CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) is an organization which advocates and promotes craft beer and traditional styles of beer, cider and perry. Worldwide, CAMRA has 179,383 members. The South Okanagan (SO) branch of CAMRA is volunteer run and currently has 115 active members. The majority of our events and meetups are in Penticton BC, which in 2020 was voted the Craft Beer Capital of Canada by LonelyPlanet.com. However, our events and meetups have taken place all over the Okanagan.
As the Education and Homebrew Director of CAMRA SO, I primarily support the homebrew community and work to educate the local craft beer community on beer, styles, homebrewing recipes, and development and the brewing process. In short, I try to teach anything our members want to know. We have monthly educational meetups where the attendees can bring either a homebrew or a commercially brewed version of whatever that monthly topic is—we’ve done style showcases like stouts, sours, spiced beers, pilsners and had malt and hops tasting events. We begin our meetups by trying the homebrewed beers and providing input and feedback, and then we do a bottle share where I teach on the monthly topic while we try different variations of the style or topic. Since March, we have unfortunately been unable to have meetups in person, so I have hosted Zoom meetings where we have either an opportunity to catch up or I have taught on less specific topics such as the history of brewing in Canada and BC. This summer, Penticton legalized alcohol consumption on the beach, so we were also able to have safe, socially distanced meetups to enjoy some great local craft beers outdoors.
For the past four years CAMRA SO has had an annual homebrew competition for the Okanagan homebrew community to enter their homebrewed beers, where 10-12 brewers serve a maximum of 2 beers each and 150 members of CAMRA and the public are able to attend for free and try the homebrew beers and vote on their favourites, of which the top three win fantastic prizes. We have a panel of four local beer professionals to judge and pick their favourite overall beer. The winner gets to brew a commercially brewed version of their winning beer and pick which of the local breweries they would like to brew with. We are very lucky that so far every local brewery has been open and happy to be involved and willing to brew the winning beer. I work with the winning homebrewer to liaise and find the best fit for the brewery and the beer. After the winning beer has been brewed, we hold a beer release party and celebrate the winning beer and brewer.
Unfortunately due to COVID-19, we were unable to hold the competition this year as we normally do, which would have made it our fifth year running it. However, I still really wanted to do some sort of version to support the community and encourage people to do something fun in this difficult time. The adaptation we came up with was that we would have the homebrewers submit their beer and have a panel of judges give written feedback to all entries. Cannery Brewing generously offered to be our drop-off spot for the beers and offered a safe, socially distanced area for myself and four other local beer professionals to judge the beer entries. We had 18 homebrewers submit beer from five cities, and almost 50 beers entered. We didn’t ask for specific categories but I did organize the beers stylistically into five groups for tasting. We ended up with many fantastic and creative entries and narrowed it down to 5 winning beers, including a blackberry pomegranate sour, which was a beautiful colour and extremely well balanced. First place went to ‘Saison de Vignes’ which was a great beer/ wine hybrid, which we thought was incredibly crushable and perfect for the Okanagan. Unfortunately this year has been a bit difficult on the brewing industry, so instead of brewing a commercial version we plan on holding a smaller, outdoor event (if allowed) in the spring for CAMRA members and the public to gather safely and try the recreated winning beers.
Although we weren’t able to have the same community participation and excitement this event has always previously had, I thought it was still a really amazing and fun way to connect and engage with our CAMRA SO members and do our best to offer continued support and encouragement to the amazing and talented local Okanagan homebrew community.
Cover photo courtesy of Michelle Gowing. 4/5 of the judges.
Michelle Gowing is the Education and Homebrew Director for CAMRA SO.