A lot of times when I don’t like something, I tend to say “it’s not for me”. Although I do slip in to it now and then, I believe that as a writer I should inform, rather than set a standard. “What might be right for you might not be right for some”, as the song goes. We’re all individuals with individual tastes and I like to embrace that.
So with that in mind, the Toronto Festival of Beer is not for me.
I was invited to stop by for a “Home brewing 101” panel, put on by Toronto home brewing group Brauhaus and part of Niagara College’s Brewmaster Series, a series of tented events within the festival to educate people about beer.
The panel was wonderful. Led by Doug Appledoorn, co-founder of Brauhaus, my learned fellow panelists (Erin Broadfoot and Pietro Caira) and I talked about our good and bad experiences with home brewing, answered questions, and handed out samples of our own brews. I supplied my Manor House Intrigue Chamomile Brown Ale, which I made back in February with the help of the Brauhaus mentorship program. The whole thing went really well and we got a good amount of applause from the packed tent. Hopefully Brauhaus will get some members out of that!
The rest of the festival was…not too great. If it wasn’t for the marvelous company of my longtime friend Cheryl, I probably would have left soon after the panel. A few one-off beers stuck out, but everything else was stuff that was available at the LCBO. It wasn’t that unique and, well, I can’t say that I wasn’t warned.
But I do believe it has its place. It’s a chance for smaller breweries to win over the affections of the coveted Bro Market, the group of people for whom beer shots, competitive vomiting and dancing to dubstep is a way of life. And don’t get me wrong, it is a popular market. In an effort to get drunk these folks buy 24 packs like there’s some kind of shortage and they need to stock up. I recognize why a business would want that. It should be noted, however, that the smaller breweries are still competing with the bigger ones. Budweiser, Coors and Smirnoff Ice tents were present and huge, with their own dance floors and booth babes handing out stickers and various other bits of swag.
And while I don’t know how successful the festival is at converting the Bro Market to craft beer, I can’t deny it has an effect. “I normally drink Molson Canadian,” an attendee told us. “But then I go to a festival like this and drink a Molson and anything here after that tastes so much better.” And really folks…that’s all I hope for. I don’t really care if a person likes Bud Light Lime Mojito or beer that, to me, tastes like water. As long as they know that there’s something else out there.
My biggest problem with the festival was the way it was run. I really got the impression that the festival encouraged drunkenness, which didn’t appeal to me. Tokens were $20 minimum, which gets you 20 tokens. 5oz samples were around 1-2 tokens each, which doesn’t sound like much, but take a group of people who are used to 4% abv beer and put them in a festival of 6-9% abv beers, well…you see how it can get out of hand. Oh sure, you could use those tokens for food, but I didn’t get the impression that people were doing that. Visions of festival-goers nearly falling down getting more beer poured in to their glasses were pretty frequent and the security guards, god bless them, were kept very busy breaking up fights and carrying people to water stations.
And guys, maybe double up on security to lead people to the bus stop? There were waaaaay too many drunk people roaming in to oncoming traffic. Unacceptable.
So that’s my thoughts on Toronto Festival of Beer. It’s not for me. Aside from a few things that I can’t forgive, I can acknowledge it as a festival that works for some people. I’m just not one of them. Unless I’m invited to another panel, I don’t think I’ll be going again in the future.
But really though, thank you to Brauhaus, Niagara College and my kick-ass friend Cheryl for being the bright stars in this event.