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Event Profile: Buffalo BrewFest 2000

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The right tent at the Buffalo BrewFest.
I continue to be disappointed when I visit Buffalo. Not because of what Buffalo has to offer - far from it. But because when I return to Toronto, I am saddened to realize what Buffalo has and what we do not. I was disappointed to come back to The Beer Store and the LCBO after visiting Premier Gourmet, and I will be disappointed to attend next year's Toronto beer festival after visiting the first annual Buffalo BrewFest. The Buffalo BrewFest was in many ways far superior to Toronto's Festival of Beer - the cost was less, the space was more, and new beers could actually be sampled.

The first annual Buffalo BrewFest was held on Sunday, August 13, in the outfield of Dunn Tire Park, home of the Triple A Buffalo Bisons. Admission was $15, and the event ran from 2-6pm. The event capacity was limited to 3,000. The breweries were arranged under tents, similar to Toronto, lining the outfield wall of Dunn Tire Park. There were dozens of breweries in attendance, from the United States, Belgium, Germany, Canada and elsewhere.

The tasting glass from the fest.
Upon entry into the festival, we were handed the tasting glass for the event. This was the first sign this festival would be a fun one - the tasting glass was full-size. It was made of plastic for safety reasons, but its capacity was twelve ounces. In Toronto, the sampling glass was a four ounce shooter. With the Buffalo glass, although only four ounce samples were given, a beer developed a nice head and a fine aroma was realized because of the long neck. In Toronto, the taster was functional only, and a beer could not be enjoyed or evaluated as properly.

At Toronto's Festival, all the beers available can be purchased either through the LCBO, Vintages or the Beer Store. Nothing was unique - for a seasoned beer connoisseur, it was simply a collection of already-available beers all at one location. There were no surprises, no last-minute mystery brews to be found that have never been seen before in the province. It is simply not allowed, and does not happen.

The left tent at the Buffalo BrewFest.
Since Buffalo is home to beers unavailable in Ontario, obviously for a Torontonian visiting the Buffalo BrewFest would be an opportunity to sample new brews. But even for local connoisseurs, unique brews are brought in specifically for the festival. This is another key difference between the beer festivals of Buffalo and Toronto. In Buffalo, one could sample brand new beers, not simply find all locally-available beers consolidated at one location.

However, the most notable difference between the two festivals was the drink tickets. Whereas drink tickets were purchased and exchanged for samples at the Toronto festival, in Buffalo the admission price was the only cost, and samples were unlimited. Before I even tasted my first sample, the Buffalo BrewFest had surpassed Toronto's Festival of Beer. The tasting glass was more appropriate for sampling properly, there were no drink tickets to worry about, and there was an outfield of unique brews awaiting tasting.

Anchor's Old Foghorn Barleywine.
With a limited capacity of 3,000, the event was very leisurely. Further, without drink tickets to keep track of, there were virtually no lineups or overcrowding. The outfield of Dunn Tire Park provided plenty of space to roam around, sample the available brews and chat with the brewery reps.

One myth that continues to exist in Canada is that there is no good beer produced in the United States. It is very unfortunate that fine American micros are never distributed to Ontario. I was able to sample many wonderful American microbrews at the festival.

The wonderful Anchor Old Foghorn Barleywine was available, along with their Small Beer. Both were fabulous. Victory Brewing from Pennsylvania, which I continue to enjoy more and more, brought in their HopDevil IPA and Prima Pils. Great Lakes Brewing of Cleveland, a brewery I had heard much about but never tried, tapped their fine Dortmunder Gold, Burning River Pale Ale, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, Holy Moses Witbier and Barrel Select Pils. And there were many other fine brews from the Brooklyn Brewery, Rohrbach Brewing, Middle Ages Brewing and others.

The first annual Buffalo BrewFest was very impressive, and I am already looking forward to the second annual edition. The festival was executed as a good beer festival should be - the tasting glass was appropriate, the atmosphere was relaxing, and the available beers were diverse and plentiful. Toronto's Festival of Beer will continue to be a fun weekend each summer, but if its first year is any indication. the Buffalo BrewFest will be the premier beer destination for local connoisseurs.