Special to the Tribune/Advisor
Another successful edition of the Williams Lake Craft Beer Festival ran at the Thompson Rivers University campus on Feb. 23.
This sell-out event always proves to be the most difficult ticket in town to purchase and this year’s event sold out in 30 minutes. Proceeds go to the Cariboo Chilcotin Child Development Centre with the breweries donating the suds to help fundraising efforts. Each year this event contributes over $35,000 to its chosen charity.
In earlier runs of the festival, it was a challenge to find enough local breweries.
The local category was typically dominated by Barkerville Brewing and the rest of the booths would be filled by industry mainstays like Red Racer, Okanagan Spring and Granville Island.
This year’s running brought forward many smaller, regional operators from Prince George, Kamloops, Valemount, 100 Mile House and Vernon. The organizers of the festival couldn’t be happier.
It’s looking probable that next year’s festival will feature a Williams Lake startup called Fox Mountain Brewing Company, which is currently working through its application for a business licence and re-zoning of the old Greyhound depot.
There are several private liquor stores in Williams Lake that regularly stock many of the festival entries. Even two years ago, this was not a common practice. Festival co-organizer Chad Matthies said that’s due, in large part, to the festival’s influence on local palettes.
“Not only are we seeing huge support and selection at our local retailers we’re also partnering with them outside of the festival to build awareness. This has really helped raise the profile of craft beer in our region,” Matthies said.
The transformation of the local brewing scene has been nothing short of radical these past few years. Residents of the Cariboo went from drinking big label lagers like Budweiser, Coors and Cariboo to a more refined palette of craft brews.
Take Three Ranges Brewing, for example. In 2013, they were strictly a local brewery, serving a small handful of brews from their facility in Valemount as licensing restrictions prevented a larger operation. Rules were adapted to encourage craft beer growth recently and this year, after winning a BC Beer award, they are brewing five batches a month of the Tailslap IPA instead of one batch every five weeks.
General Manager Michael Lewis said that even though they are starting to succeed, getting distribution is still a challenge.
“We’re still a spec product, meaning we self distribute, and we’re not in the LDB warehouses.
Further meaning, we’re only available in limited markets from Smithers and Dawson Creek south to Kelowna, and only where we ship the beer ourselves,” Lewis said.
The flagship Tailslap IPA is this author’s personal favourite of any beer on the market despite the Mud Bogger Dark Lager taking the People’s Choice Award this year.
The brewery with the longest distance travelled might be Esquimalt’s, Lighthouse brewing. They were back after winning the People’s Choice Award last year. This year, they showed up with a new concoction called Numskull Citra IPA.
This brew serves up a hefty nine per cent alcohol by volume rating and a robust flavour profile to match.
Although they came up short on awards at this year’s festival, it’s worthy of mentioning they are celebrating 20 years in business. Also, if there was a website award at this festival, these guys would win hands down.
Check out www.lighthousebrewing.com for one of the best-branded breweries in the country.
Worthy of mention in the context of distance travelled and unique product offering was the rookie attendee, Stillhouse Distillery from Duncan.
Jackson’s Social Club And Brewhouses’ Keith Jackson was candid about the importance of this festival. Jackson’s brewery is located on Highway 97 in the centre of 100 Mile House.
“I keep hearing from dozens of people tonight that they drive our brewery all the time and never stop,” Jackson said.
“Today, they get to give us a try. “
Jackson’s choice to exhibit at the festival paid off this year as his Giddy Up Brunette Ale came in second place for fan favourite
Vernon’s Marten Brewery also deserves kudos for exhibiting this year. A sample of the BC Bud IPA was quite satisfying and would be quite accessible for those new to IPA’s. If you are ever in Vernon, be sure to stop into this amazing bastion of brewing and foodie culture.
Festival veterans Trench Brewing from Prince George and Wheelhouse from Prince Rupert round out the northernmost entries this year.
Both have a diverse offering of seasonal and regular beer for your sampling pleasure. It’s easy to find a new favourite brew flowing from their taps.
My favourite discovery from this year was from Vancouver’s Strathcona Brewing. Big Sexy Funk IPA was a nice, modern IPA that won awards this year.
The packaging is unique and eye-catching as well.
It’s also worthy of mention that a cidery from Logan Lake made an appearance this year. This Merritt-based outfit has been quenching thirsts with crispy cider since 2011.
After attending this festival, it’s obvious the genie is out of the craft brewing growler in B.C.’s small towns and cities.
What started out as a curiosity to many has now turned into a movement of dedicated craft brewing fans and followers.
As a result, this festival is enabling many small players to gain a name for themselves outside of the uber-competitive Lower Mainland.
This festival is getting noticed and it’s probably a good time to mark down next year’s festival in your calendar to avoid disappointment.
Craig Davidiuk is an entrepreneur and digital marketing professional from 108 Mile Ranch B.C. His craft brewing passion transcends three decades as a former, micro-mini sized partner in an East Van brewery.