VCBW – An Insider’s Look

I have to admit, I was little sad that I didn’t make it to any of the Vancouver Craft Beer Week special tasting events. Had I been able to attend any of the special nights, I would have gone to the “Rookies vs. Legends” event, which compared 3 “Rookie” and “Legend” craft brewers side-by-side, and the “Cicerone vs. Sommelier” event, which compared a chef-prepared 3 course meal with suggested beer and wine pairings. At the end of the meal, the attendees got to vote on if the Cicerone or Sommelier “won” – that is, who chose the best food and beer/wine pairings.

Alas, I did make it to the grand tasting hall on the last day of the event, and seeing this was my 3rd or 4th time attending, I thought I would “give back” to the community by volunteering. This meant that for relinquishing 4 hours of my afternoon, I would get into the hall for free and be given 5 free tasting tokens (about a $40 ticket + token value; essentially the equivalent of working for minimum wage).

Volunteering to keep you hydrated!This was a fantastic deal to me, and my job was really easy. All I had to do was fill the water jugs outside of the brewer’s tasting stations (and occasionally, empty their slop bucket), and since the place was massively sized, my section was only about 12 brewers all in a row. It was really hot outside that day, but even still, people were not drinking all that much water. It was fun getting a chance to talk with the brewery reps – it made me happier to know which craft brewers were getting my money, and which ones I was less enthused about supporting based on our conversations throughout the day. One of the horrible head-shaking moments was watching one of the breweries get told to pack it up and leave because the VCBW staff caught the booth operators drinking on the job, not even an hour after the festival had opened. Since that compromises the event’s liquor license, they were sent home immediately.

VCBW mapThe only challenging part of this benevolent endeavour was, after my shift was finished, I only had under 2 hours to try all the breweries that I wanted to check out! I also bought some tokens, knowing I would run out of 5 tokens quickly, and a friend I ran into also gave me 2 of their tokens, so now I had 15 tokens to spend in record time. I’m not at all a fast beer drinker, and I didn’t have much food in me, but away I went! One token got you one 4 oz tasting glass, and drinking 60 oz or 3-4 pints in such a short amount of time was asking for trouble!

I prioritized trying beers from breweries that we carried at the liquor store I work at, as well as other ones I just wanted to try. I did stop half way through to eat from one of the food trucks, and thankfully, the wait for my order was not very long. I wouldn’t have been so adamant to spend all my tokens, except that last year, we were allowed to cash in any unspent tokens. This year, they told us we could only use our previous years’ tokens the following year. I became so determined to spend all my tokens and TRY ALL THE BEERS that I ended up dumping half my taster glasses in the slop buckets. This filled me with some shame of wasting beer, but I needed to preserve my brain cells for the hot bus ride home.

Of the many beers I tried, none of them were particularly outstanding, but they were all above average in tastiness. I would definitely try them all again, and keep my eyes peeled for more styles from the same breweries.

My “local” brewery recommendations to check out:

1) Category 12 Brewing (Victoria, BC): The brewmaster has a PhD in microbiology and biochemistry and makes some yummy beers. I recommend trying the Insubordinate Session IPA or the Disruption Black IPA.

2) Dageraad Brewing (Vancouver/Burnaby, BC): Fantastic Belgian-style beer, made locally! I recommend the De Witte, if it’s still being made. It’s a wheat beer brewed with passionfruit, which is only noticeable in its finish. Very refreshing and not overbearing on the Belgian yeast flavour. The first one I had ever was their Amber, which was tastier than most amber beers I’ve had.

3) Tofino Brewing (Tofino/West Coast Vancouver Island, BC): I have never had a beer from Tofino Brewing that I didn’t like. Their smaller facility forces them to be more choosy on what they produce. Their year-round beers comprise a blonde ale, an IPA, and a pale ale, but if you can get your hands on one of their seasonals, I highly recommend their stout and spruce tips pale ale.

Best part about volunteering: the volunteer appreciation party in a couple months. Free and we can bring a friend for the all-you-can-drink extravaganza! I hope to be able to return to volunteering from them again next year and get a chance to check out their other events during the week.