Harrison Beer Festival

B.C. beer pilgrimage.

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The third annual Harrison Beer Festival returned to St. Alice Hall at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa, October 24 and 25, 2014. You can think of it a little like a beer pilgrimage of sorts, as Harrison Hot Springs and Agassiz (just a stone’s throw away) were once integral to the production of hops in the province. The fertile soil nourished a great bounty for nearly six decades until the Fraser River flooded in 1948 and decimated the fields, taking the industry along with it. The hop yards were moved to the Creston Valley in 1952, and many of the fields were re-planted with corn and hazelnuts.

The festival included three events, all of which were sold out. Cask Night, held on the Friday, brought seven different B.C. craft breweries together in friendly competition for the best cask ale. Cask-conditioned beer is unfiltered and unpasteurized, and served straight from the cask without nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure. Most cask ales produced are unique experimental beers. Guests were invited to taste, vote (and explain their choices) on an anonymous ballot, and then help finish the seven 40.9-litre casks, all to the tune of British and Irish folk songs performed by Tim Readman on guitar and Jennie Bice on violin. The competition was truly all in good fun, and Old Yale from Chilliwack, B.C., was crowned the winner (“because of the handsome man pouring the beer”), and Penticton’s Cannery Brewing came second.

The Saturday afternoon was devoted to the main event, the beer festival itself. Twenty-three microbreweries in B.C. (and one from Ontario, Mill St. Brewery) offered tasters of 70 different kinds of beer to guests until the most unpopular man in the festival appeared holding the dreaded sign: “last call at 5:45”. Quite appropriately, considering the festival’s location in the land of the elusive Bigfoot, Old Yale Brewing Co. from Chilliwack offered this year’s Canadian Brewing Awards “Beer of the Year” winner, the Sasquatch Stout, described by the brewery as “black and robust with a lot of body, just like the mysterious animal itself”. More than 1,200 litres of beer was poured between established heavy-hitters (Stanley Park Brewery—originally established in 1897; Russell; Phillips; and Parallel 49), the new kids on the block (Delta’s Four Winds; Port Moody’s Yellow Dog; and Vancouver’s Bomber Brewing), and other B.C. brewers (Mt. Begbie from Revelstoke; Moon from Victoria; and the Tin Whistle from Penticton).

Saturday evening saw St. Alice Hall transformed yet again for the Oktoberfest Dance. The long communal tables filled up quickly with guests, beer stein filled with Ayinger’s Brau Weissein in one hand and a freshly baked pretzel in the other. The Beer Barrels, a three-piece Oompa-pa band consisting of the midi-accordion, saxophone, and drum, brought even the most sober non-dancer up to the front of the hall. Feet were tapping, hands were clapping, and people were cheering: eins, zwei, drei, g’suffa! The drinking songs really do work, so while you may leave the Harrison Beer Festival vowing never to imbibe again, chances are you’ll follow the siren song back to the beer hall again next year.

Photos: Riley Forman, Connect Media.

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November 3, 2014