The Great Canadian Beer Festival returns to Victoria's Royal Athletic Park September 7-8, 2018. This will be the 26th annual version of #BeerFest, and I am looking forward to attending the event for my 7th straight year -- every year since I moved back to Victoria from Vancouver in 2012.
I actually attended the original go-round of GCBF back when I first lived here in the '90s, but it was a much different affair back then. After all, when it launched in 1993, there were only about a dozen craft breweries in British Columbia. The inaugural event, held indoors at the Victoria Conference Centre, featured 70 different beers from 23 breweries from Canada and the Pacific Northwest. About 2,000 people attended that year, and the festival stayed indoors for the next nine years before moving outdoors to RAP for its 10th annual edition. The outdoor venue can accommodate about 9,000 attendees over its two-day duration.
This year's event will feature more than 70 breweries, mostly from British Columbia along with a smattering from Alberta, Ontario and Québec, -- even one from the Yukon Territory: Winterlong Brewing. Most attending breweries count as "craft," with the exception of Granville Island Brewing. The full list of breweries, including the beers they are pouring, is available on the GCBF website.
Another highlight this year is the BC Ale Trail-er, which will feature several breweries from the BC Ale Trail that otherwise wouldn't have been able to participate, including: Backcountry Brewing, Field House Brewing, Kettle River Brewing, Strange Fellows Brewing, Beach Fire Brewing, Cumberland Brewing, Gibsons Tapworks, Twin City Brewing, Whistler Brewing and Yellow Dog Brewing. Some of these don't sell beer outside of their own breweries so don't miss out!
Some breweries put on special casks each day, and these often disappear quickly, so if casks get you excited, check the beer list and make a plan to visit those booths first. Every year as I walk around chatting with people, I hear the same refrain: "Have you tried such-and-such's cask yet? You better -- it's almost out!"
The truth of the situation is that you'll never taste all the beers there -- not even close! But if it is important to you to taste all the coolest ones then be sure to "plan your route" ahead of time. Just remember to leave some liver capacity for the surprises -- the ones that you'll hear everyone talking about an hour or two in.
I look forward to checking out the breweries that I haven't had the chance to visit yet, including many that have opened up North or out in the Kootenays over the past few years. I can't wait to try beer from Crossroads Brewing (Prince George), Smithers Brewing, and Winterlong Brewing. Other new festival first-timers this year from BC include: Britannia Brewing (Richmond), East Van Brewing (Vancouver), Iron Road Brewing (Kamloops), Mariner Brewing (Port Coquitlam), Small Block Brewing (Duncan), and Sooke Brewing.
I always enjoy catching up with the folks from Wheelhouse Brewing who travel down all the way from Prince Rupert each year. They usually brew a special batch of Scurvy Dog Spruce Ale just in time for GCBF, and I look forward to tasting that uniquely fruity, citrusy beer along with their other offerings since I don't otherwise get a chance to taste their beer.
Friday's session runs from 4:00pm-9:00pm while the Saturday affair is noon-5:00pm. It's a separate ticket for each day if you want to attend both. And be warned -- admission does not include any beer tokens so you will have to line up to buy some as soon as you get in. There are plenty of food options at the event courtesy of an array of food trucks.
Many of those in attendance choose to dress up in some fashion -- some just by wearing their favourite brewery t-shirt while others go to more extreme lengths and fashion costumes. There are usually teams of friends parading around in the same outfits, while others decide to go it along and do their own thing. It makes for an entertaining time, even more so when you add in the various buskers and performers, including my favourite local gypsy marching band, Bucan Bucan.
Recommendation: wear sunscreen and drink lots of water in between beer samples or you might not get full value out of the five-hour session. There will even be some gluten-free options, although I'm not sure why someone who can't handle gluten would bother attending a beer festival -- in any case, gluten-intolerant folks who do attend can avail themselves of cider from Merridale or Tod Creek as well as GD beer from Glutenberg.