Smaller winter beer festival to help brewers connect with customers

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Ottawa’s second annual WinterBrewed beer festival will be a smaller event but organizers say it will give local brewers a better chance to connect with their customers.

(Stock image)

By Jacob Serebrin

“It gets them meeting the craft beer drinker in person,” said J.P. Fournier, who runs the festival, National Capital Craft Beer Week and is also the president and founder of Turtle Island Brewing Co.

For smaller breweries, developing those relationships are particularly important for both professional and personal reasons, Mr. Fournier said. Because small brewers don’t have the advertising budgets of their large competitors, a handshake over a beer can go a long way.

But there’s more to it than that.

“It’s an important part of the personality of craft beer,” said Mr. Fournier. “All of these breweries are run by people who take a lot of pride in their community.”

The festival also gives new breweries a chance to get their name out. Mr. Fournier said there will be a couple breweries participating that most Ottawa craft beer drinkers have probably not had a chance to try.

It’s not only about end consumers. The festival will also have an event for the hospitality industry, giving brewers a chance to meet owners of bars and restaurants face-to-face.

The festival, which runs from Feb. 14 to 16, will see 14 breweries participating. Eight of them are from Ottawa.

Unlike last year, when the event was held on Sparks Street, this year’s festival will be held inside, at the Fifth Avenue patio and the adjacent Arrow & Loon pub.

The change comes after the previous festival became a victim of its own success.

Organizers had planned to accommodate up to 6,000 guest but instead, Mr. Fournier said, “we were pleasantly surprised with the fact that we had about twice as many people.”

The larger-than-expected turnout wasn’t without problems, though, as a shortage of volunteers led to long lines that lasted up to 45 minutes at some points, Mr. Fournier.

The cold also caused serving problems, affecting the kegs. While Mr. Fournier said he’s now found a solution for that problem, it’s not ready to roll-out.

“We didn’t feel completely comfortable that we’d gotten a handle on all those challenges,” he said.

While Mr. Fournier said he’d eventually like the festival to have both indoor and outdoor events, for this year moving inside will ensure that visitors have a better tasting experience.

The festival will also have fewer guests. A total of 3,500 tickets are on sale for three-hour tasting sessions.

Mr. Fournier attributes the popularity of craft beer in Ottawa to the quality of local breweries. “There’s definitely great beer coming out of the city,” he said.

The festival will feature different styles of beer than its summer counterpart, said Mr. Fournier.

“With craft beer, there’s a lot of seasonal offerings,” he said, adding that winter styles tend to be “a to be a lot complex.”

Organizations: Turtle Island Brewing Co.

Geographic location: Ottawa, Sparks Street, Fifth Avenue

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