While my undergrad days at the University of Toronto included a lot of beer drinking (and a good chunk of it was craft beer at the end), it certainly never included a beer festival in the beautiful quad at Hart House. Attending the third-annual Hart House Craft Beer Festival and Summer BBQ was never in doubt, if for no other reason than to see how the old institution throws a beer party. Seventeen breweries from Ontario were represented, as well as three from Quebec, with none of the big boys in sight. There was also no sign of frat boys or popped collars, which is a good start when trying to judge the quality of a beer festival.
In fact, the clientele probably could have been easily predicted by looking at the Event Guide, which contained a list of the beers available from each brewery. Breweries like Mill Street and Beau’s were bringing their flagship beers (Tankhouse/Organic and Lug-Tread, respectively) and one seasonal (Lemon Tea and FestivAle). These beers are all far better than the mainstream lagers (except you, Organic – get out of there!), but not the most experimental beers made by the breweries. Wellington had four beers listed, including the delicious Russian Imperial Stout, but only ended up bringing the Silver Anniversary Wheat Ale (I wonder how Sophie would feel if I brewed her a really crap beer for our silver anniversary…). The people Soph and I sat with seemed to be a pretty good generalization of the crowd as a whole: beer drinkers looking for something better than macro lagers, but not necessarily aware of a lot of different craft brewers. The festival was a relaxing and fun way to try new beers, hopefully getting a bit of a Thursday night buzz in the process. Some listings even had added notes of where the beers could be purchased, which was a nice touch.
Of course, beer was only part of the equation; there was also a lot of food to be had. As the event started at 7pm, it was no surprise that hungry flocks of people created long lineups for the food during the early stages. The pulled pork and crudité stations were a hassle to get to, while no one seemed to notice the jerk chicken, rice and coleslaw. Problems with the food have apparently plagued the festival in the past and it still seems that there needs to be some work done. They were still bringing out food by 9pm, including the delicious jerk tofu (hope you vegetarians weren’t waiting!), but this would have alleviated the lineups had it been out at the beginning with everything else. The food was tasty, but not always worth the wait.
Tickets came with eight sample tickets, which is probably enough for most people to try all the beers they really want to. My first stop was the Grand River Plowman’s Anniversary Ale (Ratebeer), which was a strange but delicious IPA. The sample was too small to really dissect the beer, but it was fruity and ended with a huge hop burst that was the bitterness equivalent of wasabi. Then a Beau’s Festivale (Ratebeer), an altbier with lots of toasted malts and a hazelnut undercurrent. Tasty and rich. The Trois Mousquetaires Doppelbock (Ratebeer) was a boozy, intense tipple with lots of raisins and roasted malts. Didn’t really fit in with the summer BBQ theme, but I could drink lots of this on a snowy night in winter.
While some breweries ran out or didn’t bring some of their listed beers, others brought seasonals or one-offs that weren’t listed. The Great Lakes Miami Weisse (Ratebeer) was one of these beers and a nice palate cleanse after a lot of malts. This is a really hoppy beer, which sometimes overpowers the wheat aspects. With some tinkering, I bet this is going to be really good. For fun (or punishment) I tried the Nickel Brook Green Apple Pilsener (Ratebeer), which was like a liquid Jolly Rancher. Two sips and a toss. The Charlevoix Herkules Double IPA (Ratebeer) was like a musty basement. And then a Dieu du Ciel Péché Mortel (Ratebeer) due to the lack of Wellington RIS. Not a bad consolation drink.
The beer lineups were nonexistent compared to the food and the event felt a lot less crowded once most people were done eating, leaving them free to disperse around the quad. There is not much to complain about when you’ve got good beer, tasty BBQ and a beautiful summer evening. Hart House, I’ll see you next year.
Today: 500mL. Year-to-date: 143.83L.