21 February 2016

A Tale of Two Beer Nights

What a fine week this Polkaroo had. So many new and amazing Craft Beers and not one, but two beer festivals! One was a Cask Night at Collective Arts hosted by Nickel Brook and the other was the Toronto Winter Brew Fest at the Enercare Centre. The two could not have been more different in price, feeling and execution.
The Cask Night was held Thursday night at the brewery right here in Hamilton. It featured 6 brewers, Wellington, Stone Hammer, Great Lakes, Nickel Brook, Collective Arts and Cameron's. They each brought two casks of beer, some unique to the event and all of them were tasty. Cask beer carries no additional carbonization, unlike your local pub or restaurant, so it is less bubbly and the flavours are smoother. A definite must if you see one near you. It was a fairly intimate event and along with the beer, amazing food was served. The whole thing cost only $20 a ticket, all in, including a mug. No other costs and let me tell you a blast was had. There was background music, but it didn't overpower your conversation. You could really talk to all the people from the breweries, including some of the owners. Mrs. Polkaroo and I met some really wonderful new beer friends and had a great time together. It was a real experience and one I won't soon forget.
Friday night, we travelled to Toronto and the Winter Brew Fest. I won the tickets on Facebook from Cameron's Brewing and considering we hadn't planned on going, it was a surprise. The cost if tickets was similar to Cask night, around $20 and you got a nicely branded beer mug, but those were the only similarities. When we arrived, we were ushered through a few levels of security, heard the buzz of the crowd and the very loud thump of the music. In order to get beer samples (4 oz.), you had to purchase paper tokens at 10 for $10 and exchange them for your brews. This is where we encountered the first of several issues many people have been taking to social media to vent about. The lines were very long. Not surprising given the amount of people, but after the quick and easy access to beer the night before, it was a little off putting. But I am a good Canadian and know how to line up for stuff.
The next problem was the cost and portion size of the samples. Most of the beer cost between 3 and 6 tokens. For a 4 ounce sample. That is $3 to $6 dollars, People were quite unhappy with that. You could fill your glass by doubling the tokens, but $12 for 8 ounces of beer was a lot for me and I wanted to try as many as I could with the limited time frame we had because of work the next morning. I am sure if I had more cash and time, I would have pushed through, but I think my money is better spent at the brewery getting new beers and taking them home. Most of them do samples for free or for a dollar or so at most and while I understand that this is a for profit event, it was very expensive.
The music was very loud, very club-like and not in tune with what I am used to when in drink my beer. I didn't mind the style or choice in music really, for me it was the volume. I almost had to shout to make myself heard and when you are ordering a beer or trying to talk to your wife about anything, that isn't pleasant. I know I am an older guy, but this was a little much.
There was a  presence from the breweries themselves, with tents and staff on hand, but the majority of the beer was served by bartenders at islands with several breweries listed. I am sure this a logistical and space issue and perhaps that was one of the biggest problems my fellow craft beer drinkers were having. We like to talk about our beer, especially with the people who make it. On Thursday, I spoke to owners, people who work at the breweries and fellow enthusiasts, On Friday, with such a crush of humanity, it felt too loud and harried to do that. There was very little sense of the community that I love and cherish present. It was just too damn corporate and that is indeed something we bristle against. Perhaps it was not aimed at the regular craft beer drinker, like myself, but why alienate us to cater to people new to the wonders of Craft Beer. There has to be a better way to accommodate everyone.
The cost, long lines, overpoweringly loud music and overall vibe of Brew Fest was somewhat of a disappointment. I am not sure what I expected, but after the joy and happiness of Cask Night, this left a sour taste in my mouth. I am very new to the whole scene of Beer festivals and I am open to trying again. There are so many of them coming up as the weather warms that it is inevitable I will want to go. I just want the experience to be a joyous one about all that Craft beer can bring to your life. A celebration of the amazing things the people who create and run the breweries show us with their innovative and unique beers. I know these events need to make money in order to survive, but cramming us cheek to cheek with ridiculous lines, tiny pours and costly tickets isn't going to help the community grow.
I may be new to the festivals, but when I leave an event I got to go to for free and still feel that I didn't get value for my dollar, something is off. I am one of the most positive people when it comes to beer. I always look for the upside and I want this whole idea to work. When the breweries themselves run events, the sense of togetherness was pervasive. In a corporate one, it feels forced. We can do better and I hope people will continue to give the organizers feedback on what didn't work for them. I am not sure if we will be heard, but if they don't listen, we can speak with our dollars and take them elsewhere. I hope this isn't the case and will work diligently to be a voice for the change we all want. It is easy to vent your frustrations on Social media, but typing rants and doing nothing else is not really productive. Let's come together to make things better, not just yell at the things we hate. It is something I know I am trying to do myself.
So it was a very different type of week for this guy. I am not used to going to events like these and I hope to do it more as we come into the spring. I know there are so many breweries I want to get to and with all the growlers I am purchasing, I will have to revisit them to get refills on unique and one off brews. This is just the beginning and I am really getting jacked up on all that I am starting to see.
Note from the Drunk Polkaroo
I am not going to be doing a Beer of the Week anymore. It was an idea that I had when I first started my journey, but one that seems forced now. I am getting so many amazing beers every week that the idea of choosing one isn't really fun or productive. I will still be working on lists for special days, like Super Bowl, St. Patty's Day or Christmas, but I think the need for me to pick one a week is a spent force. Instead I will continue to focus on my journey with Craft Beer and how it is helping me cope with my personal growth. I will be posting every Sunday for sure and when the muse strikes me throughout the week.
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