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Leapbeer Field Trip – Great Canadian Beer Festival 2012

Great Canadian Beer Festival

With a name like that it has to be good right? While this year was the 20th iteration of GCBF, this was my first. It was also not likely my last. I had tonnes of fun sampling beers here, and the brewers came out to impress at almost every booth.

Learning from lessons of Hopoxia I started the day right, my sister and I had a plan. I avoided drinking anything other than water with the intention of getting my body super hydrated before the event. We went to Spinnakers and had some heavy food to sit in our stomach and help stabilize us for the days frivolities. I had the pulled pork nachos and she had the poutine. All loaded up with a nice heavy meal we hopped in a cab and made our way to the Royal Athletic Park for GCBF.

First thing I noticed, was the gigantic line up to get inside. It was not one, not two, but three blocks long. What I really should have done is register the blog for reporter access because they were allowed in an hour early. Oh well, live and learn I guess.

Welcome to GCBF, Prepare to wait

Another note about entering the event, is that we had our water bottles confiscated, which was a real bummer. One of my plans was to remain hydrated during the event so as no need to quaff the beer so fast. I wanted to enjoy the frothy goodness. The security at the event told me that this was due to people using their bottles for the beer instead of the designated drinking glasses. They did have some water available to drink, but because it was a really hot day and the water coolers weren’t plugged in it was all piss warm by the time I went to drink it. I was able to retrieve my bottle on our way out of the venue so it wasn’t all bad.

As you check in, they scan your ticket, take your water bottle, look through your backpack, give you a map and a 4oz drinking glass. Finally through security and then where do you head? For tokens of course. Drink tokens were 1.25$ a piece, the most you could grab is a bag of 16 for $20. My sister and I both grabbed one of them and set off to the brews.

First stop, Lighthouse Brewing. You may ask yourself why I would go to a local brewery when there were fifty four other breweries to see? Because I’m trying to be a Vancouver Island craft beer completist. They had a cask offering of a Sazerac Saison.

Sazerac Saison by Lighthouse Brewing

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Leapbeer at HOPoxia

As many of my readers will know I attended my first Beer event ever last Saturday night. It was … interesting. Rather than delve upon the entirety of the events I will fill you in on who brought what, or what I remember. Whom I didn’t sample (because I purposefully avoided a couple of beers) and whom I really liked. Of the brewers I sampled all but a few of them. I tried;
Tofino Brewing’s Hoppin Cretin IPA, Russell Brewing’s Blood Alley ESB, Lighthouse Brewing’s Switchback IPA w/HOPoxinator, The Moon Under Water’s Waxing Crescent IPA, Driftwood Brewing’s  Fat Tug, Vancouver Island Brewery’s Cascadian India Dark Ale, Canoe Brewpub’s Siren Song Pale Ale, Spinnakers Brewpub’s Hoptoria IPA, Wolf Brewing’s Red Brick IPA, Parralel 49’s Hoparazzi IPA, Hoyne Brewing Co.’s Devils Dream IPA, Coal Harbour Brewing Co.’s Powell IPA, Longwood Brewpub’s Island Pale Ale, Phillips Brewing’s Hoperation Tripel Cross
I didn’t sample the following, for various reasons. Either I’ve already had their beer and didn’t want to overdo it (see lessons learned below) or their beer wasn’t favorably received by other patrons.Whistler Brewing Co. – Pink Grapefruit Ale
Howe Sound Brewing Co. – Total Eclipse of the Hop
Central City Brewing Co. – Red Racer ESB
Granville Island Brewing Co. – Cascadian Dark Ale (I think, I didn’t even go by there)
Salt Spring Island. (I don’t remember their presence, but maybe I just missed them)
My overall thoughts of the event. – The crowd was great, everyone I talked to was having a good time. I met a few people I’d only talked to on twitter and also got to hang out with some new friends as well. Everyone was there for the beer, from hardcore enthusiasts, home craft brewers, brewery professionals and everyday schmoes like myself. While the crowd was good I was somewhat underwhelmed by what some of the brewers brought to the event. Of all the brewers, only 3 did anything special. Vancouver Island Brewery had a specially made cask for the event (Cascadian India Dark Ale), The Moon Under Water Brewpub brought a brand spanking new Waxing Crescent IPA and Lighthouse had the Hopoxinator for filtering their Switchback IPA through various varietals of hops during the day. I was also intrigued at what Longwood Brewpub brought. Their Island Pale Ale is an IPA recipe using all Vancouver Island sourced ingredients, including the hops. All the other breweries brought standard release beers, many of which I’d had already. The only one of the ‘standard issue’ beers that I went back to repeatedly was the Hoppin Cretin because of its limited availability. Perhaps I had misconceptions about what other people would bring to the party, but It wasn’t just me who felt somewhat disappointed by the turn out from the beer side. We made up for it by having fun.
Leapbeer #200 is India Dark Ale by Vancouver Island Brewery (Photo Courtesy of Rob Ringma of Vancouver Island Brewery)
Leapbeer #201 is Waxing Crescent IPA by The Moon Brewpub
(picture hopefully coming soon)
Leapbeer #202 is The Hopoxinator by Lighthouse Brewery (Photos Courtesy of Joe Weibe @thirstywriter)
Here’s the varietals of hops they were using during the day (Photo Courtesy of Joe Weibe @thirstywriter)
Now on to the lessons I learned from this experience. While it was an enjoyable time I’m absolutely certain that I could have had a better time, and been more responsible at it too. Here’s the lessons I learned while out at my first big beer event.
1) Know your location. If it is going to be held in an open cement backyard of a brewery (not a bad thing) know this ahead of time and bring either a hat or loose clothing. It was so sunny and so hot out there. I’m certain the heat led me to consume a bit faster than I would have before.
2) Carefully choose your dining options for before, during and after the event. At this one which was 4 hours long, I hadn’t eaten a proper meal before hand (WRONG) I decided to get a Ghost Chili spiced hot dog from the onsite vendor (double WRONG!) and I didn’t have any plan for following the event. Choosing something during depends upon what is available, but afterwards is something that can be planned. A strong coffee and a slap in the face would’ve helped me for sure.
3) Survey the landscape and formulate a plan of attack. This is something I did do. I knew which breweries I wanted to sample first and then on. I really wanted to get in on the few special beers at the event, and I was very glad I did. VIB’s cask was the first to sell out completely if I recall, and it was in the top 3 for the event in my books.
4) Choose your service vessel well. If you lose or dirty yours ask for another one. Don’t randomly accept a graduated cylinder to drink from, even if it was passed to you by a brewer. They’re tricky to drink from, and you may (or in my case will) spill on your shirt.
5) Have an exit strategy mapped out. While it may change or things deviate a bit, set something up so that everyone gets back okay. Don’t ever think that driving away from one of these events is a good idea. EVER. Even if you plan to spend the next 3 hours after it doing laps around the block drinking copious amounts of water to wash the alcohol out of your system it is a bad idea. Cabs are cheaper than a ticket every time.
6) Bring little, so as not to lose stuff. I misplaced both my camera and my phone. Both of which were recovered (Big thank you again to Bryan at Cascadia and the staff at Phillips for that) It is really easy to put something down when you’re in the throes of an event and walk away from them. I was wrought with grief for a day worried about my camera.7) And this is an important one. Pace yourself. Even if its super hot try not to go ridiculous there. I didn’t follow by this, and ended up getting a bit stupid.

All in all I had a good time, but I could have made it better. A big thanks to Phillips (Matlock especially) for putting on the event.
For those of you wondering what happened to me when I drank from the graduated cylinder (aka the Spillinder), here’s a pic courtesy of @redhairedblond Julie Lavoie
Thanks for Reading

Leapbeer Roadtrip – Tofino Brewing Company

Earlier this week I had arranged to meet a couple of other craft beer lovers, and travel to Tofino to visit Tofino Brewing Company.

We started out of Nanaimo just before noon and drove the long trek out west. It takes just under 3 hours to drive from Nanaimo to the Tofino Brewing Company site, as it is just on the outskirts of Tofino. Similar to many upstart breweries their operation is somewhat subdued on the outside. They, like any good brewery, let their product speak for them instead of flashy buildings.

Here’s a picture of their operation from the outside.

This brewery is a real beacon of hope for a sustainable and environmentally responsible business model. Not only do they recycle their spent grain to be used as farm feed in Port Alberni (A couple of hours down the road from Tofino), but they also have taken steps to be water conscious in their brewing. Water is often in short supply on the peninsula during the summer, and this crew is determined to be responsible.

A few pictures from our visit, here’s the malt chipper and hopper area leading down to the kettles. I wonder who’s motorcycle that is/was/will be?

Next is the mash tanks & kettle.

Lastly here’s their current fermenter tanks, there’s soon to be one much larger set up here.

They are in the process of some renovations. They recently rebuilt their taps and cold storage area, adding a really nicely finished tasting bar.  They also have another fermenter tank ordered in which to increase their production. Also in the works is bottling which they anticipate to be up late summer. Be sure to look for that (I know I will). They have really been embraced by the local residents and establishments. The majority of their production is met by supplying the locals and their business. In fact, the only place to get their beers outside of Tofino is the Alibi Room in Vancouver. Of course with bottling that is about to change.

Now onto the beers. From left to right they are the Tuff Session Ale (Pale Ale), Reign In Blonde (“dirty” Blonde Ale) and Hoppin’ Cretin IPA. Currently their website ( http://www.tofinobrewingco.com/our-beer/ ) doesn’t have the information for the Reign in Blonde.

I am starting with the Tuff Session Ale which is a great Pale Ale. (#143 on the Leapbeer journey) It is an amber coloured pale ale that has a real nice hop bitterness to balance the malty notes of the beer. It rates at a 25 IBU on the bitterness scale and is a really great session beer. Great stuff.
Here’s what their site has to say about it. “A bright copper coloured pale ale with a toasty malt base balanced with west coast hops. Its light to medium body and clean, dry finish gives this full-flavoured ale dangerously inviting drinkability.

Moving on to the Reign in Blonde. (#144 on the Leapbeer journey) This was announced via twitter and through the Beer on the Rock blog out of victoria here ( http://www.beerontherock.com/?p=1122 ) It is described as “A clean, crisp blonde ale w/ a light malt body and earthy, flowery hops. Pretty much a one way ticket to Cold One City.” I call it (I wasn’t the first person to do it) a ‘dirty blonde’ because it isn’t as bright as you’d expect from a blonde ale. Dave mentioned that the darkness in the ale comes from their electronic immersion element and how it cooks the beer. The taste has a very light and has a flowery hop note to it. It is lovely mild spring/summer ale made for quaffing.

Lastly I’m sampling the Hoppin’ Cretin IPA. (#145 on the Leapbeer journey) Their answer to a pacific northwest India Pale Ale.
Their write up for this beer is this “A tawny straw colored IPA with a hop forward nose that gives off an aromatic bouquet of citrus and mango. This beer has been hopped heartily at all stages of the brewing process and packs enough punch to satisfy any fan of the IPA style the West Coast has become known for in recent years. It is lighter in body with an extremely dry finish. There’s no stoppin’ the cretins from hoppin’.
It has a 60 IBU rating making it on the bitter side, and there is a generous dose of citric hops on the nose from this beer. To sip is it to enjoy it. As you may know by now I’m a hop head. I relish the bitterness that comes from this style of beer. This offering is both strong in the floral punch of it, but is not over the top with it. When we tasted it at the brewery my sister, who is doesn’t like the bold hoppy beers, went back for seconds. Dave mentioned that he boils this brew longer than normal to give it the caramel colour as well as to smooth out the beer. I’m a fan of this beer and will definitely be seeking it out again soon.

All three of these beers shows finesse in how they are made. The batches at their brewery are small making them experiment and perfect their craft. They seem like a crew dedicated to a producing a product they themselves want to drink.

The greatest thing I took from my visit to the Tofino Brewing Company was hope. The way Dave would light up talking about their beers was reminiscent to seeing a proud parent talk about their kids. And you could really see the passion he has for not only producing a great beer, but ingenuity that he was using to create new and different beers.

A special thanks to Chris and Dave for welcoming me into your facility and giving me a peek behind the curtain. I look forward to coming back soon.

If you have a chance stop by and give these beers a taste. They have growler and growlette fill available as well as a bunch of other swag to pick up (from flannels to trucker hats to embossed glasses)

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