This weekend was the 2016 Toronto Festival of Beer and as a belated Birthday present I was treated to the VIP Hoptomized treatment on Friday (a very good friend indeed).
If you have never been to this beer event I have to highly recommend going the VIP route, which buys your early entry, ten tokens, dinner, a private lounge area and the very best part? Access to indoor plumbing!
Seeing that it was pretty much 40 with the humidity every little perk was so appreciated.
It was my second year attending the festival and, truth be told, I was initially thinking it would pretty much be a repeat of the 2014 line-up, which had an awful lot of Big Beer presence and not nearly enough small brewery representation. While Big Beer did loom (with flashy displays, flashy lights and flashy swag) there was also an unequivocal gem …Sample Sweden.
Oh yes I said Sweden and beer festival. Not meatballs, not ABBA, not Volvo (though they were all represented) but Swedish beer! Move over Belgium there is a new beer powerhouse on the horizon and this upstart does beer very, very well. Not just the standards but the near-to-my-heart wild ales and farmhouse styles.
I think it is fair to say, by now, I know my way around a craft beer and, as such, I really know what I like so much so that if I could only sip one style of beer for the rest of eternity it would be wild ale. In order to reach the insufferable heights of self-awareness, I have tried sours from many, many breweries and so when I say I was floored by the offerings from Swedish breweries Brekeriet, Omnipollo and Duggan that is high praise indeed my friends. Saisons, gose, wild ales, barrel aged sours …I was in beer geek heaven so much so that I may have effectively wrecked my palate for the next several weeks.
After my epic sour bender I was not even sure what I was tasting when I moved out of Sample Sweden to tip my glass at some of the other offerings.That is not to say I did not do my due diligence and sample widely just that maybe those post-sour breweries did not get the full attention of my tastebuds.
A few memorable non-sour offerings that stood out included this year’s Unibroue Ephmere Blueberry, Great Lake Brewery’s Imperial Stout and Collingwood’s ESB.
As for the festival itself it was very well organized. Situated at Bandshell Park with easy access to transit the location is pretty well perfect for a beer festival. Lots of trees, close to the water, tons of seating room, varied food options and space for breweries to set-up large displays. There was also live music in the evenings; Friday’s line-up included Jelleestone, Maestro and House of Pain.
For the nerdily inclined, such as myself, beer school was also in sessions offering beer pairings (beer with cheese and beer with chocolate) and beer education (know your colours of beer). Oh and for those easily seduced by swag, me again, you can come home with a goody back chock full of beer mats, temporary tats, sunglasses, key fobs etc.
The not-so highlighty parts? Well, as I alluded to above there is no doubt Big Beer still rules Ontario and there is almost literally no way to get around them (anyone else see Budweiser city-block sized set up?). But maybe the best way to really drive home that craft is where its at is to have this kind of all-inclusive event showcasing the best and the less best that beer has to offer.
Also, painfully aware I am no longer a Left Coast resident when I went to grab my free food and the server asked why a vegetarian would come to beer fest lol – he seemed genuinely confused by my presence – so no fear that I would overeat with all that beer.
Overall an amazing day and now I am diligently sourcing out a Swedish beer connection…