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...

Friday, 17 February 2017

When Great Lakes threw that party

The good looking one on the right is Peter Bulut, the owner and
Chief Brewing Officer of Great Lakes Brewing. The skeevy one
on the left just likes cake so he brought one for their birthday...
Knowing my birthday fell on Tuesday, February 14th, I eyed the calendar at work a few weeks back. Since I usually have Mondays off from the Beer Store, I suggested to my esteemed coworker and official schedule-maker Trey that I may as well take Tuesday and Wednesday off, as well. You know, give myself a little four-day weekend as a birthday present.

That is, until I found out about Great Lakes Brewing's 30th Birthday Bash in Toronto at The Antler Room. That would be last night. Well, I certainly couldn't miss it, could I? So in the end, I looked at Trey and said, "Hell, just give me the whole week off. It'll be a Birthday Week." Why not, shrugged Trey. "That's what I do." (Also, he loves Great Lakes so yeah, he gets it.)

Now I have never had a Birthday Week before - trust me, one day is usually more than enough - so it was time to make plans. Well, loosely in my head. Nothing is ever carved in stone at Donny's Bar and Grill. Except my patio stones (more man-made than carved.)
Not gonna lie. The person at the GLB 30th Birthday Bash
that I was the most excited to meet was Garnett Gerry,
who in tandem with graphic designer Fabian Skidmore,
draws those uber wicked awesome labels for GLB beers.
But first, it was time to stock up on groceries and some weekday-fun beer from Nickel Brook. While I was grocery shopping, I noticed the cake section and suddenly remembered that February 12 was Great Lakes Brewing's actual 30th birthday. And I promised their social media guru, Troy, a week prior that I would be coming with cake. As my grandfather taught me, a promise made is a debt unpaid so I grabbed a birthday cake and some candles. Did you know you can buy birthday cake without it actually being your birthday?? They don't even check your ID. That's a pretty loose system if you ask me. Never mind our borders, people, we gotta start cracking down on cake distribution!

So I loaded my groceries and possibly illegally-attained birthday cake into my car and headed from Burlington to Etobicoke. Well, there was one helluva snowstorm on Sunday and it was a slow crawl in, bumper-to-bumper. Oh well, I had coffee, the tunes were blaring, not to mention it was the first day of vacation. Frankly, my time is not all that valuable.
Just in case we forgot what we were celebrating,
my buddy Drunk Polkaroo had a handy way to
remind us right behind him. Hey, with some
of the high-test brew being poured, it would be
ridiculously easy to forget why we were there!
So off I went. Ninety minutes later, a chocolate-caramel cake and I landed at GLB's doorstep. (The drive home? About 20 minutes. The snow stopped and no one was on the highway. Life always evens out.)

Once inside, I was happily greeted by Vanessa and Chris, who frankly were a little starved for company during the storm. And their eyes lit up when they saw what I was carrying so perhaps they were also starved for (alleged) illicitly-obtained cake. Hey, eat the evidence, I say! Chris happily poured me a Canuck Pale Ale for my efforts while I stayed to chat. Vanessa gamely posed for pictures with the cake but before long, a man I recognized came through from the back. I knew instantly it was the brewery owner but true to form, drew a blank on his name. Fortunately, Peter Bulut was good enough to introduce himself. So then, pictures of me and Peter were taken. He thought it was pretty cool I brought a cake whereas I thought it was pretty cool that he'd come out to personally greet me. But our social media posts would not be without clothing controversy.

You see, forgetting where I was going that day, I threw on my Nickel Brook t-shirt. And when Troy posted a pic of me, Peter and the criminal cake on Twitter, one buddy, Chris, howled with delight, "Get the man a new shirt!" Minutes later, my former coworker, Jay-Dawg, texted me that he had seen my pic. "You're on Great Lakes' Instagram! Wearing a Nickel Brook shirt! Hahaha!"
That would be my Newmarket Beer Store buddy Paul on
the left holding up clearly intoxicated Beer Bro Glenn on
the right. Actually, believe it or not, we were all fine...
Honestly, I haven't see an article of clothing get this level of attention since Janet Jackson's Halftime Show at the Super Bowl.

Fortunately, Troy was quick to tweet "We're all friends" while Nickel Brook's Manager of Corporate Sales Matt happily chirped in, "Love the Nickel Brook shirt. Two great Ontario breweries!" Given that I'm as likely as not to show up at Nickel Brook, growlers in hand, wearing Batman pajama pants (What? They're right around the corner! They're like family!), Matty was probably just happy I was finally wearing actual pants.

Then again, I already knew they were all friends even earlier when Chris looked at my shirt and asked excitedly, "Have you got their Cafe Del Bastardo yet?" Ahh, yes, one day earlier, Nickel Brook had just released their 14.5% bourbon-barrel-aged Imperial Stout aged with Columbian coffee beans, courtesy of Burlington's Tamp Coffee. It is always highly anticipated and yup, I have mine. I had pants on, too, when I bought it. Probably. But that "friends" point was further driven home when I was on my way into the GLB birthday bash on the GO Train.
Three-time Ontario Beer Writer of the Year
Ben Johnson (not the Olympic cheat) shares a
beer moment with GLB social media star Troy.
Nickel Brook buddy Tony had texted me a funny picture and while responding, I mentioned I was on the train, heading for the GLB party. "Oh, can you grab me a shirt? Black, please," he texted. He got dark grey - all the men's large blacks were snapped up. But the point is these Ontario craft beer guys all seem to genuinely like each other.

Hopping off the GO Train at Union Station, it was playtime as the venue, The Antler Room, is literally a five-minute walk from Canada's largest and busiest train station. (Again, I have no idea if that's true. I just like getting called on my "fake news" because my name is Donald. Well, when my Mom is pissed at me.) First up, I had to meet with Beer Bro Glenn as I had his ticket. He told me he was at the fancy-Dan Royal York Hotel and to text him when I was there. Meeting him, I asked why on Earth he'd wait for me at the Royal York. "They have really comfortable chairs," he shrugged. That Glenn - he's so Raven. And off we went, dodging traffic and being surrounded by far better looking people than us. One of them was Newmarket Beer Store Bro Paul, just outside. The first two people I saw inside the party were (hey now!) Troy and owner Peter. In fact, it was Peter who told me where I'd find beer writing-videographer Drunk Polkaroo and his lovely wife Kat. We'd searched the room to no avail.
Good Golly Miss Molly, if ever there were an Unholy
Alliance, it is this one! In fact, Drunk Polkaroo even
suggested a warmer weather, get-together at Donny's
Bar and Grill. I should start warning the neighbours.

Anyway, it was a crazy fun night. It was like the Emmys or the Grammies or the Oscars, whichever one of those is actually good. Among those I had never met before was GLB label artist extraordinaire Garnett Gerry. He walked by me and I thought, "Holy shit! Is that was GLB label artist extraordinaire Garnett Gerry, the man with the last name first and the first name last?" Minutes later, he walked up to me and asked, "Do you write a beer blog?" He's been the revered subject matter in this space several times. I had two answers. 1) "Yes!" And 2) "Can I get a picture with you?" A true craft beer superstar!

Before long, Polkaroo introduced me to three-time Ontario Beer Writer of the Year Ben Johnson, who also, very much to my surprise, knew me. The only plausible explanation there is the Canada Post Offices in London, Ontario are the last in the country to put up Wanted posters in the foyer. We'll get back to Bashful Ben in the very near future as a recent blog he wrote about sexism on Ontario craft beer labels was really impressive to this old journalist for reasons he may not even know. Also, the guy's a lot taller than I would have guessed - like 6-foot-11 or someshit. I'm guessing he looked around, went full Zoolander and bellowed, "What is this? A party for ants?"
When my birthday fell on Valentine's Day, long-
time friend Ingrid posted this on my Facebook as an
appropriate birthday greeting. She knows me well.

Anyways, to our friends at Great Lakes Brewing... man, that 30th Birthday Bash was an outstanding time! Next up, count on a review of your 30th Anniversary Barrel-Aged Belgium Style Quad. And hey, it would be impossible not to throw some serious and loving praise in the general direction of The Antler Room, the hosts of this shindig. You people are braver than you know. I hope you never burn down like that time Chachi burned down Arnold's on Happy Days. (My brain: "Do you have even the faintest idea of how stupid that sentence makes you sound?")

But there was more to Birthday Week with me than Great Lakes Brewing's awesome celebration as I also made on-my-actual-birthday stops at Black Oaks Brewing, the Indie Alehouse, Junction Craft Brewing and the new Big Rock Brewing in Etobicoke. And if I get the roads-are-plowed, you-probably-won't-die all-clear from my Barrie friend, A-Bomb, a trip to Flying Monkeys, Barnstormer and Redline is in the works this weekend. Why? Because I've never done Birthday Week before so I'm kinda winging it. (My brain: "Yeah, that's new.") So that's up next in a few days. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here!!! Until next time, I remain...

Monday, 13 February 2017

The funniest Super Bowl bet ever

When recapped the exchanges between
brewing rivals, Samuel Adams and WhiteWater, I could
not stop laughing. The Atlanta-based WhiteWater got their
gloat on for three quarters of the game but, well, things did
not turn out as they planned. Just some hilarious Tweets!!!
Yeah, that Super Bowl will go down as one for the ages. No doubt about that. I was cheering for Atlanta all the way but the fact is, for New England to engineer a comeback like that? Holy crap, that was something to see!!!

Well, I wish I had, anyway. When the Falcons went up 28-3 in the third quarter, I figured it was game over and switched to something else before nodding off to sleep in my Lazy Boy. And despite countless messages and phone calls from Stevil St Evil, way down in Wellington, New Zealand, exhorting me to wake up and watch the comeback of the century, once I'm down for a happy little IPA Nap, I stay down. I don't sleep so much as hibernate.

Naturally when I woke up in the morning and went on Facebook, I had a real WTF-happened moment. So I went onto YouTube and watched the whole thing unfold with my coffee. That was the most exciting, unbelievable, crazy-ass football I never saw.
Ouchh, here's an early pre-game burn from SweetWater to
Samuel Adams, who naturally replied, "NOT COOL!" But
it carried on long after that and well into the game. In the
end, we know what happened but this stuff was funny as hell
Now as a decades-long diehard Buffalo Bills fan, I can't in good conscience ever cheer for New England. And to be brutally honest, watching Atlanta romp through the National Football Conference playoffs, I honestly thought they had the right stuff to win Super Bowl LI. (I don't know what you Americans were calling it but I was saying Super Bowl Lee.)

But man, I can appreciate some damn good hold-your-breath football, regardless of the uniform, and to this Canucklehead, that was probably the best Super Bowl ever.

However, while the Patriots and Falcons were battling it out on the gridiron, there was a sidelines battle being waged on Twitter between the Boston Beer Company, known to most as Samuel Adams Brewing, and Atlanta-based SweetWater Brewery. And man, it was funny. It's been on a number of social media outlets now but I first spotted it on
In the third quarter, with the Patriots down 28-3, the folks at Sam
Adams admitted to some nerves, posting a pic of their Boston Lager
and a plate of chicken wings with the simple caption: "Stress eating."

Five days before the game was held, SweetWater sent the first volley Samuel Adams' way, posting the story of how an Atlanta gas station yanked all of its Samuel Adams' beer prior to the game and quipping, "Hey, Sam Adams Beer, feeling a little deflated?" (Obviously a reference to DeflateGate, the Super Bowl in which... wait, you know all this.)

But Sammy A's proved it was up for the challenge, referencing Pats' coach Bill Belichick in their reply, "Your joke's falling flat. Better Belichick yourself before you wreck yourself." And with that, it was game on.

SweetWater suggested that when the Falcons won, Sammy A's would have to send a brewer to Atlanta as an intern. Adams upped the ante and said losing brewery wear the winning team's jersey.
The funniest pre-game Twitter exchange came before the opening
kick-off when Sam Adams noted their biggest problem was finding
more fingers for QB Tom Brady's championship rings as he already
has four. SweetWater replied that they had a pretty good idea of, uh,
which finger that ring was going on when the Falcons won. To which,
Adams replied: "Well, you certainly have A LOT to choose from!"
Before long it was finally decided between the two that SweetWater would have to brew a Patriots Extra Pale Ale if the Pats won and Sam Adam's would have to brew a Dirty Bird Lager if the Falcons won.

And of course, for three quarters, SweetWater had a number of sweet chirps for the folks at Sam Adams. But when the Patriots started to mount their fourth quarter comeback, suddenly Sweetwater got nervous, retweeting Sam Adams' early "Stress eating" post and asking, "Y'all got anymore of those wings?" 

And when the Pats won it in overtime, Sam Adams posted a GIF of the Fresh Prince and Carleton dancing and cheering, noting, "We know you're sad right now but here's how we feel about you coming to brew with us." At first, SweetWater played coy - "New phone - who dis?" before finally posting a GIF of an actor screaming and acknowledging the next day, "When you realize it wasn't a bad dream and you gotta pay up on your bet with Samuel Adams Beer."
Not long after New England won the Super Bowl,
Atlanta's SweetWater Brewing was gifted with this tap
handle from the folks at Samuel Adams. And now the
question on everybody's mind is: "When will this beer
be ready and how do I get some?" Ball's in their court.

Now since New England won, I won't pick a winner of the Twitter Super Bowl (well, except for us readers) but SweetWater was good to their word, posting a picture of their staff all wearing Samuel Adams t-shirts but slyly noting underneath, "Alright, none of you Massholes can claim we didn't keep our word." Massholes is, of course, a Massachusetts reference. To which, Sam Adams replied, "We accept 'Massholes' as a term of endearment... cheers, guys!" But to be honest, "Belichick yourself before you wreck yourself" did make me laugh out loud - an actual LOL moment. The folks manning their respective Twitter accounts have great senses of humour.

Frankly, I remember this Twitter exchange more than the game but then again, I was awake for the Twitter stuff. Well, afterwards when I read them. Frankly, I am never done sleeping. I only take intermittent breaks from sleeping to do a bunch of stuff so I can collect a weekly cheque, thus ensuring that my bed is in a really nice room. *Looks at present state of bedroom* Or just in a room, I suppose. If only I could convince those all those dirty clothes on the floor we're going on a picnic, perhaps they'd jump into the hamper of their own volition.

This is an excellent example of the German
Marzen style - malty, crisp and clean. These
Samuel Adams' guys seldom disappoint me.
Okay, since this is (allegedly) a beer column rather than a football fight on Twitter column, to the victors go the spoils. First on deck is Samuel Adams' Octoberfest. I found a single of it in the orphans bin at the LCBO and as we know, orphans and single bombers often find their way into the fridge at Donny's Bar and Grill. Adams' Octoberfest was first brewed in 1989 and most years, the formula is tinkered with a little bit. Always ranging between 5% and 5.5% (I think mine was 5.5% - I forgot to say the ABV in my tasting notes), this pours a beautiful copper colour. The Marzen-style lager uses German Noble hops in the brewing but make no mistake, this is a malt bomb all the way. Despite the slight nose of brown sugar and toffee, this was not sweet in the least. Well-carbonated, lightly tart but richly caramel and grassy on the tongue, this is an excellent example of the German's century-old recipe. If you're a hophead only, go for their Rebel IPA, instead, as it is regularly available here in Canada. But I like to bounce it around a little and found this refreshing.

Which actually reminds me - my beer writing/video pal Drunk Polkaroo is sitting on a bottle of, I believe, their 2015 single-use bourbon-barrel-aged Utopia, highly prized, incredibly elusive and super expensive. I'm not sure what Polk paid for it but the 29% brew usually runs just this side of $200. This is only the ninth release of Utopia since 2002 so it'll be one helluva story from the Polk.
The recent participants in the Wellington Rebooted Mix
were the Terrestrial India Brown Ale, S'Wheat Thang
Hoppy Wheat Ale, Quick Brown Fox ESB and their much
loved by yours truly Chocolate Milk Stout. Stellar group!

Based on what I've seen on Twitter and Facebook recently, it would seem that the Wellington Brewing (Guelph) Rebooted Mix is back in play for Round Two. Originally released in October, I snapped one up because while I've had two of them, the other two were new to me. The 5.9% Terrestrial India Brown Ale was my 2015 Ale of the Year (the first brown ale to win anything with me ever) while a couple of the 7.2% Chocolate Milk Stout get snapped off the shelf every time it surfaces. Huge favourite of mine. So what the brewery has done here is package together four of their one-offs in a $9.95 four-pack. So obviously, those two alone made it worth buying this bad boy. That I bought it several more times speaks to all the beers inside. The S'Wheat Thang Hoppy Wheat Ale (okay, can I just say great name?) was perhaps not so much hoppy as it was lightly tart but the 5.5% wheat delivered. The usual banana on the nose with a hint of grapefruit, it did have a slight pale ale feel in the mouth - lightly spiced, a wee bit bitter but with strong classic wheat notes coming to the fore.
While I got my Brooklyn in a 16-ounce (473 ml) can, I
opted for this pic off the internet instead as my picture
sucked donkey dong. Actual. Donkey. Dong. And it is
too good of a lager to be sullied with bad photography.

The 6% Quick Brown Fox ESB (which, for some reason, reminds me of the typing class I was forced to take in First Year Journalism) is a pretty good example of a true British-style English Special Bitter. I don't drink a lot of ESBs which is surprising since every time I do, I seem to quite enjoy them. But then again, I suspect craft breweries aren't cranking this style out by the hundreds. Wellington takes the usual recipe but dry-hops it at the end of the cycle for a wee bit more oomph. Bready on the nose and nutty bitterness on the tongue, this was quite good. A great four-pack that's back - grab one if you see it.

Okay, speaking of a different style that absolutely brings a pale ale feel to the table, I found a can of Brooklyn Brewing Lager at my local LCBO. If I haven't tried a beer, I tend to grab it, regardless of style or this column would be all IPAs and imperial stouts. It seems I force my own hand except when it comes to picking up laundry off the floor. Clearly, I prefer Free Range Laundry. Let the underwear and socks run free, I say. Or just sit there in a pile. Who am I to impose my totalitarian oppression on them?
If it has a concrete or brick background, it's definitely
one of my pictures. I am not the most creative person you
will meet in your lifetime. I'm more like "Oh shit, I
should probably take a pic. What's fastest and easiest?"
While that's my deeply-thought-out and not at all accurate assessment of laundry, why don't we just get to the Brooklyn Lager? Okay, for starters, this is the best-selling beer out of New York City's Brooklyn Brewing, founded by Steve Hindy and Tom Potter back in 1987. While I haven't had their other fare (this seems to be the only one available up here thus far), it's not hard to see why. Fairly citrus and floral on the nose (which is so not a lager's usual aroma), the 5.2% beer is more definitely one on the tongue with mostly grassiness and toasted malt but still a touch of bitterness. This brew kicks some lagery (that is not a real word) ass. Look forward to more from these guys.

Okay, let's scoot back up to Canada for another, this time, Muskoka Brewing's (Bracebridge, Ontario) Shinnicked Stout. For those who may not know, "shinnicked" is the word for that out-of-breath feeling you get when jumping into an ice-cold lake in the middle of winter. Another word for that is cardiac arrest. Insane is also a word that works. Too drunk to think clearly is an applicable phrase. While lightly jogging to my car in the cold will leave me out of breath, that's not quite the same as shinnicked.
Is either Tom Brady or Joe Montana the greatest of all
time? Or is it this man, who scored four touchdowns in
the 1966 Chicago High School Championships? I say we
could make a pretty good case here for Mr. Al Bundy.
Okay, the fact that they use Lumberjack Coffee from the local Muskoka Roastery tells you right off the bat what you're smelling off this 5.2% stout. But to me, it was all nutty and tasty bitter chocolate on the tongue. I had several samples of this at the Rib Eye Jack's Beer Fest but truly, you need a full glass to properly review it. What can I say? Another winner from Muskoka.

Okay, back soon, as all sorts of birthday celebrations are going on this week. Great Lakes Brewing turned 30 on Sunday. I turn slightly older than 30 on Valentines Day while Beer Bro Stevil St Evil, down in Wellington, New Zealand turns a mind-boggling 87 on Wednesday, making him the second-oldest of our old crew after Beer Bro Glenn, well into his 90s. But one last Super Bowl note. The day of the game, I posted a picture of Joe "The Throw" Montana (who won four Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980-90s) on Facebook and said regardless of the outcome, Joe would always be the best. Well, after Tom Brady's fifth Super Bowl win, I got challenging by many into admitting he was the GOAT - greatest of all time. Not so fast, people. Have we all forgotten the story of shoe salesman Al Bundy who scored four touchdowns in a single game for the Polk High Panthers in the 1966 Chicago City Championship against Andrew Jackson High? Sorry but we have to throw Bundy into the GOAT mix. Let the debate begin. Bundy, Bundy, Bundy! But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here!! Until next time, I remain...

Monday, 6 February 2017

A stage by any other name...

This is one of Toronto's premier live concert venues, the Molson
Amphitheatre, recently renamed the Budweiser Stage. The
rectangular box on the left is the stage where the bands play; the
fan-shaped awning is where the rich people sit, protected from
the elements; the uncovered portion is where people like me from
Burlington sit and the sloped lawn is where meth-heads, hobos and
the unwashed sit. Being outside, it's a bit of a fair-weather facility.
There was a bit of a dust-up in the Toronto area in early January as it was announced that the Molson Amphitheatre was going to be renamed the Budweiser Stage.

When the name change hit the cyberwaves on January 6, outrage was tweeted left, right and centre... and then left and right again because of Welcome to the Twitter Generation reasons.

Not sure I saw even one positive response. That can be expected of any change so I shrugged it off because I don't think I've ever called it anything except "The Amphitheatre." And given that's a five-syllable word and I am notoriously lazy, I'm genuinely surprised I didn't shorten it to "The Amp" or something similarly imbecilic. I'm not a man of many words... that is unless you're stuck reading this.

But the general complaint seemed the be that they were taking a very Canadian name and giving it an American name by switching it to Budweiser. I get that. Even though Bud is brewed up here by Labatt, the name is identifiable as American to most. I would suggest the two best-known beers in the world are Bud and Heineken.
For shits and giggles reasons, Anheuser-Busch
renamed Budweiser "America" last Summer.
I thought it was the craziest thing that I had ever
heard. That is, until I sold a 24-pack of  Molson
"Canadian" at the Beer Store. We'd never name
a beer after our country. Just our entire heritage

However, since Twitter is not a fact-based but rather an opinion-based social media platform, the fury rained down hard with dozens declaring they would never call it the Budweiser Stage and would remain loyal to calling it the Molson Amphitheatre forever. I absolutely get that. The SkyDome, where the Toronto Blue Jays strut their stuff, was renamed the Rogers Centre in 2005 when cellular mega-giant Rogers Communications bought the team. To this day, if someone says "Rogers Centre" to me, my brain still has to translate that back to me as "oh right, he means the SkyDome." Old habits die hard. I still don't understand temperatures until I convert them from Celsius to Fahrenheit in my head.

As to the outrage, anything hashtagged dies quickly. Molson's isn't totally Canadian anymore as they merged with the Colorado-based Coors back in 2005. While it was called a "merger of equals" at that time, since Coors as a corporation was worth $5 billion at the time and Molson's was worth $506 million, it's kind of a Chihuahua and Great Dane sharing the same doghouse scenario. The bigger dog has more sleeping space, thus higher doghouse proprietary ownership. And 10 years earlier than that, Labatt was bought by Belgian mega-conglomerate Interbrew, now AB-InBev. While Anheuser-Busch is huge, the Bud name may be as much Belgium's property as it is America's. Except all of us still associate it with America. And NFL football, baby!! Including last night's Super Bowl, featuring the most insane comeback yet.
You wanna say your car is Canadian? Well, it better have
gull-wing doors because only the Bricklin can make that
claim. And there's not many of those around anymore...

Don't get me wrong. Up here, our two big macro-breweries are staffed by Canadians brewing Canadian-soil beer; the product is transported by Canadian drivers and ultimately sold by Canadians to other Canadians. Hell, I'm one of the vendors myself. But the ownership? Yeah, it's outside the Land of Maple Syrup. Still, unless you're driving a Bricklin, which was manufactured for exactly one year (1975-76) in a New Brunswick plant, your car, whether made here or not (it likely was), was manufactured by a company owned outside of Canada. That's just corporate reality in 2017 (or 2005... or 1995.) So really, call that concert venue on the lake anything you want. If we like the band, we'll still go. If the Foo Fighters played there, they could call it the Diarrhea Stage. We'd still line up.
When I spotted a single six-pack of the Stone Delicious IPA
at the Dundurn LCBO in Hamilton, I gasped in amazement
then shrieked with excitement. And when people stopped
staring at me, I just went ahead and bought the damn beer.

But since we're talking about Canadian and American things which maybe aren't so much anymore, let's talk about some Canadian and American craft beers which are precisely that. Alphabetically, America's up first so let's start in Escondido, California with some of Stone Brewing's Delicious IPA. Now I was more than a little spooked to read that this beer was "gluten-reduced." All I know about gluten is that it's grains, such as wheat, barley (malts) and rye, all of which are commonly used in brewing. But I do know this. If a doctor said I couldn't eat foods with gluten and handed me a list that included bread, cereal, pasta, cakes, cookies, pastries and 99.999% of all the beers in the world, I'd probably look at him and ask, "Are you sure it's not just a stroke?"

So I went to Stone's website to see if gluten-reduced meant gluten-free. Basically, I wanted to know if you suffer from Celiac, is this beer gonna tear the snot out of your small intestine?
At first, Rib Eye Jack's had this beer as their
Thursday Night Rotating Tap offering. Within a
week or two, it became part of their refrigerator's
line-up and at present, my go-to IPA, depending
on what's pouring from the Great Lakes Brewing
tap at the bar. It's a tasty little IPA, for certain...
Well, yeah, turns out there are trace amounts of gluten in this beer but since they add an enzyme during the brewing process that actually breaks down gluten on a molecular level, it's insanely low. In fact, the presence of it is below the 20 parts per million that the Codex Index uses to declare something gluten-free. If I had Celiac, I would have the brewery shipping me up this beer by the truck-load. And Mexico would be pay for the delivery. (Mexico: "WTF, man? Another Donald handing us a damn bill? How about 'no', you loco gringo?") Because not only does this gluten-reduced brew actually taste like beer, it's a damn good IPA.

The best gluten-free beer I've had up until now tasted like a Beck's. So okay, it did taste like beer... just not flavourful beer. But this? Huge pine and resin on the nose with notes of mango, pineapple and more pine on the tongue. At 7.7% and 80 IBU (international bitterness units), this is definitely the best gluten-reduced or gluten-free beer I've ever had. Once again, Stone proves it can brew no wrong.

Okay, this Canadian offering comes with a bit of a back story. Previously, my watering hole, Rib Eye Jack's Ale House had a biweekly Cask Night on Thursdays. Recently, GM Steve decided to forego the casks and now, every Thursday there's a set rotating tap attached to a 20-litre (5.3 gallon) keg and every week, it's a new beer.
The story behind this father-and-son brewery started
in 2005 when the father, Jim, right, gave his son, Gavin
a home-brewing kit for Christmas. The pair opened

the brewery last August and has seen some great local
support from the London community since that day.
I love that initiative because while I did enjoy many of the beers I tried over the years, I always found the carbonation far too low with the cask offerings. But a few Thursdays back, both servers Cara and Brit approached me separately as I sat down at the bar and said, "You have got to try the Anderson Craft Ales' IPA! So good!" With that duel endorsement, of course I did.

This was really quite nice. Not a ton of aroma on the 6.5%, 60 IBU beer, maybe the tiniest bit of pine, it kicked up nicely on the tongue with some citrus and melon. Not insanely-hoppy with a sly touch of malt but still, a very impressive first IPA. I pick up my son in London on Sundays when I have him for the week and am thinking this would be an excellent side-adventure for us. Alas, they don't open until noon. I'm usually scheduled to arrive a couple of hours earlier than that. And while it has been released into the LCBOs in six-packs of 355-ml (12 ounce) cans, unfortunately so far, only the four London liquor stores carry them. And in puritanical Ontario, LCBOs don't open until noon on Sundays so we can all go to church first. Uh-huh. Not sure what the province expects me to do until then but... oh, right, pick up my son. (Guys, please pray for my safe journey between Poker games on your phones during the service.)
Here's a little gift from either Glenn or Kylie, the
Oskar Blues IPA. I was so-so on their G'Knight Red
Imperial IPA but absolutely loved their Dale's Pale
Ale. So this was the tie-breaker. And it sure did that.

Now my London buddy, Big Al (a Toronto transplant with his wife and two kids some 20 years ago), said their Anderson Craft Ales' Amber was a great example of that all-malt-at-first, then slowly-come-the-hops beers. I seriously love those beers that add a new dimension halfway through the glass. But my ex's and my rendezvous point for the prisoner son exchange is on Highbury Avenue just off Highway 401 and is mere kilometres from the brewery so maybe next time? I'll delay the connecting just a wee bit. Or perhaps my boy and I can simply stay in London for lunch? He loves the David and Daddy Brewery Tours, especially the big-ass shiny vats. And I like adding numerous bottled passengers to the back seat. In the Daddy Game, we call that win-win. Anything but church. It always freaks me out a little when the Holy Water starts to bubble after I enter.

Okay, back to the brewing bros and lace ladies in the US of A with this next one - Oskar Blues (Longmont, Colorado) IPA.
While Forked River's What Lies Beneath Scotch Ale is a
dandy, I want to talk about their Flanders Red, which is
the sourest sour that I ever soured. So yeah, very sour. I
put that autumn leaf in front to show that like my buddy,
Drunk Polkaroo, I can incorporate nature in my pictures.
Okay, that just looks like a sad dead leaf on a glass table.
I either landed this little beauty, courtesy of either Beer Bro Glenn or Rib Eye Jacks beer technician Kylie (think it was Kylie but not sure), as they are the two that cross the border the most frequently. Whichever gave me this did me a pretty big solid. The first American craft brewery to can their beers (way back in 2002), Oskar Blues knows their way around an IPA. The cool little 12 ounce (355 ml) cans seems to be the brewery's size of choice, rather than the 16 ounce (473 ml) tallboy format, popular with most. (As you can see above, Anderson Craft Ales is also a fan of the smaller size.) But regardless of size, this 6.4%, 70 IBU brew has all the right stuff. Citrus and hints of peach on the nose, a nice piney bitter finish here. This is a really solid IPA. What has two thumbs and likes Oskar Blues beers? This guy! (You kinda have to see the gesture in your head.)

My former coworker Marie is feeling a tad neglected these as she has given me a healthy handful of beers that I haven't had a chance to review here yet. Well, buck up, little camper, you're not forgotten because here's those two fine offerings you gave me from Forked River Brewing in London. (Hmmm, maybe two brewery visits next time? I mean, it's London - how far apart could they possibly be? Also, I'm there, anyway. Twice the shiny vats for David.)
Okay, this Ballast Point Brewing Grunion Pale
Ale was definitely a gift from Beer Bro Glenn.
Every Ballast Point beer I have received from
Glenn has been totally excellent in its own right.
Okay, let's start with their What Lies Beneath Scotch Ale, the first beer created by their talented assistant brewer Diana Salazar as scotch ales are her favourite. Big time toffee on the nose, this 5.6% heavily-malted ale (shown above in the glass) is deep, rich and coffee on the tongue. A proper Scotch Ale, to be certain. Beautifully done, Diana! Which brings us to their Flanders Red sour ale. Recently, my other former coworker, Jay-Dawg, a huge sour fan, was raving about Bellwoods Brewing's Dark Sour On Cherries Ale. While sitting with Jay and the lovely Cara at Rib Eye Jacks after work on Saturday night, I had a chance to sample Cara's. Okay, yeah, that was bloody sour.

But this 6.7% Flanders Red, aged in a red wine barrel for a year, is the sourest sour I ever soured. Oh my lawdie, it give you some serious pucker face. I got cherries and plum on both the nose and tongue. A heapin' ton of sour. Wow. Plus $1 from every bottle sold went to the Soldier On program, which assists Canadian soldiers suffering from either physical or mental ailments so a damn good cause. Both beers were only available at the retail outlet (I believe) so thankfully, Marie got me these to enjoy. Two great beers but that Flanders Red really impressed!
Jay-Dawg recently alerted me to a beer sale
at Nickel Brook, where they were selling 24
bottles of their Headstock IPA for $32 or 24
bottles of their Naughty Neighbour Pale Ale
for just $30. Sale is still on, folks, as you can
see I jumped all over cases of Headstock just
yesterday. But move quickly as it won't last.
For starters, I'll be back tomorrow so hurry!

Back to America one more time and this time, I know I got this beer from Glenn - the Ballast Point Brewing's Grunion Pale Ale. Now moving back to breweries being bought up, something I touched on at the beginning, in late 2015, Ballast Point was bought for $1 billion (that's not a typo) by Constellation Brands, the company that distributes Mexican beers Corona and Modello in America. As far as I know, it's an arm's-length distance agreement whereby Ballast Point, founded in 1996, simply keeps cranking out good craft brews. But the $1 billion price tag is the answer to why some craft brewers are getting snapped up as that's some damn serious cheddar. But that's the business side of things and I'm here talking beer so let's look at that Grunion Pale Ale. 

For starters, a grunion is a small, silver fish found only off the coast of California in the Pacific Ocean whereas Ballast Point in San Diego is found only on land but also on the coast of California. I do know that no grunions were used in the brewing process. The 5.5%, 35 IBU (it tastes a little hoppier than that) ale has some light melon and orange on the nose with some very light bitterness and tropical fruit on the tongue. I wouldn't pay $1 billion for one but then I'm not an international conglomerate. I'm just a guy... sitting in front of a beer... saying lovingly, "This is SO on! You're going down!" I hold a different level of financial power altogether. One that's decidedly low.

Okay, there you have it. Three American beers, three Canadian beers. Hell, I'm practically a diplomat minus the actual diplomacy part. Meh, I'll work on that.
I said that I would be pointing to interesting labels as the
year progresses and here's a funky one from Collective
Arts Brewing. The brewery has fresh art on every label,
quite literally hundreds and hundreds of different ones.
So here's "Ziggy Obama" done by artist TRIK, who hails
from Haarlem, Netherlands. That is one cool graphic...
Before I shut this down altogether today, one more thing. Not long ago, I was asked why I'm always converting litres and millilitres into ounces or gallons (in brackets afterwards) and kilometres into miles for the benefit of American readers. The answer is quite simple. More Americans read this than any other country, including Canada. (Thanks, gang - I like your beers!) But more importantly, there are two types of countries in this world. They are those countries who use the Metric System so 99% of the world, except America and two countries I couldn't find on a map. And then, there are those countries who have successfully landed on the moon... so just the one country last time I checked. They shouldn't have to do the Math. They did the damn Moon. Hell, I can't even relate to millilitres or litres so why should Americans? I'll happily do the conversions for them. Google does all the work for me anyway and the Yanks invented that, too.

But since the Internet has come up in a round-about way, a word of caution for you all. I recently clicked on a YouTube link that warned, "Viewer discretion is advised as some might find the following disturbing." It turned out to be grainy footage of me cheering and clapping as I watched Batman vs Superman. I can't believe someone posted that. Pretty humiliating. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...

Thursday, 2 February 2017

NHL All-Stars, then "Important" beers

The best ever? Well, he sure as hell was the best
I ever saw. Boston's Bobby Orr, Number 4, was
the defenceman who showed others that, yes, a
defencemen could be offensive and score goals.
This past weekend, the Hockey Hockey League's All-Star game was played. One side won, the other lost and no one cared because the weekend is mostly about fun, skills competitions and showcasing the world's best hockey players on the ice, all at the same time.

In fact, St Louis' ultra-talented Russian player Vladimir Tarasenko, a member of the "losing" team was asked in all seriousness about his disappointment at losing this meaningless game. The Varoslavl native, just 25, looked at the interviewer and coolly said, "I really can't talk about this game seriously." Ooooh, Soviet Smackdown in Aisle One...

But because this is also the NHL's 100th anniversary, there was a lot of outside entertainment, such as the league's compilation of the 100 Best NHL Players Of All Time, many of whom were honoured. As well, sportswriters were asked to compile their own lists of "which single player was each franchise's most memorable of all time." Thank gawd I'm not a sportswriter because I would be hard-pressed to name a single player from hockey hot-beds such as Columbus, Arizona and Nashville, much less their best ever.

But back to the Top 100 List, which the NHL diplomatically released in alphabetical order, rather than ranking the players. Which is smart but also a little too safe for my liking.
My best Toronto Maple Leaf would be Darryl Sittler,
the only player ever to score a 10-point night in the
history of the NHL. It's a 40-year unbroken record.
The Top-Three, according to pretty much everyone who's ever watched hockey in their lives, are Wayne (The Great One) Gretzky, Gordie (Mr. Hockey) Howe and (Number Four!) Bobby Orr. Depending on who you ask, where they live and their age, either Gretzky or Howe are generally considered as number one. Hard to disagree... and yet, I do. I think Bobby Orr was both the smartest and the most skilled hockey player I ever saw. One reason, most likely, is that I watched him when I was a child. That's when impressions hit you the hardest. I missed much of Howe's career due to not being born yet reasons. He started in the NHL in 1946 and finished in 1980, the only player ever to play in five different decades. And I watched Gretzky as a young adult, a time when impressions are harder to come by. Though in all honesty, for a guy who's the same height and weight as me (read: scrawny) to excel at that level? Unbelievable. He rewrote every record in the book, outside of goaltending.

But no, it was Bobby Orr at whom I marveled. That's interesting for two reasons. One, I'm a diehard Toronto Maple Leaf fan and Orr played for Boston. But two, I think it was the first experience that taught me at a young age even though someone may be on the "other" side, skill and excellence are to be admired regardless.
This photo of former HNLer Chris Pronger mashing pop star
Justin Bieber into the end-boards during the NHL Alumni-
Celebrity hockey game on Saturday night was all the talk of
Twitter on Sunday. Truth is it was just a light little pin but I'll
include the video at the end because it's funny to mock Biebs.
Orr's end-to-end rushes were a wonder to behold. He redefined the way defence was played in the NHL. I remember my Mom joining me one night as I watched Boston play Toronto on TV and when Orr set up shop behind his own net, I told her, "Okay, watch what he does." And she watched in awe as Orr skated through the Leafs from one end to the other, scoring a goal. "Does he always play like that?" she asked. "No," I admitted, "sometimes, he's even better."

As for the best player in the history of each individual franchise, that was both easy and hard for the sportwriters. Some were self-evident. In Chicago, it had to be Bobby Hull. In Detroit, it had to be Howe. But with 17 Montreal Canadiens and 11 Leafs on that Top-100 List, well, this would be trickier. In the end, most Montreal writers leaned towards Maurice "Rocket" Richard, the captain my grandfather described as "the most explosive player I've ever seen. There was no way to stop him." And in Toronto, it seemed Davey Keon, who won four Cups with the Leafs in the 1960s, got most nods, although I noticed one writer leaning toward classy Swedish captain, Mats Sundin.
When Wayne Grtezky, then an LA King, passed
Gordie Howe as the all-time points leader in the
NHL in October 1989, Mr Hockey made sure to be
on hand for the feat. Gretzky finished his career
with 2,857 points. The next closest is Jaromir Jagr
with 1,897 points. Gretzky holds 60 NHL records.

Again, I find myself disagreeing. I have little doubt Keon was outstanding although I only saw him play towards the end of his career. No, for my money, it would be Darryl Sittler, who set a record over 40 years ago that still hasn't been broken and quite possibly never will be. He notched 10 points in a single game on February 7, 1976 in an 11-4 win over Boston. When Sittler sat with seven points after the second period, the team statistician came into the dressing room to tell him he was just one point behind Rocket Richard's record of eight points. So just 44 seconds in the third, Sittler scored, the start of a personal third period hat-trick to finish with 10 points on six goals, four assists. As a Leaf (and just plain hockey) fan, I have never seen a performance that astounding in my life. And yes, Sittler is on that Top-100 list. Eight players have had eight-point nights since then but no one has hit nine, much less ten.

So anyway, it was the usual All-Star hijinx and fun for the elite players in the annual no-defence, all-firepower exhibition game. But another list popped up on Facebook, posted by my beer writing buddy Drunk Polkaroo over the weekend.
Dogfish Head's 90-Minute Imperial IPA landed on
my patio, courtesy of Beer Bro Glenn. Its unique
brewing method landed it on the "Important" list. published their list of "The 25 Most Important American Craft Beers Ever Brewed." Unlike the NHL's list, this list weighed in more heavily on beers that historically influenced craft beers' growth in the US, rather than strictly taste and popularity. Using the results of votes from 21 brewers, brewery owners and beer writers, it was a fascinating read. The single criteria was that the beers were made after 1960 and fell into the expected benchmark of craft beers.

Anchor Brewing out of San Francisco had four of their beers on the list, mostly as a nod to their birth in 1896 and then rebirth under new ownership in 1965 - with countless closures and bankruptcies in between. New owner Fritz Maytag, grandson of the Maytag Appliance founder, is credited with ushering in the age of craft beer in America with his innovative brewing techniques. While perhaps considered milder fare in this day, these beers were hugely cutting-edge at that time in the 1960s, a humongous step above and away from the macro norm. Of those four beers, I have enjoyed their Steam Lager, Liberty Ale and Porter.

Like me, Polkaroo has only had 10 on this list (no doubt creating a Must-Find List for both of us) but while there is cross-section in the middle, we have each enjoyed a few the other hasn't. And one beer, New Albion Ale, is gone for good as the brewery closed in 1982.
So this beer Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale is in cans
and why is that a big deal? Turns out it was the first
American craft beer to be canned. Prior to that,

every single craft beer produced was in a bottle. 
Not two days before he posted the list, I alerted him to the presence of Oskar Blues (Lyons, Colorado) Dale's Pale Ale four-packs in the LCBO, a beer that incidentally landed at #15 on the list. You see, this beer, a solid pale ale, made it on the list not for its taste (which I'll get to) but rather the brewery's innovation. Back in 2002, Dale's Pale Ale was the first craft beer to be put into cans. All previous efforts were bottled. According to, that initiative paved the way for some 2,162 different American craft beers in cans these days. Hard to imagine there was a time where canning wasn't common for craft beer but as you can see, just 15 years ago, it was a different story. Granted, I knew none of this when I bought the four-pack. I believe that's called serendipity, which, in my case, translates to "blind-ass fluke."

Now Dale's is a tasty pale. As befits a 6.5% beer that hasn't changed its recipe in 15 years, there is a little more caramel malts on the nose than today's pale ales but on the tongue, the four hops used step up, giving it some grapefruit and a little bitterness.
Yeah, you pretty much knew these two would be on the list,
didn't you? Russian River's Pliny the Elder and The
Alchemist's Heady Topper are automatic inclusions for
any list of significant or relevant American craft beers.
I had no idea at the time I was drinking something historically influential. Had I know, I probably would have put on pants. According to the website, Dale's Pale Ale is the best-selling six-pack of craft cans in America today.

John Lennon wasn't the only person with a fixation on the number nine. Back in 2001, Delaware's Dogfish Head created a bomb-blast of a double IPA that leans heavily on the nines as well with their 9%, 90 IBU (international bitterness units) 90 Minute Imperial IPA. Checking in at #23, the beer was credited to be the first whereby brewers continued to add hops through the brewing process - now commonly called continuous hopping. Beer Bro Glenn dropped this one in my lap last Summer (as well as their 60 Minute IPA several years ago). Very fruity with pineapple and mango on the nose, this beer understand the importance of malt balance, which comes through on the tongue. Just a monster of a beer.
Given its 33-year history on the American craft beer
landscape. Boston Brewing's Samuel Adams Boston
Lager was number two on this list. Only one craft
beer surpassed it. Founder Jim Koch famously said
back in the 1980s, "the big brewers spill more beer
than we make in one year." That set the early tone.

Rib Eye Jack's Ale House GM Steve was the generous benefactor when I first had (#5) The Alchemist's (Stowe, Vermont) Heady Topper Imperial IPA in the Summer of 2015 and (#7) Russian River's (Santa Rosa, California) Pliny the Elder Imperial IPA this time last year. Considered the two most sought-after but hard-to-procure beers in America, the Heady, first brewed in 2011 is the fore-runner of the dirty, unfiltered East Coast IPA style while the Pliny, first brewed in 2000, is the pinnacle of the clean West Coast style. Both, already reviewed at length here, are among the most explosive IPAs I had ever had and that will never change. Like I said, hard to find but if you ever do? You thank the Beer Gods.

Much like Anchor Brewing, Boston Brewing is considered a craft pioneer so it came as little surprise to me that (#2) Samuel Adams Boston Lager was this high on the list, despite being a milder style. Will it take the top of your head off? Hell no! It's a premium lager. It's not meant to. But in 1984, this was a huge step away from the macro as founder Jim Koch added a new ingredient to the lager style - flavour. Modern-day beer geeks may wonder what the big deal is but back in the 1980s and 1990s, this was a huge departure from the norm. And that's what this list is meant to be.
The Victory Brewing HopDevil IPA was a humongous risk for the
fledgling Philadelphia brewery back in 1995 as IPAs were not a
big deal at the time. But it was their flagship beer which proved
that a risky roll of the dice could pay off ten-fold. Very ballsy...

Back in the mid-1990s when Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet opened Philadelphia's Victory Brewing, they came out of the gate in a big way with their (#24) HopDevil IPA. It was a risky move as IPAs were not a hugely-favoured style at the time. They could have lost their shirts. And yet, somehow, some way... it caught on like wildfire. Their Prima Pils clocked in at #9 on this list because it was the first pilsner with an infusion of hoppy taste. But of the two, I have only had the HopDevil, a gift from Rib Eye Jack's beer technician Kylie. Already reviewed once here, the 6.7%, 80 IBU IPA is described as the brewery thusly: "Bold, spicy and menacingly delicious." I won't disagree. Also one helluva risk that actually paid off.

Well, that's nine of the 10 beers I've enjoyed on the Big List so let's finish this off with the #1 - Sierra Nevada's (Fletcher, North Carolina) Pale Ale. I have poured through the over-220 columns I had previously written and the only mention of this beer I've had literally dozens and dozens of times is their attendance at previous Burlington Beer Festivals.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was the only beer that received votes
from more than half of the panel that created this list. That
speaks to both its taste and its place in craft beer history...
Had I been born with the shame gene, I'd be embarrassed but... meh. First brewed in 1980, Sierra Nevada owner-founder Ken Grossman, a home-brewer, said he was just trying to create "what we and our friends loved to drink." He admits he's still a little surprised at the beer's beloved longevity, despite the brewery's present-day worth of over $1 billion. The first to use whole-cone Cascade hops and four-row malts, the recipe has not changed - not one iota - in the past 37 years. Readily available in Canada, I think this RateBeer reviewer from Brazil said it best when he wrote of the 5.6%, 37 IBU ale: "Da garrafa, dourada, limpida, bem convidativa. Aromo citrico, come notas bem marcantes di pinho, leve frutado e um toque maltado." I'm not sure what more I can say beyond that other than it has some lovely citrus fruit on the nose with more and a touch of spice on the tongue. My Brazilian brother said it best, though.

Okay, back soon with more fun and games but before I go, I did promise to post that video of Chris Pronger lightly pinning Justin Bieber into the board at the NHL All-Star Celebrity Game so here it is at: Pronger Just Destroys Little Douchebag!!! But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here!!! Until next time, I remain...