Toronto Festival of Beer – Toronto, Ontario
Toronto is home to the Raptors, the only National Basketball Association team outside the United States, and the Blue Jays, the only Major League Baseball team outside the United States. It has sought a National Football League team for some time and is unashamedly the most American of Canadian cities. One could almost argue that Toronto, dipping well below the 49th parallel, is trying to escape into the United States.
From a beer lover’s perspective, the result is a microbrewery scene that favors American-style brown ales, pale ales and premium lagers. Hops favored by American brewers such as Cascade, Chinook and Centennial are also favored here.
The Toronto Festival of Beer (www.beerfestival.ca) is held for three days at the historic Fort York in the middle of August. This large outdoor venue in downtown Toronto makes the crowds of over 25,000 more manageable. Admission ranges from $20 to $30, depending on the day and whether tickets are purchased in advance or at the door. Beer tickets cost $1, with 4-ounce beer samples requiring only one or two tickets. It is recommended that festival tickets be purchased in advance (this can be done online) as the festival often sells out.
The festival is hosted by The Beer Store, the beer retailer owned by Canada’s major national brewers. Thus, the national brewers are allowed prominent presence at the festival (including “brand experience” areas where the big brewers can advertise their brand, rather than their beer), but almost all of the province’s microbreweries are also in attendance, presenting their full line of beers.
While beer drinkers, as opposed to beer tasters, make up a large percentage of attendees, the festival is large enough that these people do not impede those who are serious about tasting good beer. Indeed, when the brewers meet someone who is genuinely interested in their products, they are exceedingly friendly and are eager to hear your thoughts. Make a special effort to visit Magnotta Brewery. They are most famous for their True North line of beers, but their Traditional Altbier brewed exclusively with German malt and hops shouldn’t be missed. Cameron’s Brewing Co. and Lakes of Muskoka Cottage Brewery also offer a fine sampling of North American style craft beers.
There aren’t many brewpubs in Toronto, but Stephen Beaumont’s restaurant, beerbistro (18 King St. E), the Esplanade Bier Markt (58 The Esplanade) and C’est What (67 Front Street East) are must-visit beer establishments within walking distance of the city’s historic Union Station. Further out, though equally deserving of your patronage, are Smokeless Joe’s (125 John St) and Volo (587 Yonge St.). Beerbistro, Esplanade Bier Markt and Volo have more of a restaurant feel, while Smokeless Joe’s and C’est What more closely resemble pubs. That said, you will find much more than pub beers and pub fair at Smokeless Joe’s.
In Toronto, beer retailing occurs through the LCBO and Vintages, both of which are government-owned, and The Beer Store, privately owned by Canada’s national brewers. The Vintages location at Queen’s Quay (2 Cooper Street) is the largest and has the most complete selection of beer in the city. In fact, the LCBO is the world’s largest importer of alcohol, so it has a very good selection of beer, wine and spirits.
If you get lost during your beer wanderings, you can re-orient yourself by locating Toronto’s CN Tower, which for 30 years has been the tallest free-standing structure in the world.