Broadening Beer Horizons at the Great Canadian Beer Festival

image: A pint of Black Butte Porter from Deschutes Brewery. credit: Melanie Tromp Hoover

Every year after the Great Canadian Beer Festival I end up pondering the same question: is the best part of Beerfest the brews themselves or the outfits of their sippers?

I also always wonder how I go through my little blue tokens so quickly.

This year’s sun-soaked event had much variety to offer in both taste and fashion as thousands of beer’s biggest fans tippled ales by the two-ounce sample from more than 50 North American breweries and cideries. All of Victoria’s usual suspects were featured and enjoying long line-ups among the 12 booths housing Vancouver Island-based companies, including Driftwood Brewery who proudly brought their Fat Tug IPAnewly-minted as Beer of the Year at the 2011 Canadian Brewing Awards—out on tap for a local audience.

Due to my father’s life as a creature of unrelenting habit, I grew up thinking Labatt Genuine Draft was the only beer in all the world until I was a teenager and promptly discovered Lucky. Perhaps owing to this personal history in bad taste, the festival’s itinerary is always a bit intimidating in terms of breadth and detail. For one, there were a lot of IPA’s on the menu this year—not traditionally a favourite of mine, yet the Organic Hopworks IPA (Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland, OR) had just the right mix of citrus and pine-noted hops to derail my anti-IPA mantra for good.

And this is exactly what the festival is all about for laypeople like myself: broadening beer horizons, sampling brands not regularly found on local shelves and, most importantly, letting the tastebuds wander. Give me your cookie dough ale, your exotic fruit porter and your licorice pilsner—I’ll seek out the strangest, most-likely-to-make-my-eyes-water samples first only to (usually) be pleasantly surprised by the complex mix of notes and flavours.

Unfortunately, my luck ran out with the Chipotle Ale from Rogue Brewery (Newport, OR) this year. It fell flat, or, as fellow beer-goer Françoise Robinson described: “It kind of tastes like chipotle peppers were kept in a glass, then the glass wasn’t washed very well but someone still used it for beer”.

That said, all was not lost in the world of quirky taste: in the mounting heat and sweat of the day, my palate was eventually won over by Yoda’s Green Tea Golden Ale (Port Townsend Brewing in Port Townsend, WA) which tasted exactly like a perfectly blended glass of iced tea: strong, sweet and re-energizing. Breaking it down by beer type, my other picks are as follows:

Blonde Ale: Strawberry Blonde Ale (Tin Whistle Brewing in Penticton, BC)

Brown Ale: Naramata Nut Brown Ale (Cannery Brewing in Penticton, BC)

Fruit: Raspberry Ale (Spinnaker’s Brewpub in Victoria, BC) tied with Blood Orange Wit (Three Skulls Ales in Seattle, WA)

IPA: West Coast IPA (Green Flash Brewing Company in San Diego, CA), though Driftwood’s Fat Tug was a close second)

Lager: Pepper Lime (Dead Frog Brewery in Aldergrove, BC)

Stout: Back Hand of God (Crannóg Ales in Sorrento, BC)

Porter: Black Butte Porter (Deschutes Brewery in Bed, OR)

 – Melanie Tromp Hoover

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