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It may be the epicentre of an amazing wine region - one of the world's best, according to several international surveys - but these days the city of Penticton is all about the craft beer, baby.
Indeed, noted travel site Expedia.ca recently named Penticton the second best beer town in Canada. And with the likes of Bad Tattoo Brewing, Cannery Brewing, Tin Whistle Brewing, Highway 97 Brewing, and Barley Mill Brew Pub - not to forget the soon to be launched Hatchery Brewing and Neighbourhood Brewing - is there any wonder?
Look back a quarter-century though and the scene looked a lot different. Just two of the above venues even existed then - Barley Mills and Tin Whistle - and only the latter was brewing its own.
But that's precisely when the Okanagan Fest of Ale made its debut. Did the folks behind it know something we didn't?
This year - April 12 and 13 to be exact - the now legendary Fest of Ale returns for its 24th consecutive year to celebrate local and BC brews and the people who concoct them, unofficially launch spring, and raise a bunch of money for charity.
The event's history isn't lost on event coordinator Ginger Budinski.
"Yep. We have a long history here," she laughs. "We were cool before craft beer was cool."
And Budinski says this year's event will be the biggest and best yet. Seventy-five breweries and cideries from across the province, including 19 that'll make their festival debut. Two hundred-plus unique beers and 25 unique ciders. Six food trucks outside and another half-dozen restaurants inside, plus, says Budinski, "a gelato guy who's concocting something with both cider and beer, and may offer floats too."
There'll be entertainment as well, in the form of a DJ (Penticton's DJ Shakes) and buskers stationed throughout the venue. Though, Budinski cautions, "We'll have great music, but the notion behind that is that we aren't a rock show or a loud concert."
"People come to our event to talk about craft beer. And the brewers are fresh. It's really early in the season for them. They bring amazing attitudes and we treat them really well. It's not low-key by any stretch, but it's not a wild party either."
Budinski's particularly psyched about the upgraded, expanded outdoor seating area. "We had a relatively small outdoor area, and we've generously extended the footprint of that. And there's entertainment both inside and out."
She says there'll also be collaborative brews at the festival that you won't find anywhere else. "Locally we have Neighbourhood Brewing and Bad Tattoo making a collaboration called 'Two Doors Down' (a nod to their future geographical placement?) and from Kelowna we have Vice and Virtue Brewing and Kettle River Brewing also collaborating."
And apparently those collaborations can also incorporate food. "For example, Brodo Kitchen is working with Cannery Brewing to offer something delicious that not only pairs with their beers but actually uses their beers as ingredients as well."
Even home brewers will get in on the act. Last November, local DIYers Dino Matias and Arnd Zschocken won the "Campaign for Real Ale - South Okanagan" competition at the Tin Whistle. And now they'll get the chance to serve up a batch of their victorious brew at the festival.
And of course, there will be awards. Budinski says, "Nine industry experts from all over province and one from Alberta will judge 124 beers in the Judge's Choice Award." Festival goers get a chance to vote too, for the "People's Choice Award."
And best of all, net proceeds go to charity. Budinksi says they raised $60,000 last year, which was then divvied between 20 different charitable organizations. That brings the event's grand total to nearly $700,000.
The 2019 Okanagan Fest of Ale runs Friday, April 12, from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday, April 13, from noon to 6 p.m. at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre. A single-day admission is $29, a two-day weekend pass is $49, and groups of 12 or more save ten percent. Four-ounce beverage samples are $2 each.
Tickets are available online at www.ValleyFirstTix.com or in person at the Valley First Box Office at the SOEC. You can also get them at the door, as long as they're still available. 5,000 guests showed up last year, so you might want to get them early.
For more info, hit up the Fest of Ale website.