I could feel my heart racing in my chest from excitement as I stood waiting patiently for the clock to strike 12:00pm. The line was growing longer and longer and on a hot summer day, I was parched and couldn’t wait any longer for what was about to come—my favourite day of the year, the Toronto Festival of Beer (Beerfest).
With Bandshell Park located in the Exhibition Place lined with 20 food vendors, and over 60 breweries, the electric, feel-good atmosphere of this festival is what makes it so awesome. Three years ago I attended my first Beerfest, I completely didn’t know what to expect as I wasn’t someone who was a huge fan of beer (I know, a Canadian sin), but I was blown away.
Running for 21 years, this Beerfest can’t even be compared with the other beer festivals that happen throughout the year in Toronto, Canada. Everyone is happy (I mean, how could you not be when surrounded by beer?) and you get to sample beers from all across the globe that you may normally not think to buy in your local liquor store. There are several different pavilions to explore—from the local tent filled with local breweries, to the Europe tent that featured select European brews, you get a real taste of all sorts of different beers and ciders throughout the day.
What makes it so great other than the wide selection of vendors and beer? The people and the atmosphere! There is live music and entertainment set up on different stages, and although the acts aren’t highly notable (with the exception of The Trews in 2014), the music is always great and sets the tone for the day. The attendees are always happy—I mean, how could you not be? And shockingly you don’t get too many people that are TOO drunk. Everyone is just happy, and there for a good time.
But over the years, I’ve learned a strategy that makes Beerfest the ultimate experience for me and whomever I’m attending with. Just like any festivals, there are lines, there are mishaps, and if you don’t know how to strategically plan your day, you may not get the ultimate experience you were hoping for, so here are some of my tips.
1. Buy early and buy hoptimized
First and foremost, if you want to go, especially on the busier days (Friday or Saturday), think ahead and buy tickets early! I buy mine in March/April because they sell out months in advance. Second off, you may think the general admission tickets are fine, but for about $10 CDN more you can get hoptimized tickets which let you into the festival 1.5 hours before everyone else. The best part of this is that the line won’t be as long (the general admission line can wrap all the way around through the park), and also you’ll beat the lines inside for additional drink tickets (tokens), etc.
2. Buy lots of tokens
As soon as you get through the doors, head to the token booths or look for staff selling tokens and stock up. With general admission tickets you get 5 drink tokens, and with hoptimized you get 10 tokens. One token gets you half of your sampling glass filled, and two tokens gets you a full beer. This may be enough for you, but to be there the whole day you are more than likely going to want more. I usually buy 40 and then use them to buy food and merchandise throughout the day.
3. Don’t wait to pee
I know this seems like a weird tip, but like most festivals there will likely be longer lines for the bathrooms/outhouses. So instead of waiting till you absolutely cannot hold it anymore, try to go before you hit that point to get in line. The bathrooms located closest to the main entrance are going to be the busiest, so find the little clumps of outhouses that are sprinkled in other areas to get shorter lines.
4. Skip the huge breweries
If you go around sampling drinks from the largest breweries there are, you are seriously going to miss out. Beerfest is all about trying new beers you wouldn’t normally have, and testing out the smaller, craft breweries as oppose to beer from the large breweries (like Coors Light, Bud Light, Alexander Keith’s, etc.). If you do choose to hit up these bigger and flashier booths, try one of their beers you’ve never had before!
5. Don’t forget to eat
Sounds like a no-brainer, but the first year I went to Beerfest, this was the biggest mistake I made. I wound up at the end of the day having only tried poutine from a place I’ve had a million times before. Later I found out I missed all these cool food vendors because I was so focused on trying all the beers, and my belly was bloated and full from all the beers, I forgot I was actually hungry and needed food. There are so many awesome food vendors here, so make sure to save some room and take some food breaks.
If you are a beer lover, this is definitely the festival for you! So buy your tickets early, and save the date for next year, as you won’t want to miss out.