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Banff beer festival returns, craft beer week launches

“It’s going to be interesting to have it downtown. It’s a whole new dynamic we haven’t been able to do before. It may only be one year, but I think it’s going to be a really cool experience.”
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People dine-in on a patio at the Balkan restaurant along Banff Avenue on Friday (July 2). EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BANFF – Bow Valley beer lovers will have a lot to look forward to in the coming days.

The Banff Craft Beer Festival and Banff Craft Beer Week will run from Dec. 3-11, with more than 30 vendors from all over Alberta featuring the best brews and showcasing the food and craft drink scene in Banff.

The festival solely features Alberta craft brewers and is led by the Alberta Beer Festivals. The craft beer week runs the entirety of Dec. 3-11, while the festival is Dec. 3-4 and Dec. 9-11, and will take place on the recently reconstructed Bear Street.

“When we started the company, there were about six breweries in the province,” said Bill Robinson, the president of Alberta Beer Festivals who run the two events. “The scene has exploded. You look at the quality beer being brewed in the valley, and it’s happening everywhere in Alberta.”

In the past, the festival has been held at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, but due to COVID-19 it will find a home this year on the newly renovated Bear Street.

Robinson said they set up shop in the parking lot, but will also have food kiosks and market stalls. The fire pits will be going to keep people warm, and an ice sculpture and outdoor tables will also be on site.

Among the local Bow Valley brewers are Banff Ave Brewing Company, Canmore Brewing Company, The Grizzly Paw, Three Bears Brewery and Restaurant and the Blake Brewhouse and Distillery.

Nearby breweries such as Cochrane’s Half Hitch Brewing Company and Turney Valley’s Fahr Brewing will also be in attendance.

Though beer is the main draw, it also features spirits and food for people not solely interested in beer. The Rocky Mountain Big Horn Distillery, Wild Life Distillery and Park Distillery are local businesses taking part.

Robinson said six local valley restaurants will also be showcasing menu items.

He noted the charity of choice for the event is Rocky Mountain Adaptive.

“They do some incredible work. They do some pretty fantastic stuff," he said.

The craft beer week is also organized by Alberta Beer Festivals and will make its first appearance this year.

Robinson said COVID-19 delayed the launch last year.

“We planned to have it last year, but as you can imagine it didn't go ahead, so this is the first year for the craft beer week,” Robinson said. “It's just a few activations, but they all look like they're going to be really fun. Hopefully, it will be something that grows in the future years.”

The week will have tap-takeovers at several local restaurants, food and beer pairings, beer tasting, live entertainment and trivia.

Robinson is a co-founder of Alberta Beer Festivals, along with CEO Mark Kondrat. The company was founded in 2002 and would do smaller festivals and food and wine shows, but as the craft beer scene grew, so too did the festivals.

The Alberta Beer Festivals run events across western Canada, including Revelstoke, Jasper, Calgary and Edmonton. They host specific styled events at each location such as more adventure orientated with snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding and canyon hikes.

Robinson said the addition of Jasper and Revelstoke this year was the perfect excuse to spend more time in the mountains.

“We realized we wanted to spend more time in the mountains, so we just made an excuse to do that,” Robinson said with a laugh.

The Calgary festival has also grown to be one of the largest beer festivals, with an average attendance of 43,000. The Banff edition began eight years ago and has grown in popularity.

As the craft beer scene has expanded in the past 10 years, Robinson credited the brewmaster program at Olds College for feeding quality breweries across Alberta with brewers.

“We have over 150 breweries in the province. That's a pretty staggering number,” he said. “Before Olds even opened its doors and taught the first class, they had their first group of students and it was only 26 when it was only supposed to be classes of 20.

“They were getting calls from breweries, saying 'can we talk to your students because we want to hire them'. They hadn’t been trained and the breweries were willing to do it because they knew they were interested in it as a career. That's how desperate the industry was for brewers, so that was a pretty big turning point for the industry for sure.”

The festival and beer week are following the province’s vaccine passport – known as the restriction exemption program – meaning all people have to show either proof of vaccination, a medical exemption or a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours prior to the event.

All attendees have to wear a mask when at the indoor event, with the exception of when at a table drinking or eating. All attendees also have to be 18 years of age or older

“It’s going to be interesting to have it downtown," said Robinson. "It’s a whole new dynamic we haven’t been able to do before. It may only be one year, but I think it’s going to be a really cool experience.”

For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.albertabeerfestivals.com.