The Great Canadian Beer Festival celebrated its 25th anniversary this year by hosting 66 individual breweries (14 new), along with an additional seven breweries in The Drake Cask tent.
To mark this momentous occasion, I decided to attend both days of the festival for the first time ever, along with three tap takeovers on the Thursday night and a couple of other events throughout the weekend. Pity my liver!
Like most years, Friday was the quieter of the two days, with the crowd mostly consisting of industry folk, the press, and beer nerds. In contrast, Saturday had more of a party atmosphere, with the crowd consisting of mostly casual beer drinkers and people looking to socialize and have fun.
There are pros and cons to both days of course, but I prefer Friday, because you hardly ever have to line-up for tokens, beers, or even the bathroom, which means more time for drinking. To put it in context, I went through 45 tokens on Friday and only 25 on Saturday, because it took so much longer to line up for everything.
I definitely wouldn’t recommend both days for everyone. My girlfriend did not make it to day two, so I had to leave her at home while I groggily made my way out in the rain for day two. It was definitely a rough start for me, but after half a dozen beers, the world started to seem almost acceptable again.
The plus side of this rampant alcoholism is that it allowed me to try a lot of beers and get a fair judgement of what, in my opinion, was good and bad. So here’s my thoughts.
Best beer: Quadrennial—Four Winds
I previously tried this beer at Farmhouse Fest but still went to try it out… a couple of times! It’s a dark sour that was wood-aged for four years then conditioned on blackcurrants. It was everything I’ve ever wanted in a beer.
Best festival offerings: Moody Ales
Some breweries just put on their regular line-up for festivals, while others have one seasonal or a cask. Moody ales was not messing around. They were pouring three limited release beers and two casks, and they were all great! That how you do a festival!
Best Brewery from outside BC: Brasseries Dunham
Dunham is one of the best breweries in Canada and every beer they make is close to perfect. Not everything on offer was new or unique, but they were all world class!
Best first-time brewery: Twin Sails
There were a lot of new breweries this year and while all were decent, none were Twin Sails! They had such a great line up one, their year-round Dat Juice, their seasonal Con Leche Horchata-style milk stout, and their Dad Jokes tasting-room exclusive DIPA. These guys just put the competition to shame!
Best Cask: Sooke Oceanside Brewery
SOB was pretty smart with their casks. On friday they put on a rye ale for the snobby beer nerds, then on Saturday they put on a strawberry rhubarb ale for the masses. Despite the different ends of the beer spectrum, both beers were just wonderful and some of the best ones on offer at the show.
All in all, this was probably my favourite beer fest ever. Part of that might have been the great company I had, but even on the second day when I was flying solo, I still had a good time.
I do have a few couple of things I would like to see at future festivals though:
- More breweries from outside BC. Sure, there were three breweries from Quebec and one from Ontario this year, but let’s get a bit more of a spread in there. It is called the Great Canadian Beer Festival. I want to try beers from all over Canada!
- Start taking card payments via Square. I go to a lot of beer festivals and everyone lets you pay by card these days. I honestly never use cash, so having to line-up for an ATM is a bit of a pain.
Not really gripes, but more constructive criticism. I can’t wait to see what is in store for us next year!