After a couple years of throwing packed monthly events, the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies is organizing bigger beer fests in addition to their regular bevies.

The first SOBDL beer fest (Bevyfest) took place at the Evergreen Brick Works on April 1, and sold out with 800 women in attendance. That festival earned my eternal praise, because it set the bar for how great beer fests can be: well organized and executed, friendly volunteers and organizers, delicious food and most importantly, incredible beer. They even had Muskoka chairs around several firepits to offset the cold.

As we were told at this fest, the ladies were approached by Session Toronto to have an all-ladies session in Yonge-Dundas Square on June 11 from 11 am – 3 pm; the first of two sessions that day. Session is a beer fest run by The Griffin Gastropub in its seventh year. Session “started as a finale to Ontario Craft Beer Week to bring the hard working craft breweries of Ontario and all the supporters together to celebrate craft beer.” I like Session. I have attended for a few years now. This festival generally has good beer, food, music, peeps, and fun beer collaborations. It is not, however, on par with a SOBDL event.

I must emphasize: the SOBDL session was not organized by the SOBDL. The women who love SOBDL events were disappointed with Session, because through comparison, this festival highlighted the things the SOBDL does so well. Their standards are perhaps the highest of any beer fest I’ve ever been to.

Here are five key elements of Session (and most beer fests) vs a SOBDL beer fest:

  1. The beer
    The SOBDL’s motto is [Real] Ladies Drinking [Real] Beer. Their bevies always include interesting kegs made with real ingredients (i.e. no artificial flavours) from some of Ontario’s best breweries. They’re curated. At a regular beer fest, breweries pay a fee to get exposure at the fest. There’s no curation. Yes, there was a lot of great Ontario craft beer at Session, but there was also some bullshitty beer and at least one beer name that used women as the punchline (it involved melons), which always reminds me of this article.
  2. The staff
    I heard a lot of women complain about how many men were at this fest. Yes, the beer industry is male-dominated and men will be serving you at most beer events. SOBDL’s Bevyfest didn’t feel that way, perhaps because there were a maximum of two people per booth. At a regular beer fest, breweries can send as many people as they want. Another key group that helps define a fest are the volunteers. At an SOBDL event, all the organizers and volunbeers are female, whereas at a regular beer event it’s about half and half.Being surrounded by women working in the craft beer industry is rare and empowering. Through volunbeering at the Bevyfest in April, I met my (then Instagram) friend Ashley (otherwise known as bonobo_linguist) IRL and connected her with Folly, an awesome local brewpub. Their head brewer Christina Coady was pouring at the fest. About a month later, I visited Folly and Ashley served me my delicious farmhouse beer: turns out she had always wanted to work in the craft beer industry, and through my recommendation that night, checked out Folly’s open house. She is currently expanding her beer knowledge while serving great beer and conversation at Folly.
  3. The collabs
    At their first beer fest, the SOBDL collaborated with female brewers on their bevy brew. At Session, breweries collaborate with important people (often musicians) to promote their beer. These people are usually male. Though this year’s fest brought a bunch of amazing local musicians to the fest, they still enforced how beer fests are still very much by and for white men.
  4. The vibe
    This is perhaps the defining factor of all SOBDL events: the vibe is so positive and welcoming. It’s unique and refreshing. This can only happen at a beer fest organized by and for women. Bro-ey things just don’t happen, even when men are around. It’s a safe space.
  5. The discussion
    Through having a group of open-minded, interesting diverse women in the same space, incredible discussion happens. This happens naturally, but is also enforced towards the end of the event when the organizers take the mic and remind us why what we’re doing is special. At Session, I learned that one of the most rocking females I know is gay and dating her dream woman: she is the Tara to her Willow. I mentioned that I hope her band plays Session next year: let’s make this happen, Vik.

There you have it. For your beer fest to be as good as a SOBDL event, the beer, the staff, the collabs, the vibe and the discussion need to be on point. When you show up to a beer fest and these five things aren’t the same, it’s almost jarring. The all-ladies Session made it clear that it is not easy to replicate the things that make SOBDL events such a safe space for women. This is the difference between when women run a beer festival for women, vs when men run a beer festival for women.

Though it was awesome to take over a regular beer fest as a ladies-only event, and hear security staff say “sorry, your husbands will have to come back at 5 pm,” the SOBDL Session ultimately enforced why a ladies-only beer fest needs to be run by ladies. The SOBDL runs amazing events and has a loyal following thanks to the great beer and vibes they create through a positive, progressive community of rad peeps. Thank the beer gods for them.

More pics:

Beer friends at Session

SOBDL speech time with a couple of my fave ladies and 1606, a delicious red wine barrel-aged stout from Sawdust City.

RUFF Draught at SessionTO.JPG

Muskoka ladies serving RUFF Draught, their collab with rocking local indie band Born Ruffians.

Evelyn & Sawdust at Session

Yours truly with my favourite booth. Yes, Sawdust City brought 10 taps.

Big Rig collab at SessionTO

Big Rig Brewery & Central City’s Great White North hopfenweizen wheat beer with Hallertau Blanc hops, one of my favourite beers and perfect for the scorching hot weather.