More than two decades after its launch, the Okanagan Fest of Ale continues to showcase the craft brewing industry, while donating thousands to community charities.
The Fest of Ale was established in 1996 and holds its 22nd annual festival on April 7 and 8 at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre. John Cruickshank, president of the Okanagan Fest of Ale Society, said the charity aspect of the festival has been of key importance since Day 1.
“That’s what it’s all about. Everyone on the board has a passion for craft beer, but they also appreciate the mandate of the Fest of Ale as a not-for-profit society,” he said.
Cruickshank said the Fest of Ale’s ongoing success — now attracting more than 2,500 people each day — has allowed the society to increase its annual donations to local charities which have totaled more than $576,000 since its inception. Last year, $40,000 was distributed to 13 organizations, including the South Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation.
The Fest of Ale Society’s 2016 contribution to the SOS Medical Foundation was the second of five annual $10,000 donations to the Foundation’s $20-million campaign to provide medical equipment for the current Penticton Regional Hospital expansion.
Cruickshank said this $50,000 pledge for PRH gained solid support from the Fest of Ale’s board. Each of the 10 directors ranked the applicant charities, with funding based on capital projects rather than operational funds.
“It wasn’t a tough decision,” he said. “Everyone from the board has probably been in the hospital at some time.”
The Fest of Ale has also evolved over the last two decades.
“In the early days it was a fest of ‘ale,’ not necessarily a craft brewery event, so a lot of the corporate brewers were included,” he said. “Now we limit our event to true craft brewers and craft cideries.”
Participating breweries cannot be owned by a parent corporation and cannot produce more than a certain annual quantity.
Cruickshank said festival organizers firstly want to highlight the seven craft brewers in the Penticton area and then invite dozens more from outside the area. This year, more than 60 craft breweries will be showcasing their wares.
For the past couple of years, it has included an outdoor component with mobile food trucks, brewer booths and live entertainment set up on the convention centre’s front patio.
The local economy is another beneficiary from the Fest of Ale which is held during the shoulder season for the Okanagan tourism industry. Many patrons are from out-of-town and stay in local hotels and motels.
“It’s one of the oldest craft brew festivals, it’s one of the largest, and it’s really the only not-for-profit festival,” he said. “It’s a great kick-off to the busy season in Penticton.”
About 125 to 150 volunteers are also involved. Tickets for this year’s Okanagan Fest of Ale are now on sale – available online through ValleyfirstTix.com and at the SOEC box office.