It’s the week after Father’s Day and that means that it’s time once again for Ontario Craft Beer Week. OCB Week is now in its third year and the number of events that are available has jumped pretty considerably from last year. It’s a jump that seems conceptually tied to the near 50% year over year increase in sales that the OCB participants continue to experience at the LCBO. Craft continues to be popular and OCB Week is, in part, a celebration of that fact.
In fact, the sheer preponderance of events has to do with the fact that the stage for craft beer in Ontario continues to grow. The number of venues where it’s possible to serve interesting beer has increased steadily since I started writing about beer a couple of years ago. When I started, there were a relatively small number of people writing about beer in Toronto. Nowadays, you can’t swing a dead cat without the risk of blinding a scribbling inebriate. It’s as good a time as any to reflect on the changes that are now possible as a result of this growth.
To begin with, I feel as though I should address something of a controversy that existed in the leadup to OCB Week. When the events were initially listed on the website, there was a claim that there were 350. The majority of these were Mill Street events and they lasted all week. Usually, these involved taking over a pub and serving a sampler flight of Mill Street beer with some cheese.
Chris Grimley pointed out that these made up the majority of all events across the province, even going so far as to use a helpful chart. Mike Warner pointed out correctly that these events cluttered the events page and made it difficult to find anything. The OCB have helpfully, and I think wisely, fixed this problem by streamlining the events section of the website. It is now easy to find something that you would like to go to. To be honest, as I was doing an initial run through the events a couple of weeks ago, it was not unlike hacking your way through a jungle, dragging your canoe behind you.
Let’s reflect on this for a moment, shall we? The fact that Mill Street is even able to support this many events is not something that could have been possible in previous incarnations of OCB Week. They’ve basically got 14 locations in Toronto where there are sample flights and cheese pairings. There are 20 locations where they’re doing this outside the GTA.
I think that part of the reason this drew so much ire from bloggers is that these are not seen as marquee events, or even as being particularly interesting events. It’s beer and cheese. I mean, if you’ve been around the beer scene a while, you’ve seen beer and cheese pairing events. It’s the kind of event that would make a particularly hard bitten blogger jump about while satirically yelling “yippee-skip.”
Sometimes, we forget that we’re not really the audience.
The entire point of OCB week is to spread the sales of craft beer across the province. I almost typed message there, but that leans towards evangelism. We’ll go with sales. Believe it or not, the vast majority of people out there are going to find a beer and cheese pairing at a reasonable price pretty gosh darned impressive. It doesn’t do to forget that the increased availability of one offs and tap takeovers and all of the other stuff that we’ve come to view as inevitable is all funded by actually selling beer.
That 45-50% year over year increase at the LCBO? That’s because craft beer is finding a new audience and that’s because of straightforward introductory events. It’s also why the market now supports this many people writing about beer. The industry is drumming up interest.
That said, I am glad that they streamlined the search function. I practically sprained my mouse wheel from scrolling.
Over the course of the week, I’m going to be attending a number of events around Toronto despite the looming heat wave. This year, I’m attempting a novel approach. Rather than attempting to cover all of the marquee events, I’m adopting a back to basics approach of attending only events that I actually want to attend. In previous years, I’ve tried to go everywhere and do everything with the result that I tend to end up on Thursday morning of Ontario Craft Beer Week with a debilitating amount of writing to do and an anorexic wallet.
This year, I’m using OCB week as an excuse to go places I haven’t been to or places I enjoyed briefly but have not been back to. I’m just going to go out and have fun. You know: Like people who don’t have a blog.