1 in 10 booths served beer

Dana Bateman pours samples from Muskoka Brewery at the Ottawa Food and Wine Show. (Photo: Wayne Cuddington)

Ottawa is quickly becoming the nation’s capital of sophisticated suds. There was evidence of this all over the Ottawa Wine and Food Festival this weekend with some wondering out loud whether the event should be renamed.

“Yeah, maybe the Ottawa Craft Beer, Wine and Food Festival,” mused Devin McGee, a sales representative with Mill Street Brewery. “There are a lot more breweries here this year. Beer has become more like wine because people are interested in pairing it with food, like they do with wine.”

McGee said the craft brewery market is a gem in the overall beer industry, which is flagging as a whole while craft beer itself has been growing “30 per cent, year over year,” he said. “Craft beer is growing in a declining industry. It’s a niche that’s on fire.”

In addition to several craft breweries, many of which were local, there were larger producers and importers as well. “The big guys are here as well,” McGee said. “And we’re happy about that.”

Either way, there’s no denying beer has a presence at the Ottawa Wine & Food Festival. Maybe it’s because people are increasingly drinking both.

“The Ontario craft beer market is growing,” said Melissa Fenwick, events coordinator for Muskoka Brewery. “The local movement is huge. In our demonstrations, we’ve discovered that the foodie tends to be a wine drinker as well as a craft beer drinker. It’s all about a quality, premium product.”

Asked about beer’s presence at the show, Brett Baigrie, general manager of the Clocktower in Westboro, said he thinks it fits in well with the show.

“Beer’s everywhere,” he said, and pointed out how they were pairing their butter chicken with their pumpkin ale; beef tenderloin with their Kolsch.

Philip Ware was keeping track of the growth of beer at the festival. The sales manager for Kichesippi Beer Co. said there were eight breweries at the show three years ago, 13 last year and more than 20 this year (that’s one tenth of the total number of booths.)

“More and more people are looking at pairing beer and food,” Ware said. “Traditionally, beer was seen as something you drink with wings and nachos while watching football. But that’s changing. A big part of what we do is the education aspect — showing people how well our beers pair with food. I call our natural blonde ale ‘the Riesling of beer’.”

Up the aisle from Kichesippi, McClelland Premium Imports was also selling samples of beer. Running the booth was Paul Meek, who is regional manager for McClelland but also the owner of Kichesippi.

“Beer is taking quite a prominent role in the festival,” he said. “People’s appetite for beer is definitely taking over. People who have wanted to know about beer now have an opportunity to learn. The show is changing and (organizer Joan Culliton) knows it is.”

Over at the Beau’s All Natural Brewery Co.’s booth, Christina Stuewe echoed her colleagues’ comments. “Food and wine is a very common combination but we’re starting to see a lot of beer and wine tastings too. We do a lot of beer and cheese tastings at Beau’s.”

Beau’s co-owner and founder Tim Beauchesne said the craft beer market is the fastest growing segment in the beverage segment in North America.

“Mass-produced beers have dropped, imports have flat-lined but craft beers are growing in leaps and bounds,” he said. “We love the idea of pairing beer with good. You could really have a stand-alone craft beer and food festival.”

Big Rig Brewery is one of the newest on the market and Adamo Terranova, the bar manager at the restaurant, said the craft breweries are taking over. “Several years ago, macro-brews had a dominant role. But people can now taste the love and care put into this kind of beer. You can taste the difference.”

Granville Island Brewery’s Todd Fowler, whose company has teamed up with Creemore to carry both brands across the country, said it’s beer’s versatility that allows it to pair well with food.

“I like to drink wine but I drink it on its own. When it comes to food, I want to pair it with beer,” he said. “Beer is a dynamic part of a show that celebrates food.”

Paige Cutland, owner of HogsBack Brewing Company, said he views the festival as “being about quality eating and drinking.

“And beer is as much about a quality epicurial experience as wine is.”

Cutland said his customers are generally older, better educated, and higher-income earners “and that generally also describes the wine drinker.”

Jamie White, an owner of Broadhead Brewing Company said he thinks the name should remain the same as it’s become part of the tradition but he doesn’t think people should be surprised to find a lot of beer inside its doors.

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