05/31/2013 05:28 EDT | Updated 06/01/2013 01:07 EDT

Vancouver Craft Beer Week Showcases The World's Best Brews

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Making the switch to craft beer after a lifetime of drinking the big name brews is akin to spending your life in McDonalds, then sitting down for a meal at Vij's.

So says Chris Bjerrisgaard, co-founder and marketing director of Vancouver Craft Beer Week. Now in its fourth year, CBW is a labour of love, developed by a group of hop-obsessives, determined to bring the best beer to Vancouverites.

“Four years ago, Vancouver really started getting into the whole local food movement,” Bjerrisgaard recalls. “That was the kickstarter, because we thought beer is no different from produce, and we knew there was so much more to beer than people generally were aware of.”

The festival, which begins on Friday and runs to June 8, has not simply introduced Vancouverites to the world of excellent beer – breweries from as far away as Europe are featured – it has been instrumental in raising the quality of the local product, Bjerrisgaard says.

“In the past, local small brewers had a loyal following without any clear possibility for market expansion,” he explains. “And that has changed as more people have been introduced to craft beers, and more brewers have entered the fray.”

The notable local upstart has to be East Vancouver’s Powell Street Craft Brewery, recent overall winner of the 2013 Canadian Brewing Awards.

That was a shock to the industry as a whole,” Bjerrisgaard agrees. “They’ve only been open six months – and to win it with a pale ale is an astounding feat in itself.”

Another relative newcomer to the scene is behind this year’s Craft Beer Week official brew. All proceeds from sales of Parallel 49 Brewing Company’s Altbiere will go to A Better Life Foundation, a charity recently launched by restaurateur Mark Brand. Monies raised will be used to purchase Save On Meats sandwich tokens to be distributed to needy people in the Downtown Eastside.

Bjerrisgaard is proud of the development of Craft Beer Week since its inception in 2009. It’s been a continuous learning curve, he says, and this year’s event is “the best executed yet”.

The schedule has been trimmed – they were, he says, spreading themselves too thin, with some events drawing very modest numbers.

“We decided to bring the number of events down, improve the quality, and up the capacity. This year,” he laughs, “there are no dogs in the group.”

And his top picks?

“For a great entry level experience, the VCBW Festival on Thursday and Friday just gets better and better. This year we have upwards of 60-70 breweries taking part.

“A cool, nerdy affair is Brothers In Hops, which brings four particularly hop-forward brewers together - two local and two from the U.S. – to talk all things beer, and do some food pairings.”

Vancouver Craft Beer Week