YYSuds: Win tickets to the Okanagan Fest of Ale

The Okanagan is a popular getaway for Calgarians, and I’d argue there’s no better time to go than in the springtime — before the obnoxious Calgarians arrive in their Tapout T-shirts and white Oakleys, driving gargantuan Dodge Rams pulling big boats and personal watercraft that more than deliver in noise what they lack in size.

An even bigger reason I enjoy the Okanagan in spring (other than the relative dearth of Affliction apparel and barbed-wire bicep tattoos) is the region’s longest-running beer festival: the Okanagan Fest of Ale in Penticton, happening this year on Friday, April 7 and Saturday, April 8.

It’s the 22nd year for the event, which manages to attract an ever-larger line-up of breweries from across B.C. while still maintaining a community vibe that’s often lacking from beerfests in larger centres. This is a festival where you can stop and chat with the brewers about what you’re sampling.

Full disclosure: This is the third year in a row I’ve been invited to the Fest of Ale as a member of the judging panel — a gig that consists of spending part of the Saturday sampling and evaluating several kinds of beer. Don’t get me wrong: it’s nothing that resembles work in the conventional sense, but it’s also not fun and games, either, and something we take seriously.

Before you go feeling sorry for me and my fellow judges (not that there’s much chance), we have plenty of free time to roam the venue on Friday — and my experience as a festival-goer is a big part of what makes it such a fun weekend for me.

Although Alberta’s craft beer scene is starting to come into its own, B.C. is home to many of Canada’s oldest craft breweries and some of the most innovative — and more than a few breweries that are one in the same.

This year’s event boasts a record 62 exhibitors that will be pouring more than 175 craft beers and ciders. While it’s true that many great B.C. breweries like Four WindsHoyne and Steamworks have come to our province in recent years, there’s still plenty of novelty for Albertans with well-travelled palates: Kelowna’s BNA BrewingTorchlight from Nelson and Moon Under Water from Victoria are a few B.C. faves of mine whose wares aren’t available in YYC. 

Beer is the main attraction — and there’s no denying every beer festival attracts a certain kind of bro who will make it the only attraction — but Fest of Ale organizers make sure there’s a well-rounded experience for the rest of us: musicians performing on multiple stages and eats from great local restaurants and food trucks, as well as an outdoor section that delivers fresh air and Okanagan sunshine.

A cool new feature this year is the addition of the Fest of Ale as a “verified venue” on the popular beer rating site Untappd, which will enable users to see which beers exhibitors are pouring and track their sampling with the mobile app.

Aside from the fest, there are still all the other good reasons to visit the Okanagan. The Fest of Ale shuts down at 9 p.m. on Friday and 6 p.m. on Saturday to encourage people to take in the local dining and entertainment scene. Sunday is left open for any number of local activities, like skiing, golfing or even a winery tour or two.

Having a symbiotic relationship with the wider community has always been important to festival organizers: net proceeds from each year’s event are donated to local causes, which have received more than $575,000 since 1996.

Tickets range from $29 for a single-day admission to $47 for a weekend pass. There are also several “Sip & Stay” ticket and accommodation packages available in conjunction with local hotels.

For one lucky theYYSCENE reader, though, we’re giving away a pair of weekend passes (total value $94). To enter to win, please like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, and message or tweet at us the answer to the question: What’s your favourite local craft beer? We’ll notify the winner through the means they entered by Friday, March 31 at noon — so you’ll have plenty of time to plan for your getaway weekend.

Jason van Rassel has been writing about craft beer since 2006, when he started a beer blog at the Calgary Herald, where he covered crime and justice for 15 years. Jason left newspapers in 2016, but he continues to chronicle Alberta’s craft beer scene as a contributor to theYYScene, The Daily Beer and Drink With Me. He is a member of the North American Guild of Beer Writers. You can find Jason on Twitter and Untappd.