I won’t lie to you. I was apprehensive about the Queer Beer Festival. This is mostly due to the fact that when I started researching it a couple of months ago, it struck me as something of a cash grab. Thursday at the TFOB had been VIP night, and had been sparsely attended in previous years compared to the other days of the festival. My initial suspicion was that the Queer Beer Festival was an attempt to build up ticket sales for the Thursday of the TFOB. After all, the LGBT community in Toronto is a huge cash cow for the city during the summer months, especially when you consider the tourism revenue that Toronto Pride generates.
While I can appreciate, from a marketing perspective, that the Queer Beer Festival is a very good idea in that it targets a previously untargeted demographic with a lot of cash, something about it struck me as hinky (possibly the fact that it didn’t occur organically), and I raised my concerns with Les Murray, President of TFOB. He as quick to acknowledge that, yes, it was pretty much the same festival, but that he was not insensitive to the likelihood of criticism on the above basis. He also pointed out that TFOB had worked with leaders in the LGBT community to come up with an ideal festival. The main points were that:
1) $5.19 of every ticket sold prior to Pride weekend would go to benefit the 519 community centre
2) “…the Festival should be a stand alone event, this was made clear to us by various members of the community, the rationale being that this is a very proud community and that they take ownership of their own events and embrace them as such.”
3) Hey. Ace of Base.
My cynicism thus allayed, I headed on down to the Queer Beer Festival. I like it when people are aware of the criticisms that will be leveled at them. It means that they’ve applied some consideration to the problem.
I can tell you right now that aside from the go-go dancers, it was pretty much exactly the same as the Toronto Festival of Beer. Same products on offer, same exhibitors, same steam whistle six pack hats firmly affixed to heads. If anything, the Queer Beer Festival allowed people a certain amount of freedom in advertising their goods and services. For instance, this sign at the meatball tent:
People have complained in previous years about the frat boy contingent that heads out to the TFOB. I believe that last year I suggested that I had heard it referred to as a “gong show” and a “drunk tank.” Well, yes. It is a bit of both of those things, but that’s mainly because of the pricing structure. Tickets to get into the TFOB are relatively expensive at $38.50 (unless you’re some kind of big shot media guy). It’s no wonder that people try and get the most of out it, especially when you consider that a token for a four ounce sample is a dollar. The impetus is to purchase 20 tokens for 20 bucks, and then attempt to use all of them. That’s about four pints of beer, which is sort of a reasonable amount for a Friday night out, but is also an amount that has more weight when you’re walking around out in the sun surrounded by people who are similarly inebriated.
That said, Thursday was pretty sparsely populated and I didn’t see any evidence of anyone doing anything really stupid. I mean, sure there were some pretty ridiculous hats, but that’s not a criticism I can reasonably level at anyone, especially when you consider that during the latter portion of the evening I was wearing an Elephant Hat that was fashioned out of Steam Whistle boxes, crowned with a set of foam rubber Moosehead antlers.
I don’t know if you’ve ever worn an exceptionally stupid elephant hat. I have. I can tell you that it’s a great way to meet people, although they do try to feed you peanuts and periodically you feel like pointing out that you’re not an animal. People come up to you and want their pictures taken with you, which sort of beggars belief. Periodically, people will want to compare hats.
In terms of beer, I’m not sure that I saw anything really interesting at this year’s TFOB. There was an OCB collaboration tent, that featured four brews that had been put together by paired breweries. Of those, I thought that the Amsterdam/Great Lakes collaboration was probably the most solid, although just for promotional purposes, I liked the Beau’s/Black Oak Lugnut (half lug tread/half nut brown) for the obvious advantage in name.
There were some interesting beers at Great Lakes Caskapalooza, although only one of them had been tapped when I visited them. I tried the Miami Weiss on cask, and I feel like this batch might be a little too hoppy, since I wasn’t getting anything else from it. You know it’s been tweaked a little when you don’t register mouthfeel because of the bitterness. Nice event area, though, and you have to admire the willingness to set up a DJ and scantily clad male dancers for the Queer Beer Festival.
One of the most serious criticisms that I hear leveled at the TFOB is that it’s a showcase for macrobrew products. I’m not sure that I see how I can take that criticism seriously anymore, given that the OCB booths are all in the centre of the venue, directly in front of the stage. You pretty much have to walk through them to get anywhere. I mean, sure, Budweiser has their giant custom bus/bar area and the north boundary of the event is lined with macrobrews, but that’s sort of fine. They require more space because of their expensive booths, so they get put on the outskirts of the area. I didn’t see any of them doing a huge amount of business, although that may have changed on subsequent festival days.
It didn’t really matter anyway, since all of the booths cleared out as soon as Ace of Base hit the stage. I don’t think it was the original lineup. The singers, I think, would probably not have developed the ability to walk by the time the group’s first single hit in 1993. They did a pretty good job, considering.
I suspect that most people actually came out to see Ace of Base, rather than for the purpose of attending a beer festival. If there was a graph of the amount of beer sold during their set, I suspect that it might actually contain negative numbers. Also, nearly half the people attending the festival seemingly cleared out immediately after the set.
So, what have we learned?
1) People who were not old enough to really remember them from their first run inexplicably love Ace of Base.
2) Criticisms of the TFOB being solely a showcase for macro products are probably no longer entirely accurate.
3) It is nearly freaking impossible to hail a cab in a stupid looking elephant hat. I mean, people wave at you from cars, forcing you to utter sentences like “What’s the matter? Never seen a man in an elephant hat before?”