Barley Mowat 

Beer Fest is Best (in Surrey)

with 8 comments

You know what? I hate beer festivals. I really do. I mean, what’s there to like? Think of it from my perspective: I pay $20 to get in the door to an overpacked, sweltering municipal hall somewhere, and then I wander around in search of good beer only to discover that I’ve had every single one of the 100-or-so regular beers on tap already. I buy some extra tickets, discover that there are no seats to be had anywhere, and eventually give up and leave after the two or three casks run out.

By the time I’m back outdoors, the damage is around $30-$40 for approximately two proper pints of beer in what can only charitably be called the worst bar on the planet, and to think that people get mad when pint-equivalent prices approach $10 for rare beer at The Alibi.

Fat Tug Standard, amended. I think @knightafter just had a stroke.

All in all, a miserable time, except for those casks. Weren’t those neat? Well, now, what if you take that same beer festival, and replace all the regular production beers with one-off casks? Sweet! Just as surely as a regular beer fest is a waste of time, an all-cask one is brilliant. I’ll happily pay $40 to try 40oz of crazy, one-off ales, even if the event was in hell. As luck would have it, this weekend features pretty much exactly that.

This Saturday will bring 30-odd casks to Central City Brewing in Surrey, and as surely as your milkshake brings all the boys to the yard, 30-odd casks bring all the Chucks to Surrey.

All joking aside, Surrey is great. It really is. Please don’t murder me. (Aside: why are these stock photo thugs wearing Google-coloured ski masks? Is Google now shaking people down for search results?)

Casks are a chance for brewers to screw around a bit and have some fun. While I can’t speak for every brewer out there, I’m going to guess that most of them didn’t start making beer with a dream of brewing the same damned beer every day for the rest of their lives. Like it or not, but that’s the job that stares down most commercial brewers when they come into the office in the morning.

Sure, head brewers frequently brew something small on the brewery’s test system, but these are more often than not for piloting new production beers or, even more depressing, recipe tweaks to existing mainstream offerings. Want to try fermenting some pineapple to make a fruity stout? Leave it for the casks.

That’s what I expect to see this Saturday: really freaking weird beer that was produced in tiny, tiny batches by talented brewers who might just be a little bored with their day jobs. This is fun. Brewing this beer is fun. Serving this beer is fun and, most importantly, drinking it is fun. Sure, that pineapple stout might taste like horrid, sweaty ass, but the fact it turned out horribly isn’t as important as the fact that someone tried to make it. With each sip, we learn a bit more about what works and what doesn’t, and beer in BC gets better as a result. That’s why I love a good cask fest: if you pay close attention, you can see the future of beer before it happens.

With the good comes the bad, though. Some breweries seem to miss the point and just phone it in to these events. Take note, breweries, I’ll be watching and judging you silently*. Got an IPA that you’ve fermented in a giant pumpkin called Gourd-on Lighthop? Gold star, my friend, gold star. Pale Ale dry-hopped with Citra? Boring, predictable, and very disappointing. Decided “Aw, fuck it” and you’re pouring your main production beers from a draught system? Watch out.

* Seriously, I make literally no noise when composing profanity-laced, libellous, diatribes for this blog.

Written by chuck

January 23rd, 2014 at 11:56 am

Posted in Beer and You

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8 Responses to 'Beer Fest is Best (in Surrey)'

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  1. Good, honest article, Chuck. I agree about the crazy cost of regular beer festivals, given the cost per ounce of beer consumed. In spite of its exorbitant cost, I am looking forward to the Copenhagen Beer Celebration in May. Tickets sell out online six months prior to the event, so I’m not the only one willing to pay the price. I don’t know if there will be casks, but there will be innovative beers from all over the world, so it will be fun and, I hope, worth the trip.


    23 Jan 14 at 13:48

  2. @LJCaro – For some folk, a beer fest is worth it, just not for me (in BC). The GABF, though, I would gladly attend, since a portion of that entry cost is paying for the novelty of all those breweries in one place. In BC, though, the novelty is worth about zero dollars, to me at least.


    23 Jan 14 at 13:54

  3. I couldn’t disagree more. I would rather have bright pour of beautifully conditioned pale ale with subtle complexity than a warm, yeasty, headless freak beer. If you can’t do things well, don’t try to cover for it by trying to be different. Save the dry hopped imperial durian saison until you’ve mastered the basics of cask conditioning.


    23 Jan 14 at 16:24

  4. I like trying something new and exciting at a cask fest as much as the next guy, but it’s the expectation that cask beer should be a completely different and experimental beer that has created a false perception of cask beer in BC. Cask ale needn’t have unconventional ingredients added to it nor must it be a one-off brew. Cask ale is just that, cask-conditioned ale. I’m not entirely sure why firkins have become go-to vessel for experimental beer, a brewer could just as easily put an experimental test batch into a keg, accurately carbonate it and serve it at a festival with no regard for the real ale criteria of Camra UK.

    Personally, I feel like the error portion of trial and error experimental brewing should be kept at the brewery. I’ll take quality over uniqueness any day, and if a brewery can serve a beer with both; then–only then, gold star.


    24 Jan 14 at 10:31

  5. @Edwards and @Anders, you guys make a valid point: a cask conditioned ale can be lovely for simply behind cask conditioned. However, I would argue that casks are being served in so many pubs on so many nights that those evenings should be the realm of the pub ale. I won’t turn my nose up at a simple dry hopped, or even just vanilla cask-conditioned version of beer on a beer engine, or served straight from the cask at anyone of literally dozens of pubs that offer this nowadays.

    A cask FESTIVAL, though, is a different beast. As nice as a cask of CC Pale dry-hopped w/ Amarillo is to drink, it’s also on the engine at the Alibi pretty much every week. For three purple MacDonalds and an epic trek to Surrey I’d like to see something I can’t walk down the street and get on any given day.


    24 Jan 14 at 10:48

  6. completely agree that beer festivals in BC are lacking. Last summer i experienced by first Portland beer festival (Oregon Brewers Festival) and it was amazing. The festival runs a Wednesday to a Sunday from Noon to 9pm. This means if you’re an out of towner, and dont work during the day, you can show up at noon, having plenty of seating, no lines and hours to spend tasting. The festival is free to enter and you can come and go as you please.


    24 Jan 14 at 18:32

  7. Some notes about the cost of festivals for those lamenting the price…

    Few people know that last year’s VCBW Beer Festival cost roughly $75,000-$85,000 to put on. Most large scale festivals will cost at least that much. In the city of Vancouver it’s even worse because the cost of leasing a plot of empty land for four days (set up, 2 day fest, tear down) can be astronomical. Want to go to the convention centre instead? No problem! That’s $25K a day, for four days….

    OBF is a slightly different animal and honestly a bit unfair to compare. It’s been running forever, the city of Portland supports it whole heartedly as it’s the biggest tourism draw they have, and generally speaking it’s not overly complex to put on. The beer list looks amazing to us because we don’t get any of those beers, but if you live in Portland it’s a pretty whatever event.

    All in all, beer fests are not designed for the nerds. They exist to convert and create new beer nerds. It’s about providing an opportunity for those not to sure about this craft beer thing to try a bunch of stuff in one place. Stuff they can go pick up on the shelf later because it wasn’t a one off uber batch laced fairy dust and rock salt.

    Now – cask fests? Nerd utopia.

    Ever wonder why VCBW is a week and not just the big fuck off festival at the end? I’ll promise you it’s not because thats where the money is made. We don’t make shit off those days leading up to that fest. Those days exist because we know the nerds want something special. Why? Because most of us putting on VCBW are fucking nerds ourselves haha

    Great post! See you soon Chuck!


    25 Jan 14 at 09:20

  8. Well for what it is worth – this cask festival was fantastic. From a cost perspective I spent $60 on about 2.5 pitchers of beer (close to the cost in a bar when you include tips).

    4oz glasses were $1 to fill (so 25 cents per oz) and the beer was excellent.

    Still, you pay a bit of premium but they let you keep the glass…


    30 Jan 14 at 22:41

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