The Ontario Craft Brewers conference continues to grow in scale and importance. It’s a rare opportunity for Ontario’s expanding craft beer industry to get together in one place, reconnect and share ideas.
This year, it was held on November 7 and 8 at the Automotive Building (now, technically, the Beanfield Centre) on the Exhibition grounds. Over 1,100 people were registered to attend and 112 breweries, distilleries and cideries were represented. I recognised faces from breweries across Ontario and met folks from neighbouring states and provinces.
One of the most interesting stats comes from comparing the numbers included in the OCB’s post-conference press release with a slide from Julia Herz, the keynote speaker on day one. Herz (who works for the Brewers Association) noted that craft beer’s growth in the U.S. peaked in 2014 at 18 per cent and has fallen back to 5 per cent in 2017. (She also highlighted that craft market share is near 13 per cent there.) By comparison, the OCB pegs growth last year in Ontario at 20 per cent but still only claims 8 per cent market share.
That’s (maybe) good news for the 75+ breweries who plan to join the 270 already-operating breweries in Ontario.
For their conference, the OCB does an uncommonly good job of putting exhibitor-vendors front and centre at their conference. I was surprised to have interesting conversations about everything from boxes to PSL applied can labels.
Naturally, there was also plenty of beer at tasting bars spread across the event floor. I got my first sample from new (to me) breweries like New Ontario Brewing Co. and Full Beard Brewing Co. The stand-out beer for the day, in my view at least, was Nickel Brook’s Uncertainty Principle. Also, this year’s Blood of Cthulhu by Sawdust City was particularly good.
For next year, the OCB conference will be heading to Niagara Falls and will be held in October on the 28 and 29 at the Scotiabank Convention Centre.