By Ryan Pike
Homer Simpson once declared alcohol “the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.” With that in mind, there are many different ways to introduce alcohol to a person’s system. Some choose the more direct route, chugging bottles of rye and vodka without hesitation. Others choose the scenic path, opting to sip glasses of wine while commenting on tannins and texture.
For years, the beer drinker has been stuck between these two factions—too relaxed for hardcore partiers, yet not relaxed enough for wine connoisseurs. The beer lover can now turn off his television and emerge from his den as Calgary Beerfest returns for the third straight year, debuting in its new home at the Big Four Building in Stampede Park. Festival organizer Larissa Peter notes that the latest incarnation of the festival sprung up during a dry spell for Calgary beer fans.
“Calgary had a beer fest,” recalls Peter. “It may’ve been five years ago, because there was a year between where there was no beer fest. Apparently that one didn’t really work out. We’ve been doing events [like] the Inglewood Sunfest, Festivus Food and Beverage Show, stuff like that. With those events, they’re kind of niche markets, and that market has been overtaken by numerous festivals and events, so it’s really hard to stand out. We found that Calgary didn’t have its own beer festival.”
Despite sharing a name with a film about excessive drinking and public intoxication, Beerfest is not a place to get loaded. Rather, it’s an opportunity for beer lovers of all stripes to try out a variety of beverages without taking a huge hit in the wallet.
“We’ve got over 180 different beers available for sampling,” says Peter. “Along with that, we have food from all over Calgary as well as a number of venues outside Calgary. We’re focusing more on the beer aspect and less on the other drinks, and other food and other kinds of sorts of things, but those things are there for people who aren’t as interested in beer.”
Wine lovers have had their own secret language for years, talking about tannins, cloudiness and texture, but beer has been left out. At Beerfest, beer fans can chat about hops, starch sources and fermentation temperature to their heart’s content.
“Just like wine, people are now turning to beer as being something that they want to learn about,” remarks Peter. “You can go and talk to these brewers and say, ‘How did you get this beer to be raspberry, but not so raspberry.’ There’s a bunch of different brewers that have raspberry ales or beers, but they’re all very different from each other. You can find out what you like about a beer and why, and then you can go out and know what you’re looking for and what you want to try.”
Don’t let the name throw you, Beerfest is not a one-trick pony. Besides trying all manners of beer, there are plenty of things to check out, from live music to gaming for charity.
“We’ve got an interactive gaming area,” says Peter. “[featuring] the Top Shot Hockey Challenge and the Nintendo Wii on a big screen. Those are associated with our charity, so the proceeds from those games go towards our charity. The Shader Kids is who we support. They send underprivileged kids to camp in a mentor-type program. On top of that we have numerous live entertainment features, such as three or four live bands, a number of different solo artists, belly dancers, clairvoyants, air brush tattoo artists, as well as numerous raffle draws, prizes and things like that.”
Since it filled the void left by the preceding festival in 2004, Beerfest has grown from a fledgling event into an annual highlight of Calgary’s social calendar. With any luck, Beerfest will only continue to grow stronger in the future.
“From year one to year three, it’s been exponential growth in all aspects of the event,” shares Peter. “Especially the beers, of course. Last year we had 98 different beers, this year we’ve got over 180 different beers. Number of countries represented, number of brewers involved, number of beers even present…it’s grown in every way. The fact that the number of people coming out is more and more every year shows that there is that interest in Calgary about beer.”