The 14th Annual Downtown Kitchener Ribfest & Craft Beer Show took over Victoria Park this past weekend. With it came incredible BBQ food, live music, and most importantly, a plethora of delicious craft beers!

With seven different ribbers, 18 different craft breweries, and a host of other vendors, there was no shortage of selection. While I sampled more than a few food vendors, the focus here is obviously the beer.

I was lucky enough to get VIP tickets on my birthday, and with my wife and some friends, enjoyed a sunny Saturday in the park. Even my pregnant wife enjoyed the experience.

With our VIP passes (priced at $30-$44.25 each), we had some nice perks, including a wristband and sampling glass (usually $6), 5 sample tokens (usually $2 each), and perhaps most importantly, access to the VIP tent which includes dedicated wait staff for food purchases, a reserved tent, and flushing toilets.

The Craft Brewers all hailed from Ontario and, while I was disappointed with the lack of breweries that actually hailed from Waterloo Region, there was a good sampling of brewers from across the province, including:

I had tried quite a few of the more widely available breweries before this event, so I started my day by focusing on breweries that I hadn’t previously tried.

Ultimately, there were definitely a couple of breweries that I was really excited about, but the theme of the event for me, personally, was MORE COWBELL.

Cowbell Brewing Co. (Blyth, Ontario)

Cowbell Brewing Co. is a relatively new upstart from Blyth, Ontario (a small town of approximately 1000 people, east of Goderich).

I had previously tried their Absent Landlord, a drinkably smooth 5.3% ABV Country Kolsch, and was pleased to try their other offerings (and not just because they had an exclusive booth set up in the VIP section, which meant that I didn’t have to walk too far to get a refill!).

I quite enjoyed the Doc Perdue’s Bobcat, a Red Ale. At 5.5%, this American Amber had a delightful balance of bitterness, drinking very smooth. With a hint of citrus and pine, this was one of the highlights of the entire event for me.

The third and final offering from Cowbell at this event was their newest offering, Kelly’s Contraption, a German Wheat Beer (5.0% ABV).

This one was delicious as well, but as I had hit the double digits in beer samples for the day, I’m unfortunately not in a better position to give this one a more detailed review. If I see it pop up at the local Beer Stores, though, I will be sure to give it another try.

I was fascinated to speak with Cowbell’s staff and learn that on August 7, 2017, they will be opening their ambitious new brewery location, which will include a restaurant, hotel, and event centre. It sounds like a fantastic endeavour, and is a must-visit for beer tourists.

Shawn & Ed Brewing Co. (Dundas, Ontario)

This was another new brewery for me, and one that brought perhaps my favourite brew of the event. Barrelshed No. 1 is a diverse English Pale Ale, barrel-aged for 10 days, checking in at 6.5%. It had a hint of fruit, caramel, and citrus, with a nice malty balance to the hops.

I had only heard of Shawn & Ed Brewing Co. prior to this event, but it is absolutely a brewery that I will be keeping my eye on, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Whitewater Brewing Co. (Cobden, Ontario)

One of many gems from the Ottawa Valley (which boasts such other Craft Beer powerhouses as Beau’s, which I have previously reviewed), Whitewater Brewing Co. has a good thing going.

Also, I’d just like to take a moment to recognize how fantastic some of the Ontario Craft Brewery websites are!

I tried the Class V IPA (5.5%), and was pleasantly surprised. At first instance the bitterness hit hard, but the aftertaste was sharp, with a citrus tinge. This was a fantastically hoppy brew, with a malty balance.

I could not likely drink it in high volume, but it was a nice experience from a brewery that I would like to experience more of.

The Collingwood Brewery (Collingwood, Ontario)

I previously reviewed the 3-Point Saison from The Collingwood Brewery, and I could not resist it at this event. I was pleased to see a nice, long lineup at the Collingwood booth, with its brews being poured by a charismatic and funny staff member.

If you haven’t tried Collingwood, you’re missing out!

More Brewers!

I tried quite a few other breweries on sight, big and small. There were some that I really wanted to like, including a beautifully golden lager that tasted more metallic than I cared for. There were others that I knew what to expect, having come from more widely available breweries.

I am sure that at some point I will give a negative review on this forum, but I am hesitant to focus on the negatives. The Craft Beer scene is constantly growing. Ontario boasts (in my humble opinion) some of the finest beers that I have had the pleasure of trying.

Starting a craft brewery takes a great deal of commitment and it comes with great risk.

Were it not for these brave brewmasters risking their livelihood for their passion, we may be living in a world where Molson and Labatt were still our only options (and to my wife’s dismay, I would be closer to my lifelong goal of becoming a wine sommelier).

[clickToTweet tweet=”Here’s to the wonderful craft brewers who help us avoid crappy beer. #craftbeer” quote=”Here’s to the wonderful craft brewers who help us avoid crappy beer. #craftbeer”]

Craft Beers are an art. They are fun. They are exciting. They go with sunny summer days, like this July 15th, when on my birthday I gorged myself on delicious ribs, corn, and hoppy treats.

The old adage goes that “variety is the spice of life”, and I couldn’t be more pleased to be contributing to this forum celebrating Craft Beers in the spiciest era to date!


Ryan Heighton

Ryan Heighton

The Bar of Ontario isn’t the only bar to which he’s been called. Misses drinking at the SkyDome. Enjoying Waterloo Region one (sometimes two) craft beer at a time. Favourite beers: anything hoppy enough to jump off the table.
Ryan Heighton
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