All images by Brian K. Smith
Setting the scene: around a large table at Central City’s Red Racer Restaurant in downtown Vancouver, the team behind BC’s premier annual beer awards program has gathered to hammer out more of the never-ending decisions around this year’s event. BCBA’s five experienced Directors are steering the ship, and there’s always more to do.
It’s trite to say this year’s Awards will be “the biggest and best yet”, but the chances of it not being both the largest and the most patron-friendly to date are remote. Even now, seven years into its history, BCBA is still on a growth spurt. To date, over 65 beer & cider participants are registered to offer close to 200 total beverages to sample. This year, the team expects to grow the number of award categories to as many as 30, up from last year’s 20. They’ve had 780 beers entered from 60 BC Breweries.
Interestingly, final decisions about grouping and categorizing are made after most of the beer submissions are received. Chester Carey mentions, “When we started this thing, it was like, ‘What’s a Brett IPA? What’s a white IPA?’ ” Not all brewers were doing all these styles, he notes. “We were getting a total of maybe three in categories like that; now we might get 30. So it makes sense to break them into subcategories.” Matt Anderson confirms that “We kind of have to wait and see [how many subcategories to add]. If there’s 23 Kölsches, we might have a Kölsch category. If not, it stays combined with other types.”
That growth potentially means you’ll want to be ingesting a lot of tiny beers. Working in your favour is this year’s Brewer’s Challenge theme: ‘Year of the Mild’ (sponsored by Timber). With 27 breweries signed up (so far) to try their hand at brews running 4% ABV or less, you can choose to make it easier on yourself to try more beers and still stay balanced on two legs. BCBA chooses a new style for the Challenge each year as a non-compulsory theme; there’s no pressure on participants to get on board. However, the brewmasters seem to enjoy the template; it gives some of them a chance to try a style outside their regular routine.
Keeping up with the growing list of BC brewers is also a job in itself. For some breweries that are just coming online, BCBA will be their first-ever judged event. BCBA Director and What’s Brewing’s very own Monica Frost observes that some years, “There’s even a few that are under the wire to get their first beer out on time” for the intake. They may also be eligible to compete for the Richards Buell Sutton LLP Rookie of the Year Award.
Speaking of intake: if you’re a brewery and you haven’t gotten your submission in as of this magazine’s publication date, here’s a hint: you’re late. Amanda Barry-Butchart points out that they go to great lengths to track down contacts for every brewery in BC, but adds that “If you’re a brewery and we haven’t reached you, get in touch with us“.
Another reason to reach out to BCBA is to volunteer. Interested in getting in the door for free and seeing the festival from behind the scenes? Visit the website and use this form to apply.
More new stuff this year: Collabofests have become popular in North American craft beer culture (see Brian K. Smith’s article in WB Spring 2016). BCBA 2016 will have a mini nod in that direction with a Brewers’ Collaboration booth this year, presented by The Growler.
Amanda points out that alongside the main food offerings from Tap & Barrel and the Tacofino food truck comes a new innovation: the acceptance of beer tokens as payment for two unique snack categories. Merchant’s Oyster Bar will be on hand shucking oysters, and Outpost Mini Donut Company will bring their sweet treats. Save fiddling and pay for your oysters and donuts with your beer tokens. Avoid eating them together (obviously; how would you pair your beer that way?).
The Festival’s charity of choice, A Loving Spoonful. Take in the spectacle, try lots of beers and support a good cause at the 7th Annual BC Beer Awards & Festival.
PS tickets are now SOLD OUT!