For some indiscernible reason people here in Ottawa actually celebrate winter with a two week long festival called Winterlude. Perhaps more believably they bookend this fete with beer festivals, which in my humble opinion is the only sensible way to “celebrate” -30 weather i.e. stay indoors and drink craft beer.
Winter Brew Fest was held on the final weekend of the City’s Winterlude festivities at the Horticulture Centre in Landsdowne Park. Here people could step out of the cold, even straight out of their skates if they so chose, and into a heated building with a coat check for your parka and a mason jar for your beer.
The festival ran three sessions, one on Friday night. One midday Saturday and one on Saturday night. The organizers bravely kept the event going until 1am and put the coat check up a couple of flights of stairs and gave everyone glass jars for samples so fingers crossed all went well on that front.
The Horticulture building is a large open concept room and for the brew fest it showcased twenty or so breweries in various booths as well as a food station offering up some well-paired options like poutine and fish tacos. Burlap, wood and vintage Edison light bulbs added just enough hipster touches that you new you were at a craft beer festival. This is also the first beer festival I have been to that was kid friendly, or at least babes in arms friendly, which I guess why not because who needs a drink more than new parents!
One unique element was the self-serve beer station where you could (under close guard) pull your own sample. The far end of the room had a row of casked offerings though only two were on-deck when I arrived. Another booth offered samples where the monies raised went to a local hospital.
Twenty dollars got you entrance and tickets were sold in sheets of twenty for ten dollars and while initially I was impressed with the price point for samples I became less so when I saw the beers cost a minimum of four tickets all the way up to eight tickets. Granted math is not my first choice of beer fest topics but paying out two to four dollars for a four oz pour was a bit of a thorn in my side especially when many of the offerings were not exactly rarities.
Putting that issue in the beer fridge, I decided to be somewhat discerning in my picks aiming to try things I knew I could not readily obtain from the local LCBO. At the same time, being new to the area, I am still pretty unfamiliar with the smaller microbreweries in and around the city so there were lots of new-to-me options. Perth Brewery, Thornbury, Nickelbrook and a wine and spirits bar ensured that my gluten adverse hubby could begrudgingly tag long (though I don’t think he was thrilled with his options).
Three beers that stood out for me for varying reasons were Earl Grey Marmalade Saison from Dominion City, a cask version of Long Dark Voyage to Uranus (oh yes that is what I wrote) Imperial Stout from Sawdust City and Pink Fuzz Grapefruit Wheat Ale from Beyond the Pale.
Of these three I think the Pink Fuzz was my favourite, a refreshing palate cleanser that brought just the right amount of bitter citrus to complement the wheat characteristics of the beer. The saison with tea was interesting though I found it a bit thinner than a typical saison, like it was slightly lacking in that barnyard funk. The imperial stout was big and malty but not very liquory for a casked stout. I also felt like this stout needed more balance because the roasted malt flavour just took this stout completely over. To be fair, it is nearly impossible to judge a beer based on such a small pour so I am intrigued enough I will try to follow-up with grown-up sized pours from these breweries.
Overall an interesting festival, very different in scale to those on the West Coast. Here you had room to move around, tables to put your beer down and a reasonable chance to sample something from each participant without needing to be carried out. Though I do wish they had a beer list, a map and tasting notes so you could make informed choices and track what you liked but then again I am no rookie at these festivals so perhaps I have become a bit too experienced …lol.