Words and images by Dana.
My recent culinary adventures across the border (where craft beer options are plenty and available at your local convenience store) had me realizing just how new I am to celebrating the craft beer market happening at home. The thing is, the basic market availability in Ontario, Canada simply hasn’t been there until recently. In Ontario, retail sales of alcohol are governed by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) and the Beer Store is owned by the 2 largest commercial beer companies: the Labatt arm of Anheuser-Busch InBev and the Molson Coors Brewing Company. So, distributing the goods from your independently owned and operated craft brewery is not a simple task. The beautiful reality is that the Ontario public seems to be demanding the artisanal, refreshing values from craft breweries and the corporate heads are making more room on their shelves to carry craft beer and meet those demands.*
Bringing us to last Saturday’s 4th annual SESSION Craft Beer Festival, where Toronto’s Wychwood Barns Community Centre hosted nearly one thousand thirsty and adventurous beer fans, alongside 30+ local craft breweries. Now, I may love beer but I’m not usually a fan of beer festivals – loads of people pushing and shoving you into an *accidental* drunken state – but this one was actually really fun. While my claustrophobia was still active and the bathroom lines were a ridiculous 30+ minutes long, the vendors were eager to chat, the crowd was in great spirits, lines moved quickly and the beer was freaking delicious.
What is a “sessionable beer”? Every now and then we hear the phrase “a great sessionable beer.” This implies that the beer has a lower alcohol percentage, features a fine balance between malt and hop flavours and often has a clean finish – creating a beer that is easy to drink. The purpose of a session beer is to allow the beer drinker to have multiple beers, within a reasonable period of time or “session,” without overwhelming the senses or becoming too intoxicated. (Yes, you can enjoy beer without getting drunk.)**
Knowing this, the title of this festival to wrap Ontario Craft Beer Week seems a little ironic, since a majority of the craft brewing vendors were seemingly competing for the title of BOLDEST, HOPPIEST, STRONGEST ale. I’m certainly not complaining – these are my kind of beers, and I couldn’t be happier to finally have this kind of selection garnering excitement in my own backyard. I just wonder if we should consider renaming the festival something like ‘Refill’, ‘Pints!’ or ‘IBUs, We ❤ You!’.
The day started out with torrential rains and I dressed for it: long pants, rain jacket and rain boots. Sure enough, by the time I landed at the gates of the event the weather had turned hot and muggy and I was surrounded by cute twenty-somethings in sundresses, making me feel all the more “old lady winterized”. I was hot. So very hot and working myself through a loaded crowd. Thank goodness for cold craft beer in my custom SESSION mug.
Stripping away the layers of clothing, my hubby and I made our way to nearly every tent, often sticking around for a few tastes of everything the brewers had to offer. The selection was impressive; most of the GTA-based breweries were peddling a sessionable beer option (like a pilsner or lager), a more provoking option (like a milk stout or triple IPA) and a Collaboration Nation option, which had 20 breweries teaming up with 20 “artists” to create the “most unique” exclusive SESSION brew.
So, we drank, caught up with some old friends, made some new friends and drank some more.
The event ended at 9pm and as my husband and I packed up with our vibrant glow – partly from all of the inspired conversation and partly from the drunk quickly creeping up on us – event organizers asked everyone to fill out a ballot on their way out asking 2 vital questions from the day:
1. What was your favourite brewery @ SESSION this year?
My answer: There were so many great breweries and brewers working the crowd at SESSION, but I think Flying Monkey’s rocked my world the most. Their Get Jiggy With It IPA offered everything I look for in a beer – stronger, hoppy nose and taste with a malt presence balancing the intensity of the hops. It was DELICIOUS!
Plus, the gorgeous blonde working their booth, who happened to be friendly, knowledgeable on beer AND pretty killer in the volleyball pit, should have been crowned Queen of the Day.
2. What was your favourite collaboration brew?
My answer: I hate to sound biased, but it was also from Flying Monkey’s. The Barrie-bound brewery had partnered with City & Colour singer Dallas Green to create by-far the most unique beer of the day. I can only really describe it as a ‘dessert beer’; like a beautiful ice wine to finish a meal, this beer was RICH in maple syrup, a little sweet and very unusual. I loved it – but could not drink more than a single goblet.
(At least these are the poetic words that I assume my drunken chicken scratch spelled out. :))
Looking forward to seeing what SESSION organizers will brew up for next year. Whatever and wherever, you can count me in.
*LCBO Reaps Record Profits – Again The Toronto Star, Sunday, June 30, 2013
**For more info on beer terms (and pretty much all other things beer), check out BeerAdvocate.com
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