It was one for the ages.
The Cowichan Craft Beer & Food Festival in Chemainus is one of those rare events that brings people together from all walks of life, ranging from legal drinking age of 19 up to many in their 70s and even into the 80s.
Saturday’s event at the Chemainus Ball Park’s Larry Irving Field was not only the first such festival in town since the pandemic, but dating back to Aug. 12, 2017.
The festival had humble beginnings in 2016 in downtown Chemainus at Waterwheel Park Square and then underwent a huge expansion the next year for its relocation to the grounds behind the Artisan Village gateway arch.
That site is no longer available due to development so another place had to be picked for the revival of the festival after five years. The organizers with the Chemainus Business Improvement Association found a winner with the ball field on Elm Street that was sold out with 1,500 people plus more than 200 in support and administration for the monumental return.
“We’re really proud the community came together and we had a non-eventful event,” said CBIA and festival executive director Krystal Adams. “Everyone was drinking responsibly and making their way home responsibly.”
There was something for everyone and many are hailing it as a spectacular afternoon for the town with a festival that delivered on all fronts with great craft beer and food from the participating vendors, rollicking entertainment and just the general camaraderie the site provided for those in attendance to hang out with family members and friends and catch up with old friends.
Adams gave a huge shout out to all the volunteers and sponsors. “If we don’t have those guys we can’t put it on,” she emphasized.
Bayview Brewing in Ladysmith was the commemorative glass sponsor and Sunbelt Rentals made sure everyone cooking the food had what they needed in terms of generators and equipment.
“So many people stepped forward,” enthused Adams.
The field space was crucial, with the Municipality of North Cowichan catering to the organizers’ needs to make sure everything was ready. “They bent over backwards to make that happen for us,” said Adams.
The craft brewers came from nearly 30 locations around the Island as well as a few from the Lower Mainland, an indication of how the industry continues to grow and is picking up steam again since pandemic restrictions prevented promotional events like this from taking place.
The attendees ranged from long-established operations to Small Gods Brewing Company of Sidney that just went into business a week ago.
All the brewers were happy to be there to meet the public, answer questions and get feedback on the different brews offered. Variety is definitely the spice of life these days, with a wide selection of ingredients and flavours being utilized in craft beer.
Tinhouse Brewery is among the relative newcomers to the industry, having opened in October of 2019 just before the pandemic hit.
“We were just kind of getting into that,” said Eric Rodgers, the assistant brewer, as he poured a Toolbelt Lager. “I love it. I just learned on the job.”
“It’s been amazing,” Monique Le Sage of Victoria, the Island rep for the Fernie Brewing Company, said of the festival. “People are wonderful.”
Patrons were lapping up all the selections and soaking up the atmosphere.
“This is something amazing for Chemainus,” said long-time resident Jack Frost.
Friends Georgia Miller, 20, and Emma Graves, 20, who both graduated in the pandemic 2020 year, were having fun in the sun that wasn’t too hot compared to previous days this month.
“I heard about it through the grapevine,” said Miller. “I’m glad we figured it out. It’s nice we can do this now.”
“No masks, we can see everyone’s faces,” added Graves.
Most of the food vendors were from the Cowichan region and they all had an amazing day dishing out samples of different items for people to try.
Among them was The Kitchen, opening soon in downtown Chemainus and generating all sorts of curiosity since its sign went up on the door in the former Utopia Bakery building and on the Willow Street side formerly occupied by Misfits Fitness Studio and Health Bar.
“We’re using this event to start off and get our name out there,” said The Kitchen’s Brian Brama.
Vogue Villains from up-Island and Redwoods from the Lower Mainland provided the entertainment.
Adams praised her team and all the work that went on behind the scenes from the likes of CBIA president Chris Istace, his wife Judy and so many others.
“My team, they put so much beyond extra hours into it,” she said.
There will always be a few glitches, Adams conceded. A glitch in the check-in was remedied quickly to get 500 people into the area in 15 minutes and some fine-tuning with the shuttle system will have to be addressed.
Otherwise, with the festival firmly re-established, everyone’s already looking forward to the next one.