The Great Canadian Beer Festival 2010

Friday morning saw me crossing the Salish Sea to attend the Great Canadian Beer Festival in Victoria BC.  The somewhat tedious trip on the ferry gave me plenty of time to review the impressive line-up of brewers, pick my must-haves and plot my route.  I decided that I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, fruit beers and lambics, and try some brews that would challenge my palette and broaden my horizons.

First stop was at Driftwood Brewery to try the ‘Friday Only’ ‘once in a lifetime’ Old Cellar Dweller 2009.  This 12% barley wine was casked in November especially for the festival and it did not disappoint –even after dinging me for two tokens, ouch!  This golden-amber slightly cloudy beer was strong and hoppy with little to no head and a strong liquor taste.  In retrospect a good pour to end, not start, the day with as the successors seemed not to deliver quite the same kick.  Undeterred I headed to Merridale Ciderworks from Cobble Hill BC.  I had never tried a hard cider – not being much of a cooler gal– I opted for Scrumpy their ‘famous rough farmhouse cider with a rich tannic body’.  This drink is tart, sharp and flat, which I apparently quite like in a cider.  The taste is something like a crab apple wine, challenging but satisfying to sip.  Interesting start to my day…note to future self do not begin with a 12% beer…and the fest was a nice amount of busy with just the right mix of costumed characters.

Taking a sharp left, figuratively and perhaps literally, I journeyed back to beer land with the Swans ‘Brewcifer IPA’ and ‘Coconut Porter’.  The Brewcifer is a piquant ale brewed with jalapeno, lime and black pepper, which despite initial concerns for the welfare of my taste buds surprised the heck out of me –in a good way.  The beer had an amazing jalapeno nose and it was easy to drink peppery with subtle amounts of lime and a lingering heat that emerged long after you swallow.  It was Mexican beer all heat and citrus and yummy.  Before I continue I should provide a caveat to my next review, I do not like coconut, the very thought of a Pina Colada or Malibu make me a little nauseous, but I was lovin’ Swans coconut porter.  This porter looked dark almost like a stout but it goes down like a lager; it had a crisp freshness and the coconut was a really authentic taste, not at all like the sickly sweet aforementioned coconut concoctions.  The cold is becoming somewhat noticeable and the need for sustenance weighs heavily on my brain; off to the samosas.

Continuing on with my tour I headed to Steamworks where they threw down the gauntlet with their Great Pumpkin Ale (sorry Howe Sound Brewing) an almost unanimous favourite amongst our entourage.  There are many pumpkin ales out there and when one takes a chance and cracks a bottle they immediately conjure up the sights, tastes and smells of their favourite pumpkin pie before even taking that first sip.  I do not know if the cold biting weather played a role but this beer met and exceeded all my expectations.  Dark amber/orange in my sipper glass this brew had an incredible spicy nose and just the right amount of effervescence.  It was slightly sweet with a strong ginger flavour; it was so good that we circled back at the end of our day to finish off with another taster.  The proportional relationship between a good beer and a good mood is critical in situations where respite is port-a-potties that are rapidly deteriorating in quality and quantity -even the men’s communal is filling at an alarming rate!

It is always hard to follow an amazing taste experience so I may be a little ‘bitchy’ in my review of Russell Brewing Lemon Ale, which was a tepid, light ale strong on lemon taste with nutty overtones.  This beer had no carbonation and may have been much better on a sweltering day but today it just didn’t it.  Unfortunately I followed one disappointment with another when I sampled Three Skulls Ales Blood Orange Wit.  Another tepid, light beer that was seriously lacking in the tastes that make a wit so enjoyable and sadly I could not discern any blood orange flavour.  Down but not out I broke my own rules and headed to R&B Brewing to drown my sorrows in the limited edition Brent’s Black Raspberry Lambic.  If there are foodie equivalents in the beer world (beeries?) then that’s me with regards to lambic beers; in other words I have a very particular taste that I enjoy cultivated through extensive research (tasting).  This lambic was good not great, lacking somewhat in the liveliness of a traditional bacteria filled brew but with a beautiful berry colour and good balance between the sweet and the tart.  Okay so three mediocre samples equates to a heightened perception of mud, cold and drunken university boys with an unfortunate spell of what they colloquially labelled the ‘beer farts’…sigh.

I began to wind down the day when as I sauntered over to Bravo Beers to try Sara Silenrieux’s brother Jospeh Silenrieux.  This offering was really great, bubbly and crisp, the perfect amount of head, and subtle fruit overtones that did not detract from the Belgian wheat lager at its heart.  This may have been the perfect festival opener just lightly awakening the palette and cleansing it for the heavy hitting flavours yet to come.  Another nice middle of the roader was Barley Mill Brewpub’s Red Clover Honey Ale a mildly hopped beer that was tempered with the sweetness of the honey and fruit infusions.  A dry ale that was clean drinking and would be fantastic on a warm summer evening.  Cheered immensely by an infusion of bubbles and despite being the subject of an impromptu beer shower I headed back to the token booth for one round.  Last token firmly in hand I decided to try one of my perennial favourites Upright Brewing. Like an old friend that is reliable, familiar and consistent I have yet to be let down by you guys plus you’re from Portland…truly you rock.  For this my penultimate sample I tried Six a dark rye beer, which was tart and sweet at the same time.  Caramel came through as did cherry; flavours that supported the strength of the rye base.  A gorgeous mahogany colour, strong and warming what can I say but loved it.

*Sincere regrets to Lighthouse Brewing’s Espresso Vodka Infused Imperial Stout and Vancouver Island Brewery’s Black Rock Chipotle Rauchbier, I wanted to drink you, I really did but alas you went and got yourselves sold-out…sigh.

Out of a possible five I would give this event a 5.0+ can’t wait til next year

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