Monday, 20 March 2017

Of #BeerSaints and "Alternative Facts"...

One is a man who is worshipped and adored by craft
beer drinkers across Ontario. And the other is Great
Lakes' head brewer Mike Lackey. *Double-checks

caption info* Oh, shit, I might have that backwards.
This is what I get for letting Drunk Polkaroo edit me.
In the wee hours of a Saturday morning at the beginning of February, Great Lakes Brewing in Etobicoke invited an elite group of Ontario's beer writers, videographers and bloggers to come on in and, well, help them brew a beer. (I included that last bit in case anyone is uncertain what happens these days at a brewery. They got out of the slave trade industry years ago. Allegedly.)

The Big Brew Day came the weekend before Great Lakes held their kick-ass 30th Anniversary Party at The Antler Room and I heard all about it. That's because my buddy, Robert, better known as Drunk Polkaroo, was among the invitees and was excitedly posting a countdown on Facebook in the days prior. It was totally "kid in a candy shop" time for my man, Polk. There were also numerous pre-brew posts on Instagram, Twitter and for all I know, he may have fired up his old My Space account just for this occasion. I do know he has added "professional brewer" to his LinkedIn account so yeah, the dude was pumped. And rightfully so. What a freakin' buzz.

So, of course, when he and I connected at the GLB 30th Birthday Bash, I had to ask him how it went. On the Incredibly Cool Scale that goes from one to the first Marvel's Avengers movie, where exactly did the day rank for him?
This glass and subsequent beer label for Great Lake's 30th Anniversary
Belgian Quad, created by their graphic designer Fabian Skidmore, was a
bitch to photograph because of the reflective gold label. Sun in the front?
Lost the label in the glare. Sun from behind? Same thing. Finally, I put
it on my barbeque wing and got the sun from behind through bushes. I
call this final photo moderately successful. But the beer? Oh. My. God.
Oh baby, that day was totally Mjolnir (Thor's Hammer) for the Polkamon. Hell, you could throw in Captain America's shield for good measure.

Polk recounted that Great Lake head brewer (sole survivor from Krypton and the lone DC reference here) Mike Lackey handed him a bag of malts to pour into the big-ass vat. After he had done his brewing chore, he asked Mike what was next. "Now you go and drink beer," smiled Lackey. Okay, at that exact point, we now have to throw Iron Man's armour and Hawkeye's bow into the mix.

Now because the brewery was full of writers, they called the beer "Alternative Facts" as a sly nod to the recent press conferences toward our immediate south. And because he took part, Polk landed a few bottles and held a contest for one on social media.
When my man, Polkaroo and his lovely navigator Kat stopped into my
Beer Store on St. Paddy's Day, they did not come empty-handed.  Right
in the middle of their 2,700-km (1,678 miles), 50 craft brewery, seven
day Polkapalooza Tour, they came bearing gifts for this Wexford County,
Ireland descendant. (That's me.) I asked him for ONE beer - a Twin
Pines Double IPA from Sawdust City Brewing. That was it. One beer!
He tacked a zero on the end of that one and brought me 10. Including an
mystery bottle up front that neither of us can ever review. We can't even
say what brewery it's from. Oh and he threw a Beau's glass into the mix.
To win it, you had to determine which statement about Polk was untrue. #1) He had been married twice. #2) He had never broken a bone. And #3) His first review on Untappd was Old Milwaukee. The winning guess would be selected at random by Polk on Instagram Video.

Well, as I sipped my beer, I watched person after person pick the Old Milwaukee answer. So I took matters into my own hands by posting, "I know you have been married twice. I know your first beer on Untappd was Old Milwaukee, just as Twice as Mad Tom Double IPA was your 500th and Motley Cru 2016 was your 1,000th. So that means you have broken a bone." Oddly, after that, every single answer on Facebook was the "broken bone" one.
Okay, as it turns out, an overcast day makes it a
little easier to photograph Fabian Skidmore's
design. This, my friends, is what a winning
bottle of Great Lakes Brewing's Alternative
Facts looks like. It also looks very free to me.

Partially due to my, well, prompting, Polk ended up with 32 correct answers and did a draw one night on Instagram Video. Of course, I had no idea how that works so I missed it and was probably watching funny cat videos on YouTube. (What? I enjoy watching cats fall off furniture. There's nothing wrong with that! That doesn't make me some sort of deviant freak. It's the other stuff I do that makes me that.)

So I was a little surprised when Polk came onto Facebook to tell me I had won. Now because we're pals, I asked if I had actually won or I *wink, wink, nudge, nudge* won. No, he assured me, he had fed the numbers into some video number selector thingy (again, no idea - do not come to me for tech support unless it's about spastic cats) and my number came up. Live and on air, as it were.

Now Polk's generosity is legendary. He calls the practice of beer friends passing back and forth regional craft beers by one name - #BeerSaint. See, it has a hashtag and everything. My name for that esteemed and highly-revered practice is, well, a little more on the crass side - #FreeBeerForDonny. And since I won that bottle of Alternative Facts (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), maybe it's time to start talking about beer. Specifically, Great Lakes beer because, whoa, I have had more than a few new, really good ones from them lately.
Well, hot-snot, Samson, this was a tasty little
offering from Great Lakes. Their Meanwhile
Down In Moxie East-Coast IPA had all the
haziness expected from that style and none of
those floaty bits. Most of us can live with that.

Now just before I begin, a quick word about the popularity of Great Lakes beer from someone I would hashtag #BeerAngel and that would be the lovely Kylie at Rib Eye Jack's Ale House in Burlington. Recently, I wandered in aimlessly (because no one wanders with actual purpose) to my watering hole and the assigned Great Lakes tap was "between kegs", awaiting a new arrival. That, of course, is not ideal. However, there are tons of great beers on tap so it's not devastating. And Kylie pointed out one distinct advantage for the bar. "When we have Great Lakes on tap, nobody drinks anything else!" So for a few days, anyway, some other breweries got some loving. From me, it was Redline Brewing and their excellent Clutch Pale Ale. (Zup, Barrie?? Your Redline homeboys representing some tasty-ass orange and grapefruit 4.8% APA sessionability in the hizzhouse! I drink you as well when Great Lakes is on tap to, you know, mix it up.)

But back to Great Lakes. Let's start with their 30th Anniversary Belgian Quad. Actually, no. That was so goddamn big, let's finish with that, instead. Okay, Alternative Facts it is then. First thing I like about this is that it's just 3.8%. I'm sorry but you need those in your life, especially if you're like me or Polkaroo, constantly trying new beers. They can't all be 12% barrel-aged bastards that crack your skull open and eat your brains. Life needs balance. As do Polk and myself. Falling over is not that much fun for us anymore. Gravity is an unforgiving bitch. As are our bones.
Because I love the art of Garnett Gerry on his
many GLB labels, here's a closer look at his one
for Meanwhile Down In Moxee IPA. The back
label explains that when Mike Lackey visited
Moxee, a town near Yakima Valley, Washington,
for the hops used in this, he discovered this cool
little town that had a post office, a laundromat and
one "terrific Teriyaki restaurant." So you know,
Teriyaki has nothing to do with El Dorado hops.
Okay, this English mild ale was brewed with cocoa nibs. Before you ask, nibs are bits of fermented, dried, roasted and crushed cacao bean. So yeah, there was some nice light bittersweet chocolate and a touch of coffee in there. Those beer writers did a damn fine job... drinking Canuck Pale Ale while Lackey and crew did the actual legwork.

Okay, I damn pumped when I heard Great Lakes was introducing a Vermont-style IPA. That east coast style means hazy, muddy and cruddy. I love it. So when Meanwhile Down In Moxee American IPA made its grand debut at the brewery, I was not far behind. In life, I'm miles behind. In craft beer, oddly I keep up. So how is this 6.4%, 65 IBU (international bitterness units) smokeshow? In honour of the late, great Chuck Berry who passed three days ago, all I can say is... Moxee B. Goode. Tons of orange on the nose (it almost smells like Tang), your tongue is hit by wave after wave of juicy mango. How these guys make so many different and unique IPAs is the little-written-about Eleventh Wonder of the World. And frankly, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is kinda boring, should step aside in place of Great Lakes' Tank 10.

(True Tank 10 Story That Can Now Be Told): Polk admitted to me that when no one was looking, he actually hugged Tank 10.
Great Lakes' Harry Porter and the Complicated Coffee
Order (let's assume that's the person in front of you at
Starbucks) had a little surprise for me on the back end.
They were lucky it was just Polk. They would have needed a fire hose and their five strongest brewers to pry me off of Ontario's most famous beer vat.

Okay, that brings us to the seventh beer in their Harry Porter line - Harry Porter and the Complicated Coffee Order. As expected, I got the usual coffee (actually tons of coffee) and chocolate on both the nose and tongue of this 6.5%, 18 IBU offering. But there was something else in there, confusing me. About halfway through, I was getting some inexplicable heat from it. So I went to their commercial description, only to find they had also used Scotch Bonnet Peppers in the mix. A small amount, I'm guessing, but it's there. And it comes out of hiding about 300-mls (10 ounces) into this 650-ml (22 ounces) offering. It's subtle, it's sneaky and it's doubtful I would have ever noticed it from a sample. That's why it's good to drink all of the beer!!!

And speaking of samples, that's precisely what party-goers at GLB's Big 30th Bash got along with the toast from owner Peter Bulut. A sample of the brewery's soon-to-be-released 30th Anniversary Belgian Quad in a cool glass.
Beauty and the Beasts: GLB head brewer Mike Lackey (top right) did
what no sane man would do. He invited this motley group of beer-writing
thugs to come in and make a beer! Fortunately, brewers are not known
for their sanity and thus Alternative Facts English Mild Ale was born. 
Instantly, Beer Bro Glenn, Polk and myself gave our first impressions. Glenn got some plum, Polk noted the caramel and I said, "I'm getting a white wine barrel?" I was on the right track... but wrong wine as this was aged in pinot noir barrels and that, my friends, is a distinctly red wine. It's also a pretty good indication of how little I know about wine. When I bought a 650-ml bomber for home enjoyment, I noticed something instantly. This 11.3% Quad has so much flavour that it was, as Polk likes to say, "a slow sipper." This was like the Cognac of beers. But that slow sipping lead to another discovery. The warmer it got, the better it got. I quickly took the bottle out of the fridge and let it warm up for Glass #2.
Urban legend has it that one of these coat-hooks
was artist Garnett Gerry's inspiration for GLB's
Octopus Wants To Fight IPA label. True? Who
know for sure? Except for the artist himself...
Like both men said, plum and caramel, as well as red wine grapes (I know that now), a bit of spice, notes of brown sugar and an insane fullness to the body. Frankly, just an unbelievable beer. They have their work cut out for them in 2022 and their 35th Anniversary. This will be tough to top... or even match.

Okay, one final Great Lakes Brewing story. When I popped into the brewery with a cake on February 12, their exact 30th birthday, you may remember from a previous column that owner Peter came out to greet me personally. So as we were all having a slice of the chocolate-caramel cake (the solid food equivalent of a hearty stout), Peter asked me where I had purchased it. Wellll, I bought it while I was doing Sunday morning grocery shopping... at Walmart. Geezuz, all the great little bakeries in Burlington and I brought a frikkin' Walmart cake to a birthday party?? Of course, I had to admit it so I did... as my face instantly dropped and I started studying their tile floor. "No, no, no!" said Peter, sensing my embarrassment, "It's delicious!" I suppose in a brewery where no previous cakes had existed that day, even one from Walmart tasted pretty damn good. And it was after lunch time, after all.

Anyway, Great Lakes did a video of that Beer Writers' collaborative effort and you can see it here on a link I can only call: Beer Bloggers In Paradise! (Watch for Polk!) But guys and dolls, I gotta go. Polk has giving me 10 reasons to get busy. So that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Inappropriate labels... or not?

Way back in 2011, Flying Monkey's owner Peter Chiodo
held up this bottle of Smashbomb Atomic IPA that got
grounded by the LCBO. In this photo from Ian McInroy
of the Barrie Examiner, Chiodo displays the "bomb blast"
label that the LCBO found to be potentially offensive. 
Well, the issue of sexism on craft beer labels has been causing a stir for a few years now and I recently weighed in on the matter when I discussed the 1950s Pin-Up girls quietly disappearing from the cans of Old Milwaukee, produced up here in Canada by Sleeman Brewing.

But it seems sexism isn't the only social arena where a beer label can run afoul. Oh no, no, my friends, there is much more socio-political controversy out there over craft beer labels that extend far beyond gender issues. Because so many labels have come under fire for so many reasons, I'll just be sticking to the beers I've had whose labels have come under fire for reasons other than sexism. And surprise, surprise, it turns out there's a few.

So let's start with my first-ever IPA Of The Year from way back in 2013, Flying Monkeys (Barrie, Ontario) Smashbomb Atomic IPA. Obviously, this beer has long been a favourite around Donny's Bar and Grill and I was genuinely surprised that this beer had been denied by the folks at the LCBO who screen the labels of incoming products. According to an April 2011 article in the Globe and Mail, the issue was one of sensitivity towards our soldiers who, at that time, were fighting missions in Libya and Afghanistan.
As you can see from the bottle and the six pack carrier, the bomb blasts
were taken out of the label and replaced with an image that looks more
like a dust storm. But wait... those single cans on the right, released last
Summer, have the bomb blasts reinserted again? What trickery be this? 

But while that story looked at many labels on beer, wine and liquor bottles, a much more thorough piece in the Barrie Examiner, written by Raymond Bowe in April 2011, looked at Smashbomb Atomic's label issues exclusively. In that article, Flying Monkeys' owner Peter Chiodo took a very conciliatory and understanding viewpoint of the LCBO's position. "It's a tough one for a small brewer any time we're censored. But the reality is the LCBO is really our biggest fan so we have to be mindful of that. They are supporting the craft beer movement." See? Now that's just a nice guy. A great Canadian boy who plays clean but hard in the corners, as Don Cherry might say.
I don't believe I've ever sampled two of my favourite IPAs side-by-side
before two weekends ago. Quite a difference in colour was the first
thing I noticed of the beers which were my 2013 and 2014 IPAs of the
Year. On their labels, Smashbomb goes for the explosive look while
Headstock goes for a more peace, love and groovy image. But hey,
Nickel Brook also ran afoul of the LCBO with its Bolshevik Bastard.

In that same article, LCBO spokesperson Chris Layton admitted that while there were issues with the name, "It really comes down to the imagery, as a depiction of an explosion." So the two sides negotiated and while he was not willing to change the name, Chiodo toned down the imagery. The bomb blasts were yanked and replaced with a more dust storm-like image. With the name, Chiodo noted that "smash" simply means "single malt and single hop" (Citra hops - the malt is Crystal but when it comes to IPAs, no one cares about malts except brewers) while the "bomb" did refer to the explosion of grapefruit and mango on the tongue that the beer delivers.
The original label imagery for Nickel Brook's
Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout also ran
afoul of the LCBO with its image of Joseph
Stalin. As you can see, the brewery relented
and used the traditional Russian symbol of a
hammer and sickle in their final product.

But it's interesting to note that when Flying Monkeys released the beer in single 473-ml (16 ounce) cans last Summer, that original bomb blast slipped back into the imagery. How did they sneak that one by? I have a theory and it goes like this...
LCBO official: "Hey, wait a minute!! Isn't that the label we nixed five years ago??"
Peter: (in Jedi robes, waves his hand) "This is not the label you are looking for."
LCBO official: *blankly* "This is not the label I am looking for. *Snaps out of trance* Okay, people, let's get this on the shelves!"
Okay, yeah, it's far more likely that the LCBO simply softened their stance but if you can't work Star Wars into every-day situations then what's the point of life? Also, we can never be friends. That is a little more advantageous for you than you realize. Trust me on this one.

Next on deck are my homies at Nickel Brook, down the street and around the corner from Donny's Bar and Grill. At roughly the same time that Flying Monkeys was running into trouble, so, too, was Nickel Brook with its Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout. You see, the original label incorporated an image of Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union leader from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. Now the truth is Stalin and the Soviet Union were our allies in WWII. So there is that side of the coin.
This is the cleaned-up version of Lost Coast
Brewery's Indica IPA. It came under fire from
the East Indian community, not just because it
not only used imagery of their elephant god
Lord Ganesha but in one of his four hands and
trunk, he was holding a beer. Eventually, the
brewery modified the label despite winning a
court case of its use under freedom of speech.

However, after the war, when it was revealed that the man had ordered the death of millions of his own people, the West (that's us) then realized he was a nasty piece of scumbag bastard work. (But hey, thanks for the help in the war - much appreciated.) In 1991, when the USSR dissolved and a number of countries became independent, there was a sense of relief in the West (still us) as the Cold War finally came to an end. Nations like the Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and a whole bunch more that end in "stan" were free. So when the LCBO decided that maybe Stalin wasn't appropriate for a beer label, well, I gotta say, I'm in their corner. Can you imagine being a Ukrainian or Latvian immigrant or descendant in Canada and coming face-to-face with a Stalin label at the LCBO? Not cool. Also the present label has a sleeker, cleaner look so I'm calling this a change for the better.

When high school sweetheart Christine flew to Canada from California last Summer, she came armed with six IPA beauties from her state for me. So, of course, I researched each of the six with the exception of the Stone IPA because frankly, I know as much about this beer as the Escondido brewery itself. Well, maybe if consumption equals knowledge. As it turns out, one of the beers, Lost Coast Brewing's (Eureka, California) Indica IPA was been under fire numerous times. The reason? The depiction of Hindu god, Lord Ganesha, an elephant with four arms, on the label. The East Indian community was so incensed with the label that showed Ganesha holding beers and looking intoxicated that the matter landed in court.
Reverend Lovejoy: "And to my right is a man of, well,
let's say, unknown religion." This is how little the West
understands other religions outside of North America. 

Granted, there are probably not many of us in the West who understand the tenets of Hinduism but the matter was serious enough that it became an actual discussion in the India Upper House of Parliament some 8,290 miles (13,300 km) away. While the brewery won the court case under the freedom of speech statutes, they also wisely toned down the label, having artist Duane Flatmo reduce Ganesha's arms on the label from four to two (to lessen the resemblance) and replace the beers with a latte. Now if you're, say, a Christian who is uncertain as to why this was controversial, I will simply ask this: How would you feel about a beer label that depicted a drunk Jesus on the cross? Exactly. You never make light of the religion of others.

Of course, leave it to The Simpsons to poke fun at our North American ignorance of other cultures and religions. In an 1989 episode, Homer decides to skip church. Falling asleep with a lit cigar, he accidentally burns down the house. In the end, the community, regardless of faith, bands together to rebuild the house. But Homer is convinced that God was punishing him for skipping church. It remains up to Reverend Lovejoy to put his mind at ease.
A recent beauty given to me by Beer Store Sister-From-A-
Different-Mister Marie was Flying Dog Brewing's Raging
Bitch Belgian Style IPA. Can you take a guess at why this
beer label was deemed controversial? Go ahead, just try...
Reverend Lovejoy: "No, Homer, God didn't burn your house down. But he was working in the hearts of your friends, be they Christian, Jew or... (looking at East Indian Apu) miscellaneous."
Apu: (indignantly) "Hindu! There are 700 million of us!"
Rev. Lovejoy: (condescendingly) "Aww, that's super."
(So you know, 700 million represents a tenth of the entire world's population.)

Next on the court's (quite literally) docket is the case of Flying Dogs Brewing's (Frederick, Maryland) Raging Bitch Belgian Style IPA, a beer very generously donated to my tastebuds by my former coworker Marie after a recent trip to the United States. Before we examine the label, first up a review of the beer itself. While I have never been a big fan of the spices that Belgian yeast lends to this style, this 8.3%, 60 IBU (international bitterness units) is so jacked up on Amarillo hops, that I didn't care about the spiciness. This was frikkin' delicious. So big ups to Marie - great choice!
Famed artist Ralph Steadman channels his
best Hunter S. Thompson in this pose. He was
the illustrator for most of the late "Gonzo"
writer's books, now drawing for Flying Dog.

Okay, review over - let's talk contentious label. Okay, first of all, an objective look at the art. The work of famed British artist Ralph Steadman, best know for his covers on the late "gonzo journalist" Hunter S. Thompson's books, it is simply a very cool illustration. His art style is instantly recognizable for many of us. Obviously, it's the name that is causing controversy. It would be very easy to say, "Well, it's a female dog that's clearly on the label and they are called bitches." Which is true, as are female wolves, foxes and otters. And bitch, as a subjective noun, can mean others things, such as, "Oh man, this day was a bitch." Or as an active verb, as in, "Geez, my boss bitches about every little thing." The latter two are examples regularly employed by both genders.

That being said, what doe the word usually mean? Yeah, it's a pejorative term for an angry woman. (The male equivalent is probably "douche".) That name alone got the beer banned from sales in Michigan where a five-year legal battle ensued. Eventually, the same freedom of speech statutes that sprung Indica IPA similarly saved this one.
This label by Wellington, New Zealand brewery,
Garage Project, causes a little stink with veterans in
Stevil St Evil's neck of the woods. The imagery of
helicopters flying over Vietcong turf was too much.
Okay, so here's my thing. I've read stats that suggest anywhere from 30% to 40% of craft beer drinkers are women. At the Beer Fests I've been to, it's more like 50/50. Why would any craft beer producer deliberately try to antagonize almost half their potential clientele? How is that good business? Wanna name your beer after an angry dog? Here's a suggestion - Angry Dog! Do you know what percentage of your potential customers are canine? Zero. You can try to offend dogs with a beer label until the sun sets. They don't care! And again, this won't offend every woman - that's painting with too wide a brush. But why take the chance? Business is business. You gotta be smarter. (I do love the Steadman art, though.)

Okay, one more then we'll call a time-out. When Beer Bro and college buddy Stevil St Evil came to visit Donny's Bar and Grill in the Summer of 2015, he came bearing the Gift Of Beer. The gift, much like Christine's, was all IPAs, these ones from Wellington, New Zealand. And one of them, Garage Project Brewing's Death From Above Indochine Pale Ale caused a bit of a stink with a veterans' group down there. Originally slated to be called Hopocalyse Now (after the movie Apocalypse Now), the brewers found 12 other Hopocalypse names and opted instead for Death From Above, the motto of the US Airborne Division.
What was my Main Military Man Hago's view on
Flying Monkeys Smashbomb Atomic IPA label?
Like Peter Chiodo's, it was fair and conciliatory.
The imagery, plucked straight from the movie, and name swiped from the military did not sit well with RSA (veterans' group Returned and Services' Association) president Don McIver, who passed away in Wellington last August. He called the label "cheap" and "disrespectful." Personally, I think it's pretty cool looking but I do not argue with the military, either active or retired. On the list of occupations I respect, it goes military, then firefighters, then nurses. Cops would be higher but they're always giving me speeding tickets. Nurses don't do that.

Okay, of all the labels in this article, I'll be honest - the only one I don't get is the fuss over Smashbomb Atomic IPA. So I went straight to an active Canadian military man, my buddy Hago, who does video beer reviews. So what was his take on the label?

"As a military guy, I couldn't give a shit. Most of us don't. I think in this day and age with craft beer pushing the boundaries of creativity, flavour, aroma and artwork, we have to give them some freedom to move," he told me.

However, he did add a pretty big caveat. "That said, the whole idea of getting smashed and bombed is kinda anti-craft, if you know what I mean.
Have we now talked about craft beer labels
quite enough? Oh yes, I think so. Maybe it's
time to divert our attention to what's in the
glass rather than what's on the label, yes?
I enjoy a beer or two, sometimes three, but it's been a long time since getting trashed." Echoing the words of the LCBO's Chris Layton in the Barrie Examiner article, "I understand how the LCBO doesn't want to advertise their products as something that is going to get you bombed, much like Coke doesn't want to associate their product with diabetes. I say it's simply another label but the LCBO has an image to uphold and they have the final say of what they stock on their shelves."

You see, much like Flying Monkeys owner Peter Chiodo, Hago's take is basically, "I think the label is okay but I get that the LCBO has a job to do." Peter and Hago are both so graciously Canadian that they're practically retired NHL players sitting in a forest of Maple trees sharing a big plate of poutine with a family of moose.

Okay, folks, that's it for today. Talk to stop talking about beer labels and start consuming the craft beer goodness within those plucky bottles. Coming up next is the notion of #BeerSaints, a term coined by my beer writing-videographer pal, Robert, aka Drunk Polkaroo. I recently won a contest he held where the prize was a bottle of Great Lakes Brewing's Alternative Facts. It was a beer created by a bunch of Toronto-area beer writers right at the brewery over a month ago. I'll look at Robert's brewery adventure, the beer itself, as well as GLB's 30th Anniversary Belgian Quad, which nearly took the top of my head off. Also a quick stat about the military. Who has the largest air force in the world? The US Air Force. The second largest? The US Navy. Don't screw with these guys. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...

Monday, 6 March 2017

The story of Sweet Daddy Frankie...

Coming to me on the Facebook phonecall was
Frankie from sunny Puerto Rico when he had
a couple of his Carling Ice in him. Those were
always pretty funny calls but they always came
with an invitation: Come visit us in Puerto Rico
This is the story of Sweet Daddy Frankie. Now, Sweet Daddy Frankie wasn't always his name. No, he stuck that on himself and the rest of us stood back and simply let the glue dry.

Now, let me begin by saying Frankie is my oldest friend. But that sentence needs clarification. You see, I have friends - the kind of friends you'd drink beer with - ranging in age from probably about 22 to 65 years old. Frankie was at the highest end of that scale... thus my "oldest" friend. I find it's best to have friends in all generational categories - Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials - because all have very separate skill sets they bring to the table. Generation X are, for the most part, society's leaders of today. Millennials have all the cool tech-toys and will happily teach us how to use them. And Baby Boomers, well, we have that unique gift of walking into a room and forgetting why the hell we're there. But while we're in there, we will tell you why everything you're doing is completely wrong.

The truth is I've only known Frankie for little less than a decade. And another truth is we never actually met. We were introduced via the Internet through a mutual friend, Kevin. Now Kevin, I do know. We both toiled at the same City Hall many years ago. Kevin held a position of some importance and power there whereas I smoked in the men's washroom just because it was prohibited.
Back in his Pop Shoppe days, Frankie
used to hang with Eddie Shack, the NHL
player known affectionately as Eddie
The Entertainer. One of Canada's most
beloved hockey figures, Shackie didn't
exactly score goals as they were far more
likely to bounce into the net off his ass. 
But my actual job was to take phone calls from many angry, allegedly-adult people who I wasn't allowed to tell to grow the hell up and screw off. I was living the dream, people.

Now because both Frankie and myself used to inundate Kevin with cheesy joke or frat boy risque emails, he eventually said, "You two should connect." Secretly, Kevin hoped that our connection would dilute the endless stream of bad emails crashing his inbox a little bit. With Frankie and myself working in tandem, they likely tripled.

Eventually, a third party entered the picture - Richard, who I have always called RAD because those were his initials. Sometimes, nicknames come gift-wrapped. This unholy troika had all grown up together in Hamilton and were damn proud of their hometown. And these three had a game they liked to play called Wildly Bantering On Donny's Facebook Page While Donny Was At Work. This was during my flip-phone days whereupon I could not see any of it until I returned home to my laptop. At one point, I was dating a woman Frankie called "LL". Lois Lane? Lana Lang? Lex Luthor? Who the hell knows? But one day, Frankie made a mistake.

"Hey, LL, they call me SDF," he told her on my Facebook wall. "Can you guess what that stands for?" Well, she never got to answer because RAD and Kevin jumped in quickly with their own suggestions, such as Slightly Deformed Frank, Seriously Demented Frank, Sadly Disgusting Frank... and on and on. Until they arrived conclusively and with utmost certainty at, well, Small Dick Frank. It's how life-long buddies interact. We throw more shade than a forest filled with century-old Oak trees.
Here's the four hour and 20 minute flight
from Toronto to Puerto Pico that I always
meant to take but never did. Maybe $300
tops and I even had a place to stay. Damn.

More than a little irked, Frank finally blurted out, "It stands for Sweet Daddy Frankie!!" Well, I wish I could tell you that quelled the mockery but instead, the ridicule grew exponentially. And of course, I saw none of this until I arrived home and could not stop laughing once I read it.

After working his entire life both in Canada and the United States for countless companies, Frankie cleared out after 9-11 and set up shop in Puerto Rico. In 2004, he married the love of his life, Gloria, and all was good. At some point, Frankie discovered that through Facebook Messenger, he could make free long-distance video phone calls and whenever he had (more than) a few Carling Ice beers in him, my laptop started ringing. And for an hour, maybe longer, Frankie and I would talk about anything and everything. He loved his NFL football and would send me a list  of his weekly bets, thinking I followed the league carefully. I don't really so without his knowledge, I would log onto a Las Vegas odds site and tell him why his bets were either good or bad. He thought he was talking to Donny but it was actually Donny Vegas taking his call. And I, well, Vegas was usually right. "How do you do that?" he marvelled. The calls always ended the same way - with an open invitation to visit them in Puerto Rico.
After Frank coined the name Sweet Daddy Frankie, Kevin
was quick to point out the copyright infringement case
that former wrestler-turned-singer Sweet Daddy Siki
could make against him. Frank remained undeterred.

Oddly, Frankie was a big fan of this little horse and pony show you're reading. I have no idea why and have never asked because you do not question people's preferences when they work in your favour. Ever. Well over 90% of the time, Frank was the first person to "like" this column whenever I linked it to Facebook.

Sadly, that won't happen this time. In the wee hours of February 28, Frank slipped and whacked his head hard. Despite Gloria's insistence, he refused to go to the hospital, saying he'd feel better in the morning. He never woke up. RAD gave me the news when I was at work in the morning. His early guess was his heart. Kevin filled me in on the circumstances later in the day.  Though I kept it to myself, it was not a good day for me. And it was, without a doubt, infinitely worse for RAD and Kevin, who lost a hometown buddy with whom they shared their childhood and far beyond. I lost a good friend. They lost family. Big difference.
Only Sassy Cassy could make me do the impossible and
that is drink a Pumpkin Ale. Granted, she does not know
my disdain for the style and I did have that IPA on the
right to cleanse my palate afterwards. Like, instantly. 

I was wondering how to honour Frankie here and my first thought was to toast him with a pint of his beloved Carling Ice. The can he drank in our video Facebook phonecalls looked different than the ones here so I assumed it was exported to Puerto Rico from the United States where it is, in turn, imported from Molson. (The Caribbean island is an unincorporated US territory. And no, I have no idea how that works.) But as popular as Carling Ice is at my Beer Store, it's not exactly to my tastes. It's hard to honour and toast a fallen friend when you're wincing with each swallow. I remain convinced that Frankie would want me to do this with craft beer since that's all he ever read about here.

And I do like the notion of family, whether biological or extended so that's what I'm going to do here. Since I work at the Beer Store, let's look at some of the goodies my extended family there have sent to Donny's Bar and Grill. First on deck, as she should be, is my sweet Beer Store daughter, Sassy Cassy. So Sass goes to Lakehead University which is way up there in Thunder Bay. Not close. But every time she returns home, she always has some beauties for me, courtesy of the city's Sleeping Giant Brewing, a fantastic outfit turning five this year.
Beer Store Sister Marie FINALLY gave me the opportunity to try these
two Dogfish Head beers side-by-side. I have enjoyed both IPAs but months
apart and have always wondered which would be my favourite of the pair.
Is it the Dogfish Head's 60-Minute IPA or their 90-Minute Imperial IPA?

But without realizing it, she threw me a curveball. While I had only requested their Hoppet IPA, I left any other choice up to her. Truthfully, one is plenty as she's a student. She responded with their Mr Pompous Pumpkin Ale. Well, damn. Sass doesn't know the disdain I have for pumpkin beers (I let Drunk Polkaroo review them and just use his results) so she probably thought, "Oh look, cool. Pumpkin beer! Donny will love that!" Well, a man can do many things in his life but disappointing his "daughter" should never ever be on that list. So, dammit, I drank that pumpkin ale. For life! For liberty! For Sassy Cassy! The 5.5% flavoured ale wasn't too bad at all. The brewery got their pumpkins from the local Belluz Farms and incorporated the usual flavours into the mix - cinnamon and nutmeg.
Have you ever had a Peanut Butter Porter? Thanks
to Marie, I have and man, that is one nutty brewski.
But whether she realizes it or not, Sass has done me a huge solid. This Autumn, when the pumpkin ales come trolling again, I can stand up and say, "Hey, already had mine. Enjoy yours. Moving on!" My quota is filled. As Crocodile Dundee would say, "Noice!" He also said something about a knife but that's not applicable. Also, shrimp, barbie, something, something.

So let's talk main course now - that Hoppet IPA. Now we're in Donny's wheelhouse. Their Beaver Duck Pale Ale, gold medal winner at the 2016 Ontario Brewing Awards, is a big favourite around here as Sass has brought me that one twice. Hoppet's commercial description cites the liberal use of Pacific Northwest hops so likely some combo of Centennial, Chinook or Cascade were used. Definitely, citrus with a whiff of pine on the nose of this 6%, 70 IBU (international bitterness units) but completely citrus on the tongue. I quite liked it but it's gonna take a lot to top Beaver Duck around these parts.

Okay, after Sass' generosity, let's look at some recent offerings from my Beer Store Sister-From-A-Different-Mister Marie.
When an independent delivery service dropped off some
Ace Hill Pilsner to my old Beer Store, they accidentally
left two cases of Nickel Brook's Headstock IPA, as well.
I told Cassy to guard it with her very life. As you can see,
she was all over the case, uh, or cases in this case. That's
confusing. Headstock can now be found in the Beer Store.
During a recent trip to Caesar's Windsor with her boy-toy Ernie, Marie discovered a newer brewery there - Craft Heads Brewing, which turned two at the end of February. And when the pair came back from the border city (Yo, Detroit, zup? We can see you across the river!), it was with two one-litre (34 ounce) growlers, one filled with Turbulent Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter; the other with Stout Destruct. The darkness was upon me that day, my friends and in the Winter, I bathe in the duskier hues of beer. Actually, Canadians are used to the dark. From December through January, it's like pitch-black at 4:30 pm, for crying out loud.

While I love a good stout, I was more eager for that chocolate-peanut butter porter because that's a new flavour for me. I didn't get peanut butter so much as just straight nuttiness from this 5.4% porter but the chocolate and nuts were certainly there. I won't declare it the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of beers but I will say it was damn tasty, The Stout Destruct was a hefty meal of an Imperial Stout at 9.6% and a listed IBU of 98, which I'm thinking is a mistake as it was malty, chocolate but not nearly as hoppy as that IBU would indicate. I'm guessing the recipe went something like, "Okay, let's start with chocolate malts and then add more chocolate malts... and a few more." Thick as tar, rich and delicious!
If you're in Windsor, this is the place to be -
Craft Heads Brewing on the corner of Pellisier
and University! Beer, pizza, coffee... they have
it all covered for wandering beer-loving crowd.

Craft Heads, located at the corner of University and Pelissier in Windsor, was started by a couple of homebrewers and now has over 20 beers on tap every day. There's also an upper-scale coffee component to the outfit but let's face it, I'd be there for the beer. I love my coffee as much as the next guy but I don't go to breweries for it. However, they do have stone-fire pizza available and I am always onboard for pizza with my beer!!! Keep going, Craft Head gang! I'll see you in the Summer!

But an even more recent trip to the United States saw Marie bring me back three absolute gems - the Dogfish Head (Milton, Delaware) 60 Minute IPA, their 90 Minute Double IPA and a Flying Dog (Frederick, Maryland) Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA. We'll deal with the Flying Dog brew in my next piece on labels that may or may not be inappropriate but I absolutely have to deal with the two Dogfish Head beers now.

You see, courtesy of Beer Bro Glenn, I have had both these beers before. Loved them both but my samplings were a year apart. So when someone asked me which I preferred, I was at a loss. Counting on my memory is like counting on a sundial to give you the time to the second. I thought both were top-notch but really, you have to try them side-by-side, don't you?
Will this entice you to visit Craft Heads Brewing
in Windsor? Stone-fired pizza and beer? Just
remember that every grain that goes to pizza
rather than beer is a solid secondary use of it.
Well, Marie gave me the opportunity to do precisely that - a showdown on the patio table of Donny's Bar and Grill. Two beers going mano-a-mano...

The 60-Minute IPA at 6% and 60 IBUs certainly sounds like the weaker of the pair, up against the 90-Minute Imperial IPA at 9% and 90 IBUs - a beer Esquire magazine once called the "perhaps the best IPA in America." But that did not turn out to be the case. No, side-by-side, I gave the nod to the 60-Minute. There was a sweetness to the aroma and the taste of the 90-Minute that I found a little disconcerting. As with all Imperial IPAs, it counted on a solid malt backbone to hold it together and did so nicely. Some tangerine on the tongue with a thick and oily mouthfeel. But that 60-Minute IPA? Now we're talking! Brewed with Amarillo, Warrior and some "mystery hop," this was as pure an example of an IPA as they come. Citrus and pine on the nose, tangy grapefruit on the tongue, I absolutely loved this beer. I considered both great beers as stand-alones months apart but head-to-head, gimme that Hour Beer.

Well, like I said, back to labels next time. But to my "oldest" pal Sweet Daddy Frankie, sleep well. I wish it lasted years longer but every time I talked to you, it sounded like you were having the greatest ride ever. You lived life on your own terms, my older brother, and in the end, that's what matters the most. But guys and dolls, that's it, that all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...

Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Pin-Up Girl Problem...

I found this picture on Google, attributed on his Flickr account to Brian
Bul, although in his responses, it's typed Bui. But I hardly ever see super
cool dragon trailer from Sleeman's anymore and it's totally my favourite.
This all started with a truck - a Sleeman's truck backing into our Beer Store loading dock last Summer. Usually, the trucks are painted with pictures of Sleeman's product but this one was not. No, it had a really cool Japanese print of a stylized dragon on the side with a Sapporo can at the tail (or tail's, in this case) end. Above it were the words: Legendary Biru. I'll assume you don't need a translator for that and also that you know Japanese brewing giant Sapporo owns Sleeman's.

I walked out to the delivery guy and told him, "That is the coolest truck I've ever seen," I said with fan-boy enthusiasm. He just shrugged me off. (Pretty much used to that.)
So here's where the issue brewed, so to speak. What
was meant as "retro-chic" quickly turned to "retro-
sexism" in the eyes of some women's groups. The
pin-up girls were not enough as the ad firm decided
to add text that may have taken it too far for some.
"It was supposed to be the pin-up girls on the sides of the Old Milwaukee cans but some woman's group complained," he said gruffly.

Ahhh yes, the 1950s pin-up models on the sides of the Old Milwaukee cans, both in Canada and the US, have been a staple for years. Until very recently. But I'll get to that in a moment. But first a quick history lesson. The women on the cans were stylized from the works of famed Peruvian pin-up artist, Alberto Vargas. You see, Vargas (1896-1982) was famous for his iconic pin-up girls, often featured in Playboy magazine (1950s-to-1960s). In turn, they were remarkably similar to the women painted on the sides of the Allied planes in WWII, meant to remind the boys to come back alive because there was a woman waiting for them at home. How do I know this? Because I was born towards the tail end of the Baby Boomers and thus possess a wealth of archaic and useless trivia about war-time matters. Also, my late father had a sizable collection of Playboy's from the 1960s and 12-year-old boys are as nosey as hell.

So anyway, back to the Old Milwaukee cans. I didn't know they had caused any kind of issue with anyone. And I was a reporter for nearly three decades so my Spider-Sense... oh, it was tingling!!
The new look on the left, very plain with the tiniest
nod to the pin-up, while on the right, the older, more
obvious pin-ups on the previous cans and packaging.
And I started looking into it. Sure enough, the Battered Women's Support Services (of Canada) had been protesting the cans since about 2010. I think the cans would have escaped their notice (or perhaps not been worthy of their concern) until there was a billboard campaign using the pin-up girl cans with increasingly salacious captions. Indeed, in a July 2011 online piece for the BWSS, writer Angela Marie MacDouggall said her group "wondered if (the billboard campaign) was a cynical trap laid to get the 'feminists' and the 'frat-boys' riled up and trading barbs to the tune of increased revenue for the brewer." While to me, at first anyway, it seemed like a pretty long stretch linking a pin-up girl can to abused women, MacDouggall's point was that the "objectification of girls and women is at the heart of intimate partner violence." Strong point. The pin-up girls became the focal point of the can which is only exacerbated by that can being filled with alcohol, another key factor linked to abused women.

At first, the billboard started innocently enough (again, to me), showing the can and stating, "A beauty of a price." I say let that slide because it referenced the 15 cans for under $20. Then it was "Sure beats looking at your buddies." Okay, a little edgier but we all have ugly buddies. If you don't, you are the ugly buddy. (Oh shit, I'm the ugly buddy...)
What started as a "it's a pretty girl on the can so
what's the harm?" thing to most of us guys took
a turn for the worst. Sleeman's eventually pulled
the ad campaign and quietly redesigned the cans.
Then it got blatant. "Free girl with every can." Followed by "Our girls are easy to pick up."

So now, the ad agency made it no longer about beer but rather clearly the pin-up girl on the can. See, that's the problem with being an older, white male. When it's blatant, we totally see it. But when it's really subtle, someone else, usually a woman, has to say to us, "Okay, this is going in a bad direction because..." We can learn, yes, absolutely, but regardless of age or generation, we guys need a little help from time to time. That said, you are never too old to catch up. And beer should be about beer, not "babes and boobs." So, as you can clearly see above, Sleeman's relented and redesigned the cans. You won't be seeing the pin-up can on the truck. It no longer exists. And if you don't believe continued social media pressure and standing up for what you believe works, well, think again.

Which brings me to the beginning of February when well-known Ontario beer blogger Ben Johnson wrote a piece about sexism on craft beer labels in this Province. He ignored Sleeman's, I'm sure, because they're a big guy and Ben doesn't give a shit about the big guys.
Cameron's Brewing Cask Nights are what craft
beer get-togethers should be. Men and women, all
of whom love great beer, getting together in a
happy, fun and safe environment. When I asked
this young lady if I could take her picture, holding
up her Cameron's glass, she was happy to do so...
But he singled out five labels he deemed sexist and went to the brewers. He interviewed the female owner of a brewery which had one of the labels and asked why. He interviewed women who love craft beer and asked them how they felt about the issue.

It was, frankly, an exhaustive piece of work with phenomenal research on his end. At first, I didn't quite agree with two of the five but that was just my personal opinion. The other three, yes, absolutely. But I will tell you this. I began wondering if I had become selective in my view... you know, below-the-surface, maybe a little more sexy than sexist (meh, what's the harm?) versus overt sexism (okay, now that's bad). But then, I just realized they were varying degrees of the same thing. Sexism. It doesn't matter if the burn is first degree or third degree, it still hurts.

But besides that, when I had a chance to talk to Johnson at Great Lakes' 30 Anniversary Party on February 16 for maybe 30 seconds, I stressed one point as a former journalist. I told him that he did the toughest thing an investigative writer could do. He held the feet of brewery friends to the fire in the name of an honest answer. There is nothing tougher for a writer than building personal and business relationships (in my former case, politicians and city officials; in his present case, craft breweries) only to come after them when you think they've done something wrong.
"So, wait, it goes Blue Jays closer, panda bears
and THEN the bribery question? This is hard."

Back in my day (said Grandpa Donny), I used the lob-lob-fastball routine in the opening line of questioning. Start with "The Blue Jays just need a good closer and they're in the playoffs, am I right?" Follow with another lob. "So panda bears. They're my favourite bear. How about you?" And when they're softened up, the fastball. "So, anyway, about that $37.5 million you've been charged with allegedly stealing from the city treasury..." (You always had to say "allegedly." You're a reporter, not a judge and jury.) Not Ben. He got right to it. Jumped to the matter at the start.

I'm not knocking Sleeman's here as I was one of the guys who for years had no issue whatsoever with the can. I have a couple of buddies and many, many customers who bought the beer because of the pin-up girl can. And to be brutally frank, when I Googled "sexist beer labels," I came across one lady's Pinterest account called precisely that and most were far worse than these cans. But that's back to the degrees issue, isn't it? Still, while you can't paint an entire gender with one brush, clearly there are many women out there who find this issue a rather large and contentious sore point.
Perhaps Rosie the Riveter imagery would be a little more
empowering for the women in the craft beer industry? Or
am I falling into the same trap? I think this is better but
then, as a male, it's not up to me to decide what works here.

But still, I'm in a unique position where I work as the pin-up cans were just being phased out. I could simply ask women buying Old Milwaukee what they thought. In the end, that only ended up being four women, ranging in age from 20 to 24. The first was the funniest. "I think they're stupid," she said, adding with a smile, "but I'm buying them for my boyfriend... who's also stupid." (I like her sense of humour.) The other three were fine with it. Well, until I threw in the billboard slogans. Two shifted quickly into the "That's not cool" camp. But the fourth remained resolute. "If your biggest problem of the day is a little picture on a beer can, you've had an easy day." Fair enough as everyone has their own take.

But I'll include the link to Johnson's piece here as not every woman is as laissez-faire (French for "live and let live") as the last young lady. You may agree with it. You may not. Or maybe, like me, you'll see your attitude adjust a little about the issue by the end when you read the opinions of women who could well be our wives, our girlfriends, our sisters, our cousins, our daughters and our nieces. While I handled the above issue with some light humour, that's just my writing style. Ben's is much more straight-forward. Take a look at it here: Ben Takes On Sexist Craft Beer Marketing. For me, this all started simply with a truck. A super cool Japanese dragon art truck. Possibly with lasers. But that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The birthday week continued...

Yup, just outside Kirkland Lake, Ontario, is the
tiny hamlet of... Swastika? First incorporated in
1908, why haven't they changed their name in
their 107 years? Well, I'm glad you asked that...
The problem with me taking an entire week off for my birthday is that when I started my nine days off, I made all these plans. I was gonna visit a bunch of craft breweries, I was finally gonna give my place a good cleaning and hey, maybe even paint a wall or two...

That was my plan. Now that vacation is over and no cleaning or painting got done. Craft breweries were visited but that's it. You see, whenever I have time off, it always goes like this...
Me: Man, I am gonna be so productive today!!!
The Internet: No, you're not.
Me: No, seriously, I mean it this time!
The Internet: No, you don't...
Me: *sighing* No, I don't...
The Internet: Who's my bitch?

But I am happy to report that I learned some things last week - old dog, new tricks and whatever. The one that surprised me the most was that there's an actual town in Ontario called Swastika. Now if you're anything like me, your initial reaction is: "Holy crap! Why didn't they change that after the war? Pretty offensive!" If I have to explain what a swastika is to anyone, well, you might be a Millennial and as such, you are proficient with Google. So I decided to look into it and find out for myself. This is called "real news" and a handful of us are still proponents.
The absolute funniest post I saw on Valentine's Day
came courtesy of Stevil St Evil, down in Wellington,
New Zealand. Local brew-pub, Black Dog Brewing,
decided to turn the usual lame "Hallmark day" into
something a little more exciting by dropping fake
engagement rings into every women's beer glass. Is
that pure evil? Or is it just hilarious? Yes and yes.

You see, originally, the swastika is translated from Sanskrit as "good luck" and is a centuries-old symbol for precisely that - luck. In 1907, local prospectors opened a gold mine and called it the Swastika Gold Mine that because, hey, you find gold, that's pretty lucky, right? A year later, the town took the name.

Now of course, when the Nazi Party started their rise in Germany in the mid-1930s, the symbol became associated with Aryan (White) Supremacy. That's a bad thing. I mean, I'm white and there are squirrels in my backyard superior to me. So the Province started renaming cities and town with German-related words. Berlin became Kitchener and Swastika became Winston. But the townfolk of Swastika were not impressed. So they tore down the new signs and replaced them with the old Swastika town signs. Another sign that popped up explained their intent. It said, "To Hell with Hitler! We came up with our name first!"

So anyway, my cleaning never got done. Neither did any painting. But hey, now you know the story of the town of Swastika. Because I took the week off, I have to somehow justify a mostly-wasted week with fresh but trivial knowledge. I don't expect any of you to buy that. I'm just trying to convince myself. I wish myself swastika... uh, I mean good luck with that. But I did get out to some great craft breweries earlier this week - Black Oak, The Indie Alehouse, Junction Craft Brewing, Big Rock, as well as both Great Lakes and Nickel Brook twice.
Black Oak President Ken Wood holds up the very beer
that prompted my birthday Toronto visit, their Triple
Chocolate Cherry Stout. Minus the beard, Ken used to
be a regular visitor to Oakville Beer Stores when he
started his brewery there in 1999. In 2008, they up and
moved to their present brewery location in Etobicoke. 

And on Sunday, I popped into Brantford's Bell City Brewing and Hamilton's Collective Arts so at least when I promised myself I'd visit a shit-ton of breweries last week, I followed through. Like a goddamn boss! Who's the bitch now, Internet? Oh, I probably checked my phone regularly so I guess it's still me. It's funny how I keep some promises to myself but not others. While craft beer does seem to be the common theme with the kept promises, that can't possibly be it. I tell you, gang, even Batman couldn't solve this riddle. (Batman: "Shut up. It's beer. Get out of my cave before Superman shows up. You're lame! Clark is still laughing about Aquaman's visit!")

But it was on my birthday, February 14, that I made the most stops as a birthday present to myself - Black Oak, Indie Alehouse, Junction Craft and Big Rock. And the first two came with a specific beer targeted. For Black Oak, it was their Triple Chocolate Cherry Stout and at Indie Alehouse, it was their Cockpuncher Imperial IPA. Both have been on my Wish List for quite some time and were only available at the breweries. Stopping at Black Oak first, I was happily chatting with the counter guy when president Ken Wood wandered out, overhearing that I worked at an Oakville Beer Store.
This Indie Alehouse photo shows the hard-to-find
Cockpuncher Imperial IPA that Beer Bro Glenn
has been raving about for quite some time. Granted,
it's Glenn. I wasn't sure. Was the beer or the name?
So he rattled off a few employee names and I gave him updates as I was buying my six beers - that stout and their 10 Bitter Years Imperial IPA. Then I remembered, "Oh, right. I need a glass." Ken simply handed me one and smiled, "Happy Birthday." Cool dude! Usually, the first inclination of a craft brewery when you walk in wearing a Beer Store jacket is to sell you a hoodie so you can take that jacket off. But Ken remembers the Oakville Beer Stores fondly. The feeling is reciprocated.

I have rhapsodized about the IPA many times here but how was that Triple Chocolate Cherry Stout? Well, it's 5.8% for starters so it won't crush your skull. The chocolate malts and the cocoa powder are nicely offset by the cherry juice used, which adds some needed tartness to the sweetness. Not heavy but still rich. Beautifully balanced.

Now for a couple of years, I have heard both Beer Bro Glenn and Rib Eye Jacks Ale House GM Steve, two buddies without much in common, refer to the Cockpuncher Imperial IPA in glowing terms. So this was a no-brainer. Okay, now I get the fuss. At 11% and what has to be close to 100 IBUs (international bitterness units), this is a pine and grapefruit bomb. The first words out of my mouth were honestly, "Holy shit!"
I decided to put the Big Rock Citradelic Single Hop IPA into the
Collective Arts one because the Big Rock one, gifted to me from
Tony at Nickel Brook is black ceramic. I like to show the colour.
Glenn told me that as far as he was concerned this was a triple-IPA and when Steve waxes poetic about anything, it's top-notch, Grade-A goods. Definitely the best beer I've had in this short year.

When I dropped off a four-pack of beers to former coworker Jay-Dawg, this and the Black Oak stout were among them, as well as two dark beauties from Junction Craft, which I haven't had yet. Jay told me that his lovely lady Cara "has made the Cockpuncher sound like a beer legend!" Then he asked me why I was dropping him off beers on my birthday. I shrugged that I heard once in Australia, it was the birthday person giving out gifts. I can find no proof of this on the Internet. (The Internet: "Hah! Made you look. Again! Bitch.") Jay smiled, "Happy Australian Birthday to you... and I guess even more to me!"

After my trip to Junction Craft (more on them soon), I decided to add a fourth and stopped in at the new Big Rock Brewing in Etobicoke. I had meant to much earlier when they first opened in September. I wanted to see what they had that was previously unavailable here.
I quite liked Collective Arts No. 1 IPA but it's no Ransack
The Universe. Because nothing is. Still tasty, though. The
Nordic Sol Gose was also pretty tasty but Goses are mild.
And there was plenty of newbies on tap but only available in growlers. Since I have 11 growlers under my kitchen table that have been collecting dust for months, adding to that unwashed village seems stupid, even for me. I can clean a few out and pop back for their one-offs, I figure. So I grabbed a six-pack of their Citradelic Single Hop IPA. I had a can of it in the Autumn but hadn't gotten around to reviewing it. I also couldn't find it in my transcripts, remembering only that I liked it. Trying it again, I remembered. This is a very lightly citrus IPA, not a brain-buster. Nowhere in the same league of Great Lakes' single-hop Karma Citra but there was something I quite liked about it. At 6% and just 67 IBUs, this is again milder fare than Ontarians are used to these days but it's nice to pop a mellower one from time to time. I remember Jay-Dawg having one at the same time as me and coming to the exact same conclusion: "I liked it." Hey, man, sometimes liked it is more than enough. I'll be back, Big Rock... growlers in hand.
High school buddy Gord posted this on my
Facebook page on my birthday and I thought it
was pretty cool. Where did you find it, I asked
him. "I Googled Redmond Beer," he shrugged.
Okay, that should have been pretty obvious to me
but am I, in fact, "the fresh, bold flavour of the
Northwest"? I would suggest that no, I am not.

A trip into Hamilton's Collective Arts is always a good investment of time so I made a point of it on the weekend after they released two new ones - the Collective Project IPA No. 1 and the Nordic Sol Gose. The problem with Collective releasing another IPA is that they already have Ransack The Universe Hemispheric IPA, my 2016 Beer of the Year. Tough to beat that. Then again, Great Lakes has lots of IPAs, all great but a couple, well, maybe a little more great. So what the hell, eh? If there's one beer style I do not mind flooding the marketplace, it's IPAs. At first, both beer writing-videographer buddy Drunk Polkaroo and myself were concerned about the Nelson Sauvin hops, albeit alongside much higher-profile Citra and Simcoe hops. That said, Nelson Sauvin with its fruity, white wine-like flavouring is probably better as a balancing hop than a stand-alone one. This was quite good. The citrus and pine of the other two hops jump to the fore in this 7.1%, 80-or-so IBU beer and in the end, I really enjoyed it. Four times. Because that's how many I bought. Birthday week, remember? The ones I went back for are... oh just shut up!

The 4.5% Nordic Sol Gose comes with a pretty cool back story. It starts with a Reykjavik, Iceland brewery named KEX - in a country where beer was prohibited until 1989 (not kidding). Seems their team landed in Hamilton to help create this collaborative effort in December. Let's assume their first words were, "So, where's Winter?"
Here's the brewpub portion of the KEX Hostel, so really
it's the part that we care about. Although, hey, it's pretty
damn handy to have a nearby bed when you hunker down
at a brewpub in Reykjavik, Iceland. Hear it's a bit chilly
But, if I understand this correctly, KEX is not primarily a brewery-brewpub, it's actually a hostel. And apparently, one of the best in the entire world and one that hosts the Iceland Beer Festival. Seems they have expanded into other endeavours. Anyway, our Icelandic friends flew to Hamilton, the two breweries had a big bash at Brux House... and this beer was born from that night. Despite the fact they used Icelandic sea-salt and Arctic thyme, this 4.5% sour is far less salty than the Gose released last Summer by Collective Arts. Tart and lemony is the best description of this as I find Goses to be the mildest of all sour styles though I quite liked this one. Those Flanders Red-style sours nearly bring me to my knees. As Homer would say, stupid sexy Flanders. (The Internet: "You'd know none of this without me." Me: "Shut up! I'd know The Simpsons' part!")

Okay, believe it or not, I still have a crap-ton of Birthday Week beers to talk about in this space so stay tuned. Given how many individual trips around the Sun I've taken so far - more than 40, less than 100 - I'm still happy to be on the damn ride and drinking the best beers of my life. And you guys are lucky to have me. Seriously. Buy me beers. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain, as always...