Wednesday, 12 October 2016

A very special day... done twice

My oldest niece, Genny, married her 10-year boyfriend
Rory during a service at the Halifax Trade Centre over
the weekend. It was the first marriage for any of my
nieces and nephews... but was being held a second time!
It was a very special day.... that actually happened twice. Yes, a little confusing but when it comes to the Redmonds and the Whelans, well, everything is confusing.

Let me back up. My oldest niece, Genny, married her 10-year boyfriend, Rory in a beautiful service before 50-plus friends and family at the Halifax Trade Centre this past Sunday. She was my first niece or nephew to get married. So that's a pretty big deal. Oddly, while she was seven years old two weeks ago and just entering Grade 2 in Uncle Donny Time, it turns out she's really 29 in Actual Time. I don't know how the hell that happened...

Now Genny is a product of both the Redmonds and the Whelans, meaning my sister, Carly and her former husband Paddy. Now for this event, the Whelans were out in full force - Paddy, brothers Timmy, Danny and Johnny and sister Mary. I have always felt a little sorry for Mary because when the Whelan boys are together in the same room, there is more testosterone and one-up-manship than your average NFL locker room. That said, they're entertaining, cool and very funny guys.

The Redmonds were a little more sparingly represented with her mom Carly, me, our Mom, my boy David... and that was about it.
Maid of Honour Emily, shown here with her cousin
David had us all in stitches and tears with her speech,
which she opened by saying, "I've been told by Genny
that I'm not allowed to discuss any situations that did
involve sex, drugs or alcohol. That leaves me scraping
the bottom of the barrel (for things I can talk about.)"
My brother lives in Spain and my father has been gone for more than a decade. However, while David and I alone can't match the Whelan boys for testosterone levels, due to sheer numbers, we do exceed them in volume. Every family has its strengths. And together, Carly and Paddy created three absolutely gorgeous daughters - Genny, Emily and Nora - and one exceptionally handsome son, Thomas. I'm not just saying that because Tom is the spitting image of me. Oh, wait... yes, I am. And much like their Whelan side, all are doctors, nurses or soon will be. So the smart stuff runs deep in this brood. But that also comes from Carly (doctor) and Grandma Jay (former nurse) but not so much from me (former journalist-Beer Store worker) or my brother Gary (we're still not sure.)

What the Redmonds, Whelans and now Rory's family, the MacLellan's, all do seem to have in common is a wicked sense of humour. Rory, his Best Man and brother, Genny and Emily kept us all is stitches during their speeches. Which is what this is all about.

But it was left to Paddy to explain why this was their second wedding during his speech. You see, the Whelan clan's Uncle Jimmy was the Archbishop of Halifax. Many months ago, Father Jimmy fell ill and it did not look good.
David at the front of Garrison's Brewing, a
Halifax institution since 1997. They have a
damn good IPA called Hoppy Buoy. This was
the first stop on what David called Beer Fest.
So while Father Jimmy was still here, Genny and Rory asked if he would marry them. In front of a dozen or so people this past Spring, Father Jimmy did precisely that. "It was the last religious ceremony he ever performed," Paddy told us in a halting voice on Sunday. "And it meant the world to him." If that gesture is not our combined families in a nut-shell, then I don't know what is. The scales are always balanced between laughter and love. When we're not fighting. Rory had a moment in his speech to Genny that pretty much summed it up. "I promise to love you with purpose. I promise to love you with passion," he said, before adding with a sly smile, "And sometimes I might completely misinterpret the situation." In about 20 words, this bright young man described every relationship ever. But you know, this is their second marriage this year. You'd hope they have this shit nailed down by now.

So the wedding, the reception and the reconnecting of all the Whelans and some of the Redmonds was completely awesome, as well as meeting all the new folks, particularly the MacLellans. Just a wonderful time and a warm memory that will last a lifetime for all of us.

But while the wedding was on Sunday, we landed Friday afternoon and weren't leaving until Monday afternoon. That left me some play-time. And you know I made good use of it by charting out every craft brewery in and around Halifax for a bit of a tour on Saturday.
My boy, David, entertained Jeff during our stop to
Greg Nash's Unfiltered Brewing. As I did have David
posing for a picture holding my beer, he got carded
for the first time ever. He was thrilled as I produced
his Health Card. Lots of fun for an iced tea drinker!
There were too many too visit in one day so I narrowed it down to Garrison's and Propeller, the standard bearers who have been there since 1997, effectively the pair that created the craft beer market in Halifax, as well as brash newcomers, Good Robot, North and brewmaster Greg Nash's hop-slaying monster Unfiltered Brewing.

Then a request came from Jackie, a long-time family friend and former girlfriend of Paddy's. Hearing of my planned excursion, she asked: Would we mind if her long-time boyfriend, Jeff, joined us? Of course not. If Jackie, very much loved by all of us, is with him, he's a good guy. Beginning and end of story, period. Also, Jackie volunteered to take my Mom on a tour of the coastline at the same time as she had little interest in our brewery shenanigans... so done deal. Win-win. And while David had already named this little excursion "Beer Fest," in the end, he was pretty much right. For me and Jeff, it certainly was.

While Jackie scooted off with my Mom, the three of us piled into the rental - me behind the wheel, Jeff on the passenger side acting as navigator with the downtown Halifax map I had prepared and David in the back as tour guide chatterbox. We started at Garrison's, pretty much right on the Atlantic Ocean.
One Propeller server, Kordeena, brightened up
after I asked if I could take her picture. She said
she had been in a crappy mood but having her
picture taken turned it around. Hey, that was easy.
We split a paddle of five samplers while David happily enjoyed his bottled water. After that, we began to realize how compact downtown Halifax truly is, compared to Toronto.

According to the map, the longest drive we would have this day would be from Garrison's to Propeller. With Jeff reading out "turn left here... turn right here", we were there in seven minutes. After that, it was pretty much, "Okay, turn left here and go for... oh wait, I think we just passed it." It was just that easy. We were stunned. Jeff and I are so used to Toronto distances that Halifax distances aren't even cab-worthy. They're walking distances. As we were told by many craft brewery workers on this day.

But Propeller was a lot of fun. I've had their Propeller IPA here in Ontario, which I thought was just okay but never their Propeller Double IPA, which is really good. I'll get to that next time, as it wasn't on their taps, so let's talk about their Propeller Pale Ale which was on our paddle. They call this a British-style pale ale but believe me, it has some nice west coast kick to it. It was bottle-served at the bar in the Prince George Hotel at which we were all staying and after sampling it on the paddle, it was my Home-Base Go-To Brew.
Jessica from Unfiltered Brewing (recently
landed out east from BC) took care of all my
hop needs on this wonderful Beer Fest day.
Particularly when a bunch of us guys ditched the reception to watch the last few innings as the Toronto Blue Jays beat Texas in Game Three of the ALDS at the hotel bar. Yeah, that Propeller Pale Pale had a solid malt backbone but at just 5% and probably around 30 IBU (international bitterness units), it was also fruity on the nose with a nice citrus, bitter finish. Loved it.

But I have three more Propeller beers to talk about next time, as well as some really stellar stuff from Garrison's so you'll have to hang tight. Or hang loose. I've just landed back here from the East Coast so that Maritime looseness is still upon me. Believe me, it's a different atmosphere... waaaaay more laid back. But my favourite part of visiting Propeller was telling our server, Adam, that his place of business used to be a strip club back in his Grandfather's day. After he laid out some of the brewery's history to the three of us (as any knowledgeable server should), I dropped that little bombshell on him. His eyes lit up. "I didn't know that!" I think his brewery just gained some serious Street Cred in his young mind.

The next stop on our trip was accidental. I had meant for Beer Fest to end at Unfiltered Brewing as it was my primary goal all day. But the next three breweries by geographical order were North, Cool Robot and then finally Unfiltered. The thing is after leaving Propeller, we drove past them all within minutes.
Yes, despite being in a small strip-mall with only
two other places and having this huge grain solo
outside, Jeff and I drove right past Unfiltered...
We were still completely sober. They were just that close to Propeller that we expected them to be farther away. The map indicated that to a couple of Toronto guys. So it looked like Unfiltered Brewing was next on the list as it was the first one on the map when we turned around.

Now let me explain why Unfiltered Brewing was, in essence, my Holy Grail during this trip. More than a year ago, Liam McKenna, the Brewmaster at St. John's, Newfoundland's Yellowbelly Brewing, assured me that once renegade brewer Greg Nash got his new brewery up and running, it was gonna be a hop shit-show. That was confirmed by blushing bride Genny herself, who worked with him at a brew-pub many moons ago. "I love Greg Nash," she told me. "He's a genius." So the dude came with some seriously strong appraisals, both from a pro and family alike.

Was it earned? Oh hellz yeah! These are some of the best IPAs I've ever had in Canada. While Jeff, the stout and porter lover, helped himself to the Flat Black Jesus Stout at 7% and 70 IBUs, I jumped in with the Double Orange Double IPA, a Citra-hop monster at 7.5% and 100+ IBUs. I sipped Jeff's stout and it was outstanding but my Double Orange? Beautiful citrus aroma, tons of fruit on the tongue. This Nash guy knows how to goose the hell out of a hop.
I happily drank my Twelve Steps To Zion Imperial
IPA in my room at the Prince George Hotel. From
one hop bomb to another with Unfiltered Brewing...
While the hops in mine were instantly noticeable, Jeff noted that the heaviness of the stout masked the hops in his glass. But a nice, light-hearted moment came when I stepped outside the small bar to take a picture of Jeff hoisting his glass while I had David hold up mine. At that point, server Krista wisely came over to see if David had ID since, you know, he was holding a beer. (Good call.) So I gave her his Health Card and as it was, at age 25, he was a couple of years older than her. So the two of them happily chatted away for a few minutes as David poured on his usual charm.

After we finished, I walked into their retail shop where server Jessica totally talked me into buying a one-litre (34 ounce) howler of his Twelve Steps to Zion Imperial IPA as well as an Unfiltered tulip glass. (Not even remotely true. I was the insistent one. Jessica, who recently landed in Halifax from BC, was a sweetheart. I just couldn't buy more Unfiltered product quite fast enough.) Whoa, when I had some at back at the hotel, I learned this one kicked some major ass. On the nose, it's pine, peaches, citrus and hops. On the tongue, the 8%, also 100+ IBU nard-kicker delivers juicy hops and more fruit. Mr Nash is batting 1.000 with me!

As well as having a two-storey restaurant facility (on the right, not visible
in this picture), Good Robot Brewing has this huge patio area which was
bustling when we arrived. As facilities go, this was the most publicly-
accessible of all the breweries we visited during "Beer Fest." Just huge!
Even though we hadn't had very much beer in total, because I had a rental, we decided one more stop and that would be it. With both Good Robot and North in striking distance, we settled on Good Robot because our Propeller server Adam had suggested we get to their brewery and try their corn beer. That's precisely what Jeff did when we ordered our flight, adding the brewery's Tom Waits For No One Stout. On my end, I ordered a North Halifax Common Pale Ale and an Unfiltered Riddle of Steel IPA. Except for one thing. I didn't realize I was reading off the guest brewery chalkboard so the pale ale was made by North and yes, the IPA was made by Unfiltered. I honestly thought those were just their names.
A Good Robot and a Young Boy... David poses near one
of the vats at Good Robot Brewing painted up as a robot
(I think). It looks a little like a boom-box with legs but
still a great logo and some really good atmosphere there!
Three different Unfiltered IPAs in one day. I should have bought a lottery ticket!

To be honest, I don't think Jeff was overwhelmed with his Leave Me Blue Corn Lager, which the brewery describes as a California Common - a style where a micro does their own take on a macro beer, in this case, a pale lager. Well, he didn't say he disliked it but I think he found it far too mild, especially for a stout lover. Keep in mind, too, that many macro brewers use corn (as well as rice and oats) as adjuncts (filler) to save costs. At 5% and 16 IBU, this might be a little too close to a macro beer. However, that said, he loved their Tom Waits For No One Stout. Their 8% stout was perfectly roasty and coffee - right up his alley!

Well, due to my lack of attentiveness, an issue that dogs me in daily life, I found myself in Good Robot drinking two beers that weren't even theirs. But given their hugely accessible-to-the-public set-up, these guys aren't going anywhere. So next time I'm in Halifax, I'll start with them and then go to Unfiltered. And then go back and forth between the two until someone has to pour me into a cab. It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. I'm just that giving.
Hey, she's my oldest niece so I have to finish this with
her, right? After all, an invite to her wedding meant a
fun trip to four really great Halifax craft breweries!!

The 5% Halifax Common Pale Ale was a solid outing by the North crew - a touch of sweetness, spice and fruit on the nose while on the tongue, it was a little more spice and malt on the tongue. Oddly, this is a Summer Seasonal brew for the outfit whereas pale ales are year-round in Ontario. But just looking at their roster, these guys seem to specialize in saisons. Every brewery has their thing. But let's face it - realizing I had another Unfiltered IPA on my paddle meant anything else was merely an appetizer. The 7%, 70 IBU Riddle of Steel IPA was all fruit and citrus on the nose, tons of grapefruit on the beautifully-bitter tongue. Someone call Spinal Tap because Greg Nash also turned it up to 11.

Okay, I'll be back in a day or so with a closer look at what I had from Garrison's and Propeller because these guys aren't resting on their 20-year histories, cranking out fresh new and very cool stuff at every turn. And probably a couple more wedding bits because it was so much fun and Halifax stories because that's the farthest east in Canada I've ever been. But one thing I did learn watching late-night TV in my hotel is that there's still phone-sex ads. Really? These days, what kind of twisted bastard enjoys talking on the phone? But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time (very soon), I remain, as always...

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Filtered versus Unfiltered IPAs

Garage Project Brewing's (Wellington, New Zealand) head brewer Pete
Gillespie holds up his murky Party & Bullshit East Coast IPA, which the
brewery very deliberately entered into the Malthouse's West Coast IPA
Challenge at the end of July. The entry raised more than a few eyebrows.
Some 20 years ago, there was a big clash between East Coast American rappers and their West Coast counterparts. As you may (or may not) remember, it didn't end well.

Now I have absolutely no idea what was at the root of their fatal conflict. One of the realities of being a skinny, white Canadian boy is that you are largely insulated from the inner socio-political workings of American urban warfare. All we really hear about up here is Hillary vs The Donald and frankly, that is more than enough. There's 319 million Americans and through all of this, you narrowed it down to those two?
As you can see, The Alchemist Brewery out of Stowe,
Vermont urges you to drink their Heady Topper Imperial
IPA straight out of the can. Why? The brewers say it
retains the hops better if they are not released by pouring
it into a glass. Another theory? It's just butt-ugly looking.
But that's none of my business so carry on.

Back to the big rap battle. You see, on the east coast, you had The Notorious B.I.G and his New York record label, Bad Boy Records. On the west coast was Tupac Shakur and his LA record label Death Row Records. And both sides despised each other... again, for reasons Canadians are not allowed to know. Apparently. How did it all end? Both were killed in drive-by shootings - Shakur in 1996, B.I.G a year later, proving there are several routes that go Straight Outta Compton. (Too soon?)

Well, two decades later, there's another west coast-east coast feud a-brewin' but it's far less likely to end in bloodshed. No, this one is over two styles of IPAs - the clean, filtered west coast style and the murky, unfiltered east coast style, which is rapidly gaining popularity.

My first exposure to the East Coast Style came last Summer when Rib Eye Jack's Ale House's general manager Steve gifted me with a Heady Topper Imperial IPA, made by The Alchemist Brewing, located in Stowe, Vermont.
My beer writing buddy, Robert, aka Drunk Polkaroo, does
what nearly every craft beer lover does when presented
with a can of Heady Topper. He sampled a sip straight out
of the can and then poured the balance into a glass. Many
of us are very reluctant to drink any beer from the can.
Right at the top, it says: "Drink from the can!" Three times. Clearly, they are trying to be emphatic about that. Once poured into a glass, I knew why. It looked like something that could use a little quality time at a wastewater treatment plant. Funky little floaties were in there. Completely opaque, you couldn't see through it. It looks more like a mango fruit juice than a beer. But holy crap on a cross, it was one of the tastiest Imperial IPAs I had ever had. Ignoring the brewery's advice, I drank from a glass. I wasn't alone. When the Beer Advocate ran a Heady Topper can-vs-glass poll three years ago, 52.3% said go for the glass, leaving 47.7% opting to follow the brewery's instructions. The Alchemist owner, John Kimmich, explains that keeping it in the can preserves the flavour and hop aroma by preventing the oxidization that pouring it into a glass creates. He maintains that in a glass, even as little as 20 minutes later, what you are drinking "is a completely different beer." Okay but I've never let a can tell me what to do so into a glass that bad boy went.
The gang at Country Brewers in New South Wales,
Australia try to show us the difference between unfiltered
beer on the left and the same beer after filtration on the
right. But the simple fact is tons of unfiltered beers look a

lot more like the one on the right. We will explain shortly.
And for the record, it would be a stretch to suggest the beer lasted 20 minutes with me.

But I got a huge laugh recently when Beer Bro Stevil St Evil's neighbourhood brewery Garage Project very deliberately entered an East Coast Style IPA called Party & Bullshit in the local watering hole's Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge held at the end of July. To be clear, Garage Project is to Stevil what Nickel Brook is to me. Except where Nickel Brook is a quick five minute drive for me, Stevil can see both the Garage Project brewery and their recently-opened bar across the street from the living room window of his Wellington, New Zealand perch. It is an even quicker five-minute walk.

Okay, the single criteria for the Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge is this: it has to be West Coast style!!! Frankly, that still leaves a humongous amount of creative leeway and Stevil suggests that the entries are getting hoppier, boozier and wilder every year.
Stevil St Evil, looking styling as always with his
Hawaiian shirt, hoists a pint of Ballast Point
Brewing's (San Diego) Sculpin IPA at Golding's
Free Dive, a popular pub in Wellington. As you
can see, Stevil prefers his IPAs clean and filtered.

Frankly, for my money, the next biggest challenge involved that day must be how our mutual buddy, award-winning New Zealand beer writer Neil Miller survives it as a perennial judge. This year, he had to sample 25 entries of high-alcohol, hoppier-than-hell IPAs... before noon! He claims to be Scottish but there must be some Viking blood in his ancestry. Dude's a warrior. Like Thor... but of beer drinking.

But let's get Stevil's review of his neighbourhood's brewers odd-ball entry, shall we? (Yes, I think we shall.) "Oh yeah, I tried that Garage Project one. I think they did it as a joke. Unfiltered but it tasted pretty damn good! There are a few unfiltered IPAs around the world but generally, people don't like to see floatie bits in their beer. A few breweries try that and to purists, it's a good thing. But meh, gimme filtered every time."

Except for the filtration part because the jury is out on that, Stevil is all around my theory but he nailed it with his next comment. "While the West Coast IPA Challenge is an awesome event, it's usually a gimme that there'll be four to five legit contenders for wins with the judges and the rest of the entries are in there for a bit of fun and exposure."
Stevil's local five-year-old brewery is actually a former
gas station-auto repair garage that is now cranking out
some of the coolest brews in Wellington, New Zealand...

♫ Ding ding ding, we have a winner... Lessee, Stevil said joke, fun and finally, exposure. Two weeks after the Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge was Wellington's biggest beer festival of the year - the two-day Beervana. By basically entering a cat into a Dog Show, Garage Project got a ton of press about their strange-but-tasty entry just 14 days before Beervana. The same event where Party & Bullshit was officially released to the craft-loving public. Sneaky? Perhaps. Duplicitous? No, that'd be stretching the definition. Clever? Oh hell to the yeah! Give me a proper haircut, get me in a nice suit and throw me in a court of law and I'm sure I could make a strong case for ingenious. And in the end, as Stevil said, it tasted "pretty damn good."

So as Hamlet once famously said, "Floatie bits or not floatie bits?" That is the question." To which I reply, "Why not both, you candy-ass Danish D-Bag?"
Even Superman couldn't see through this beer. It's
thick, dirty and opaque... but dammit, it's delicious!!!
So let's go there because that ball seems to be rolling. And let's start with the nastiest-looking East Coast Imperial IPA I have ever seen - The Calling Imperial IPA by Boulevard Brewing out of Kansas City, Missouri. Remember my description of Heady Topper? Well, this looks like a Heady Topper ate a can of Spaghettio's and then barfed it into a fermentation vat that wasn't told filters were invented. Floaties? Try chunkies.

Okay, for starters, I should point out that Kansas City is smack-dab in the middle of the good ol' USA, exactly 4,870 miles (7,840 kilometres) away from the Atlantic Ocean. So the east-coast style is something that's clearly transportable across state lines, unlike illegal firearms, some plants, minors and a dead body. But how does it taste? Well, as Garage Project head brewer Pete Gillespie also famously said of their Party & Bullshit, "It's fugly but it's delicious." That would be a damn accurate description for The Calling IPA, as well.
Let's go from a (Notorious) B.I.G east coast style
IPA to an even B.I.G.G.E.R west coast style IPA.
Stone Brewing's Ruin Ten Triple IPA. Yeah, it's
a lot cleaner looking but way more deadly. Two
great examples of the same style done differently.

Tons of citrus, orange and grapefruit on the nose, the pine and some solid malt bounced off the tongue. The 8.5%, 75 IBU (international bitterness units) beer may look like a dog's breakfast but it's all filet mignon in the mouth. I gave co-worker Jay-Dawg a couple and he reported back, "It was really tasty but... it nasty (looking)!" In fairness, I did warn him of its visual similarity to raw sewage. This is highly recommended to all hopheads and other people willing to put ugly things in their mouths. (All at once, everyone stares at the Kardashian sisters.)

So let's take a trip to the west coast and have a look at that IPA style for a moment. Stone Brewing out of Escondido, California is an excellent place to start as they brew my favourite, most-easily-accessible American brew, Stone Ruination Double IPA. By easily accessible, I mean simply that they distribute coast-to-coast so a quick trip to Niagara Falls, New York (45 minutes down the road) is all I need. Heady Topper and the equally-elusive Pliny The Elder by Russian River Brewing are only available in their local regions. If you're in the right place. On the right day. At exactly 10:47 am or 2:26 pm. (Times are subject to change at the whims of the Ancient Gods.) Yes, it's that tricky getting those two crown jewels.
Muskoka Brewing does not filter any of their beers but
as you can see here, it doesn't look like something that a
yak... well,.. yacked up. Like many craft brewers, they
rely on a centrifuge to separate the solids from the beer 

Okay, so back in 2012, Stone decided to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of their beloved-by-all-but-especially-me Ruination Double IPA with a special edition that they dubbed Ruination 10, in which they upped the hops and the alcohol. (That noise you hear is the villagers cheering.) So they threw a full five pounds of hops into each barrel and goosed the ABV from 8.5% to 10.8% before declaring to the hop-starved masses, "Hear ye, hear ye... This now be a Triple IPA!" (More cheering, yadda, yadda, yadda.) The new beer was so popular that they have made it every year since, always releasing it once-a-year in June and now simply calling it Ruin 10 Triple IPA.

Now this beer came to me courtesy of Beer Bro Glenn, who seemingly does these illicit cross-border runs as often as I spark up another smoke. (What? Were you under the illusion I only had one bad habit? Seriously? I can count 12 before I butt out a ciggy and that's with forgetting to include the smoke itself as one. I'd deep-fry smokes if it didn't make them hard to light.)
Beer buddy, Hago Vanayan, aka The Van Man, posted this picture
of Amsterdam Brewing's unfiltered Boneshaker IPA on Twitter.
It is a perfect example of how unfiltered does not mean unclean.
Also, isn't this a fantastic picture? Simple but super powerful...

So that Ruin Ten Triple IPA? How was it? Well, on a scale of one-to-Gal-Gadot-As-Wonder-Woman, this one fought alongside Superman. On the bottle, Stone calls it a "stage dive into a mosh pit of hops." At 10.8%, that's more realistically "a slurry stumble backwards off a stage" but hey, semantics. An absolute bomb-blast of tropical fruit on the nose, the brewery was wise enough to give a rock-solid malt backbone to counter the bitter orange peel on the tongue. A deliciously dangerous beer! When I posted it on Instagram, Polkaroo piped up instantly, "I love this beer! I only bought one and almost headed back over the border for more!" Just wait a bit, Polk. Glenn should be crossing that border in another... *looks at watch*... 10 minutes ago. So, Glenn, thank you! This was outstanding.

But bringing this screaming and yelling back to the filtered vs unfiltered debate, Stevil drank tons of unfiltered beers during his trip to Canada last Summer. That's because many of our craft brewers employ a centrifuge to separate the solids from the beer. It's a form of filtering, to be sure, but it leaves beers just a little hazy rather than funky-chunky. As you may remember from high school Science, a centrifuge spins at a high rate, separating the beer from, well, the bits that make it beer. But I'll let Muskoka Brewing out of Bracebridge, Ontario, explain the advantage and appeal of the centrifuge over traditional filtering, as none of their beers are filtered, not even their Craft Lager.
On September 21, this talented man, Jeff Woodworth,
the head brewer at Barrie's Barnstormer Brewing,
celebrated his 32nd birthday with a 32-ounce stein of
deliciousness. Gotta love the symmetry of the 32-for-32
but now Jeff has to find a 33-ounce stein for next year.

On their website, Muskoka says, "Unlike filtration which strips out yeast, hops and protein particles, a centrifuge relies on centrifugal force for beer clarification. Since the beer is never passed through a filter, you may notice a slight haze. We feel that more essential hops oils and proteins contribute to an improved hop flavour and mouthfeel."

So the final verdict? There is none. Hung jury. Enjoy the style you like best. As for me? Well, my motto of "Drink all the beers!" seems to work well. But to be honest, more than a few customers at my Beer Store have brought back Muskoka products, thinking they had gone bad due to little particles floating around like glitter on a sorority girl's eye-shadow. So what do I say with these customers? I blind them with Science, baby! Centrifuge Science! By the time they walk back out with their product still in hand, they are convinced they are about to consume the protein shake of craft beers. Not to mention, several customers now think I'm a little more Bill Nye The Science Guy than I actually am. My high school Science marks would attest to the truth. But hey, guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here!!! Until next time, I remain, as always...

Friday, 16 September 2016

"And this one time... at 5 Paddles..."

Hey, look where I am!! It's 5 Paddles Brewing in
Whitby!! Fortunately, I had my trusty photographer
(and son) David along for the ride to provide this
photographic evidence to support my claim here...
A little less than a month ago, my son David and I were visiting my life-long friend, Johnny, and his wife Trish at their comfy suburban home in Whitby.

If I take the toll Highway 407 from Burlington to Whitby, it's about an hour and a half to get there. That's a little more costly as a travel route but it would take something like three or more hours to get there via Toronto's always-clogged Highway 401, which is brutal. I have been in 401 traffic jams at midnight. Really? Who the hell is on the road at midnight? Well, apparently, me. And the thing is it's pointless to get angry about traffic jams, the reason being you are never stuck in traffic. No, the simple fact is you are traffic! You'd be getting angry at a situation in which you are a key component. That's what makes Canadian Road Rage a rarity. We don't really yell at others. And frankly, we're good until some guy starts screaming in German. Because that shit is just plain frightening to hear.

So having visited them long before Highway 407 was even built, I'll gladly spend $50 round trip for a deserted stretch of road and the expediency of that route. At a certain point in your life, time becomes more important than money. I mean, in my youth, I always said I wanted to "make ridiculous amounts of money." I now realize I should have chosen my words a little more carefully.

But back to the visit, it seems my boy David is somewhat obsessed with time, as well. A naturally-curious lad, it seems his favourite question is, "How long have you known me?" I have no idea why that's important to him but it certainly seems to be. At first, I thought perhaps he measured our importance in his life by that equation but that doesn't seem to be the case. He's happy with people either way, whether he's just met you or known you for years. I honestly think he just wants to know.
This is always an entertaining part of a weekend
at Johnny's. I call it the ritual DVD Negotiations
whereby David pours through the massive
collection of DVDs at his Uncle Johnny's and
then negotiates which ones he is allowed to
"borrow". And by that, I mean keep. At my

insistence, he usually only gets two or three.
The biggest part of being a Dad isn't understanding the why's of our children's various whims. It's just learning to go with the flow. And if you find the trait annoying, you just say it must come from his mother's side.

And so the Question Period unfolded on Johnny's and Trish's patio. Uncle Johnny was on deck. "Well, I have know you since the day you were born so I've known you 25 years." Indeed, I believe Uncle Johnny was one of the first, if not the first, visitor David had when we got him home. The two girls were easy. Since Melissa is 19 and my rambunctious god-daughter Julia is 12, that's how long they've known him. Then came his Aunt Trish and since she and John hadn't even met when David was born, it was actually a pretty good question. One I certainly didn't know the answer to. "I would say I have known you for 19 years," said Trish. "You see, your Dad used to come visit us on weekends when he didn't have you so he and Uncle John could hang out. But when Melissa was born and there was a baby in our house, that's when he started bringing you, too. So you could see the baby." I honestly had no idea that's how it all unfolded all those years ago.

Then Uncle Johnny added the cherry on top. "And even back then, you were always the happiest little boy ever!" David beamed. I beamed even brighter. Yeah, my boy has that extra chromosome and man, he rocks the hell out of it. The world's happiest, sweetest kid.
David poses by the chalkboard of treats at 5 Paddles
when we stopped in on August 20. And I remember
that day well. It was the day of the final Tragically Hip
concert and the boys at Paddles had their tunes blazing

But there was another visitor to the festivities over the weekend. Trish's friend Susan was popping by because she heard Trish's "craft beer friend" was going to be there. Now Susan is a big supporter of Whitby's three-years-old brewery, 5 Paddles and as such, she came bearing a gift for me. A bottle of 5 Paddles' Home Sweet Home. That was pretty thoughtful. What style is the beer, I asked her, reading the label and only seeing references to honey and vanilla. "It's yummy!" came her enthusiastic reply. "Well, then," I smiled, "I'm glad we got that settled." When I got home, I Googled it and the Home Sweet Home is listed as a Spice-Herb-Vegetable beer, the ubiquitous category brewers use when creating specialty beers that don't fall among the usual styles. Hey, I'm always game. My credo since I started this column has always been: "I will try any beer!" A free one is a gimme!

Because I missed 5 Paddles during our July visit, there was no way that was going to happen again. When I Googled their location afterwards, I was kind of mortified to see they were on Hopkins Street, right across the road where I had previously visited Brock Street Brewing.
This was my 5 Paddles score! Their In Your Face IPA, a
bottle of Home Sweet Home and finally their Lunch
Money Pale Ale! All three were strong in different ways.
Of course, my co-worker Jay-Dawg also got In Your Face
and Lunch Money as he likes his beers tasty and hoppy.
When I told Beer Bro Stevil St Evil of my blunder, he was howling. You see, at that moment, he was planning a month-long visit to the UK and courtesy of Google, he had always charted a course to every bar and brewery he planned to visit in England, Scotland and Ireland - three very separate countries. That I missed a craft brewery literally across the street from the one I had visited at the same time he was charting out dozens upon dozens of bars and breweries hundreds of miles apart, well, I earned what was coming. "That is the biggest rookie mistake ever!" he yelped. "Have I taught you nothing?" Well, that's not exactly true. Stevil has taught me there is no such thing as substance abuse. He prefers to think of it as "teaching substance a valuable lesson!"

Well, I made no mistake this time around. Stopping in at 5 Paddles, I checked out the selection and since I already had a Home Sweet Home, I grabbed a pair of In Your Face IPAs and a couple of Lunch Money Pale Ales - one each for me and a pair for coworker Jay-Dawg, who loves to get his hop on. As it was August 20, the day of their last ever concert, the Tragically Hip blasted across the sound system in the brewery. "At The Hundredth Meridian" was the tune of choice when we arrived with "Ahead By A Century" playing on our way out.
Spencer McCormack is one of the five guys who started up
5 Paddles three years ago. The other four are Mike Bray,
Ed Woods, JP Tibensky and Ian Mills. Ironically, the
brewery won five medals at the 2016 Ontario Brewing
Award held in April with both In Your Face and Home
Sweet Home among those taking hardware back to them.
Turns out, intentionally or not, it's all about numbers at 5 Paddles.

Well, since this is a beer blog, let's see what was in that goodie bag, shall we? Let's start with the gift - the Home Sweet Home. Reading on the label that it was brewed with vanilla and honey malt, it was far less sweet on the nose than I expected though the vanilla was lightly discernible. But on the tongue, this 5.5% beer kicks it up on the sweet tooth scale. The more I sipped it, the more honey and vanilla I got. Fortunately, the body was nicely light so it wasn't overpowering. What the brewery has created here is a near-perfect dessert beer, one that would pair beautifully with cake and coffee.

Okay, right off the top, the In Your Face IPA has one of the sickest labels ever! First thing Jay said? "Okay, that's a cool label." Oh yeah. And the beer was pretty darn good, too. I got some fruit and pine on the nose with lots more of the same, especially the fruit, as well as some straw on the tongue.
Last time, Daddy posed by the Brock Street Brewing sign out front
of the Hopkins Street brewing. This time, David got his moment...
At just 6.2% and I'm guessing 65 to 70 IBUs (international bitterness units), this is a solid IPA. Whitby drinkers are well-served by this one. I quite liked it but Jay really enjoyed it.

No, my favourite on this day would be their Lunch Money Pale Ale. At 6.4% (slightly higher than the In Your Face) and 42 IBUs, this has a huge whiff of juicy tropical fruit on the nose followed by more of the same on the tongue. This high-test pale ale would definitely be my go-to brew if I was a Whitby resident. Really nice job on this one, so much so that it hardly even reminded me that bullies used to steal my Lunch Money... *Quietly sobs in a corner *

Well, of course, there's no way I'm travelling to Whitby without visiting my fun-loving homies and homettes at Brock Street Brewing. But to be honest, it may be my last visit to the Hopkins Street establishment! Ever!
This photo, courtesy of my buddy Paul The Beer
Guy, shows Brock Street's Taylor manning their
front counter. It was Taylor who served me when
David and I visited in July and noticing David
look around the bar into the brewery, she asked
him if he wanted to go back there. With all the
shiny toys back there, David was gone like a shot.
People like Taylor are what makes Brock Street
the fun brewery it is. She is a total sweetheart...
Okay, that sounds a little more ominous than it should. The actual fact is quite some time back, the brewery bought the property at the corner of Brock and Dunlop Street in downtown Whitby and recently got approval to tear down the existing structure (which was done last week) and built a brand spankin' new brewery. The new building, underway shortly, will be 13,000-square-feet with the brewery on the first floor and a Bavarian-style restaurant on the second floor. Having seen online pics from the architects, this new facility is... what's the architectural term again... oh yeah, frikkin' gorgeous! This will absolutely become a destination place not just in Whitby but all of Durham Region. With the odd sprinkling of Burlington visitors. Slated to open next Summer, I may have one more, maybe two, visits to the Hopkins brewery left in the tank. We'll see.

But before I wrap this up, it seems I have a bit of urgent business to take care of at my Oakville Beer Store. You see, among a very impressive array of craft beer, we have a strong arsenal of IPAs, including Amsterdam's Boneshaker, Railway City's Dead Elephant, Lake of Bays' 10 Point, Flying Monkeys' Smashbomb Atomic, Collective Arts' Ransack the Universe, Double Trouble's Hops and Robbers, Muskoka's Mad Tom and Twice as Mad Tom and even an American import, Smuttynose's Finestkind. Obviously, I watch the best-before dates on all of them because these are my babies. Well, I just noticed we had two and a half cases of Twice As Mad Tom stamped "Enjoy before October 8, 2016". That's three weeks from now. I instantly grabbed 12 after my last shift and planning on repeating the process until they are gone. I honestly don't believe they will make it too far past next weekend. But that's on me. There will never be old-code IPA sent back from my store! Not on my goddamn watch! I took an oath. Or maybe just dreamed I took an oath. Who knows? But guys and dolls, that's it, that all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Of Babsocks and Label Legends...

Do you want to wear Team Canada coach Mike
Babcock on your dirty, smelly feet? Molson's is
given you that opportunity with a pair of Babsocks
in specially-marked 28-packs of Coors Light amd
Canadian, in time for the World Cup of Hockey!
It was a Tuesday like any other Tuesday. The Molson truck had arrived so Jay-Dawg and I were unloading the 10-skid delivery.

Jay was up on the truck, dropping skids two-by-two on the loading dock while I was on the ground with the hydraulic stacker, ready to pile them off to the side. For the record, during the Summer, we try to alternate being on the truck because it's roughly 1,000 degrees in there, give or take a few degrees. But you work up a pretty big sweat while doing very little in the way of actual physical exertion. So it's a lot like me trying to get up off the couch.

Suddenly, I heard Jay laughing and it was pretty big outburst. "Wait until you see what's in the Coors Light 28s!" he howled. I tried to spot it from the dock but it's kinda dark inside the truck trailer. I asked what it was and in between fits of laughter, Jay spat out, "Babsocks!"

Babsocks? What the hell are Babsocks? Within a minute, I would know. It's a pair of white socks with a Team Canada emblem on one sock and the visage of always-scowling Toronto Maple Leaf-Team Canada coach Mike Babcock on the other. I could not stop laughing. "This is so weird that it's awesome!" I told Jay. Once the laughter died down, Jay said what I was already thinking. "I need a pair of Babsocks!" Oh gawd yeah! Every hockey fan needs Babsocks.
This is what Mike Babcock looks like after a Leaf win.
This is his version of a smile. Okay, not really but I
did see him smile once. I was frightened to my very
core. His family Christmas Card must be something.
I instantly took a picture of them and sent a message to my Beer Writing Buddy Robert, aka Drunk Polkaroo. His response was instant. "Oh man, I want those so bad!"

Turns out that Babsocks are not a new thing. A year ago, when Babcock was hired by the Leafs, we Leaf fans were all thrilled. The league's best coach had landed here. The same guy who was at the helm of the bench as Canada took the gold at both the Vancouver and Sochi Olympics. But when the Leafs snagged him, a couple of Toronto buddies, Jake Mednick and Tom McCole, were so happy that they came up with the idea in the dressing room after a beer-league hockey game. Within months, they had their product with Babcock's face on Leaf blue-and-white socks and started selling them online at $20 a pop. They still can't keep up with the demand.

Someone at Molson's stumbled across the socks and created the Babsock promotion with Team Canada colours just in time for the World Cup of Hockey, starting September 17. After a Summer of speakers and phone chargers freebies, I suspect this will be the free-inside promotion that every guy remembers! The brewery has included a pair in over 400,000 cases of both Canadian and Coors Light. That's a whole lot of Babsocks!
While I always assumed I'd see Beer
Bro Glenn's face on a Missing Person

flyer, the folks at Manantler Brewing
put his smiling mug on a label for
their Legends Imperial Stout! Wow!
Now the fact is, even during my macro days, I stuck faithfully with Labatt Blue so will I grab a 28-pack of Canadian to get my Babsocks? Hell to the yeah! At the bottom of the fridge in Donny's Bar and Grill is the section known as Guest Beer. As it is most often raided by my friends Gordo and Amy, this works well as both are dedicated Canadian drinkers. They get free guest beer, I get my Babsocks. Works out perfect!

Now Babcock isn't the only local celebrity to have his face plastered on merchandise. Much to his surprise, Beer Bro Glenn ended up on a beer label, which frankly is an impressive step-up from hosiery. It seems that Manantler Brewing in Bowmanville, Ontario (about 20 minutes east of Glenn's Oshawa luxury loft) decided to honour a small handful of their faithful customers by putting their pretty faces on their 9% Legends Imperial Stout. Two brothers, a couple, another fellow and Glenn were on four different labels for the beer. Not looking to steal a buddy's thunder, I have held this for a couple of days until he posted his column. But I would have guessed he would be on a Wanted poster long before a beer label so I have to go there.

Posting a picture of all four labels on their Facebook site, Manantler said, "This bold, robust 9% Imperial Stout was inspired by the six (of many) Manantler regulars donning the label, who, in our eyes, are the real LEGENDS of Manantler. Without their relentless pursuit to quench their thirst with anything we make, we wouldn't be where we are. Thanks for continually trying to empty our fridge, for bringing everyone you know to the brewery, for making awesome BBQ sauce with our suds, for mentioning us in (almost) every blog you write, for taking pictures we couldn't capture in a million years but most of all, thank for being our friends. Cheers, this brew is for you!"
Beer Bro Glenn steered me towards this one, saying it was
the first Kolsch that he had really enjoyed! Good call, man

Well, holy crap! For the record, Glenn was the blog portion of all that. When he sent me a pic of the beer, I asked if it was for real. Sure was, he noted, adding he was now a bonafide legend. Asked how his mug didn't end up on an Imperial IPA since his blog is actually entitled IPA Tales, he noted, "I knew nothing about this until an hour ago." I have since suggested to Manantler that Glenn's face on a label will make it easier for me to find him when he inevitably goes missing at a Beer Fest. All I have to do now is hold the bottle up and ask people, "Seen this guy?" It could come in handy. A new kind of GPS - the Glenn Positioning System.

But this begs the question: since the Leafs-Team Canada coach is now on socks and Glenn is now on beer labels, what can I become famous for? While it was nice being the subject of that special episode of Hoarders, that hasn't exactly been a cash cow. However, it turns out I'm famous enough that every movie opens in a theatre near me! That's a powerful feeling...
The town of Blyth in Huron County, Ontario, has a
population of just 1,005 but soon a craft brewery
all to itself. That's just getting spoiled! And so you
know when you visit, it's pronounced Bly-Eth.
But even if I do become famous, don't worry - I'll never forget my friends. They'll always be a fond and nostalgic memory of people who aren't super famous like me. But someone once asked me if I could chose any celebrity, dead or alive, to have dinner with, who would it be? I chose Kim Kardashian... and dead.

Okay, this is supposed to a beer blog, not a treatise on the rich and famous, half of which Glenn now has locked down. And hey, why not kick off the Beer O'Clock portion of the day with a Kolsch that was highly recommended to me by Glenn. Wait... what? A Kolsch that Glenn liked? Yupper do! Turns out Glenn decided to give his throat something other than IPAs (and now Imperial Stouts) and stumbled across a brew called Absent Landlord Country Kolsch from Cowbell Brewing in tiny Blyth, Ontario. While their inaugural beer is being contract-brewed out of (I believe) Arts and Science Brewery in Hamilton, owners Stephen, David and Grant Sparling are presently building a 20,000-square-foot brewery, brew-pub and multi-use facility that will be open by Spring 2017. So what's the story on this tiny community that will soon have its own craft brewery?
"What Blyth NEEDS... is more Cowbell!!!"

Well, way back in 1851, the town was called Drummond. That is until a rich British dude named Henry Blyth bought the whole town in 1855 and renamed it Blyth. Despite the ownership, he never once made the voyage oversea to visit his namesake town hence the name, Absent Landlord. So what was it about this beer caused Glenn to praise his first ever Kolsch? For starters at just 18 IBUs (international bitterness units), it tastes much punchier than that number would indicate. A nice 5.3%, this pours a deep gold (good sign) and is lightly spicy and caramel on the nose with a hop slap of tartiness on the tongue. A fantastic first effort from a brewery just starting out. When I posted the beer's picture on Instagram, the brewery was quick to thank me and added, "Our next beer will be available in the coming weeks!" That's excellent because if my drinking adventures could use anything, it's more Cowbell.

Okay, let's go from a well-crafted lagered ale to an equally well-done west coast style lager. Wait, west coast lager?
Take a good look at the Local 7's West Coast Session Lager.
That's a lot cloudier than your traditional lager and that's
a good thing, believe me. I now wish I had bought more...
When you say the word lager, "west coast", which traditionally means hoppy, isn't usually associated with it. But this is no ordinary lager. This beer was released by a group of Toronto restaurants banded together under the name, the Local 7. (Some bastard, self-serving artists already laid claim to the name Group of Seven so the bars went a different route.) The Local 7 is made up of: The Auld Spot, Bar Hop, Bar Volo, Bryden's, C'est What, The Only Cafe and WVRST. Contract-brewed out of Sawdust City Brewing out of Gravenhurst with an assist from Sweetgrass Brewing (owned by the husband-wife team that also owns The Auld Spot). Okay, the 4.5% lager had some unexpected kick due to the use of Idaho 7, Sorachi Ace and Centennial hops in the mix. Tartly lemon on the nose, slyly fruity on the tongue, there is no way I would have guessed this was a lager if the can wasn't sitting there. And with that acknowledgement, let me add this is definitely one of the best lagers that I've had all year!
You know what? This explains a lot towards my
steadfast aversion to pumpkin ales.  However, in
fairness, Nickel Brook created a pumpkin porter
that was dynamite. Brewers, if you are falling trap
to this annual Autumn Rite of Passage, consider
putting pumpkin into heavier porters and stouts.

Before I move onto something else, the one thing I noticed when I snagged a can of West Coast Session Lager is that each of the Local 7 logos is used on different cans. As you can see, I grabbed the one with The Only Cafe mentioned on the snifter being held by the big cartoon birdie that I think is an eagle. Why? Well, because Fabian Skidmore runs The Only Cafe. Fabian is also head of Graphic Design at Great Lakes Brewing and as such, has created a slew of memorable labels with artist Garnett Gerry. So a Sawdust City, Sweetgrass and Local 7 lager has a Great Lakes connection. I tell you, the Ontario craft beer scene is so inter-connected, it's like a sudsy version of The Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon, the most deliciously-named of all actors.

Okay, let's finish this bad boy up with a pair of IPAs gifted to me by Rib Eye Jack's Ale House's awesome young Beer Technician Kylie, who generously gives me and others new beers after her many visits to America. I often call these offerings the Kylie Kraft Kollection or KKK for sho... actually, in retrospect, let's stick with the full name. It's cuter. This time around, I was gifted with a Racer 5 IPA made by Bear Republic Brewing in Healdsburg, California and a Hopothermia Double IPA from Alaskan Brewing out of Juneau, Alaska. If you visit the latter, please remember to wear your Babsocks. It's bloody cold.
Now here's a couple of American beauts, courtesy
of Rib Eye Jack's Beer Technician Kylie. I gotta
tell you, every time Kylie goes south to the USA,
I always cheer (inwardly, of course) because I
know some sweet-ass goodies are coming back!

Now before we begin, you may (and may not) remember a legal skirmish that Bear Republic had with Central City Brewing and Distillery out of Surrey, BC, back in 2010. The Healdsburg brewery felt Central City's Red Racer IPA, distributed right down the west coast, was too similarly named to their IPA and was causing confusion. The two side tussled for a couple of years before Central City conceded and renamed their beer Red Betty IPA but only for American distribution. It's still called Red Racer IPA up here and remains one of my coworker Jay-Dawg's favourites on tap at Rib Eye Jack's.

But onto the beers. Starting with the Racer 5 IPA. Okay, they went 4-C with this one, hop-bombing it with Chinook, Cascade, Columbus and Centennial bitter-makers. That combo gave this 7.5%, 75 IBU award-winner a shit-ton (to my American readers, that's Metric for "a lot") of tropical fruit on the nose, especially mango, while the pine and grapefruit kick in on the tongue. One of the better American IPAs I've had and believe me, brothers and sisters, I've had more than my fair share.
If you want some Red Racer IPA in the US, look for the
can of Central City's Red Betty Northwest IPA. Since
Bear Republic Brewing is definitely set in the southwest,
the two beers are now clearly distinguished from the other

Next on deck was the Hopothermia Double IPA, which was quite good but perhaps I shouldn't have tried it right after the Racer 5, which I preferred. That said, at 8.5% and 70 IBUs (a little on the low side for a Double IPA), there was some nice pineapple on the nose with a sly bit of pine and an odd bit of maltiness on the tongue. That said, Double and Imperial IPAs do need that boost of malts to hold the course steady. This was a solid beer.

That's it for this go-round so until next time, I shall bask in the warm glow of Glenn's Label Honours while I suck back suds, wearing my Babsocks. Still, I can't help but think there must be something that would grant me some fame, too. I mean, there is that one time I finished the New York Times' crossword puzzle in less than five minutes. The only thing marring that feat is that it took me hours to eat the rest of the newspaper. Oh well. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here!! Until next time, I remain as always...

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Cara and Jay's Excellent Adventure...

Co-worker Jay-Dawg and the lovely Cara take in a Toronto
Blue Jays game earlier in the season. There are multiple
pictures I could have used for this pair but I liked Cara's
tartan Blue Jays cap in this one. Quite a fashion statement.
My co-worker Jay-Dawg was in an annual Lee Family Golf Tournament earlier this Summer and in the end, he walked away one helluva prize.

Now before I get to that, here's a couple of things I think you need to know about Jay. His actual name is Jason Lee, the same name as the "My Name Is Earl" actor. So we've always just called him Jay (or Jay-Dawg, in my case) just on the off chance that the actor walks into our Beer Store. We don't want any confusion as to whom we are talking to. Frankly, our Jay is far more famous in Oakville and Burlington circles than that actor guy and we don't want a Hollywood ego feeling snubbed by having to harshly chide him, "No, we were talking to our Jason, not you, Earl..." Now if the actor Jason showed up with his friend and director Kevin Smith, he would get some attention from me as Smith is a huge comic book guy, just like me. And I mean, Smith would get attention, not Jason Lee #2, as we call the Hollywood one.

And another thing is I'm not certain why Jay won the prize at his family's annual golf tournament, whether it was random or not, but since his super-competitive brother Jonny was playing, I would guess Jay won for The Least Amount Of Clubs Broken...
International superstar Shania Twain honed
her craft at the Deerhurst Resort way back
in the 1980s. She made the place famous...
But back to the prize, which was a two-night stay at the Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, Ontario - the heart of cottage country. That may seem like no big deal until you realize that rooms there run from about $300 to $650 a night - the higher priced ones overlooking Peninsula Lake - during the height of cottage season. That's roughly the same as the ultra-posh Royal York Hotel in Toronto. So how does a Huntsville resort manage charging such opulent prices? After all, during my last Las Vegas trip, my room at the Excalibur Hotel cost me around $100 a night. And having been to Huntsville, well, it's nice and all but it ain't Vegas, boys and girls.

Turns out there's a reason Huntsville Resort has become famous. It seems international country-pop music superstar Shania Twain honed her craft performing at Deerhurst Resort in the mid-1980s to early-1990s. You've probably heard of her. Sold over 85 million albums, making her the best-selling female country singer of all time. And pretty much the most wicked-hot smokeshow ever exported from Canada to the international masses. Although I suppose a case could be made for Rush singer Geddy Lee. (Everyone Else: "No, Donny, he looks like a professor from Harry Potter." Me: "Kidding. Just seeing if you were paying attention. I meant Avril Lavigne.")
Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery in Barrie now has a fully-functional bar,
which sports 16 taps. If I ever lived in Barrie, I would just rent a place
across the street because frankly, that's a bar that's pretty tough to beat.
This Mark Wanzel photo from the Barrie Examiner shows the FM gang.

But a simple two-hour drive to a resort can be a most excellent adventure and Jay held the key to precisely that in his navigator and pretty co-pilot Cara. Prior to their departure, Cara plotted a course that would see pit-stops in four renowned Ontario craft breweries along the way. I mean, if you're going take rest breaks along the way, at least enjoy the ambiance, right? By ambiance, I, of course, mean any place you can drink good craft beer. Not art galleries and boring crap like that.

And Cara picked four of the best - Barnstormer Brewing and Flying Monkeys Craft Brewing, both in Barrie, Sawdust City Brewing in Gravenhurst and Muskoka Brewery in Bracebridge. And that's why we all call her Clever Crafty Cara. (Disclaimer: It's safe to assume this is the only time she's ever been called that and the "crafty" refers to only beer, not sneakiness. That said, I will be sharing a sneaky but very funny Cara story at the end.)
The first picture Jay sent me from Cara and Jay's
Excellent Adventure was a picture of the urinals at
Barrie's Barnstormer Brewing. As you can see, they
converted an old Miller Brewing keg into a urinal.
Let's assume the underlying joke is it tastes the same 

going in as it does coming out? Testing this theory is
not advised by my crack team of (barely) legal interns

Hitting Barrie, their first pit-stop was Barnstormer Brewing. "It's crazy," Jay-Dawg told me. "You wouldn't even know it was a brewery at first. It's a unit in this new-looking plaza." Like me, he expects breweries to be separate, stand-alone structures. But the fact is, when it opened a few years back in 2013, it was both a brewery and a pizzeria and its name reflected that. The "and Pizzeria" part of the name was dropped just last year.

Two things haven't changed, though. One, the brewery loves its aviation theme. Barnstormers were pilots that entertained crowds with their trick aerial stunts back in the 1920s. And two, these folks brew some damn good beers.

Jay and Cara brought me back a pretty good pair from these guys. First up was their Wind-Shear Watermelon Summer Ale. When Cara got one on tap at the brewery, it was garnished with a sizable wedge of watermelon that I'm surprised didn't topple over the glass. This is actually the second watermelon wheat I've had, having enjoyed (very much to my surprise) the Kensington Brewing version at the Toronto Festival of Beers two Summers ago. As you can see, the 4.1% wheat pours a pale gold colour and you get wheat and fruit on the nose but far more pronounced watermelon on the tongue. This was a superb Summer Sipper.
While they called it a Summer Ale, I suspected it had
to be a wheat ale. So when they listed the ingredients
on the ale and "wheat" was there, bazinga! What we
have here is a fun, Summery and fruity wheat ale...
While I wouldn't drink it all afternoon (one or two would do), I quite enjoyed it. And Cara absolutely loved it. But my buddy Paul The Beer Guy actually did have a chance to try both watermelon wheats side-by-side and told me on Instagram, "While both are good in their (own) way, I preferred the Barnstormer brew myself."

The next one I would happily drink all afternoon is the Barnstormer seasonal Accelerated Stall Maverick's Imperial IPA. After three years, the brewery has finally made a Top Gun reference!!! So what's an accelerated stall? It's when your engines totally cut out but the plane is still going at a high rate of speed so you start to go to a really bad place, almost always down. It's nearly impossible to recover from which means, well, very quickly write a will. And don't be named Goose. Just sayin'. But back to the beer, this 8.4%, 80 IBU (international bitterness units) IIPA is goosed - pun fully intended - with Ella and Summer hops from Australia, Cashmere hops from the USA and Aramis hops from France. Delicious citrus and tropical fruit notes on the nose, the bitterness of the hops and malt backbone were noticeable on the tongue. Damn tasty!
And Highway 400 in Barrie becomes the "highway to
the Danger Zone" as Barnstormer Brewing FINALLY
made their first Top Gun reference!! The Mav rocks!

As a sidenote, I will always believe it's Iceman's fault that Goose died, not Maverick's because Mav could have made that shot but he got caught in too-proud Ice's jet-wash and spun out, instead. If Goose's widow, Meg Ryan, needs me to testify, I am an expert witness because I watched that movie *counts on fingers* like, three times so yeah, I'm kinda qualified. Also a Goose's Gose next from Barnstormer would be pretty funny.

On their website, Barnstormer has a special section for their seasonal offerings. Each description of the beer ends with a potential food pairing for it. But not in every case. Sometimes, they go off-script. For example, the last line of February's release, the Pacific Jade Widebody Imperial IPA offers up this. "Warning: Consumption leads to good conversation and fornication. Please enjoy semi-responsibly." And there's June's Absolute Altitude Saison that suggests: "Pair this with lighter fare on a sunny afternoon in as little clothing as your dignity allows."
If you live in Southern Ontario, this
sign means one thing to you. You are
driving to where all the fun happens
I like the fun they're having up there in Barrie. Also, Barnstormer, if you could set aside about ten Pacific Jade Widebody IIPAs for me next time, I am onboard with the direction that beer takes.

And speaking of fun in Barrie, from Barnstormer, Cara and Jay next drove downtown to Flying Monkeys Craft Brewing where a small surprise lay in wait for them. "They have their own bar!" Jay told me enthusiastically. Not a tasting room, he emphasized, a full-fledged bar. Indeed, this is a new wrinkle at the brewery and according to an August 24 article in the Barrie Examiner, a very well-received initiative. Andrea Chiodo, the brewery's co-owner with husband Peter and its creative director, told the newspaper that "We put just as much time and effort into our craft tap room as we do making our craft beer. The tap room is the place to enjoy and enrich the craft beer experience in a real working independent brewery." The 16-tap bar, which opened on Canada Day, has comfy sofas scattered within, classic rock concert posters on the ceilings and in line with what I mentioned earlier, is the literal definition of "great ambiance."

But what impressed Jay the most was the outstanding tap selection. "As well as their own beers, they have guest taps. And one of the beers available was from Barnstormer!"
Cara and Jay happily enjoyed the downtown Barrie
scenery, drinking their paddles on the brewery's patio.
He reported it was a sunny day and the beers were tasty.
You see, in the Ontario craft beer world, there is no such thing as cross-town rivals. There is, in it place, a sense of both community and camaraderie. Nothing says "We support our neighbour" quite like having their beer on tap in your bar. From their tasters' selection, Jay went nuts for one - their 10% The Chocolate Manifesto Imperial Stout. Having enjoyed it every Winter since its initial release, this beer is like a chocolate cake in a glass! Smooth, rich and delicious... one of the best stouts I have ever had.

But Deerhurst still beckoned so their road show continued and next on the list was Sawdust City, another favourite of both Jay and myself. Since I was actually standing beside him at the 2015 Burlington Beer Festival, I still remember their Golden Beach Pale Ale being the first beer that literally propelled Jay head-first down the craft beer path forever.
So what does a Sour IPA taste like? Well, to this IPA
lover, they taste a lot like a sour, not so much an IPA.
That said, this was a strong offering. While I am still
wrapping my head around the style, it's growing on me

This was the only definite stop I knew the pair had on their travel itinerary prior to their departure and the only one where I had a request. Could he please get me a can of their An Ale Of Two Cities Sour IPA? As you can see, Jay-Dawg pulled through for me. A collaboration between Sawdust City and Kingston's Stone City Ale, I was eager to see what a sour IPA taste like. To me, these two styles are polar-opposites. Sours are usually low alcohol, dependent on sour bacteria for their taste and while they still make my face do the pucker thing, they have become Jay's favourite style in a remarkably short time. By his own admission, Jay has gone from Pale Ale Lover to IPA Snob to Imperial IPA Snob to Sour Snob... all in the span of about 18 months. (But like me, he is open to every style.)

So back to the question: what does a Sour IPA Taste like? Well, to be honest, to me, it's 99% sour and maybe 1% IPA. I know they used Citra, Simcoe and Mosaic hops in the mix, as reflected by the high-for-a-sour 6.8% ABV and 65 IBUs and citrus on the nose.
With Sawdust City's Coriolis Effect, a Berliner Weisse,
I knew exactly what I was getting, having tried countless
variations of Nickel Brook's Uber Berliner Weisses...
As far as I know, that may have set a record for IBUs in a sour-based beer. But man, this was as sour as the Dickens. (You see what I did there?) That said, I'm glad I got my hands on one, courtesy of Jay, simply because I love trying new stuff. And unlike, say, antique shopping in the countryside with an insistent girlfriend, this is a new thing I will probably try again. (Her: "Wow, look, an old wooden wheel! Hey, there's some old licence plates!" Me: "Please tell me this particular Circle of Hell is licensed.") That said, my Sour IPA virginity has now been taken. Since it took me about 20 minutes to drink this, it lasted 19 minutes and 11 seconds longer than the other virginity. So it has that going for it. I did actually enjoy it quite a bit, though. Further investigation into the style is warranted.

And last on deck would be the Sawdust City Coriolis Effect Berliner Weiss, another collaborative beer, this time made with Toronto's Bar Hop Brewco, one of the best craft beer joints in The Big Smoke.
See the handsome dude in this picture? No, not the scuzzy surfer
dude hippie on the right. The craft beer hipster on the left. That's
my buddy, Drunk Polkaroo. And right now, my man needs your
vote for Best Beer Writer at the annual Golden Taps Award. It's
easy and fun. All you have to do is cast your vote for my main man:
 A Vote For Polkaroo Is A Vote For The Betterment Of Society on
the above link and you could win a brand new 2016 cucumber!!
What? His wife Kathryn knows her way around a garden. It's legit.
A cucumber in every salad! A salad that I will never eat but still...
Also when I acknowledged my shirt had come from Value Village

while Polkaroo's was a Sally Ann cast-off, my old neighbour buddy
Pete cracked on Facebook: "Wasn't this movie called Goodwill
Hunting?" Okay, that's just too damn clever. He's a funny dude...
A Coriolis Effect is a term in Physics that means inertia acting on an already-moving object. Obviously, I had to Google that, making it one of the rare times I used Google for something other than the world's most-expensive Spell-Check. So how is the Coriolis Effect connected to a sour beer? Uh, do I look even remotely like a Physicist? Dammit, Jim, I'm just here to drink beer! Okay, let's get to the Coriolis Effect. Like most Berliner Weisses, this 3.5% had some nice light spiciness on the nose and was very citrus and sour on the tongue. I liked it but as strange as it sounds, I thought their Sour IPA was a lot punchier. Still, if you like your sours, can't go wrong with this one.

Cara and Jay's last stop was another of my favourites, Muskoka Brewing. He didn't grab me a beer from there because he knew I had already enjoyed everything they had to offer in their retail shop. But man, he scored some sweet swag, including a very cool Mad Tom IPA T-shirt. When he dropped these beers off at Donny's Bar and Grill, he was wearing the shirt. Next time, I send him off on his journey with $20 and a T-shirt order.

Okay, I promised I'd end with a Crafty Cara story so here goes. I was at Rib Eye Jack's Ale House last week where the lovely Cara is a bartender. I had been pulled over in a RIDE Check the night before. RIDE Checks are random pull-overs by the Halton Police to make sure people aren't drinking and driving. Eight cops had set up shop on the Brant Street exit in Burlington and since that's on my way home, there was no avoiding it. It's not like you can pull a U-Turn on an exit ramp. That falls directly into the category of Dangerous Driving. But it's funny. Even if you haven't been drinking, there's still something nerve-wracking about a RIDE Check.
Jay-Dawg's Paddle at Flying Monkeys. I have NO idea
what he has on there, except that one of the two dark beers
is definitely The Chocolate Manifesto Imperial Stout...
After being asked if I had been drinking, I was waved through because I was fine. But hearing that, Cara had the best RIDE Check story ever. "You want to know how to get through a RIDE Check?" she asked. "Have drunk girls in the car!" She then recounted how she and some girlfriends had been partying at Club 54, a local dance bar. They called a friend to come and collect them. She acknowledged that it was possible he had drank a beer or two (but that's it) before retrieving them. But as their DD, when he got pulled over, they started drunkenly yelling at the officer, "Sexy cop! Turn around! Show us your sexy butt!" At that point, the officer just looked at the harried driver and without asking a single question of his condition to drive, he simply said, "Get these girls home now, please!" And that's why she's Clever Crafty Cara. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...