Rarely are there occasions where you are able and encouraged to have a drink from over 100 different breweries. Luckily, that’s what Vancouver Craft Beer festival is here for. Featuring numerous breweries from B.C. and beyond, it is the beer connoisseur’s two day heaven. More importantly, it is a good learning opportunity for those not well endowed with a diverse knowledge of alcohols worth half your tuition.
So, how could I, a boring fourth year student who relies too much on Red Racer whenever invited to a BYOB, pass up the opportunity? Thus, on a hot summer's day in June, I found myself in the middle of the PNE fairgrounds surrounded by more beer than a “sorta casual drinker” like me deserves.
Notably, this was a solo mission. Being someone with too much free time with all my peers busy handling summer courses, I couldn’t get the luxury of company. Though I figured that if a fellow writer happily got through Block Party solo, then I can make obscene amounts of drinking work solo too.
Passing through the entrance checkpoint, I was greeted with, as promised, a vast slew of craft brewer booths to peruse at my pleasure. Well, that and an SFU Continuing Studies booth that stuck out among them. Sampler glass in hand, I proceeded to hop from booth to booth, getting my hands on whatever concoction each brewer had in store.
Without naming names (and because my memory took a hit from the hangover), the numerous IPAs and ales I took not only varied in flavour, but also in quality. Some tasted like any good beer I’d leech off of a friend, while some even tasted like damn great Sangria. On the other hand, some just tasted like really bitter cough syrup, and some tasted like my early childhood -- and by that, I mean more cough syrup. Either way, my beverage selections expanded with each booth I visited.
Beer was not the only prominent nourishment there, of course. There were Filipino food trucks, an abundance of dadbods, and the Vancouver Giants. The festival also featured a lumber jack contest -- because of course there had to be one.
The contest was impressive, yet also a tad unintentionally hilarious. Every 15 minutes or so, an energetic salesman came on, attempting to pitch a grill to a tough crowd (made worse with a bad joke on Aussie accents). Also, watching tough men intimidatingly chainsaw logs while Katy Perry playing in the background is an amusing contrast.
As I watched more logs get shredded, I realized that possibly a good chunk of the audience still watching were just there to see wood violently chopped. Oddly enough, it’s the same way I can describe this festival in general. Much like the rules and practice that go into timber sports, a lot of precision and detail going into craft beer itself gets overlooked as we enjoy ourselves.
This was more apparent after picking a brochure from one brewery detailing steps into making braggot. Words like Alfalfa honeys and chamomile were absorbed and simultaneously flew over my head. Tips on drinking methods such as eating specific entrees like Cajun chicken that would apparently boost taste spurred my curiosity as much as it did my insecurity. As someone who just takes whatever is in the cooler and plays beer Jeopardy, there was some semblance of embarrassment asking for a sample without really knowing what I was about to be drinking.
Then again, as I looked around at the hundreds of people sitting at their picnic tables, laughing around as they sipped their beers, there really isn’t a point to being insecure about my ignorance. This is not to say that all effort going into that ale is meaningless and doesn't need to be properly appreciated, but that overall it’s the endgame of making something great for everyone to enjoy that matters. And being the lonely guy wandering through the hearty crowd, I welcomed that sentiment with each new taste.
After a couple of hours and downing enough samples to cripple my motor functions, I decided to leave the festival. In all honesty, I cannot say I became the sophisticated beer snob at the end of my experience. Regardless, my appreciation for breweries with all their creative pale ales, lagers, and IPAs grew stronger as much as my sobriety lessened. And as they all band together to fuel good times (sans felonies), I’d gladly raise my glass to that.
Well, less so for that cough syrup one.