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As the Beerfest Beckons

The Calgary International Beerfest on May 1-2 will bring Calgarians and people from all over the world to take part in seminars, sample local and international beers and delicious foods, vote for the People's Choice awards and enjoy free entertainment.
Beerfest judge David Nuttall, second from the left, enjoying his work.
Beerfest judge David Nuttall, second from the left, enjoying his work.

The Calgary International Beerfest on May 1-2 will bring Calgarians and people from all over the world to take part in seminars, sample local and international beers and delicious foods, vote for the People's Choice awards and enjoy free entertainment.

David Nuttall, 54, has been at the center of it all for 11 years. Now he is one of their judges, More by fluke than anything else, he says. "The guys who were putting it on needed to get a permit and location for people to get the beers. I happened to work at the main downtown store at the time so they walked in and said they needed information."

He helped them with the permits, contacts and organization. Since he happened to run the beer section they gave him some tickets and asked him to come on by, check it out, and give recommendations about what to do next year. "So I got involved right from ground zero, although I would have found out and got involved anyway," Nuttall explains. There weren't many certified beer judges at the time, so they needed knowledgeable people. "So they gathered a bunch of people who worked in beer to be judges." Now with five times as many judges, the location has also had to grow with the popularity. It moved three times and is now at the BMO Centre next to the Saddledome.

"There are five halls with 50 000 square feet each," said Nuttall. "This year they're using all five halls. They used to use only two." He estimates somewhere around 35,000 people will come through in the two days. Craft beer in particular is gaining in popularity. He gave a brief overview of the history and development, explaining that in 1985 laws in the US opened up; prior to that the big companies didn't want competitors and start-up costs were quite prohibitive. In 2001 there were only two independent breweries in Calgary and three in Alberta: Wild Rose, Alley Cat and Big Rock.

"Calgarians who travel a lot, especially those in the oil patch, started to notice all these better beers and more variety of beers," he says. "People started realizing how much more beer there is out there and we've only just scratched the surface. People started discovering different styles of beers out there, not the mass produced their dads drank."

He estimates there will be hundreds of breweries represented at the festival, many choosing to debut new brews. Up to 50 restaurants will supply the food; about $40 gets you about twenty samples. Judging is sequestered and the results are blind in 20 different categories; gold, silver, and bronze winners may get announced but there's no public participation other than People's Choice for both food and beer. There will be breweries from all over the world, from the USA to Belgium, Lithuania to Italy, Thailand and China. He says the increase in interest has been tenfold in the past 15 years and even though there will be many breweries present, they will represent maybe a tenth of what is available. "We're 15 years behind the times and catching up," Nuttall says."

Thirsty for Beerfest?

If you're craving tickets to Beerfest, go to http://www.albertabeerfestivals.com/ for more information.