Annually, one of the pinnacle events for brewery bragging rights and sampling beer in BC is the BC Beer Awards which are held every October. This year, 78 breweries entered over 500 beers in 20 different judging categories all hoping to medal and best each other in this Provincial competition. Sporting everything from a Rookie tent that featured a new beer and brewery every hour, to a beer can derby and a sour beer brewers challenge, the BC Beer Awards always seems to capture the essence of the BC beer scene in one evening of festivities.
This year, I felt that the judges did a decent job but still picked a few odd ball winners in some of the categories, while perfectly nailing many of the other ones. As always, with any subjective evaluation, when you examine the list of winners there’s going to be a bit of controversy with the results (even amongst the judges too). To see the full list of winners, click here, but for the purposes of this article I wanted to highlight some of the big wins (beers to look for) and a couple unusual results that I felt didn’t belong. At the end of the day, all judging is subject just like my own personal tastes, however beers are typically judged by how closely the represent a particular style and not necessarily which ones have the best flavour – but that’s a discussion for another day over a pint or three!
First off, the hardest award to argue with is the People’s Choice Award, which for the second year in a row went to Four Winds Brewery and is voted on by attendees. They decided to add some lime juice and a couple bottles of Bourbon to their already amazing Nectarous Dry Hopped Sour, essentially creating a beer inspired Whisky Sour. This was, I have to admit, one of the best things I have ever tasted at a beer fest (and I am attempting to recreate at home). The vanilla, oak and spices in the Bourbon melded perfectly with the sour ale and Galaxy hops, giving it a nice one-two punch of sweet and sourness with a rich savory vanilla booziness for an extra kick on the side. Their creativity never ceases to amaze me as they are by far my favourite brewery in BC for a reason, so I was thrilled that everyone agreed with me at the fest and voted for them to win again.
Secondly, the standard setting and ever popular North America IPA category, once again saw the return of Central City’s Red Racer IPA to the top of the medal running’s. In fact, Central City walked away with two medals, something that the bigger craft breweries tend to struggle with. This was a big deal because with so many new breweries opening up in BC and so many different excellent IPA’s being produced, it’s nice to see a classic and long serving BC beer get recognized for what it truly is. Notably absent from this category were Yellow Dog Play Dead IPA and Driftwood Fat Tug, two beers that always come into the “best IPA in BC” conversation, if not all of Canada.
Three notable breweries finally won Gold for beers that were a bit overdue for some higher level recognition. First off, Dageraad, our local but traditional Belgian style brewery, thankfully got recognized with Gold for their amazing Belgian Blonde Ale in the Abbey Ale Category. I’ve had this side-by-side with many imports and it wins every time in my books. Secondly, Steel and Oak who is often regarded for making Lagers cool again, got rewarded Gold for their Dark Lager in the Amber/Dark Lager category. The head brewer is a German trained brewer who grew up locally and has really mastered the art of lagering, using smoked malts and being creative with malt forward styles of beer and they deserve to be recognized. Lastly, Four Winds Brewing finally got a Gold Medal for their Juxtapose Wild IPA in the Sour/Wild Ale category, this is a Sacc Trios yeast brewed IPA that is by far one of the more creative beers to hit the BC market in recent times and well deserving of gold, despite the odd category entry.
Finally, the Rookie of the Year award and Best Stout winner went to Doan’s Craft Brewery, a brewery run by the little brother’s of one of my best friends through Elementary school. They took home best Stout with their Rye Stout and Rookie of the Year, which is very well deserved because they make excellent stuff. It’s nice to see them get recognized, they’d been trying to open a brewery for three years and finally did it in 2015 to much excitement and relief. I was glad to see an award like this, the new breweries need ways to get their names out, especially the ones that make the best beer.
So who maybe didn’t deserve to win? Well personally I wasn’t a fan of seeing Big Rock Brewery (an Alberta owned brewery who opened up shop in BC) win any awards. I mean they make so-so beer in their Vancouver brewery, but still managed to claim a couple of awards that I don’t think were particularly well deserved based on both location and product quality. If you’ve ever had their country wide offerings, you’ll know what I’m talking about overall. Also, Stanley Park Brewing, often makers of mediocre beer in my personal opinion, somehow managed to snag two awards for beers I wouldn’t willingly drink. Lastly, although a good beer, the Sour Challenge winner went to a pretty basic sour ale and ignored three outstanding sours from better breweries. But, alas, that’s just the way these things go sometimes and all the beers were blind tasted so any bias has been removed from the equation and I’ve since heard that their were some politics in the judging and the beer I thought should win actually had more votes, but from less influential and acclaimed judges so it lost out.
What’s the point of all of this anyway? While other than putting on an amazing tasting festival, most of the awards went to some excellent beers that are truly approaching world class levels of quality and flavour. Our best IPA is distributed pretty much across the country and in much of the United States as Red Betty, not Red Racer. Our newer breweries are pretty much leading the market in terms of creativity and awards, and you can expect to see them grow and eventually make their way into other provinces over time. You’ve got some amazing stuff headed your way Canada, the beer from out West is just getting bigger and better and eventually we’ll stop drinking it all and send more to the East! Unfortunately, with some recent changes in AB beer laws, it’s unlikely that’ll we will see many Eastern Canadian beers out west. Thanks for spending some time reading the article, the opinions above are mine, but I’d love to hear yours in the comments section, including how you think your local events compare!