BC import agencies (Beerthirst, Copper & Theory) hosting the booths along with brewery reps (New Belgium, Ninkaisi). Here’s the breakdown of breweries by location:

British Columbia               38
Alberta                                 1
Saskatchewan                     2
Ontario                                 7
Quebec                                 2
Yukon                                    1
USA                                       7


Some of the standout beers for me were:

Driftwood – Old Barrel Dweller cask
Driftwood – Old Cellar Dweller cask
Four Winds – Saison
Lighthouse – Switchback randalled with Citra/Amarillo
Moon Under Water – Anniversary Ale cask
Paddock Wood – Black Friars Porter
Phillips – Kaleidoscope Mosaic IPA cask
Sound – Monks Indiscretion Tripel

And the cider from Merridale Ciderworks – Scrumpy

GCBF has become a tradition for many beer geeks. Coming over from Vancouver, as lots of us do, isn’t a cheap excursion once you add in a flight or ferry trip (BC Ferries has to pay for their executives’ bonuses, ya know), hotels, meals etc. However, the fun factor is always high. We run into many of our friends every year and the after parties add even more to the experience.

This year there was an after party at the Irish Times hosted by Beerthirst. They chose GCBF to launch the arrival of New Belgium Brewing to BC and threw on quite the party upstairs. On tap was Fat Tire, Pumpkick, Ranger IPA and four beers from their Lips of Faith series – Pluot, Heavenly Feijoa, Cascara and Paardebloem. Beer was flowing, appies were served and the place was packed. Thanks for the party, Beerthirst!

Other places we hit up while in Victoria were Spinnakers Pub, Garricks Head Pub and Floyd’s Diner. Spinnakers, the first brew pub in Canada, make great beers and the pub food is super. Downstairs is the restaurant (kid friendly) whereas upstairs is the pub (big kids over 19 only) with pool tables.

Garricks Head Pub is one of the best craft beer pubs in Victoria. We stopped in for dinner and a beer Saturday night before returning to Irish Times, which is directly across the street. Garricks looks like a fun place to hang out on the weekend as we’ll have to do that next time we’re back.

Floyd’s Diner is a legend in Victoria for their breakfast (read: hipster central). I agree that the food is good but the line-up to get in was ridiculous. I assume it was extra busy due to the festival but it took 55 minutes to get seated and over 30 minutes to get our food after ordering. Sorry Floyd’s, I won’t be back unless I eat before I come and have a couple hours to kill waiting for some eggs.

You know what make a good collaboration? GCBF and the Canadian Brewing Awards being held at the same time. Or perhaps, the BC Brewing Awards since most of the breweries in attendance are from BC and GCBF doesn’t move around Canada. It would create a lot of hype to have the awards handed out on Friday morning and if the brewers in attendance win, their awards could be displayed on their booth. Even cooler if they were pouring that particular beer at the festival. Free idea, beer people. 

Thanks to the organizers of GCBF as they do a great job of organizing the festival year after year. See you next year (September 5 & 6, 20104)!  



  1. Whoa, was that cider called "Scrumpy" you had an actual scrumpy, or was that just the name? You know what scrumpy is/how it's made, right?