You know, after the Toronto Festival of Beer, it was good that Forest City Beer Fest, held in London, Ontario earlier this month, happened.
I was asked by the organizers to be a part of a pre-fest event at the Palace Theatre titled “Breaking the Pint Glass Ceiling”, which would show two documentaries, 2009’s “Beer Wars” and 2011 “Love of Beer” with a one-hour panel in between talking about the current climate in Ontario beer today as well as women within the beer industry. On top of that, I was offered tickets for the festival itself and crash space in London, Ontario from the wonderful Laura Campeau from Silversmith Brewing.
So naturally, I was happy to hop on a train and attend.
I arrived in London a few hours early, so decided to stop off for a late lunch at a place that was enthusiastically recommended to me by readers and the festival organizers, Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium on Talbot Street. Let me just get this out of the way right now: its pretty obvious that whenever you talk beer to ANYONE in London, the big question you get asked is “Have you been to Milos’ yet?”. It’s the closest thing to a central hub in the craft beer community I’ve been to and in the times I went there, it has been fantastic. Wonderful rotating tap and cask selection as well as an incredibly decent bottle selection (with a cellar that many would envy). Plus hell, they have good music playing and cartoons from the 80s/90s playing all the time, so it’s a winner in my books for ambience. I was given a warm welcome by Adil Ahmed and the owner of the bar Milos Kral himself, with excellent conversation, a delicious meal and a bottle of 3 year-old Nøgne Ø # 100 Barley Wine Beer. Yum.
The event that night was really nice. I got to meet Laura in person for the first time and met a whole bunch of really awesome people who were passionate about beer. I had never seen Beer Wars before, and, aside from the jackasses in the seats behind me who wouldn’t shut up, I really enjoyed it (admittedly having a few fangirl moments when some big names popped in for interviews). The panel was also great, featuring a top-notch panel of various people within the industry, from brewery reps, to local homebrewers to…well, me. Sadly though, due to the whole event starting late it was cut short. What would have been an hour of us all talking about the current climate of craft beer today and going in to women in and outside of the industry got cut to about 20-25 minutes. We talked about distribution most of the time and had to quickly shout something at the last minute about the discussion of women in the industry (A HUGE special thanks to fellow panelist and wonder woman Andrea Chiodo from Flying Monkeys for insisting I talk when things were wrapping up). To the credit of the organizers, they hated like hell cutting the panel short and many people who were there suggested that next time just they just screen one film and have the rest of the evening dedicated to the panel. It was far too short, but I’m still glad that I went.
Afterwards the Flying Monkeys crew, Milos, Adil and myself all went to Milos’ where we were all treated to some amazing brews from the cellar (and a few that Peter Chiodo brought with him). It was, to put it mildly, an unforgettable evening.
The next day was the festival itself, held at Museum London. It was modest in size, sporting about 20 breweries with some of their standards and a few one-offs. Some wonderful notables were Oast House‘s “Hef’s Big Wood” barrel-aged Hefeweizen, Silversmith’s very tasty Bavarian Breakfast Wheat and Big Rock‘s Saaz Republic Pilz, a very delicious traditional-style pilsner. There were also wonderful seminars led by Master Cicerone Mirella Amato and Doug Appledoorn of Brauhaus.
My criticisms are pretty few, but if I’m honest, the venue was a bit TOO spaced out, with many places hidden from the general area or completely empty. There was also a security point in between the two main areas of the festival where you just couldn’t walk around with a beer. The only other suggestion I would make for the festival is to feature more one-offs rather than staples. What was brought was a nice mix and in a lot of ways, there were some great stand-outs, but I found myself wanting more special stuff. But hey, those are two small suggestions for a festival in it’s second year, which isn’t bad at all.
The real winners, I found, were the beer-loving public. Everywhere I went people were sampling, talking to the reps and brewers, and even talking to complete strangers about the beer they were trying. After a somewhat disturbing experience with the Toronto Festival of Beer the week before, it really did my heart good to see people who love beer drink it, not to get drunk, but to enliven their taste buds and try something new. I met a wonderful woman, Sarah McCoy, who doesn’t write on a site or anything, but has a book full of notes of beers she’s tasted over the years as well as beer lists of festivals she went to. She was incredibly enthusiastic and was a lot of fun to be around. If she enjoyed Forest City Beer Fest, which she did, then I consider the day to be successful.
So thank you, London, Ontario. Thank you, Forest City Beer Fest. Thank you, Andrea and Peter at Flying Monkey’s, Thank you, Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium. Thank you, Laura Campeau (and Hugo) for being amazing hosts. Thank you, Sarah McCoy. Thank you all for being a part of a really kick-ass first time in London.