Thursday, June 27, 2019

Great Canadian Beer Festival gets hazy as it enters its second quarter-century

August 29, 2018 by Greg Pratt, managing editor

If there’s one thing the Great Canadian Beer Festival (GCBF)—a local institution now in its 26th year—has no shortage of, it’s beer (that was easy). But more is more, so those behind the GCBF have actually added more breweries this year, in the form of the BC Ale Trail-er and the Alberta Brewers Tent, which will feature a small number of Alberta breweries showcasing their beer and doing a collaborative cask.

Event co-organizer Gerry Hieter says that the BC Ale Trail-er is a great way to include more breweries that didn’t make the cut to be part of the fest.

“Because the last couple years in a row we’ve had so many more breweries than we’ve had space for those breweries, we’ve had to try to determine ways to decide who’s going to come and who’s not,” he says. “Previously, we were doing a first-come-first-serve thing with the breweries, and that got to be a bit crazy. This year we decided to do a lottery. We put everybody’s names in a bowl, and drew them out, and ended up with our normal 64 breweries and two cideries. There were somewhere in the neighbourhood of about 20 breweries that didn’t make it in.”

Attendees at a previous year’s Great Canadian Beer Festival sample craft beer from Victoria and beyond (photo by Matt Schmitz).

Of those 20 breweries, 10 are represented in the BC Ale Trail-er, literally a trailer where provincial breweries will each bring one beer to serve fest attendees.

“We were contacted after the draw by the BC Craft Brewers Guild, who are involved in the [online craft-beer guide] BC Ale Trail. They asked us if we would partner with them to bring in 10 of the breweries that didn’t make it into the [fest] and feature those breweries in one area we call the BC Ale Trail-er. What we’ve done is we’re bringing in 10 breweries over and above our usual lineup of breweries, and they’re all going to bring one beer and they’re going to pour it from a special refrigerated trailer over on the side of the festival, which brings our numbers up considerably: we’ll actually have about 76 breweries in total this year.”

And of those breweries, it’s a safe bet that a decent number of them are going to have hazy IPAs, the latest trend in craft-beer circles. Cloudy and thick, the popular drink takes the alcohol level of an IPA and removes the bitterness.

“Trends are changing rapidly in the beer industry right now,” says Hieter. “It’s almost a bit stupid, really. But last year, we had a lot of sours—we still do have quite a few sours—but what is the big phenomenon right now are what we call hazy IPAs or northeast IPAs. There’s a lot of fruit character to them. They’ve become so popular that within a year and a half, two years now, they’ve basically eclipsed regular IPAs in popularity. We have a lot of those coming this year.”

But don’t worry if your tastes run a bit darker—if your palate needs malts, not hops. Hieter says that some world-class dark beer will be at the fest, too.

“There’s a dark mild from Riot [Brewing, from Chemainus] coming that won the World Beer Cup gold medal,” he says. “It’s considered to be the best mild in the world.”

With 25 years behind it, the fest has seen craft beer’s rise to popularity and acceptance—although, surprisingly, things are just getting tougher for the fest, Hieter admits.

“It’s not the same market it used to be,” he says. “At one time, we were the only beer festival in Canada, not to mention BC. Now there’s probably 50 in BC alone. There’s breweries on every corner now, in every town in BC. There’s events happening everywhere. On any given weekend, somewhere in BC there’s an event of some nature. For us the challenges are primarily Ribfest and Rifflandia. All of a sudden we’ve gone from having no competition locally for that week or two weeks to now having nothing but competition. We’re seeing it become more and more difficult every year, so we’re just doing our best to have a good dozen new breweries and lots of well-picked, well-chosen beers and beer styles to keep people interested.”

Great Canadian Beer Fest
4 pm to 9 pm Friday, September 7
12 pm to 5 pm Saturday, September 8
$40 per day, Royal Athletic Park
gcbf.com

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