When I was in university, I travelled to Kitchener to attend the annual Oktoberfest event there, and it was nothing short of terrible.
The pilgrimage to the K-W included sleeping on the floor of a frat boy friend of a friend and it coincided with a lamentable period of my youth that all men seem to go through where we find it humourous to hit each other as hard as possible in the balls. While my group of friends always had a gentleman’s rule that these shots were permissible only when administered open-handed, the agreement was not enough to prevent my two best friends from nearly fighting each other in the middle of a polka-filled hall of dirndl- and lederhosen-bedecked revellers that evening.
Accordingly, I will likely forever associate my experience at Oktoberfest with a terrible night of drinking and the anxiety of perpetually fearing blunt force trauma to my penis and testicles. And while the organizers aren’t responsible for me associating Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest with being hit in the balls, it seems to me an apt metaphor for the annual event.
What I’m saying is, the K-W Oktoberfest sucks.
Sure, on paper, it looks like fun. Outside of Munich, this is the world’s largest Oktoberfest and it has been taking place for over 45 years. Politicians and local “celebrities” take part every year and a a veritable kuddelmuddel of Ontario’s German Clubs are official participants. The party-goers typically consume a gag-inducing 50,000 pounds of sausage over the weeklong celebration and there is a whole host of family-friendly events taking place at a plethora of festhallen spread throughout K-W. There are car shows, a golf event, a fashion show, and even an evening of jazz with a water colour painting silent auction. I’m not kidding. Indeed, there is all manner of things to do other than, you know, drink beer.
And of course, beer—which is sort of one of the main draws of any volksfest, is where the K-Dub really, really gets things wrong. That’s because from a time well before my friends and I were publicly open-handing one another in the genitals, Kitchener Waterloo’s Oktoberfest has featured beer from Molson exclusively. Specifically, the event is sponsored by Molson Canadian and, in case you’re new to Ontario, sponsorship by big brewers typically means they demand that the only beer served at said event(s) is their own. And, if you’re new to Molson Canadian, consider that it’s basically the one beer I wouldn’t even drink if it was free and I was at a party where it was the only thing to drink. Molson Canadian tastes like the liquid they drain out of the bloated abdominal cavity of a guy they find floating in a river. It tastes the way the music of Bruce Willis sounds. Molson Canadian is basically liquid sadness. The Germans have a word for how you feel after someone offers you a Molson Canadian and it is fuchsteufelswild. What I’m saying is that it’s not a good beer.
Thankfully, efforts have been made recently to provide a local Oktoberfest experience for people who have functioning taste buds and a shred of dignity. And no, I’m not talking about Bingemans.
Bingemans, the sprawling entertainment, camping, and event complex, has long been a partner of the Molson Canadian Oktoberfest and this year, with much ado from local media, has opted to part ways with the official events in order to bring festival goers some more variety, if the multitude of Bingemans press releases is to be believed. They apparently opened their beer selection options to discussion this year in response to consumers evolving tastes and, this year, are forgoing official status in order to embrace modern beer drinking tastes by partnering with…Waterloo Brewing Company.
Their current efforts to rebrand and some decent new beers notwithstanding, Waterloo Brewing, the respectable vestiges of Brick Brewing, founded in 1984, isn’t exactly a name that calls to mind the dynamic forefront of craft brewing. I get there were probably volume and *ahem* pricing considerations that came into the equation and, while I’m happy Bingeman’s has cast aside the monopolistic shackles of Molson Canadian’s Oktoberfest for technically craft beer, I’m inclined to react to the news of a new and improved Oktoberfest experience at Bingemans with a resounding, “Meh.”
Instead, the Oktoberfest news I’m excited about this year is that the owners of Kitchener’s Together We’re Bitter Brewing Co-Operative will be hosting the fourth annual Craftoberfest this weekend, a sort of alternative Oktoberfest celebration featuring beer you might actually want to drink.
A self-described “festival by the people, for the people,” Craftoberfest will feature local art, local foods, and unique German- and harvest-inspired craft beer and cider made by invited partners from across the province.
“We’re bringing in the beer that we’d want to drink ourselves,” event co-founder Alex Szaflarska tells me. “We have almost 30 breweries and cideries from all over Ontario taking part. We’ve been working with them to make sure that the beer selection reflects the season and the festival–marzens, spiced ales, pilsners, wet hopped beers. We’ve got it all.”
A brewery inviting other breweries to sell their beer right alongside them at a beer event. What a novel idea!
Among those brewers will be every member of the local Waterloo-Wellington Craft Collective as well as Black Swan, Sawdust City, Tooth and Nail, Anderson Craft Ales, Forked River Brewing, Great Lakes Brewery, Beau’s and more.
As they did last year, both the Friday and Saturday evening events are already sold out but the Daytime Festhalle is open to the public and features free admission. Organizers are expecting over 1000 people to show up to the Kitchener Market’s upper level and an adjoining outdoor beer tent.
A handful of events hawking Molson Canadian, Rickards, and Heineken, or a collection of local brewers coming together to support the community. That’s like the choice between being hit in the crotch or…you know…not being hit in the crotch.