Top Beer Picks from the GCBF 2019 Beer List

Perhaps you missed all the announcements about the upcoming Great Canadian Beer Fest that is happening next weekend. You might also have overlooked the part where there are over 90 breweries, more than 275 beers and the BC Ale Trail-er in attendance. Where does one start? Start by drooling over the beer list, which is searchable this year by style and description keywords. Still overwhelmed? Perhaps a few recommendations from notable local beer enthusiasts. 

John Rowling and Gerry Hieter.

Gerry Hieter, previous GCBF Chairman, what are you looking forward to trying this year? “Anyone who knows me also knows that I haven’t had a drink of beer at the GCBF since 2002 so the most important beer I try will be the first one, no doubt. Hopefully I won’t horrify the beer world when I say that my first beer will be from the first brewery I can get to once I arrive. After that, I will get more serious about what I sample. The first adventurous beer I try will be from Slackwater Brewing in Penticton, which is a new brewpub owned and operated by a friend of mine and well known beer guy, Liam Peyton. After that I am all over the Nova Scotia breweries and will hang around that pavilion for a bit before I soldier on.”

Perhaps the next logical person to ask for beer recommendations is John Rowling, past GCBF co-Chairman. “I’m excited to see what the new crew have come up with for this year’s GCBF. There’s everything for everyone. Personally, I’m going to start with an English-style pale ale from 9 Mile Legacy Brewing from Saskatchewan — something traditional to get me going. Also an early beer will be the Friday cask from Mount Arrowsmith (Parksville) – Blackberry Porter.”

“Also, I love Citra hops so next I’m going to search for beers brewed with those hops. Kind of an educational thing — can I really identify a particular hop? I’ll start with Ontario’s Bench Brewing’s Citra Grove Dry Hopped Sour because that’s the only hop in that beer. Then I’ll try some more complex hop bills, such as Blindman Brewing (Alberta) Dry hopped Kettle Sour #12 and Strathcona’s (Vancouver) Big Sexy Funk IPA. For a bigger taste challenge I’m going for Penticton’s Highway 97 Brewing’s Peated Scotch Ale, and finally, the very big Tatamagouche Brewing’s Toro – Bourbon barrel aged Quad with Brett.” Wow. That is a man with a plan!

If, like John, you love the Citra hop then head over to booth 42 and sample Annex Ale’s Pale Ale. Perhaps they will display the multiple medals this beer has won.

Matt Poirier.

Great beer minds think alike: Certified Cicerone and Monday Magazine beer columnist Matt Poirier is also excited about that big Tatamagouche beer. “This does not sound like a simple beer at all. The description, ABV, and expected flavours will likely make this a sipping, thinking beer that will get everyone talking.” He is also keen to try Big Spruce Brewing’s Cereal Killer Oatmeal Stout: “Between the name, and the fact that this brewery is coming all the way from Cape Breton Island, this stout has come too far not to be tried.”

Again, Matt will be lining up with John at the Mount Arrowsmith tent to taste the Friday cask. “By taking their Low Pressure Porter, already a favourite of mine, and adding the rich sweetness of late season blackberries, the description alone just makes me think of a rich chocolate cake with a berry coulis.”

Poirier has a solid strategy for the rest of his picks. “With nearly 300 beers available over two days, the only way to narrow things down is to have a system, and mine has three parts. First, I want to try some of the breweries that have come from a distance. Then, I’ll look at the casks, and finally, I take a look at the local breweries that have something exciting to try.”

Smithers Brewing.

Here are Matt Poirier’s other top beer picks:

Smithers Brewing Nitro Coffee Lager (5.1%): “Putting coffee in beer isn’t an easy task. Putting it in a lager is even harder. Putting that on a Nitro tap just adds to the degree of difficulty.”

Twin City Vanishing Act Pineapple Coconut Sour (5.4%): “Do you like pina coladas? Twin City has been absolutely crushing it with their beers, so the idea of a fun take on a classic cocktail (which isn’t the only one at the festival) should just add to the experience if the weather holds. Tiny umbrella not included.”

Brazen Hall Brewing Jarpur Amber Ale (4.9%): “I’ve heard amazing things about Brazen Hall, so the opportunity to have them here is one not to pass up. This may not jump out as something different, but the ability to brew an enjoyable amber ale is usually a sign of a good brewery overall.”

Torque Brewing Witty Belgian (4.7%): “A nice Belgian Wit on a hot summer day just hits the spot, and this 2019 CBAC Gold Medal winning beer has to be doing something right.”

Moon Under Water Year VII Wheat Wine Cask (11.9%, Friday Only): “This beer, released around GCBF every year, has become almost a tradition to have under the lights of Royal Athletic Park. Warm, rich, and full of depth, it’s a great choice once it starts to get a bit chilly.”

Sooke Oceanside Brewery Strubarb Strawberry Rhubarb Golden Ale Cask (5.0%, Saturday Only): “I like pie, and I like beer, so the idea of a bright fruity pie beer in cask form just makes me want to dive in.”

Parallel 49 Brewing Cosmic Slop (6.8%): “Once you get over the name, this beer sounds so complex, and just piques my curious side. Here’s hoping the name isn’t an apt descriptor of the beer.”

Ian Lloyd.

What are my choices? I thought you would never ask. I am a fan of low alcohol and heritage beer styles. I plan on sampling the Pour Les Mineurs from Container Brewing, at 3.2% ABV. Crannog Ales is back after a few years’ absence, and I must try their red currant ale. Can’t say that I have ever tried a Haskap berry sour, so off to Booth 42 to present my token to Saskatchewan’s Nokomis Craft Ales. Contrary to John, I will be visiting Booth 69 and Tatamagouche Brewing for two beers below the 3.5% ABV range. A Berliner Weisse with Enigma hops? Sign me up. The last on my list is Winterlong Brewing from the Yukon. Last year their Spruce IPA was my favourite. Looking forward to trying their mixed yeast, hop-forward saison.

Whatever beers you try, just remember to sample responsibly and plan for a safe trip home. Hint, hint, use your provided BC Transit pass. Visiting the many food trucks might be helpful. Did someone say “Taco Justice and L’Authentique poutine at the same venue?”