Ontario Craft Beer Week: Final Thoughts

From what I’ve heard, it sounds like the 2012 Ontario Craft Beer Week was a success. It was enjoyed by lots of Ontarians throughout the province and there seemed to be bigger events happening outside of Toronto. That being said, I do have one complaint about OCB Week that started off as a passing thought early in the week and slowly grew to be persistently nagging my brain. It partially stemmed from reading Tweets that spoke to the timeliness of the week. Ryan Morrow, brewer at Nickel Brook, commented about some great beers at Bryden’s by saying, “This doesn’t happen everyday.” A lot of people provided weirdly mirrored comments, such as Thirsty and Miserable, by saying that every week should be filled with Ontario craft beer. And those two kinds of comments got me thinking – why can’t every week be like this? Lots of exciting, new beers come out during OCB Week and then the next week life just goes back to normal – the one-offs go away till other festivals or events and everyone goes back to drinking the same beers at home or in bars. Most of us are still championing and drinking Ontario craft beer every week, but are forced to go back to our usual drinking habits after seeing the Promised Land. If I was a bar owner, OCB Week would be my guideline for how to act throughout the year – get as many one-offs and crazy beers as possible on my taps at all times. Or at least throw the occasional event to get people in. If Bryden’s did the Best of the West every couple of months that would be an amazing addition to the Toronto beer scene. I’m obviously not a licensee and can’t speak for all the work that goes into these events, but it just seems like smart business to me.

Part of the goal for OCB Week should be to turn people on to Ontario beers and get them drinking it year-round. But if I’m a craft newbie who has gone to lots of these events filled with saisons, IPAs and other new beers, I’m at a loss right now. My new favourite beer isn’t in the LCBO and might never be brewed again. A week full of one offs is great for the beer geeks, but doesn’t do much to ensure that people drink craft beer year-round. Next year I’d love to see a beer get released into the LCBO to coincide with OCB Week. Better yet, every OCB Week should come with an Ontario craft beer feature. Not those discovery packs, but a release like we had last September of the Great Lakes Miami Weiss, Flying Monkeys Super Collider plus a couple of others. That way people can go to an event, have an awesome beer and then go to the LCBO and buy it. I know the LCBO is a monolithic system and it takes months to get any sort of listing, but craft beer is also a huge growth market that the LCBO is increasingly paying attention to. This sort of cross-promotion seems so obvious to me that I’m surprised it needs mentioning after the third OCB Week. (For other thoughts on one-offs, see “My Love-Hate Relationship With One-Offs“) A lot of breweries put a great deal of time into these one-offs and spend very little time promoting their mainstay beers, which seems like a huge waste of time. As a beer geek I love these one-offs, but I’m not sure if it does the industry a whole lot of good during OCB Week to be pushing beers that new craft beer drinkers can’t find once the week is over.

OCB Week does act as a really great way to see trends in Ontario craft beer. Last year was probably all about the hops, but this year was dominated by yeast. Saison was the trendy style this year – Great Lakes, Amsterdam and Nickel Brook all had saisons available throughout the week, plus there were saison collaborations by Great Lakes/Amsterdam/Steam Whistle and Cheshire Valley/Black Oak/Sawdust City. That’s on top of the saisons that have been released recently by breweries like Bellwoods, House Ales and Beau’s. There were also some Berliner Weisses at Session to go along with other Belgian styles. It is becoming increasingly common to see beers with brett or lacto yeasts. Luckily it was a hot week (at least in Toronto) and these dry, refreshing, funky beers were perfect. If it wasn’t for the Great Lakes IPAs (Karma Citra, Lake Effect, Armadildo, et al), the hop market would have been very dry last week. My early predictions for next years trends during OCB Week: session ales or pilsners.

Those are my parting thoughts from OCB Week. They aren’t meant as complaints, just ideas that can help improve the week for next year. The Ontario been scene has grown so much since the first OCB Week happened three years ago – the notion of too many one-offs would have been ludicrous back then. If this year was any indication, next year will be bigger and better.

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