A few evenings past, as snow fell outside, I sat by the fire place, watching the flames, sipping a glass of Alley Kat’s Pumpkin Pie ale, and thinking about Percy Shelley. Two centuries ago, the English poet had asked, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

I was hoping the answer to his question was “No” and began to think past winter warmers and holiday ales to maibocks and other harbingers of lengthening and warmer days. That’s as far as I’ll let my imaginings reach. There’s a lot of snow to shovel in the meantime.

But one beer lover I know is not only thinking past the winter, he’s already thinking about the end of summer 2013, about September 6th and 7th to be exact.

He’s John Rowling and those dates are important to him not because they’ll mean that another summer is almost over, but because they’re the dates of the 2013 Great Canadian Beer Festival . And he’s been thinking about these dates since the evening of September 8 of this year.  That’s when the 2012 Festival was just over.

John Rowling, you see, is the Director of the Great Canadian Beer Festival. For twenty years, he and Gerry Heiter have provided an opportunity for beer lovers from Victoria and beyond to sample brews from Victoria and far beyond. And, like the directors of all successful festivals, he knows that months of careful preparation are essential to make the event seem an effortless success.

“You could say that we started planning for 2013 as soon as the last visitor had departed from Athletic Park on September 8,” Rowling noted, explaining that the organizers held a debriefing session with many of the nearly 500 volunteers and gathered valuable feedback from them.

Not long after the tents had been folded and the 50 portapotties taken away, reservations for Victoria’s Royal Athletic Park, tents, and portapotties for the next festival had been confirmed. Early in October preliminary planning began, and an estimate of expenditures  roughed out.

Over the winter and into the spring, exhibitors will be lined up. “We have a list of breweries that have exhibited before or have expressed interest. In May, we’ll send out invitations and have our list fairly firm by the end of June. There are always a few changes at the last minute.” Last year, there were 55 breweries, not just the local favorites, but also several Quebec brewers Rowling had contacted during a late spring visit to Montreal.

Festival organizers will also line up food vendors and musicians. Here, they are limited by regulations imposed by the city, which owns and controls the operations at the park. The music must be acoustic, as electrical cables cannot be run across the playing fields. And all the vendors must serve finger food. No glass or metal is allowed on the field as is understandable. But plastic knives, forks, and spoons are also prohibited. Soccer players will be taking to the pitch the next weekend, and small pieces of plastic lying hidden in the grass could cause serious injury.

And, during the planing stages, right up to the moment John Rowling rings the festival’s opening bell on the afternoon of September 6, 2013, organizers must make sure they have followed the many  regulations (some of which seem arcane and foolish) set out by government liquor officials.

Last year, government officials placed many obstacles in the way of American breweries exhibiting at the festival, making it incredibly difficult for them to bring the really very small amounts of beer they’d serve into the country. In addition, officials objected to the fact that some of the higher alcohol beers were being sold for two tokens rather than one, stating that it violated government pricing policies. And, finally, they objected to the surplus of funds that existed at the conclusion of the festival, funds that would be used to meet upfront expenses incurred in preparing for the next year’s festival. Their objection — the Great Canadian Beer Festival was a non-profit organization and should not have money left over, no matter what purpose it was for.

During the winter, Rowling and the rest of the Festival’s organizers will be working to address these difficulties.

So, this winter, as you sip your winter warmers and holiday ales, lift your glass in a toast to John Rowling. You may only be thinking ahead to the spring, but he’ll be thinking about and working toward the end of next summer — making sure that the Great Canadian Beer Festival of 2013 will be as successful as its predecessors have been.

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