For the first time in 20 years, Gerry Hieter will be drinking a beer at the 2019 Great Canadian Beer Fest.
Effective immediately, the longtime executive director of the Great Canadian Beer Fest and the GCBF board have handed ownership of the 26-year-old event to the board of the Victoria Beer Week.
"I'll happily share the millions of things about the beer fest that live in my brain," said Hieter, now 65. "We'll work closely with the Beer Week right up until the gate is open [at the 2019 event]. Then I'll grab my glass. "
BREAKING NEWS: GCBF Board Retiring and Passing the Torch | A personal message from Gerry Hieter about the Board's decision to retire. "We are pleased to announce that we are passing the GCBF over to the @VicBeerWeek Society … "Read the full story> https://t.co/gFbgfmtyEu #GCBF pic.twitter.com/K525xAEY8C
– GCBF (@GrCANBeerFest) November 6, 2018
Under the watch of Hieter and a hard-working board of directors, the Beer Fest grew from a one-room event in the Victoria Convention Center to become a two-day outdoor event at the Royal Athletic Park with 8,000 patrons (3,500 on Friday and 4,500 on Saturday) and an annual budget of $ 500,000.
It's with the nagging health conditions that Hieter, and the aging Beer Fest board, let go of Canada's longest running beer festival.
Victoria Beer Week, whose eight-day series of events runs in March, is the new kids in Victoria's craft beer schedule.
Returning guests and volunteers of the Beer Fest can expect a similar event, said Beer Week's Joe Wiebe, adding that the same production team that runs Beer Week will run the Beer Fest.
"At this point we have not worked out how we will run GCBF exactly," Wiebe said. "We will be meeting with Gerry and his production team soon to learn how they have organized it in the past, and then we will decide exactly how we want to do it."
It is a logical passing of the torch, as both are craft-oriented beer-oriented non-profits with an overlap of volunteers, and an opportunity for future synergies.
(Photo inset: Gerry Hieter, Frank Appleton and Joe Wiebe at the Drake restaurant in Victoria for Appleton's 2015 visit) Appleton is considered a pioneering legend of the BC Craft Beer Movement, co-founded the Horseshoe Bay Brewery in June 1982 and has helped dozens of breweries get their start.)
Hieter and John Rowling created the inaugural Beer Fest back in 1993 at the Victoria Convention Center. It replaced a previous attempt from the previous year, and the 1992 Reggae Concert and Beer Festival was held in the Pearkes Recreation Center as part of the Sunfest (Saanich's summer festival circuit).
With Beer Fest, Hieter and Rowling got it right.
"We had visited the Great American Beer Festival in Denver [which started in 1982], and the Oregon Brewer's Festival in Portland [which started in 1988], and took the best things from both, "Hieter said.
Demand for the event grew so fast the board knew it needed a full-time manager. Hieter, who worked in the craft beer industry as a sales rep and as a consultant, was not even the first person to offer the job, but he got it, and it's been held ever since.
These two beer festivals evolved in different directions and Hieter paid attention to both. The 2018 Great American Beer Festival in Denver is now a three-day event with 800 breweries and 3,800 beers. The 2018 Oregon Brewer's Festival had 80 breweries, each serving a single beer. This year's Victoria Beer Fest had 80 beeries (including a few ciders) with over 200 beers.
Along the way Hieter, the board of directors and the volunteer captains of each department for the Beer Fest overcame a lot of challenges. Hieter's expertise was also used elsewhere. He consulted with the Okanagan and Whistler beer fests, which are successful in their own right.
They've also seen a lot of failed beer festival attempts. Over the years, many in B.C. and Canada have approached Hieter on how to do it.
"Often they're for a charitable cause," Hieter said. "No matter what, the first thing I ask people when they call me for advice is if they're buying the beer."
Since the beginning, Beer Fest has been about supporting the industry, Hieter said.
For some reason, there's a beer, there's freeloaders.
"Every f *** ing ounce of beer we pay for, that's what sets us apart. Quote that, "he said.
The biggest hiccup in Beer Fest's 26 years was about 10 years ago. Liquor Control Board was breathing down their necks, showing up unannounced with strict rules. Beer was poured down the drain. Words were shared.
But the Beer Fest has been marched on and has been credited for laying some of the groundwork that led to B.C.'s craft beer revolution (there are currently 173 craft breweries listed on the B.C. Ale Trail). In the '90s, there were about six.
At one point, a few years ago, Beer Fest hired a consultant who estimated it injected $ 500,000 into the local economy, plus another $ 300,000 in tents, tables and event planning. Those numbers would only have grown, Hieter said.
"A great deal of brewers have come to us and told us they got into the business of brewing after visiting the Beer Fest," Hieter said. "The main thing is, even with all the info in my head, I could be hit by a car and the Beer Fest will go on because of the volunteers."
And this year, when Hieter is 'bombarded' by patrons and brewers alike asking him what standout beers, he'll finally be able to share an answer.
"I never knew, I was too busy to drink beer."
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