Dispatch from the Golden Tap Awards

Originally published in The Toronto Standard
Cass Enright
BarTowel.com’s CASS ENRIGHT handing out the hardware

At 7:50, raised glasses were less common than raised elbows as customers pushed themselves like horizontal Plinko chips towards the bar. Even as they fought their way to the head of the queue, temporary adversaries conversed about the merits of so-and-so’s German Porter. It’s strangely okay to be in someone’s face if you’re discussing the community’s beer.

An event like this has a certain brilliance in demonstrating how beer drinkers round these parts have come to appreciate who brews the juice that fills their cup. The Golden Tap Awards are Ontario craft beer’s equivalent of the People’s Choice Awards. Online balloting decides the victors, so as much as the pint gets celebrated, good PR and a willingness to chase the puck into the corner go a long way for mashers in search of hardware. For the province’s craft brewers, this is a test of their outreach.

In recent years Beau’s All Natural Brewing, from the Gingerbread Capital of Ontario (Vankleek Hill, pop. 2,000), has demonstrated that thoughtful beer, consistent branding, media savvy, and dedicated community involvement can incent enough fans of a small-town, family operation to vote in greater numbers than their metro-loving cousins.

This is part of the evolution of the Golden Tap Awards. Branded “Ontario’s Most Democratic Beer Awards,” 10 years ago the GTAs were focused squarely on the GTA. An increasingly provincial vision  now entices the likes of Ottawa’s Big Rig (named best new brewery at May’sOntario Brewing Awards) to ship a keg of their Double Chocolate Milk Stout to Beer Bistro for Wednesday evening’s raucous ceremony.

Three hours earlier, the scene was much more calm.  An announcement akin to “Game On! … but draft stations are still being set up,” met the 30 or so assembled at the King Street entrance.  Politely customers filed in, apologized to one another if they may have stepped out of order, compared their experiences at other Toronto Beer Week events.  Unanchored tables and barstools had been removed to allow for more volume, but patrons mostly kept to the sides.  Taps, one by one, were fused to 25 kegs and casks that call the Trillium their provincial flower, as thirsty beer enthusiasts quietly perused the bottle selection.

Over the course of the evening, publicans and brewmasters, regulars and tourists drifted from station to station, tapping glasses from recently tapped drums.

The craft beer world, for all its civility and camaraderie still has its internal squabbles. Those that filter their beer will tell you several of the hazy sorts are just lazy sorts. Entrepreneurs that invested in their own bricks and mortar not always so quietly have issues with those that “contract brew” (lease space from other breweries to inexpensively whip up their recipes).

But on Wednesday it was the fans’ opinions that mattered, and as long as they could jostle their way to the bar for another pour, all the other quibbling didn’t matter.

2013 GOLDEN TAP AWARD WINNERS

Best Micro Brewery in Ontario: Beau’s All Natural (for the fifth straight year; sixth if you include winning best brewery outside of the GTA in 2008)

Best Brewery for Cask-Conditioned Ale in Ontario: Great Lakes Brewery

Best Bar for Draught Beer Selection in Ontario: BarHop

Best Bar for Bottled Beer Selection in Ontario: BarVolo

Best Bar for Cask Ale in Ontario: BarVolo

Best Brewpub or Tied House in Ontario: Bellwoods Brewery

Best Regularly-Produced Beer in Ontario: Muskoka Brewery Mad Tom IPA

Best Seasonal or Specialty Beer in Ontario: Kensington Brewing Co. Fruit Stand Watermelon Wheat

Best Cask Ale in Ontario: Granite Brewery Hopping Mad Pale Ale

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