Okanagan Fest of Ale

Best of the 2019 Okanagan Fest of Ale

Another edition of the Okanagan Fest of Ale is in the books. Once again, it was a privilege — and a lot of fun — to take part in picking the winners of the Judges’ Choice awards at this year’s festival.

Judging took place Saturday morning, with 127 beers entered in 12 categories. With such a large field to evaluate, we were split into three panels of three people. Each team was responsible for judging four categories and picked a winner in each class via blind tasting. (Translation: we weren’t told the names of the beers.)

The 12 category winners advanced to a Best in Show competition involving all nine judges. We decided on the champion after another round of blind tasting and a lively discussion.

Judging beer isn’t “work” in the conventional sense, but that doesn’t mean it’s a frivolous pursuit. Brewers work hard to hone their craft, so their beer deserves fair consideration from judges who approach the task with knowledge, a finely-tuned palate and concentration. Cheers to my fellow judges, who brought all those qualities to the table: Lundy Dale (B.C. beer writer and ambassador), Wade Dhooge (Cask & Barrel Liquor Store), Mike Garson (Pacific Beer Chat), Michelle Gowing (Two Wolves Brewing), Aaron Johnson (Cascadian Beer Podcast), Rob Mangelsdorf (The Growler B.C.) Dave Smith (What’s Brewing B.C.), Joe Wiebe (aka The Thirsty Writer and author of Craft Beer Revolution).

Enough of my droning! Here are the winners we chose:

Best in Show: Would Crush — Twin Sails Brewing

Pilsner/golden lager/dark lager/Kolsch: Nightwatch Coffee Lager — Lighthouse Brewing

Pale ale: Squirrel Chaser — Yellow Dog Brewing

Wheat ale: Dim Wit — Parkside Brewery

ESB: English Subtitles — Kettle River Brewing

Amber/dark ale: Smoke & Mirrors Imperial Smoked Ale — Coal Harbour Brewing

IPA: Loop Line — Iron Road Brewing

Specialty IPA: Dreamboat Hazy IPA — Parkside Brewery

Stout/porter: Tennessee — BNA Brewing

Sour: Tart Wild Ale With Pineapple & Guava — Luppolo Brewing

Fruit beer: Would Crush — Twin Sails Brewing

Specialty beer: Beermosa — Bad Tattoo Brewing

Cider: Broken Ladder Rosé — B.C Tree Fruits Cider

Enjoying B.C.’s best at Okanagan Fest of Ale

(In keeping with my commitment to transparency, a note about my relationship with the Okanagan Fest of Ale: as a member of the judging panel, festival organizers have paid for my accommodations in Penticton and a portion of my travel to the event.)

It looks like winter has finally released Alberta from its icy grip, judging by the double-digit temperatures and sunshine across the province last week.

You might think it folly for me to recommend a warmer-weather getaway to B.C. when spring has seemingly arrived in Alberta, but I’ve lived in this province for more than 20 years: I know from experience that April can produce some of the nastiest, snowiest weather of the year — particularly in Calgary. (And frankly, I’m amazed how even longtime Albertans forget this.)

So if you’re craving green grass, budding foliage and some sunshine with your beer, head to Penticton for the 24th edition of the Okanagan Fest of Ale on April 12 and 13.

I’ve had the privilege of being invited to the festival as a competition judge for the past four years and excited to return in a few weeks for a fifth go-round. During my time at the Fest of Ale, I’ve seen the quantity and quality of breweries continue to grow. This year’s festival at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre will feature an event-high 75 breweries and cideries — 19 of which are attending for the first time.

Alberta’s craft beer industry has grown rapidly over the past few years, and the results of this year’s Alberta Beer Awards demonstrate we have a lot to be proud of here in Wild Rose country. But there’s a great big beery world beyond our borders, and the province next door is the home of Canada’s craft brewing trailblazers as well as some of the country’s most innovative newcomers. While it’s true we’re seeing more B.C. beer than ever in Alberta, the Fest of Ale lineup still includes many breweries that don’t ship to our province. Even among the breweries that do make their way here, the Fest of Ale is a good opportunity to sample limited releases that aren’t available in Alberta.

I may push springtime in the Okanagan as a reason to make the trip to Penticton, but I can’t exactly guarantee the weather will be good. One selling point I do feel 100 per cent confident about, however, is the Fest of Ale’s community vibe.

Line-ups at booths are fairly manageable, which gives brewers and guests more of an opportunity to talk about the beer than you often get at larger fests. And unlike some larger events, many of the booths are staffed by brewers and brewery employees who can talk knowledgeably about the beer they’re pouring, as opposed to hired guns brought in to sling beer and not much else. Being a beer writer from out of province has given me the opportunity to field test this claim a few times: unlike many of the other judges, who are from B.C., most exhibitors don’t know me, so I’m confident the treatment I get closely mirrors the experience for a typical festival goer.

The Fest of Ale began as an event to kick off the spring tourism season in Penticton and boost the local economy. Although there’s no doubt the fest continues to fulfill those roles, it now takes place amid a bigger and more vibrant backdrop than two decades ago. With five local breweries and two more opening soon, Penticton’s dynamic local beer scene earned it a #2 spot on a list of Canada’s best beer towns published by the travel site Expedia.ca. Festival weekend has also come to include a growing list of beer events happening around town, perhaps none more popular than Saturday night’s Murderers Row cask event at the Kettle Valley Station Pub. The event’s Facebook page has more details and a list of the 17 breweries participating this year, as well as ticket info — which is important, because it usually sells out well in advance.

Keep an eye on this site for official judging results on the afternoon of April 13, plus I’ll have photos and updates on Original Levity’s Twitter and Instagram feeds throughout the weekend.

Okanagan Fest of Ale judging results

That’s a wrap on the 23rd Okanagan Fest of Ale. I had the privilege of being part of the nine-member jury that judged 122 beers entered in 12 categories at this year’s festival. Here are the winners we chose:

Best in Show: Tart Wild Ale with Plum — Luppolo Brewing

Pilsner/golden lager/dark lager/Kolsch: Los Muertos Cerveza Negra — Bad Tattoo Brewing

Pale ale: Fashionably Late — Moon Under Water

Wheat ale: Sublime Pineapple Hefeweizen — Moody Ales

Saison: Pamela — BNA Brewing

Amber/dark ale: Cinders Red Rye — CrossRoads Brewing

IPA: Humans — Parkside Brewery

Specialty IPA: Hit the Deck Hazy IPA — Fernie Brewing

Stout/porter: Peché Mortel — Microbrasserie Dieu du Ciel

Sour: Tart Wild Ale with Plum — Luppolo Brewing

Fruit beer: Park Life Passion Fruit Ale — Bomber Brewing

Specialty beer: Nightwatch Coffee Lager Lighthouse Brewing

Cider: Dad Bod — B.C. Tree Fruits Cider

 

Getting set for the Okanagan Fest of Ale

For the fourth year in a row, I’m looking forward to heading to Penticton to take part in judging at the Okanagan Fest of Ale.

With this year’s edition of the fest getting underway Friday evening, I launched Original Levity a bit late to put it on the radar screen of Albertans who might normally be amenable to spending a weekend drinking beer in the sunny Okanagan. Consider yourselves duly notified of next year’s event. (And maybe by then, Alberta and B.C. will have stopped fighting, too.)

Why should you go? Well, other than the “drinking beer in the sunny Okanagan” part, the festival is an opportunity to sample beers from some great B.C. breweries we don’t see in Alberta – and get a sneak peek of the latest up-and-comers that may be headed our way. In past years, I’ve had my first exposure to beers from Twin Sails, Yellow Dog and Four Winds at the Fest of Ale. It’s also an opportunity to get to know (or get reacquainted) with many B.C. mainstays don’t distribute widely outside their immediate areas, like Victoria’s Moon Under Water and Crannog Ales in Sorrento.

The roster at this year’s festival (the 23rd) includes 69 breweries and cideries pouring nearly 200 different products for people to sample. The number of exhibitors gets bigger every year, but the ticket sales have remained capped at around 5,000, which keeps line-ups at booths fairly manageable and gives brewers and guests more of an opportunity to talk about the beer than you see at larger fests.

The Fest of Ale started as an event meant to kick off the spring tourism season in Penticton and the founders wanted it to complement, rather than draw from, the region’s attractions. The event wraps up at 6 p.m. on Saturday, leaving a good chunk of the weekend for visitors to do other things. If you’re still in beer mode, Penticton has become a destination in its own right on the B.C. Ale Trail with five local breweries. (I hear there’s wine in the Okanagan, too, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

Follow Original Levity on Twitter and Instagram for photos and updates from Penticton throughout the weekend.

Postscript — In keeping with my commitment to transparency, a note about my relationship with the Okanagan Fest of Ale: as a member of the judging panel, festival organizers have paid for my accommodations in Penticton and a portion of my travel to the event.