Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Josh and the Kingston Brewery Invasion

Is this the face of a man who would eat a cup of bacon just to eat a cup of
bacon? Well, kinda, yeah. Anyway, Josh Hayter, co-owner of Spearhead
Brewing, is planning a Kingston Craft Brewery Invasion on February 22
that will shake the universe to its very core. If that sounds like hyperbole,
well, that's because that's pretty much what it is. But it's gonna be killer!
(This is the blog that's been around since June 2013 and is about the glory of beer. The other blog is about other non-beer stuff. Just because...)

Well, the paint has barely dried on last weekend's 905 Halton-Hamilton Craft Brewery Invasion of 2019 and already our laser-keen sights on set on 2020.

Our sights are, of course, trained much sharper on next year because it's... um, *ahem* 2020. (Brain: "Really? You went there already? Like you don't think we'll be hearing those stupid 20/20 puns and shit all next year?")

Moving on... the reason a handful of us are already looking ahead is that Josh Hayter, co-owner of Kingston's Spearhead Brewing, is planning a February 22nd Kingston Craft Brewery Invasion that's gonna make the 1944 storming on the Beaches of Normandy look like... actually, no, that was a significant (and blood-drenched) tipping point for the Allies in World War II.

Perhaps the Griswold's trip to Walley World in National Lampoon's "Vacation" might be a more apt comparison for our lot of loudmouths and lunatics. And that's just the women. You should see the men. We're really pieces of work, the bunch of us. Even cops look at us, shake their heads and think, "Ugh. Too much paperwork."
When Josh popped this picture onto Twitter and
tagged me, all I saw was the can label because
with taller pictures, Twitter just gives you a small
fraction of the pic. When I finally clicked on the
shot days later, I realize, "Geezuz, that's Caesar's
Palace in Vegas!" What was Josh doing in Sin
City? Well, all the details are all in this column. 

So anyway, some of my friends are already chomping at the bit to get the salient details of February 2020's big Kingston Craft Brewery Invasion. And that's why I'm here... So, let's get rolling with the deets.

BUT FIRST!!!!

I popped into Oakville's Cameron's Brewing back in late September to grab some brews. I also wanted to get a picture of my son, David, with the six awards Cameron's had won at the Ontario Craft Brewing Awards earlier in the month because, you know. hometown pride and all. I could only see three (I took the pic anyway) and was told by my favourite retail worker, Rona, that the other three awards were down in Las Vegas at the National Beer Wholesalers Association convention, held September 22-25 at Caesar's Palace. It seems Cameron's director of Operations Clint Israel and his wife, Victoria, went down to Sin City for the convention, as well as Brewmaster Jason Britton.

But my locals weren't alone down there. Also attending were Nickel Brook Brewing co-owner Peter Romano and his wife Sandra, Flying Monkeys Brewing co-owners Peter and Andrea Chiodo and, hey, one Mr Josh Hayter. Now all of these people, though most especially Josh and Clint, know well of my love for Vegas.
Josh looks great in his leprechaun costume and his wife Adrienne, of
course, looks fantastic but I must confess to being a little disappointed.
When we were in Ottawa back in August, Josh suggested that he was
thinking of being "Fat Thor" at Spearhead's Halloween Bash. I mean,
a leprechaun is good and all but Fat Thor? That would have killed!!

Clint and I talked at great length about some of my Vegas adventures upon his return and he passed along that he and Victoria had a great time down there. But I was curious about what Josh thought of my favourite stomping grounds.

"Vegas was great. I was flying solo and stayed at Caesars," he told me. "I hung out with the Peters, the Cameron's crew and a few more (since) we're all using the same importer."

As for the convention, "The Beer show was successful but a lot smaller than I expected." A few of his beers, notably Hawaiian Style Pale Ale and their new Spearhead 4 India Session Ale, got some positive attention, he added, which is timely as the brewery plans to push into the Ohio, New Jersey and Michigan marketplaces very soon in the new year.

And Las Vegas itself? "I've been a lot of places and Vegas is the weirdest. I never go off the strip and I'm gonna go back with my wife (Adrienne) so we can take it all in. The size of the hotels is what really got me. They are massive." He added with no doubt a grin, "I could live the rest of my life in Vegas... and it would be a solid six months."

But you're not here to listen to Vegas stories. If you were, you could read any of my 5,000 blogs on the place. I think it's come up in the space before. But I'm not obsessed.
On October 21st, Josh did his civic duty and voted in
the federal election. He posted this photo on Facebook,
urging us all to do the same. As the old adage goes, "If
you don't vote, you lose your right to complain." And
let's face it. We're all gonna complain about politics!!

No, sirree Bob and Virginia, you're here to read about the February 22 Kingston Craft Brewery Invasion. So let's get to it.

The organizer, Josh, makes an early promise. "The Kingston trip is gonna be epic!" The day, which will start at 11 am, is slated to stop at Kingston Brew Pub, Stone City Ales, Daft Brewing, SanTur Brewing (pending), Riverhead Brewing, Skeleton Park Brewing and, of course, will finish up at Spearhead Brewing.

And how are we getting around the "Limestone City"? "I've got us a bus and a driver to take us around for the day." Turns out one of Spearhead's shareholders owns, hey, a bus company. "I've got the cost handled 100% but it would be nice if at the end of the day, the driver gets a tip from the riders." (Least we can do and here's why.)

"I've got the head of the Kingston Economic Development (department) helping me set up the trip. I've got Tourism Kingston providing gift bags and (potentially) sponsoring a meal for everyone. It's (their) job to help promote Kingston businesses," Josh said, adding, "It also helps that I'm friends with the head of both organizations."
Wait? Is that Canadian rocker Sam Roberts serving up
beer from a Spearhead tap? It certainly is. I'm guessing
that when a brewery helps create the Sam Roberts Band
Ale that the musician automatically comes with the deal. 

Josh was looking to get a "awesome group rate" at a Kingston hotel and at the moment, it looks like that's gonna be the Delta Marriott, "the nicest hotel in Kingston in my opinion." He thinks he can get rooms for $129/night as opposed to the prices I checked online, which ranged anywhere from $180 to $275, depending on the night. "I'm waiting on the (group rate) password now."

The free lunch will be at Kingston Brew Pub and the free dinner at Spearhead itself. BUT he needs group numbers sooner rather than later, please. "We gotta start organizing soon because I'll need numbers. I believe this trip will be the most fun and it will also introduce you to all all the beer that Kingston has to offer." You can contact him directly at: Josh@spearheadbeer.com, through Twitter: @spearheadjosh or even me, if you want, and I'll pass it along. But I'll tell you this for free. You will NOT want to miss this one!!! Josh is pulling out all the stops and I have already booked the day off. Yes, more than three months in advance. But Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Beers on Fremont Street in Vegas

This would 2 cent and Hog of @hogand2cent.
The pair posted this picture on the plane just
before leaving El Paso, Texas for Sin City the
other day. They were heading into town for a
major "group pull" on a slot machine named
Heidi that Hog assures me is a "bitch." It
seems everyone in the group pull has at one
point or another lost money to Heidi. So this

week, they all converged to kick Heidi's ass.
(Okay, so this is the blog that I've been writing for over six years - Brew Ha Ha! - and yeah, it's about beer. Almost always great craft beer but there are exceptions. The other one I just started writing - 61 Turning 16 - is about people, places and things. I guess this one kinda is, too... but with BEER!!!)

Okay, y'all got that? This is the beer blog. So I wanna start today with a little talk about... not drinking.

*Record scratches loudly* Wait. Hold on. Whaaaa...??

So let's explain here. You know how every once in a while you come across someone who says, "You don't need to drink to have fun." Eyes roll. Responses are usually along the lines of "You don't need running shoes to run... but they sure f**king help!" I know this because I am precisely the kind of guy who would say that.

Well, I stand before you today, humbled and ready to state that perhaps that's the wrong mind-set and here's why. I have watched dozens of videos shot in Las Vegas from El Paso, Texas couple, Hog and 2cent. I've talked to them privately. I know their real names, though in this forum, they're always Hog and 2cent. That's their gig. Now the thing about their videos I like best is that they're a couple traversing Las Vegas. To me, that's what makes it relatable. If you can travel happily together, well, you're a stone-cold solid couple. Truth. But they have so much fun in Vegas - well, who doesn't? - that I missed one small thing.
While I totally admire 2cent's dedication, I,
of course, veer in a different direction. I am
down there to find some of the best American
craft beer that's available in Las Vegas. And
I pretty much succeed. And will do so again.

That thing is it turns out 2cent doesn't drink. Well, I mean, of course she drinks. Just not alcohol. She's 11 years sober. Here I had been watching their videos relentlessly and didn't even realize it. I mean, they're having so much fun, you just kinda assume booze is involved. But no. Hog has the odd beer or drink here and there but 2cent keeps it to "mocktails." That's pretty damn impressive. I mean, she's having a blast down there, alcohol-free. And you wouldn't even notice that booze was absent. I didn't.

I promised her I would look for mocktails when I was there in September. Best I found at three separate bars were Virgin Mary's. Boring. Actually, so are Bloody Mary's. Fellow Canadian Vegas lover and vlogger Mark (@pennys4vegas) and I will attest that Bloody Caesars are far superior. Clamato Juice (tomato juice-clam juice, invented in Canada) and vodka! That's a proper mixed drink and as I recall from my macro days, the ultimate Hangover Helper!

Because Mark drinks them so happily and frequently in Vegas, Hog, who knows I drink only beer, challenged me to drink a Bloody Caesar during my September trip.
Okay, because my fellow Canadian Mark
loves his Bloody Caesars, Hog challenged
me to drink one. I haven't had a Caesar in
probably 25 years. But here's Derrick at
the Golden Nugget bar, holding me up that
damn Caesar. And man, he nailed it. That
said, this was like 5 am on Day 5 or so. It's
possible that while I had just woken up, my
taste-buds had not. But damn, it was good!

As a beer drinker, I did this one for Hog...
While I always avoid hard liquor these days (I hate the taste of most of them and the effect of all of them), Hog dared me. So I pretty much had to.

Now I pretty much just sleep in four or five hours shifts in Vegas before I wake up, clean up a bit (shower if necessary) and head right back out. So one morning, I found myself at the bar in the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, my awesome home-base for the week. It was 5 am. Too early for coffee but also nothing was open (it's all Starbucks in Vegas) so hey, time for that Caesar. One problem. I asked bartender Derrick for Bloody Caesar and he said, "What's that?" Now I know for a fact they're in Vegas because Mark's posted dozens of pics of Caesars so I describe the ingredients. The second I say, okay, clamato juice, vodka... *bam* he knows it exactly. They might have a different name for the drink down there? I'll tell you this for free, Mark. Derrick makes a dynamite Caesar so check it out sometime.

And here's the other thing. I had that Bloody Caesar, two Stone IPA and a New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale - What? I was waiting for Starbucks to open! - and my bill came to just over $20. On the strip, that's $50 easily! This is why Fremont Street is about to see a whole lot more of me! Probably the next 10 trips, to be honest.

But I don't usually sit at bars. I'm usually grabbing beer from a store and roaming the casinos or surroundings (in this case, Fremont Street, which is insanely fun, all within about a three or four block area) to people-watch. So what do you do at a bar when it's 5 am? You talk to the bartender.
Okay, hands down, the most interesting beer on
Fremont Street was at Banger Brewing. Here, we
see Brittany serving me an El Heffe, an American
Wheat Ale... but brewed with jalapeno, serrano,
habanero, green and red peppers. This was the
spiciest wheat ale I've ever had. And fantastic!!!

Okay. So hey, Derrick, what's it like being a bartender in Vegas? He laughed and says, man, you see some crazy shit. Like what, I ask. He stops. I have him now. "Okay, look at that woman at the end of the bar. She's as high as hell. That's why I'm staying down here by you." I look down and see this kinda blonde version of Gwen Stefani but possibly on crack. For about 10 years or so. Even from a distance, yeah, she's a mess. Derrick has left co-worker Bryan to deal with this dumpster fire. I mean, it's Vegas so you're gonna see a few train-wrecks.

So Bryan comes walking back. I ask, how bad is she? Oh, so bad, he laughs. We sorta continue to watch her. She's on her phone at the bar. She wanders away. Ten minutes later, she's back. And then, she walks away. Repeated a half dozen times. I say to Bryan, aren't you worried she'll skip on the bill? (After all, I was running a tab.) "Are you kidding?" he laughs. "I made her pay up front." Not sure what happened to her. At some point, she wandered away to become someone else's problem. And while the crazies are usually a little more colourful in Vegas, at that moment, the same scenario was playing out in bars across North America at different points in time. Vegas is no different. Except you may have to occasionally deal with a drunk and belligerent guy dressed like Elvis. I mean, she was fried... but harmless.
Okay, full props to Ricky, enjoying a beverage at
Binion's street-side bar. I have seen this T-shirt
online but I have never actually seen someone
wearing it. I should have known it'd pop up in
Las Vegas at some point. Surprised it wasn't me.
So I got to watch these bar theatrics unfold in the early hours in the morning simply because Hog challenged me to drink a Bloody Caesar.

But, you know, BEER BLOG!! So let's get busy. Okay, much like the Vegas strip has an established craft brewery in Sin City Brewing, so too does Fremont Street. I was happy to see Banger Brewing was just a 10-minute walk from the Golden Nugget and popped in twice during my stay, both times being served by Brittany. (So you know, she was great, by the way, Banger, very knowledgeable on the product.)

Naturally, I drifted towards their IPAs, first trying their Hazy Smalls New England IPA, goosed by Amarillo and Mosaic hops. It was as juicy AF and an awesome opening statement. On my second visit, I went full west coast with their Tuhop Shakur IPA, 6.6%, loaded with grapefruit and citrus. (You see what Banger Brewing did there - Tupac Shakur, tragically gunned down, was the west coast voice of the deadly East Coast-West Coast Rap Wars in the mid-90s. Also gunned down a few months later, east coaster The Notorious B.I.G. Hazy Smalls is a take-off on his name, aka Biggie Smalls.)

Also on deck at Banger was The Chocolate Thunder Stout. Just 5.5% but loaded with chocolate, coffee and caramel notes. Delicious!
Okay, this was freaky. I mentioned in a previous
blog that Dean here had a funny T-shirt but that I
have no idea what casino on Fremont I had just
wandered into. Hog immediately jumped on to tell
me I was in the Golden Gate. He knew from the
carpet. Again - I repeat - he knew the carpet! I was
blown away. Eventually, Mark came on and said,
"Uhh guys, he's holding a Golden Gate cup." Well,
holy shit, so he is. But Hog got it from the carpet!!
But the one I really wanted to try on behalf of my homebrewing buddies, Graeme and Danny, was their El Heffe Jalapeno Wheat Ale. Graeme and Danny like to spice up their homebrews and this one, well, it pushed all the heat buttons being jacked with jalapeno, serrano, habanero, as well as red and green peppers. The brewery says it adds a "mild heat." Uhhh, a step or two above mild, I would say. But just a fantastic take on an American Wheat. Well done, Banger.

Okay, if you're followed my adventures on the Vegas strip through this blog before, you know I have two go-to's when it comes to IPAs. They would be Stone Brewing's (Escondido, California) IPA, an American classic since they opened in 1996 and the Boston Brewing Company's Samuel Adams New England IPA, a more recent arrival that's been available on my last four trips, dating back to, ummm, late 2018? (What? I like Vegas!) So Stone has my west coast needs covered while Sammy Adams gives me that hazy glory of the east coast. (That's the east coast-west coast feud to which I pay the most attention. Sorry, rappers, I love your music but hey, no fatalities here.)

But, of course, I'm always on the hunt for either Las Vegas or Nevada beer while I'm down there. Stone IPA and Samuel Adams New England IPA is what I drink between local finds. The Yard House, just off the strip, in The LINQ Esplanade, is the best in all of Vegas for that - 180 taps, every beer identified as to where it's brewed.
When I stumbled across this Peace Love & Hoppiness Pale
Ale from Las Vegas' Big Dog's Brewing, I stumbled across a
winner. An easy drinking, west coaster that had a beautiful
citrus aroma that was 6%. Found in a six-pack of 12 ounce
(355 ml) cans at a souvenir store right on Fremont Street.
And believe me when I say, they have tons of Nevada breweries on tap.

So I was thrilled when I found some Big Dog's Brewing on Fremont Street because it's a Vegas brewery. I was on the Vegas strip in May, which is, of course, the trip that first follows my annual Birthday Week Sojourn Into Vegas in February for the past two years. There will be a third Vegas Birthday Week in February 2020. But for those keeping score, this year, Vegas in February, May, September and November.

But back to my May trip, I had found Big Dog's Underbite IPA, as well as their Dirty Dog IPA. There's one of those Liquor Superstores directly across the highway from Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, which is just a monorail ride away from Excalibur Hotel and Casino, where I was staying.

At that same liquor superstore, I also found six-packs of Tenaya Creek Brewing (Las Vegas) Hop Ride IPA, Joseph James Brewing (Henderson, Nevada) Hop Raider IPA and Bad Beat Brewing (Henderson, Nevada) Hoppy Times IPA. So that liquor store served me very well.
Okay, as you can clearly see, there is nothing black about this
Genesee Black. Sight unseen, I had assumed it was a black
lager and told Twitter that with 20 likes, I would down one.
It was a malt liquor. I did not down it. I had two gulps and
then threw it in the trashbin. It was horrific. Really terrible.

But this time in September on Fremont, I found the Big Dog's Brewing Peace Love & Hoppiness Pale Ale, also in a six pack. Great Pale Ale... nice citrus on the nose and tongue, 6%, pretty much everything an out-of-country beer lover could ask for to start his after-coffee and after-breakfast day (okay, Egg McMuffin's - stomach padding.)

That brings me to the Horror Show part of September's trip on Fremont Street - the part known only as the Genesee Black Debacle. While I was in a souvenir store, I saw something called Genesee Black. Now, even as a Canadian, I am familiar with Genesee beer, particularly the famous Genesee Cream Ale, which stretches the boundaries of what is classified as an ale.

It was like $2 for a 24 ounce can so I threw its picture out on Twitter with words to the effect of "20 likes and I'll down this." I had 20 likes in under five minutes and 15 of those were people I did not know. I don't follow them. They don't follow me. I mean, seriously, how did they even see my challenge?
Okay, my Vegas Craft Beer Adventure actually started before I
even got to Vegas. I had a lay-over at the Minneapolis Airport and
saw some great Minnesota breweries on tap at a bar there. I just
posted this picture and next thing I know, one of those brewery
owners was DM-ing me on Twitter, asking if I wanted samples.
Twitter is truly a horrible place filled with horrible people. But I said I would so... Now I assumed that Genesee Black would be either the macro version of Dark Lager or a Cascadian Ale. Ummm, no. It was malt liquor. You know who makes a good malt liquor? No one. Ever. It was horrible, people. I nearly died. That's gasoline, pure and simple. If I had lit a cigarette (and I often do), I would have become a Human Molotov Cocktail. *Boom* Donny bits all over a casino. No one wants to clean up an exploded Canadian. Maple syrup everywhere.

Okay, here's another thing and I kinda loved it. My flight from Toronto to Vegas was not direct (which, duh, I prefer.) I have an early morning lay-over - 8:30 am to 11 am - at the Minneapolis Airport, which was actually really, really nice. Lots of food, lots of bars that were actually open in the morning, unlike Toronto's Pearson Airport, which, what's that phrase again? Oh, right. Blows donkey ass. So anyway, I checked this one bar and man, they had some really great craft beers.
I promised Hog I would visit Atomic Liquors on Fremont Street. And I
did. Except they weren't open until 5 pm and I likely wandered down at
about 2 pm. Not a close walk from the Fremont Street Experience. When
I go back, I am Uber-ing my ass back there. Because I'm just that lazy.

If you look at the above picture, you get my drift. Normally, I would be all over that Mankato Brewing (North Makato, Minnesota) Mad Butcher IPA. I mean, that's totally my wheelhouse. But the Waconia Brewing (Wacona, Minnesota) Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter?? I mean, you pretty much have to go for that if you love a good porter. It was fan-frikkin-tastic. Like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup in a glass. So damn tasty. And I wasn't even in Vegas yet.

But here's the fun part. The owner of Mankato Brewing actually DMs me on Twitter and says, hey, can we send you samples of our product?
Okay, here's that group - or at least some of it - that went to Las Vegas
this past weekend to do a "Group Pull" on a slot machine named Heidi,
who had burned them all. Did they beat Heidi? Well, I tell you what. I'll
post that video here. This is, from left, Cory, Linda, fellow Canadian
Mark, 2 cent and Hog. A few others are missing at this point. But I will
tell you this. Please watch 2cent's turn at Heidi The Bitch very carefully.
Now I'm often told that I'm a "beer influencer" on Twitter. Someone that breweries give free beer to because they know they'll get free publicity. I always respond by saying I have only 1,450 followers on Twitter - actual social media influencers like, say, Kylie Jenner have millions - and that anyone who listens to me has rocks in their head. My "influence" is limited at best. But more honestly, it's negligible. Well, there's your proof. A brewery in North Makato, Minnesota, wanted to send me samples. They don't know @BeerStoreDude or Don Redmond from Adam. I keep telling people that "Breweries do this now!" Of course, Mankato Brewing can't. I live in Canada. You can't ship beer across the border. But terrific offer and, hey, believe me, I wish they could.
This is where I'm lodging in November. I'm headed
to Las Vegas to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs play
the Golden Knights, making it three straight Leafs'
games in Vegas. (Each team has won one game by
identical 6-3 scores.) But home-base this time? Hey,
I'm headed to The D. Heard a lot of good things...

Okay, so a few take-aways from this blog. For all those who think, "I can't go to Vegas because it's nothing but drinking and partying there"? Well, I offer up 2cent from Hog and 2cent, who's 11 years sober, and still has the time of her life every single visit to Vegas. She proves, once and for all... you don't need to drink to have fun.

For all those who think, "Vegas is just too expensive. I can't spend all that money." To you, I offer you Mark, @pennys4vegas. This guy finds coupons, Group-Ons, online gambling sites that are free but get you discounts in Vegas. He goes for next to nothing. Plays penny machines. The whole nine yards. Has a great time. Offers informative videos on doing Vegas cheap. Check him and @hogand2cent out on YouTube.

And finally, for those who are not gambling people, I offer me. We're talking 14 trips and maybe I've dropped $30 or less in slots each of those times. Some trips, I've forgotten to gamble altogether. I just have no real interest. I go to find great craft beer and people-watch others gamble. It's a blast. Especially roulette, which fascinates me.

So what's your excuse? It's a fantastic vacation, no matter what you're into. To me, there's no place like Vegas... any place. It's the best. So here's that group pull video: Watch 2cent's Pull Very Carefully Because... KA-CHING!!!  But Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...


Saturday, 19 October 2019

My first trip to (new) Old Vegas


For my first ever trip to Fremont Street
in Las Vegas (after 13 stays only on the
main strip), these three provided me
with tons of valuable Fremont info. Up
top is fellow Canadian Mark Anderson
while below is El Paso, Texas couple Hog
and 2cent. These were my trusty guides!
(Writer's Note: This is the blog that's NOT about beer. That's "Brew Ha Ha!", the other one that I write. And while beer may be the rocket fuel for some of the shenanigans in here, this one - "61 Turning 16" - is about people, places and things. The part of my life that's not about beer. I know, right? I can't believe I just wrote that, either...)

So here's the thing. My friends, my family, my co-workers, random weirdos on the internet all believe I'm obsessed with Las Vegas. They're convinced that I'm fixated on it.

Are they correct? Well, yes and no. Yes, I am drawn to Sin City in much the same manner that wayward sailors are lulled in breathlessly, recklessly by the siren song of the mermaid.

But also no. The simple fact is when it comes to Vegas, I am but a babe in the woods compared to others I now know.

Allow me to explain. It all starts with Twitter. I follow a little more than 1,700 people on Twitter. Many are... I dunno, regular civilians (for lack of a better word) but also a hefty amount of breweries and brewery-related individuals. But there's sub-groups, as well. One we'll just call Beer Twitter because it's all women and men who love craft beer. But a secondary sub-group within that group I would call Brew Crew Twitter, where I'm tagging Brew Crew friends on beer photos, they're doing likewise - a bunch of us just sharing whatever beer we're enjoying at that exact moment. When technology allows you to connect with friends hundreds or even thousands of miles away, you take advantage of it.
Okay, allow me to introduce my two bartenders at the
Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino during my stay there at
the beginning of September. That would be Bryan on the
left and Derrick on the right. This one lady at the bar that
night was so baked... well, that's a story for another time.

And then there is the American arm of the Brew Crew Twitter that regularly overlaps with that original Brew Crew and includes people from as far away as Hawaii. And some Germany players in that circle, as well. We're very international for a bunch of beer drinkers.

Okay, I started this with an actual note about this one NOT being about beer. And it's not. It's about a group of folks that I'll just call Vegas Twitter and how they helped me out on my last visit to Sin City.

You see, I'd been to Vegas a few times, you could say. At that point, for the sake of getting it on the record, 13 times - the first five with girlfriends, the remainder, me flying solo. It's fun with a partner and it's equally fun without. It's Vegas so really, either works. I just stay much, much longer (a week or so) when I'm on my own.
I was at the McDonald's at the base of The Plaza, centre of
both pictures. The top photo, circa 1960, was on a wall so I
took a picture. Then I went back out onto Fremont Street and
took the bottom picture, comparing the two views and posted
it on Twitter. The next thing I knew, the City of Las Vegas
(@cityoflasvegas) had retweeted my post. I geeked the hell
out. Las Vegas has retweeted me. I was totally floored by it!

So here's the thing. I had spent every trip on the main Las Vegas strip. I have stayed at the Imperial Palace, Planet Hollywood, Excalibur and The LINQ, which, a few years back, replaced the Imperial Palace. I don't think I'll ever see a casino again as wild and fun as the Imperial Palace's. It had dealertainers (celebrity lookalike dealers who performed on this little common stage.) It was far less refined with loud music and, basically, it was just a wild shit-show. It was also the first place I stayed at, way back in July 2007 and as such, my introduction to Las Vegas. After the "IP," I never wanted to stop coming to Sin City. I now know many others who remember it just as fondly.

But I decided for Trip #14, it was time to discover a new part of Vegas. Well, new to me but old to all others. Fremont Street. The original Las Vegas. Where it started back in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Gangsters, the Mob, movie-music stars like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, wise guys showing up dead in the surrounding desert... basically, more scandal that you could shake a stick at back in the old days.

That was then. This is now. Quite some time back, the hotel-casinos on Fremont St realized they were losing their lustre to the shiny baubles on the main strip - places like Caesar's Palace and Bellagio. Joints that get robbed for $150 million by the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and *checks notes*... seriously, Matt Damon? You deserve to be robbed. Matt Damon. Pffft.

So anyway, the Fremont Street hotel-casinos banded together to create the Fremont Street Experience some time back. At least three full city blocks now open to only foot traffic with a killer canopy covering the length.
Okay, you do NOT see stuff like this on the main strip in Las
Vegas so if you're the least bit prudish (although have you
ever met a prude who actually realizes they're a prude?),
then steer clear of Fremont Street. Me? I thought it was all
awesome! The bands, the sounds, the close proximity of all
the casinos. For someone used to tromping up and down the
strip for miles daily, this was a slice of Heaven for my feet.

But this was very new turf to me when I landed September 1st and I wasn't sure what to expect. Fortunately, I had some seasoned pros like London, Ontario's Mark Anderson (@Pennys4Vegas) and El Paso, Texas couple Hog and 2cent (@hogand2cent) to act as my online tourist guides. I started following their Vegas vlogs for a long while before I landed in Old Vegas and it gave me a sense for what was in store to a Fremont virgin.

Well, almost. Even with the thoroughness and colourful spectacle of their vlogs, well, you gotta see it to believe it. Music everywhere constantly, the canopy offers protection from the sun, the crazy-ass acts confined to entertainment circles on the concrete. THIS WAS VEGAS!!!!

Don't get me wrong. I love the strip. But for nine days straight, I was on Fremont, hunting out everything it had to offer. From my home base at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, I combed every inch of every casino simply because I had the time. Hell, they're all just minutes apart! On foot!

But as I said, compared to Mark or Hog and 2cent, I'm basically a Vegas rookie. They've all been dozens and dozens of times and through them, I discovered even more vlogs from British pros such as Nick Furmage and Matt Bridger, who respectively have 2,000 and 9,000 subscribers on YouTube. I don't know how profitable that is - probably not very - but those are huge followings nonetheless.

And here's the thing. I don't really gamble. Maybe $20-$30 per trip. So I'm not getting comped by any hotel anytime soon.
Yet another free Fremont Street Experience concert saw
Alter Ego kicking out the biggest hits of the 80s, 90s and
2000s with one of the tightest shows I've ever seen. And keep
in mind, your admission to these shows? Hey, man, just
show up and take it all in. The FSE has got you covered!!
I go for "Me Time." That said, I love to watch people gamble, I love the bright, flashy lights and sounds of a casino and mostly, I just love the atmosphere. Fremont Street had that... in spades.

And music, oh man, does that street bring the tunes!  The day I landed? That night's free show was "I Love The 90s" with - and, hey, some of these you might just remember - Vanilla Ice, Montell Jordan, All-4-One, Tone Loc and Coolio. Seriously. I was all, "This is for free? But how?" The casinos, hotels and management behind Fremont Street Experience is how. Unbelievable. This shit does not just happen on the strip, as much as I do love it.

As soon as I started posting pictures from Fremont St, other Vegas Twitter regulars were chiming in with "check this place out" advice, all very much appreciated by this novice. But even with the time I had there, there is more for me to see when I return November 13th to 20th. This time I'm staying at The D Hotel and Casino and already Mark is cuing up his "Donny loves The D" jokes. I suspect I'll hear many of those upon my return. I won't care. I'll be in Vegas.
This young lady, Raylene Heater, (can find her on
Twitter, Instagram and Facebook under her name)
had such energy and smiling enthusiasm, banging
on her paint-barrel drum-kit that I actually ended
up watching her for a half-hour. Well, okay, with an
intermission because I needed another beer. But if
you can hold my attention for 30 minutes? That's big.
Suffice it to say, Mz Heater got a healthy tip from me.

Ostensively, I'm going to see the Toronto Maple Leafs play the Golden Knights on November 19th. I mean, the Leafs have played in Vegas twice and I have been at both games - each team has a 6-3 win so this is the rubber match - but the simple fact is I could have booked a room on the strip far closer to the T-Mobile Arena. I usually stay at the Excalibur, which is literally across the street from the arena. But this time, I opted to lodge elsewhere.

Why? I want to go back to Fremont Street. The strip has seen plenty of me. On Fremont, I'm just getting a handle on where the washrooms are in each individual casino. To a big beer drinker like me, that's vital information.

Naturally, Hog and 2cent, as well as Mark, know the entire street inside-and-out. One night, I posted a picture of a guy wearing a "Shut up, liver, you're fine!" T-Shirt but admitted I wasn't certain which casino I was actually in. I mean, I just wander in and out at will, not really paying close attention. Within seconds, Hog came on Twitter and told me I was in the Golden Gate Casino. How did he know? I shit you not, from the carpet!! What the actual fack? I mean, every carpet in every casino in all of Vegas looks similar. Like the carpet in your rec room back in 1980. It's busy and ugly and hides stains. That's a Vegas carpet's sole function. Mask the evidence of spilled drinks!
I saw these three young ladies in the Golden Nugget, clearly getting ready
for a big night on the town. I laughed out loud at their T-Shirts and asked
if I could get a picture. Before I even had my phone up, they were already
posing for the shot. I just hope they got over their shyness at some point.
Also look behind them. THAT'S what casino carpet looks like. Busy, ugly.
And yet Hog knew. That, my friends, is a seasoned Vegas veteran and the kind of pro I want on my team.

There was a number of firsts on my first excursion to Fremont Street. The biggest was probably the actual City of Vegas twitter site, interacting with me. Thirteen previous trips - though the first five from 2007 to 2012 being the pre-Twitter days for me - and I happily posted pictures on every trip. Granted, it wasn't until four or five trips ago that I thought to tag the city at @cityoflasvegas. But Trip #14, the first to Fremont, I felt like they were watching over me to make sure I was okay.

I was barely there when I came across Fremont St Cardinal Rule #1 - plastic cups only on Fremont. On the strip, you'll allowed cans but no glass.
This is Brittany at Banger Brewing on Fremont Street.
I saw her twice. The first time, the place was hopping
and she happily posed for pictures. The second time,
it was just me and her in the place. She seemed a little
bit blue but just a little. She passed on posing for a
picture, which is cool. But as it was just the two of us,
we talked. About home. Our lives. The state of the
universe. By the time I got my second beer, she was
not only happy to pose but look at that smile!! Turns
out no one is prepared for Canadian kindness. Truth!
It's a $1,000 fine if you're caught with glass beer bottles on the strip. Why? Public safety. But when I mused on Twitter about pouring my beer into a plastic cup to cross the street from the Golden Nugget to Binions Hotel and Casino probably 20 yards away, that's when the city jumped on my Twitter and explained why. In essence, the same reason. Fremont gets jammed during one of their big concerts and when the college boys are jostling in close quarters, well, people are gonna bump into each other. Best to keep metal out of their hands. That's my assessment - not the city's - because I saw it first-hand on I Love The 90s night. So, frankly, good call. Tough to hurt someone with a plastic cup. But the city came on my Twitter and almost apologized in its explanation just in case I had been inconvenienced. By pouring beer into a cup? Uhhh, nah, I'm all good. I may not be a Vegas pro compared to some. But Beer In A Cup Pro? I'm nationally-ranked, man!

Okay, the third time (jumping ahead here) the city got on my Twitter (I was like their favourite Canadian for a week), I had posted pictures of the new Circa Hotel and Casino being built across the street from me. The construction workers were about at the five-storey mark of the 40-storey hotel in early September. So I threw out some pictures of the construction online and the city responded that "You are finding all kinds of good photos for us, Don." Certainly my pleasure. When I'm having a blast, I've never been shy about sharing it. I'm like a Fun Outreach Program. You share that shit!
This is Grady. He has a shoeshine stand inside the Men's Washroom at
the Golden Nugget casino. I said hello to Grady every day and always
got a friendly nod back. Now I was wearing flip-flops all week because
I forget to pack shoes so I could never avail myself to Grady's services
but this is about as old-school cool as it gets. He did have his customers,
though, so I was pretty happy for him. This - right here - is old Vegas.

But it was the city's second contact with me that caught me off-guard. I was feeling the urge for a little McDonald's to pad my belly before a day of shenanigans. There's one to the edge of the foyer at The Plaza Hotel and Casino. While there, I saw a picture of The Plaza on the wall from 1960 or so. Long before the canopy, when it was a main street, cars and all, an area that the movie stars and high-rollers used to swarm. So I took a picture of the historical picture. And then I went back to Fremont Street and took that same picture from roughly the same spot... but now. So people could see the difference that 60 years makes. Just a funny little "My, don't times change?" post.
It's a Fremont Street rule and frankly, it's really
a smart one. If you can't handle pouring your
beer or mixed drink into the readily-available
plastic cups, well, then that's a First World
Problem in the grandest sense. Safety first...

This was sometime in the late evening of my third day there. You know, sitting in front of a slot, slapping a few bucks in it, having a solid craft brew and a smoke, catching up on Twitter. The usual stuff. And off to bed, I went.

When I woke up, I dragged a brush through the tumbleweed I call hair and went downstairs for my morning cuppa Joe from Starbuck's. While standing in line, I got on my now fully-charged phone and... saw that the City of Las Vegas had retweeted me? I wasn't sure why, it was in my notifications so I put my phone back in my pocket and dutifully got my coffee, uncertain of what was going on. I mean, I need at least one coffee before I can even process a new day, much less a Tweet. I looked again. The city of Las Vegas had retweeted my post. I stared at it. And stared at it. And then stared at it some more. Then I tagged every single person I could think of onto the post.

As a Canadian boy, I had just one dream. To score the winning goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. As an adult, well, of course, I don't harbour silly little fantasies like that in my head anymore. I'm too old, too grown up. Well, folks, it turns out I did have one. To be retweeted by the City of Las Vegas. I didn't even know it. You may not understand it - I'm not even sure I do - but there's one group who absolutely does. I call them Vegas Twitter.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Ottawa Part Vier: The Last Leg...

The owner of Spearhead Brewing, Josh Hayter, jokingly said if ever
there was a beer men should be protesting, it's Great Lakes Brewing
Over My Dad Body Pilsner for its unflattering depiction of the male
physique. The problem is the art, created by former GLB artist Garnett

Gerry, is actually bang-on! Here the beer is illustrated brilliantly by -
who else? - Drunk Polkaroo. We would lose badly in court over this.
Okay, for the 613 Ottawa Brew Crew Craft Brewery Invasion columns, I named the first Part One. Then as a nod to my French friends - Danny, Joel and Matty, I named the second one Part Deux. I went Spanish with the third one - Part Tres - as a nod to some Vegas friends because Spanish is hugely spoken down there. I am always practising my Spanish with the predominantly Latino cleaning staff because they seem to really like a Canadian who tries very hard. If I don't get something perfect (Google Translate isn't 100%), they are very sweet in correcting me and appreciating my efforts, at least. Also I'm on their turf - Las Vegas - so it's up to me to acclimatize, not them.

So this, Part 4 and the final one, has been called Vier (like "veer") because in Grade 9, I took German. Why? Because my late father filled out my course selection. I was incredulous and asked him why? Because, he said, it's good to know other languages.
And speaking of Dad Bods... (Well, not Curtis, who looks like he
has actually done a sit-up once or twice.) Okay so, from left, this
is Curtis, Glenn, Matty, Danny, Ben, Josh, Paul and Joel outside
Bicycle Craft Brewing, our second-last stop. Matty yelled out,
"Donny, you keep taking our pictures but you're never in one!!"
He nearly stumbled onto the only goal of being the picture-guy!
Bottom photo... Paul, WTF is that?? You fall asleep on us here?
In retrospect, he wasn't wrong but I was going into Grade 9, thus I was also a bratty teenager so I stormed off, muttering something about Grandpa going to war so I would never have to speak German. Truth to tell, it was engaging enough that I took it again in Grade 10. It is, frankly, the most logical and sensible language in terms of learning it. But I've forgotten most of it now, except counting numbers up to 20 or so. Also "kugelschreiber," the world's longest translation of "pen."

Okay, Quick Recap of the 613 Ottawa Brew Crew Craft Brewery Invasion:

1) We have now visited Orleans' Brewing on the Friday night and Kichesippi Brewing, Beyond The Pale Brewing and Waller St Brewing on Saturday. Two more stops to go!

2) I still haven't made Josh Hayter, owner of Spearhead Brewing, laugh out loud because I have been told by a former employee of his that he does not LOL. My secret mission on this brewery invasion? Make him laugh out loud. Now if I'm making Josh seem dour or salty, he is most definitely not! The guy's actually a real blast. In fact, the dude had so much fun these two days in Ottawa that he's organizing a similar one in Kingston for February. With a bus, a driver, full tours of Kingston craft breweries, the whole magilla. In fact, he's not screwing around. Whereas EVERYTHING that I organize is a "by the seat of the pants" deal (and yet, somehow always well-received), Josh is bringing in the head of the Kingston Economic Development group for assistance on his brewery tour. Whaaaaa...??? For us idiots?
Okay, this beer was the big story at Bicycle Craft Brewing when
we landed there in mid-August. We all tried it and we all walked
out with some. Damn good beer. No longer available but from
what I see, the brewery has done more than a dozen Milkshake
IPAs with different fruit combos. But this was fantastic and we all
noticed, when we got it home, there was a little heat in the back.
When I pointed out, you know, geezuz, man, that's a step above, he just shrugged, "Going way overboard is kinda my thing." As this benefits me personally, bring it on, big man!! But I have to make him laugh out loud. Two breweries left. Will I succeed?

Okay, second last stop on Saturday was Bicycle Craft Brewing. Where is it located in Ottawa? Not a fracking clue. We had been so many places at this point in so many different directions that, like Glennn (who seemed inordinately curious about this one single thing), I had no idea which direction the completely-irrelevant St Lawrence River was anymore. I liked their set-up. In a strip-mall. Small-to-medium taproom. Our group basically doubled the customer base on this day. But I quite liked it. The staff was very friendly (good) and extremely knowledgeable about their beverages (even better.)

They had a jalapeno pale ale on tap which a few of us rushed to try. Was it hot and spicy? I dunno, maybe white guy in the suburbs hot. Not so much to a group like us.
Okay, here's a shot of the early tasters at Bicycle Craft
Brewing, founded in 2014 by Fariborz and Laura Behzadi.
Laura is a brewer and the pair are also totally bicycling
enthusiasts, hence the name. But the present design of the
tasters is now the same as my glass in the above picture.
The irony there is, of course, we're all white guys from the suburbs. But most of us spent the Spring and Summer drinking Wellington Brewing's (Guelph) Raked Over IPA with Mango, Pineapple and Habanero. That shit was Aye Carumba hot. Bicycle's was mildly hot. I liked it but when I left, it was with their Peach Apricot Milkshake IPA (my two favourite IPA fruit essence flavours - I don't think I've ever eaten an apricot in my life but I love what its flavour adds to any style of beer, especially sours), their On The Lam IPA and their Velocipede IPA.

While we all quite enjoyed Bicycle, we also knew it was a quick pit-stop before the big finish, the King (or Queen) of the courtyard, the Big Kahuna (apologies, Josh) itself, the final destination... Dominion City Brewing, home of Sunsplit IPA, which, for my money, is one of the Top-5 IPAs in all of the land. And, of course, by all of the land, I mean Canada... our Dominion, if you will.
This is the only photo I appear in from the weekend because, as
I said, I make a point of being the photographer. But because
we needed a group photo of our friend David Buist's artwork,
we enlisted Nicole to snap the photo. As you can see, they have
taken David's clever illustration for Sunsplit IPA, blown it up
and posted it within the brewing area. Inspiration at work...
In fact, at this point, I have done so many mail orders from Dominion City - and in every order, Sunsplit represents at least half - that they're at the point where, instead of the traditional "thank you" card, I suspect they are on the verge of asking me how work's going and whether David's seen the latest Spider-Man movie.

Okay, so here's what I know about Dominion City. They opened in August 2014, rebranded and expanded the joint top-to-bottom in late 2016 and since then... *boom!* The Great Canadian Success Story in our nation's capital. There's much more obviously but that's the Reader's Digest version. (It dawns on me that's a reference I won't be able to make much longer. Someone much younger is bound to ask: "What's Reader's Digest?")

Okay, when I say they expanded, I'm not kidding. While on a smoke break, I wandered down the length of the strip mall they occupy. As I looked in each consecutive window (because I'm a nosy AF curious fellow), it was like, "More brewery, still brewery, yup, still brewery, oh hey, brewery office, another brewery office..." I think they started with one big end unit and just kept knocking down walls in the opposite direction. If I was in one of the few units left that's not the brewery, I'd be looking for new digs. As any Marvel hero will tell you: You can't stop the Juggernaut.

Okay, if I had to name our time at Dominion City, I suppose I would simply call it Sunsplit-A-Palooza. Except for a quick exception when Glenn tried a Double IPA of theirs, we all drank Sunsplit IPA well into the evening. Why? Because it's Sunsplit. Nuff said.
Our server at Dominion City Brewing:
"How are you guys doing here?" Us: "..."

We also took up a humongous space in their "Tree-Fort." For the record, the brewery's tree-fort isn't exactly that but rather a huge wooden deck elevated about four feet off the ground. However, it is surrounded by trees so the name works on that level. Now since the tree-fort falls under Ontario Liquor Laws, being as it is an alcohol serving space, the server had to walk from the brewery and back, bringing us our orders. It's about a 10-yard walk from building to tree-fort so it doesn't sound like much but try it with a tray of beer sometime. Across the lot and then up and down the stairs every time.

Now granted, since the only one of us even remotely familiar with the province's serving laws would be brewery owner Josh, we all just wandered over with our beers, purchased at the indoor tap-room. So once again, for probably the 12th time in one day, we were unwittingly breaking the law. Apparently, without even knowing it, our attitude remains: "Well, the cops can't catch us all." I'm pretty sure I can outrun Glennn. Dude's got pretty bad knees.
Oh, hey now, I see Danny on the right is also having a non Sunsplit IPA
moment as it looks exactly like orange juice. But he's a home-brewer so
we give him more latitude to explore styles. Anyway, here's two-thirds of
our Brew Crew. From left, Glennn, Curtis, Big Tree, Josh, Matty, Joel
and then back to Danny. This was a fantastic capper to a great day...
That's all I really need to know if shit goes south on us. Glennn and his knees, well, I've seen faster penguins.

Okay, much like Orleans' Brewing on the Friday night, this is where we'd end Saturday. Bright and sunny when we got there. Dusk and then dark long before we left. But something lit up our night. At one point, we noticed a flame in the distance. Quite far away but it just kept burning. Finally, someone asked our server WTF it was. Turns out the building was one of the city's wastewater facilities. And the flame? Well, that would be the methane burning off from human excrement. That might gross out some people. Not us. Josh dubbed it, "Plume du shit" and we - and I mean the entire group - toasted to it heartily all night.
Matty and his goddamn potato chips. Can't have a
sandwich - and yes, hot dogs are sandwiches - and
not have potato chips, too, according to Matty. His
thinking is far too rigid on side snacks. But I suppose
that's what makes Matty... well, Matty. Love the guy
because he's my brother. But dude, loosen up a bit.
It was our Olympic torch. "Faster, higher, stronger, poopier!"

But again, I have to make Josh Hayter laugh out loud and still haven't done so... *Tick tock* goes the clock and I still haven't succeeded. Finally, I saw my spot. In fact, Danny gift-wrapped it for me.

At one point in the conversation, Danny said one of those "You know what makes me feel old?" things. I believe his example was waiting for people to get off the phone to use the internet. Well, I have 20-25 years on Danny so that's like yesterday to me. But this was the Golden Ticket to the chocolate factory of Josh laughter for me. What could I use? The advent of colour TV? Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon? Disco? The creation of ATMs? I had an extra quarter of a century to work with here. I needed something solid. Some comedy gold, Jerry. Finally, I thought of one.

"You know what makes me feel old?" I barked loudly. All eyes on me, table falls silent. I yelled, "MY F**KING AGE!" Did Josh laugh? Well, I'm not sure. I mean, he looked like he might be but everyone was laughing so I don't know if he actually made a laugh out loud sound. Ah well, I'm not done with our favourite brewery owner yet. But that's a wrap on our Ottawa adventure. More silliness coming soon but Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Ottawa Part Tres: The Mob Moves Along...

Okay, top photo. That's us, taking over the bar - and I mean, the entire
bar - at Beyond The Pale Brewing. From right to left, Ben, Glenn, Josh,
Joel (face obscured by beer), Matty, Curtis and Danny. Bunch of guys at
the bar, right? We thought so. Thus, one sent the picture to his wife. What
we saw and what she saw were two different things. She somehow noticed
a young lady in shorts bent over in the distance. You can't even see it in
the original. Except she did. So she sent her cropped photo back to him
with two words. "Oh, really?" We zoomed in on my photo in my phone
and yeah, she wasn't wrong. But look at the top picture!! Who could see
that? I took the damn photo and didn't see that! None of us did. Whoa...
As Danny sagely noted, "Wives. They don't miss anything." You think??
Okay, moving along with Day Two of the 613 Ottawa Craft Brewery Invasion in mid-August...

Quick recap of the events thus far: Three things. 1) Visited Orleans Brewing Company on the Friday night. Had two other potential stops but owners Celia and Yann Lemieux make us all feel so at home and damn, just so welcome that we decide, yeah, let's just stay here. And, not gonna lie, their Juicy McHazy IPA, well, that certainly helped.

2) First stop on Saturday and one of my fondest memories of the trip, organized by Nepean Beer Store Bro Ben, was Kichesippi Brewing, a sweet set-up in an old car dealership. Great beers, great tour, great fun and actually, the first time we had the whole gang there. The 613 Beer Avengers assembled, ready to take on the craft beer world.

3) My secret mission. Adam from Beau's All Natural Brewing told me he had worked for Josh Hayter, the co-owner of Spearhead Brewing and that he'd never seen Josh laugh. Period. End of story. So I had a secret mission. Make Josh laugh! Did I succeed? Well, read on.

Oh, before I continue, a lost soldier. Ottawa friend Kev (aka @deadsquid) joined us at Kichesippi for a quick pint but his wife just had major back surgery so he had to be back soon as she obviously needs a lot of TLC. And pain medication. Someone to hold the fort.
Okay, the huge mural at Beyond The Pale Brewing. Who
are they supposed to be? Glenn says Matt Murdock and
Karen Page from the comic book Daredevil. I can see that.
But she looks like Sandy from Grease, much more than
Karen Page. The real answer? We don't know. We never
asked. We were far too busy drinking tasty BTP beers...
But Kev, being the solid hubby that he is (I should really get her opinion on that pronouncement), seemed to have a pretty good handle on his wife's recovery and joined us for the one stop while she was resting. He seemed to love Kichesippi Brewing as much as us (I think he lives fairly close) but it's good he wasn't there while Carlin was giving us the tour. The poor guy was intimidated enough and Kev? Dude's the size of a freakin' mountain. Great to meet him, wish he could have continued to tag along further but given the circumstances, glad he caught up with us for one stop. But then I'd say that about any guy who's basically two of me put together.

Okay, next stop? Beyond The Pale Brewing, closer to downtown Ottawa. This was not a scheduled stop but I'm glad we threw it in. Of course, with nine of us, tough to get a table together, Except for one thing. The bar was wide-open. No one sitting at it. So, hey, we owned the bar! (As befits our regal nature.) But this is a sizable place in a sort of back alley industrial plaza kind of way. Loading docks all around us. I dig that. A real diamond-in-the-rough kinda vibe. Reminded me of the old Junction Craft Brewing in Toronto and its weird back alley access before they moved a few miles north-west a Summer or so ago.
The taps at Beyond The Pale Brewing. As you can see, there was really
no shortage of selection. And yet, our group gravitated to just two beers:
their Cloud Town Azacca and Lemondrop Hazy IPA and my personal
favourite, their Yummy! North East Pale Ale. Enjoyed both but walked
out with a few more Yummy! than Cloud Town. One damn fine brew.

But this is one impressive tap-room, as well as the one with the most washrooms. Didn't count them or anything but they have at least seven or eight. So yeah, they can handle those big Friday-Saturday night crowds. Hell, we were there about 1:30 pm on Saturday and the place was packed. Super well-stocked retail fridges, from which I plucked several Cloud Town Azacca and Lemondrop Hazy IPAs (at 4.5%, actually a sessioner) and even more Yummy! North East Pale Ales, one of the best pale ales I've had this year.  Long story short, this was probably the most popular place we visited, based on crowd size alone. It was hoppin' and boppin' while we were drinkin' with no thinkin'.
Thugs Life: This group of reprobates looks more like a police line-up
than a buncha guys checking out Ottawa breweries but hey, we do us
pretty good. It's all we know. From left, that's Glennn, Curtis, Ben, Joel,
Josh, Paul, Matty and Danny all lined up out front of Waller St Brewing
near the downtown Ottawa core. (I think. I honestly don't know at all.)

The next stop was one I was kinda insistent on - Waller St. Brewing. The reason was two-fold. In one of my many Matty-Joel Beer Mails, they had included a Waller St. Black Imperial IPA. I drank it and was blown away. I've had many solid Black IPAs - Great Lakes and Nickel Brook have both released fantastic ones. But this was a step-up from even the best I've had. In fact, I raved about it so much that the next time Beer Store Bro Paul, the Big Peezy himself, was swinging through Ottawa, he made a point of grabbing me one.

The second reason was the description the guys gave me of the place. They made it sound like a Prohibition-Era speakeasy.
April pours us a barrel-aged sour that they had been
hanging onto for us at Waller St Brewing. This place
was crazy small. Nine of us being in the place didn't
leave much room for many more, believe me. But hey,
good things come in small packages and all that jazz.
Well, to be honest, there was good reason for their description. As it turns out, Waller St actually brands themselves as "Ottawa's tiny, little Prohibition Craft Brewery." 

So when you get there, you basically go down the stairwell and through this basement door. And when you get in there... it's not large. Tiny? Cozy? Intimate? Pick your word. Wanna know what my word was when I walked in and looked around? "Cool."

We were greeted warmly by April and Chuck Thibert, who do not own the brewery (that's apparently a couple of guy who I can't name due to Prohibition secrecy restraints but if I could, I'd probably say something like Marc-Andre Chainey and Elie Dagher.) What April and Chuck are, I suspect, is the public face of the place. They co-host the local @613beercast so they are pretty well known in their little corner of the universe.

But, of course, like everyone else in the Ontario Craft Beer industry seems to, they knew Josh very well and were pretty damn happy to see him. I meant to ask him if he preferred visiting breweries where he was known - Orleans Brewing and Waller St - or the ones where he was an anonymous schmuck like the rest of us.
It is it. The entire bar at Waller St Brewing. Our group basically filled it.
And beyond the bar, there was some seating but not a lot. A handful of
high-chair tables and that was about it. But lemme tell you this for free.
This is the personal feeling that I seek out at a craft brewery. That is not
to disparage the larger places. They've earned their place in the sun. But
to me, yeah, this is the real deal. Keep your friends close so there's no
room for your enemies. What? That's how the phrase goes! Sure of it.

April started our tour by explaining that she was the social media person for the brewery. So if you talked about them on, say, Twitter, "I'm the one you're talking to." She was looking directly at me when she was finishing her sentence but I suspected I knew why. For once, it wasn't an "Oh shit, what did I do?" moment. Which is what it usually is. But we'll get to that in a second.

Okay, she went into the history lesson. The place was built in 1866 - that is, both the upstairs, which is now the Loft Board Game Lounge and downstairs, which is Waller St. It started as the Ottawa Marble & Granite Works back then and as such, Ottawa has stamped it a Designated Heritage Property.
In so many ways, this was my favourite stop. For one,
the history. For two, the ambiance. For three, April is
really cool. And four, there's that Black Imperial IPA.
It's the only Ottawa brewery that I insisted we visit.
Meaning, work with the space you have because you can't change anything or you'll get fined so hard, you won't be able to sit for a month.

But the Waller St space used to be a livery, which is, granted, a word that city folk and suburbanites don't really know. That's where the horseys were kept back in the late-1800 and early-1900s. As I went outside for smokes, I kept looking at the building and trying to figure out how that worked, often glancing in the large windows at that game lounge upstairs. (We were having a way better time downstairs - just sayin'.) I figured, okay, there had to be a trodden dirt path up and down to the basement for the horses since they suck at stairs. But then, given enough Waller St Black Imperial IPA, so do I. Okay, so based on the lay-out and the likelihood that Waller Street was actually a street back then, it had to be the back-end of the building, given the incline would have been more gradual. The horses likely came out to the street through the alley you see us posing in up above. Still, the Ottawa Historical Society is welcome to come at me and refute my conclusions but to them, I say, "Hey, were you there? That's what I thought!" And yes, these are the things I think about when I'm having a smoke. I'm a freak.
Yeah, sure, I'll grab 12 can of, say, Nickel Brook Wicked Awesome IPA
on occasion but this? This was a different kind of 12-pack. If this was
more accessible and available year-round (it is neither), this would be my
2019 Beer of the Year. That said, oh my yes, it will get its praise in that
Year-End blog. A beer like this does not happen often to me. Gorgeous.

So back in the bar. Had a great chat with April, who told me that people came into the place, asking specifically about the Black Imperial IPA. She believes it's just because I had praised it so highly on Twitter. Not sure I agree but nonetheless, that kinda threw me because I had talked about it a few times. The praise was high, to be sure. Of course, others responded so the web of social interaction and exposure goes out further to many more. That's the part of social media that has always thrown me a little bit. Your voice echoes a little farther than you realize. Like you're yelling from the top of the Grand Canyon and there's a bunch of people on the other side hearing you that you don't even know are there.
As I said, it is not a big space but it is a very cool one.
And Waller St Brewing, which you MUST visit if you

are in Ottawa, just reeks of history. And great beer!

But my much-proclaimed Twitter-announced love of their Black Imperial IPA meant the brewery bottled some up especially for me, April said, simply because they knew I would be there. I bought a dozen on my way out the door. I still have four in the Batcave fridge. It was a pricey purchase, yes. But worth every nickel (because we don't have pennies so that phrase no longer makes sense.)

I'm not certain how others rationalize a big purchase but whenever I'm having a "should I or shouldn't I?" moment, I just remind myself that I'm closer to being a millionaire than Bill Gates is. And then there is no "shouldn't." Yes, I'll die a poor man but I won't need money then so...

I continued to talk to Chuck and April after our tour was over. I mean, they know stuff from their corner of the craft beer world, I know stuff from mine but there is overlap. I told them about a brewer down here who had a very serious health scare (he's on the mend now) and they knew him from way back. When he was just starting. So really, a fantastic stop. As I said, the only one I insisted on and I know I'll be back.
A photo on the wall of Waller St Brewing from August 2015 that conveys
that whole old school gangster speakeasy vibe of the place. The staff all
dress up in Prohibition-era clothing to give the place that ambiance, too.
I give you sufficient warning, April, so that Black Imperial IPA can be bottled up for its #1 Fan.

Okay, that's Orleans Brewing, Kichesippi Brewing, Beyond That Pale Brewing and Waller St Brewing all in the books now. That just leaves Bicycle Craft Brewing and the big gun, Dominion City Brewing for the last installment of our Ottawa adventure.

So far in this two-day mid-August excursion (that it has taken me this long to finish and I still haven't), I have NOT made Spearhead Brewing owner Josh Hayter laugh out loud. Would I succeed?? Well, you'll have to come back for Part 4, I guess. Because I pride myself on that ability and laughter is the best medicine. (Horseshit! It's morphine. Everyone knows that.) But Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...