Well, it worked.
They liked my creation so much that they decided it was VIP-worthy. So after a couple warm-up beers at The King Street Ale House, I headed to the Fredericton Convention Centre for 1-hour early entry to the fest. I scored VIP to last years FCBF, but it seemed to be worth it a whole lot more this year, as there was a better selection of breweries in attendance, but even better than that, most of the breweries were represented by their head brewers, which makes a big difference. One of the best parts of these festivals is getting a beer poured by the man (or woman) who brewed it and getting to discuss the beer, their brewery, and where they might be headed as a company. Micro-brewers are, by and large, a very friendly lot, and most are happy to talk about their beer with you, and I probably asked different people the same questions many times throughout the night, “so you guys are from (place)?” “how is expansion going?” “any new beers in the near future?” etc. I think I went so far as to quiz the folks from Big Axe Brewery in Nackawic when I bumped into them at midnight at Smoke’s Poutinerie (from what I remember, they have all their legislation, will be brewing within a week or two, and will be making a cream ale, a chocolate stout, and… something else. It was 12am after a beer festival, you know how things get). All in all, Lloyd and company did a great job organizing this years event, and the confusing nature of last year’s event (with its secret Garrison District Ale House rooms with fire-salvaged beers that I unwittingly missed out on…) was replaced by a much smoother running festival this year.
On the whole, the beers I had were of fairly good quality. Although, and it might just be me, I was finding that a lot of the pale ales and IPA’s and DIPA’s were on the grassy side that night, so either a lot of breweries brought some super-fresh (maybe too-fresh) beers, or my palate got thrown out of whack after all that beery confusion it underwent. Could be the latter.
There were a few stand-out breweries at the festival. Firstly, Garrison was listed as only bringing basically their core line-up of beers that you can get in their mixed-6 (+/- maybe 1 beer). Had I not gone by their booth I wouldn’t even had bothered to seek them out. But as it was, they also brought their Black IPA (which I’ve been trying to find for years) and their new Test Batch #3447. Both were hoppy and very flavourful, and I was actually quite impressed with these beers. The Black IPA was one of, if not the, standout beer for me at the Fest.
Then the boys at Picaroons brought 4 different casks of non-regular line-up beers (which I unfortunately did not get the chance to try, but appreciated all the same) in addition to a couple other beers. I was very happy to see that they didn’t just mail it in and bring whatever they might have had on hand in the Brewtique fridge.
Then there was Big Spruce. Founder and brewer Jeremy White, who is about as friendly as he is tall (he’s like, 6’7″) could be seen hovering around the festival in his electric orange hoodie, talking to just about everyone he saw. In my opinion, Jeremy is the Sam Calagione (of Dogfish Head fame) of Cape Breton. I had the pleasure of meeting him around this time last year when his brewery just opened up and he stopped what he was doing for about a half hour just to show me around and take me upstairs to show me the view of Bras d’Or Lake and tell me how he one day wanted to make the room above the brewery into a kitchen/dining room where he could host occasional beer-paired dinners. Sadly, I didn’t get to discuss his brewery’s progress at FCBF this year, as he always seemed to be talking to someone when I was around him, but I’m sure it’s going well, and I’ll probably stop in there within a couple months anyway. As for the beers they had at the festival, they had Cereal Killer Oatmeal Stout (which was probably the best stout at the fest) and Bitter Get’er Black IPA, which was certainly on the same level as the delicious Garrison Black IPA I had earlier.
Finally (and they don’t quite make beer, but it’s close enough), Sunset Heights Meadery really impressed me. I got to talk pretty extensively with the owner, John, and he told me all about how they only got their licence to sell their meads the day before the fest, how he hopes to be on tap at King Street Ale House and maybe Lunar Rogue in the near future, and possibly even at Red Rover. I think a lot of people passed this place by at the festival, not realizing that it’s a meadery from North Fredericton, and although I’m not a mead expert in any sense of the word, I was blown away by their flagship Queen’s Nectar, which is a sparkling mead that comes in at 8.25%. I think I stopped by the booth 4 times during the night as the meads were a great break from the bitterness from all the hoppy beers that were there.
I could go on. Suffice it to say that this year’s festival was much better than last years. There were more (and better) breweries, a better set-up, a better fest-guide (it was actually a lot nicer than I was expecting), nicer glassware and a better time had by all, I think. This weekend effectively kicked off beer festival season for me, which I’m hoping will be long and flavourful. If the others are anything like Fredericton Craft Beer Festival 2014, it should be a great season.