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The fest is a rowdy but courteous collective toast to the constantly improving skills of Canadian brewers.

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Great Canadian Beer Festival Outgrows Old Digs

by Lisa Morrison

     Picture this: Fans start lining up outside a ticket office at 4a.m. or so on an October day in Victoria, British Columbia. It is a drowsy but congenial crowd, bound by the common knowledge that they will be rewarded with the prized tickets they are waiting for, while others, still snuggled in their beds, might face disappointment when they queue for tickets at a later, more reasonable hour.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]The group grows throughout the morning until cashiers face a rather long line of sleep-deprived fans when the tickets finally go on sale. The strategy proves successful: The enterprising group of loyal fans leaves with tickets in hand. Latecomers are not so lucky -- the event sells out in 45 minutes.
On November 22-23, when the event rolls into town, the buzz begins again. Radio DJs are matching ticket holders who can't make the event with fans still searching for tickets. Buyers and sellers congregate outside the venue, hoping to do the same without hitting the airwaves.
What is this highly anticipated event? Springsteen? Eminem? World Cup Soccer? Nope. It's the Great Canadian Beer Festival!
In its 10th year, the festival has gained a definite cult following, selling out earlier every year. Fans from the United States make the annual pilgrimage (usually involving a drive and a ferry ride) to Vancouver Island -- after securing entry to the fest via friends, family, colleagues or just about any other means of obtaining a ticket.
With approximately 6,000 people attending the two-day event, the fest is a rowdy but courteous collective toast to the constantly improving skills of Canadian brewers.
Indeed, I can say that having attended the GCBF for seven years in a row, the most striking thing about it is the increased quality of the beers that attendees get to sample in their glass tasters -- and the growing creativity behind those brews. With 30 craft brewers representing several provinces and two states, about 100 beers were available for sampling this year.
Festival favorites (i.e., the kegs that blew first) included Boundary Bay Imperial IPA from Bellingham, Wash.; Thor's Hammer Barley Wine from Sailor Hagar's Brewpub in North Vancouver, B.C.; Back Hand of God Stout from Sorento, B.C.-based Cranng Ales; Saison Elysee from Seattle's Elysian Brewing; Connaught Ranger IPA and Irish Immigrant Pale Ale from Far West Ireland Brewing in Seattle; Vancouver's Steamworks Great Pumpkin Ale; Cherry Lambic from Storm, another Vancouver brewery; and several selections from Unibroue out of Chambly, Quebec. A new La Terrible, an abbey-style dark ale not yet available in the States, and a tart-cherry Quelque Chose, which just recently started showing up in bottles, were hands-down favorites. Tasters could try the Quelque Chose either warmed like a wassail or chilled out of the bottle. It was a toss-up which was preferred.
The year the event started, nearly 1,500 beer fans attended "despite the fact that at the same time the Toronto Blue Jays were playing the final game of the World Series," according to CAMRA Victoria President John Rowling. (As beer lovers were polishing off their tasters, the Jays were finishing off the Philadelphia Phillies to complete back-to-back championships.)
Because attendance at the event has quadrupled since it started, organizers say the 2002 GCBF was the last at its original home. The Victoria Conference Centre adjoining the gracious Empress Hotel is simply too small for the demands of the event (fest-goers stood nearly shoulder-to-shoulder during peak hours this year), so organizers are taking it outside -- and changing the date to boot.
Mark your calendar for September 5-6, 2003, when the Great Canadian Beer Festival moves to its new home at the Royal Athletic Park in Victoria. Just up the road a few blocks from the Conference Centre, the city-block-sized stadium -- which is often used for soccer and other sporting events -- promises to provide growing room for the GCBF.
I have to admit that I will miss the intimacy of the Conference Centre venue. But I am looking forward to watching the Great Canadian Beer Festival grow into its new home.
And with the increased ticket sales planned because of the park's ample space, early-bird beer lovers should enjoy skipping the long wait in line, knowing they can remain in a warm bed and still be assured of getting their prized tickets to the fest.

Lisa Morrison is known in her hometown of Portland, Ore., as the Beer Goddess.

Copyright 2003, Celebrator No material herein may be reprinted without permission of the Celebrator Distributed On the W3 For personal, non-commercial enjoyment and use only. Cheers!

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