Beer festivals: What are they good for?

Barrels served dual duty as decoration and also home from some of Indie's great beer.
Barrels served dual duty as decoration and also home from some of Indie’s great beer. Photo: David Ort

A few days before Christmas I found myself at the annual Indie Alehouse Stout Night. It’s hazardous and flawed to think a particular beer style belongs exclusively to a certain season — that goes especially for stout where many low-ABV options are great all year. But this is a once-a-year opportunity to line up more than a dozen of the best stouts from across Ontario (and beyond), on the evening of the winter solstice and sample them beside each other.

I like Stout Night. It has focus and spirit; this is the furthest you can get from a something-for-everyone beer festival.

But that comparison raises the question: Are beer festivals still a good time? Which ones are worth recommending and why?

I think the idea of a festival for craft beer has an honest history. People, circa 2010, had their favourite brand of beer and inertia meant that they didn’t really grasp the variety of choice. Like, say, a boat show the plan was to give them a concentrated dose of choice to shock their system. Come as close to sensory overload\ as possible and maybe that experience will knock customers hard enough that they become a typical craft beer drinker. The type of person who rarely drinks the same beer twice in a month.

And it worked. But are we passed that transition?

There is still a place for specialized events. I’m really glad I got to try Dominion City’s and Left Field’s barrel-aged stouts against that old favourite, Bring Out Your Dead by Bellwoods. On the other end of the ABV range, Tooth & Nail and Great Lakes both had very sessionable options. And Merit’s Banoffee Pie take on the style was a wild and crazy ride.

That’s what I’m talking about, Enough of the events where 40 breweries pour their two or three core brands and more focus, please.

Beyond just the dizzying choice, we also need to say something about ambiance. Indie’s Stout Night was cool because they held it in a somewhat decrepit warehouse. They have a ton of barrels there now and the plan is to make it their production brewery once they have a system. Getting a tour of the space was a blast.

But there are lots of really comfortable places to drink beer. The dock at the cottage, a chair in the backyard or a cozy seat at my neighbourhood pub all spring to mind before walking around a convention centre in March or a shade-less park in August.

Given these filters, I have a few must-do beer events in Ontario. But I’d love to hear yours as well. Leave a comment below and let me know what dates are circled in red on your beer calendar.


You may also like