Toronto Festival of Beer 2014

Beer Fountain (just water)

This past weekend was the 20th annual Toronto Festival of Beer, held at the Exhibition grounds. The festival is described on the website as “a celebration of Canada’s rich brewing history, hosted by experts of the brewing craft from around the world. Featuring 300+ brands onsite, this is Canada’s premier celebration of the golden beverage!”

First Beers of the Fest

As a recent transplant from the West this was my first time at an Ontario beer festival and I was eager to try out some of the breweries I had previously only heard or read about.

Stone Hammer Booth

 

Belgh Brasse

Right off the bat I have to say I was really impressed with the set-up for media. We entered through a separate gate with those who purchased VIP tickets, we were given wrist bands, which allowed entry to the media lounge -a nice spot to escape the masses and tweet, blog, instagram etc.-, we received two free beers, which were on a rotating pour schedule throughout the day, there was lots of brewery swag available, and volunteers were around to answer questions.

Media Lounge

After leaving the relative sanctity of the media lounge (shelter) I found myself full-on immersed in one of the busiest (and drunkest) festivals I have ever attended.

To be forthright I was forewarned from another blog that this would not be the sipping and note-taking kind of fest, I believe the term douchebaggery was coined, but rather the chugging and chugging kind of fest nonetheless it was still felt like being in a beer commercial.

Beer Fest Goers

Carlsberg

MadJack

And in this spirit of  full disclosure, it is well-stated that the Toronto Festival of Beer is sponsored by the (dun-dun-dun) Beer Store so obviously big beer had a very prominent if not dominant place.

Big Beer had lounges and dance parties, drinking games and buxom servers, swag galore and adverts everywhere, they probably even served some of their beer but I pretty much steered clear so I can’t say for certain.

Umm...

Steam Whistle

Thankfully the small(er) guys also did their best to make an impression on the crowds and on that note I have to mention a few highlights.

Kensington

Cameron's

Hops and Bolts

First up, Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery (Barrie ON) with their psychedelic tents, fun swag, insane number of beers and beer blends on tap, and overall wow factor. I know I found myself returning more than once to sample their radler creations (pictured below is just one of three distinct menus).

Flying Monkeys

Beer on Tap

Beer Glass

Snowman Brewing Company also merits a special mention not for their volume or for their display but for the fact that they brewed a good gluten free beer. Yup, I said a good drinkable gluten free beer.

This meant my somewhat disillusioned hubby could break up his cider binge with something that reminded him of real beer. I am pretty sure he returned for three full pours from these guys.

Snowman Brewing Company

Hubby

Lastly, I would like to mention Nickel Brook Brewing Company (no don’t run away screaming I did not say Nickelback) who opted to turn two of their beers into ice cream floats. I sampled the maple porter float and it was pretty darn tasty though the heat may have been swaying my palate towards the ice cream end of the taste spectrum.

Nickel Brook Beer Float

 

Beer Floats for Sale

There were lots of things I really loved about this beer festival.  It was easily accessible by transit, the hours were long enough that you did not feel rushed, there was live music throughout the weekend, there were a number of educational classes held where you could escape the crowd and take the time to learn and appreciate the beer you were drinking (ahem beer and cheese pairings), there was a pretty good volume of beer to sample, there were lots of different food options, there was a mobile app that provided festival information, you could get half or full pours, and did I mention there was a TON of beer swag to amass (my beer mat collection grows).

Beer Lecture

Beer and Cheese

Twisted Tea

There were also a fair amount of things I really did not love about this festival. The party atmosphere (it got tiring pretty quickly), the insanely long lines to get tokens, the lack of beer descriptions (you needed to go to the booths to find out what was pouring and how many tokens it would set you back), the insanely long lines to get to the port-a-potties, the corporate feel of the whole event, and, if I have to be honest, the beer itself. I felt like there were not many unique festival beers like cask-conditioned ales, experimental styles etc., which made the whole thing feel like I could have just picked up a some random beer from the Beer Store or LCBO, sat down on my patio table and sampled those.

Quebec Beer

 

Token Line-up

Beer Fest

At the end of the day I am glad I went to the Toronto Festival of Beer because it was interesting to get a feel for how craft beer culture has developed and continues to develop in Ontario. To me,  it seems like Ontario craft breweries are still in their infancy, finding (or making) space in a province largely under the thumb of Big Beer but based on some of the beer I sampled I think good things are coming…

Train Home

 

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2 responses to “Toronto Festival of Beer 2014

  • terryhickey

    Looks like an interesting festival, but not something I would be willing to drop a lot of money on. I find that I seek out more unique offerings now versus over paying for beer I can get anywhere. Often I look for smaller events and cask events now that attract the craft beer crowd which albeit is still full of drunks, they generally super friendly fun plaid wearing bearded drunks (mostly anyway). It’s good to go at least once, I think I will try volunteering at events like this one (in Vancouver) from now on so I can check out the show, get to know people, help out and of course get a free entry!

    • Sara

      I tend to gravitate to the smaller tastings now as well but it is still an experience to see these big fests in action. You should volunteer at the Great Canadian Beer Fest in Victoria this year; the view from behind the keg is always interesting…

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