Great Canadian Beer Festival in Victoria Features Canada’s Best

September 16th, 2010 · No Comments · Beer Travels, Events

While many craft beer drinkers were anticipating this week’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver, this past weekend found Jeanne and I heading to Victoria, British Columbia for our first-ever visit to the Great Canadian Beer Festival (GCBF). Getting to Victoria is a very easy trip from Seattle, if you don’t have a problem utilizing the Victoria Clipper. The boat takes you direct from downtown Seattle to Vancouver Island in about 3 hours, and from there you can find plenty of hotels and the beer festival site is a manageable walk, or a short cab ride, as well.

This was my first time visiting the capital city of British Columbia, and I definitely enjoyed the sights, the food, and the beers. It is a very walkable city, and our hotel was situated on the north side of downtown near a stretch of interesting restaurants and multiple bars. It wasn’t hard to eat and drink our way through the weekend.

The GCBF has been held since 1993, and in its current state takes place at the Royal Athletic Park. This outdoor stadium is used for baseball, soccer, and other sports, but it was also quite a nice place to hold a beer fest. We lucked out with perfect weather for a beer fest, with just enough sun and moderate temperatures. The venue has plenty of room, even for the crowd of thousands of thirsty beer drinkers. Bathrooms weren’t an issue, and while some beer lines looked crazy long, lines moved fast and you never had to wait too long for your next beer.

Following are some thoughts from the festival and the rest of the weekend, as well as info to keep in mind if you ever plan to go. You can see the rest of my photos on Flickr.

  • First things first, make sure you get a ticket. They are only sold online, and I believe they sold out in 8 minutes this year. There were a few people selling extras on the way into the fest, but I wouldn’t go from Seattle without a ticket.
  • Tickets were $30 for entry on Friday, and $35 for entry on Saturday. But, that doesn’t include any beer tokens. Each 4-ounce taste cost one $1.25 token, which you purchase once inside the venue. So, if you are going Saturday and purchase 16 tokens (64oz of beer) it is going to cost you a total of $55, plus any tax/service charge on the original ticket. That ain’t cheap.
  • I haven’t had the opportunity to sample very much Canadian craft beer in the past, and I really wasn’t sure what to expect. There were a few great standout beers and then quite a few mediocre brews and a couple drain-pours.
  • Steamworks Brewing, from Vancouver, BC, had two of my highlight beers from the festival. With their Great Pumpkin Ale and Grand Espresso Stout, they were offering two beers that stood out from the rest of the festival offerings. Their long line showed that other people may have thought the same thing.
  • Another favorite was Cannery Brewing, from Penticton, BC. Their Scotch Ale was perfectly made, with just enough smoke flavor. Their IPA and Blackberry Porter rounded out a very solid lineup.
  • Other standouts: Yukon Brewing Midnight Sun Espresso Stout, Les Trois Mousquetaires Kellerbier, Longwood IPA (Cask), Central City Red Racer Imperial IPA (cask) and Phillips Skookum Cascadian Dark Ale (cask).
  • There were some well-regarded US craft breweries attending as well, including Pike Brewing, Green Flash, Double Mountain, Upright, and several others. I thoroughly enjoyed a taste of the Pike Kilt Lifter on cask.
  • With a drinking age of 19, it wasn’t rare to see some people a little out of control. Although, I imagine we left before the drunks truly had a chance to shine.
  • Saddest comment overheard at the festival, “That IPA from Anacortes tastes awful.” I love that IPA.
  • We visited the famous Spinnakers on Sunday. They’ve been open for 25 years and have earned themselves a reputation for great food and beers, and I know many friends and people in the industry who can’t say enough nice things about the place. Maybe it was an off day or something, but 2 of the beers in our 4 beer sampler had quality issues (stout and ESB), one was clean and just not that great (IPA), and the other qualified as drinkable (red ale). We didn’t get to fully explore the food menu, but our appetizer of wings was outstanding. The place itself was very cool, with a full restaurant downstairs and a laid-back pub atmosphere upstairs. I’ll look forward to going back some other time and giving the beers another chance. We did also get to sample their house-made bread and cheese while having drinks with Alan Moen (my editor at the NW Brewing News) and his wife the night before, and both were beyond good.
  • We visited two other restaurants on our trip and both are highly recommended. Ferris’ Oyster Bar cured our hunger pains with fresh local oysters and Saltspring Island mussels, and a prosciutto and local peach salad. We liked it so much we almost went back a second time in our 36 hour stay. The restaurant and lounge attached to our hotel, Veneto, turned out to be a winner as well. This “urban lounge” was laid back, yet modern, and they had several local beers flowing in addition to nice wines and an extensive cocktail list. They offer tapas and small bites, and we enjoyed the two appetizers we shared. The service was ridiculously nice as well. We chatted up a bartender and server for about an hour and then came back later for dessert.
  • I grabbed a few pints of Driftwood Ale while watching the Seahawks at a bar Sunday afternoon, and I was impressed. Just a very well-made, low ABV session pale ale with a good amount of hops.

Overall, Victoria is a beautiful spot for a beer festival, and I’ll for sure think about going again next year. You should too.

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