So this was a bit poorly planned, but I decided to write a quick review of the Roundhouse Craft Beer Fest and compare it to the Toronto Festival of Beer, which I went to for the last time a couple of years ago.
For those who don't want to read - the conclusion is go to the Roundhouse Craft Beer Fest instead of the Toronto Festival of Beer - less crowded, there are actual good beers, it is much cheaper and the food is better....also the crowd is more mature and I don't mean in terms of age, but in terms of behavior.
Entry to the Roundhouse fest cost me $20 for 2 tickets, which I got in advance online. The tickets included a sampling cup each (so 2 in total) and entry into the festival (weekend long I might add). The cups are made of glass and feel great. In fact they remind me of a small measuring glass I have so using that I was able to estimate that the sampling glasses hold around 4 oz. You may think it is not much, but each sample only costs $1...soooo...for about $4 you can get a pint of a very decent beer.
Total cost for 2 - $20 (+ tax and service fee if buying online) = ~$24
Toronto Festival of Beer
Ticket prices haven't changed in the past few years (though there are expensive packages you can get now). The cost was $39.50 per ticket, but you did get 5 tokens. I opted for the "hoptimized" tickets, which cost an extra $10 each, got you an extra 5 token per ticket and allowed you to enter an hour earlier. Again, you get a sampling cup (4 oz), however, this one is plastic (last time I went).
At the time I thought hoptimizing will be awesome - "hey, I get to beat the crowds and come in an hour early, why not?" WROOOOOONG. Everyone else had the same idea so when we showed up an hour early, there are already hundreds of people waiting in line. Great - $20 down the drain.
Also, the tickets were only good for a single day.
Total cost for 2 - $99 (+ tax) = $111.87 (no service fee when buying online when I went)
BEER SAMPLING COSTS
Unfortunately your entry fee does not get you any tokens, however, they are $1 each and you can get them in bundles of 10s and 20s. Any unused tokens can be sold back to the organizers. I got a bundle of 20 for $20 and that was enough for a single day.
Almost all samples were only 1 token. The stronger brews (near or above double ABV digits) were 2 tokens for a full sample or 1 for a half sample.
Total cost for 2 - $20
We got 20 tokens in total with our tickets but we had to get an extra 10 for $20 due to reasons outlined in the following "food" section.
Samples cost anywhere from 1 to 4 tokens each. The mead was the most expensive at 4 tokens per sample, but some of the cheaper beers (like Blue) were 1 - 2 depending on the sample size.
Total cost for 2 - $20
This year (2013) there were a bunch of food trucks selling AMAZING items for anywhere from $6 to $10. Tokens are not accepted so you have to bring some extra cash. We spent $15 on 2 slices of pizza (wood oven baked) and a fried chicken-triple waffle stacked sandwich. Though this will satisfy you for a couple of hours, I would probably budget an extra $10 if you want to stay longer.
Total cost for 2 - $15
Last time I went there were only a handful of food vendors, some of which did accept tokens, while others only cash. There was BBQ, which was pretty good, but pricey at around $9 for a rack of ribs. There were also some hamburgers and fries, but last time the food felt just so generic and overpriced. This year I heard there was some grilling event, but again, not much variety.
So here is where we spent a good deal of tokens - 6 and $9.
Total cost for 2 - $9
At first I was a bit skeptical because the exhibitors included larger local craft brewers like Amsterdam and Great Lakes Brewing, but fortunately they weren't only selling their most popular brews - they had a lot of one-offs and experimental brews. I noticed that 50% of what all brewers were offering were rare brews that you can only find in some pubs for limited time, or one-offs. The other 50% were the flagship beers, some of which you can get at the LCBO and others you can always get at most pubs.
I tried over 10 new brews and had some of the flagship ones.
Though there were over 100 brewers, they were brewers that sell their products at the LCBO and The Beer Store. It took a lot of walking around to find the "smaller" craft brewers and try the 1 or 2 "rare" beers they had on tap. Larger craft brewers like Flying Monkeys had a decent presence, but at the time they only had 1 non-flagship beer they were offering (they also had another one, but had run out already - Saturday morning).
There were some interesting brews, like a bunch of meads I was able to try (I was nice to the guy at the booth so he let me have a couple of sips of each without asking me for tokens).
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS AND TOTAL COST
Roundhouse Craft Beer Fest is geared more towards those who want to venture out and find unique beers. There were some interesting brews that would have not appealed to the general audience, but there were also some staple craft beers. The audience is mature, the atmosphere is very laid back and the place didn't start to get crowded until 3 hours after the gates opened. We managed to get a picnic table since we were one of the first ones in and we shared it with various people that came and went. The beers were good, the food was good, the entertainment was OK. I would definitely go again.
Total Cost - $59
This one is geared more towards the general public and though the organizers try to get folks who enjoy Blue and Bud to try something different, the macro brews have such a large presence that the craft brewers get lost. The macro brewers also have tons of contests and give away so much free swag, that I noticed people hovering around their booths waiting for free stuff so much so that there were no lines at most of the craft brewers.
The audience going to this event was largely people who would wait for 2 hours at a crowded club, pay $20 to get in and get a watered down $10 cocktail or a crappy $10 beer...you know who you are. No wonder I refuse to go back to the festival.
The macro brewers were crowded, but there was plenty of room near the craft brewers. One place I didn't go to was the caskapalooza tent, which cost another $20 per person to get in and there were only 10 casks for which you had to pay even more money to sample.
Total Cost - $140.87
$140.87 VS $59!!!! Not to mention that the Roundhouse passes are weekend long.