Reading Mike’s Craft Beer posts from this past weekend about this year’s Okanagan Fest of Ale made me a bit nostalgic. You see, Fest of Ale was my very first beer festival and was my initial exposure to the wild world of craft and micro-brewed beer in BC.
I’ve been to FOA twice if I recall correctly. The first time was marked by many firsts: the my first hefeweizen, my first beer festival, my first exposure to Crannóg Ales, and my first time dressing up for a festival of any kind. I went up with three mates, one of whom had jerseys made up for us with each of the four ingredients in beer as our name-plates on the backs: Barley, Hops, Water, and Yeast. We were the toast of the first day before we spilled too much beer on ourselves to wear the shirts for the second day.
There were plenty of things I wasn’t too fond about after that first time: the long lines for both food and beer, as well as the sense that so many people (ourselves included to a degree) were there more for a piss-up than to try new beers. Another beef was the whole beer-girl thing that continues to this day at many festivals: where the booth is staffed by women whose ‘uniforms’ are designed to use their sexuality to sell beer. The only upshot of this tactic is it helped us to identify the shite beers on offer since most self-respecting breweries had women and men staffing their booths that understood the product and the process and, while also beautiful, were there for their knowledge of the beer more than their appearance.
Since that first year, I returned with the same group in 2011. By that time I’d had a few more beer festivals under my belt: the Great Canadian Beer Festival in Victoria,
the Great Okanagan Beer Festival the Kelowna Beer Festival, and even a couple of unnamed cask festivals in England (where your tokens bought you full pints!). The last time I went to FOA, the group didn’t have the custom shirts, didn’t spend as much time at the venue, and didn’t spill nearly as much beer, but I noticed how the atmosphere had changed for the better from my first year.
There was far more maturity and sophistication among patrons for a start. Festival-goers were interested in the beers – in the way they tasted and smelled – and not just in how strong they were or many they could down in a 5 minute stretch. While there were certainly some folks who were there as an excuse to get pissed, most of the crowd was simply eager to try new beers. More people were making notes on their programs of their favourite beers, others were sticking around to ask questions about the beers to the staff from the breweries, and many more were engaging in conversation about beer with their fellow festival-goers, not just while queueing up for the next 4oz sample.
I can only imagine that this year’s festival was even better since the it has had that much more time to grow and mature over it’s 20 year history.
I think that this maturity is reflective of our own beer culture in this province. We have seen explosive growth in the industry in BC, and with it a great deal more interest in and knowledge of brewing, beer, and our local breweries. With that growth and knowledge comes the maturation of the beer drinker as well. Hopefully this will continue as we encourage our compatriots around the province to explore more beer and expand their horizons with new flavours and options.