Where in the world did you get that beer?
Insight into the 1999 Saint John World Festival Of Beer
By Craig Pinhey
Yes, Saint John. That's what I said. The WORLD Festival of Beer in Saint John. That's in New Brunswick -- that's Canada by the way. On October 2, 1999 the World Trade & Convention Center in downtown (excuse me, that's 'Uptown') was filled with beer lovers, tasting various brews from faraway and in between.
This was the first year for the fest, and based on the participation and enthusiasm of the locals, it was a success. Whether it was an unqualified success is debatable -- and only debatable with those who have the figures. Let's just say that there are plans for another in 2000...
The event was well promoted, both on the local radio stations and in the newspaper, as well as a bit of TV. Word of mouth, as expected, also brought in a few beer lovers from further afield. I met folks from as far as Halifax, Nova Scotia, Dundas, Ontario, and Portland, Maine, but it's possible that folks drove further.
The main difference between this party and the East Coast Festival of Beer in Halifax this past Summer, was that Saint John had beer from many countries, and allowed draft from local brewpubs (although there's only one in Saint John (Tapps), others could have brought beer). This is a result of either fairer legislation, or more logical application of rules by the New Brunswick Liquor Corporation.
This was a privately organized festival, headed by Jeff Walker, a local guy in the insurance business but also experienced in event promotion. Running beer festivals is not a generally known method to make a living, but we beer lovers must respect Jeff for making this effort to improve our lives, and we should all cheer for him to make it a career! Jeff's love of beer is the reason the World of Beer existed in Saint John, at least for a day.
Although there were beers from many countries, the beers of most interest to a beer geek like myself were from Belgiam, England, Germany, U.S. Canada, and the Czech Republic. The pricing was extremely attractive. A day pass got you 10 x 3-4 oz samples for $11.50 Canadian. Considering the brands available, this was a steal. Also, if you were interested in the evening entertainment, it was $23 for a "whole day" pass, which got you the sampling beers plus let you in to see the 3 bands in the evening, including Dutchie Mason, a Maritime Blues legend.
Beers I noted as being of parituclar interest were:
Lobkov Pils - a Czech pils along the lines of the original Budvar and Pilsenere Urquell.
Thomas Paine Ale from Harvey's - a delicious English bottled ale from Harvey's, one of my favourite Southern England breweries.
Maisel Weiss - a good Bavarian weiss beer, with the classic banana-clovey aroma and flavour.
Lobster Ale from Maine - a VERY hoppy pale ale with more IBU's than any commercial pale ale avaiable in bottles in the Maritimes.
Harvest Ale from Moosehead - a hoppy dark amber ale released for a limited time only by Saint John's own Moosehead Brewery.
Belgian Beers - too many brands to list here, but suffice it to say you could sample over 20 Belgian beers, including gueuze, fruit lambics, dubbels, tripels, trappists and strong ales.
If the beer made your stomach growl with hunger, as beer likes to do, there was a food bar, where you could buy samplings of snackies with an "Around the World" theme -- quite tasty. There were also seminars on beer, including how to brew, how to cook with beer, Belgian Beer, and how to taste beer (with yours truly "teaching").
All in all it was quite the beer blast, considering nothing of the sort had ever been tried in Saint John. All was not rosy however, as there were a few problems:
1. Too many people in too tight an area -- this made it difficult to get to the beers you wanted.
2. Not enough servers -- both the Olands and Robillon Imports booths needed more people pouring, as it got pretty crazy.
3. Not enough cashiers at NBLC -- NB Liquor had a store set up for the fest, but only 2 cashiers! The line-ups there were frustrating. It is a testament to the good naturedness of Saint Johners that this did not result in an angry mob. Most of the beers from the fest are still available to purchase from NBLC in various stores around the Province. The Belgian beers are a particularly good deal.
4. Sold Out for the dance -- there were folks showing up wanting to buy tickets to the evening event, but they were sold out -- bad for them but good news for the organizers.
5. Too many "Euro-lagers" -- in my opinion there were far too many beers from breweries in countries with no beer heritage, so that all they produce are generic "Heiny clones." Next year I'd like to see these replaced by Canadian and US microbreweries, or at least with more beers from the classic regions -- Germany, England and Belgium. I personally would love to see Belgium's De Koenick.
I'm sure the organizers will learn from any small problems that took place this year and will put on an even better show next year. I'll be there reporting as the World of Beer visits Saint John in the year 2000!
®Craig Pinhey 1999 All Rights Reserved