Ireland makes a splash at beer fest


David O’Hare of Ireland’s Brú Brewery says his beer enjoyed a great reception in Toronto. (Rod Charles/Vacay.ca)

Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor

TORONTO, ONTARIO — It’s all over but the burping and I have to say from the weather to the food to the crowds, and most important to the beer, that this edition of the Toronto Festival of Beer was a tremendous success.

The festivities ran over the weekend and wrapped up on Sunday without a hitch. I went into the event with a mission, as I do every year, and can proudly report that everything I needed to accomplish for the good of humanity was crossed off my list — namely the enjoyment of beer, music and food. To make things even better there was a twist this year, as festivities featured a delegation from Ireland.

A Time To Say Hello To Canadian Beer

My first order of business was to say hello to as many brands of beer as I could. As a Canuck who loves his country I make a point of supporting Canadian brands, which isn’t a difficult task at a festival like this. I tried the latest creations from SleemanSteamwhistle, Alexander Keith’s, Molson, Waterloo Brewing, Moosehead, Mill Street  and Thornbury Cider, to name a few. There were also several European brands on hand as well, including Stiegl (Austria) and Carlsberg (Denmark). Our American friends are very capable of making delicious beer and I enjoyed trying brews from Samuel Adams  and Miller Genuine Draft — but don’t tell any of my beer connoisseur friends.

Between orders of beer, I periodically checked out Bandshell Stage. Give the organizers of this festival a lot of credit — these bands are names that most of you will know, including Naughty by Nature and 54-40. It’s an awesome thing to have a cold beer in your hand while listening to “One Gun” being performed live.

Something else I always do at the festival is visit the Beerlicious Grilling Experience tent. I fancy myself to be one of the greatest grill-masters on the planet — when I’m not busy burning my food into unrecognizable piles of tasteless ash. Trust me, this grasshopper needs all the help he can get and with a grilling sensei like chef Ted Reader (in his 12th year, Reader seems to be part of the Festival of Beer furniture) and BBQ kings like chef Jay Scaife (Cafe Bar Pasta), chef Afrim Pristine (Cheese Boutique) and chef Massimo Capra sharing their knowledge the only way for me to go is up.

‘Beerlicious’ Times Had By All

“I’ve had more fun than ever this year in the 2015 festival. Over 200 varieties of beer are at this festival, where you can drink and enjoy — responsibly of course — and have a good time,” says Reader, who praised Toronto as a fine tourist destination. “Toronto is known to be a clean, friendly city. From a culinary perspective we are a diverse city, a melting pot of deliciousness. And we have everything to offer, from theatre and the tourist attractions we have here. Something like the Toronto Festival of Beer is an iconic event. You get to come and enjoy beer in a relaxing atmosphere. I think if people took a weekend and came here for one day, so they could play here on a Friday night, recover on a Saturday morning, and then enjoy what this wonderful city has to offer I think they would have the time of their life and it would be absolutely delicious. Sorry, beerlicious.”


Two pretzel servers (minus their pretzels and beer) take a few minutes to check out the Toronto Festival of Beer. (Rod Charles/Vacay.ca)

There was another intriguing reason to visit the festival this year. Toronto was very lucky (pardon the pun) to welcome a delegation from Ireland. Irish brewers visiting Canada included O’Hara’sMcGargles Irish Family Brewers, The White Hag Brewery, Brú Brewery, Trouble Brewing, Eight Degrees Brewing, The Porterhouse Brewing Co., Dingle Brewing Company, Stonewell Craft Cider and Kinnegar Brewing. They were all under the Irish Pavilion, a 10,000-square-foot outdoor space. Irish bands Hermitage Green, DelorentosHare Squead and Ryan O’Shaughnessy  made an appearance on the main stage. The grilling tent featured Irish chefs Gavan Murphy (Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue“; Dublin Pop Up) and Tim McCarthy (McCarthy’s of Kanturk). For the Irish brewmasters, the festival was a resounding success.

“It’s been fantastic, the weather is stunning. I really wasn’t expecting it to be an outdoor event, remember I’m coming from Ireland,” says David O’Hare, brewer and sales director at Brú Brewery, who is confident this visit to Toronto will translate into an even greater Canadian presence. “It’s been great. It’s the first time I’ve come out to Toronto and we’ve gotten a great reception for our beer, it’s gone very, very well. It’s phenomenal here, we have the Irish Pavilion with all sorts of Irish craft brewers here, it’s fantastic.”

Seamus O’Hara, managing director of Carlow Brewing Company, agrees that the festival has been a real coming-out party for Irish beers in Canada not named Guinness, adding that this is a great opportunity to introduce people to the nation’s range of brews.

“It’s been going brilliant. What we have here is O’Hara’s Dry Irish Stout. It’s our flagship beer and we literally just started exporting it to Canada. So this is a great opportunity to introduce people to the product,” says O’Hara. “It’s been a really great reaction. It’s a stout, it’s a very tasty beer.”

Rod has previously worked for Canoe.ca and is currently freelancing for Huffington Post Travel. He’s also written travel articles for the Toronto Star and Up! Magazine. Living in Toronto but raised in the small central Ontario village of Holstein, Rod is a country boy at heart who has never met a farmer’s market he didn’t like.

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