Back on October 17th my wife and I attended the 2nd annual Windsor Craft Beer Festival.
We went to the inaugural event last year and had a fantastic time. Such a good time actually that we decided to go with the VIP tickets this year. That may have been a mistake.
Don't get me wrong, the event was awesome. We had a great time and I will be attending next year, but I just don't think that the VIP passes were worth it. At least not for us.
My biggest complaint with the VIP pass was that it gave us "early access" to the event. This meant that we got in half an hour early.
Expecting a line, my wife and I showed up about 15 minutes before opening (early access opening). We were the first people there. By the time the gates opened there was a crowd of 5 of us waiting to get in. I guess we didn't need to rush to beat the crowd.
This wouldn't have been a problem though, so what if we are at a near empty event? Just means more beer for us and no wait time, right? Nope. Sorry.
We approached the first brewery we saw and asked what they were serving. We were told curtly: "we're not serving anything yet, can't you tell we are still setting up!" This same situation repeated itself at 6 other breweries. Here we are at the Beer Fest with our "early access" and we can't get any beer!
So we thought maybe we should grab some food. Nope. Sorry. Food won't be ready until 5:30 (when the 'general public' gets in).
Eventually we did find someone who would serve us: Descendants. You can see our first beers there down and to the right in our VIP glasses. Glasses that weren't actually just for VIPs, you could just buy one at the gate. Which is probably what we will do next year.
Now another 'bonus' we got for buying VIP passes was access to special VIP only beers which changed every hour. I thought this was pretty awesome and was the 2nd reason I decided to go VIP.
What I didn't understand is that it literally meant "access." I thought it meant we got to try each of these beers for each hour we were there. As in we got a sample to taste. What it actually meant is that we could buy beer that other people couldn't. That greatly reduced the value of my VIP pass (which I thought was getting me 5 free samples).
One final complaint about the VIP pass: I'm a big dude (note the title of the blog), we also got T shirts. They didn't have a shirt anywhere near in my size. Now I'm not a huge dude, and I'm pretty sure I saw some other big dudes. You would think at a beer festival they would expect some larger people to be attending.
Okay enough negativity. I make the event sound horrible, and it wasn't. It was actually pretty awesome. I don't regret going at all. We had a great time.
One of the huge improvements over last year was the food. There was the Road Chef food truck that had this awesome Pork and Apple sandwich and some great fried mozzarella. Robbie's Gourmet Sausage was there as was Motorburger. This was so much better than the small appetizers supplied by St. Claire last year.
The beer was also great. There were more brewers than last year and I'm pretty sure the ones that were there were offering more options. There was Beau's, Broadhead, Descendants, Highlander, Hop City, Bayside, Lake of Bays, Mill St., Motor Craft Ales, Railway City, Samuel Adams, St. Ambroise, Walkerville and Wellington. There were also some representatives from a couple local brew pubs that are opening later this year. Based on the pamphlet we were given there were over 70 beers there to try (including the special VIP brews).
The only real complaint I have about the beer is the fact that due to the event being in the middle of October, every single seasonable beer was some form of Pumpkin beer, mostly Pumpkin Ales. I had so many Pumpkin Ales that they all ended up tasting the same.
I had some really amazing beers. I should say we had some really amazing beers, as my wife is as much a beer fan as I am. Actually I can't think of a single one that I tried I would consider bad. They were all solid brews. Highlights for me were Nightmare on Mill Street from, you guessed it: Mill St. and Ramblin' Roads Dakota Pearl Potato Ale.
One bonus of getting there early was that there was no crowd. By about 9pm that changed. Man did it get busy. Then it rained.
That leads me to another awesome improvement over last year's event: the tent! The middle of the 'fest area was covered in a very large tent that even had heaters under it. That was so much better than freezing out in the open last year. I will admit it got a bit crowded, especially when the rain hit, but my wife and I never had a problem finding a place to sit.
The weekend before this event there was another craft beer event. That one was in LaSalle and I had heard a few horror stories. Stories about rude loud drunk patrons, fights and people demanding free beer. I saw none of that here at the Walkerville event. Everyone we met and saw was polite and just there to enjoy some good beer, just like we were. I don't think I heard a raised voice (well except for everyone trying to talk over the extremely loud music).
That was also a change from last year. Music. Loud music. Most of Friday night was a couple guys playing the same set of German drinking songs over and over each set. That was a tad annoying. The volume seemed way too loud as well. Kind of felt like I was in a bar and having a conversation with my wife meant shouting. These guys were replaced with a local bluegrass band that was fine. Take it or leave it, didn't seem to really fit the theme of the event. I would have personally liked to have heard some Celtic Pub songs. Say by, The Shannon Bros.
Overall, if you like beer at all, especially good Ontario Craft beer, I strongly recommend checking out this event next year. I'll be there as will my wife.
The only thing I do want to warn you about is that the VIP pass may not be worth it. It definitely wasn't worth it for us this year. Maybe next year they will offer something a bit better though.