Cask Days Toronto

10 rules for enjoying Cask Days in Toronto

Cask Days, Toronto's annual festival celebrating cask-conditioned craft beer, returns to the Evergreen Brick Works this year on October 24 and 25. With the festival now in its impressive 10th year, you'd think there wouldn't be much more to attending one of the city's biggest beer events than simply showing up and having a good time - but you'd be wrong. There are, in fact some rules to making the most of your Cask Days experience. Rules that I made up. Here they are.

1. Don't complain about the cold.
It's Canada. It's October. You're outdoors. We all know it's cold, so dress appropriately and suck it up. There are propane heaters scattered around, and lots (and lots) of beer around to warm your cockles. Bring your mitts and pour some beer in your complain-hole.

2. Know the lingo.
This isn't a Bud-Light-girls-and-fist-bumping-bros beer festival - this is mother-effing Cask Days, so be prepared to talk the talk. You're drinking cask beer (or real ale): unpasteurized and unfiltered beer served directly from a cask firkin (i.e. those little kegs) in which the beer has fermented, aided by the yeast that remains in the beer, allowing for more subtle carbonation and more complex flavours and aromas. So if you complain that your beer is flat or cloudy, you will probably be asked to turn in your drinking pants and leave.

3. Be prepared to drink a lot.
There are going to be over 300 different beers available from over 150 brewers, with more than a dozen based right here in the city (not to mention one of the best lineups of cider for any regular Toronto event). No matter how civilized your intentions, you're probably going to feel like an (alcoholic) kid in a (beer) candy store. That's OK. Just plan accordingly: for the love of god don't drive to the Brick Works (there's a shuttle bus included with your admission), drink lots of water before and after the event, and schedule your day after appropriately.

4. Eat something
Part of the fun of filling your belly with beer means making sure there's some decent eats in there to soak it all up. More vendors will be confirmed in the next week or so, but so far, Cask Days' organizers have you covered with food from Porchetta & Co, Hopgood's Foodliner, and Hogtown Charcuterie. And with so many beer nerds around, there will be no shortage of people available to tell you why your beer and food pairing choice is so wrong, you philistine.

5. Skip the usual suspects.
The organizers of Cask Days work hard to bring in beer from across Canada and the UK, so try some new beer, damn it. This year, they've also partnered with Cask Ale LA to bring in a selection of 40-plus firkins of the best beer California has to offer, many of which will be in Canada for the first time ever. The list of announced Cali brewers (thus far) includes Stone Brewing Co,Green Flash Brewing Co., Magnolia Brewing, Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, and Modern Times Beer. It's OK to put down the Ontario pale ale (for today) and get a little crazy.

6. Don't get too crazy.
Cask Days is interesting because it showcases a lot of beers that are unique, but in my experience, there's always one or two beers that are overly "experimental" simply for the sake of being experimental. Sure, these wacky beers are the ones people will talk about ("A beer with pencil shavings?!"), but they are also generally the ones you won't finish. If you find yourself curious about the cucumber and mint IPA, back away. Save the token.

7. Pretend you're not just there for the beer.
The Morana family, this event's organizers, are also the owners of barVolo, the proprietors of Keep6Imports, and the reason we get to celebrate frigging Zwanze Day in Toronto. They don't just work hard to bring you shit-tons of fantastic beers - they give you stuff to look at and listen to at Cask Days when you run out of things to talk about with your friends, including an art gallery showcasing beer label design and work from featured artists Troy Lovegates and Mister Sleeep. And naturally there will be a soundtrack of "raw vinyl beats," because cooking your beats is so 2009.

8. Patience you must have.
Over the weekend, 5000 people will visit Evergreen Brickworks for Cask Days and, as is mandatory for beer festivals, there will be exactly one toilet. OK, not really. But when you have that many people vying for limited important resources - like beer, food, toilets, and the ATM (of which there really is only one) - there's bound to be at least some lining up. Bring cash, have patience, be courteous, and remember that we're all there to have a good time. And if you're hardcore about not missing a second of drinking time, consider taking matters into your own hands...

9. Don't wear a T-shirt emblazoned with the name of your favourite brewery.
Just don't be that guy.

10. Hurry up and buy your ticket.
Cask Days is not only virtually the undisputed king of Toronto beer events, it's also one of the largest cask-conditioned ale festivals in North America. So tickets are going fast. Session Two, which runs Saturday October 25 from 1-6pm, is already sold out but you can still get tickets for Session One, Friday 7pm-12am ($35), Session Three, Saturday 8pm-1am ($35), and "Last Call For Cask!" Sunday 12pm-6pm where, if you have a festival glass, you can soak up the dregs and bring the kids for just $5.

Ben Johnson also writes about beer over on Ben's Beer Blog. Follow him on twitter @Ben_T_Johnson.

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