The Great Canadian Beer Festival
The Great Canadian Beer Festival is a whale in the water that, should Fate grant you a glimpse, shows how beauty and grandeur can coalesce. Better still to be drawn into its orbit, slowly spinning round the majestic beast as it offers up each bump and barnacle for your perusal.
Taking place in Victoria (British Columbia’s capital, on the southern end of Vancouver Island for the geographically disadvantaged) I’ve wanted to watch and be beguiled by that whale for a while now. I used to live on the island, moving away in ’92 (to chase another white whale: Whistler). I’m not saying they did it on purpose, but the founders of this marvelous festival set the damned thing in motion shortly after my exodus and I’ve been trying to get back ever since!
Smash-cut to today and I’m on my way, albeit by a more circuitous route than I would like: I left MBW (she has to work Fridays) and daughter (she has to learn on Fridays) in Squamish while my son and I took the ferry to Nanaimo, spending the night with my In-laws in Nanoose Bay. Friday morning I had to say good-bye to my little guy and get on a bus bound for Victoria.
In my early Whistler days I’d take the bus to Vic’ fairly regularly, visiting friends and family and such, and my strategy for landing a seat to myself was always the same: beeline for the back seat of the bus. The reason for this strategy’s high degree of success depended on the following:
- There’s a stigma associated with the back of the bus that subconsciously precludes some people from wanting anything to do with it. That’s fine by me.
- Faced with the task of finding a seat, people want to resolve the situation promptly. If open seats are available, obviously they gravitate. But if all the seats are taken, people want to pick a spot quickly, lest they find themselves literally at the end of the line.
- The toilet is at the back.
That last point is the one I had to wrestle with when creating my Bus Seat Strategy, decades ago. Yes, you’re almost guaranteed a seat to yourself but also yes, you get to watch people in varying degrees of distress make their way to the toilet bowl in transit. For me, the former outweighed the latter and I always managed to block out the mundane depravity behind the partition to my immediate right. This tactic served me faithfully for years, but I hadn’t field-tested it in quite sometime and I think my ability to compartmentalize has weakened. Suffice to say that, moving forward, should I feel the urge or necessity to take a bus, I’ll have to modify my BSS.
I’ll get to the beer and Victoria’s marquee festival almost immediately but first I feel the need to lose many of you to the curious grossness that follows. I gave the nice bus driver man his money, made my way to the back and saw in my periphery a red plastic bucket. Not totally out of place, I supposed. Once the rest of the passengers had settled and the bus pulled out and I had successfully secured a seat to myself, I gave the red bucket a little more of my attention. To my infinite sadness.
It was a slop bucket. Whether for cleaning the floor or the commode or anything in between, I knew not. But I have an active imagination as well as eyes that can see. Once they locked in to this battered bucket and the myriad putrefactions it might previously/currently contain, I was ruined. And the two and a half hour trip had only just begun.
Arriving in Victoria I was picked up by my photographer, plucked from the bus of horrors and thrust into a land of wonder: Royal Athletic Park and the Great Canadian Beer Festival. It was still an hour until the ringing of the bell and the official opening but the “media” had been ushered in early to get a bit of a rundown of the GCBF’s history, snap some pics and sample beer from a few choice breweries. I experienced something similar to this at the VCBF and while my creative output and overall presence on the scene has ballooned since then, the fear of being found out for a phony still remains. This time, however, I was a member of the media and I had a prop to prove it!
A week previous I’d got it into my head that maybe this website could do with an audio injection. Whether it be for interviewing brewers, simple note-taking, or expanding the SeatoSkyBeerGuy empire into the podcasting realm, I thought a digital recorder would be rad, so I bought one on amazon and it arrived a day before departure. I shoved some batteries in the damned thing the morning of. And when Monica Frost (the GCBF Queen of Communications and all around Awesome Person) pointed me in the direction of the media tent, the recorder in my sweaty hand gave me the facade of authenticity I needed to carry on. Fake it ’till you make it, baby!
It wasn’t until John Rowling, one of the Great Canadian Beer Festival’s founders, was about halfway thru his talk that I realized: the flashing red light on my recorder meant only that it was ready to record, not that it was actually recording. Here at S2SBG we’re all about professionalism and dynamic recovery and rolling with the punches and pressing the fucking record button twice! C’est la vie. The words emanating from John’s mouth mattered less than the manner in which they were delivered. The warm, heartfelt message was loud and clear to all in attendance: he was proud of the GCBF’s beginnings and indeed, what it had become. And so he should be.
Next we listened to Paul Hadfield from Spinnakers’ Brewpub, a longtime member of the festival and an integral part of its 25 year history. One of the many topics Paul spoke on was the fact that Mitchell’s ESB, one of Spinnakers first and certainly iconic beers, was originally known as Saanichton ESB. As a punk kid who grew up on the Saanich Peninsula in the little town of Saanichton, my cold, black heart Grinched-out on me and there was a palpable lump in my throat. Said lump was quickly washed down by four ounces of crafty goodness and I was good to go.
On the opposite end of the seniority scale we hit the Riot Brewing booth, who’ve been open less than a year but are kicking ass out of Chemainus.
Here’s the thing. As you may have divined from some of my previous posts, I’m a skater. I started in the 80’s, went into skateboard hibernation in the mid 90’s to early 2000’s for reasons that are unimportant, but took it up again maybe 10 years ago with a passion that comes from being reunited with your lost love. The crew at Riot also come from a skateboarding background. That would normally be enough for me to sing their praises. But wait, there’s more. Somehow they conned Jimbo Phillips into doing the artwork for their cans and the overall aesthetic. Jimbo is the son of Jim Phillips, the iconic artist behind the Santa Cruz skate decks of the 70’s an 80’s (Screaming Hand? Ya, that was him!) and Jimbo himself became an icon in the same manner, doing board graphics for Santa Cruz from ’88 onward. To say I was drooling over the boards hanging behind the beers was like saying Labrador Retrievers like to fetch. Thanks, Captain No-Shit Sherlock! The answers to my obvious questions were, “No, they aren’t for sale.” and “Maybe, sometime down the road.” On top of all that radness and me fanning out, Riot’s beer was delicious too!
We were able to hit a couple more top drawer breweries before the masses made their way, and I was in the Cask Tent when the aforementioned bell was wrung. The cask tent was kind of a treat within a treat whereby some of the breweries unable to secure a booth in the festival were still able to showcase some of their wares via the amazing container that is…a cask. There were six or seven gooders in there and I’d just finished a Hop Chowda from Cannery Brewing before the tent was overrun by streetwise, thirsty festival goers. Now it was officially on!
What follows is a smallish pictorial representation of some of the magic on display:
Bob and Doug McKenzie holding it down for Phillips Brewing, out of Victoria.
Out of Vancouver, 33 Acres of Awesome.
Some of the SOBs out of Sooke Oceanside Brewey
Ya that’s right. Bert & Ernie playin’ horns. You got a problem with that?
Wheelhouse Brewing, out of Prince Rupert. My photographer, pictured here, has had occasion to frequent their establishment more than a few times, and had nothing but nice things to say.
Trading yuks from the crew at Trading Post Brewing out of Langley.
You know who rocks a vest and has infinite crystal ball control? This guy. I watched in wonder for an embarrassingly long time.
Garret, the brewer from Sooke Oceanside and Morgan from Riot hugging it out.
This salty Scot from Twa Dogs, the brewing arm of the Victoria Caledonian, gave me an answer to the oft asked question, “what’s under your kilt” that I shan’t repeat because…well…I love my Mother.
As the sun set over the horizon of tents, I reflected on the last two days and what they meant to me. The Great Canadian Beer Festival is about beer, to be sure, but it’s more than that. It’s about the confluence of friends, both old and new, laughing and having fun and getting real. And it was thru that lens I was able to explore, tip to tale, the wonderful whale that is the GCBF.