The top 10 beer festivals in Toronto for summer 2014
Summer in Toronto is beer festival season, and as our city's love affair with craft brews intensifies, our options for communal imbibing continues to grow. 2014 is a particularly robust year for beer events, marked by old favourites (e.g. Toronto Beer Week) and relative newcomers (e.g. Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival). As much as the focus is on what's in the glass at these events, the dawn of the food truck era has brought a whole new dimension to beer festivals around these parts, with gourmet offerings aplenty to line your beer-filled guts.
Here are my picks for the top beer festivals and events in Toronto for summer 2014.
Session Toronto 2014 (June 13-14)
Now entering its fifth year, Session Toronto has surpassed its origins as the official conclusion to Ontario Craft Beer Week to become a marquee event on its own. This year sees the festival move from the Wychwood Barns to Yonge-Dundas Square, which is sure to accommodate even more craft beer fans as this event rises in popularity (better hope for good weather, though). Tickets cost $39.50, which gets you your glass and five tasting tokens for the over 100 beers on offer. There's also a "Princess Pass" to the event, which comes in at $99.50 for 30 tokens, the ability to bypass lineups and access to a VIP area.
Ontario Craft Beer Week (June 15-21)
This sprawling festival features over 150 events spread across 50 cities and towns in Ontario. As the biggest participating city, we have the most events. It's difficult to sum up everything that will be on offer at local establishments, but you can count on tasting flights, tap takeovers, live music, brewery tours and pretty much everything else beer-related. Stay tuned for a more thorough preview of the festival a week prior to its getting under way. Various prices and locations.
Brewer's Backyard: Canada Day Edition (July 1)
The Brick Works is pretty much the ideal setting for a lazy afternoon of holiday drinking. You pay as you go for food and drink (the beer comes in at $6), so there's no need to buy tickets in advance nor need you feel obligated to make an entire day out of it (the event goes from 11am-4pm). Do bear in mind that the Brick Works is a popular spot on Canada Day, so if you're looking to ensure seats, it's best to arrive early. The menu will only be made public on the day of the event, though you can always count on interesting stuff from local brewers and given that it's a rare family-friendly beer event, feel free to bring the kiddies.
Summer Craft Beer Fest (July 10)
Ostensibly a chance to show off the various vendors at the Liberty Market Building as much as it is to showcase local craft breweries, the one-day Summer Craft Beer Fest is a pay-as-you-go affair that is part street sale, part beer celebration. If last year was any indication, the beer certainly isn't an afterthought, as brewers like Beau's, Highlander Beer Co., Hogtown Brewers, Muskoka Brewery, and, of course, the Liberty Village Brewing Company all made appearances (to name only a few).
Toronto's Festival of Beer (July 25-27)
Featuring over 300 different brands of beer, for better of for worse, TFOB is quite possibly the largest summer beer festival in the province. The beer vendors comprise a non-discriminatory lineup of brewers big and small, so alongside craft brewers and contract start ups, you're also likely to find "beer girls," fizzy lagers, and sacrilegious fruity beers. Over the event's three days you can expect thousands of beer drinkers to descend on Exhibition Place so it's sure to be a good scene (with lineups to pee and buy tokens). Among other features, there will be a pavilion dedicated to East Coast beers, gluten free and female friendly(?) beer "trails," and musical entertainment featuring formidable lineup of Canadian acts including K-OS, The Trews, Matthew Good and more. Tickets are still available for Friday and Sunday but Saturday is sold out.
Hart House Craft Beer Festival (July 31)
The 7th annual Hart House Craft Beer Festival features small craft breweries from across Canada (to be announced), food, and learnin'. Up a buck from last year, tickets cost $36 for adults or $31 for students and include entry to the open-air Hart House Quad, eight beer tickets, a souvenir sampling glass, and access to the full-patio barbecue prepared by Chef Marco Tucci. This year's event will also see the return of Canada's first female Cicerone, Mirello Amato, leading "ExBEERiential Learning," a one-hour beer tasting workshop (which costs a little extra to attend).
Session Muskoka (August 2)
Cottage country and beer are a natural pair, and Muskoka's beer festival, now named Session Muskoka, is the marquee craft beer event in the area. Held at Bracebridge's Annie Williams Park, the festival is bound to be even more popular this year with a re-positioning of ticket prices. Entrance was $42.50 last year, which got you a sample of all the brewers on hand. This year the price comes down to $25 for five tokens, a better arrangement if you can't handle getting blitzed under the hot, hot sun. Festival organizers anticipate over 30 craft breweries to be on hand for this year's event.
Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival (August 9-10)
The festival we called one of the city's best last year is returning for its third year. Featuring a selection of Ontario beer poured in Roundhouse Park, the event thus far has been a casual setting with food from some Toronto food trucks and, mercifully, the ability to have a seat on the grass if you like. It will be interesting to see if the event has jumped the shark this time around. Details aren't yet posted, but last year it was $10 online and $15 at the door with $1 sample tickets. The best part of this event is the fact that the "ticket" for is your glass, meaning in and out privileges and even returning for day two without having to buy a second ticket.
Toronto Premium Beer Experience (September 11)
The Premium Beer Experience is less douchey than it sounds. Taking place at the Berkeley Church and featuring a smattering of local craft brewers, it's actually a fairly low-key affair involving tastings and education for those who take their beer very seriously. Participating brewers concoct special offerings just for the event, so participants can count on sampling something new -- and ample opportunities to pontificate on the quality of what's being served. Pay-as-you-go ($1 vouchers get you 4oz pours).
Toronto Beer Week (September 12-20)
Toronto Beer Week takes place at venues across the city, featuring tasting nights, homebrew competitions, tap takeovers and all the types of events that you see at Ontario Craft Beer Week but without the strict provincial focus. That said, the idea is to celebrate craft beer in all its forms, so regardless of its origin, the beer on offer won't be coming from massive international brewers. As the festival nears, we'll break down the schedule for can't-miss events and other highlights.
What did I miss? Plug your favourite summer beer festivals and events in the comments below.
Thanks to Pure Leaf for sponsoring our summer adventures. For more things to do this summer, check out our Best of Summer page.