Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Island Beer Fest

I very nearly didn't go to the Island Beer Fest, which was held at Club 9One9, downstairs from the Strathcona hotel. I figured that maybe it would just be all the beers I was used to seeing in the pubs around Victoria without much that was new or exciting. But a number of my friends were going and I figured maybe there would be some upcoming beers available for the first time, so I relented. I wish I'd gone with my first instinct.

When I arrived I was greeted by two girls wearing comically low cut beer wench tops and ridiculously short Bavarian style skirts. I guess the idea (apart from the obvious), was to imitate the outfits of the serving girls at Oktoberfest. I've been to the beer fest in Munich and these outfits looked more liked slutted-up Halloween costumes than anything else. Its not that I'm complaining, it was just kind of absurd. Once inside I saw that most of the usual suspects of Island brewing had a table so I made for Spinnakers to try a cask ale I saw they had set up. The server was not from the brewery but an employee of the Strath, and when I asked what type of beer was in the cask he replied, "honestly I don't know buddy, I just work for the building." "Uh, huh," I replied. Apparently, the deal with the Strath was that only its employees were allowed to pour beers, the breweries' employees were totally forbidden. As the representative from this brewery had wandered away from the table there was no one to field my fairly reasonable question. At the Vancouver Island Brewery table another cask was available, a coffee beer. I heard the server talking about the beer so when I got to the front I asked hopefully what the beer was made with. "Coffee," she replied, "and its got yeast in it, so theres also vitamin B." "Uh, huh," I replied.

There was very little in the way of new beer to be tried. Almost all the breweries just brought their usual offerings that can be purchased at any liquor store or bar in town. There were some highlights, such as Duncan's Craig Street Brew Pub, with their surprisingly good Hemp Ale, made with honey and hibiscus, and it was interesting to talk to the new owners of Wolf Brewing (formerly Fat Cat), but overall this festival was a giant disappointment. Some particularly dishonourable mentions stand out:

Dishonourable Mention: Swans Brew Pub - When I arrived they were already out of their coconut porter, one of the few beers I wanted to try coming in. It appeared they only brought a single tub of bottles, no draught beer, and when these were gone they just packed up and went home, well before the festival ended. Isn't your brewpub just down the street? So how can you be out of beer then, just ring them up for more? Very cheap, and very weak.
Dishonourable Mention: Lighthouse Brewing - Instead of having some of their interesting "small brewery, big flavour" series of beers they had only three of their everyday brews to try. If you decided you wanted some of their beer anyways, they just cracked a bottle and poured it in your glass, there was no draught available. I came to this beer festival to drink Lighthouse Lager from a bottle, great.
Dishonourable Mention: The Strath - For not allowing the breweries staff to pour beers and putting their serving girls in the most ridiculous outfits I have ever seen. If I wanted a titty show I'd walk down the street to Monty's, what I want at a beer festival is someone pouring the beer who knows something about it, and this was totally absent.

About the only person I would recommend going to this event in the future is an out-of-towner, someone completely unfamiliar with the beers of the Island as it is a chance to try a good proportion of the local brews in one place. If you're just looking for a piss-up, go to a bar, or a buddy's house, you won't have to fight the crowds or waste time drinking out of a very small glass. If you're a local and actually into beer, trust me, stay away, this festival offers practically nothing of interest for the serious Island beer drinker and will just waste your time and money.


  1. I completely agree with all of this. It was a sham.
    One thing worth noting is that is is actually illegal for the representatives from the breweries to pour. It has to be someone employed by the licensee with Serving it Right. Hence the reason the brewers don't pour at the GCBF either, it's the GCBF volunteers.

  2. I'm glad I stayed home. Looking forward to Firkin Fest though.

  3. Glad to hear you say that Lon, I was hoping to not offend with this post, but felt I had to be honest. Good to know about the servers pouring the beers, makes sense it was typical CRD bollocks, nonetheless a little more knowledge at the tables would have been nice. Hopefully I'll see you both at the Firkin Fest, will be good to meet Flavius in the flesh as well.

  4. Respectfully, I have too almost totally disagree with Basement Brewers comments on the Straths Beer Fest. I went down with 3 friends on a Sat afternoon and had an amazing time! We found a majority of the beers very enjoyable (Saltspring and Wolf Brewerys stoled the show for me) and I had no problems hearing about each beer from the brewers themselves. The girls were awesome and the 2 guys playing guitar just added to the excitment in the room. My friends and I just had such a good time i feel compelled to write that, honestly im a little disappointed with BB's review, who I respect and enjoy reading often. I drink beer with my pals almost every weekend and enjoy new and different beers, sometimes using BB's reviews to help our selections! For a change we went to the island beer fest and had a blast!!

  5. Thanks for writing in HopHead, I think what you say goes to show how different two people's experiences can be, whether its in regards to a beer, a particular brewery, or in this case a beer fest. I'm glad you enjoyed yourself, to be honest I did as well from the standpoint of having beer with friends. In regards to trying new beers and receiving good info on them my experience was not as good however. I tend to have strong opinions and I'm not the sort to sugarcoat them to prevent offense so I stand by my review, but I'm glad you like the blog and hope you keep reading.

  6. I have to say that I was a first time beer festival attendee and had an absolute blast. I thought the servers did a great job and full credit to the breweries that sent staff to this event to meet the folk. I really enjoyed the energy and great samples from the Wolf Brewing crew - they are new on the scene and appear to be well on their way. Also, Saltspring put one heck of an effort into their display and can be commended for their tasty Heather Ale. I didn't get to try the Craig Street but heard good things as well. The band really rocked and the only negative to me was the limited selection of food (pizza or bust). A good value for $ 20.00!See you back in 2012....

  7. BB,

    I was immediately suspicious of this event upon seeing the poster, and my doubts were heightened upon learning the Strath was hosting it. It sounds like my time was better spent not going.

    It also sounds like it was more a publicity event for the Strath than a showcase of the Island's best brews.

    Incidentally, brewery reps don't have to pour beer in order to be at such events representing their beers. What's stopping them from simply having a rep on hand to tell people about the beers?

    I enjoyed your honest report on the event.


  8. In fairness, the breweries did have reps on hand, but some of them were conspicuously absent when I went up for samples, hence my frustration. I wish you had been at the event YRS, if only to see what your take would have been on it. Somehow I doubt it would have been positive. Cheers,