Chairman Gerry Hieter has been doing an amazing job of putting on a well-run beer festival for more than 20 years, but the breweries attending Great Canadian Beer Festival haven't always put their best foot forward in what's arguably THEE craft beer event of the year. Without naming names, year after year, a number of breweries bring the same brews (and brews that are available on pretty much any liquor store shelf in town and most bars). Every brewery should be bringing at least one or two beers that will get people talking and cause a little buzz.
This isn't the same craft beer crowd from a decade ago. They have more sophisticated palates, they've been exposed to amazing beers from around the world and they are always looking for something new and exciting. The Great Canadian Beer Fest is the perfect place for breweries to show off a bit.
If the 2014 lineup of beers posted at the GCBF site is any indication, things are slowly changing. There does seem to be a lot more creativity in the offerings this year. Not only are there a bunch of new breweries—many of which clearly have an ambitious streak—many of the established breweries are putting forth some really interesting efforts this year. I don't think I could have done much of a "Guide to Extreme Beers at the GCBF" a couple years ago, but this year, I was able to put together what I think is a solid collection of "out-there" beers to seek out. As a disclaimer, I'll note that these are not the only extreme beers being served at the festival, just the ones I think are worth trying.
Magic Beans Strong Brown Ale
The "beans" are coffee beans and they are used in quite an interesting fashion here. Brassneck cold brewed the coffee in the beer, so instead of the usual roasty/burnt notes, you get fruit notes and acidity.
Belgian Apricot IPA
Belgian IPAs typically have an abundance of fruit notes from both the hops and the Belgian yeast, and this brew, made with experimental hops and 90 kgs of apricots, is an interesting take on the style.
Both Barrels Imperial IPA
This is a collab with Ninkasi, P49 and Gigantic that was aged in Cognac and bourbon barrels. Nuff said.
Smoke & Mirrors Imperial Smoke Ale
Smoke can be an overwhelming flavour in beer, but Coal Harbour have gone all in on this one, utilizing both German smoked malts and Scottish peated malts.
Singularity Russian Imperial Stout (Friday)
This massive brew is known for its incredible strength, which is aided by time spent in Makers Mark bourbon barrels.
Serendipity Apple Saison
Beers brewed with wine grape must (juice) have been gaining in popularity (try Dogfish Head's Sixty-One in the U.S. Pavilion), but this saison features the addition of Granny Smith apple juice.
Lighthouse is going "all in" with this brew. It's a wheat, rye and spelt saison that was refermented on oak with black currants.
2nd Anniversary Ale
Last year's first anniversary brew was amazing, a huge beer befitting a momentous celebration. This year's—a red wheat wine refermented on grape juice and oak—should be just as impressive and big.
Spruce Tree Ale
Spruce Tree Ale
Others have tried this style—which is conditioned on Sitka spruce tree tips—but it's challenging to find the balance where the spruce doesn't dominate. Tofino gets it right. This offers a glimpse of the kind of ingredients beer was brewed thousands of years ago.
I focused on Canadian (well, as it turns out, BC) beers above, but there will be some must-try extreme beers in the U.S. Pavilion as well. Many of these have either never been poured in this market before, or are back after a long absence.
• Alameda Yellow Wolf Imperial IPA (100+ IBU hop bomb)
• Dogfish Head 61 (brewed with wine grape must)
• Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA (one of the original mega IPAs)
• New Holland Dragon's Milk Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout (pretty much says it all...)
• Saugatuck Serrano Pepper Ale (spicy!)
If you're a fan of extreme beers, you can find autographed copies of my Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers: An All-Excess Pass to Brewing's Outer Limits at Cook St. Liquor.