Island Beer Fest, was memorable for all the wrong reasons so I was hopeful the latest cask festival at Spinnakers would be a big improvement. At $35 dollars a ticket ($30 for CAMRA members) it wasn't cheap, but when it comes to beer events, I rarely take much convincing.
The festival was held in the upstairs taproom of Spinnakers' picturesque pub on the inner harbour and featured 13 cask beers from 11 different breweries located primarily on the Island and the Lower Mainland. The event was busy, but not to the point of being uncomfortable and featured a laid-back crowd of fairly serious beer drinkers. It was held between 11:30am and 5pm, which helped promote an atmosphere more centered on beer tasting than quaffing huge quantities (not that I'm against this of course). Unfortunately, few brewers themselves were present, and there was occasionally a lack of informed personnel at the tables, but overall the crew pouring the beers were happy and capable of answering questions regarding the beers.
Many of the casks offered were one-off brews that couldn't be tried anywhere else and the ones available in the liquor store were still special beers. The one major exception to this was Lighthouse Brewing's beer, that was supposed to be an Imperial Pilsner, but wasn't ready in time. Instead, they took their Riptide Pale Ale, added some flowers to it two days before (which added virtually nothing to the beer) and offered up that instead. This was by far the weakest offering of the festival. However, this was the only big disappointment and although one beer didn't stand out for me, almost all were delicious and interesting. The Big River Brewpub's Pink Grapefruit IPA worked well, Central City's IPA was a winner as always, and R & B Brewing's bizarre bacon infused Dark Snout Oatmeal Stout was surprisingly drinkable. (But didn't really taste like bacon)
My main criticism of this festival has to be its price. For your $35 you receive just 3 samples and extras cost $1. With only 13 beers to choose from this is highly expensive and seems to me to be taking advantage of the strong community of beer aficionados in Victoria who would probably pay just about anything to attend this event. Overall however, this event was great. The crowd was relaxed and social, the location was intimate and pleasant and the beers were well worth trying. If you want to try new and interesting beers in a great environment, I would definitely recommend attending one of these events in the near future as they are fortunately held several times a year.