It used to be that beer "culture" involved little more than a bunch of neighbourhood barflies huddled around a few rusty taps pouring cheap, watery lagers.
Today, that culture is as wide-ranging and all-encompassing as the craft beer industry itself. Painstakingly made beers are as complex and flavourful as fine vintages. Brewmasters are treated with the same respect and deference as the latest wunderkind chef du jour, and new breweries popping up on a near weekly basis haven't dulled B.C. beer-lovers' thirst for quality products.
So when organizers were coming up with the programming for the fourth annual Whistler Village Beer Festival (WVBF), running Sept. 14 to 18, they knew they wanted their ever-expanding event to be more than just a place to sample kickass brews — although, with more than 60 breweries pouring 120 beers, there's still plenty of that on the agenda, too.
"There are a lot of other events leading up to the main tasting events (on Sept. 17 and 18 in Olympic Plaza) going on," explained Katrina Frew, director of festivals and events for Gibbons Hospitality. "There's something for everybody: there's stuff for music lovers, there's stuff for foodies, there's stuff for beer geeks and there's stuff for people who just want to have a party."
That means a stellar lineup of local bands on tap to soundtrack your heavy drinking, along with a spate of beer-focused dinners to get your belly filled before the over-imbibing begins.
Kicking off the foodie fun is a barbecue and tour of the Whistler Brewing Company on Sept. 14, pairing grilled meat with beers sampled straight from the tanks. Then you've got the inaugural Beefsteak at the Dubh Linn Gate on Sept. 15, an all-you-can-eat sirloin steak dinner served without pretention — or cutlery. Instead of forks, knives or napkins, diners will be given their own apron and served meat on "disks of bread" they'll wash down with a cold pitcher of Steamworks.
"It's just meat and bread and beer," said Ann Marie Lauer, GM of festivals and events at Gibbons. "You can't go wrong." Returning for the third time to the Grill & Vine is the popular Barley & The Beast on Sept. 16, a five-course, locally inspired dinner paired with craft beers by host Matt Dean, brewmaster for the Whistler Brewing Company.
New this year is a partnership with Simon Fraser University to offer "beer geeks" an intensive, four-day course in craft brewing from Sept. 12 to 15 at the Maury Young Arts Centre.
It's all part of Gibbons' goal to shine a light on every corner of the craft beer world.
"There's more to beer than just drinking it," said Lauer. "There's so much behind it that goes on and it's such a passionate crowd out there that it's really exciting to get them involved and really see the back-end (of the industry)."
Organizers this year also have their eye set on a growing segment of the market — the gluten-free crowd — and hope to capitalize on the fast-growing popularity of ciders.
"We've got a really great cider component," said Lauer. There will be seven B.C. producers pouring in a special section of Olympic Plaza that has been dubbed "Cider Street."
"Cider mills are popping up in the craft world in a big way and it opens up our audience."
For Kevin Winter, owner of Coast Mountain Brewing in Function Junction, the WVBF will be something of a coming-out party for the newly opened watering hole.
"The timing of the Whistler Beer Fest is just an amazing coincidence and will set us off with a really big bang," Winter said only a week after Coast Mountain opened its doors.
The boutique microbrewery serves up a rotating cast of small-batch beers made from "crazy recipes" that Winter promises will "knock the socks off you." On tap for the festival are two of his latest creations: Treeline, a Czech-style pale lager with "a beautiful floral, spicy flavour," and the Fire Steel Red Ale, an aromatic brew with hints of "pine needles and forest floor."
Serving alongside some of the major players of the West Coast's booming craft beer scene isn't daunting in the slightest for Winter, the former Mission Springs brewer, who has adopted the more-the-merrier approach.
"(The Sea to Sky's) craft beer scene is developing. More breweries are coming," Winter said. "We hope another brewery will come to Whistler as it will only add the culture of craft beer and folks will be turned onto the product that much more.
"Don't be afraid of a little flavour. Try a new beer. Reach out and ask that bartender, the guy at the Dubh Linn Gate, the guy at The Beacon, where the beers are and how do we get 'em fresh?"
For tickets to the Whistler Village Beer Festival and the full schedule of events, visit www.wvbf.ca.