THE CHRONICLE HERALD - AUGUST 3, 2016

Halifax BeerFest samples 326 beers from around the world

August 3, 2015 BY HEATHER LAURA CLARKE ​

It’s a beer-lover’s dream: being handed a mug and told they can fill it up as many times as they’d like, with different varieties stretching into the distances. But here comes the tricky part: deciding which ones to sample.

“Nobody’s trying them all — it’s just not going to happen —so you have to be a bit strategic,” explains Brian Titus, Garrison Brewing Co. president and general manager. “It’s not a sprint. You need to pace yourself.”

It took months to narrow down the list of participating breweries, and the final lineup for the 10th annual Halifax Seaport BeerFest includes 326 different brands from across Canada and around the world.

“Two pallets’ worth of fresh craft beer just arrived from Ireland, and half of those breweries have never been outside of Ireland before,” says Titus. “It’s really cool to be able to reach out hand-pick these neat specialty beers you wouldn’t normally get the chance to try.”

About 75 per cent of the beer will be something you couldn’t purchase from an NSLC or local private liquor store.

“The whole idea is really to create excitement in the category of beer. It’s more than just a grocery item you buy every weekend without thinking,” says Titus. “Think about a style you haven’t tried. Think about what’s in season and only available for a short period of time. Get out of your comfort zone and try something new.”

Many of the beers will push boundaries with daring ingredients like jalapeno, chilli pepper, lavender and chocolate. Titus says he hopes BeerFest educates consumers on what’s possible with beer, and encourages them to experiment.

“I always hear ‘I don’t drink dark beers,’ but then they’ll try a dark beer that knocks their socks off and say ‘Wow, I really enjoyed that. It’s not what I thought it would be,’” says Titus.

Guests walk around with a small souvenir mug that they can fill up as often as they’d like as they move around the festival. It holds about three ounces so you can get a good taste for the beer while leaving plenty of room to try more.

At many of the booths, the person filling your mug might be the brewer -- and Titus says it can lead to fascinating conversations. YellowBelly Brewery’s Liam McKenna will be pouring his Yellowbelly Pale Ale and his St. John’s Stout — the same beer he sells off Newfoundland’s famous George Street.

Titus says BeerFest is “so blessed” to be right on the water at the Cunard Centre.

“We’re going to have the whole waterfront side opened up — all of the loading bay doors open —so you can relax in an adirondack chair and then go back for more samples,” says Titus.

There’ll be plenty of food available for purchase, too. Tony’s Donairs will be on hand with Halifax’s official food, the Waterfront Warehouse will be selling seafood nibblies and the Stubborn Goat Gastropub will be serving up gastropub appetizers. Bramoso Gourmet Pizzeria will have an on-site pizza oven to provide beer-drinkers with fresh, hot slices. Titus promises all of the food servings will be “beer-friendly” and cost $6 or less.

Designated drivers are welcome to attend for just $15, which includes unlimited sodas and juices. Six or seven of the beers will be gluten-free, and there will more than 20 different ciders to sample, too.

Titus says BeerFest has taken on a life of its own over the last decade as the craft beer market has exploded. What started as a way to celebrate and promote craft beer —with about 600 people sampling 100 beers —has evolved into more than 6,000 people tasting 326 beers over an entire weekend.

BeerFest has supported Prostate Cancer Canada from the beginning, and guests will be able to purchase pretzels strung on necklaces so they can snack as they wander around. Titus says the festival donates proceeds to Prostate Cancer Canada as well as to Adsum for Women & Children, which has become their core secondary charity over the last few years.

Two of the VIP sessions are already sold out, and there are just a few spots remaining for Friday night’s session. Panellists will talk about their experience making beer and where they see the market going, and VIP guests will get to sample a few special beers that won’t be part of the main festival. They’ll also get to hit the floor and start sampling about 15 minutes before the masses arrive.

BeerFest is organized by location so guests can move from one province or country to another. What’s interesting about the floor plan is that large breweries get exactly the same footprint as even the smallest breweries.

“It’s really great to have everyone on equal footing,” says Titus. “No one gets to be above or below anyone else.”

DME Brewing Solutions from Charlottetown is running a DME “Cask Pavilion” where they’ll serve up locally-produced beer straight from the cask where it’s been fermenting.

“It’s the freshest beer will ever be —like putting a straw into a grapefruit,” says Titus. “We’ll have six casks rotating all of the time, and when one’s empty we’ll throw a different one on. It’s going to be great.”

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Halifax Seaport BeerFest

WHEN: Friday (7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.) and Saturday (2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.)

WHERE: Cunard Centre

TICKETS: $49 via Ticket Atlantic ($54 at the gate). VIP tickets are $70 via Ticket Atlantic.

MORE INFO: seaportbeerfest.com

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