Few things play a bigger role in the ritualistic transition between the end of summer and the beginning of fall than my yearly jaunt across the Strait for the Great Canadian Beer Festival. Now in its 25th year, the two-day event held September 8th and 9th at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria was originally conceived by a small, dedicated group of craft beer lovers intent on spreading the gospel of handcrafted ales and introducing the good people of BC to a world beyond fizzy, industrial lagers. With the proliferation of craft breweries (and craft beer taps) from Prince Rupert to Valemount, the necessity of that noble mission may have diminished, but the celebration of great beer and solid camaraderie on offer at GCBF definitely hasn’t relented.
While GCBF may be better known for the costumes, pageantry and assorted hi-jinks that have made the Saturday afternoon iteration of the festival so legendary, Friday has always been my favourite day to attend. Not only is the opening night far more chill, but with shorter lineups and ample space to meander about the grounds, it also provides folks in the industry with a great opportunity to catch up with peeps from across the province that we rarely get to see [due, in a large part, to the festival’s storied vintage, it’s often functioned – alongside the more recent BC Beer Awards – as a de-facto industry reunion].
With a few hundred beers on offer, it would be hard to pick a favourite, but let’s just say that Brasserie Dieu De Ciel’s legendary Péché Mortel imperial stout, Brassneck’s Red Currant Changeling kettle sour, Four Winds’ Quadrennial barrel-aged black currant sour, and Brasserie Dunham’s solid Saison Pinnacle were probably my most steadfast companions of the night. And as always seems to be the case, the weather on Friday night was perfect, making for a picturesque sunset before the long march to the famed and much-anticipated industry after-party, which this year returned to Driftwood’s digs on Hillside Ave. Held in conjunction with Hoyne Brewing, top marks were earned by our gracious hosts, with a full barbecue, a bevy of delicious beer, and a top-drawer bluegrass outfit to serenade us as the night progressed.
Personal highlights included a late night meander around Driftwood’s brew house, observing some pretty exceptional feats of athleticism on the dance floor, and watching a venerable industry vet (who in another industry might have been at home carefully checking his ledgers and counting his coins like a real-life Scrooge McDuck – instead of hanging with his staff and ‘competitors’) wearing a boyish grin and playfully chucking bits of a bun at one of his unsuspecting sales staff as they desperately tried to engage in conversation and make some sense of it all.
As I wrote in last year’s feature on East Van’s intrepid Callister Brewing Co., BC’s craft beer industry is a pretty amazing collective, and is driven by a shared desire to create the kind of industry and the kind of community that people want to be a part of. When a whole mess of awesome, like-minded people gather in a spirit of celebration and togetherness like they do at GCBF, it’s always bound to be a pretty stellar time.
Hat tip to Matty Schmitz of City Craft Beers for the awesome event photos above and below: