One thing 2017 Toronto Festival of Beer made very clear to me: I need to up my game as a festival-er. Should you add TFOB to your list this summer (they have both a Spring and Summer edition), I have compiled a set of tips to make the best of your experience at Toronto Festival of Beers.
Don’t be like me. Do not fall victim to fashion over common sense. Those who know me well know that I am rarely without my height enhancers (shout out to all the short people in the room). But for goodness sakes, this is a festival… in the park… on grass! So as cute as my blush pink strappy four inch stiletto heels were as the perfect compliment to my distressed jeans and duster length cardigan, Garrison Park was NOT the place for this particular fashion statement. You will be walking and hopefully dancing a lot, so wear comfy shoes. Plus you will look a lot less tipsy on your way out if you’re not struggling to balance on a pair of stilts.
There is plenty of good eats at TFOB (more on this later), but you want to make sure you are primed and ready to take full advantage of all the amazing craft beers at the festival. Doors open at 12 noon which means you have the entire morning to get your stomach in optimal condition. I’m talking Denny’s Grand Slam kind of breakfast. Put down the granola and dried fruit and GO IN on a greasy, heavy carb based breakfast. Throw back some home fries AND pancakes, sausage AND bacon; and while you’re at it, go for three eggs instead of just two. This is the time it’s ok to reheat the lasagna and eat it for breakfast. Why all the gluttony you ask? Well any experienced alcohol drinker will tell you that eating a high carb meal before drinking slows the rate of alcohol absorption. If you BeerFest right, you’re in for a long day, so don’t ruin it by getting wasted at 2pm.
The general admission to TFOB is $35, and with that you get five tokens. You can purchase additional tokens for $1 each in packs of ten or twenty. Generally each vendor sells beer at one token for a half pour (4-5 oz) and two tokens for a full pour, which is amazing because these premium beers are typically $7 a bottle/glass anywhere else. Tokens can not be used for food vendors. They are cash only. There are about a half dozen ATM machines on site so you can top up whenever you need to.
Now this is for the seafood lovers. I don’t know if Oyster Boy will be there every year, but during my visit, I was blessed enough for them to be positioned right beside the token station so they were my first stop. The oysters go for about $20/dozen and there are four ways you can enjoy them: au naturel, topped with cocktail sauce, a banana pepper sauce, or my personal favourite, red wine and shallots. These oysters got my palate ready to go.
After you indulge in rounds of oysters, you’ll recognize that there is a pretty good selection of food options at TFOB, all of which work well with beer (shocking). There’s pizza, mac and cheese, burgers, donuts and more.
TFOB really is about having fun and being around people that share your love of suds. It’s a social event, so bring a friend or make some. Everyone is out to try beer so, a great ice breaker is asking a fellow patron for their recommendation. Nerds of all sorts love to geek out about their passions and beer enthusiasts are no exception. One of the best tips I got (and to my regret I didn’t listen to) was from @cheernerton who suggested I go for Lagershed’s Barrel No. 1 versus the Original as it had more body and a more complex flavour. You see craft beer is about the experience, so don’t waste your token on anything described as “light”.
Also, chat up the beverage reps. They are knowledgeable about their product and can recommend a beer that you will enjoy. I was partaking in a cigar and noticed that many of the lagers couldn’t stand up to the bold flavour of my Cuban. By the time I made it to Great Lakes Brewery, they recommended Octopus or Pompous Ass as a compliment to my cigar. Can you guess which one I chose?
Besides drinking, there are other ways to connect with strangers a TFOB. Try lawn chess, or the massive Connect Four board. Even the very entertaining tipsy Jenga is a lot of fun. If none of the above are your flavour, just join a dance circle.
I really can’t stress this enough: Step out of your comfort zone. In my opinion, TFOB isn’t about sipping on the same beer you buy every weekend, but rather about exploring the world of Canadian craft beers. If you are a lager drinker, try a darker ale or something with a bit more hops. If you are on the traditional side, try a beer with fruit notes or a blend. At a dollar a glass, you can afford to voyage away from your norm.
Also on the what to drink list, WATER! Each vendor has free bottles of water so be sure to make use of them. For every three glasses of beer drink, one bottle of water. This may cause you to make many trips to the facilities, but it will be so worth it. I also suggest opting for half pours and paying attention to the alcohol percentage of each beer (the vendors have it listed). It adds up fast.
Take your time. There is a lot of beer and it’s super affordable, but you can not drink everything that is there. This is not a challenge, so do not try. Seriously. Don’t. Be responsible and know your limits. TFOB is typically over a long weekend, so if you really want to have a go at all the beer that is offered, come back another day.
A few other things to note is that seating is limited. Bring a blanket or a fold out chair. You might also want to pack and umbrella as TFOB is a rain or shine event. All in all it was a wonderful experience, great crowd, good music, and delicious beer. Definitely a festival you should add to your list this summer.