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Oakes Weekly - September 9, 2005
A Brief Introduction to the Great Canadian Beer Festival
September 9, 2005
Written by Oakes
A surprisingly well-kept secret in the beer world is that there are four “Great” beer festivals. Everybody knows the old, venerable American and British fests, but there is also a Great Canadian Beer Festival, as well as the relatively recent Great Japan Beer Festival (held every June).
The Great Canadian is in its 13th year, and not coincidentally, is where I’ll be spending my weekend. Since a lot of you probably don’t know much about it, I’ll take this time to explain it.
There are definitely some areas of similarity and difference compared with the American and British fests. Probably the most important distinction, unfortunately, is that it is not national in scope. At this point, BC, the Yukon and Alberta are well-represented, and one of Manitoba’s handful of breweries is coming. Several Washington State brewers attend every year as well, a boon to guys like me who’ve had just about everything local. Why is this? I can’t say with 100% certainty, but I do know that with nanny government’s restricting beer availability in most provinces, pulling off a truly national beer festival would be almost impossible. I think you could do it in Alberta, but no offense to presario and Poperinge I don’t think there’s enough of a beer scene there for that to make sense.
The venue for the GCBF is Victoria, BC, one of the country’s most beer-savvy cities. There’s about 300,000 people in the area, served by seven micros and brewpubs. Victoria is also home to the oldest and most vocal CAMRA chapter in the country. Not unlike the GBBF, CAMRA Victoria is the host of the Great Canadian festival.
The fest is similar to its bigger brothers in that it is an invitational event. It is dissimilar in that the big guys aren’t invited. CAMRA Victoria can be brutal about this. One of their all-time most popular booths, Unibroue, was not invited following their purchase by national macrobrewer Sleeman.
This being a CAMRA event, cask ale features prominently. While mathematically speaking, there aren’t enough firkins in the province of BC to hold all the different beers at the fest, many are done up on cask, generally one per brewer. It’s a great opportunity to get a sample of Nelson’s Paddywhack IPA for example, au naturel. Like many of the cask beers, you’ll almost never see this one in a firkin.
This year marks the first time they’ll be doing imports, as a pair of Belgian-beer importers have replaced Unibroue in the lineup. At least one of these guys has beers not available anywhere else in North America. Of course, no stores actually carry these rarities. But I’m going to talk to them because I want to get a buying group together to score a case of these rare brews for distribution.
Unlike at the American and British fests, there is no judging at the GCBF. The organizers have no interest in competition at this point, only in promoting, which is fair enough. So we’re still waiting for a national brewer’s competition in Canada. Anyone want to help with that?
Lastly, it always sells out. So if you don’t have a ticket yet, it’s too late for this year. In fact, the Saturday session was sold out a month ago. Like I said, Victoria is a pretty good beer town.
So I’m off now. I’ll have a full report in the Northwest Brewing News…I’ll see if I can get permission to publish it on Ratebeer shortly thereafter for the benefit of those who aren’t in the PNW.
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One of their all-time most popular booths, Unibroue, was not invited following their purchase by national macrobrewer Sleeman.
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