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Okanagan Fest-of-Ale!

Gettin' Thirsty for the Big Show in Penticton


no image The 15th Annual Okanagan Fest-of-Ale in Penticton is set to go Friday and Saturday next weekend (Apr 9-10) and as usual promises to be a good time for all.  There’s no doubt that this is one of the premier beer events in the country, being well-organized, timed to coincide with the coming of warmer beer-drinking weather, and situated within reach of a large number of outstanding breweries, many of whom show up year after year.  The selection of fresh and tasty beers, combined with good food, live music and a lively crowd, mean that for a couple of days it is the biggest and best pub in BC.

Lots of good beer to choose from, here are my picks for some of the breweries you won’t want to pass by:

Central City – consistently regarded as one of the stand-out breweries in the province with their ‘Red Racer’ line-up that includes a very fine IPA.
Crannog – always a treat to get a chance to sip some of the legendary ‘Back Hand of God’ stout, along with the other unique offerings from this little operation.
Mt. Begbie – the good folks from Revelstoke always have some solid beers at their booth.
Plan B – brand new brewery up in Smithers looks promising.
Big Al - always great when our friends from south of the border come up to share their beers with us!

But this only scratches the surface - the craft beer industry is constantly evolving and there are going to be lots of great beers on hand.

One thing with the Fest-of-Ale, though, as the crowds have grown over the years, it has turned into somewhat of a gong-show.  The casual ease of stepping up to a booth, chatting with a brewer and having your cup topped is all but history, unless you are there very early. This necessitates a strategic approach to maximizing the opportunities presented by this once-a-year event.  It’s a beer festival, and there are no rules, but here are a few tips:

  1. Grab a beer you like and then roam the room to get a feel for what is out there, plot you next moves, and spot themes (sweet honey lagers, wicked-bitter IPAs, rich brown ales, or hearty stouts) that you may use to compare offerings of different breweries.
  2. Probably best to avoid the strategy of a buddy of mine, who considered it some sort of race to see how many times he could lap the room.  It didn’t end pretty.
  3. It’s generally a good idea to move from lighter to medium to heavier, more flavourful beers to avoid blowing out the taste buds early on with a double-IPA or an Imperial Stout.
  4. Go for the off-beat, harder-to-get stuff: why go to a beer festival to drink Keith’s?
  5. Take a break once in a while, slow down, enjoy the atmosphere, drink some water, and try some of that great food.  Your head and your stomach will thank you the next day.
  6. Don’t waste your tokens on hard lemonade, coolers, etc – it’s a BEER festival!
So get your tickets, get in there on Friday evening or Saturday afternoon, grab a handful of tokens, and get tastin’!

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