I must confess something, I have never taken part in Oktoberfest despite living in the city that has the largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany. I just don’t get the appeal of drinking cheap bad beer (Molson Canadian Is the to be a sponsor of the event) and pay a ton of money to sit in a large noisy room. It just isn’t for me.
Imagine my excitement when I discovered last year that they’d started to host “Craftoberfest” as a part of the festivities. – This craft beer festival features mostly local brewers, with a few out of town breweries. Craftoberfest takes place on two nights once the Oktoberfest festivities begin. After a generally positive and decidedly not sober experience last year, I decided to attend once again this past Friday.
Last year I found the event to be overfilled and too loud to sit and chat with friends – for some reason while we were sipping the beer there was a DJ blasting pop music to an empty dance floor. Nevertheless, I still had a good enough time that I decided to go again, hoping that they worked out some of the kinks. What we got unfortunately was a bit of a mixed bag.
Looking at the list of brewers this year, there was Barncat from Cambridge, Forked River from London, Four Father Brewing in Cambridge. and Short Finger Brewing in Kitchener just to name a few. While there were plenty of breweries I’d tried before, a ton more were new to me, so I had plenty of reason to be excited.
Like last year Craftoberfest was sold out this year for the night I went. With taxes and ticket fees a ticket runs you approximately $37.00 and includes two beer sample tokens, so you have to expect to spend more money while you are there.
Once again Craftoberfest took place at the Kitchener Market, and many of the food stands open up, selling pierogies, shawarma, and various other tasty treats., I was happily surprised to see that the venue was much less packed then last year, meaning they must have cut back on capacity, which made it much easier to navigate. There were four different booths set up throughout the venue of different themes and unlike last year I could walk to each of them without getting jostled and without waiting in line for 30 minutes.
The booths were each set up based on a theme, and would have 4 different beers, usually from four different breweries on tap at any one time. There was the Harvest booth, containing fall themed beers, the highlight was Pumpkin Rie Spiced Ale from Together We’re Bitter Cooperative Brewing. This was a delicious pumpkin ale (and usually I think ales are a bit boring!) with loads of fall spices, and well balanced.
Next up was the traditional German beer booth, from which I sampled nothing. Despite my German heritage, I just can’t get on board with this style of beer. It might not be patriotic, but they just aren’t to my liking.
The booth I expected to be my favourite was the Hops booth, full of IPA’s of various variety. The highlight here was Extra Juice from Barncat, a delicious IPA full of citrus flavours. I was able to get two IPA haters to try it and love it!
The last booth was a generic craft beer booth which had a variety of beers that didn’t fit into any category. These beers tended to be more adventurous and vary from wine based beers, to sours. The highlight here was a cucumber sour – definitely an interesting beer, with a slight salty flavour.
This brings us to problem #1 with the event, lack of selection. Last year the beers constantly changed out as they finished and this year some beers stuck around for the entire event. This meant that I ended up trying some very disappointing beers, or going up for a fill and not seeing any beers I liked. I found the hop booth to be especially disappointing and lacking in choices. Me and my friends would take turns checking out the beers to see if they changed up all night always seemed to come back with nothing new or interesting to offer.
This brings me to my second problem which was the nearly impossible task of talking to my friends. I don’t know about you but generally I envision craft beer drinkers to want to sit, sip, and chat with their friends, maybe listening to some indie rock in the background. Instead, for some unknown reason, Craftoberfest hires a DJ to play old pop and techno music at full blast the entire night so that you end up sounding like an old married couple yelling “HUH?!” at each other. I don’t think I have yelled this much since I went to the punk rock festival Riotfest when it still came to Toronto. We were screaming all night to just have a normal conversation, and the whole affair left me sounding like a regular smoker after only half an hour. This was all especially strange since the dancefloor remained empty from 7pm-11:30pm, when about 30 people danced until the end of the event at midnight. Who knows, maybe at my ripe old age of (almost) 25 I can’t handle these parties anymore.
When the DJ wasn’t deafening us there was someone on the PA making announcements, but the acoustics were so bad none of us had any idea what she was saying. I had heard on the radio that they were going to crown a Captain Craftoberfest through various surprise activities at Craftoberfest, which seemed like a fun idea. I heard them mention there was now a Captain Craftoberfest, however I cannot tell you who this is, what they had to do to become Captain, and what being Captain means.
Lastly, I do not know if the terrible PA system had someone announce last call, but none of us heard it if they did. , Last called turned out to be at an early 12:00am. I went to grab a last beer with my pre-purchased tokens at 12:03 and was turned away. I can accept the early last call but you have to clearly tell your patrons.
Overall, I was quite disappointed with the event. I couldn’t help but constantly think that I had a better supply of craft beer in the fridge at home and would have had more fun sitting at home, putting on a record and just talking to my friends. I would say that Craftoberfest is a good event to check out if you are wanting to participate in an Oktoberfest event, but you wouldn’t be missing out on anything if you decide to pass on it completely.