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Brewing up a party

Tickets to Victoria's popular craft beer festival sell out in 10 minutes
Matt Phillips, right, proprietor of the brewery that bears his name, raises a glass with Gerry Hieter, festival chairman.

It usually takes 10 minutes - about the amount of time it takes to quaff a pint of beer - to sell nearly 8,000 tickets to the annual Great Canadian Beer Festival.

The two-day event, which marks its 20th year this weekend, is the longest-running craft-only beer festival in Canada.

Set for Friday and Saturday at Royal Athletic Park, the craft beer-tasting event typically sees more than 20,000 litres consumed by a crowd of mostly local beer lovers.

Ticket holders can sample 180 types of beer brewed by 57 small breweries, including 36 from B.C., nine from Ontario and two from the U.S.

"When people develop a taste [for craft beer], they have an epiphany," said festival chairman Gerry Hieter. "They then become prophets, and convert others."

He says the craft beer market has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, likely in part because of its lack of pretension and affordability.

While Hieter says he has heard of a $100 bottle of beer, it's the exception. "The average person can drink the best beer in the world for $6," he said.

The festival is also an opportunity for brewers to sample their competitors' offerings.

Unlike large-volume breweries, craft breweries are surprisingly collaborative. This year, Victoria's Phillips Brewing Company is using the festival as an opportunity to get together with Great Lakes Brewing from Toronto to brew a special, one-off beer.

"It's going to be a 'big' beer," said Matt Phillips, founder of the local brewery that bears his name.

"It will be a Belgian black India Pale Ale-type of beer. It will be a robust beer with complex flavours at the far end of the scale - just the beer that locals like."

The ale is a collaboration between Phillips and his friend David Bieman of Great Lakes Brewing, who started his career at Phillips' brewery in its early days in Esquimalt.

The beer will be ready for consumption about a month from now, joining the brewery's line of 17 regular offerings.

Phillips said the market has changed in the two decades since the beer festival began. "The consumer is now better educated and their taste spectrum has grown."


- Victoria's Great Canadian Beer Festival is held annually on the weekend after Labour Day.

- An estimated 8,000 people will

attend the two-day event.

- The first festival was held in

1993 at the Victoria Conference Centre. The festival continued to grow and it moved to Royal Athletic Park in 2003.

- Tickets, which sold out 10 minutes after they went on sale July 21, cost $33.60 for Friday, $39.20 for Saturday.

- Each four-ounce tasting costs a token. Tokens are $1.25 each.

- There will be 180 beers from 57 breweries from across Canada and the U.S.

- The festival counts on almost 500 volunteers to pour beer, sell tickets, haul kegs and perform other tasks.

- Bands, magicians and jugglers keep attendees entertained while they sip.

- Local restaurants have booths selling their wares.

- The event takes place between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday, and from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday at Royal Athletic Park.

- The organizer (CAMRA - Campaign for Real Ale) is a notfor-profit society created for the purpose of introducing consumers to new brews and to raising awareness of craft brewing in the local community and beyond.

- Net proceeds are donated to charity. This year's beneficiaries are CFAX's Santas Anonymous and bursaries for Camosun College hospitality students.

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