Tag Archive: Festival of Beer


In the past month, I’ve had the pleasure of going to two distinct festivals in Toronto (sorry Session, I heard you were terrific but I was unable to see past my throbbing hangover after a best friend’s birthday).

The Hart House Craft Beer Festival is in it’s 4th year at UofT. Held in the quad that sits smack-dab in the middle of the aforementioned cultural centre, it’s got an impeccable reputation with enthusiasts and it wouldn’t be difficult to argue that it’s played a large role in the craft beer renaissance taking shape in our city.

Beside the excellent beer, they’ve got a free BBQ and a couple of DJs from CIUT, one of the best radio stations around. Did it live up to my expectations?

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The Toronto Festival of Beer has gotten quite a bit of flack in years past for being a vehicle for all of the mainstream brands and this criticism isn’t entirely unwarranted.

I’ve only been going for a couple of years but both times featured plenty of tired brews being sexed up with “booth babes” and loud music, a real-life commercial.  Neither they nor the massive drunken hordes they were serving knew or cared much about beer; the modus operandi could very aptly be summed up as “if it feels good, do it”.

While it can be easy to dismiss this attitude as simplistic and stupid, it can also be a lot of fun with the right friends. I still have fond memories of Human Foosball from two years ago and while a crowd this size will always draw its fair share of idiots, I tend to remember the people I liked.

Bacchanalia notwithstanding, there is some other merit to the event. Great Lakes Caskapalooza!, featuring 20+ unique casks that encompass a wide range of beer styles, has been a consistent favorite ever since it started and I’d expect this year to be no different. Mill Street will have a “busker experience” which I imagine will pair music with their beers.

Last year, all of the Ontario craft beer was featured in the center of the grounds, giving them some much-deserved attention. This year’s attendees include Flying Monkeys, Railway City, Black Oak, Amsterdam, Spearhead and Granville Island, at least a third of which will be featuring seasonals.

Mirella Amato of Beerology will be offering guided tours of the festival on Sunday, at 2:30 and 3pm.

One interesting feature making its debut this year is Mash Up, where 8 breweries will collaborate on developing one-off beers for the festival. Pairings include Beau’s/Black Oak, Nickelbrook/Flying Monkeys, FM/Wellington and Amsterdam/Great Lakes. Expect to see these special brews at each of the brewery’s booths.

I really enjoyed the joint cask by Great Lakes, Amsterdam and Bar Volo that was featured at the Hart House Craft Beer Festival and am definitely looking forward to see what these guys bring to the table this time.

While those who don’t appreciate drunken crowds will stay away, those up for a bit of fun with their beer will probably manage to enjoy themselves. It’s not Session, it’s not even the Hart House Craft Beer Festival but it really shouldn’t be.

I’m just happy I’ve had four festivals to go to this year.

The festival runs from Thursday, Aug. 5 to Sunday, Aug. 7. Thursday and Friday will be evening hours from 4 till 10pm while Saturday and Sunday will be more of an all-day affair from 1 till 7pm.

Friday and Saturday are already sold out but you can still get tickets for Sunday (and avoid some of the weekend crush).

(Photo taken from the Toronto Festival of Beer website.)

This has been a great year for festivals and tastings for the city of Toronto. Besides the old stalwarts like the Toronto Festival of Beer and Whisky Live we’ve got Session, the Toronto Wine  Spirit Festival and the Conscious Food Festival getting off the ground and offering new products and fresh perspectives.

Events like Toronto Beer Week also help raise awareness of Ontario Craft Beer and that, along with a more noticeable presence at the LCBO, should result in residents of Ontario taking more pride in what this province has to offer.

Next week, be sure to check out The Toronto Beer Experience, a one-day event held at The Berkeley Church on Oct. 21st, that promises to do just that with a seasonal preview that will see local brewers (Church-Key, Muskoka, Flying Monkeys, Mill Street and more) bringing  new beer that they’ve brewed specifically for this day or that they’re about to release. While details on all the beers which might be there are not available, I wouldn’t be surprised if Muskoka’s upcoming seasonal release, their Double Chocolate Cranberry Stout, makes an appearance. Great Lakes and Mill Street are bringing their Guard Dog Dunkel and Rauchbier (smoked beer), respectively. Most interesting is Flying Monkeys who are bringing a Cookies and Cream Ale; I have no idea how that will taste but I can’t wait to try it.

For those of you don’t like beer (shame on you!) there will be a variety of local wines on hand as well as cocktails made with Victoria Gin (118737, 750 mL, $49.95). I had a couple this summer at the Toronto Wine & Spirit Festival and it’s a well-balanced spirit that follows in the vein of more floral gins like Hendrick’s and Bulldog. Also on hand will be dishes prepared by the Church and live music from local musicians.

There’s also a deal on Groupon right now that offers two tickets for the price of one at only $25! This is only going to be up for the next seven hours so rope in a date and make a night of it.

The Toronto Beer Experience is on Friday, October 21st., from 6pm to 11pm. It will be held at The Berkeley Church which is located at 315 Queen St. East. See you there!

So I figured that since I’m behind on several updates, I’ll just smoosh them all into one big post and get it out of the way so I can get ready for the next season (and perhaps even become more timely with my writing!).

The big thing for me this summer was festivals and travelling. I went to the Cutting Edge Music Festival at the start of August and when not enjoying some hard, hard music, I did my fair share of drinking as well.

My friend Kat (who bartends at one of my favorites, Rasputin Vodka Bar) and I packed a couple 24′s worth of booze. There was no liquor but I brought Corona (my go-to camping beer) and she brought half-a-dozen types of coolers.

I can’t stand the damn things due to what I feel is an excessive amount of sugar and Kat doesn’t generally drink beer but over the next couple of days we dipped into each other’s stashes and I have to admit that Bacardi’s Blueberry Guava Breezer was actually quite refreshing, dare I say even buyable if one were prone to that sort of thing.

bud busIn terms of where one could drink there was a licensed area set to the side of the two main stages which was a Budweiser Bus. I generally hate segregated beer gardens with a passion and there was no way in hell I was going to pay $7 for a plastic cup of Bud when the camping area was licensed as well.

Unfortunately, drinking there required leaving the pit, making your way through security without getting anything confiscated, climbing up a monster hill and trying to find your way through Tent City. I’m not exaggerating when I say this was a 10 minute walk, made exceedingly challenging for many folk dealing with the variety of substances playing havoc with their bodies. I wasn’t at all surprised when I heard stories of people dropping where they stood but I can’t believe that fucking hill didn’t claim more victims. Still, I made the trek over twenty times and I’d do it again if it meant not drinking a Bud.

CEMF was my first music festival and I’m definitely looking forward to attending more although I think I’d prefer ones in other countries that don’t have such draconian licensing restrictions.

The next big thing I went to was Toronto’s Festival of Beer. I’d never been and I figured I should probably go to see what the fuss was about. I was a bit put out by the steep entrance fee ($45!) and getting in to the event was a challenge of labyrinthian proportions but I still enjoyed myself.

I know that Greg Clow of Beer, Beats & Bites was largely unimpressed with the festival, Troy Burtch at Great Canadian Pubs and Beer also had some quibbles and Save Your Fork… There’s Pie‘s Sheryl Kirby gave a number of good reasons why it sucked when stacked up to the Hart House Craft Beer Festival and while I agree with pretty much everything they said I think I’m coming from a different place in my take on the event.

dug those barrels!

They’re right when they take issue with the smaller number of craft brewers in attendance, the roaming packs of drunken louts (and requisite “beer Nazi” security force) and all the cringe-worthy accoutrement of the Molson-Coors/Anheuser-Busch Inbev crowd.

Beerfest was all of that but it was also fun! Tecate’s human foosball was a glorious mess of tangled limbs and drunken saves and almost good enough for me to forgive them for the piss they call beer. Sure the hats you received for winning looked dumb but my group largely negated that by stealing ours. The Steamwhistle photobooth was also nice carnival-style throwback but other than those two promotional tie-ins, I mostly stuck with drinking as much beer as possible.

My friends were already trashed by the time I got there but I managed to catch up pretty quickly with a stop at the Trafalgar Brewery booth and I had another go at their Critical Mass and Korruptor strong beers. Both tasted much better than I remember from that three-pack I bought back in the spring (or maybe I was just happy to finally have a beer in my hand).

In quick succession, I hit the Wellington, Radeberger & DAMM and McClelland Premium Imports booths. The first two didn’t do that much for me but the last one featured both the Erdinger Weissbier and Dunkel, Fruli and Affligem’s Dubbel, Tripel and Blonde. Unfortunately, they were out of Delirium Tremens by Sunday; this saddened me because I’ve always loved it and since it was banned by the LCBO awhile ago, it’s been very difficult to source it out beyond a few bars.

One of my friends had a massive hankering for wings and that was just fine with me because it allowed us to sit in the southwest corner of the festival where Great Lakes Brewery’s CASKapalooza! held court. I’d heard good things but I had no idea they’d have so many great brews just waiting for me to sample!

We ended up spending over an hour here; quite a feat when you consider that most booths didn’t merit more than a couple of minutes at best. During our time there, I tried the Snaggle Tooth Pumpkin Ale, Kaptain Kolsch, Iron Eagle Pilsner, Simon Says Stout and Superior I.P.A.

All were pretty good with the Snaggle Tooth and Kaptain definitely meriting a place on the shelf. My disappointment at not being able to try more of them has been tempered by the hindsight that I was pretty trashed by this point and wouldn’t have made it through much more.

Still, there was more of the grounds to traverse and I forced my comrades to take me back to the Bier Markt’s Oktoberfest Experience. There, we dined on sausages, sauerkraut and a most excellent weissbier which I believe was imported. The only finer example I’ve had would be the rather untraditional Edelweiss’ Snowfresh or Denison’s.

After this point, my memories of what we did next begin to jumble together like a night of partying… I remember watching some booth girls playing a drinking game that involved some kind of soccer chant and being extremely disappointed by the Eastern European lager I got when it was my turn.

We ended up in the center of the grounds and although I think I tried some great beers I don’t recall what they were called or even what they tasted like. I remember a couple of friends climbing up into a tree and getting reprimanded by security and one of our cups getting confiscated by the beer Nazis after we doubled up while one of our friends went to the washroom. We ended up dancing in front of the bandshell to some no-name band playing a cover of Home for a Rest, a song that is somehow synonymous with being smashed and Canadian. (On a sidenote: there are so many concert videos of that song being played by the band on YouTube… they must be very tired of playing it but if the festival is any indication of public opinion, no one seems to very tired of hearing it.)

In retrospect we were pretty much like everyone else by that point; very drunk and very, very happy. This may not be the best way to try out new beers but it can be a terrific condition in which to enjoy yourself. I may be getting older but I still take some pleasure in this sort of thing from time to time. The day I stop doing so may very well coincide with the day I start taking my writing more seriously but it hasn’t come yet. I saw plenty of assholes but I also met some incredibly-fun people and drank some damn good beer; those are the memories that stick.

When not going out, I’ve had the opportunity to buy a few beers here and there but not too many of them stick out in my mind.

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Boris Organic (not pictured here, I misplaced the can, but I’m sure you can picture it) is a middle-of-the-road lager with that slightly-malty, clean, inoffensive taste that features in so many beers of its kind. There’s not a whole lot of carbonation and you’re left with not much of an aftertaste because it’s so damn watery. It reminded me a bit of Mill St. Organic except not as good.

Both Nektar and Ochakovo Premium were both equally bland and I’d stay away from both of them. I don’t like the Eastern European lagers the LCBO brings over here and neither of these changed my mind.

Estrella Damm, on the other hand, is a lot better but that’s faint praise considering the company it was keeping. It poured with a nice thick head that left a lovely amount of lacing on the glass which was unusual given that I wouldn’t call this a full-bodied beer.

Still, it was quite lovely; dry, crisp and refreshing. The nose was definitely light and there was a decent mouthfeel but I would’ve preferred more carbonation. It’s definitely less grassier than some pilsners with some malt and just a touch of bitterness. Bonus points for no evident skunkiness or overt sweetness. There was very little aftertaste but the dryness definitely became more pronounced which I didn’t mind.

Everyone I know who doesn’t generally enjoy beer and has tried Damm has enjoyed it; this is definitely one of those beers you can satisfy most people without sinking to the level of your garden-variety macro-brews. I’ve had a couple cans with everything ranging from a tuna-melt sandwich to pasta and found it worked quite well as a “carb-soaker”. My only real caveat with this beer is that is has to be served ice-cold; it loses points for not aging well in the glass. Overall, it’s a decent beer to get drunk with but there are cheaper tallboys that don’t sacrifice too much in taste.

(Top photo by Matt Eckensweiler.)

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A quietly-funny beer advert from Down Under. We should be following their example instead of the Americans. If the beer still tasted bad, at least we’d be smiling.

Alan McLeod of A Good Beer Blog links to an article in the Globe & Mail where the new CEO of Molson Coors laments the diversification of the beer market in Canada.

Quite frankly, I’m appalled by his talk of brand value and loyalty without any mention of what the company’s products are doing to deserve it; I won’t shed any tears if they were to disappear tomorrow. The whole system’s rotten anyway… and is Mr. Perkins calling us cheap? I say his beers are overpriced.

According to Jamie Boudreau, we have a new gin in Canada that goes by the name of Victoria. Since it’s from B.C., I’m betting red-tape and petty provincialism will prevail but I may yet see a bottle in Ontario someday. I’d dearly love to be wrong…

Another liqueur I’ll probably never get to try is from the States and an alcoholic version of root beer (sort-of) besides. Dubbed “Root” it looks delicious and is the result of a partnership between the makers of Hendrick’s Gin and collective called Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Yet another reason for me to take a road-trip and soon.

If you’re not working, a great way to spend this Thursday evening would be crawling amongst the bars of King St. West. Besides sampling some terrific beer, you could win tickets to Toronto’s upcoming Festival of Beer.

Speaking of which, I’m actually attending for the first time this year. Most of the time I procrastinate in applying for a press pass and end up not going but my brother bought a ticket for me and so August the 9th (a Sunday) will find me throwing tokens at vendors, getting sunburnt and being very, very drunk. I’ll try and take notes. If you’re going, let me know; we might even bump into each other (literally).

Doug of The Pegu Blog writes about yet another cocktail (the Dark ‘n’ Stormy) whose name you cannot mention unless you use copyright-holding company’s liquor in the recipe. While I don’t give much of a shit for issues of intellectual property, it’s an amusing tale nonetheless and Gosling’s is good stuff.