Friday, 22 September 2017

Cameron's throws a 20th Birthday Bash!

You gotta love Emilyhay's enthusiasm at Cameron's
Brewing's 20 Anniversary Party on September 16 as
she dressed up as a VERY tall pint of Cameron's beer!
An interesting (but somewhat heart-breaking) thing happened to me when I moved from Burlington to Oakville at the beginning of September.

With the move, my hometown homeboys, Nickel Brook Brewing, were no longer a stone's throw away. Instead of being five minutes down the road and around the corner from me, they are now 15 to 20 minutes down the highway. Not far away, I grant you, but I'm used to them being around the corner from me.

Normally, this would drive a craft beer lovin' Nickel Brook loyalist like myself to the point of despair, anxiety and quite possibly reckless damage to private property. I would likely cradle a Headstock IPA to my chest and heave great tears of sadness... wail anguished cries... howl at the Moon... bite the head off Ozzy Osbourne on stage at a concert. You know, the usual stuff people who've lost their shit do... things that could land you in court but may not, depending on whether or not you're caught. Well, that's what I hear, anyway. Obviously, I'm far too busy with my many church groups to know the crazy, sinful stuff that goes on out there. (Was that thunder?)
Micha, who is also Cameron's Ottawa-area sales rep, bastes
one of the two pigs on the spit for the afternoon's events on
behalf of The Crackling Pig Spit-Roast Company. Was it any
good? Hell no. It was only frikkin' delicious! And hey, there
was plenty of great craft beer to wash it down the gullet...

What was I to do in Oakville? Well, as it turns out just a stone's throw away from Donny's Bar and Grill's new locale, is yet another of Canada's finest (and most heavily awarded) craft breweries, Cameron's Brewing. Hmmm, clearly it was time to check the Convenience Factor, I decided, because heaven forbid I ever be inconvenienced even slightly. That's for other people, not me. Nickel Brook had spoiled me.

So I plugged my new address and the brewery's address on Invicta Drive into Google Maps to suss out the almighty Convenience Factor. Hmmm, it seems Cameron's is 1.9 kilometres (1.2 miles) away and all of a three-minute drive - or a one-minute flight if some day, I mutate and grow wings. (It could happen - you don't know.) Yes, this would suffice nicely as it is actually closer to me than Nickel Brook was by a couple of minutes.

So within a day of being here (okay, fine, the same day I landed), I was down there to stock up on their fine products, notably their 12 Mile India Pale Lager. I don't drink many lagers any more, opting for various members of the ale family, instead (okay, fine, 95% of them are IPAs). But man, I truly love that 12 Mile India Pale Lager.

Earlier in the month, I had also noticed on Twitter that their 20th Anniversary Party was being held there on September 16th. So I quickly slapped my $20 on the counter and said, "Deal me in!" Quickly realizing the nice lady at the counter had no visible playing cards, I added, "... for the big party!" (It's always good to forewarn your new local brewery know that perhaps your deck is missing a few cards as well. It's a courtesy thing.)
In a two-person poll between myself and the person
who does social media for Beau's All-Natural Brewing,
it was thusly determined - in a landslide victory - that
Marybeth had the Best Smile Of The Day! Not only
that but she was serving me their specialty Cranberry
Derby Berry-Infused Pale Ale. Perfect on a hot day!

Within a day of buying my ticket, I was messaged by an old Toronto buddy, Craig (aka Foggy) saying that he was going and would I be there? Foggy lives at the western edge of Mississauga now and is nearly as close to Cameron's as me. (Nearly but not quite. I'm still the King of Cameron's Brewing Proximity.) And yes, they're my new hometown homeys so I'd be there.

Sweetening the pot for both of us was guest appearances at the birthday bash by Steam Whistle Brewing (Toronto), Wellington Brewing (Guelph) and... ohhh yasss, Beau's All Natural Brewing (Vankleek Hills). Now that's what you'd call the Fab Four. (I'll let them fight it out to see who's stuck being Ringo.)

Since drinking would be involved, I cabbed it there, likely being the shortest, lamest fare that poor cabbie had all day. But to our mutual benefit, that kept the cabbie-passenger chit-chat to a minimum. ("Beautiful day, eh? I wonder how long we'll... oh look, we're here!") Yes, I suppose I could have walked there but it seems counter-productive engaging in physical fitness on your way to drink beer. Besides, I have some pretty sweet abs already, nicely located under a protective layer of beer gut. Not to mention, I get winded walking the trash to the curb.
The good thing about seeing Noah and Jasmine
from Steam Whistle at the Cameron's Birthday
Bash? You just KNOW they're gonna bring that
unfiltered Pilsner with them! And they did! Yes!

I didn't see Foggy at first but I did see Bill Coleman, president and co-owner of the brewery. Now Bill knows me from working at the Beer Store just up the hill from his brewery and he greeted me as he always does. "Hey, it's Social Media Guy! Glad you made it!" Now, truth to tell, I have no idea if Bill knows my actual name but frankly, who cares? I think Social Media Guy is a solid handle. I'll happily go by that. Beats the hell out of "Hey, it's I Saw You Passed Out In A Ditch Guy!" (No, he's never seen me passed out in a ditch. As for who has, that's between me and the Halton Police. Those records are sealed, dammit.)

We had a quick chat before I moved along, as I knew he had many people to talk with at the event, including Oakville Mayor Rob Burton and Oakville MPP Kevin Flynn... not to mention dozens and dozens of Cameron's fans. Also, I seemingly have a prior obligation to be Social Media Guy (and I was) so there is that. It's a heavy and onerous burden to shoulder but... yeah, just shitting you. I drink copious amounts of beer and post about it. It's totally a fun, engaging and socially-productive hobby, not some awful addiction. Even my doctor - let's call him Doctor Nick - said so. (Disclaimer: Some sentences in this column may contain trace amounts of fiction. Other sentences are outright fiction.)
I asked Foggy to pose with the hops growing on the
back of Cameron's property and as you can see, he
couldn't have been happier to oblige. Apparently,
asking Foggy to stop drinking long enough to take
one picture is a flogging crime in some countries...

When Foggy's lady friend, Denise, showed, we made the rounds of the booths. Well, actually, Foggy and I had already made the rounds so let's call Denise's arrival Round Two (okay, Round Four). Now Denise is a Coors Light drinker so were we able to find beers to her liking? Much to my surprise, yes, we were - several, even. We'll get to those in a minute.

But there was a surprise visitor for me on this, the most noble of days. Unbeknownst to me, my coworker Adrian, aka Squeegee, was also there with a posse of his young buddies. I was walking around innocently (your definition of that word may vary) being Social Media Guy when I heard someone call out, "Hey, Donny!" My first thought was, of course, "Please don't be the Halton Police..." (What? I grew up in Oakville - it's a natural response.) I've seen co-workers in hundreds of social settings before but I honestly had no idea he'd be there. Given his age, I probably should have texted him about it first because he's usually (by that, I mean always) glued to his phone. He's the only guy I know with five GBs of data on his phone and he blows past it halfway through the month. My plan is three GBs a month and don't even think I've come close to using to using 1.5 of it any month. Squeegee's phone must have some GB-swallowing porn app that I just haven't found yet would never ever use because that's just wrong. Shame on you, Squeegee!
You're rocking the shades there, Squeegee. Here, he's
holding up the three sampler tickets that came with
admission - or as me and Foggy called them "the
Amateur Tickets." Given the hilly terrain you can
see behind The Squeeg, you were bound to spill at
two of the four ounces. So Foggy and I opted for
buying more of the 12-ounce tickets, you know, so
we could enjoy our tasty beer rather than wear it.

Okay, time to talk beer because that's what I'm supposed to do here. When we entered, all of us were given a 12-ounce (355 ml) plastic cup with a ticket for the bigger glass plus three more tickets for 4-ounce samplers. Also the funky sunglasses that you see Squeegee proudly wearing. Obviously, Foggy and I snapped up more 12-ounce tickets to have a proper size beer once those four tickets were used. You can't accurately review a beer on a sample and well, I am lauded far and wide for my accuracy (said no one ever.)

I'm gonna start with Steam Whistle so I can address an ongoing matter. The downside to the Internet is it brings out all the trolls and frankly, it's kinda lame to read craft beer snobs constantly shit on the brewery because it makes just one beer. Here's what I think about that: 1) They have built their reputation doing precisely that... so shut your stupid pie-hole and 2) It's an outstanding example of a Canadian-made Czech-style pilsner... which brings us right back full-circle to shut your stupid pie-hole. Since two-cents no longer exists in Canada, that's my nickle's worth on that subject. Nice talk. Thanks for coming out.

Okay, I love seeing Steam Whistle at these event because they always do one thing... really, really well. They bring their unfiltered version of the beer along for the ride, as well as the regular version.
Nick from Wellington brought both their
outstanding Upside IPA and the Prickly
When Poked Pear Saison which was a
collaboration brew with Cameron's gang.
I'll be reviewing that Upside IPA soon.
Every single person I know who has tried the Unfiltered version at a Beer Fest has said the same thing. "This is great! Why don't they bottle and can this one, too?" While in essence it's the same 5% beer, the lightly cloudy unfiltered version adds a little more tanginess to it. Not hugely so but just enough to differentiate itself from the original. Like everyone else, I'd love to see this on the shelves... but then they'd be kinda screwing up their own tagline. Also it's fun to look forward to at beer fests.

Moving onto Beau's and the beautiful smile of server Marybeth, she had brought Lug Tread Lagered Ale, which I've enjoyed dozens upon dozens of times and a newbie, Cranberry Derby Berry-Infused Pale Ale. Okay, Foggy and I both enjoyed the hell out of this one. At 6.3%, this pale ale had some kick and was rife with very obvious cranberry on the nose. The brewers threw organic flaked oats into the mix, giving it a familiar breakfast tinge into the back-end while maintaining the berry's natural tartiness. Marybeth told me it would be part of the brewery's Fall Mix Four-Pack so you have that to look forward to as it'll be on LCBO shelves very soon. Try it, you'll like it.

Okay, the hosts had four specialty casks (as well as kegs of their core three and the 12 Mile IPL at another tent) at the event and I wanna talk about two of the casks.
Thomas at the Cameron's Cask Tent offers up their
Brett Golden Ale, made specially for the event. I did
like it but I want to have words with Brewmaster
Jason Britton over the Hoppy Birthday IPA there!
Truth to tell, I've always preferred kegs over casks as I find beer in casks to have a much lower carbonation levels. Turns out I like bubbles in my beer - it's a mouth-feel thing. That said, I will sample any cask offering because the taste shines through regardless. Using the Big Boy cup, I tried their Brett Golden Ale, which I did enjoy but it was a bit on the warm side. That's the other problem with casks - given their shape, all you can really do is put a bag of ice on the top and hope for the best. With kegs, you can stick them in a garbage can and surround them with ice! But it was a nice brew. I probably enjoyed the funky yeast qualities a little more than Foggy, who was crinkling his nose at it. But he confessed that it wasn't quite at the optimum temperature for tasting and well, he wasn't wrong. Also, like me, he likes a little more carbonation than casks afford. That said, if you look at the picture of Thomas holding the ale up, you will note that casks do result in a pour with a decent head.

Which brings me to the damn tasty Hoppy Birthday IPA... and a wee bone of contention with my new brewery. I forgot to make note of the ABV for this but it was certainly over 6% and lovely grapefruit. But I'm standing here (in my Spider-Man underwear) wondering why my new hometown brewery doesn't have a regular IPA or Pale Ale.
The horseshoe pitch, set up in the gully of their
backyard was a popular attraction for the happy
drinking crowd on a beautiful sun-drenched day.
Brewmaster Jason Britton has created an excellent Rye Pale Ale called exactly that... though it's become increasingly difficult to find. That RPA came second after being created for the 2011 Bar Volo IPA Challenge. But it's not exactly a west coast IPA. And just three Summers back, he released their California Sunshine American Pale Ale that was so good, it won my Pale Ale of 2014. It has since vanished. Now don't get me wrong. I will happily drink the 12 Mile India Pale Lager, as well as their Ambear Red Ale until the cows come home. (And if those cows do come home, I will also wonder how I woke up in a farm field. Again.)

But Jason, I beg of you, I do need one or ideally both. I'm on my freaking knees here. (No, I'm not but he can't tell. Shhhh.) Nickel Brook has spoiled me rotten with their Headstock IPA and Naughty Neighbour APA. I can still get either of those at my Beer Store but I need my new hometown homeys to show me they can spoil me more by having an IPL, an APA and an IPA. What will it take? My first-born son? (Say no unless you want to quadruple your grocery bill.) A large amount of cash in an untraceable Swiss bank account? That's probably doable through illegal means so if you can turn a blind eye to that. I'll do whatever it takes. Legal, illegal, moral, immoral... I'll go there!
I got some Going Going Back Back to Cali Cali IPA sometime in May,
stopping into the Barrie brewery on the way home from Boys Weekend
in the Spring. How was the 6.1%, 81 IBU IPA? Hella hella tasty tasty.

And, of course, besides Hoppy Birthday, Cameron's has been linked to IPAs in the past so this isn't uncharted turf. Back in the Spring, Cameron's brewer Curtis Jeffrey ventured up to Barrie to create a collaborative IPA with his old college roomie, Redline Brewhouse's head brewer Seb MacIntosh. The resulting effort was a nod to the music of their youth called Going Going Back Back To Cali Cali IPA, a song penned by the late rapper Notorious B.I.G. That was a damn fine IPA, which, of course, is encoded in a brewer's DNA. So Jason, in the immortal words of Clint Eastwood, "Go ahead... Make my IPA..."
A man and his van! Cameron's co-owner and president Bill Coleman
poses beside the Camerons-Mobile, which can often be seen in the GTA.
Hmm, maybe it's Bill that I should be bribing to get an IPA going, eh?

Before we punch out here, let's look at the beer that macro drinkers Squeegee and Denise both ended up loving the most. That would be Cameron's own Captain's Log Lager. Both waxed poetic over the virtues of that crisp, fresh beer... although phone zombie Squeegee more likely texted it.

Okay, gang, that's it for today but more coming soon. Beer Bro Glenn dumped a pile of American goodies on me so I'll be looking at those. Co-worker Patchy has his girlfriend bring me back a pile of IPAs from the Canadian east coast so they're on deck. Beer Store daughter Sassy Cassy brought me a bunch of beer from two Thunder Bay breweries, as well as an IPA from South Africa so there's that. And high school sweetheart Christine is returning to here from California in a couple weeks and I still haven't written about the IPAs she smuggled me in June!!! (Yes, I'm that far behind - weird Summer.) So guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Sunday's fun day with the Polkaroos!!

Is there anything like a Sunday afternoon at Merit Brewing, located on
James Street North in Hamilton? Well, since Beer Bro Glenn, back left,
and myself, back right, didn't know, we were fortunate enough to get an
invitation to do precisely that from Mister Drunk Polkaroo and Missus
Polkaroo on September 4. Both this and a trip to Rust City Brewing!!
With Labour Day having come and gone, the Summer is over for most of us.

Cottage days are dwindling down to a precious few weekends. Kids are back to school. College and university students are back at the books... that is, if they still use books.

Here's a quick question as a former college and university student: do they still make you buy $100-$200 books from which you will need the information on exactly one page? I'm not suggesting that was a scam but... holy shit, is that a goddamn scam!! I'm also not suggesting I smell collusion between the tiers of higher education and the publishing industry but something stinks worse than warm Bud Lite. I do remember, back in my day, refusing to buy those expensive textbooks. I relied on a completely different method of obtaining the necessary scholastic information. I cheated like hell. What can I say? I passed.
Say, it looks like I have been to Merit Brewing
before as my faithful sidekick and son, David,
is pointing out the new Hamilton landmark in
this picture. These guys make great beers!!!

Anyways, back to Labour Day Weekend. I needed to do something fun and relaxing. I had spent the entire month of August moving out of the Burlington complex that housed Donny's Bar and Grill into a new (but old and very familiar) locale about 25 kilometres (15 miles) to the east. After all that, I needed to cut loose and have some fun. Fortunately, others in my craft-beer-drenched circle were faced with remarkably similar situations.

Turns out that while my move is over and I look toward the last of my unpacking, my old college buddy, Beer Bro Glenn, is in the middle of doing what I was a month ago and is busying packing up his life for a new locale sometime by the end of this month. As the erudite Mr. T wisely espoused to us all in the past, "I pity dah fool." Moving ain't fun. But on the Labour Day weekend, Glenn had a rare Sunday off from his two jobs. In fact, rare Sunday off is a bit of a misnomer. I think he works every day but Christmas. So he's like the opposite of Santa Claus in, well, pretty much every way imaginable. Except the belly.

"I need a Lazy Sunday!" Glenn hollered at me in a text. (Glenn is the only guy I know who can send you a text and you just know he's yelling.) Okey dokey, then, I knew just the couple to enlist for that. So I reached out to Robert, aka Drunk Polkaroo, to see what his Labour Day weekend plans were for him and his lovely wife, Kat.
The same thugs (except Kat who's a sweetheart) but a new
locale - this time, Rust City Brewing. While the brewing
component won't start until next month, they still have a
huge assortment of other breweries' beers, including tons
of Bellwoods Brewing beverages. That was a tasty stop!!

Turns out Polk himself was to the end of some crazy-ass 20-days-in-a-row stint at work and it looked like he'd be working until 5 pm on that Sunday but would have Labour Day Monday off. Time for a new plan? Well, no because, you see, his boss finally walked up to him and said bluntly if Polk dared to show his face at work on the Sunday, he would tie him to his car bumper and drag him all the way back home. Perhaps even tie him up naked before the ride. So basically, if even Polk's shadow was seen within a two mile radius of the store, his boss was gonna go full-tilt Game of Thrones on his ass.

And with that, the ball hockey nets were back in the middle of the road and it was "Game on!" for Sunday Fun Day. Since Glenn was driving down from Oshawa, it seems that Hamilton would be our drinking destination on that Sunday as the Polks know that turf all too well.
Shown here in a Hamilton Spectator photo taken by
photographer Karon Liu, Merit Brewing co-founder Tej
Sandhu holds up a flight of Merit's finest. Tej spent a
great deal of time chatting beers with us because of his
friendship with the Polkaroos! I will be looking more
closely at Merit Brewing in this space very soon because,
well, my beer fridge is jammed solid with their product.
And as our craft beer loving hosts for the day, the Polks did not disappoint as they know Hamilton about as well as I know that the bowling alley sells you nicely-worn-in shoes for just $3 a pair. (What? Seriously? You just rent them? I have 17 pairs, all equally ugly. Also, very little traction.)

Our first stop was Merit Brewing at 107 James Street North, basically around the corner from Collective Arts Brewing, right on the lake. I know this because my son and I popped in there a few months ago to grab some goodies. Now was my chance to get even more. (I will deal with those in the very near future with a solo piece on Merit since my beer fridge is presently jammed with their brews.)

But I had a mission, so to speak. It seems like I might be the only IPA lover in Ontario who has never had a milkshake IPA. And I knew Merit had their Breakfast Fruit Loops Milkshake IPA on tap. Polk and Glenn were dumbfounded, wanting to know how it was possible I had somehow missed the Big Milkshake IPA Trend from the Summer of 2017. It wasn't intentional, I assured them. It was a busy Summer, I didn't have time to seek them out and I simply hadn't come across any. So I was eager to dip my tonsils into this latest brewing craze.
That's something like 60 pounds of Fruit Loops
dumped into a brewing vat for the creation of
Merit's Breakfast Fruit Loop Milkshake IPA. Bell
City Brewing in Brantford has done similar beers
with their Breakfast at Tiffany's Cap'n Crunch
Amber Oat Ale and their Breakfast at Tiffany's 2
Cinnamon Toast Crunch Porter. Funky brews...

At first, it was one of four beers on my paddle but after sampling it and being puzzled by the taste, I got a pint of it from the bar. I have never talked about "mouthfeel" in this space because I've always found it to be an unnecessary description. Beer feels like beer in my mouth. Lagers feel lighter, stouts feel heavier, some are more heavily-carbonated but to me, they always feel like beer.

This certainly didn't. My first-ever Milkshake IPA felt, well, very weird. There was a strange thickness or creaminess to it that I found jarring. Polk suggested the heavy use of lactose in the mix was responsible for their unusual texture. Since he and Glenn are enthusiastic Milkshake IPA pros, having enjoyed them all Summer while I am but a rookie, I will try some more as I see them just to give the style a fair shake (no pun intended) but at the moment, this is not a style to my liking. The whole notion of a beer feeling somehow foreign in my mouth was as odd to me as a pizza having the texture of a salad.

That said, the 6% IPA was pretty tasty, dry-hopped with Amarillo and Citra hops, not to mention the additional candied citrus of the Fruit Loops.
In this Yelp photo taken by one of the Rust City
Brewing owners, the coffee house/brewery is
seen at night. We were, of course, there during
the day because we are not vampires. We are
just happy Day Drinkers. And night drinkers.
(All Fruit Loops are the same flavour - citrus - so everything you know about cereal is a lie! Cap'n Crunch has no naval experience! Tony the Tiger would maul you! Toucan Sam is probably a goddamn parrot! The Trix rabbit... no, wait, he likely is insane.)

It was just the weird-ass texture that threw me for a Loop (okay, I lied - all puns are intended.) However, the other beers I had were great and like I said, I'll deal with them in the near future because I have to get them all out of my fridge for consumption purpose to free up room for other brewers. It seems only fair and frankly, I'm the man for the job.

But I loved the feel and ambiance of Merit Brewing. Long wooden benches, friendly staffers, a menu consisting of various sausages on a bun with fries. And oddly enough, when co-founder Tej Sandhu joined us at our table for a chat, the issue of their fries came up. Spotting my HopCat T-shirt that my buddy, Cheesey, got me when we visited the 130-tap craft beer bar in Detroit, Tej told us his experience at a HopCat in a different Michigan city was the inspiration for their own fries. "We tried to get them as close to those HopCat fries as we could," he noted. Truth to tell, with 130 different taps of craft beer, I had no idea that HopCat was renowned for its fries?? I might have to try them upon my return to Michigan. (Yeah, right... because I'm there for French Fries, not the beer.)
On the left, we have the Bellwoods Goblin Sauce
Double IPA with Lupulin Powder. On the right, we
have their Monogamy IPA with Vic Secret hops. But
in the middle was our unlabeled mystery bottle. We
drank it blind before we finally asked. Turns out it
was the Monogamy APA with Mosaic hops. Glad I
asked Polk after because I thought it was Cascade.

From Merit, we were off to Rust City Brewing, quite literally around the corner at 27 King William Street. On the way, Polk mentioned that while they themselves won't be brewing until October, they nonetheless have the best selection in the city of other breweries' craft beer and their low mark-up was a helluva selling point.

"If a Bellwoods (Brewing) beer sells for $7 at their retail, Rust City sell it for $9," Polk said on the way. "They usually only go $2 or $3 over what they paid for the beer and they drive to the breweries to get the beer themselves." Truth to tell, when you factor in gas, it's almost cheaper to buy Bellwoods beers at Rust City than it is to take the drive into Toronto to buy them from the retail outlet. Except, of course, you can't take them home.

Despite being open since March, the brewing delay for owners Nancy and James Malcolm and Gabriel Spiegelshrift is that the City of Hamilton has strict zoning rules that prevent the creation of brew-pubs in the downtown core. However, after applying to City Hall for an amendment some time back, it looks like - fingers crossed - they'll be good to start brewing their own by next month.
Another Yelp picture by one of the owners shows
the amount of space they allot to Bellwoods beers
in their fridge. It's a brew bargain at Rust City.
The very existence of Merit a few hundred metres away tells us the city, thankfully, is not inflexible on the matter.

When we first arrived, I would have sworn we were in the wrong place. Along the left hand side is a huge coffee roastery section with a specialty selection. Like a number of smaller brewers (Craft Head Brewing in Windsor, for example), they specialize in both coffee and beer. And since those are my two favourite beverages - well, in actual fact, the only two beverages I ever drink, I could set up a cot in the back of Rust City and be set for life. How exciting for them, eh?

Well, our visit provided us with a unique opportunity as we noticed one of the Bellwoods bottles was unlabeled. So we grabbed their Goblin Sauce Imperial IPA (with Lupulin Powder), the Monogamy Double Dry-Hopped IPA with Vic Secret hops... and the unknown bottle. The bartender knew what the beer was but we did not and asked him to say nothing until we were done. Because that's how we roll. Foolheartedly and haphazardly into the unknown for decades now with no end in sight. Well, I shouldn't speak for the others. Maybe that's just how I roll. But I suspect, upon reading this, the others will all nod their heads and silently say, "Yeah, me too. But don't tell my Mom."
During their Grand Opening in May, Polkaroo posed
with Merit head brewer Aaron Spinney who had left
Sawdust City Brewing  (Gravenhurst) to create this
new venture in Hamilton with partners Tej Sandhu
and Jesse Vallins. A runaway success since Day One!

While Polk has enjoyed the Goblin Sauce in the past, I have not and lemme tell you... Bam, baby! The 8.5%, roughly 80 IBU (international bitterness unit) double dry-hopped Imperial IPA is loaded with fruity goodness on the nose with tangy mango, peach and berries on the tongue. The addition of Lupulin gives it that much more hop kick as Lupulin is the yellow powder that falls from the hop if you rolled it in your fingers. It contains all the essential oils and resin compounds from the hops. So it's basically super-charged hop gun-powder. Like I said... Bam!

I don't think I've had a Monogamy IPA (there are dozens of them at this point, each with different hops) that I haven't enjoyed from this brewery. And although the one brewed with Idaho 7 hops was my favourite, they've all been great. Vic Secret hops were actually unfamiliar to me but as it turns out they were first harvested in Australia in 2013. Maybe they're scarce around these parts. But the 6.4%, roughly 70 IBU IPA was more of the same - excellent - with pineapple on the nose and bitter pine on the tongue.

And that left the mystery bottle. We each drank some. Noses crinkled. It was nice, either a pale ale or IPA... but far too peppery.
Oh geezuz, it's that time of year where pumpkin
is added to everything, including ales. Pass! I
mean, to put it into teenage girl, I can't even!!
In the end, they told us what it was but by the time I sat down to this, I had forgotten. Polk was fairly (but not 100%) certain that it was a Monogamy Pale Ale with Mosaic hops. Up against the other Bellwoods beers we had enjoyed, this didn't fare as well but like I said, an odd peppery back-end to it. That said, it was a helluva lot of fun doing a blind sampling.

We stumbled back to Merit after Rust City and were planning to go to Fairweather Brewing but I had to call an audible. I foolishly waited until our return to Merit to eat - damn, that sausage and those fries were pretty good! - and at that point, I had a pretty big glow on. I don't mind that (actually, I like that) but I always try to call time-out at that point so that doesn't turn into sloppy-ass drunk. No one needs to see that. But hey, that hopefully means a trip back into Hamilton to visit Fairweather with the Polkaroos and others!

And since we're talking Polk here, the voting for the Golden Tap Awards end today and I'm plugging my pal for Ontario Beer Writer of the Year in this space. Just get onto the link and Beer Writer is near the bottom. Call him Robert Arsenault or Drunk Polkaroo - everyone knows him by either. So vote here at: We Love Polk 2017!!!! But guys and dolls, I am a million miles behind with these due to my turbulent Summer so expect an onslaught of Brew Ha Ha columns coming your way now that I'm settled. Don't say you weren't warned!!! Until next time, I remain...

Sunday, 20 August 2017

When the joke is no longer funny

I thought this Donald double-whammy from Northern Maverick
Brewing, soon to be located in Toronto, was actually kind of
chuckle-worthy at first. Not guffaw-worthy. Just a chuckle. But
then things went down in Charlottesville and suddenly the face
on their Fake News Ale was very unfunny. The brewery has
since announced all Trump imagery is getting yanked pronto.
I avoid politics for the same reason most sane people avoid kale. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

For nearly three decades as a reporter, I had to cover municipal, Provincial and federal politics and frankly, when my run as a journalist was done, so too was all forms of politics in my life. It's boring, it's repetitive and frankly, while the various sides on the left and right sneer at each other, I was able to clearly see they were simply two sides of the same coin. They both believe they are on the side of the angels. And they are both wrong. Both sides are all about getting re-elected. And little more. It's a gold-plated gig. Is that a cynical view? Well, all I can say is go cover it for over 25 years and give me your answer afterwards. I'll wait.

So while it might seem like this column is about politics, it is not as I have little interest in either side. It is, however, hopefully a look at what society might want to consider as right and wrong. At least from the little rock I sit on.

You see, Northern Maverick Brewing, which will soon open its own brewery on Brunswick Street in Toronto, has (had) a beer called Fake News Ale. I first saw it at the BurlOnTap Beer Festival in Burlington a couple of weeks back. The label lampooned President Donald Trump and it gave me kind of a chuckle. Completing the joke was a hat that said, "Make Beer Great Again" so yeah, they were clearly poking some fun here.

I am certainly not a fan of Trump's but to be honest, I wasn't too keen on Hillary, either. I thought they were both remarkably poor choices for their parties.
After the Charlottesville, Virginia conflict, the
magazine, The Economist, made it clear that
they were NOT happy with the President's
response to the situation, portraying him as
little more than a booster to the Neo-Nazis. 
That said, and I am being brutally honest here, who the hell cares what I think about either? I'm Canadian. Not my circus, not my monkeys. America made its choice and I simply shrugged and thought, "Well, if that's what they want."

So like others, I have sat back and watched what is going on south of the border. I seldom comment on it but I do watch with interest in that we are landlocked with America and I want to know what's potentially spilling over onto our side of the 49th Parallel.

Some of it was quite amusing. To be honest, I miss Sean Spicer's press conferences where he was put in the unenviable position of translating or defending his new Boss' words. It always went something like this...
Spicer: "It was the best-attended inauguration in history!"
Reporter: "Actually, no it wasn't. When Obama..."
Spicer: "You shut the hell up, jackass!!!"
I'm sorry but like I said, I find stuff like that funny. I'm a little sick and twisted that way.

So anyway, after being amused by Northern Maverick's merchandise, something happened the very next day in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned my stomach. When the city announced that they would be removing statues of General Robert E Lee, there was a pretty big protest - one that resulted in a tragic death.
As it turns out, the person that would have hated
statues of Robert E Lee was, in fact, Robert E Lee
himself, who stated that in his own writings that
honouring South generals with statues after the
war might "keep open the sores of war" and that
they would add to the "difficulties under which
the Southern people labour." So he was opposed.

And who was protesting the statue's removal? Well, let's see - you had white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis. Now a quick history lesson. Robert E Lee was the general leading the South in the America Civil War, which ran from 1861 to 1865. He didn't want slavery repealed. Leading the North (for a large part) was General Ulysses S Grant, a familiar name, who fought to have slavery abolished. The North was the Union, the South was the Confederates. Lots of famous American names involved but long story short, the North won. End of story, right?

Some 620,000 soldiers on both sides died before it was over and it seems some of the wounds never healed. A lot of people in the South were pissed and erected statues of General Lee and others as an "eff-you" to the Union. They did so against the expressed wishes of Lee himself. But to many, since the man was fighting to keep slavery alive, these monuments are, at best, as racist as shit (yes, at "best") and at worst, morally repugnant.

So when this so-called "Freedom Rally" was held in Charlottesville on August 12th, the idiots from the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis and white supremacists took to the streets, protesting the removal of the Lee statue, chanting such "delightful" things as "One people, one nation, end immigration", "Jews will not replace us" and "Go back to Africa, n*****s!"
I'm not seeing a lot of cultural and gender diversity with
this Freedom Rally. White, male and moronic seems to be
the common thread here. Their parents must be so proud.

The rally was all white males as far as I could see and had a collective IQ of maybe 50. The counter-protestors, who showed up in equal number, were all of colours, genders and cultures. You know, like America itself.

It was a horrific clash but not without precedent. You see, back in 1939 to 1946, people also fought against the Nazis. I know both my grandfathers were involved. But instead of the Union vs the Confederates, Round Two was highlighted by the Allies (yay!) and the Axis (boooooo.)

As previously mentioned, the clash ended with the tragic death of one counter-protester but believe it or not, it got worse. You see, President Trump, who referred to the two sides as the "alt-left" and the "alt-right" was handed an opportunity to speak out against the hate of the protesters with their Tiki torches and disgusting chants. He declined, blaming both sides, instead. To that end, he made it clear he thought the "violent" people protesting the Nazis were somehow on equal footing to the "bad" Nazis themselves.
You and me both, Miss. My grandfathers would be
rolling in their graves knowing this fight was still
happening on America's soil. It's really sickening.
Violent? Lemme tell you something, sir. In WWII, they had guns with bullets, tanks with shells and planes with big-ass bombs. That shit was violent! Two days later, he would bemoan the movement to remove "our beautiful statues" depicting the Southern generals (remember now: the pro-slavery guys), showing that he either doesn't truly understand racism or doesn't care. I think the President probably should care. Just sayin'.

Now here's why I don't think politics plays a role here. I have friends whose politics are right of centre, just as I have many more on the left of centre. As a group, I suspect those on the right find Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan to be disgusting individuals. And in WWII, it wasn't the "alt-left" and the "ale-right" fighting the Nazis and fascism. It was alt-everyone! Personal politics were left at the door as they all entered Boot Camps.

The fall-out from the rally was interesting as many of the "Freedom" protesters recognized by their employees were fired in many cases and disowned by their own families. Apparently, many companies and families alike didn't like the idea that Bob in Accounting might just be a Nazi or that Pete might start railing against the "Jewish threat" at Thanksgiving dinner. Go figure.
Whether it's domestic terrorism or terrorism abroad,
this is my stand. I believe if we all sat down with some
hoppy beers and talked things out, terrorism could end.
Well, at least the cultures allowed to drink beer, anyway.
Is it a simplistic and sophomoric solution to a complex
issue? Yes, it is. I am simplistic and sophomoric at best.
You can talk about ISIS and all the other terrorist threats in the world but this was home-grown. Born, bred and made in the USA terrorism. Probably best to fix that first while you're looking out at the evils in the world.

In the end, the only response that I liked was from the makers of Tiki Torches themselves who were appalled to see their product being carried by the "Freedom" protestors. In a statement the following day, TIKI Brand made it clear they were "not associated in any way" with the demonstration and were "deeply saddened and disappointed" that their products were associated with the marchers. "We do not support their message or the use of our products in this way."

So what on Earth does any of this have to do with a Toronto craft brewer??? Ah yes, well, after the events in Charlottesville, one Toronto beer writer, Mike Burton (@beermostly) made it clear he could no longer stomach even a joking reference to President Trump on a beer can, such as that on Fake News Ale. Many agreed, including the Canadian Beer News (@cdnbeernews) who said the brewery would get no further coverage from them until the imagery was pulled.
Northern Maverick owner-founder Jason Kaptyn, left, and
head brewer Andrew Crowder pose out front of 115 Bathurst
Street, soon to be the home of Northern Maverick Brewing.

I have to believe that after the events in Charlottesville, the brewery was thinking the same thing because later the same day, they issued a press release saying all-Trump-related imagery would be gone. Like instantly. In that release, likely penned by owner Jason Kaptyn, the brewery said, "With regard for the escalating situation across the border and feedback from our own craft beer community, we have decided to pull Fake News Ale. The idea behind FNA has been very clear from the moment it was launched - to shed light on the unfathomable actions and policies of the current (Trump) administration and help people affected by them."

So, like the rest of us, they get it. The joke is no longer funny. And they acted accordingly. Frankly, I'm gonna give them a well-deserved chance. Making a mistake is easy. Fixing it that quickly, especially when it involves your flagship beer, is a little tougher. As for the President, I'm not sure why he loves those slavery-soaked statues in the South so much. I mean, he dumped Steve Bannon this week. So it's clear he has no issues discarding calcified relics that are cold, hard tributes to the "joys" of racism. Man, I tell you, it's like you can't even perpetuate centuries of oppression anymore without facing some sort of backlash on social media. It's a bugger. But ladies and gents, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

BurlOnTap sets up shop... indoors!

Given my two experiences at the beautiful Waterfront
Hotel at the foot of Brant Street, it seems when a Beer
Fest happens INSIDE this building, no one is exposed to
the elements! What kind of witchcraft is this, anyway??
The first ever Burlington Beer Festival was held in Spencer Smith Park over three days in July 2014. It rained. A lot.

The first ever Burlington Winter Beer Festival was held in the Waterfront Hotel's ballroom in February 2015. Being as it was indoors, it neither rained nor snowed on the event.

The second Burlington Beer Festival was held in July 2015, again at Spencer Smith Park over three days. Once again, it rained. A lot. It was a damn mucky go of it. It didn't soak my personal enthusiasm for the event but it sure as hell dampened ticket sales.

The second Burlington Winter Beer Festival was held again in the Waterfront Hotel's downstairs ballroom at the end of January 2016. Oddly, once again, no snow or rain came inside the building. It's the damnedest thing. It's like walls and a roof somehow protect people from the elements. I figure I'll have to ask American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson how exactly that works. I mean, who knew? Gotta be some kind of weird-ass magic, eh? Bricks and mortar are protecting people from the weather? That's just crazy talk.
This young couple navigates their way through the
mud at the 2015 Burlington Beer Festival at Spencer
Smith Park in Burlington. After two straight years of
rain for the Summer Beer Fest, organizers fell apart
over whether the 2016 one should be held indoors.

In the end, organizers were so at odds whether or not to hold the 2016 Summer Burlington Beer Festival indoors or outdoors, that the whole thing just fell apart. The group went their separate ways. I'm not sure about other participants but I had to drink on my own patio last Summer. Like some kind of goddamn savage. (I did enjoy the trip home, though. All five steps of it. Zero cost. No broken bones. It worked.)

There were other costs associated with the Burlington Beer Fest that made it a costly venture, former co-organizer "Downtown" Wayne Brown told me. Such as hiring five off-duty police officers over the course of three days. Or the dozens of porta-potties. Hell, just the fencing around the park (to keep out the riff-raff, although I got in anyway.) "Do you know it cost us $10,000 just to bring electricity into the park?" Holy crap, that's some serious Benjamin Franklin's!! (You see what I did there. Because, you know, electricity... and money. Okay, if you stopped reading right now, I wouldn't blame you.)

So there was no 2016 Burlington Beer Fest but Snapd Burlington, a media outfit, swooped in to hold the 2017 Burlington Winter Beer Festival (I was out of town and missed it) and according to the website, will be doing a 2018 Burlington Winter Beer Festival.
I know these people!!! That's the lovely Kylie, my own
absolute favouritest ever Beer Technician on the right.
Granted, she only makes cameo appearances at Rib
Eye Jack's Ale House as full-time nursing is keeping
her pretty busy these days. Oh and the older dude on
the left is THE Downtown Wayne Brown, the man, the
legend, the guy who does a lot of beer festival stuff for

our fair city. This time, it's the BurlOnTap Festival.

So good on them but it looked like this would be the second straight Summer without a Beer Fest in Burlington.

Whoa, not so fast, says Downtown Wayne Brown. You see, he hasn't spend the last year, crying in his beloved brown ale over the loss of the Summer Festival. No sirree, Bob, he has been organizing a brand spankin' new one. Now obviously, the name Burlington Beer Festival is taken so he can't use that. So Wayne has created his own Beer Fest called BurlOnTap and as he was one of the people tired of all the damn rain, it will be indoors at the Waterfront Hotel on August 11 and 12. For the Friday session, it's 4 pm to 11 pm and the Saturday one is noon to 11 pm. Tickets are $30 for singles, $55 for pairs or a four-pack for $100 and are readily available through

So indoors finally wins, eh, Wayne? "Yes, that takes the weather out of play." But, dude, what if it's a beautiful, sunny day? Downtown Brown, as always, had the answer.

"Doors open wide to a huge patio. If the weather's nice, we can probably fit 150 to 200 people out there. The patio is right by the water overlooking the lake so it's going to be great. The patio is sponsored, of course, by Nickel Brook (Brewing), the best brewery around." I would agree with my complete bias towards them fully acknowledged.
This couple, Patti and Mike McMillan, is in the business of getting you
AND your car home safely if you've had too many wobbly-pops. The
pair owns Driver-Seat in Burlington and are now involved with Wayne's
BurlOnTap Beer Festival. Sounds like this could be mutually-beneficial.
The problem with depending on the weather, Wayne said was "a couple of hours of rain and people stop coming." Meaning no walk-in traffic, which is killer for any outdoor festival, beer or otherwise. But frankly, that patio takes the issue out of play - you can still enjoy your tasty craft beer in the sunshine!

The two logos created by Patti McMillan for the
BurlOnTap Festival. The top one is the longer
horizontal one to be used on banners and the like
while the bottom one is used for their social media.
And it turned out Wayne has a partner helping him out... or rather, partners! "So Mike McMillan, who owns Driver Seat Burlington, which is a business that will drive you home if you've had too much but also drives your car home too. Anyways, he's the partner at my Beer Festival and his wife, Patti (co-owner of Driver Seat) is the graphic artist (for the event). She's been a big help to us also."

Okay, since this is a Beer Festival, the real question is this: What breweries will be there? Why, I'm glad you asked. Of course, we have our local ones, Nickel Brook and The Hamilton Brewery (now three years old) plus a few more from further away. Pint Pursuits Brewing (Toronto-St. Thomas), Katalyst Brewing (Toronto), Rhythm & Brews Brewing (Cambridge), Four Fathers Brewing (Rockwood), MacKinnon Brothers Brewing (Bath), Orange Snail Brewers (Milton), Beau's All-Natural Brewing (Vankleek Hills - and also "Yay!"), Northern Maverick Brewing (Toronto) Lock Street Brewing (St Catharines) and Goose Island Toronto Brewhouse.

Not a huge stable, I grant you, but there's only so many breweries you really want to put in one room. Besides, I've never had a chance to enjoy the products from about half of these so that's always cool. But if you want a break from beer, Pelee Island Winery will be there, as will Cole Point Cider (made by the Bergeron Estate Winery out of Adolphustown) and Junction 56 Distillery (Stratford). Brown said that Junction 56 "are going to be serving vodka and whiskey in small amounts." So you know, if you want a chaser with that beer.

While I'm excited to try the beers from less-known (to me) breweries, Downtown Brown already has a favourite picked out.
Head brewer Daniel, left, and general manager Ivan
MacKinnon of MacKinnon Brothers Brewing will be at the
BurlOnTap Beer Festival despite the fact that August is a
pretty busy month in the farming community. Hey, all work
and no play makes a farm boy thirsty so welcome aboard!!
"I think one (brewery) that's going to impress a lot of people is the MacKinnon Brothers Brewery from Bath, Ontario, near Kingston. They've been farming the same land since 1784. They've got some really good beer right now. Everything you drink in your glass from MacKinnon is grown on their farm. So that'll be a big hit."

How did he managed to track down this tiny brewery from Bath? "I went to the Hamilton Food and Drink Show and they had a booth there. Sweeney was the guy from the family manning the booth. I had an (Eight Man) English Pale Ale and it was absolutely delicious. And they had a bunch of cans (of it) on display. So I said, 'Sweeney, can I buy a can to take home and show my friends?' And he said, 'Just take it.' And I did and the people who tried it really liked it."

"So I told him that they should come to the Beer Fest and he said they couldn't because they're farming that time in August. I said, 'Sweeney, you gotta come. Your beer would be so popular.' I finally convinced him to come and they're gonna stay in the Waterfront Hotel and they're really looking forward to it."
Here's one soggy beer writer at the 2014 Burlington
Beer Festival. I'm not sure who this dunce is but
clearly, he doesn't know any better than to get out
of the rain. Trust me, that was one rainy afternoon.

In the meantime, Downtown Brown has been shuttled from event to event throughout Burlington for the past two months, offering up tickets as prizes in contests and the like. "I think I've generated a lot of interest in this event so Mike, Patti and I really looking forward to it."

And when he says "all-ages" (well, 19-plus and older), he's not kidding. While Millennials flock to events like this, it seems the other end of the scale will be represented, as well. "There's a couple of elder residences - I'm not sure if I should be calling them nursing homes anymore - but they're going to be bringing groups of people in so that'll be fun - a real mix of young and old and everything in between." Hey, the more the merrier, right?

Hey, what about food? That's covered, he assured me. "The Beaver and Bulldog Pub is upstairs and they're going to be supplying pizza and they don't have far to deliver it," he laughed.

As for the costs associated with the old Summer Fests? Also off the table. "You want electricity?" he grinned. "There's a socket on the wall. Go plug yourself in." Sound like a plan. So once again, if you're up for it, go to: And hey, if you need Mike and Patti's service before, during or even well after the BurlOnTap Beer Fest, go to: It's the smart and safe way to get home! But guys and doll, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Detroit Rock City

From bankrupt to beautiful in a matter of a few years. In
2013, the City of Detroit filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.
Four years later, it's a vibrant jewel on the banks on Lake
St Clair between St Clair River to the north and Detroit
River to the south, the connection between Lake Erie and
Lake Huron. Great place for some boating, we learned.
On our way into Gross Pointe Farms, Michigan three weekends ago, my son, David and I stopped at a McDonald's to grab a quick bite since neither of us had eaten lunch after crossing the border from Sarnia in the US.

Little did I know that we were actually three minutes away from our final destination, the warm home of my high school buddy Greg, aka "Cheesey" and his lovely wife April.

That said, the Redmond men will always obey their stomachs first and had to fuel the machines for the day-long shenanigans to come. David found us a table while I waited for the food and before long, we were chowing down. About 10 minutes into the meal, I noticed something. From the servers right through to the customers, my boy and I were the only white people in the entire place. Now David would never notice something like that in a million years and frankly, I was impressed with myself for taking that long to notice. I have always said to myself that I don't care about things like skin colour. Turns out I truly don't. Nice to have that confirmed as this situation was truly a first for me, like, ever!

In fact, the surroundings ended up being a lot of fun as we were in the middle of a bunch of cute 11 and 12-year old girls from some kind of Summer Camp.
The difference in this street near the Detroit waterfront in just
four short years is uncanny. The bottom picture is from 2013,
the top one is present day. When the city bottomed out, big
money investors came in, snatched up properties for a song
and started rejuvenating the area. As you can see, some of the
facades were saved and transformed into much much more.
They had to sing a special Grace song before their food arrived and while I can't remember the main body of the song, the chorus was catchy enough that I could join right in. So I did. Loudly and to the giggles of the happy girls next to us. When the Grace song was over, a camp counsellor came over and thanked me with a big smile. "That song always needed a deeper tone to it!" And as we were leaving, little voices yelled out, "Bye, Donny and David. Have fun!"

And thus was my introduction to the present day state of race relations in Detroit. Is it totally happy faces of all colours and cheerful Grace songs throughout the city? All hugs and kisses? No, of course not. No city is, even in Canada. But the tensions of the past, well, perhaps they've eased somewhat. That's just the view of an outsider (myself) looking in but from what I viewed in the downtown core that night when Cheesey and I were wheeling from bars to breweries, it's a lot better than it was in the not-too-distant past. And no one is prouder of the transformation from ghost-town to vibrant city than Cheesey himself, who was a part of the city's humongous and speedy turn-around.
Just a happy boy singing a song as we jetted
around Lake St Clair in Cheesey's boat. My
son, David, had the time of his life visiting
Cheesey and April. "When can we go back?"
he asked as soon as we started driving home.

But Cheesey was very honest about it as we were driving through the city. He showed me the rejuvenated areas, explaining who brought the big bucks to buy shuttered buildings on the cheap and then turn them into gleaming urban jewels. But at the same time, we'd cross a street into a different area, still very run down, and he would admit, "Yeah, this is still a pretty unsafe place to be. In this neighbourhood, it doesn't matter what colour you are. If you look like you have money, you will get robbed." When it comes to his city, Cheesey is an open and honest civic ambassador. But in the shiny new areas, Cheesey's eyes lit up as he explained the remarkable renewal.

But again, from an outsider looking in, the large pockets of urban rejuvenation were mind-boggling. This was not what I was expecting at all. Yes, there are still areas you would avoid for personal safety reasons but that's as true in Toronto as it is in Detroit. Any urban centre, really.

But hey, is this a column about urban-decay-turned-around or is it a column about beer? Hmmm, okay, so far the former so time to switch gears. Again, gotta keep with the Motor City theme here so I'm hitting the gas and switching gears to beers, baby!

Now yesterday, I explained how Cheesey and I landed at HopCat, the bar with a 130 taps of craft beer goodness. (Okay, okay 129 because one was Pabst Blue Ribbon but still...) But still, how do we top that?
At Batch Brewing, you can see the size of the vats
behind me to the right. I would literally be taller
than them if I stood up. From from tiny vats come
some insanely great beers. What great ambiance in
this place, too, as Millennials played classic board
games into the night. The spirit in there was great.
Well, turns out that Cheesey is not only a great civic ambassador but he knows where all the great little craft breweries are scattered throughout the city. That makes him one helluva tour guide where I'm concerned, I gotta tell ya.

Next stop was Batch Brewing, a small outfit on Porter Street, literally a stone's throw from the Detroit River. Well, if you can throw a stone seven city blocks, anyway. "I'm not sure what this building was before," said Cheesey as we pulled up. He figured a good guess would be car-parts related but couldn't quite remember. Remember, a lot of buildings both big and small have turned over in the city during past few years so it's impossible to remember them all.

Once inside, two things became instantly apparent. By Batch Brewing, they mean small batch brewing as the vats were not even my height. Probably less than 1,000 litres (264 gallons) each. And lining the picnic tables inside were dozens of Millennials playing classic board games, such as Battleship, Clue, Connect Four, even Cribbage. That made for a lot of happy chatter and laughter. Hell, in one case, a young Mom was breast-feeding her child as she dealt the cards between herself and her hubby. Talk about a nurturing environment, not to mention the innate ability women have to multi-task. (We guys do not share that skill, ladies.)
I have cropped off a portion of the building on the right but this is the
best shot of the brewery's exterior I could find on the interwebs. As you
can see, they've incorporated an old train car into the building and
turned it into a little more real estate. Batch means small batch here!

But again, let's get away from urban renewal and, uhhh, breast milk and concentrate on beer here. (I can honestly say that is the first mention of breast milk in this little column ever.) Okay, I mentioned yesterday that I had tried a Batch beer at HopCat so let's start there. As my first beer of the night at HopCat, I went with Batch's Keeping Up With The Juices New England IPA. Greg had explained they were a local nanobrewery in the Corktown District of Detroit and hey, it turns out that was a damn fine choice.

For an area nowhere near the country's east coast, some of these Detroit brewers are cranking out some of the most phenomenal New England IPAs ever.
I was NOT leaving Batch Brewing without this two
litre (68 ounce) jug of Keeping Up With The Juices
New England IPA. At 6.6% but just 33 IBUs, I was
stunned at the hoppiness of this one. Truly delicious.
While I had enjoyed it at HopCat, it wasn't until we arrived at Batch that I realized that Keeping Up With The Juices was only 33 IBUs (international bitterness units). That is exceptionally low for an IPA, any IPA! And yet, they squeezed a strong hop quality into this one. At 6.6%, this was all mango and fruit on the nose with some strong orange rind on the tongue and a wheatiness on the back end. Definitely wheat malts in the mix here. But just a stunning beer! So much so, I brought a bloody big jug of it home with me in the trunk, among many others - none of them claimed at the border.

The beauty of having David in the car is that he can actually charm both Canadian and American border guards, just by being himself - chatty and happy. He actually made them smile in both directions. "So this is a father-son team?" the stern Canadian border guard asked me, looking at our passports. "Yupper do!" David piped up loudly. "Best father and son ever!" The guy just started laughing and waved us through. "Yupper do," I heard him chuckling as we started to drive.

But *heavy sigh* this isn't about urban renewal or breast milk or cheerful sons, this is about beer, dammit! See how easily I get sidetracked?
I lucked out here. I enjoyed a tasty Short's Brewing
(Bellaire, Michigan) Huma Lupa Licious IPA just
three weeks before Lagunitas (so actually Heineken)
bought a 19.9% stake in the brewery. They were
completely independent when I enjoyed this beer!
Cheesey's boat, Camella 2, provided the backdrop.
While at Batch, Cheesey and I both dove into a Perle's Pale Ale, a SMASH (single malt and single hop) ale that uses English Pearl Malts and German Pearl Hops. That's what I'm holding up in the picture. At 5.6% and 30 IBUs, this was a great little pearl, uhh, pale ale with some light grapefruit on the nose and a fruit and malt combo on the tongue. Light and refreshing, a really great little Summer ale.

That was the last stop on Cheesey and Donny's Friday Night's Adventure but hey, we had Saturday night to come. Or so we thought. Lemme explain. Our day began at the Gross Pointe Farms Marina. Each of the five different Gross Pointe communities has their own marina "because we pay taxes in our cities," Cheesey explained. So basically, free country club if you pay your taxes! Nice set-up! But a stop at the local market, owned by a buddy of Cheesey, saw me struggling to decide which beer to bring along on the day which would involve extensive travels through Lake St Clair on their speedboat, Camella 2. (Each of the initials in Camella is the first initial of their seven grandchildren. Pretty good wordplay there.)

In the end, I chose the Short's Brewing Huma Lupa Licious IPA because, well, mostly just the name, I guess, and the fact I've never had any of their beers.
At the moment, this is Cheesey's go-to beer, Stroh's
Bohemian-Style Pilsner. The brewery's history in
Detroit is something Cheesey appreciates and hey,
for a macro, this was pretty tasty. A good example
of a German style pilsner, this had some flavour!!
Ironically, just a few days ago, the Bellaire, Michigan brewery sold a 19.9% stake to Lagunitas. And of course, Lagunitas itself was bought out 100% by Heineken a couple of months back. So this is actually selling a fifth of the place to an international giant. While Short's can still claim independence (it takes 25% outside ownership before that claim cannot be made), I am wary that this is, well, the thin edge of the wedge, so to speak. I can't help but worry that Short's will be 100% Heineken's property within a couple of years.

But hey, at least I can make the claim that when I drank Huma Lupa Licious IPA, they were 100% indie, man! And it showed. At 7.7% and 96 IBUs, this was definitely an indie west-coast IPA. Jackhammered your tongue with five different hops, I know that malts must have been used (due to necessity) but you'd never know it as this is just a hop explosion here! Grapefruit and citrus on the nose, orange and pine on the tongue, this was just a few ABV points away from being a Double IPA. Man, this is a beast. Heineken, stay the hell away from this beer! And any further involvement in the brewery for that matter. You got your 20% so now please go away! Don't wreck a great thing! Also 19.9%? Zup with that? Is that a thing where $19.99 sounds like less than $20? Big brewing corporations continue to baffle me with their crazy (but no doubt carefully calculated) number games.
Our host, Greg, strikes a "cheesey" pose with this
billboard at Mike's On The Water, a restaurant on
Lake St Clair where boaters simply dock outside
the fun place and head on in for some great food.

After David had ample time to play on the marina's beach and April came down to join the Three Amigos, we hopped into Cheesey's speedboat, jetted around Lake St Clair before finally landing at Mike's On The Water, a hugely popular food stop for boaters on the lake. We won't get into the beer too much as the only craft option was Samuel Adams Boston Lager. That's a perfectly good choice for me except the keg was dry. So rather than Bud and some other macro, I opted for a Margaritaville Brewing (singer Jimmy Buffet's place in Jacksonville, Florida) Landshark Lager. Much the same as it is up here (brewed by Brick in Canada), it's a cleaner version of Corona. But hey, I learned it'll wash down a lobster roll nicely so that's good.

But no, this lunch would be remembered for something else. You see, a couple of months back, David's Mom noticed he was getting sick after meals so she took him into an allergist, Turns out he has a few food allergies that have simply come to him later in life as he's 26 now. The allergist created a red-yellow-flashing-green list for us, meaning foods that were never, rarely or occasionally to be eaten. On the red list were some surprises, including white sugar, apples, potatoes, coconuts and anything using food dye.
A small cross-section of the craft beers available in the
food market near Greg and April's place. Feel free to
ignore the Blue Moon as we all know it's made here by
Molson's but is cloaked as an independent down there.

Being as his Mom is all Irish and I'm half-Irish, potatoes was the one that stunned us. But okay, I tossed out my potatoes and subbed in sweet potatoes and rice for him here at Donny's Bar and Grill. But when we arrived at Mike's On The Water, David really wanted fish and chips. Well, since he's been eating potatoes for nearly 26 years, I thought, "Meh, it's one meal. What's the harm?" In what is sure to tarnish any chance of me winning 2017 Father Of The Year, we found out that night. Two bites into April's delicious spaghetti dinner, David got this look - a look I recognize all too well. He was about to puke. And he did for two-and-half solid hours. Well, actually, the vomiting was only about the first 20 minutes, followed by two hours and 10 minutes of dry heaving and retching. I sat out back with him, rubbing his back with a wastebasket in his lap and was thoroughly exhausted by the time he stopped, looked at me wearily and said, " I want to go to bed." Greg felt horrible for him, April felt horrible for him and I felt all that times ten. The poor kid. I looked at Greg and April and said flatly, "No more fries! Ever!" On my part, what a stupid slip in judgement. My boy better get used to a future filled with rice.
I am rocking this with a picture of Greg and my high
school buddy, Dennis Ford, for a specific reason. Given
the situation with our respective parents, I suspect
Dennis would trade places with me in a heartbeat.

David was as right as rain and his usual cheerful self on Sunday morning so we were all pretty relieved there. With a firmer eye to his allergies, Greg actually found some unsweetened no-sugar, no artificial sweetener (also a red light) maple syrup for our French Toast breakfast. Because Cheesey and I missed our Saturday Night Breweries Tour, we established that I - or both of us - would be back soon. He had three breweries planned for Saturday night and dammit, I want to visit them! As well, since Greg and April are involved, I suspect David will be insistent on joining me. I do owe him a vomit-free night in Michigan, after all. (Stupid, stupid, stupid!!)

Finally, a family matter to deal with here. A month back, my Mom, who's 87 but still living alone in the huge Oakville house we moved into in 1963, had a huge fender-bender with a concrete pole on the sidewalk of a nearby library. It was broad daylight with no one around (thankfully). Then just as I was leaving for Michigan, she took a header down some concrete stairs onto a concrete patio. This was more serious. There was some head trauma and she lost peripheral vision on one eye, causing her driver's licence to get yanked.
Since I was in Michigan and we had to pass on the Cheesy
and Donny Saturday Night Brewery Party, I made sure to
pop a few of Michigan's best in my trunk on the way out.
Founders Brewing (Grand Rapids) All Day IPA seemed
like a slam-dunk choice. This has always been a great one.
Now she still has all of her mental faculties and refuses to leave the house. I was the last of the kids in there with her and I was gone in 1980. So that home is her anchor.

My sister, Carly, had my brother, Gary, flown in from his home in Spain to watch over her for a while, take her shopping, to the hairdresser, things like that. But a decision had to be made. Who was going to move in with her? So let's review the choices, shall we? Gary lives in Barcelona, Spain. Carly, a fertility specialist, has a medical practice in Toronto. And then there's me, the Beer Store employee, who works three minutes up the street from her.

Oddly, the other two felt this was a clear and easy choice. I'm not sure why. I had a chance to talk to Cheesey about it as it was all playing out while I was down there. He is in very much the same boat as his Mom won't leave the Oakville house where he grew up in the same neighbourhood as me.
When in Rome... well, you might have to
settle for something you'd normally pass
on. Hey, Jimmy Buffet, I drank one of
your beers because it was the best of a
bad bunch. Meh, it washed down lunch.
His older sister has moved in with her so she can run out the clock in a familiar, safe environment. Of course, he understands the situation so we had a good and honest talk about it.

While still there, I talked to David about the situation as well on the Sunday morning and asked him what he thought. To be honest, I was expecting some resistance. He loves our two-storey apartment in Burlington as it has been our home for over 11 years. However, he caught me off-guard with his thoughts on it. "Grandma Jay (my Mom) has taken care of us for all these years," he said as sincerely as anything I have ever heard in my life. "Now it's our time to take care of Grandma Jay." Wow. That kid will never stop amazing me.

So through the month of August, Donny's Bar and Grill is getting slowly packed up and shifted to a new Oakville locale. But there's a reason that a picture of my old roomie and high school buddy, Dennis, is in here. You see, I was kinda not thrilled with this turn of events. But also feeling ashamed that I felt that way. Though many friends have assured me that's natural and that they themselves would be reluctant, there's a huge sense of guilt when you really wish you didn't have to step up.

But Dennis wrote something this morning that really opened my eyes. His very-much-loved father is suffering from cancer and likely only has a few days left. His mother has full-blown Alzheimer's. As I read it, I realized Dennis would trade places with me in a heart-beat. Okay, I'll be back tomorrow with news about the Burlington On Taps Beer Mini-Festival on August 11-12. But here's Dennis' words. If you can make it to the end without crying, you're a stronger person than me. Here it is: Damn Onions! But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...