This year’s popular beer festival at Fort York. Toronto’s Festival of Beer returned for another year at Fort York during the weekend of August 11-13. The festival has experienced tremendous growth since its first year, and it continues to get bigger. In fact, it is probably too big.

This year’s fest featured dozens of Ontario and out-of-province microbreweries including Kawartha Lakes, Black Oak, Wellington County, Big Rock and Unibroue, among many others. The breweries we arranged in booths under large tents spread throughout the Fort York grounds.

I can recall the very first Toronto beer festival, five or so years ago. It was a festival trying to grow – there were few breweries in attendance and sparse beer connoisseurs. However, for hard-core beer lovers, it was fantastic. Only the folks that really love brew were there, and there was enough breathing room to have a chat with the brewers and a leisurely sample. My, how things have changed.

Obviously, growth is beneficial. Attract more crowds, breweries and sponsors and eventually even more crowds will come. The Toronto festival has seemingly grown every year, bringing in more breweries and people every summer. With popular Toronto radio station Mix 99.9 as lead sponsor for this years’ event, the beer festival was top-of-mind throughout the city. And when the beer tents were built, the people came.

Over the years, as the festival grew and more people attended, the hosting location always remained the same: Old Fort York. This was appropriate when there were very few people coming out to the fest, but with an estimated 15,000 people over three days this year, the Fort became a tad cramped.

With so many people in attendance, the brewery staff members were very busy and quite frustrated. It was virtually impossible to have a chat with the brewers – something I value greatly at a beer festival. Part of the experience of a beer festival is to talk to the people who brew the beer. This could not be done easily.

Kawartha Lakes Brewing, one of the more popular booths. The beer festival at Fort York has reached its capacity, and the public has started to take notice. Without a venue shift, the fest’s great growth will undoubtedly take a downturn. However, it looks like the organizers understand this – planning is underway for next year’s fest, and a move to the SkyDome is under consideration.

Admission to the festival was $25, which included ten drink tickets. More drink tickets can be purchased at the festival for $0.50 each. In the past, a single drink ticket could be exchanged for an approximate four ounce sample of fine brew. Unfortunately, inflation has affected the beer festival. This year, standard samples cost two drink tickets, and “premium” samples cost three or four tickets!

This bothered me in two ways. Firstly, the beer festival exists for people to try new beers. At $1-$2 per four ounce sample, it becomes quite costly for a person to experiment with new beers. It therefore becomes potentially discouraging for people to sample. Further, drink tickets run out fast. The “prices” increased, but the amount of ticket purchase locations did not. This led to enormous waits in line to purchase extra tickets – upwards of 45 minutes to an hour.

There was, however, much interesting beer-related news to come out of the festival.

At the Unibroue tent, it was revealed that a special, limited edition twelve pack would be released at self serve beer stores only in the coming months. This case is a Unibroue lovers’ delight, as it includes single bottles of twelve of their brands: Trois Pistoles, Sans Nom, St. Hubert, Gaillarde, Blanche de Chambly, Maudite, Raftman, Eau Benite, Don de Dieu, 1837, Fin du Monde and Kamourakaska. Unfortunately, there will only be 2,500 cases produced, so this will undoubtedly be one of the hottest beer items in the fall. Keep your eyes open If you’d like one of these!

Unfortunate news coming from Unibroue was regarding their fine logo glassware. Unibroue currently produces specific glasses for most of their brands, the ideal glass for the style. However, it seems that the Brewers Retail must approve all beer-related glassware sold in the province. They rejected Unibroue’s glasses. This is a commentary for another time; the end result is a trip to Montreal or Buffalo is the best bet to find Unibroue’s great glassware.

Niagara Falls Brewing sampled their newest beers at the festival: the revamped Apple Ale, Millstone Lager and Pale Ale. All are now available in the Beer Store.

Kawartha Lakes was once again a fan favourite at the festival, sampling their wonderful Raspberry Wheat, Pale Ale, Nut Brown Ale and Cream Ale. And for the second consecutive year, near the end of the afternoon they unveiled their Alien Ale. A barleywine-style strong ale, the Alien Ale is not bottled, and has only been available at the beer festival. Worth the admission just for a taste of this fabulous brew.

The Bar Towel’s new coasters in action at the KLB booth. Oliver Dawson and his Beer Lovers’ Tour Company were in attendance, promoting their heritage beer tours. Coming up in November is a Heritage Beer and Dinner Tour of Old Toronto – watch the Bar Towel Events page for more information as the tour approaches.

The new coaster! And finally, the beer festival saw the debut of The Bar Towel’s new coasters. Kawartha Lakes Brewing and Black Oak Brewing were both kind enough to keep some stacks on their bars for pickup. If you were unable to get some, or would like some more, please email us at with your name and address, and we will be happy to send you a bunch (no charge!)

This year’s beer fest was once again a fun time, but the crowding is becoming a problem. There are many fine beers to sample, but the immense crowds and lineups are taking away from the enjoyment of the festival. Hopefully as the attending breweries and thirsty beer drinkers continue to grow, so does the venue and capacity.