Crowds to pour into Great Canadian Beer Fest this weekend

Culture Events

Canada’s rich brewing history will be put on display, as breweries from across the country will gather at Royal Athletic Park on Sept. 6-7

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Craft beer has become a booming industry — drinkers rave about the hops in a sleeve and nonchalantly note the flavour palette of sours, ESBs, and hefeweizens. 

With Victoria Beer Society’s Great Canadian Beer Fest next weekend, craft beer aficionados and wanna-be connoisseurs alike will soon stream through the gates of Royal Athletic Park to taste every type of craft beer. 

A Canadian-brewed celebration

The festival is a celebration of Canadian craft breweries, featuring some up-and-coming rookies that opened just months ago — including Victoria’s newest brewery, Whistle Buoy, which opened its doors in Market Square earlier in the summer. 

Other local breweries will be in attendance, including Swans, Hoyne, and Category 12.  The “BC Ale Trail-er” will also be on-site serving a selection of B.C. beers from breweries that are unable to make the trip to Victoria. 

Beerfest goers will also have the chance to drink from breweries that have travelled across the country to Victoria. 

2 Crows Brewing sells a lot of sours and hails all the way from Halifax — a whole 5 550 kilometres from Royal Athletic Park — and nearly every province and territory in Canada will be represented, truly making the festival live up to its name.

The festival runs on September 6 from 4-9 p.m. and September 7 from 12-5 p.m. Tokens, which can be exchanged for four oz taster drinks, are two dollars each. At the two-dollars-per-token rate, a “pint” is four of the four oz tasters, so eight dollars. 

Combined with the price of tickets — $40 for a single day or $70 the entire weekend — this definitely isn’t the cheapest drink in town. However, you won’t find selection like this anywhere else in the country — as 90+ breweries will be on tap just walking distance from downtown. 

The Beer Director of the Victoria Beer Society, Joe Weibe, said it was a goal of his to bring in a vast variety of breweries and work with distributors to allow smaller breweries the chance to get their product out to B.C. Royal Athletic Park will be split into different regional pavilions, so festival goers can travel throughout Canada as they drink. 

This is the first year Victoria Beer Society has hosted the festival after taking it over from the original founders. The Victoria Beer Society is a membership-based community organization that hosts a  community of over 400 beer lovers. 

This is the festival’s 27th year, making it Canada’s oldest beer festival. The first festival had just 25 breweries in attendance, whereas this years will have over triple that number.

A brief history of Canadian brewing 

The first recorded brewery in Canada, the Talon brewery, started in the late 1600s in New France. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Molson Canadian and Alexander Keith began brewing in Eastern Canada. 

The first and second world wars, coupled with the Great Depression, forced the beer industry in Canada to consolidate. Prohibition was also in practice for a number of years in the early 1900s, largely because of the wars, and varied from province to province. The big players were able to survive through it all, but the little breweries simply couldn’t keep up. In 1970, only three major beer producers were left: Carling O’Keefe, Labatt, and Molson. 

In the 1980s, new breweries, known as “craft” breweries, made their debut across the country. At Troller Bay Pub in Horseshoe Bay, B.C., John Mitchell and Frank Appleton decided the big three simply weren’t cutting it. So, they started selling their own beer in 1982, and brewed with make-shift dairy equipment — they called it the “Bay Ale.” 

Appleton would go on to work as a consultant and help start over a dozen breweries around the world — including Swans in downtown Victoria. Mitchell partnered with Paul Hadfield to build another local pub, Spinnakers. Both Vancouver Island Brewing (formerly Island Pacific in Saanichton) and Spinnakers started up in 1984, with Swans following shortly after in 1989. 

 In the next few years, more and more breweries would start to crop up. By 2000, there were 25 in the province. 

From pitchers to pints

In the last decade, and especially since 2010, there has been an exponential growth in B.C.’s craft beer scene. Last year, the B.C. Ale Trail site estimated over 150 breweries are pouring craft beer pints for tourists and locals alike. Beer Canada estimated that there are almost 1000 breweries across the country. In less than 40 years, craft beer has taken Canada from having three major breweries to 1000 craft breweries, each with their own unique styles, tastes, and methods.  

Weibe defined craft beer as independent beer, with high quality and taste. He said large craft breweries like Phillips are still considered craft because they aren’t owned by large conglomerates. Weibe estimates that 70 per cent of the beer industry is still taken up by the big producers, but there’s still room and profit to be made by tapping into consumer’s tastes for good quality local beer. 

“The big change is consumer understanding of beer,” Weibe explained. “It’s really shifted from a culture of just drinking lots of beer, of having pitchers and not really having any variety, to a tasting culture … having a variety and really just enjoying the taste.” 

With the growth of craft brewing, Canada has one of the best selections of different beers in the world. This weekend, the Great Canadian Beer Fest gives everyone the opportunity to turn into a craft beer connoisseur and try four oz of everything from pilsners to porters. 

Tickets for the Great Canadian Beer Fest can be bought here.