Thursday, August 16, 2018

Brewtal Truth Guide To Must-Try Beers at the Great Canadian Beer Fest 2018

This is now my fifth year posting my suggestions for brews to seek out at the Great Canadian Beer Festival, which takes place at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria, BC, Sept. 7 & 8. The festival is especially exciting for me this year as Day 1 falls on my birthday. So if anyone wants to buy me a celebratory drink, you'll be in the perfect place to do it.

This is Year 26 for the GCBF and it's pretty cool to see how significantly it has grown of late—a direct reflection of the exponentially increasing growth in the Canadian craft beer industry. One unfortunate result of this industry growth is that some breweries who wanted to show their wares at this year's fest, aren't able to. Though it would be great if all who wanted to participate could, the fact is that the venue has a finite amount of space and trying to pack more breweries into that space would diminish the quality of the experience for all.

On to my beer picks from the breweries that are attending. As the author of The Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers (which you can buy at Cook St. Liquor), my tastes do run toward out-of-the-ordinary brews. These aren't for everyone, I get that. Don't worry, though, if these seem too "out there" for you, there are plenty of attending breweries who continue to pour the same familiar stuff they bring year after year. I'm tired of pointing them out, but I'd like to suggest that they may want to look at the long lines of people at the breweries who do bring interesting beers to the fest.

Lastly, it should go without saying that I'm not going to guarantee you'll love or even like my picks. Hell, I may not even like some of them. But at events like these, I'd rather see a brewer trying to pull off something magnificent than play it safe by sticking solely with core brands or minor tweaks to core brands. So, here's what I'm seeking out.
(Also, if you run into festival organizer Gerry Hieter while looking for these beers, please thank him for all he has done for craft beer in BC and Canada at large.)

MY PICKS (arranged by booth number this year)

Wild Zunga with apricots and lemon verbena (cask)
Townsite has developed a "wild" streak lately, doing all kind of interesting stuff with mixed fermentation and barrel aging. A "wild" version of their Zunga blonde ale (with added fruit & herbs!) sounds very intriguing. 

Gin & Lime Pilsner
Carefully made pilsners are finding a lot of fans in the craft beer world. When done well, this style is a sublime expression of beer's four ingredients. It is NOT easy to brew a clean, tasty pilsner true to style. So I'm intrigued by this "extreme" take on the style which was brewed with fresh limes and infused with Unruly Gin from Wayward Distillation from Courtenay, B.C. An interesting combo of two of the most refreshing summer beverages. 

• Hail Saison
• Narcostanicos Farmhouse
These Toronto (relative) newcomers had me at "Hail Saison," which is a dry hopped saison with honeydew brewed with Pilsner malts, oats and wheat. Yes, to that and to their mixed fermentation, tequila barrel aged farmhouse ale infused with herbs and spices. 

Mata-Hari Gose
I'm a huge fan of this Quebec brewery, who do a number of styles well. Year in and year out, though, their farmhouse ales, saisons and sours are the winners. This brew brings together the classic elements of a German Gose (salt and coriander) with exotic Asian fruit and herbs (star fruit and keffir limes leaves). And "no hops." 

Beets By Sinden Sour 
Sinden being the last name of Town Square's brewer, this is a kettle sour brewed and fermented with, you guessed it, beets. The colour's gotta be amazing and the natural sweetness in the beets should add a nice balance to the tartness. Could be great, could be not so great. 

Son of a Peach Tart Peachweisse
I've had this and absolutely love it. I also think that Parallel 49 is selling it a bit short with its marketing. This isn't a typical kettle sour with fruit. It actually has more in common with a peach lambic, as it's a combination of a Berliner weisse (sour) that was fermented with peaches and blended with a sour white ale aged in a foeder for one year. So good. 

Big Smokin' Joe Smoked Baltic Porter (cask)
I'm a sucker for big, dark, boozy beers and Baltic porters are a favourite. This one was brewed with German beech wood-smoked malt to add a little smoke to the fruity, roasty complexity. And since Baltic porters are actually strong lagers, this sound like an Imperial Rauchbier (smoked lager).

• Farm Table Hopfenlager
• Halcyon: Infinity Mirror Brett IPA
• Tagwerk Witbier with Quince
I'm loathe to pick all three beers from one brewery, but year after year Beau's brings at least one beer that I leave thinking, "that was the best beer I had at the entire festival." This year they have strong lager hopped with Alsatian Barbe Rouge and Mistral, a "wild" Brett IPA aged in red wine barrels, and a Belgian-style witbier brewed with organic quince juice, coriander, and hibiscus flowers.

Josta Sour Ale
If it says "Four Winds" and "sour ale" then you can rest assured it's worth your token. The "Josta" part refers to josta berries, which I know nothing about. This beer had all the good things done to it that make a sour excellent: oak barrel aged on cherries, addition of Brett C for funk and complexity and also some josta berry juice added. 

Wild Child Age
18 months in barrels for this brew, giving the good bacteria in the barrels plenty of time to work their magic. Who knows what the results will be, but it should be funky and tart and definitely a bit fruity. 

Double India Pale Ale
I won't be recommending many hazy IPAs here (in fact, this is the only one), but for a brewery that started out specifically NOT brewing IPAs, Steel & Oak, as it turns out, makes some damn fine IPAs. 

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Blonde
My favourite pie in beer form. What's not to like? The base is a blonde ale brewed with lactose and conditioned on "a staggering amount of strawberries and locally-sourced rhubarb." 

Bonsai - Dry Hopped Rice Ale
It's somewhat ironic that craft brewers bashed macrobrews like Bud Light for using cheap adjuncts like rice only to start brewing their own IPAs with rice which provides a nice light body. 

CASK: Year Six
Moon's anniversary cask has become my first beer of the festival, mostly because I don't want to miss out on what is always big, beautiful beer. This year it's a 11.5% ABV wheat beer aged in wine barrels for twelve months then dry hopped with Citra. C'mon, that's a great way to kick off the festival with a bang, isn't it?

Facteur Cosmique
Again, I love pretty much every beer this Quebec brewery has sent to BC, and they range in style from sours to Belgian-style quads and barley wines. This 10.6% ABV beast falls into the later category and to further add complexity it was fermented with one-third grape must from Vignoble Rivière du Chêne (Québec) and aged in oak barrels. Should be spectacular.

Hush Money - Salted Lime & Agave Sour
I want to love this; I hope I do. It's a kettle sour (maybe a take on a Gose?) flavoured with Key lime, Brazilian sea salt, and organic blue agave. So, yeah, it's kind of like a Margarita, without the tequila. More brewers should experiment with salt in general. It's an essential ingredient in cooking for its ability to bring out the flavour in foods, and it can do the same in beer when used judiciously. 


Steve C said...

Thanks for the advice. I tried a bunch of them, and most were very good.

Khush Interis said...

They were so accommodating and I was truly impressed. It is such a comfortable environment. For a buffet, it was delicious food. Alcoholic beverages were also great. Overall, these LA event venues is great, and my favorite venue in the city.