By Jamie Drummond
When Beau’s Steve Beauchesne first told us of his family’s brewery’s Oktoberfest celebrations, encouraging GFR to be part of it all, I’ll admit that we were most curious. In the past our experiences of such festivities have proved to be been less than stellar, normally involving huge crowds of testosterone-pumped males drinking way too much commercial beer and generally things being rather messy.
Steve assured us that the Beau’s Oktoberfest was the antithesis of the beer festivals we were referring to, and so we planned a road trip out to the town of Vankleek Hill (the Gingerbread capital of Ontario no less), 30 minutes outside of Ottawa, to see what he was on about…
After driving east from Toronto for nigh on five hours we found ourselves at the Vankleek Fairgrounds where the first evening of Beau’s Oktoberfest was already underway. The programming for the three day festival was extensive, with seminars, tutored tastings, children’s entertainment, traditional Bavarian music and dancing (coupled with some pretty damn good indie bands playing in the evenings), a selection of Bavarian-themed foodstuffs from a plethora of Ottawa’s top restaurants, and then there was the beer… Ah yes… the beer. More about that in just a moment.
We arrived with nary five minutes to spare before I was to co-present a seminar entitled “A Brewer, A Sommelier, and a Wheel of Cheese roll into a bar…” along with Master Brewer Alex Barlow and Cheese Guru Andrew Laliberte, a seminar that would be repeated on both the Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
As the Autumnal night was almost upon us, my esteemed colleague Malcolm Jolley made the decision to check us into our accommodations whilst I pontificated upon the correlations between pairing both beer and wine with different cheeses.
What with so many beer enthusiasts travelling to Vankleek for this special weekend event, lodgings were a little tricky to find, and so we left ourselves in the capable hands of the extended Beau’s family, who found us a place to stay at a spot called The Grand Barn.
Unbeknownst to us until just a few days earlier, The Grand Barn touted itself as “A clothing optional, alternative lifestyle, friendly, private club and campground”. I guess it would be fair to say that both Malcolm and I felt just a little trepidation staying in such a place seeing as neither of us wholly embrace “The Lifestyle”, nevertheless we were grateful to have a place to lay our heads after such a long day. Thankfully our hosts at The Grand Barn were absolutely lovely and saw to our every need, even going as far as chaperoning us towards the tailends of our two lively nights in Vankleek Hill.
And just in case you were wondering, it was a little chilly for anyone to go for the no clothing option, and so our two evenings there in our trailer passed without incident.
Beau’s Oktoberfest truly is a family event, and this was especially evident on the Saturday and Sunday during the day. Despite the drizzle (and at one point some flakes of snow!) spirits were high, no doubt assisted by the superb Oompah band music provided by Die Lustigen Almdudler and then some extremely stirring Polka courtesy of living legend Walter Ostanek.
A great deal of thought had gone into the programming of the seminars and tastings, with Brewers (and a Sommelier) from all over coming to speak about their suds. Each and every one of the sessions was well attended, and went off without a hitch thanks to the admirable facilitation of Beau’s Jason Ellsmere and his crack team of pourers.
As for the beers on offer, Beau’s were presenting seven different brews: from their famous Lugtread, through the Nightmärzen Oktoberfest Lager, to five different beers from their Wild Oats Series: Smokin’ Banana Peel (Maple Smoked Hefeweizen), Two Weeks Notice (German Porter), Weiss-O-Lantern (Pumpkinweiss), Dr. Jekyll (A Lugtread/Nightmärzen composite), and finally Mr. Hyde (A Roggenbier meets RyePA). More than enough to raise a smile at Good Food Revolution!
Interestingly enough, the beer selection did not stop there… Beau’s had invited the ever-passionate Ralph Morano of Toronto’s Bar Volo to host a Cask Days tent featuring one-off cask ales from over 30 craft breweries. There was an astonishing array of beer styles available to taste, and hence the Cask Days tent proved to be incredibly popular and was full of friendly beer-loving folks for all three days of the Oktoberfest. In fact it was so popular that come Sunday a number of the more popular brews had actually sold out.
As night fell the traditional music was replaced by a roster of high calibre indie artists including Jim Bryson, Cuff The Duke, The Peelers, and The Lowest of The Low. The beer flowed and the music played with the crowds swaying in unison and many a jaunty Bavarian hat being thrown high in the air in celebration of Oktoberfest.
Let us not forget the two official afterparties at Vankleek’s Windsor Tavern, two nights that had even more music programmed for the assembled crowd’s listening and dancing pleasure. Strangely enough, my very last memory of the Windsor Tavern is attempting to dance to Daft Punk, and yet I don’t see them anywhere on the roster…
Beau’s Oktoberfest really is a one of a kind, and clearly leaps and bounds ahead of the many beer festivals we have frequented in the past. On the Sunday afternoon, as we took it all in from one of the many beer tents, both Malcolm and I agreed that next year we have to organise a Good Food Revolution trip to Vankleek, renting a bus, and organising accommodations. We know that so many beer, food, and music lovers from Toronto would have the time of their lives at this event. Watch this space for further details as we work out the logistics of such a project.
Our thanks have to go to the extended Beau’s family, who went above and beyond to make us feel truly at home in their part of the world, as well as contributing an extremely generous donation to our non-profit, Good Food Media from the proceeds of this year’s fundraising.
We hope that our video and pictures manage to capture how great these three days were, and heartily recommend that you join us in Vankleek Hill next Oktober!
If you are having trouble viewing this video please click here.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… and he now has a thing for jaunty Bavarian hats.
This video is made possible through the kind support of Fortessa Canada/Schott Zwiesel