Do We Really Need Toronto Beer Week?

Toronto Beer Week
Toronto Beer Week

Today marks the one year anniversary of Josh Rubin‘s provocative article dismissing the relevance of Toronto Beer Week. Suggesting the city has outgrown TBW, the Toronto Star reporter pointed to the vast number and variety of events that fill the rest of the calendar year. One week’s worth of events could indeed be deemed redundant in a city that creates so many others.

Toronto Beer Week launch
The Craft Brand Company’s Chris Goddard launches Toronto Beer Week 2014. at the Amsterdam BrewHouse

Beer and food pairings aren’t exclusive to TBW any more than tap takeovers. Zwanze Day might be listed on the official calendar, but those quirky Belgians didn’t schedule it for our benefit. In fact nothing on the ten day agenda really needs to be part of a cohesive program.

When Rubin’s article dropped, the local community – the portion that spoke up, anyway – was largely indignant. How dare he not be supportive? Why write an article that criticizes? Whether or not you agree with him, it’s not the role of a journalist to be a cheerleader. Josh Rubin is no PR flack. He’s a respected writer paid to articulate his insights. His job is to get people thinking.

But getting people thinking is also exactly why Toronto Beer Week is relevant. It, more than any other event or series of events, gets people considering beer. Rather than just dissecting what’s in the cup, participants are reflecting on the year that passed. They’re recognizing familiar faces and starting the kinds of conversations that don’t occur when events fall weeks or months apart. They’re collectively pondering growth, opportunity and stumbling blocks.

Sandwich Board outside Rock Lobster on Queen Street
Rock Lobster is one of several venues along Queen Street participating in Toronto Beer Week

The Golden Tap Awards – arguably the marquee event of the week – celebrates the achievements of the entire province. It, better than any event, should be an example to others: it’s free to attend, doesn’t require a reservation or invitation and lets beer drinkers feel like their opinions matter.

To be clear, not everything to do with Toronto Beer Week is relevant. Four events on today’s schedule (three at the same venue?) have nothing to do with beer, other than to mention the brewery sponsor. I can’t imagine those pubs doing proper beer events are thrilled about being listed below deejays and a retro cooler giveaway. But that’s a small thing. It’s a distraction.

The fact that TBW got an exemption from the city to keep bars open until 4:00 a.m. is a big thing. That’s relevant. Last night I noticed a TBW logo in a pub I normally don’t even think about. Suddenly I’m curious to see what they’re doing. That’s relevant. I’ve heard brewery reps already discussing what they could do better next year. That’s relevant.

For all its perceived negativity, Josh Rubin’s article was actually a nod to how dynamic the city’s beer scene has become. But it was dismissive and somewhat misguided. Do we really need Toronto Beer Week? Yes, and as long as it continues to get more people considering what craft beer is and what it can be, its relevance will only increase.


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