After 27 years, and a spring and summer spent passing on his experience running Victoria’s biggest annual festival, Victoria’s Gerry Hieter will enjoy a well deserved beer at the Great Canadian Beer Fest this weekend.
There are still tickets left for this year’s edition, with a forecast for sunshine (it rained last year), starting Friday at 4 p.m. and Saturday at noon in Royal Athletic Park.
As the longtime director of GCBF, Hieter weathered the ups (a run of annual sellouts), and downs (pouring half-filled kegs into the drain to conform to B.C.’s antiquated liquor policies) over two-and-a-half decades. Earlier this year Hieter and the core member of retiring directors from the GCBF confirmed the event had been handed over to the Victoria Beer Society (creators of the eight-day Victoria Beer Week every March).
“We’ll work closely with Beer Week right up until the gate is open [at the 2019 event]. Then I’ll grab my glass,” said Hieter, now 65.
And now, that time has come.
“Hieter told me he isn’t even going to be choosy about which beer, just walk up to the first brewery booth that doesn’t have a lineup,” said Joe Wiebe, co-founder of Victoria Beer Week and newly anointed beer director for GCBF.
Ironically, this year it will be easier than ever to find your favourite type of beer flavour thanks to the searchable list on the GCBF website. Enter ‘strawberry’ into the search engine and the list of 99 breweries is whittled down to only those 12 which are offering a beer that includes the red fruit (to varying degrees).
“[Taking over GCBF] It’s been a huge learning curve,” Wiebe added. “Even though the founders retired they had a team working with them, and that team are back working with us.”
Many of the annual volunteers are also back.
Between 7,000 and 9,000 people are expected for this weekend’s Great Canadian Beef Fest, one of the bigger economic drivers in Greater Victoria each year. Compare that to the cumulative total of 2,500 patrons VBW serves at more than a dozen events.
And with the Rifflandia music festival on hiatus, it’s the only big September event at Royal Athletic Park. There have been a few changes with GCBF – like, even more breweries, bumping from 64 to 99 – but overall the event will appear similar to what the annual regulars are used to experiencing.
One thing the new crew wanted to do was increase the already high number of breweries, adding in an eastern flavour but also upping the B.C. presence.
The revamped layout will regionalize visiting breweries in pavilions. That means two Alberta booths with four breweries at each. There’s also the B.C. Ale Trailer, which has 18 taps, representing nine breweries that sent their beer without having to host their own tent.
Tickets are $40 per day or a weekend pass for $70. The latter option hasn’t been offered before.
As a freelance craft beer writer and author of Craft Beer Revolution, Wiebe usually returns the next day to try out additional flavours.
“There’s still too many but this way you don’t need to try to drink too many on one night anyways,” Wiebe said.
Wiebe also noted that as a courtesy the organizers are allowing patrons to use their old blue GCBF tokens as the VBS will introduce its red tokens moving forward.