All photos by Dan Grant
Five years ago I made my first trek to Toronto’s Festival of Beer, full of hope for a day full of hops. Not-so-inexpensive ticket purchased, I wandered down to Fort York and started the sampling.
First impression: Too many frat boy types
Second impression: Too little shelter from the sun
Third impression: Way too many frat boy types
The next year, I didn’t go back.
By 2011 however, I was contributing beer related articles to a magazine, so my tickets were comp’d. The venue had moved to the Exhibition Grounds, and several new breweries had popped up around the province. Things had improved considerably and by the following year — last year, from whence these photos originated — my biggest complaint was drunkenly losing my lens cap.
Yeah, jackasses still show up and it’s not a cheap way to pass an afternoon, but without a doubt this is a quality day out. The site is open, much easier to navigate, and offers a range of other beer-related experiences that enhance the sampling.
TFOB used to hand out an “Enjoyment Guide” to enhance the guest experience, but this year’s edition opted for an app instead (it goes live July 17th). This year’s fest is July 26, but to help you pre-plan and really get the most of your big day out, I offer this:
- Don’t wait to get your tickets. Saturday is already sold out.
- I wore a Vitamin B1 patch, which is widely thought to prevent hangovers, to the 2012 event. Whether or not its effectiveness was all in my head didn’t really matter because my head was fine the next day. It worked for me the same way milk thistle does wonders for others. If you want to minimize the next day’s suffering, purchase your hangover preventative ahead of time (surprisingly, last year, nothing of the sort was sold on-site).
- I’m also a big fan of bringing travel-size hand sanitizers to events like this. There’s a whole village of portable toilets and no way to police who else is using the handwash stations. Drinking lowers your defences. This is an easy barrier to apply.
- Sunscreen… trust me, the novelty Steam Whistle hats are a special kind of greatness, but they aren’t magic.
- Bring a bag. There’s plenty of swag to be had. Have it!
- This has been an especially wet spring / summer. If your Vitamin B1 patch isn’t repelling the mosquitoes you should probably have something else that will.
- Plan your route. The 2012 guide boasted more than 200 brands of beer to choose from, and they were very spread out. It’s worth noting that money buys position, so it’s going to be easier to find beef jerky than a Berliner Wiesse.
- Be prepared for the smell. It’s right near Lake Ontario, so that’s one thing. Portable Toilet Village is another experience altogether. Then there are unexpected treasures the younger set tend to leave behind when they become light struck.
- Work within your limits. Your ticket gets you in the gate and a taster size cup that goes with you from booth to booth (don’t lose it… replacements are not free). From there it’s up to you how much you will drink, and it’s your wallet that decides. Tokens are $1.00 each (non-refundable), and drinks are either one or two discs each.
- Get it into your head that when it’s done, it’s done. Toronto’s Festival of Beer is under a special licensing agreement which allows the event to be held in a public space. Respect last call and don’t shout at the staff who have no control over the matter. Vendors can’t keep serving when the licence runs out.
If you’re really planning ahead, hang on to the tokens you don’t use. Last year I collected a bunch that other people threw away at the end of Sunday, and added them to the few left in my pocket. According to TFOB’s website, the same tokens get used year after year.
Last week I wrote about the barrel-aged trend that is becoming increasingly popular. In addition to Sawdust City’s, also be on the lookout for barrels from Nickel Brook, Flying Monkeys, Great Lakes and Beau’s. Fellow beer specialist Sam Gould (@TheBarleyBabe) and I took the initiative to try a couple of them. Here’s a small taste of what you will be tasting.
Nickel Brook’s Old Kentucky Bastard (10.0%)
Started as: Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout
Pours: black, with a creamy, mocha head
Nose: Bourbon, dates, dark cherry
Look for: Ruby Port-like aroma
Palate: cold coffee, chocolate, booziness, Christmas cake, vanilla
Finish: long, smooth and slightly bitter
Flying Monkey’s The Matador Imperial India Pale Ale (10%)
Pours: hazy, burnt orange with an eggshell, foam head
Nose: wood, almost exclusively
Look for: grapefruit pith
Palate: pine, pineapple, toffee
Finish: Long and nicely bitter
Dan Grant is a Prud’homme certified Beer Specialist. Follow him on Twitter at @BrewScout.