Beerfest: the annual celebration where beer fans gather at Bandshell Park to sample brews (200+ brands), play lawn games, eat cleverly named hot “dawgs” and other food truck fare, and wear hats made of beer boxes.

Sounds like a whimsical enough way to spend a Saturday afternoon in July, non?

But as totally fun n’ fancy free as beerfest is, the people running the show do not mess around when it comes to bierz. This ain’t no frat party. There wasn’t a keg stand in sight. Not even a sheet-toga.

The amount you can learn at this festival is pretty amazing. Aside from chatting with brewers over samples, some of Ontario’s top chefs and resto owners dished out grilling tips from the grill tent and a “brewmaster series pavilion” hosted mini workshops teaching the basics of brewing, cooking with beer, the relationship between beer and the glass. (Random fun facts I learned – a “meadophile” is a person who studies beer bottle labels, and a “beerologist” is one who drinks a shit ton of craft beer, according to Flying Monkey Brewery.)

I tried so many tasty one-off gems and summer seasonals, I didn’t even care that I missed Salt N’ Pepa (well, maybe I cared a little …)

Above all, visiting beer fest made me feel super proud to be from Ontario. It made me want to sit on a Muskoka chair on a dock and drink Creemore as I stare into a lake and listen to loons. I get the same kind of feeling when I see a shiny silver tall can of Crazy Canuck Pale Ale with the red maple leaf and the loon and the toque. So many local breweries proudly rep Ontario imagery as a patriotic reminder that our province really has so much to offer – from our harvests to our restaurant culture to our sweet summer festivals.

Is it weird that I wore my Steamwhistle box hat all day after I left the festival?

My top flavour picks at Beerfest:

Spearhead Brewing – Hawaiian Style Pale Ale (a little pineapple-y and hoppy)
Railway City – Dead Elephant IPA (a killer IPA, check out if you like hoppy beers)
Flying Monkey – Chocolate Birthday Cake (oh no they di-int!)
Great Lake Brewery –  Auntie Herb’s Spices Saison (a zesty one-off I fear I might never find in Toronto again.)
Black Oak – Summer Saison (a citrusy summer wheat beer. It screams for an orange slice.)

~ Kait Fowlie