Since the 1970s, the craft beer and microbrewery movement has exploded, in the delicious sense, across the world, across Canada, and in British Columbia.
In Canada, no event exemplifies how small independent breweries contribute to our gastronomic culture than the Great Canadian Beer Festival — Canada’s oldest beer festival, held annually in Victoria in September.
Now, this event, which celebrates beer and breweries, and their enthusiasm, flavours, and varied brewing techniques, is hitting the road for the first time — going on tour, to Cranbrook!
Following the Great Canadian Beer Festival’s Victoria event, September 8 and 9, it’s packing its tents and its kegs and coming to Cranbrook for September 23, the heart of the glorious autumn and the perfect time to sample delicious craft brews.
“It’s the oldest beer festival in Canada, and definitely part of the history of craft beer,” said Rebecca Craig of Victoria Beer Society, which is bringing the festival to Cranbrook in conjunction with the City of Cranbrook, Cranbrook Tourism, and the B.C. Ale Trail.
“It feels like one of those festivals that pioneered craft beers at the very beginning. Now it’s awesome to see so many microcraft breweries — B.C. has an outrageous number of craft breweries — and the festival helped jump start that, in a way that was new and exciting, and brought forth this idea of a beer tasting festival.
“Over the length of time, in tandem with the beer festival, we’ve seen beer culture become refined, diversified, community oriented.”
The festival, now holding its 31st edition, had to shutter for the pandemic. But once back, Craig said, the idea of taking it on the road struck.
“It’s been running so well, and has such a great, infamous reputation, that we thought it would be really fun to take it on the road and try to bring the beer festival to a new community [and offer] the same experience that Victoria gets.”
And Cranbrook seemed like the perfect fit.
“Cranbrook feels like the perfect choice for us,” Craig said. “We know there are so many great craft breweries in the Kootenay region. It’s fun to be able to bring the festival to them and showcase what they’ve been doing. It’s so far for them to come to Victoria. We felt we owed it to them to bring the festival to them, so they could attend, and showcase what they’re doing.”
Kristy Jahn Smith, with Cranbrook Tourism, jumped at the idea of bringing the festival to the Kootenays.
“They were looking for a community to partner with and take it on the road,” Jahn Smith said. “I said, we’d be really excited to see them come here. They were originally thinking in a year [from now], I said why not 2023?”
Cranbrook Tourism, the Victoria Beer Society and the City have been working since last fall to get the pieces together.
“I hope it’s something that can grow. This year is just one year, but we’d like to see if it’s really well attended, we can make it work, to have it come back and become a multiyear event.”
The festival is set for September 23 in Balment Park. It is a tasting event, as opposed a beer garden, say. Tasting is from small glasses, acquired with tickets. Everybody entering will get a certain number of tasting tickets. There is the option to buy more tasting tickets —“but the beer is really meant to be sampled,” Jahn Smith said. “You go around a taste different things, not sitting down with full pints of beer.”
The festival is about the palate, and the discovery of flavours and taste, and a celebration as beer as part of our culture — the enjoyment of life.
“There will be entertainment, food vendors, music, adult games. It’s supposed to be fun even for the designated drivers. It’s a fun way to come spend an afternoon. It’s not all about the beers.
“People will have fun — and there will be plenty of beer. It just won’t run into the night, with bottomless glasses.”
But the beers are definitely the stars of the show.
“For the Great Canadian Beer Festival On Tour, we’re looking at over 100 beers total to sample from, plus a few ciders, and a couple ciders and meads,” Craig said. “That’s represented from around 20 breweries in the Kootenay region that are attending in person. You get to be served the beer from the brewers themselves, and that’s a very special part of the Great Canadian Beer Festival is the brewery reps come and pour the beer, so attendees can talk to the people who make the beer themselves.
“We also are bringing in this aspect of across Canada beer. We have a big pavilion of beers brought in from Alberta, Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland —about 14 breweries in that line-up representing about 40 beers in total.
And don’t forget the Festival’s own “Beer Bus,” like an old Canada Post red bus, a little smaller than a food truck. “We’ve turned one of those into a 16-tap portable beer bus,” Craig said. “We’re loading on beers from Victoria and Vancouver, from breweries that cannot attend in person, and we bring their beers to to pour on our beer bus so they can be represented at our festival as well.”
Cranbrook Tourism and the City of Cranbrook’s Recreation and Culture Department have been working on the festival for almost a year.
“We’ve had a few local hotels come on board too, offering some sip and stay packages — August 8 launching a prize giveaway,” Jahn Smith said. “The Prestige and the Baker have been active. The HeidOut and Encore Brewing have been quite involved as well. They’re getting an opportunity to be centre stage for this one too.”
The City of Cranbrook and Cranbrook Tourism are expecting a lot of out of town visitors — with 2,500 tickets for the event. “We’re hoping a lot of locals will come out, but we’re definitely promoting it across B.C..” Jahn Smith said. “We’re hoping people will make a trip to Cranbrook and come and stay for the weekend. That’s definitely a goal.”
“It’s going to be a really fun first event,” Craig said. “Beer aside, we’re also excited to showcase local food vendors, local entertainment, and our 100-foot long inflatable obstacle course people can try out. It’s going to be a really great fun event.”
Craig added that the BC Ale Trail has organized some really great sip-and-stays, working with hotels in Cranbrook to try to market to Alberta, and neighbouring communities.
For more information go to cranbrookbeerfest.ca.