Attending the Toronto Festival of Beer at Fort York every August has become a bit of a tradition for me and a lot of my friends. It nearly brought a tear to my eye when arriving early Sunday morning I discovered that the first ten or so people in line were all friends of mine! Iíd like to say this was all from my influence but I am pretty sure they would have showed up for the beer whether I was there or not!
We have been going for the last seven years (it probably would have been eight had we been of legal age prior to that!) and each year more people come with us, and each year I spend more time at the show. This year I showed up on all three days and bore witness to what was for me the most interesting year yet.
After seven years you might think I would start to get bored, but it is always a fun event, and provides an opportunity to meet up with the brewers and other beer geeks. Even though many of the beers at the show were not new for me I managed to check off some of the big name ratings that I have been neglecting like Becks, Moosehead Light, Molson, and a Duvel re-rate for good measure.
There were at least a few new beers that debuted at the festival this year. The three festival specials brewed up by Scotch Irish (Major Misconduct, 1900 Smoked Ale, and Elder Statesman) had the local Bartowelers abuzz months in advance of the festival, and they all seem to have fared pretty well in the reviews - particularly the Major Misconduct and its whopping 100 IBUs. [Too bad you missed them Josh. We might have some more sympathy for you if you werenít off touring the world!]
Church Key premiered its new Lift Lock Lager, a fairly mainstream lager that I have yet to sample, but I have a bottle waiting for me in the fridge. The cask of Black Oak Pale Ale received the ĎHop Bombí treatment with a healthy dose of extra hops added to the cask. It sold quickly on Friday night to rave reviews.
Less popular firsts included a dark lager from Great Lakes, and the three new brews from Steelback, who made their first appearance at the show. I seem to have been the most generous in my reviews, and to be honest I think some people were overly harsh. Donít get me wrong, I donít think these beers will be making a run for the Top 50 any time soon, but put side by side with a Corona, or Bavaria the choice is a little less clear. But I digress.
Ratebeerians & Bartowelers
Starting with Kimchee, who got off the same streetcar I did Friday night, I bumped into a ton of folks from the two sites Joey_Capps, Radek, DougShoemaker, Mustang3, Andicus, IPFreely who made the trip up from Buffalo and DuctTape - a recent addition on Ratebeer and also a friend of mine. GregClow poured me a lovely glass of Duvel from behind the bar over at Esprit. From Bartowel I saw Cass, Ryan Wright, Andicus, Dan-D-Man and a ton of others.
I managed to bump into a ton of random non-beer geeks as well; former teammates, classmates, co-workers and ex-girlfriends were all in attendance. I probably talked to more friends and met more total strangers this year than in all the past years combined.
Big Brewers, Babes, Boxheads, and Boors
The presence of the big brewers has seemed to increase each year, and this year featured huge sections for the likes of Guinness, Labbatt, and Molson. Alas, I discovered the fact that the Molson area had a ton of comfy looking couches in the back too late to make use of them. Iím not sure how I feel about this personally. I think it takes away from the idea that you are there to try the many craft beers available, but they do definitely add to the party factor and hopefully entice people to the show that might not come out otherwise.
But letís be honest Ė they will always be welcome as long as they keep staffing the booths with attractive young ladies. Hellooooo Nurse! Literally! The Coors Light trauma nurses came equipped with stethoscopes to measure the cardiac arrest-inducing effects of their outfits. The micros were getting in on the action too, with a number of booths enlisting vivacious vixens to boost sales. Strangely enough, there were no booths wooing the many lady patrons with Brad Pitt look-alikes. Could it be that the ladies are not as easily enticed by a pretty face than the men?
Steamwhistle had what I have decided to dub the Boxhead Brigade out in full force again this year. For those who havenít seen it, some creative soul in the Steamwhistle has been crafting some intriguing head gear out of six pack boxes adorned with coasters, or the more elaborate dragons and devil horns that popped out. Just a little silly, but a lot of fun and they seemed to be pretty popular.
Boorish idiots seem to be an unavoidable part of beer festivals, and while 99.9% of the folks are just there to have a happy good time, the idiots were well represented this year, be it slobbering over the abovementioned booth babes, reaching over the bar to pour themselves beer, or generally being downright obnoxious. I honestly donít get this. I donít think I am getting that old yet, a party is a party but honestly, if you are just going to get ripped and make a fool of yourself, there are cheaper ways to go about it.
Granted, in the past I have purloined a few promo items, and one friend of mine has an ill gotten tap handle at home but that is mostly harmless fun and doesnít impinge on the good times of others. [Note to brewers: If your idea of securing the booth while you go to the bathroom is to unscrew the tap handle and leave it on the counter Ö. WellÖ.]
Which reminds me - the sibling of a certain Ratebeerian who shall remain nameless is the prime suspect in the abduction of a young squirrel. [About 8 inches tall, brown, plastic, answers to ďAcornĒÖ]
You Donít Have To Go Home, But You Canít Stay Here
When last call finally came around on Sunday night, it was a little less crazy than Saturdayís organized chaos. It was almost surreal watching the booths collapse around me. There is nothing quite like relaxing on a Moosehead Muskoka chair while everyone around you is working hard. I swear some of the drunken patrons stayed longer than the exhibitors - at least one poor soul was wandering around long after closing time hoping to score that elusive last beer from booths that were already unhooking their kegs.