Held each year, the weekend after Labor Day, Victoria, British Columbia is host to the annual Great Canadian Beer Festival. Last month the annual festival celebrated its 27th year and left a positive impression of the beers being brewed to the north of our country’s border.
First held in 1992, the Great Canadian Beer Festival (GCBF) has transformed and grown over the years. Up until this year the festival was operated under its founders, Jerry Heater and John Rawlings. Up until 2002, the GCBF was held at a convention center in Victoria. After outgrowing this location, the festival moved to Royal Athletic Park, where it’s been held ever since. After the 2018 GCBF both Heater and Rawlings decided it was time to step down and offered the festival to be operated by the local Victoria Beer Society and the society’s co-founder, Joe Wiebe.
On our last visit to British Columbia’s capital city for the GCBF took place nine years ago in 2010. Wow, the beer landscape in Canada has changed quite dramatically. During this visit nine years ago, the festival featured beers from Canada alongside a good portion of beers from the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Yes, a bit strange for a festival that was billing itself as the Great Canadian.
Since this last visit the craft beer scene in Canada has grown immensely just as it has done in the States. Now the GCBF only features beers brewed in Canada over the course of the festival’s two days.
The 27th Annual GCBF featured nearly 100 breweries serving over 300 beers. This year’s fest proved to be the most diverse lineup of breweries that attended from most of all of the Canadian provinces and territories.
When it comes to liquor laws, Canada can be a challenging country to move beer to and from the 13 different provinces and territories. Therefore, in years past the festival mainly served beers from BC and neighboring Alberta. This year when putting the festival together, organizers reached out to two Canadian beer suppliers, UnTapped Craft Supply and Copper & Theory Artisan Beer Supply Co. to assist with wrangling beers from farther reaches of the country.
To check out the changes that have taken place at the GCBF, we traveled to Victoria the weekend after Labor Day to experience the best of Canadian craft beer. This two-day festival that took place on September 6th and 7th left a great impression on the beers being brewed up north.
The layout of this year’s GCBF was well thought out and executed. The ample space at Royal Athletic Park made for an inviting festival that never seemed too crowded or cramped. There was plenty of lush grass to sit in and enjoy an evening or afternoon at the festival. Attendees were very nice and were excited to sample the beers pouring each day.
Throughout the park there were white tents placed in a very orderly fashion. Each one featured four different breweries and each side of the tent had a flag listing the province or territory that each brewery was traveling from. In addition to these tents, the BC Ale Trail Beer Truck was parked inside the festival as it served beer from a handful of BC breweries that are part of the massive ale trail.
When it came to the beers pouring, we were quite impressed at the quality level. The breweries in Canada are making some great beer that rivals the output from the States. Plus, many of the breweries served one beer from casks. The full beer list is available online at the Victoria Beer Society’s website here.
While there we ran into Trever Bass, formerly of Migration Brewing and prior to that, Hopworks Urban Brewery. He recently relocated to Vancouver, BC and is brewing for 33 Acres Brewing and its offshoot, 33 Brewing Experiment. The beers from 33 Acres are top notch and with Bass’ input it’ll continue in that trajectory.
The 2020 Great Canadian Beer Festival will take place on Friday, September 11th and Saturday, September 12th in Victoria, BC.
Here’s a photo recap of the 2019 Great Canadian Beer Festival…
D.J. is a Portland, Oregon based writer that spent his formative years in the Midwest. With over 25 years under his belt of drinking beer at festivals across America and the world, he has developed a strong appreciation and understanding of craft beer and the industry that surrounds it. He can be found in any of the great breweries or beer bars that make Portland the best beer city in the world. His writing can also be found in the archives of Northwest Brewing News and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram at @hopapalooza.