Held in Victoria, BC on the weekend after Labour Day annually since 1993, the Great Canadian Beer Festival is the premier beer event in British Columbia each year, and one of the main events in the international beer calendar. This year, approximately 9,500 people attended the two-day event at Royal Athletic Park, which featured 56 breweries and one cidery (Merridale Ciderworks from nearby Cobble Hill, which I wrote about earlier this summer). There were 200 different beers to try, including some unique cask-conditioned brews that were available only at the festival.
Although there is a local legend that “it never rains on beer fest weekend,” that was only half true this year. Each day started off rainy, but ended up gloriously sunny. As a result, however, the playing field where the festival tents were set up was decidedly soggy, including one section that was a swampy mess. This did not seem to deter fest-goers, some of whom even sported rubber boots (or maybe those were the brewers themselves who are used to wearing gumboots on a daily basis at work).
The great majority of the breweries on hand were from British Columbia, but there were several from outside the province. Several breweries from Québec and Ontario sent beer, and there were even two breweries from Saskatchewan: Prince Albert Brewing and Paddock Wood Brewing. Some American brewers also made the trek across the border, including several from California, Oregon and Washington. Colorado’s fabled New Belgium Brewing also attended, celebrating the arrival of its products in the BC market this month.
There was even gluten-free beer available, thanks to Québec’s Brasseurs Sans Gluten, which served its Glutenberg line to thirsty fans. I finally got around to checking it out near the end of the day on Saturday, but was disappointed to find them sold out.
Highlights from B.C. included new breweries that opened earlier this year: 33 Acres Brewing, Deep Cove Brewers, and Four Winds Brewing. Vancouver nanobrewery Powell Street Craft, which just opened last fall but already won Beer of the Year for its Old Jalopy Pale Ale at the Canadian Brewing Awards earlier this year, proudly served that beer along with a couple others. Fernie Brewing made the long trek from near the Alberta border, as did Tofino Brewing from the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Food was available on-site from a variety of vendors. My brisket sandwich from Smoken Bones was perfect for sopping up all the beer I’d sampled. Entertainment was provided by a variety of local musicians, including Bučan Bučan, whose raucous and theatrical brand of Balkan/Gypsy music always puts a smile on my face and gets my toes tapping.
The Great Canadian Beer Festival, which is mostly run by volunteers, aims to promote high-quality craft beer and raises money to support a local charity, CFAX Santas Anonymous. It’s a very popular event—tickets go on sale online in July and sell out immediately so plan ahead if you want to attend next year. This year, the admission price was $33.60 for Friday (3pm-8pm) and $39.20 for Saturday (12pm–6pm). Once inside, beer tokens were $1.50.