Friday, 7 July 2017

When two breweries part ways...

At one point, their banners flew side-by-side at 207
Burlington Street East in Hamilton. No longer. Turns
out Collective Arts got the brewery in the divorce.
Well, that was quite a way to start my vacation. It was June 30th and we were, as expected, getting our asses kicked at the Beer Store, which was closed on July 1st for Canada Day.

When I was finally finished my shift (ever have an eight-hour shift that feels like 87 hours?)  I thought I could relax finally and start my vacation with my son. So God laughed in my face, called me ugly and somehow directed my attention to the Canadian Beer News late in the day where I - and many other craft beer lovers in southwestern Ontario - learned that Collective Arts and Nickel Brook Brewing were getting a divorce.

You see, the two breweries have jointly shared the old Lakeport Brewing facility at 207 Burlington Street East in Hamilton since officially opening in May 2015. Their joint venture was called Arts & Sciences Brewing. For those a little slow on the uptake, the "arts" represented Collective Arts and the "sciences" represented Nickel Brook. My early suggestion of Everyone Else Sucks Donkey Ass Brewing was ignored. They were all "something, something, PETA and the Catholic Church would be pissed." I was all, "something, something, don't be pussies, it's a great name!" My marketing credentials are a bit sketchy but in my defence, it's only because I have none.
This old file photo of Nickel Brook owner John
Romano should now read "Brewery Wanted In
The Niagara Region. Must be massive and have
enough space to party, brew and learn about
good beers." There's two years on the clock.

So anyway, the two breweries have co-existed (uneasily at times, it would seem) under the same roof for two years, cranking out both the Nickel Brook core line-up, as well as all of Collective Arts products, which is getting to be a growing and lengthy list.

But that all changed on June 30th when Collective Arts announced that it was taking "sole ownership of the Arts & Sciences Brewery." Effective immediately. The deal is that the Collective Arts will now continue to brew Nickel Brook's core line-up for the next two years while Nickel Brook builds a shiny new brewery in the Niagara Region. Of course, (for two years anyway) Nickel Brook's brewery on Drury Lane in Burlington doesn't budge. That's great news as they are cranking out some phenomenal Brett and sour beers from their "Funk Labs," under the watchful eye of Funkmaster Brewer Patrick Howell. And, of course, they're right around the corner from me. What's really important is "How does this affect Donny?" Let's be realistic here, people.

As well, Brewmaster Extraordinaire Ryan Morrow will continue to split his time between the two breweries just as he has been doing for several years now. After all, he created Collective Arts' first beer, Rhyme & Reason Extra Pale Ale at Nickel Brook back in August 2013. This year, the same beer just struck gold at the Canadian Brewing Awards.
In this July 2015 photo taken by photographer Nick Wong for
a Draft Magazine article, Ryan Morrow, left, is shown with
Collective Arts co-owner Matt Johnson. Now it looks like Ryan
is sporting a traditional Craft Brewer Beard. He is not. That's
more like Craft Brewer 5 O'Clock Shadow. Saw him recently
and now he has a beard that could house a nest full of birds
without him knowing it at all. And it might. He doesn't know.
Actually, I first spotted Rhyme & Reason at a Burlington LCBO back in October 2013 and was pretty excited to see "Burlington, Ontario" on the side of the six-pack. Having just started this little shit-show of a blog a few months prior, I thought there might be a second Burlington craft brewery. That notion was dispelled quickly when I showed up shortly after to get my growlers filled with Headstock IPA and I saw a skid of it on the Nickel Brook floor. What it was doing there was explained to me and thus I learned of contract brewing. Remember, kids, you never stop learning!! Also remember it doesn't really matter because you forget 99% of it anyway but the most important thing here is... uhh, something, something, I don't remember.

And while the split came as a shock to many, should it be? It wasn't to me. For starters, I have been hearing whispers of some acrimony between the two camps for well over a year now. Let's face it. You can't have one business, regardless of the industry, under a roof without the usual amount of tension among the staff. But two competitors under the same roof? As they would say in New Jersey, "Fahgettaboudit."
Is the parting of Collective Arts and Nickel Brook
Brewing worth a classic Johnny Bravo jaw-drop?
No, not really. Just two companies that continue to
grow and frankly, now need their own facilities.
(That's how they talk in New Jersey. True story. I know a guy who knows a guy. That's got nothing to do with "fahgettaaboudit" but I know a guy, anyway.)

But the initial premise of two breweries under the same roof with a humongous amount of brewing capacity back then was a great idea - at least for that time. Not only could the tiny Drury Lane brewery not keep up with the growing demand for Collective Arts beer (Saint of Circumstance Blonde Ale came next), they couldn't even keep up with the screams for their own product.

I remember talking to John Romano in the Autumn of 2014 and he told me LCBOs were calling him directly, saying they needed 10 trays of Headstock IPA and Naughty Neighbour American Pale Ale each! Like immediately! "And I'm here telling them that I can maybe give them two trays of each but that's it," he said, looking as harried as hell at the time. So 10 trays? Fahgettaboudit. With their smaller vats, they just couldn't make the beer fast enough for the demands of both breweries. So something had to happen... and it did. The creation of Arts & Sciences Brewing in the old Lakeport Brewing facility. Yeah, sure, the partnership wasn't destined to last forever but it served its exact purpose when it needed to. And that was two years ago. Things needed to change at that time so they did. Bigly! (They say that in New Jersey, too.)
Neatly sandwiched between my son's stylin' Marvel superhero sandals is
Collective Arts' IPA No. 3, the latest in their experimental new product
series. Okay, I loved IPA No. 1 and thought IPA No. 2 was solid but this
bad boy is the best of the bunch. But to deal with what's really important
here, that's Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wolverine, Captain America and
Thor on those sandals. Let's just get that out of the way first. Priorities.

As for Collective Arts getting the whole brewery to themselves, well, I knew Nickel Brook beers were brewed there but even I never thought of it as anything other than Collective Arts. They have the retail component. That's the face of any business. That's why companies don't use me as the face of their business. Last time they used my face, it was for the Titanic. And you know what, Rose? There was room for Jack on that door. "I'll never let you go," she said... as she let him go. Bitch.

So unless someone accidentally mentions to Taylor Swift there was a break-up, this will not be the thing from which stupidly-catchy pop songs destined to be forgotten within minutes is born. It's business. It's growth. And it happens every day somewhere. But you know what? We came here not to praise Caesar Salad but rather to not eat salad at all. It's Beer Time!
Oh my lawdie, the Nickel Brook With Glowing Hearts
Sour was a cherry-tweaked little batch of tasty. At 8.2%,
it's definitely on the strong side for a sour and man, does
it pack a punch. The Funk Labs continue to rock it out.

Well, why not stick with Collective Arts and Nickel Brook since the breweries are both cranking out tasty newbies with alarming frequency these days.

And first on deck is Collective Arts No. 3 IPA, the latest in their experimental series. All three of the new IPAs were 7.1% and exactly 80 IBUs (international bitterness units) despite using different hops with each of the trio. Not sure how they pulled that off but dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor not a brewer! All I know is this. I thought all three were great but until I had this one, IPA No. 1 was the leading contender. It just go bumped from the throne as No. 3 is now affixed to the golden chair. Using Crystal and Citra hops, this had a tropical fruit aroma with almost an earthy hemp-like whiff (I know one hop smells like a lot like marijuana but I can't remember which) but lots of mango and melon on the tongue. I'm Team #3 all the way, baby but keep them coming as this is the sort of experiment where nobody loses. I can only assume what the folks at CA are doing is giving us these goodies in the form of a competition where winner-takes-all and is named the brewery's next official IPA. To which I say... facking schweet!!!!
I had a shot of Nickel Brook's Proud as Funk Flanders
Red-Brown Blend but opted to use Drunk Polkaroo's
instead. Not just because it's a far superior photo but
actually because he had the foresight to emphasize the
back label which is a shout-out to our friends in the
LGBTQ community. It's a great message to share.

Okay, Nickel Brook's Funk Lab on Drury Lane is pumping out sours for hours these days and they did not disappoint with the latest pair. First up is their Canada Day special, With Glowing Hearts Sour. According to its commercial description, this is a "golden sour aged in oak barrels for two years with Brett (yeast) and Lacto (lactobacillus, a lactic acid), then aged an extra three months on Montmorency cherries." Okay, since that's all brewers' bafflegab, what does this taste like? Like a funky cool Cherry Pop Tart. At 8.3%, you're gonna be sipping this one. Pouring a deep red, this was all cherries and Sour Patch Kids on the nose while on the tongue, there was a sweetness (almost vanilla) balancing the tartness but also more cherry goodness. You could feel the warmth of the alcohol as this warmed up. Great job with this one!

Okay, next on deck is the Funk Lab's Proud as Funk, a Flanders Red-Brown Blend, aged separately in oak barrels before being matured in a fermenter together.
Nickel Brook co-founder Peter Romano manned the BBQ when the
brewery held their June Fundraiser with all proceeds going to the
Ronald McDonald House Foundation, which houses children and their
families as they are being treated in nearby hospitals. At the end of the
day, Nickel Brook and those of us who came out raised nearly $2,500!!
The beer was created as a shout-out to the LGBTQ community and was released just prior to Pride Week. Also, my Nickel Brook buddy, Tony Cox, helped name it so 10 points to Gryffindor for that. Okay, usually Flanders are the sourest of all the sours so, well, was this? Oh yeahhh. The 7.1% beer poured dark brown and was heavy with the darker fruits on the nose, such as plums and even purple grapes. On the tongue, the mouth-puckering brew continued with more of the same with almost a red-wine feel lurking in the background. Sour, sweet, a little bit of everything in this one and a great tribute to the Pride Week festivities.

But because I'm, well, clueless, I had to admit to my Beer Store coworker, as well as proud Prider, Trey, that I didn't know what the Q meant in LGBTQ. The first four initials, yeah, I got those but Q? Well, it turns out that stands for "questioning," meaning, I guess, you're not quite sure where you land. There you go. Learn something new every day.

And hey, if you want to support your friends in their community, it's probably helps to have a better understanding of it, even down to the acronyms.

Okay, before I "peace out" here, let's look at a couple of fundraising events and products where craft brewers successfully supported their communities.
Shauna Stacey holds up a cheque from Barnstormer Brewing for the
Simcoe chapter of Autism Ontario. One dollar from the sale of every
bottle of their SR-71 Blackbird Black IPA went to the cause. The beer
was the first release in their fund-raising "Community Series" and as
you can see, they sold 697 of those beers! And three of them were to me!
First up are my homeys at Nickel Brook who held a Charity BBQ in their parking lot on June 17 with all proceeds going to the Ronald McDonald House Foundation. I was part of that fun and in the end, the bunch of us rowdies helped raise nearly $2,500 for the RMHF.

Meanwhile up there in Barrie, Barnstormer Brewing and Distillery was also raising funds, in this case going towards the Simcoe chapter of Autism Ontario. Head brewer Jeff Woodworth created a special Black IPA that they named SR-71 Blackbird Black IPA and a buck from every bottle went towards the charity. In the end, they raised nearly $700 for Autism Ontario Simcoe.

So a great job by two fantastic breweries, proving once again, Ontario craft brewers kick ass! Okay, I'll be back soon but at the moment, my son, David, and I are heading to Gross Pointe Farms, Michigan to visit my high school buddy Cheesy and his lovely wife April so that Cheesy can show me the best craft breweries in the Detroit area while April spoils the hell out of my boy! Talk about a win-win! But guys and dolls, that it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...

Monday, 26 June 2017

Little Known Brewing mystery unravels...

Did I pour this into the appropriate glass - the Flying
Monkeys tulip? Well, I'm not going to say that just yet
but there was debate on Instagram as to whether it was
Flying Monkeys or Barnstormer who brewed this one.
So anyway, who makes Little Known Brewing's Je Ne Sais Quoi beer?

This has been a question that has both baffled and intrigued southern Ontario craft beer drinkers for at least... a week? (What? Not every mystery dates back eons, shrouded by the cloak of time and history. There has to be newer mysteries, dammit. Stuff has happened after the year 2000.)

Truth to tell, as you can see from the photo that I posted on Instagram, it's called Little Kn?wn Brewing Co. but that's making my Spell-Check go a little mental so let's stick with the more familiar English vernacular of "Known" and leave the emoji-hieroglyphics out of this for now.

And for those who are not fluent in French, Je Ne Sais Quoi loosely translates as "I don't know what" and is often used to describe a trait or attribute that is positive but you can't quite pinpoint why. So like, "She has that certain je ne sais quoi" because she is attractive to you but you're not sure why.
Nope, not us, said Brad Arliss, Creative Director and
Assistant General Manager of Barnstormer Brewing
up there in Barrie. But they are contract-brewing a
well-known (smaller) Toronto craft brewery now...
If you're me or my single buddies, perhaps because she's breathing? Or because she smiled at you from 50 feet away... but was actually smiling at Brad Pitt who was standing behind you? (I frikkin' hate when that happens!!) Who knows? But that's the whole point of Je Ne Sais Quoi...

Anyhoooo... I posted the photo on Instagram and said, "On the side can, it informs us that it's 'mysteriously obscure and beyond conventional categories. It's meant to be enjoyed, not defined'." There was no description of the style. But telling a craft beer drinker a beer's style is not meant to be defined? This is the only part of our lives that we actually over-analyze! Can't pay the mortgage? That's a shame. Wife is pissed? Huh, wonder why? This beer is not meant to be defined? Oh, them's fightin' words! Come at me, bro!

So I proceeded to define it because, Strange Can of Beer, you're not the boss of me! I said, "A session IPA at 4.2%, it's hazy, grapefruit on the nose with light grain and pine on the tongue." And since it was linked to Barrie's Flying Monkeys Brewing on Google and was only identified as being brewed in Barrie, I poured it into one of their glasses, assuming they were the contract brewer in this case.
And this would be my North American Craft rep
Brian Will, who not only got the Double Trouble
Brewing beers into my last Beer Store but also
managed to score us some Smuttynose Brewing's
Finestkind IPA, straight out of  Hampton, New
Hampshire. One dynamite IPA that one is...

Not so fast, said my Barrie friend, Verena, better known as SunshineTravelCat on Instagram. "I believe it's a different Barrie brewery, Don! Wrong glass, my friend!" Hmmm, that just leaves either our friends at Redline Brewhouse or our buddies at Barnstormer Brewing. Any idea which, I asked?

"Who's my favourite and that's your answer?" she winked. Well, I have only met Verena once when my son David and I visited our Main Military Man and Craft Beer Loving Brother Hago in Barrie for the three-brewery tour back in March. But I know that she and her hubby, Richard, are partial to Barnstormer. Personally, I love all three Barrie breweries equally so they all get 33% of my love... and Hago gets the left-over 1% as he is not a brewery.

So I went to Brad Arliss, Creative Director and Assistant General Manager of Barnstormer and asked him, "Do you guys contract brew this?"

Nope, he told me. "I actually just heard about those guys for the first time, Don. We are not the brewery contracted for them, though." However, no chat with Brad goes without at least one new nugget of info. "We are, however, (now) contract brewing for High Park (Brewing) down in Toronto." Okay, that is great news for High Park Brewing as Barnstormer will bring some Barrie-style kick-ass to their, well, lacklustre line-up.
In this Mark Wanzel photo taken for the Barrie
Examiner, Andrea Chiodo is shown hoisting their
Smashbomb Atomic IPA like the trophy beer it is.
She also solved the mystery behind Little Known
Brewing quite quickly for us as they brew it...

So while I continued to search, my Beer Writing-Videographer Bro, Drunk Polkaroo, chipped into the conversation that, yes, they were contract-brewed (not sure if he knew by whom) and "distributed by NAC, same as the Trailer Park Boys." Polk is, of course, referring to Trailer Park Boys Freedom 35 Lager, brewed out of Wellington in Guelph. And NAC is North American Craft, a distributor of many craft beers to Beer Stores and LCBOs. My NAC rep, Brian Will, is in charge of the Double Trouble Brewing beers (also brewed at Wellington) at my Beer Stores. Another small piece of the puzzle answered.

But it would be Andrea Chiodo, Creative Director and Co-Owner of Flying Monkeys who would finally lay the mystery to rest for me. "Yes, we did sort of contract brew that beer but it's more of a collaboration with our western distributor, 49th Parallel Group. Steve (Thibault, owner of 49th Parallel) just always wanted to make a hop-forward session ale recipe he dreamed up one day. We've known him for so long (as the distributor of their line in Western Canada) and talked about brewing so much... well, it's pretty rare we just talk about making a beer. He created the (brewery and beer) name for himself. We (brewed it and) canned it for him so it is showing up in the LCBO. You can grab some of tap or in a growler at (Flying Monkeys) because we put it in our collaboration line."
Twitter buddy Dave D alerted me when Beer Master Ryan got
this into the Burlington LCBO at Walker's Line and Dundas.
Good thing, too, because this was the last somewhat dented
and dinged-up can Beyond The Pale's Aromatherapy IPA!

Despite the lack of brewery identification on the can, other than Barrie, Ontario, Andrea noted, "No secrets on our part and I think Little Known Brewery is obviously not a bricks-and-mortar place. But it's all done in the spirit of craft beer and we're fine if folks know about it."

So when another Barrie buddy, Shawn (also met during the Hago visit), recently post a pic of Je Ne Sais Quoi on Twitter and asked if anyone knew the story behind the beer, I promised him the full answer. And here it is. Except I originally thought it was connected to Parallel 49 Brewing in Vancouver, which it is not. However *takes a deep breath*, 49th Parallel Group does distribute Parallel 49 (gosh, I can't begin to imagine my initial confusion there, eh?), as well as Flying Monkeys, Tree Brewing (Kelowna, BC), Central City Brewing (the Red Racer folks, in Surrey, BC) Driftwood Brewing (the Fat Tug IPA folks out of Victoria, BC) and Phillips Brewing (also Victoria), as well as a dozen others to happy craft beer drinkers out in Western Canada.
Dammit, I just KNEW I had enjoyed a Beyond The Pale beer
before but I was stumped until I went through my pic folder.
Courtesy of Drunk Polkaroo is the brewery's Pink Fuzz, a
big 6% Grapefruit Wheat Ale which I thought rocked it. 

And speaking of Twitter, thank gawd I'm on it because my Burlington Twitter Brother Dave D (@puckywuckums) alerted me last week to the presence of Beyond The Pale Brewing's (Ottawa) Aromatherapy IPA at the Walker's Line and Dundas LCBO. The beer there is ordered by our craft superstar Ryan and both Dave and I consider it the best source of new craft brews in our city outside the breweries themselves. (In nearby cities, Dundurn LCBO is my choice for Hamilton while Oak Park LCBO gets the nod for Oakville.)

So off I went on Monday to grab some. Except there were none to be found. I scoured the shelves (Ryan was off) but to no avail. Okay, then, I was there anyway so I hunted for some newbies, as well as a few old faithfuls, mostly of the hoppy variety though I did branch out into other styles as I usually do. Just as I set was to leave, I spotted a lone can on the top left at the very end. No tray, no price tag, no nothing, just a solo can. I turned it around and it was Aromatherapy IPA! Hoppy Days are here again! 
This is billed as a North American IPA but Geronimo
IPA out of Walkerville Brewery in Windsor is actually
a west coast-British hybrid. Hops on the nose, malts on
the tongue. That said, both Hago and I enjoyed this one.

I quickly alerted Dave that I had found the last can, which looked like it had been the abused ball in a particularly-vicious rugby match. It was like it had taken several swan-dives from that top shelf. He responded, "Yeah, I know. I left that one. It was there last night. Didn't wanna be greedy since I have some at home. Thinking about my beer friends!"

And this is why craft beer drinkers flock to Twitter and Instagram. No macro drinker would be tweeting his buddies to say, "This is the best batch of Bud Lite I've had since August 2015. You gotta get some!" Craft drinkers understand the importance of information support services for their homeys and homettes.

Okay, there's a 140 characters limit on Twitter, which is probably a blessing in Twitter's case but also why I prefer Instagram or this blog for actual beer talkin' stuff. Since I had to be succinct on Twitter, I just said there was lemon on the nose and juicy mango on the tongue.
Eureka! I finally had a Sawdust City's
Juicin' IPA at Rib Eye Jack's Ale House in
Burlington and damn, that was tasty little
treat. At 6.4% and a surprisingly low 45
IBUs, this bad boy was all peach on the nose
with melon and pine resin on the tongue.
May I expand upon that, I ask, (as if you have a choice?) At 6.5% and a lower-end 55 IBU (international bitterness units - my exes are rated on the same scale - also sometimes, me), this is - and I am quoting Beer Bro Glenn directly here from a rare Twitter appearance all the way over there in The Shwa - "One of the best New England IPAs out there. One of the best Ontario IPAs period!" To put it in "Donny," this shit was the bomb. No wonder Dave D drew my attention to it. Holy crap, lemons, fruit, pine on the nose, peach, mango and citrus on the tongue. I think my mouth jizzed. So good. What Glenn said...

I knew I had enjoyed a Beyond The Pale brew before but couldn't remember which one. So I checked my so-full-I-feel-guilty "to review" folder and by gawd, there was their Pink Fuzz Grapefruit Wheat Ale, a gift from Drunk Polkaroo. Been sitting in that folder since early-April. (There are much older ones in there.) This ain't your Bavarian grandpappy's wheat. At 6%, there's ample grapefruit on the nose, some far more subtle citrus and grapefruit on the tongue, damn, this is a helluva starter beer. I wouldn't even have known this was a wheat, to be honest. I love it when they funk up the wheats.

Okay, a couple of quick ones to wrap this puppy up. I have had Walkerville Brewing's (Windsor) Geronimo IPA long ago as I believe my former co-worker Marie brought me back a one-litre (34 ounce) howler after she won big one night at the Caesars Windsor casino.
I liked this Rye Knot Rye Pale Ale by Taps Brewing
out of Niagara Falls but unfortunately, Cameron's
Brewing in Oakville has set the bar for this style way
too high. I'll call this medium effort a one-and-done.
So when I spotted it in the LCBO, I snagged one for myself, as well as Hago. While it's billed as a North American IPA, it owes more to Britain than the Portland, Oregon scene. There was plenty of west coast in the smell, courtesy of Cascade, Centennial and Summit hops, giving it orange and grapefruit on the nose but on the tongue, this 6.3%, 55 IBU ale goes all "Hail Britannia" on the tongue with deep, rich caramel. The colour alone had me half-expecting that. For all of its UK-leaning style, I thought it was pretty damn nice. More of a meal than a hop buzz with this one.

Ever had a beer that made you think, "This is okay... but it could have been a lot better"? That's exactly how I felt when I tried the Taps Brewing (Niagara Falls) Rye Knot Rye Pale Ale. The problem with this unique style is that Cameron's Brewing in Oakville makes such a good Rye Pale Ale that others could possibly suffer by comparison. That is exactly the case here. Add to that, the inclusion of the more recent, barrel-aged and most excellent Monty's Aged Rye Ale (formerly Monty's Golden Ryed Ale) from Old Tomorrow Brewing and well...
Someone at Amsterdam Brewing in Toronto got pretty
creative with the malts one day recently, creating this
killer Bob Marley (Bob Barley?) art. It be jammin'...

I'm not trying to be a dick here (he said, sounding a lot like a total dick) because this was decent but the 5% ale was far too light on the spiciness, the rye depth and well, the body was too damn thin. I'll try pretty much any beer once but every once in a while, I also come across those I won't try twice. This falls into that category. That said, I'll keep my eyes open for other Taps products. I would love to try their Baltic Shipwreck Russian Imperial Stout some day. That sounds like it has real potential.

Okay, I'll be back soon (he threatened) with six big-ass IPAs that my high school sweetheart Christine brought up from California on a recent visit. Man, they make some great hop-juice in that state.

And after that, well, it's funny. Guys like me, Drunk Polkaroo, Beer Bro Glenn and Soldier Boy Hago used to drink nothing but lagers in our macro days. Now we barely touch them. I needed a craft lager to, as Motley Crue would say, kick-start my heart. One from Britain did so I sought out more. And found some other beauties, as well. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...


Sunday, 18 June 2017

Nickel Brook... for the love of family

Nickel Brook Brewing owner John Romano did his
part for charity on Saturday when the brewery
hosted a Charity BBQ with ALL funds going to
Ronald McDonald House Canada, a hospice
where sick children from out-of-town can reside
with their families while getting needed medical
treatment from a nearby hospital. The houses
are funded by McDonald's with the large aid of
fundraisers like this one. John and his brother
Peter have a personal connection to this cause.
My hometown homeys, Nickel Brook, has been located at 865 Drury Lane for 25 years now. First they were Better Bitters, a brew-your-own-beer joint with a wine-making component (that still remains) until they evolved into Nickel Brook Brewing back in 2005.

To say they are family-oriented is to understate the case a little. The brewery is named after John Romano's children, Nicholas and Brooke (both of whom I have met working in the brewery during the Summer) and is owned by John and his brother Peter.

So when I started drinking craft beer in the Summer of 2013, the little brewery down the street and around the corner from me has been my go-to craftie as I dare say I might live closer to it than any of the actual employees.

And John is number one on my list of people to discuss the state of craft beer in Ontario. He is a man full of passion about what he, the brewery and the industry itself does and is, frankly, a walking, talking No Bullshit Zone kind of dude. I first met him in November 2013 when I stopped into the brewery to buy some Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout. You see, it had been included in an Ontario Craft Brewers' Mix-Six and since I had tried the other five beers, I figured I'd go straight to the source for the sixth brew.
This photo is less notable for the presence of myself and "Ontario's
Sexiest Cellarman" Tony Cox, right, as it is for the dude who happily
photobombed us in the middle. Frankly, this man made the photo great.

Finding out I worked for the Beer Store (the subject of considerable but always good-natured teasing on his part), he asked how I landed in the brewery. Well, aside from my love for their Headstock IPA (which, to me, will always be brewmaster Ryan Morrow's greatest creation despite countless other outstanding beers), I said simply, "I guess I just think people should shop locally."

That earned me a grateful handshake on the spot, as well as a free growler of Bolshevik Bastard and two-year-aged bottle of Kentucky Bastard bourbon-barrel aged Imperial Stout.
Kayla gives us a million dollar smile as she pours
my pint at the Nickel Brook Fundraising BBQ
on Saturday. Many happy faces filled the day.

Since that day, I have created countless friendships there from Rob Nagy, the man who has filled countless growlers for me as the Bottle Shop manager to the always-smiling Amiee Bellanger, the lovely lady who used to fill my growlers so close to the top that I would have to pour my first glass over the sink. Now happily settled into her new position of their Western Ontario Sales Rep, Aimee is loving the challenges of her job, as well as the people she meets because of it. "We have so much support out there and here today," she happily told me on Saturday. "I love being part of this."

And then there's Tony Cox, voted Ontario's "sexiest cellarman," in an exclusive poll taken by his wife, Charis, and their cats. There's nothing that will create a friendship quite as quickly as a mutual love for Batman and we both have that in spades. But there's more. As Tony reminded me recently, "Do you remember when you and (my son) David came in on March 23rd, 2014 and because it was David's birthday, we had a brewery tour?" To this day, Tony remembers the exact date of my son's birthday! It was David's first craft brewery tour and he loved the shiny equipment so much that he has come with me on countless more brewery tours. Man, he sure loved that canning machine. But then, all chrome and a cool conveyor belt, what's not for a young lad to love?
Tory Lewin, Nickel Brook's trusty Events and
Communication Manager, didn't ask me if I
would be attending their Fundraising BBQ
so much as tell me I would be attending it. Hey,
I was thrilled to take a day off work and join in!

So why did I and countless others descend on the brewery's parking lot on June 17? Well, I, for one, was told explicitly by Tory Lewin, Nickel Brook's Events and Communications Manager, about a month and a half ago that I would be there when they held their Charity Fundraising BBQ. "Are you coming to our fundraiser next month?" she asked me back in early May. Then she proceeded to answer her own question with a big smile. "Yes, you are coming." (Hey, you don't get to be a communication manager until you have honed the fine art of "subtle" persuasion!)

So when I landed at the Charity BBQ, I quickly sat down with Tory to ask her how it all came about. "We've partnered up with the Ronald McDonald Foundation with the whole Cause for a Cause so the whole month of June, 10 cents from every can of Cause and Effect (Blonde Ale) is going to the foundation." So when I asked her how many of the beer I should buy on my way out, she smiled, "Probably at least two cases."

Looking around at the happy crowd, she added, "It's going really well. It's a really great turnout and people are keen on donating to and supporting such a good cause. Look at that nice long line-up at the BBQ and the beer tent. This is just great!"
Chris Biggs and Jason Barr from the popular Biggs
and Barr morning show on 97.7 HTZ-FM out of St.
Catharines were on hand to do live remotes from the
event, as well as help us enjoy some kick-ass tunes. 

But while she was the big "day of event" contributor, setting up the tents, getting the licensing and getting people settled in, she threw the credit for the whole event towards the brewery's Manager of Corporate Sales and Marketing Matt Gibson. "Matt took this project under his wing and really ran with it. I'm here today hopefully helping it go smoothly but Matt was the one who put all the brains behind it."

While most people know this, Ronald McDonald Houses were created so that out-of-town children being treated in the hospital had a comfortable place to stay during treatment. Quite often, the families of the sick children are also put up there. However, what you may not know - because I certainly didn't - is why this charity is so near and dear to the hearts of brewery owners John and Peter Romano.

"Well, it's a sad story," John told me, taking a break from his sweaty BBQ duties. "Peter and I lost a sister to Leukemia many many years ago. We grew up north of Toronto (in Bolton) so Mom and Dad lived at Ronald McDonald House for years. So this is not just a charity we picked. It's a charity that's close to our hearts."
As much as I love my Headstock IPA, I definitely
made room for some Cause & Effect Blonde Ale
this month. Great beer for a greater cause in June.
"At the time, you didn't have to pay (to stay in the hospice) and my parents didn't have any money because they had spent it on other care for my sister." He added that even as a U-Brew 25 years ago, they had a charity box earmarked for the RMHC (Ronald McDonald House Charity) "so for about 10, 12 years (back in those days), we had a BBQ here every year until we got busy with the brewery."

Celebrating their 25th year in the same locale, the Romano brothers decided it was high time to get back into supporting the great work done by RMHC and celebrate it with this event. Every single dollar from the day went directly to the charity.

So was he happy with the turn-out? "Unbelievable! I've been sweating my you-know-what off behind the barbeque and I'm gonna have to go buy more burgers soon! We had a couple of hundred burgers and they're gonna be gone shortly." (For the record, they were delicious.)

But it actually ended up for me being an afternoon of hits and even close misses with some of my social media friends.
That's my Twitter and Instagram pal, Big
Canuck, aka Glen (a close friend of Drunk
Polkaroo) and his lovely wife, Angela. Now
Angela wanted to be sure I got a shot of their
matching sandals. Like me, they were both
big fans of Nickel Brook and this very event.
While I was off to the side, having a cigarette, this mountain of a man came lumbering over. "You're Don Redmond, right?" he asked. Turns out it was my Twitter and Instagram buddy, BigCanuck75, known better in his civilian identity, Glen, and a good friend of Drunk Polkaroo. He was there, enjoying the festivities with his wife, Angela. Now, so you know, Angela went to great lengths to point out that she had bought them identical sandals and while Glen was slow to warm up to the idea, eventually he relented and began wearing his in tandem with her. Because that's what smart husbands do. It's a game called "Yes, Dear!" and we learn to play it quickly for our own safety.

As well as BigCanuck75, another man I often tag on my many Instagram beer photos is Hoppy_Dad, aka Preston Richards in civilian life. Turns out he and I talked and didn't even realize it. While his kids played the bean-bag toss off to the side, I noted to him, "Yeah, they're gonna need more arch on their throws." Because, you know, pro league bean bag toss is all in the wrists. And we watched them play (somewhat successfully) for a few minutes. Not even knowing we knew each other. When BigCanuck75 posted our picture on Instagram (which got 44 likes because of Glen, not me), Preston piped up, "Oh f**k! Noticed you both and it didn't even register!" Next time, my friend, next time...

But someone has to get the final word and I'm leaving that to my buddy, Tony Cox.
Nickel Brook's own Funk Lab, under the watchful eye of
head brewer and "Funkmaster" Patrick Howell has made
a special brew for the LGBTQ community called Proud
As Funk! With Pride Week coming up in Toronto, I made
sure to grab one for me and two for my coworker Trey, a
member of the Pride community. It's a barrel-aged Brown
Flanders which is certain to be as sour as, well, Funk!
Before I left, he made sure that I stopped into the retail to grab some Funk Labs' Proud as Funk!, a barrel-aged Flanders Brown (so as sour as shit!) The brewery created it "to celebrate our friends, family and loved ones and everyone who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community. Love is Love is Love and we hope you'll love this beer as much as we all love you."

That's a pretty nice socially-aware sentiment, I thought and Tony has a big hand in naming it so kudos, brother! That's as clever as... Funk! But let's get back to Tony at the fund-raiser. "It's a good turn-out. Lots of local support here. The BBQ has been doing very good and I understand donations are as well. It's a good day for Nickel Brook and it's a good day for Ronald McDonald House."

And I understood he had a favourite writer there? "Oh yeah, my buddy, Don Redmond..." Really? Get the Funk out!!! But that's Nickel Brook. Even when you're not family, they always make you feel like you are the biggest part of it. I know I feel that way. You don't need to share a last name to be family. Sometimes you just are. As they say, "It takes a village to raise a craft beer lover." But guys and dolls, that's it, that all and I am outta here. Until next time (in a few days), I remain...


Thursday, 15 June 2017

Holy Punch To The Gut, Batman...

Yes, the TV show, Batman, was cheesy, silly, campy and ridiculous but we sure
loved it anyway. Running from 1966-1968, the ABC show collected ridiculously
high ratings as it captivated audience from young children (that would be me)
right up to college students. It was an abrupt turn-about from the DC Batman
comics which portrayed a darker vigilante fighting crime in Gotham City...
I had a quick visit from Mrs Polkaroo, aka Kat, at my Beer Store last weekend. And I feel somewhat badly about it.

You see, she works at nearby Sheridan College and had come over to pick up a few goodies I had rounded up for her hubby, Drunk Polkaroo.

But I was not in the best of moods. When we met, I groused about work, the weather, everything under the sun... everything except what was really bothering me. You see, I quite like my job so it wasn't that. And I love Summer temperatures so it certainly wasn't that.

It was about Adam West and his death at the age of 88 at his California home after a short-lived fight against Leukemia. You see, I learned of his death mere seconds before I hopped into my car for work and I think my mood just got progressively sadder (and a little bit pissier) with each passing mile.

So Kat, I am sorry. I know I wasn't myself but at that precise moment, I didn't know why. I was still trying to come to terms with the sudden death of an icon from my youth. I think at some point later in my shift, I finally clued in. It was just a one day funk but *POW* it kinda hit me hard.
My Nickel Brook homey, Tony Cox, texted me that Julie
Newmar, who portrayed Catwoman on the TV show was
his first love "at the age of six" the day of West's death.
Tony, my man, you aren't alone. This beautiful actress
fanned the interest of many young men during the run.

Adam West was a bit Hollywood player until landing the TV gig for ABC TV's Batman from 1966 to 1968. He has remained a pop cultural touchstone since that day, playing himself as the lunatic Mayor of Quohog, Rhode Island on the raucous and raunchy TV cartoon, Family Guy, and most recently, again, hilariously as himself on TV's hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory. (I'll include a link to that at the end.)

But West's portrayal of the comic book's Dark Knight was not exactly grim and gritty like the subsequent movies were (to excellent effect, I should add.) No, the TV show Batman was as funny and cheesy as hell. The lead actors, West and Burt Ward as Robin delivered the clearly ridiculous, funniest and most groan-worthy lines with perfectly straight faces. I mean, it was the level of "... and that's why every growing boy and girl should eat their vegetables... should buckle up in a car... should do their homework every night." Even as a young kid who was a comic geek at the time, I knew they were playing this for laughs. West himself said the TV show delivered the "Bright Knight" rather than the dark one.
We feel ya, Boy Wonder, we feel ya. The death of
Adam West came as a blow to his legends of fans...

And man, it was a fun ride. By the third and final season, celebrities were literally flocking to the campy series to do guest cameos. It was considered the TV show to be seen on in Hollywood and a real feather in your acting cap if you could get onto it, even briefly. The graphics were bright and cheerful. The tongue-in-cheek humour ran as rampant as the wacky villains through the streets of Gotham City.

The show ran two nights a week with a cliff-hanger ending on Tuesday nights that was quickly resolved at the beginning of Thursday night's episode. The criminals were funny and wayyy over-the-top. In fact, big-time Hollywood actor, Cesar Romero, who played arch-enemy, The Joker, actually refused to shave his trademark moustache for the role so if you look carefully, you can see the make-up people simply put white face paint over top of it, rendering it nearly (but not quite) invisible.
Whenever you saw Batman and Robin climbing a wall on
the show, it was, of course, just the camera turned to a
90 degree angle. But this is how they used to slip big name
celebrities into the TV show - by having them pop out of an
apartment window to happily greet the Caped Crusaders.
Here, the late Edward G Robinson comes out to say hey.

The easiest way for a big Hollywood celebrity to find themselves on the show was the reoccurring scenes of Batman and Robin climbing the wall of a building using their patented Bat-Rope. As they climbed, celebrities would often open up their apartment windows to greet the Dynamic Duo. And hilariously, since the celebrity was not meant to be recognized by the crime fighters, Batman would just refer to them as "Citizen." The celebrities could be funny as hell but Ward and West would continue to play the scene as straight-laced as possible. It made for some wickedly funny moments. As a kid, I was always wondering which celebrity would pop out a window next during the show. The second the scene showed them climbing or descending on the Bat-Rope, you knew it was gonna happen. I didn't always know the celebrity but man, I sure loved the bit.

So yeah, I was a little off my game when I learned of West's passing on Saturday. Some blows land a lot harder than the ones Batman use to lay on the chins of the Riddler's henchmen (*BAM*) and the loss of a childhood hero tops that list.

Muskoka, you were SO close to the perfect
name for your latest Moonlight Kettle beer.
Come on, Cool Hand Cuke would have been
perfect! Have your people call my people and
we'll start hashing out names for the next ones.
And hey, here's a Little Known Bat-Fact: chisel-jawed Hollywood hunk Lyle Waggoner (The Carol Burnett Show) screen-tested for the role but lost out to the more, well, doughy-in-the-middle West because of all the actors who auditioned, West was the only one who could deliver the ridiculous lines with a straight face.

But you know, when you get bummer news like this, you need something to perk you up a little. And Holy Hops, Barley, Water and Yeast, Batman, who better to do that than the Merry Masters of Mayhem at Muskoka Brewery in Bracebridge?

As you probably know, the brewery has been busy all year with its Moonlight Kettle Series. Each month, there's a new offering. But they went off-script for their Summer Survival Pack, created a specialty beer just for that - no month assigned, just a season, the Summer. Into the Summer mixer was Cool As Cuke Pale Ale. Out was Mad Tom IPA. Wait... WHAT??? Holy betrayal of the unholiest kind, Batman! It's like they swapped out Sidney Crosby for some untested rookie! When the 12-packs landed at my Beer Store, I texted Drunk Polkaroo, who was at the official launch of the new seasonal mixer with Kat in Toronto at the end of March and asked him, "What up wit' dat, Polk?"

"When we were at the release party last week, I asked them about that particular beer. I understand their thinking, they're going for a more summer patio vibe," he explained.
Madman Across The Water? And is Mad
Tom like angry-mad or insane-mad? That's
never really been explained although after
dealing with him personally on Twitter, I
strongly suspect it's a bit of both worlds.
Without... Mad... Tom? Holy Hangin' Offence... in some countries. So I told Polk that hey, I might create my own Muskoka Summer Survival Pack and put in such stalwarts as Mad Tom, Twice As Mad Tom Double IPA, the spicy delight Legendary Oddity, the Hazed and Confused Vermont Style IPA (May's Moonlight Kettle offering) and "two players to be named later."

And when that happens, well, Muskoka's marketing monkeys "would rue the day they messed with Mad Tom!" (Yeah, I said "rue." I went there. Meant it too.) Polk said I should consider calling my mixer, "Don's Survive With Tom and Friends Pack." I like that. It sings to me. Expect that blog soon enough.

So let's look at this interloper, Cool as Cuke Pale Ale, shall we? Okay, Houston, we have a problem. This is actually a pretty tasty Summer beer. (Dammit! This would be much easier if it sucked.) And actually, "untested rookie" isn't accurate as they brought the Cuke out of retirement for this mixer. Turns out the brewery dumped 350 litres (92 gallons) of fresh cucumber juice into every batch of Cool as Cuke, making roughly 4% of the batch actual cucumber juice. Wanna guess what it tastes like? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?
When I posted a Muskoka Winterweiss versus a Muskoka
Summerweiss in a Weiss Guy Showdown, an additional
poll by my Beer Buddy Hago certainly had an interesting
result as two people voted for a style that doesn't exist...
Also in the mix is Lemongrass but frankly, I'm not sure what that actually tastes like. Lemony? Grassy? A lemon-grass attack? Don't laugh. It happened to my neighbour.

The 4.7%, 30 IBU (international bitterness units) tastes a lot like cucumber (you probably saw that coming, eh?) with a bit of citrus and was definitely a refreshing, light Summer brew. But dammit, it's no Mad Tom. I was in the Vietcong trenches with Mad Tom and there was no man named Cuke in our unit. (Might have been just a bizarre dream. Who knows?)

So I went directly to the man, Mad Tom himself, the only IPA in Ontario with his own Twitter account (@MuskokaMadTom) and asked about his exclusion.
Why does Captain America look pissed? Because Mad
Tom IPA isn't in the Muskoka Summer Survival Pack.
But, well, that's their outstanding Legendary Oddity
in the glass so maybe it's just a bad rash or something.
Now the thing about Mad Tom on Twitter, as both Beer Buddy Hago and I have learned is that he likes to yell at you. He answers everything in ALL CAPS. So if you ask him something, don't expect pleasantries. After all, his account says, "My name isn't Nice Tom. You've been warned." Naturally, Hago and I ask him the stupidest things we can imagine so that he'll yell at us.

So I asked him flat-out on Twitter: "Why aren't you in the Summer Survival Pack?" His response: "THEY COULDN'T AFFORD MY PRICE!" Fair enough. He probably has a manager to pay, as well as a publicist, four ex-wives and a 20-something Swedish masseuse named Helga.

But Hago and I have run afoul of the man many times, including recently when Hago gifted me with a kick-ass Muskoka giant goblet glass and I excitedly posted a picture of my new glass filled with a tallboy of Mad Tom on Twitter. Mad Tom took one look and barked: "WHAT, DRINKING OUT OF THE CAN SUDDENLY ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU?"
How many 341-ml (11.5 ounces) bottles of Mad Tom IPA
does it take to fill my bitchin' new Muskoka glass? Glad
you asked. It takes one and about five-sixths bottles. So
okay, that is one big-ass glass. Also my new favourite...

Granted, Hago didn't fare any better. When Muskoka asked how they were going to give me a hard time about now since I owned their glassware, one of Hago's "helpful" answers was that "Don's loud and old like Muskoka Mad Tom." That earned him a "BETTER THAN YOUNG AND DUMB!" from Mad Tom. Naturally, Hago chose to see the positive side in this response (because I'm pretty positive that Hago is a pretty positive dude) and excitedly posted, "Hey, Don, Mad Tom thinks I'm young!"

But perhaps the funniest moment regarding Muskoka recently came without input from either the brewery or the man himself. About a week or so ago, I posted a picture of Muskoka's Winterweiss and their Summerweiss side-by-side and asked simply, "Which is better?"

Hago decided to take it a small step further by jokingly attaching a poll and saying, "I'm making it a poll with additional suggested weisseses! Cheers!"
Not this time, Mr West/Wayne. It seems 2016
was your last. Sorry to see you go, old chum...
Now I'm glad Hago added the poll. I don't know how to do that poll thing on Twitter because I'm... what's that word?... oh yeah, stupid. But he offered up the choices of: Summerweiss, Winterweiss, Springweiss and Fallweiss. The problem? There's no such thing as Springweiss and Fallweiss. Hago made them up. The other problem? Out of 13 votes, Fallweiss got two for 15% of the vote. Summerweiss swept the other 11. Deservedly so in this case but I'm a little disheartened that their Winterweiss, a damn solid beer, couldn't beat an imaginary one. "C'est la guerre" ("That's war") as Mad Tom and I said in those Vietcong trenches.

Anyway, add Muskoka Mad Tom to your Twitter if you wanna have some grouchy old good fun. And if he embarrasses you, just remember that it's not as bad as that time you offered the pregnant lady your seat on the bus. Except she wasn't pregnant. And you weren't on the bus. She was your boss and you were, like, super-high at work, wheeling around on your chair. And she is actually not a woman but a guy. (Don't do this! I was in HR for over a week.) But guys and dolls, I will be back in a couple of days so stay cool in this blessed heat. Finally. And Adam West? You were the best, old chum! Check him out on The Big Bang Theory in a link I can only call: What's An Affleck? Until then, I remain...




Sunday, 11 June 2017

Sgt Pepper was a Canadian cop...

The actual Beatles, front and centre, with a bunch of old-timey celebrity
cardboard cut-outs surrounding them. At the time, I only recognized a
few of them - Marilyn Monroe, WC Fields, Tony Curtis, Marlon Brando
 and that was about it. Later, of course, they would all be identified in
 in great length but we also learned that just above the word Beatles in
flowers were marijuana sprouts. Those boys liked to get their buzz on!
It was fifty years ago today... Sgt Pepper taught the band to play... 

June 1st marked something of a big anniversary in the music industry as it was the 50th year to the day that The Beatles released their seminal, ground-breaking Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album on June 1, 1967.

I was just a little kid at the time and didn't realize the significant of the album. I probably wasn't all that into music just yet. I knew The Beatles were a pretty big deal but frankly, at that age, I was far more concerned about how Spider-Man was going to beat Doctor Octopus. I mean, with those killer metal arms and shit? How do you beat that? (For those keeping score, yeah, Spider-Man did beat him. He always beat him.) Hell, at that age, I probably still thought girls had "kooties." It would take decades for me to learn that kooties are actually called STD's.
On the inside sleeve of the album, that OPP badge on
Paul McCartney's shoulder, given to him by OPP
officer, Sgt Randall Pepper, couldn't be clearly made
out and many thought it said OPD. That all became
part of the whole "Paul is dead" conspiracy theory
because that could only mean "Officially pronounced
dead," right? Like I said, lots of drugs back there in
the 1960s. Fortunately, they stuck around for the 70s.

But despite being a big Beatles fan for decades now and knowing this album front to back, there was something I didn't know. Sgt Pepper was an actual guy. An OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) sergeant from Aurora named Randall Pepper who headed up the unit that was assigned to protect The Beatles for their 24 hours in Toronto during their 1966 tour.

Now as it turned out, this Sgt Pepper was a pretty straight-laced, no-nonsense kind of guy who, frankly, thought The Beatles looked like a bunch of girls with their long hair. However, noted Canadian rock historian Alan Cross told CTV News on June 1 that "for whatever reason, he was charmed by The Beatles and The Beatles were also charmed by him."

So that OPP patch on the shoulder of McCartney's jacket for the outfits they wore on the album cover? Well, he and the other three Beatles were given them by Pepper and his comrades. So there you go. A Canadian police officer played a pivotal role in what many historians considered to be one of, if not the greatest rock albums ever produced in the last century.

But it's interesting. While this all seems very dated, perhaps it's a little more timeless than we thought. At the Tim Horton's I go to, there is always this easel with a framed photo or painting on it. People bid on it, starting at $200, with the eventual winning bid going directly to the new Oakville Hospital.
As the sun sets at the cottage during Boys Weekend, I got
this shot of Redline Brewhouse's Aggressive Jazz Hands
in the Official Boys Weekend tribute glass from South
River's own, Highlander Brew Co. What a bomb-blast!
Those framed photos are almost always of big-name hockey players. But one time a few weeks back, it was a great picture of The Beatles performing live. A boy, around 10 or so, and his two younger siblings were examining the picture as their Mom lined up for treats. "Do you know who they are?" I asked him. "Yeah," he smiled, "they're called The Beatles." Good job, I told him but "can you name any of them?" He named all four - first names only, mind you but all four correctly. One smart kid.

Okay, this is a beer blog and thus, I should do that transition. But before I get to my first beer, Redline Brewhouse's blend of a Belgian strong ale and Imperial IPA called Aggressive Jazz Hands, a quick word about Buzzed-Out Gorilla Hands. You see, The Beatles called in an orchestra to create the final crescendo for a song called "A Day in the Life." But they really didn't know what they were looking for. So they asked all these respected orchestra members to wear gorilla hands or clown noses and other weird-ass stuff like that. Then the late John Lennon addressed his distinguished guests by saying, "What I'd like to hear is a tremendous build-up from nothing up to something absolutely like the end of the world."
"Hulk... Get Smashed!!" Once again, Stone
Brewing out of Escondido, California, proves
they can brew no wrong. Their Vertical Epic,
a Belgian-style Strong Ale and a yearly release
offers up a glass full of spicy, tangy goodness.
At that exact point, I have absolutely no doubt that the bassoonist leaned over to the cellist and whispered, "I don't know what drug this Liverpool scouser is on but I would like to try some..."

Okay, beer time and as mentioned, we're starting with another beauty out of Redline Brewhouse in Barrie. Their brewmaster, Sebastian MacIntosh, clearly loves to tinker, blended different styles in barrels, vats, the kitchen sink... just another Brewing Mad Scientist. So he created a house ale using a Belgian Abbey yeast strain before mixing it with a proper West Coast Imperial IPA. It could have been a train-wreck as styles don't always mesh... but it wasn't. Quite the opposite, in fact. At 8.3% but just 43 IBUs (international bitterness units), they has that huge whiff of spiciness coupled with pineapple but is all IPA on the citrus and pine finish. Of the three beers I gave former coworker and hop-lovin' Jay-Dawg in a Redline Mix-Six, this was his hands-down favourite over Air Ride IPA and Going Going Back Back to Cali Cali IPA. All three are excellent but he liked that this one just had that extra little bit of juicy creativity.

Okay, we were talking about a Belgian Strong Ales so let's continue to stomping down that familiar path... unless it involves hiking because screw that. Sounds like physical fitness which has nothing to do with me fittin' dis big-ass beer down my massive pie-hole.
The reflection of the sun on the top of this bottles of Sunlight
Park Grapefruit Saison from Left Field Brewery based in
Toronto makes a very powerful statement. And this Spring, that
statement would be, "Holy shit, the sun is out! No rain today?"
Well, what can I tell you about Stone Brewing that you don't already know? They're based in Escondido, California. They make craft beer. And those beers are always excellent. See? I told you I had nothing new.

Except maybe this. Way back on February 2nd, 2002 (hence the 02-02-02 on the label), they created this big boozy Belgian Strong Ale called Vertical Epic and it was such a hit with the craft-lovin' guzzlers that they keep going back to that vat every year. This one was released to celebrate the 20th anniversary late in 2016 and it was certainly cause for celebration. Meant to be an Imperial Belgian Wit of sorts, I'll confess I got no bubble-gum or banana (traditional wheat aromas) on the nose of this 7.5%, 40 IBU ale but man, there was some fresh-ground pepper in there, citrus and a flowery scent. On the tongue, the pepper disappeared but there was a complex mix of melon, orange, more citrus, a bit of wine and a very dry finish. It wasn't barrel-aged (to my knowledge) but had some of those elements to it. A big ol' beer from a long-trusted and respected source.
As my first ever offering from Hamilton's Clifford
Brewing, I made sure I put this Pinball Wizard into
the glass of their city-mates, Collective Arts Brewing.
The Pale Ale won a bronze at the 2014 Canadian
Brewing Awards and is a pretty solid little brew.

Well, here in Southern Ontario, it looks like we are finally turning the seasonal corner. This year, April Showers did not turn into May Flowers. Instead, it turned into Twice As Much Damn Rain As April followed by Flooding Everywhere. When hard-right politicians tell us climate change is a hoax and that God will protect the Earth, I think God's answer in May was, "Better build an ark then." And also, "Don't hang that climate change crap on Me! For the love of Me, I sent you scientists!"

But with the change in the season to Summer, that means it's time for a Saison, which is, of course, French for season. So let's go to our friends at the baseball-obsessed Left Field Brewing in Toronto and their Sunlight Park Grapefruit Saison. To quote Crocodile Dundee, "Noice!" Also to quote him further, "You call that a knife? This is a Saison!" (I may have that one wrong.) Turns out Sunlight Park was an actual baseball diamond built in Toronto way back in 1886. The stands, everything - all made of wood. The bats? Wood. The urinals? Wood. The Ark? Wood. It's not coincidence. But this was a beauty of a light Summer beer. I find saisons are just that much nicer with a fruit twist and, well, grapefruit, you can't go wrong there. At 5.3% and 22 IBUs, you smell both the wheat on the malt and the grapefruit zing on the tongue. A home run.
I have had exactly one blueberry ale in the past and it
pretty much put me off the fruit beer style for a long while.
But then along comes Ottawa's Broadhead Brewing with
their Bodacious Blueberry Blonde and I was back in there.

I finally had a beer out of Clifford Brewing in Hamilton and where better to start than their award-winning Pinball Wizard American Pale Ale? This was strong out of the gate, despite being a little on the high side for a pale ale at 5.7% and 55 IBUs. That said, you'll never hear me complain about big numbers. If I can count them on my hands and if necessary, my toes, you're well within reason as far as I'm concerned. Okay, my favourite pale ale of the year thus far is Redline's Clutch Pale Ale. Did this knock it off the throne? No, it did not. Did this throw up some stiff competition? Yes, I will say that. It's got citrus, pine and juicy fruits on the nose, a little heavy-handed on the back end's breadiness but all in all, a damn fine beer. My beer writing buddy, Drunk Polkaroo, swears by their porter so that's up next. But this was pretty solid. Nice job.
I posted this picture on Facebook with a one-word caption
that said simply: "BEERD". This brewer with Verboten
Brewing in Loveland, Colorado got pretty damn creative
with his beard, I thought. While most women chirped in
with "Ew!" my old high school buddy, Brian, who now
lives in that state, chipped in with "Verboten is just up
the road from me! Great beer! Gotta love the beerd!
Very Colorado beer!" Ladies, much better than "Ew!"

Okay, I don't write much about fruit beers and there's a reason. The style is usually gross and sickly sweet. Truth to tell, I avoid pumpkin beers altogether and I'm not even sure pumpkins are a fruit. They're just scary, hallowed-out conduits that channel the spirit of the anguished lost souls.... and frankly, I wish my grandfather had never told me that at the age of five. I think he was trying to see which of us would die of a heart attack first. I mean, he did but still... geez.

So let's turn to our Ottawa friends at Broadhead Brewing and their Bodacious Blueberry Blonde Ale. The only other time I had a blueberry ale (I think Waterloo made it), I poured that crap down the drain after two sips. The toilet might have been a more appropriate receptacle but I was hoping it would clean the pipes. So I was pretty damn impressed when this not only made the grade but set the bar for fruit beers. Yeah, the blueberry was strong enough on the nose that I was concerned but the second I cautiously sipped the 5%, 12 IBU ale, I felt vindicated. The blueberry was still there, backed up some nice carbonation, but not overpoweringly so. It was tart and tangy and damn tasty! Excellent work, Broadhead! And hey, a little bit of every style in this one.

Okay, if 2016 prepared us for anything, it was celebrity deaths. I'll be back in a couple of days to deal with the loss of TV's Batman Adam West. And talk about beer. But man, this one hurts. Bad! But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...