One of the first things I learned about Kitchener Waterloo, upon moving here in the spring of 2015, was that Oktoberfest is a big deal. A really big deal. It was hyped up so much over the course of the next few months that I couldn’t help feeling a little letdown when I experienced it myself.
I hadn’t really been expecting an authentic German experience, but I had hoped for a Canadian twist that included local craft beer and sausages from nearby farms. Instead, it was Molson Canadian and Schneider’s, with sides of Creemore Springs and Piller’s. Not what I had in mind.
This year promises to be better. No, the region’s official Oktoberfest hasn’t opened its doors to local, independently owned businesses. Instead, there’s a new harvest celebration in town: Craftoberfest. Organized by Alex Szaflarska and Rob Shorney, worker/owners at Together We’re Bitter Brewing Co-operative, this two-night event aims to celebrate local food, beer, art and music.
According to their website, Craftoberfest will be a festival by the people, for the people. Shorney describes the event as, “what we want Kitchener Oktoberfest to be. It’s the second largest in the world, so it should be ours. We have a huge beer culture here, but craft breweries are not invited to the major fest.”
Referencing the common misconception that craft beer events are inherently elitist, he assured me that this party is “not just about curly mustaches and folk music.”
The main festival will take place downtown Kitchener on October 7 and 8. Over 20 breweries and cider makers, many of them local, will be pouring their suds in the fest tent to kick things off on Friday night. I’ll be there representing Short Finger Brewing Co. with my partner; our little homebrew shop will be sharing a booth with the Kitchener Waterloo Craft Beer Club. On Saturday, a dance floor will be set up for a good old fashioned party.
Organizing an event of this magnitude is no easy feat. Doing it while you’re running a brewery that’s still in its infancy – and in Rob’s case, raising an actual infant – is a whole other story.
Szaflarska and Shorney have been planning this event since their team collected the keys to their would-be brewery in the fall of 2015, and it has been full steam ahead ever since. They’ve worked with city hall, with local artists and restaurants, and have coordinated a collaborative brew day with breweries from across the region. They’ve also opened their doors to companies like Short Finger, allowing us to brew in their space in preparation for the event. While TWB has been quietly footing the bill for this celebration, they aren’t looking to make a profit. This is a labour of love, and any proceeds from this year’s event will be rolled into next year’s budget.
“I really want everyone to tangibly feel that we’re trying to celebrate the community and craft beer in an honest, interesting, inclusive, and memorable way. We want to plan a party that we would ourselves want to attend,” Szaflarska shared. Tickets are still available online.