Fall brings us festivals that often involve beer or wine or some other seasonal offering -- apples, pumpkins, etc. Victoria, British Columbia is home to Canada's largest celebration of microbrew beer as well as seven local breweries. The Great Canadian Beer Festival, September 7-8 (tel. 250/383-2332; www.gcbf.com), held at Victoria's Royal Athletic Park, is in its 15th year. The festival is not, however, exclusively Canadian, as it showcases a record 50 breweries across Canada and the Pacific Northwest and typically attracts more than 7,000 people. Some of the attractions -- other than beer -- include entertainment from local musicians and food offerings from restaurants and caterers, ranging from Mexican to barbecue to German and Caribbean fare. Tickets are available through the festival site and at some participating breweries. Friday's admission is $20 (3pm-8pm) and Saturday's (12pm-7pm) is $25, and you must purchase in advance and be at least 19 years old. Admission gets you through the gate, a souvenir glass, and a program. Beer tokens, at $1.25 each, are available only inside the tent and each token entitles you to a four-ounce taste.
The beer festival is run by the nonprofit organization Great Canadian Beer Festival Society , and volunteers come from the Campaign for Real Ale (www.camra.org.uk), an organization of local beer drinkers who actively campaigning for beer quality and consumer concerns, according to festival chairman Gerry Hieter. The festival is unique, Hieter says, because it is dedicated to "traditionally brewed beers" with "natural" ingredients -- no foreign agents are added to speed up the natural fermentation process. "These beers aren't pasteurized and in many instances, are still fermenting in the casks, which the brewers bring, thereby providing a living entity to the public. This produces a beer that is basically untouched by preservatives or other substances," he says. Confirmed attendees include Crannog Brewing from Sorrento and Nelson Brewing (both B.C. companies), which will showcase all-organic ales, and Steamworks from Vancouver will reprise its popular pumpkin ale. Hieter says more Belgian-styled beers will be available, too. Of particular note this year is festival newcomer Winnipeg's Half Pints Brewery, a small operation whose beer is not even sold in the Victoria market. "That's dedication to the brewer's art," remarks Hieter. All net proceeds from this year's festival benefit Santa Anonymous (www.santasanonymous.com), an organization that gives gifts to underprivileged children.
Organizers have taken extra steps to make it easy for you to leave the festival grounds without driving. Your ticket price comes with free transit passes, taxis will be plentiful, and a shuttle bus will operate from the festival to the Bay Centre.
If you are unfamiliar with Victoria -- it's referred to as the Garden City for its beautiful weather which enables verdant blooms -- the city's tourism website (tel. 800/663-3883; www.tourismvictoria.com) can provide a useful overview, along with links to accommodations and packages. There are a few that include transportation -- the Cross the Pond package includes accommodations for two for one night, reserved round trip ferry transport between Vancouver and Vancouver Island for one car and two adult passengers, starting from $99. The package is available during the Beer Festival.
Totem Travel (tel. 888/870-9081; www.totemtravel.ca/index.php?p=beerfest), one of the sponsors, secured special rates at a number of nearby hotels and inns. The official sponsor hotel, the Best Western Carlton Plaza, is centrally located and is offering a rate of C$132 plus taxes per night. Other possibilities include Traveller's Inn, priced from C$89.95 plus taxes for a room with a king bed, and the Sandman Hotel Victoria is priced at C$130 for a standard room. As of press time, all of the participating hotels have availability except Harbour Tower. Just make sure you ask for the beer festival rate; those are the ones quoted here.
Abigail's Hotel (tel. 866/347-5054; www.abigailshotel.com), located close to the inner harbor and downtown, shows some availability for the weekend for a special rate C$189, plus taxes, for a stay in a sunflower room, which has two windows, a queen bed, and stall shower in the bathroom. Two of the hotel's coach house rooms are available, with Arts and Crafts decor, king beds and a fireplace, for a special rate of C$289, plus taxes. The prices reflect stays Thursday through Saturday night. Additionally, Abigail's is a Slow Food member, so their three-course gourmet breakfast is locally sourced and seasonal. The place itself is aesthetically pleasing -- Tudor architecture, English gardens, Jacuzzi baths, wood-burning fireplaces and antique furniture characterize this boutique property. The hotel is offering Frommer's readers its special corporate rates, so make sure you mention that when booking, as the rooms normally fetch $239 and $339, respectively.
Swans Suite Hotel (tel. 800/668-7926; www.swanshotel.com) is an award-winning boutique hotel, restaurant and brewpub all rolled into one, near the Johnson Street Bridge in Old Town. An appropriate package you might be intrigued by is Beer Lovers Getaway Package for two, which includes accommodations in a one-bedroom suite, bottled beer for two chilled in your room upon arrival, dinner for two in the brewpub, and breakfast for two, either on the patio or in your room. It is priced at C$340 for travel through September 30. Currently there is some availability for the weekend, whether it's a one-bedroom suite with a queen bed, full kitchen, sofa bed, dining area, and sleeping space for up to four people, priced from C$289. For the same price the loft style one-bedroom is also available, but it has a king bed and overall can also sleep up to four people. The two bedroom king or queen suite sleeps up to six and is available from C$359, and the penthouse suite, with over 3,000 square feet and six balconies, can be yours for C$895 per night. Also, if you are staying at Swans, you can buy your Beer Fest tickets right there.
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