Celebrating all things Irish with Les Murray, president of the Toronto Festival of Beer.

Les Murray, the son of two Dubliners, grew up in the Beermuda Triangle of Toronto, between the Labatt and the Molson and Carling-O’Keefe factories so its no surprise that he found a career in the brewing industry and later stepped away to brew up some ideas of his own. He is the president of the Toronto Festival of Beer, which runs July 24 through 26, 2015 at Exhibition Place and Bandshell Park. The Festival began twenty years ago but recent years has seen substantial growth due to the public’s new found taste for craft breweries. Expected attendance is 30,000 and tickets go quickly. 

The TFOB is open to breweries of all sizes, craft and otherwise and this year features 60 brewers with over 300 brands from all over the world. A special invite was extended to Ireland and the Irish Pavilion features ten breweries as well as Irish chefs teaming up with Canadian celebrity chefs in the Beerlicious Grilling Tent and emerging Irish bands on the Just Eat bandshell stage.
“I met a guy two years ago at the Halifax Beer Festival,” says Murray, “ a guy by the name of Seamus O’Hara. We were having a conversation about the popularity of new brewers in Ireland so I said I want to have some of you brewers down and we would make a pavilion, all Irish, in 2015. With his help and great support we have made that happen.”

O’Hara’s aka the Carlow Brewing Company will be onsite along with McGargles, the White Hag, Trouble Brewing, Eight Degrees and others. Stonewell Craft Cider will also be present. Murray says that Ireland leans towards stouts and porters but breweries are experimenting with other styles such as IPAs. The beers are based not so much on the terroir he says but on the water used. Unique regional flavours can surface depending on where the water is drawn.

Learning about the water, the hops, the process, the craft is also an integral part of the Beer Festival says Murray and several educational tours are offered including one by the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies.
“When we started this 20 years ago you would probably would have a mix of 80 per cent men and 20 per cent women. Nowadays it’s almost 50/50 in terms of women enjoying beer too. Its changed quite a bit and I think part of that is the different styles of beer; Radler is becoming very popular, Weissbier is becoming very popular. Women are enjoying those tastes and what we have tried to do is create programs within our event that are of a learning nature. So we have members from the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies, women who have gone through the Cicerone Program, they are qualified to talk about beer. They will do tours and take people around to the various brewers and do a tutoring sampling with them on site. It works out well and we get nothing but positive response from people who participate in it. We do a cider tour and for people who want gluten free we have tours that showcase those products,” he says.

Showcasing emerging Irish bands was also on the list of Murray’s To Do list and he has several bands performing plus Canadian acts, 54:40 and Lowest of the Low. Hiphop chart toppers Naught By Nature are also playing.
“Ryan O’Shaughnessy is going to be playing,” says Murray, “Delorentos is going to be playing, Hermitage Green. We have a cool act playing that my partner and I went and saw during Canadian Music Week called Hare Squead. Apparently its a flat top hair style and these young guys are absolutely great. We met them and we said to them why don’t you come back and open for Naughty By Nature on Friday. We are looking forward to having them over and giving them a little Irish Canadian hospitality.”
The Irish may have the corner on hospitality, it’s practically the national industry,  but Les Murray knows a thing or two himself about how to take care of visitors. Show them a good time and make sure there’s lots of food, music and of course beer. Lots of beer.