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Ace of Base and ales for all at the Queer Beer Festival

Hundreds kick up their heels to Ace of Base

Kelsey McClelland pours a nice cold one at the Queer Beer Festival. Credit: Emma Godmere

The 17th annual Toronto Festival of Beer kicked off the weekend-long event with a big queer party proclaiming, “We’re here, with beer and we’re getting used to it!”

Several hundred people were at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds Aug 4 for the country’s first Queer Beer Festival. Onstage at the CNE Bandshell, headliners Ace of Base took fans back to the ’90s with club classics “The Sign,” “All That She Wants” and “Beautiful Life.”

Kyriakos Alexopoulos says he stuck mostly to local beers, such as the wide selection of fruity flavours at the Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery and Dead Elephant Ale, from Railway City Brewing. “There was lots of selection and the prices were fair,” he says.

“I thought the [Queer Beer Festival] was pretty good. It wasn’t too busy, but it was a very fun atmosphere,” he says. “It didn’t feel very queer. And why do we even need to have a queer beer party? But it was fun. How could it not be? It was a beer festival with a bunch of gays.”

Marianna Jones, sales and marketing coordinator with McClelland Premium Imports, thinks the event will grow in coming years, as it becomes more well-known — and with the right publicity. “I hope the marketing for the beer fest is done a little better next year so we have a bigger turnout.”

Jones, like many vendors and beer specialists, is working to inform consumers that there is such a wide variety of beer, chances are there is one for everyone.

“It takes away the notion of just having wine connoisseurs. Now we can actually turn them into beer connoisseurs, to understand the vast variety of beers and the uniqueness of it.”

McClelland imports Fruli, a strawberry-flavoured fruit beer from Belgium. Sweeter and lighter beers are marketed heavily to women and to the gay community, but many people won’t try non-standard beers because there is a notion that they are somehow not authentic. Jones and other brewers and importers want to debunk this theory.

“Belgians were using fruit before hops,” she says. “If you have water, hops, malt, yeast and fruit, that’s beer.”

Mirella Amato is a cicerone of beers, the equivalent of a wine sommelier, and the founder of beerology.ca. She says people shouldn’t be embarrassed about liking different beers; they should be open to trying any kind, sweet or not.

“I drew a connection between the kinds of beers that are being marketed toward the queer community and the kind of beers that are being marketed toward women,” says Amato. “Let’s keep it light, let’s keep it sweet, let’s keep it fruity.”

While she understands the approach of removing bitterness and adding sweetness so that people who are not beer drinkers can enjoy beer, Amato finds the marketing restricting.

“Every woman has their own taste. I’m sure every human being on this planet has their own taste. You can’t just put someone in a box based on random criteria and think all these people are going to drink the same beer. I don’t get it.”

That said, Amato points out that there are now beers brewed specifically for the gay community. Queer Beer, a light lager with a hint of raspberry, was released in Winnipeg in support of that city’s Pride festival.

Amato also mentions two pioneering Mexican beers launched in February of this year, by Minerva Brewery. The first is Salamandra, representative of the salamander, a symbol of the gay community in Mexico; the second, Purple Hand, is an homage to a famous gay rights protest in San Francisco.

Amato believes the focus should be on flavour, not marketing, despite the uniqueness of the queer-focused ales.

“I find it perplexing,” she says. “I might try a beer because the packaging is intriguing, but I will try any beer that I’ve never had before.”

“I’m certainly not going to drink something based on the way it looks or what it’s called. I’m going to drink it based on how it tastes,” advice she hopes people will use when ordering a drink. “I think the solution is trying as many beers as possible, and find a beer that you like, based on your tastes.”

Check out the rest of the Toronto Festival of Beer, Aug 5–7. For more information, go to beerfestival.ca.

– With files from Andrea Houston