Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Beer Festivals in Toronto – Different Strokes for Different Folks

We start with a philosophical question: can you love the same thing for different, and in some ways conflicting, reasons? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself since attending two major beer festivals in Toronto over the past few weeks: the Toronto Festival of Beer and the Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival.

The Toronto Festival of Beer – big, loud, glorious

What do you get when you mix 120 beer brands, loud music and pub food with uncertain weather, a sprawling outdoor venue and 30,000 thirsty Ontarians? The answer is a raucous, sticky mess of good ol’ fashioned fun.

What’s true is that you can’t call this a beer connoisseur event. It’s simply too impersonal (not many brew masters or owners/founders to be seen), too generalized (cider, coolers, mixers, you can find them all) and just too big to gain that distinction.

But here’s the thing: the Toronto Festival of Beer is not trying to be a beer connoisseur event. Sure they have some offerings to attract beer enthusiasts - an impressive number of international brewers, some interesting teaching events and a solid selection of cask and seasonal beer – but the core of this event is really about the party and offering a chance to try a huge selection of beers, in a fun environment, with like-minded people. 

And that’s where it delivers. The selection is enormous and extremely diverse. The music, fast paced and easy to enjoy. The food, plentiful enough to sop up any over indulgence. And the vast majority of people, there for the sole purpose of having a great time.

A few detractors:
  • Long lines: for everything. Bathrooms, sampling tokens, samples, food. You do a fair bit of waiting around. 
  • Cost inconsistency: does a sample cost one, two or three tokens? Does that get you a full sample or half a sample? CONFUSED!
  • Beer inconsistency: we found some warm beer and some that just tasted off. To be expected considering the environment and volume. 
The highlight of the festival was chatting with Nathan from Double Trouble Brewing Co., makers of the fantastic IPA Hops & Robbers and the newer Prison Break Pilsner. These guys embody the independent spirit on Ontario craft brewing and are pretty hilarious on Twitter. Give them a follow.

The Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival – local, quaint, social

Hosted at one of Toronto’s most iconic breweries, the Steam Whistle Roundhouse, this hyper-local festival features only registered Ontario Craft Brewers. Fifteen of OCB’s 31 member breweries were in attendance along with 8 food trucks and a smattering of talented local musicians covering a gamut of genres from punk and rock to one lone guy on a ukulele.

Entering Roundhouse Park we instantly felt the pride. Under the shadow of the Roundhouse you see banners of familiar local breweries and the scene just oozes with the camaraderie and fellowship that makes the Ontario brewing industry so special. There is a complete freedom from competition and great respect between the breweries (as seen when they recommend each other’s brews).

The atmosphere is beautifully laid back and welcoming. No lines or the animosity they create. People leaning against trees or sitting on the grass. We were thrilled to get the chance to chat with brew masters and owners, including the great folks from Grand River Brewing and Neustadt Springs Brewery (home of the very approachable 10w30 Dark Ale, which, when mixed with their Sour Krautlager, forms the delicious Black Raspberry). 

The food selection was stellar. We enjoyed pulled brisket poutine, veal sandwiches, ravioli and fish tacos while just missing out on wood fired pizza. And these gourmet dishes rolled in on wheels.

The similar issue of cost inconsistency found at the Toronto Festival of Beer was also present here. The selection also left something to be desired, as even some local favourites were missing. Amsterdam’s Oranje Weisse was a noted absence despite being one of their more promoted seasonals.

With it’s personal feel and great focus, the Roundhouse festival is an awesome celebration of Ontario beer.

Final ramblings:

For me, the answer to our philosophical question is yes. Depending on what you are looking for you might prefer the hot mess that is the Toronto Festival or Beer or you may be attracted to the local celebration of the Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival. If you’re like me, I can show love for both, and am a happy man knowing that beer culture in Toronto is alive and well.

Follow Scott F. on Twitter at


  1. Food looks delicious. I have just gotten into trying different beers over the last few years. We even have a microbrewery now here in my own town. It is fun. I appreciate your honest review on the Toronto festival. Andy

  2. Hey Andy, The fish tacos were dynamite! Which micro brewery calls your neighborhood home?