When it first was announced that there would be a Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival organized by Steam Whistle beside their brewery, I wondered if Toronto really needed another beer fest. The weeks prior had seen festivals of various sizes (Toronto’s Festival of Beer, Hart House, Only Cafe Summer Festival) and another one just seemed onerous. Luckily, there was a lot to enjoy at the Roundhouse festival and it turns out that there was a nice gap missing in the beer festival roster.
The festival was a chance for Steam Whistle to celebrate rejoining the Ontario Craft Brewers group and showcase some of the other member-breweries. Grand River, King, Mill Street, Great Lakes, Wellington, Nickel Brook and Black Oak also turned up for the two-day affair. Restricting it to only OCB members meant that no macros were allowed, or non-OCB breweries like Spearhead, Hop City, Bellwoods, Junction and more. Not an ideal scenario, but always nice to see an event populated only by Ontario breweries. Even better, none had gone to the extreme to promote their beers. No gimmicks, no freebies, just people pouring and talking about craft beer.
The festival was probably the most reasonably priced event outside of the festivals that take place at bars. The festival itself was free to get into, but you needed a glass to be served beers. It was a little confusing because the website said you needed a ticket for either day, when in reality your ticket was the glass (which cost $10 plus fees online or $15 at the door). Having the actual festival be free meant that designated drivers or people who didn’t want to drink beer weren’t being set back. The glass actually allowed you into the festival on both days, making the festival a steal. Once again, I’m not sure how many people knew this, but I took advantage of this by going Saturday and then before heading to the Sunday baseball game. Add in a $1 price for a decent size sample (and tokens available in five packs rather than twenty!) made this a pretty affordable festival for anyone looking to try new beers. There were in-and-out privileges, helpful for those going to a baseball game or wanting to use the Steam Whistle washrooms rather than a porta-potty. It was the closest to Mondial that I had seen in Ontario.
The crowd was a decent size on Saturday considering the constant threat of rain. It was really starting to pick up around 4pm once the baseball game ended and sounded like it was steady until the 6pm closing. (I don’t know if it was intentional to plan the festival around a Blue Jays/Yankees series, but it worked out.) It wasn’t a lot of the usual faces from craft beer events, but it definitely didn’t have the party-and-drink-lots vibe of Toronto’s Festival of Beer. There were children in strollers and dogs. Security was laid back and unobtrusive. Basically, it was a larger scale version of the Stop Beer Garden or Brewer’s Backyard, which is a very good thing. The weather was working against the festival, but the ratio of attendees-to-breweries was just about right.
The only one big complaint people could have is that the food was not quite as advertised, especially on day one. There were supposed to be five food trucks, but only two were there on Saturday (one of which sold out before 3pm) and three on Sunday. Word is that one of the five could not be there because of business problems, which is obviously not the fault of the festival. It was just a bit of a downer for an event that was well run in every other way.
The Roundhouse festival was relatively small compared to the space available as a number of other breweries could have fit tents within the park area. The London beer festival on Saturday might have made it a little harder for breweries to do double duty, but ideally more will participate if the festival happens again. Hopefully this will be the first of many Roundhouse festivals and it will grow while managing to keep all the parts that made it a success.