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Friday, July 8, 2011

A Brief Look Back At Session 99 Craft Beer Festival

Session 99 Craft Beer Festival was held back on June 25th to mark the end to what turned out to be a very successful Ontario Craft Beer Week. The festival, in its second year, enjoyed much more success than in year one, having no G20 to compete with, and it attracted more breweries that set up shop in a new host venue at 99 Sudbury.

Like I mentioned above, year two, without a G20 taking place, without all day rain, without the hassle of arranging transportation to and from the venue, brought out more beer drinkers and offered a great event that also featured the world renowned brewer, Garrett Oliver.

The festival took place at 99 Sudbury (TTC accessible), a building that has hosted a couple of other beer events lately, and allowed festival organizers, Jed Corbeil and Curt Dunlop (of Bracebridge's The Griffin Gastropub) to set up breweries and food vendors both inside the building and outside in the parking lot, offering the best of both worlds. Inside was also where the live music was being played and where the numerous beer education seminars were being held, presented by people like Oliver, Roger Mittag and Mirella Amato, and all of which were highly attended.

pic courtesy of Ontario Craft Brewer
Many of Ontario's finest breweries were there pouring beers from their regular line-up and some did in fact bring one-off's, like Muskoka Cottage Brewery who brought a cask of Red Hot Chili Pepper, which went on to win the Best Beer of the Show (voted on by the crowd throughout the day). Beau's All Natural Brewing Co. had bottles of their bourbon barrel aged Festivale Plus Sticke Alt with them which was dynamite as it had so much going on in terms of aroma and flavour. And Amsterdam had some of their Tempest Imperial Stout and another new one, Elementary Ale, a single hop single malt beer with lots of flavour and very sessionable.

Toronto's newest brewery, Spearhead Brewing Co. walked away with the Best Brewery award, again, voted by the crowd throughout the day. Their booth was busy pretty much from the time the doors opened at 12pm until the festival ended at 9pm, with people discovering their Hawaiian Style Pale Ale for the first time.

It seemed that certain breweries were also trying new things to bring people to their booths. Brock Shepherd of the Kensington Brewing Co. set up his Randall the Enamel Animal and ran some of this beer through it and keep6imports brought in Stephane Ostiguy and Luc Lafontaine from Dieu du Ciel! to meet some of their fans at their booth. These little things are great for new festivals!

While the attendance was significantly higher than the first year, there were still a lot of familiar beer faces missing from the event, and it seemed like a beer festival that was offering as much product from the number of participating breweries would have brought out more people. So when I read a post by Mike Warner over at A Year of Beer about Session 99 (comments below), I could safely assume that I wasn't the only one thinking this:
After clamoring for years for a proper beer festival, it is amazing how the Session festival has been received the past two years by the beer-igensia in Toronto. A large number of people have written off the festival without actually going, usually do to a combination of price and tickeritis (the painful disease where people will only spend money to try beers they have not tasted in the past). Instead of comparing Session to something like the Toronto Festival of Beer, it is compared to the Mondial festival that takes place in Montreal every year – arguably one of the best beer festivals in the world. None of this is fair, especially because Session is a wonderful beer festival that deserves to be given a chance by beer lovers around Toronto.

Spearhead receiving award - pic courtesy of Ontario Craft Brewers
I didn't have to pay for a ticket to get in. I was there to work our booth. But I wouldn't have had an issue with the $35 ticket price as the venue was great, the beer being poured was top notch, the food vendors were terrific and the live music and show features, including Garrett Oliver's speech, would have been well worth it. And the individuals who were in attendance seemed to really appreciate the work that went into putting on this event, many people who stopped by our booth made a goal of pointing that out to us.

I believe that this festival will only continue to grow into something even more special than year two showed us. I think there are big things to come for Session Craft Beer Festival in the future.

**Next Post - Garrett Oliver speech video**

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