The gym at Thompson Rivers University was filled to capacity for the 4th running of the Williams Lake Craft Beer festival. This event has become the hardest ticket in town to obtain due to its popularity.
The festival is a fertile new ground for the craft brewing movement to take root in. The event sells out every year with next-to-no marketing. The funds raised are donated to charity each year. This years recipient was Cariboo Chilcotin Child Development Centre Association.
This years festival boasted 22 breweries and an impressive showing from regional breweries from Prince George, Quesnel, Kamloops and the Okanagan. Slowly but surely the craft beer trend is taking off in the Cariboo.
The craft brewing pioneer for this area is Barkerville Brewing, which started in 2013. Three Ranges Brewing in Valemount (not really a Cariboo brewery but worthy of mention) started in 2012 is known for its unique beer names and branding. They are becoming very popular and can be located on he shelves at most BC Provincial liquor stores. In 2017, we saw Jackson’s Brewing emerge in 100 Mile House. The newest member of this regional craft beer powerhouse is Trench Brewing from Prince George. All of these nearby breweries are starting to gain traction in local restaurants and bars in the Cariboo.
To the craft brewing newbie, the terminology can be overwhelming. Walk between the booths at this festival and you’ll overhear conversations about IBU’s (international bittering units) and learn about hop blends and varieties of beer like saisons, stouts and bitters. Festivals make it easy to greatly expand your knowledge of this stuff we used to call “beer”.
Attendees get served sample sized portions and move from brewery to brewery making notes in their programs. It’s not unusual for people to sniff and swirl the beer before tasting. You can sample beer blended with Earl Grey tea, coffee and even sour plums. And learn new words like “dunkelweizen” and find beers that are “wet hopped”.
Up to a decade ago, ales and lagers ruled the roost. The “working-man” popular Cariboo lager is a prime example of what we are used to drinking. At today’s craft beer festivals you are hard pressed to find a lager.
The biggest trends are found in the IPA catagory (India Pale Ale’s) who’s recipes date back to British rule in India. This is a very hoppy tasting brew and it seems to be the yardstick that measures most craft breweries these days. Brewmasters are hacking the recipe and adding fruit, sours, and striving for a more bitter and full flavoured brew. Let’s call it an “acquired taste” for most beer drinkers.
Depending on how daring the brewery is, you may or may not like the aggressive hoppy nature of a given cup of suds. This is where some knowledge of IBU’s comes in handy. The higher the IBU’s the more hoppy the brew is. IBU’s are noted on every can or bottle of craft beer you buy.
Some breweries like Fuggles and Warlock, even boast that they “keep beer weird” on their website. This Richmond, BC, based brewery actually releases a new experimental IPA every three months.
This short life span brewing style was completely unheard-of 15 years ago as it wasn’t profitable enough for the big breweries to engage in. Today, the making eclectic beers designed for beer aficionados is not driven by the same desire for profit that the big breweries require. They are simply made for the love of the craft.
These small batches of eclectic brews are almost like form of social media. As you walk through the booths at the Williams Lake Craft Brew Festival you can overhear people raving about their favorite small batch discoveries at craft breweries throughout Canada and the USA. This is a testament to how popular the craft of craft brewing has become. Now you can find over 20 craft brew festivals per year in BC alone.
That’s right, beer tourism is alive and well in BC. We spoke to people that just came from the Prince George Beer festival last weekend and have plans to attend three more this year.
The other surprising thing is how tight-knit the breweries are. This is a true community that values quality, craftsmanship and of course, tasty beer. Brewmasters learn from and challenge each other to invent new recipes and test them out in small batches back at the breweries and sometimes at festivals like this one. It’s fair to say that the brewers gain just as much inspiration from festivals as the attendees do.
Every beer festival has awards to hand out. Some festivals are designed for status and notoriety while others are simply there to showcase great beer. This one is short on real competition and offers one trophy only: The People’s Choice award. This years recipient was awarded to Lighthouse Brewing in Victoria. The winning brew was Nightwatch Coffee lager.
The other competition that takes place at festivals is for swag superiority. The beer names and label designs are nothing short of works of art in most cases. Gone are the days of the simple t-shirt. You’ll find custom designed hats, bandannas, toques, growlers (glass beer jugs) and even handmade wooden beer carrying racks.
Although craft beer has been slow to take root in the Cariboo, events like this create an increase in demand that is getting hard to ignore back at the local pubs and restaurants in the region.
Next time you are out for a pint, consider asking “what craft breweries do you have on tap”. Your local brewmaster will thank you and you can sip your brew knowing that your money is going to a team of beer craftsman and staying in BC.
The website Beer Me BC lists nearly 150 breweries in operation in British Columbia alone.
All Our Photos From Williams Lake Craft Brew Festival
Glossary of Terms
Blogs About Craft Beer
Breweries In Attendance At The Williams Lake Craft Beer Festival
Granville Island Brewing http://www.gib.ca/
Foamer’s Folley http://www.foamersfolly.ca/
BNA Brewing http://www.bnabrewing.com/
Four Winds http://fourwindsbrewing.ca/
Red Collar http://redcollar.ca/
Three Ranges https://www.threeranges.com/
Parallel Brewing http://parallel49brewing.com
Trench Brewing http://www.trenchbrew.ca/
Fuggles and Warlock http://fuggleswarlock.com/
Barkerville Brewing https://barkervillebeer.com/
Central City http://centralcitybrewing.com/
Bridge Brewing https://www.bridgebrewing.com/
Canuck Empire http://www.canuckempirebrewing.com/
Ravens Brewing Company https://www.ravens.beer/