Beer festival fever hits Haliburton

Posted by Dean Rowan on

A new wave of independent microbreweries in Ontario is doing exciting things with beer, crafting unique flavours and pushing boundaries in ways corporate breweries cannot. See for yourself at the first annual Haliburton Craft Brewers Fest, July 21. It offers people the opportunity to taste the creations of a number of these breweries in one exciting day.

“There are a ton of craft breweries in Ontario – about 250 at last count – as beer is more popular than ever. The beauty of our festival is that people will have the opportunity to taste the creations of a number of these breweries in one exciting day,” explains Gary Matthews, one of the organizers of this Lions-hosted event to be held at Head Lake Park.

Over a dozen craft breweries from across Ontario, some from as far away as Ottawa, will be on hand. Haliburton will be represented by Boshkung Brewery and Haliburton Highlands Brewery. Participating breweries from neighbouring regions of cottage country include Bancroft Brewery, Bobcaygeon Brewery, Clear Lake Brewing Company, Highlander Brewing Company, Lake of Bays Brewing Company and Muskoka Brewery.

Excitement over the event is growing, with as many as 4,500 people expected to attend the all-day event. No one is more excited – and proud – than Matthews, whose idea it was.

“As a Lion, I’ve been heavily involved in a ton of barbecues for fundraising – we do a dozen or more per year – but most of us in the organization are a little bit older and barbecues can be really difficult to set up and break down, and the days can be really long. Worse, often times we just don’t make a ton of money,” Matthews recalls.

“I’ve spent my career in sales and I thought there was a better way to raise money for the important work the Lions do. My wife, Eliz, and I had been to a craft brewery festival and saw how well they do, so I proposed that we hold our own here in Haliburton.”

The concept was accepted and planning began in earnest in November, and the resulting event is “leaps and bounds” better than what Matthews and other organizers (including Eliz and web-designer Linda Heeps) had originally envisioned.

In addition to a dozen breweries, the festival will feature two liquor companies, Black Fly Beverages and SoCIAL LITE Vodka, more than two dozen cottage country vendors, all-day live music with acts that demonstrate the best talent from Haliburton, games, and six food trucks (“not the old-fashioned greasy food-style food trucks, but ones serving really good food,” enthuses Matthews).

The lineup reflects the broadening appeal of beer. Beers, like wine, are becoming gastronomically more sophisticated. Empire Cheese will be on hand to discuss beer and cheese pairings, and a bar will be set up where, every hour, a representative of a different participating brewery will speak about their beers, what foods they best accompany, and how to cook with them.

A $25 passport grants all-day access to the festival, including four, four-ounce sample drinks from any participating brewery (additional samples can be purchased for $10 for four drinks). A ‘Dry Passport,’ entrance without the drinks, costs $10. Children and dogs are welcome.

While its theme is beer, the event is really about all things cottage country. “The idea is to promote Haliburton – a lovely idea that many are referring to as ‘The New Muskoka.’ You can come and go as you please throughout the day, encouraging visitors to visit downtown to see the sights and go shopping,” Matthews explains.

“The best part of the festival,” he continues, “is that every penny we raise goes right back into the community. We do a lot of things that change lives.”

The Lions are a charitable organization that donates money to numerous worthy causes, such as supporting summer camps for kids and providing guide dogs for the vision-impaired. Matthews shares some recent examples of the Lions’ generosity that he’s particularly proud of, among them providing a youngster with the money he required for an eye surgery that the government wouldn’t pay for and buying a Haliburton Village boy the scooter he needs for mobility.

The Lions’ work is undeniably laudable, but for most of us the Haliburton Craft Brewers Festival is simply an opportunity to sample brews from some of the innovative cask masters behind the craft brewery revolution currently sweeping Ontario.

Enjoy a spectacular summer day. Then stay on as the evening darkens, the beer flows and musicians stir up the festival vibe.


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