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Winter Fest of Ale @ St. Augustine’s

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This Saturday saw the coming and going of CAMRA’s annual Winter Fest of Ale (previously incarnated as the December Caskival at Dix). As one would expect from the sort of “high-functioning alcoholic hiding behind the guise of beer geek” that I am, I was there for much of the day. In most ways that matter, this event was a solid improvement over the previous Fall HarvestFest at the Railway Club in both atmosphere and brewery dedication.

I won’t bore you with dozens of tasting notes on the highly-obscure (and more than one 1-off) brews served up during the fest. I’m sure those are all over the interwebs, and also just to the right in my beer reviews. I will, however, highlight some key changes I noticed during this fest:

First, the tasting glasses have progressed from the age-old mini-lager glasses to the newer style 4oz mini-tulips. As a guy who as all but ranted about glassware previously, this had me smiling and nodding. The types of beers served up at festivals looks, smells and tastes much better out of this style glassware. See for yourselves.

It’s ok to lick your monitor. Perv.

Second, virtually all the breweries put their backs into this one. The list of beers included casked versions of seasonal treats, one-offs, and crazy experimentals. In fact, I’m only going to call out Phillips Brewing for phoning this one in. Guys, sending a couple cases of bottled-product and a rep just won’t cut it (in fact, I didn’t see even the rep, so that might not have happened). We appreciate the chance to sample the ’10 releases of both your Barley Wine and your excellent Dopplebock, but c’mon. Try harder.

Compare that lazy effort with James Walton of Storm, who 1) Brewed up a “very special” smoked porter, 2) Made it so overwhelmingly smokey that I felt as if I had just brushed my teeth with campfire charcoal, and 3) Showed up dressed like this:

Pictured: A man who does not do half measures.

Third, I know I’ve been down on the joint in the past, but St. Augustine’s is a very nice place to hang out for an afternoon pint. I would strongly recommend it to any and everyone. Just check the UFC schedule first–I failed to do this previously, and hit 2/2 fight nights, and came under the unfortunate conclusion that all of Surrey with a BAC of .10+ flooded out and filled up this establishment every second night. In reality, the fights are few and far between.

There were only two things they could have done better to make people feel more welcome, one under their control and one less-so. 1) The hors d’oeuvres were not fantastic, and cost a whole drink ticket per item. This did not promote sobriety. A 4oz sample of Dave’s Xmas Cake Ale, or a 1.5″ long cold mini-sausage? Easy choice. If it tastes sorta like food, it’s the same thing right?

And 2) with only one functioning bathroom, we had the unfortunate circumstance of the ladies and gents sharing the remaining 3-station room in unison. When one of the two functioning urinals started flooding the room, that was the building’s subtle way of telling us to get the fuck out.

Still, I plan on coming back periodically (even if only for the new Nitro taps), and perhaps even checking out one of their more civilized upcoming Beer Pairing Dinners:

You should, too.

Or, you know, start at the left and work your way right.
It’ll be like a race!

Written by chuck

December 6th, 2010 at 10:13 am


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CAMRA is organizing yet another Vancouver-based beer fest; this time it will be at St Augustine’s on Commercial, and have a decidedly winter theme. I know I’ve been down on this location in the past, but the UFC schedule seems to imply the hot sweaty man-on-man action won’t start until after the Bearded Beer Brigade has left the building.

The Winterfest-of-Ale is on December 4th from 12pm to 5pm, and presumably has been created to replace Dix’s Winter Caskival, which expired last spring along with Dix’s itself. (Can we take the black arm-bands off yet?)

The website for the fest (here) doesn’t have any information on participating breweries yet, so I took some time to talk to CAMRA’s esteemed president Lundy Dale at FireFly yesterday.

The goal is apparently to have 16 beers, with four entrants in each of four categories:

  • Barley Wines
  • Stouts and Porters
  • Spiced / Winter Ales
  • Full Flavoured Ales

The trick is, of course, getting a brewery to actually bring whatever beer they promised. Several have told Lundy they’ll be there (names like Howe Sound, R&B, Storm and Driftwood have been thrown around), but won’t commit to a specific beer style just yet. And some early hints of casks defy classification (there has been talk of Talyor’s Crossing producing a BBQ’d Duck Ale… that frightens me).

Lastly, one brewer has just flat out refused to conform to the four categories. If you guessed this was James Walton of Storm, you were correct. I picture James as the rebellious teenager to Lundy’s mom, screaming about how he won’t “bend to society’s freaking rules, man!” He then storms out and slams the door to his bedroom–which is also for some reason a brewery–loudly.

So we might as well add a fifth category added to the above for a “Walton Special,” keeping in mind that at last year’s Caskival he produced a greyish pale ale the colour and viscosity of paint. It will likely be very odd, and more likely be the oddest of the lot. Yes, I say that knowing I typed the words “BBQ’d Duck Ale” and “Paint” not four sentences ago. I’ll let the implications of that sink in for a bit.

In any event, tickets are 25-35 dollars depending on the status of your CAMRA card and the date on the calendar. I will be there, and so should you. I fully expect to get a sneak preview of several of the local releases of barley wines and cellaring ales, so that alone will be worth the penalty of sniffing a glass and wondering if they actually used meat in the brewing process.

Written by chuck

November 9th, 2010 at 10:42 am