Ontario Craft Beer Week – An Epilogue OR “Look Back Hungover”

Now that the booths have been packed up at the Sunnyside Pavilion and the events of the week have come to an end, it’s a good opportunity to take a look back and see exactly what Ontario Craft Beer Week accomplished. For me, there were high spots and low spots evident throughout the week, but since I’ve already covered my opinions pretty thoroughly (even I’m tired of listening to my prattle), I’ve decided to abide by a new metric: How successful was Ontario Craft Beer Week in spreading the word about Ontario Craft Beer?

One of the problems in sponsoring a week-long series of beer events in Toronto seems to be the fact that preaching to the choir is unavoidable. Without the ability to provide for large media buys and television spots, promotion is available through a relatively limited series of channels. Bar Towel is a good example of this phenomenon. It operates as a good channel of information and the forums are full of people, both registered and lurking, who are definitely interested in going out to the pub and seeing what’s available. There are thirty thousand registered users, which is a pretty good group. The problem is that in order to have heard about Ontario Craft Beer Week through Bar Towel, you would have had to visit the site; you’d already have to be seeking out information about it. The same can essentially be said for TAPS, which has a fairly devoted online following both at their website, but also on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. You’d already need to be following a national beer magazine in order to hear about the events.

Josh Rubin had a nice piece over at the Toronto Star, which was published five days before the events started. It included a limited list of the events taking place throughout Toronto. I’m googling my spacebar off over here, and that’s about all the mainstream coverage that pops up in the first five pages of results. I know that Jed from the Griffin Gastropub had a Breakfast Television interview scheduled on Tuesday. That may have singlehandedly reached a larger audience than all other attempts combined, but a segment like that is a one shot deal. Once it’s over, it’s not going to get replayed unless it makes the website. I didn’t see it linked anywhere online, so I’m guessing that it didn’t (the BT website is down as of this writing, the servers probably having either been set on fire by the black bloc or bashed by a riot shield). There’s nothing in Eye Weekly and there’s nothing in NOW Magazine. It didn’t even make Torontoist.com. I feel as though it should have been possible to reach a larger audience in the run up to the events.

One of the reasons that this difficulty exists is that Ontario Craft Beer Week was put together in a little under eleven weeks. The initial press release for the event went out on March 31st. The first organizational meeting was apparently in the middle of April, meaning that all of the logistics had to be put together within two months. Given that timeframe, what they were able to put together was beyond impressive. When you consider the number of special brews that were put together for the week and the amount of face time put in by the brewers themselves, it’s easy to see that there is definitely a huge amount of enthusiasm within the industry for an event like this. After all, a high tide raises all boats.

I lack the ability to be objective when I’m out reviewing an event, partially because I’m a complete beer nerd and partially because the notes tend to become illegible after a certain number of samples, but let’s have a bit of a think about who actually attended the events that I covered.

Granite Brewery Taste of All Ontario: Father’s Day crowd, but mostly people who are already visiting the Granite.

Bar Volo Belgontario: Young people who are willing to learn about beer and try new things, and a smattering of die hard beer nerds.

Harbord House Beer Dinner: Mostly people who go to Harbord House (based on the ease with which they launched into conversation with each other.)

Cass and Troy’s Pub Crawl: Bartowelers, industry people.

Project XXXX: They got over 150 people out, many of whom you have to assume hadn’t been there before since it was their largest ever turnout.

Session Festival: For the most part, twenty somethings with disposable income who are willing to try new things.

Out of six events, three of them managed to target non-industry people or people  not actually physically attending a brewpub. Just based on volume through the doors, Session was the most successful event in terms of reaching a new audience followed by Belgontario and Project XXXX. I don’t want to guess at the actual numbers.

Ontario Craft Beer Week didn’t misstep. It did the majority of things right when you take into account the fact that nothing like this had ever been tried on this scale. It used the promotional avenues available, even going so far as to put together a video to drum up online interest. It managed to schedule a number of events of different kinds province wide, allowing for peoples’ differing tastes and comfort levels. It was an incredibly important step forward for the Ontario Craft Brewing industry if only because there is now a frame of reference for events of this magnitude. This was a solid program, and hopefully it will encourage fuller participation from Ontario brewers for the next festival. If they’d had more time to prepare, it would have been better.

Speaking of which, Toronto Beer Week will potentially be the first festival to benefit from this testing of the waters. Here are the lessons they need to take away from Ontario Craft Beer Week: If the goal of the event is to raise awareness and reach new audiences, it is simply not enough to use online, industry friendly media outlets. In order to expand the brand of craft brewing generally, there needs to be mainstream media attention. Additionally, you need to get a combination of the larger beer bars in Toronto, and it wouldn’t hurt to get licensees on board that don’t already cater to your existing audience; maybe some kind of Toronto Beer Week “Craft Beer Challenge,” where you get bars that don’t usually serve craft beer to try it out with their clientele. Maybe get the attention of the Firkin group or something. All I know is that there has to be a certain amount of spectacle to get the general public involved.

Feel free, incidentally, to take advantage of the relative anonymity of the comment section to spitball ideas for Toronto Beer Week either based on what you saw this week or just generally.

I am now going go to take advantage of the fact that Ontario Craft Beer Week is over by giving my liver a well deserved hiatus.

There, there, little liver. You’ll be ok.

Leave a Reply