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Sunday, August 12, 2012

First Vancouver Brewfest Lifts Off

The inaugural Vancouver Brewfest took flight this past weekend. Despite that fact that it was competing against several established events (Hopworks' Biketoberfest, The Bite of Oregon and the Humulus Maximus Festivus at Plew's Brews), the Vancouver gig appears to have gone well and attracted good crowds.

In my mind, the flood of August events is a result of the fact that brewers and promoters want to get this stuff out of the way before Labor Day. Moods tend to change once school starts and we enter the fall sports season. Plus, August weather is usually excellent. You get the picture, eh?

Beer was pouring smoothly at all stations
I really don't know how long the Vancouver event was in the works. Perhaps years. As I and others have said, the Couv has been very much underserved from a beer standpoint for a long time. Finally getting a marquee beer event of their own has to be a good thing. You suspect it may help stimulate additional activity. Hopefully.

Now, full disclosure. I traveled up there on Saturday afternoon strictly to observe and take photos. I spent about 20 minutes walking around Esther Short Park taking in the layout and watching the crowd. I consumed no beer...though there was plenty of good beer to be had. I just didn't have time to get partake. Next year will be different!

Tap layout in the tents helped serving efficiency
First, the venue. Esther Short Park has a lengthy and colorful history. Established in 1853, it is the oldest public park in the state of Washington. Skeptics might wonder how Vancouver could be home to the state's first park. Well, Vancouver (along with Portland) was a center of Northwest commerce in the 1850s. Goods moved up and down the Columbia River in those days. Seattle, a better seaport, didn't surpass its neighbors to the south until the railroads came in the 1880s.

I have to say the transformation of Esther Short Park and downtown Vancouver over the last 10-15 years is amazing. When I arrived here in 1989, most of downtown was a disaster. The park was inhabited primarily by transients and drug dealers. The area had a dreary, bombed out look. A massive revitalization project brought upscale residences and businesses to what was once a lost city. The Brewfest most certainly could not have happened if not for the revitalization of downtown. Kudos to the folks who made that happen!

Plenty of shade and sun made for comfortable mingling
Esther Short worked out nicely for this event. The park features a nice mix of shade and open areas. There were no large tents such as what you see at the Oregon Brewers Festival. People were drinking beer and moving about comfortably. Some chose sun, some shade. A band was belting out songs from the 80s in a shaded area. Very nice.

They did something very smart with the serving tents...and it was probably a necessity due to the size of the Brewfest area. Instead of serving from just one side, they served beer from several sides of most tents. This was an ingenious idea. The park was mildly busy, and I saw only a few very short lines going in different directions. Very efficient.

The brewing demo is a festival standard
As for the beers, they had a nice selection. When I first looked at the beer list a few weeks back, I saw quite a few of the usual suspects...Ninkasi, Oakshire, Hopworks, Firestone Walker, etc. Sometimes you need to look a little deeper. I didn't make a list, but there many interesting beers...some that you cannot get in Oregon.

As my friend Angelo Brewpublic was always quick to remind me when he was pouring beer at By the Bottle, there are a number of Washington beers that don't make it across the Columbia River. Beers from Heathen Brewing, Loowit Brewing and West Highland Brewing (all of Vancouver) are unknown to me and would have been interesting to try. Next time.

A fine time was had by all...
Another thing I salute these guys for is making this a 21 and over only event. I'm sure that pissed off a few people who wanted to drag their kids along. But it's the right call. I'm really not sold on the idea of kids at a beer festival. I've seen countless bad examples of parental behavior over the years at the OBF...where kids also do not belong. I know there are differing opinions out there, this is mine.

One thing I will quibble with is the cost of admission. There were some pre-event deals out there that saved you a few bucks, but a standard package was $21. That got you a mug (really a cup) and eight tickets. Additional tickets were $1 each. So you were essentially paying $13 for a plastic cup on the way in. That seems excessive. I understand the event benefits several charities...and they'll all do just fine if a lower entry fee encourages more people to attend. I hope organizers will rethink this for next year.

In the end, I suspect the future of this event is bright. It was a success in its first year and word will spread. They might even wind up with a space problem if the event gets huge. This isn't Waterfront Park and it won't hold OBF-like numbers. That won't be a problem in the short run, but you never know what might happen in time.


  1. My impressions: Loowit quality was very good. West Highland, not so much. The ticketing structure was seriously flawed. Sell a mug and then ala' carte tokens and a package deal. Dont force folks to spring for $21.00. I wrote to the organizers about this one. Of course running into Eric from Mt. Tabor paid off as he was freely handing out tokens.

  2. They aren't the only ones charging too much...there's a lot of this going around.


Keep it civil, please.