It started 16 years ago with a group of people who wanted to promote their love of whiskey and beer. Now, their idea has grown to include nearly 8,000 others for a week’s worth of activities all centred around that same love.
The event is the Hopscotch Festival, a yearly celebration of brews and spirits to be hosted at the PNE Nov. 12 to 17. This year it includes 6,000 members of the public and 1,500 brewers, distillers and members of the trade.
But the festival is not just about people who love booze, it’s about those who appreciate the taste and culture surrounding finely produced liquor.
“It’s all about the love, the art of these products,” said Hopscotch Festival director Adam Bloch. “It’s education. If people are coming to drink for the sake of drinking, they’re wasting their money.”
Taste is something Marcus Von Albrecht understands well. He’s a long-term member of the B.C. Chef’s Association and creator of Vancouver-based XFour vodka.
His vodka, which will be featured at Hopscotch, was inspired by the need for a quality Canadian vodka. After a disappointing search around the world resulted in finding the only worthwhile vodkas had mafia and corruption connections, he decided to make it himself.
Three years later, he makes award-winning vodkas in B.C., using ingredients from around Vancouver whenever he can. Of note is his XFour Xoxolat Chocolate Vodka Martini, made with dark chocolate from chocolatier Xoxolat on Burrard Street.
“It’s made from 100 per cent single-plantation cacao, sweetened with organic honey from the Fraser Valley, homemade vanilla, espresso extract and finished with XFour vodka,” said Von Albrecht.
For him, the festival is one aspect of creating an experience surrounding the product. Furthering along the idea of experience, the festival features educational opportunities.
These include tasting sessions at the main event, the Grand Tasting Hall Nov. 16 to 17. There, festival-goers will have the chance to taste 350 different products from 109 vendors to find a scotch or spirit that suits their taste. Bloch said this helps people make the right choice when purchasing a more expensive bottle.
“It’s an expensive game. You can’t just close your eyes and pick whiskey off the shelf for $100. This festival gives people the opportunity for people to taste the products before they go to the store so they know what they like before they go and buy it,” said Bloch.
The $50 admission fee comes complete with a tasting glass. For beginners to tasting, Bloch said anything goes as long as taste, scent and sight all come into play — observing the colour and taking in the scent being particularly important.
Hopscotch also offers beginner’s crash courses in whisky and beer, as well as seminars hosted by internationally renowned producers. And sessions that pair food to a particular beer or whiskey are available, too.
Bloch sees the expanding audience for finely crafted alcohol as a contributor to the festival’s growth and success, and hopes that trend continues. “Scotch has demographically changed. It used to be an old man’s game — now I see tons of women as well as people in their 20s,” he said.