Great Beer, and a Star Sighting to Boot

Phew! After two columns dedicated to near beer, I’m so glad I can trade in my Holsten 0.0% for a beverage that doesn’t make me feel bloated yet empty at the same time.

It’s time to start writing about real beer again. Yay! My autumn was enlightened by a beer journey to British Columbia (yes, we plan beer holidays in much the same way that others plan golfing vacations or others plan cosmetic surgery holidays). We left behind the chill of Whitehorse in September to romp under the sun on the grassy field of Royal Athletic Park in Victoria and drink beer with a few thousand other thirsty humans at the 20th Anniversary Great Canadian Beer Fest (GCBF). The five-hour escapade was well worth the $36 entry fee (plus $1.25 per sample).

The GCBF beckons one into a beer wonderland rivalling The Simpsons’ fictional beer amusement park, Duff Gardens (minus the Seven Duffs: Sleazy, Queasy, Surly, Edgy, Tipsy, Dizzy, and Remorseful.)

It is a big festival—57 vendors slinging all manner of ales and lagers. Apparently, every liveable town in British Columbia now has a microbrewery—37 of them were pouring at the beerfest.

The event, held the first weekend after Labour Day, has been going strong since 1993. It has become so popular it now spans two days and sells over 8,000 tickets.

The GCBF attracts the usual Oktoberfest frauleins and hopheads (hop-lovers wearing hop head wreaths), as well as the occasional Mario Brothers character, King Tut, and roving klezmar band. I actually felt a little under-celebratory in my shorts and beer t-shirt. But trust me, I was celebrating on the inside.

Strategizing is necessary at this event. Even if your body keeps saying yes, there’s just no way you’re going to make it through 170 different beers in five hours. I had to come up with a solid game plan. I took the avant-garde approach, hitting the more obscure styles, and anything brewed in Quebec.

Some of the fringe offerings included a mint-cucumber IPA from R&B Brewing, out of Vancouver. Not anyone’s choice for a kegger, the mint and cucumber were refreshing, but the intensity of the bittering hops made the beer seem out of balance.

Kelowna’s Tree Brewing Co. was offering up its toasted marshmallow and caramel flavoured Vertical Winter Ale-—a malty treat for your sweet tooth. Coal Harbour Brewing (Vancouver) was pouring Smoke & Mirrors, a German rauch (smoked) beer. It’s a beer for bacon-lovers, with a good balance between malty sweetness and smoke, and no gag-factor whatsoever.

I had a delicious blanche, a Belgian-style wit, made by Charlevoix Brewery out of Quebec. It was flavoured with wheat, twang, spice, and an indefinable-but-seductive floral note from the unusual addition of chamomile.

Charlevoix is the same brewery that made history with its La Shawinigan Handshake, a beer whose name makes reference to an incident in 1996, when Prime Minister Jean Chretien put a chokehold on a protestor. It is a cross between Be American IPA (India Pale Ale) and a Belgian wit. It is a style mash-up, equal parts delicious. However, there is one person who doesn’t find it appropriate to immortalize the incident with a beer: Bill Clennett, the anti-poverty protestor who received the choking. He even filed a complaint demanding the brewery provide a french translation for the beer.

One of my favourite microbreweries at the festival was the hometown favourite Driftwood Brewing Company. It is an emerging microbrewery that makes excellent, cleanly brewed beers. Driftwood Ale is a resin-y pale ale with a crisp, hoppy flavour, and a prominent dry, bitter, finish.

The company also makes a classic American-style IPA with citrusy north-western American hops. Weighing in at 7% alcohol by volume, this unfiltered ale is an unapologetic bottle of boisterousness that reflects its name: Fat Tug. Driftwood also makes a tantalizing barley wine called Old Cellar Dweller, which you should buy if you ever see it (and invite me over to help you finish it).

Vacations are supposed to be a time where you get to do things you don’t normally get to do. For me, it means a chef does the cooking, and I don’t have to do dishes. Also, it means we get to dine in one of them fancy places where I don’t smell like the deep fryer when I leave.

My favourite restaurant we visited in Victoria was The Mint, a fusion Asian resto on the main drag. While we were enjoying our appetizers and beer, I had one of those weird moments where I saw a familiar woman walk in surrounded by three oddly dissimilar men.

They all sat at the bar. The bandmates ordered beer, while the woman (who had a lumberjack quality about her) drank water.

Funny, I would have figured k.d. lang for a beer-lover. Then again, when you’ve got a voice like hers, I guess you need to protect your assets. Which is why she is the multi-Juno award-winner and I am the beer seeker.

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