This year was my first, attending the “22nd Annual Hopscotch Festival”. And 2017 was the largest festival of libations in the event’s history.
I attended the main “Grand Tasting Halll event, held at the PNE Forum. This covered, open space hosted 7,500 aficionados of scotch, craft beer and cider, wine, cocktails, and spirits across two days. Event goers enjoyed the gathering of craft and premium beers, spirits from around the globe, coveted Scotches and whiskies, as well as a selection of wines, and food; all under one roof.
To start, you get checked in and claim your “hopscotch” branded glass. This will be yours to use, and for the vendors to fill as you visit each booth. I learned the hard way that if you break it, to get another will cost you $5. However many vendors pre-pour their tasters into paper or plastic cups. Each cost you tokens, which you got in exchange for money. Each token ran for $1. On average a small glass full of beer cost you one token, some cocktail tasters were two tokens, hard liquor sips were three, and the premium pours ran at four.
The “grand hall” was divided by types of liquor/spirits. You explored at your leisure, isle after isle for you to try and taste. The best ones put effort into their booths, making claims on their signs, adding visual embellishments to their displays, and/or making their pours into cocktails with extra elements. These were the ones I gravitated towards and will make note of in this post.
We made sure to start at the “Hendricks” booth. Their ornate back drop was a crest with twin leopards, entangled snakes, and floating eyes balls, framing a large bottle of their gin. Cocktail glasses and sketches of people drinking were scattered amongst them, to further speak to the brand. It and their table and tools had a steam punk vibe. A bathtub mandolin caught slices of cucumber being shaved for the tonics to come. The table was adorned with the green vegetable, red rose petals, and a series of jars holding the spices and herbs used in the making of their gin. They even had a book in similar style print dedicated to all the cocktails that utilized “Hendricks”. We were early enough and I was lucky enough to be able to snag one of these books, a great addition to any bar.
Here were enjoyed a Negroni made by their “Hendrick’s Cocktail Configurator”. This was a life-sized cocktail art display, designed and built to create the world’s best Negroni with a series of pulleys and levers.
To see it in action, and all that we felt worth noting, check out my vlog coverage on my YouTube channel: MaggiMei.
Next we hit up the “Monkey Shoulder Scotch Whisky” booth with their “Hello Monkey Trolly”. We were first lured in by their 90’s hip hop and stayed for their SNES console with 8-bit games. We took turns playing a few rounds of Super Mario World, whilst reclining on their orange bean bag chairs.
To drink, we had a smokey penicillin spun in a tumbler with handlebars.
All its luscious greenery had us stopping at the “Bontinst Gin” table. Moss covered its surface, with an abundance of ferns and mushrooms. Here they offered their gin and tonic flavoured with your choice of botanical. I inquired about and went for the rarest, which was apparently the “labrador tea” leaf. It was plucked from a sprig off their display and simply dunked into the liquid, to sit amongst the ice.
There were a few stands offering Caesars with your choice of garnish, but we made “Walter’s” and their collaboration with “Son’s of Vancouver” our stop. “Walters” and their well known brand of tomato and spice mix combined with “Son’s of Vancouver” vodka made for a spicy sip when topped with all their fixings: cucumber, celery, and an olive. I especially enjoyed the sweetness of the “Son’s of Vancouver” amaretto when we got a sample. I noted it for future purchase and consumption.
“Octavia vodka” next door, stopped guests with their model train running around an artificial mountain and tunnel track. Their vodka was distilled six times through charcoal, and therefore just as smooth as their booth hostess promised.
We were intrigued by “Glenfiddich’s” “experimental series” signage, going in to try the bottle that was lit on a pedestal. The recommendation was to take a sip, lick some salt of your hand, then go in for another more sweeter taste.
I really enjoyed “Taynton Bay’s” line of spirits, and that is probably because their slogan and promises that it is “made for drinkers by drinkers”. I wanted to buy a bottle of their “sinferno” after a taste. It reminded me of spiked horchata with the use of cinnamon and sugar. And their “pickled vodka” was most memorable. Tonight they were serving it as part of the mix to a Caesar, but I was insistent on trying it as is, to be able to take in as much of the dill flavour as possible.
We then splurged on four token tasters from the classic malts of Scotland both. A line up that including “Cardhu” and “Talisker”.
Here we took a break from all the hard spirits, with some food. According to my plus on of the night, Chef Juno Kim’s catering was worth trying. During this weekend, he along with Doug Stephen of “Merchant’s Workshop” and “Kris Barnholden” of “Bows + Arrows” were offering a trio of hot dog halves topped their way, which they called a “Hot Dog Showdown”. The “Korean” dog utilized gochujang, prosciutto di parma furikake, charred and pickled onions, and scallions. The toppings were a refreshing tang that perked up the everyday wiener and bun. The “French” hot dog was topped with tartiflette of Riesling, gruyere, leek, and potato. The creamy gravy of this one made it my favourite. And the “Canadian” was creative with its take on the more common condiments. There was a wild mushroom ketchup, pickled ramp aioli, crispy shallots, and cilantro.
At 10 tokens ($10) for the trio it was a little on the pricer side, and as a result we were forced to conserve what little tokens we had left on beer. At 1 token ($1) per cup this would take us the end of our night.
From “Maul Brewing Co.” we tried their coconut IPA and their pineapple flavoured blonde. Both tasted like the fruit they featured.
The new and limited release saison from “Hoyne Brewing Co.” was refreshing.
We stopped at the “Sun Rype” booth, after confirming it was the same company that brings us raisins. Their cider used 100% BC apples from the Okanagan Valley. Naturally it was just like drinking fizzy apple juice.
At “4 Mile Brewing Co.” we tried their English strong ale and their porter that tasted like the rice pudding it was named after.
From “Red Racer” we had their “S’mores Stout”. A dark brew that was rich with all its chocolate and marshmallow notes.
With our last drop drunk, our bellies full, and our cheeks rosy, we walked out. We found having arrived early to drink our fill, before the crowds made it impossible to move about in the hall, a clever strategy.
I will definitely be back next year, and I strongly suggest that you get your tickets when you can too. Starting at $30, they sold down fairly fast. Where else can you find this much variety of spirits, wine, and beer all under one roof, with food to boot? Don’t deny your cravings.