Bringing Beer to the Ottawa Wine and Food Festival
It’s Saturday, just before noon, and I’m in a small office on the second floor of the Shaw Centre signing a waiver promising I’ll adhere to the Ottawa Wine and Food Festival’s pouring standards. I take note of the specifics (3 oz for beer, 1 oz for wine and .5 oz of liquor if you’re interested) and smile as I trade the paper for my show pass. While there are plenty of written standards and official looking people hovering over wine bottles and kegs, we all know that there will be more than a few people enjoying the festival a bit too much.
The Ottawa Wine and Food Festival is an interesting event – fun, but something that falls outside of things I, and many of my craft beer friends, normally attend. While the event’s marketing material boasts that attendees are highly educated, have the highest median income in the country and have high levels of spending in cultural goods and services, a large portion of these well-dressed guest don’t know what craft beer is. This makes them potential converts/customers to craft beer, that is if the story is there and the beer fits their taste. “We see this show as an opportunity to convert mainstream beer drinkers to Muskoka drinkers,” Muskoka Brewery Sales Representative, Scott Lewin, says. “We didn’t bring some of the high-ABV (alcohol by volume) stuff or one-offs that we would bring to a craft focused show, and the first keg that needed changing was the Craft Lager.”
Before the doors open, Cory, a Sales Representative from Broadhead Brewing Company is busy preparing the booth for the afternoon session, adding ice to the jockey boxes and checking keg levels. The 10x10 booth ranges in price from $1,895 to $1,995 (before HST) and is generally seen as a marketing expense; most companies attending would be happy to make their booth fee back from ticket sales and eat the labour and product expense. “The Wine and Food Show is an established event that has historically attracted people predominantly into wine, but as such they are accustomed to the many different facets and intricacies that are found in wines,” mentions Josh Larocque, Broadhead Brewing Company’s Head Brewer. “They tend to have a great ability to find that same complexity in craft beers, which was lacking in "mainstream" beer for a long time. Since they might have stayed away from those "mainstream" beers, it's important for us to connect with them to showcase the awesomeness that beer has become!” Today Cory is donning his Halloween costume, a Batman onesie, and chatting up anyone who will listen – he wants people to try Broadhead’s beers and if they aren’t going to visit their brewery he wants them to pick up their newly canned offerings (Grindstone Amber and Darkhorse Stout) at the LCBO.
The Ottawa Wine and Food Festival will never be a must go event for craft beer geeks and it’s unlikely we’ll see festival exclusive beers on tap as we do at other events. It does, however, serve as a great introduction and a way to persuade wine drinkers to put a bottle or can of craft in their basket when they next visit the LCBO. "The Ottawa Wine and Food Festival is a great opportunity to meet and chat with people who haven’t yet realized they love craft beer! Bringing the craft beer experience to new people is fun and exciting, especially when paired with delicious, flavour-enhancing foods,” says Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company CEO, Steve Beauchesne. “That said, craft beer is now in almost every fridge in Ontario, so I feel like everyone is now a typical craft beer drinker."