Saturday, 8 December 2018

Could my blue Lemmy beat a Selleck?

True, I had perfected the Lemmy From Motorhead 'stashe but that was
not enough to eclipse Jake, who notched the Tom Selleck in one month?
Even little girl play make-up aiding my cause is not gonna beat a Selleck.
Well, November ended with a Movember bang as I scored six free beers plus a ball cap from my friends at Nickel Brook Brewing in Burlington.

Granted, they just don't hand beers and ball caps out. You gotta earn them. And I did. Well, being single, not bothering to shave comes far too easily to me so effort wasn't really a key factor here. When serious effort is involved, I expect others to step up. Not really my forte. That said, if you need something done that involves zero effort, hey, I'm your guy.

So anyway, that's what I did. Through the month of November, I simply didn't shave. And then on November 29, I shaved off everything on my face that didn't look like a cheezy heavy metal biker moustache.
My costume/make-up artist Trey collected a couple of cans of Nickel
Brook's finest after guiding me to a second place finish in the brewery's
Best Mov Contest. He looked at the Immodest Imperial IPA I brought
him brewery-fresh and quipped, "Oh good, you're trying to kill me."
I imagine it's the same process sculptors go through. Get a big rock and chisel off all the stuff that doesn't look like an ancient Roman dude stepping naked out of ice-cold water.

But I had an issue with my impending stache so I took it up with my coworker, Trey, who is basically the King of Halloween. How good is he? One year, he went as Azazel from the movie, X-Men: First Class. Since it's possible you're not familiar with that Oscar calibre superhero movie, allow me to describe the character. He's bright red. Head to toe. Oh yeah, he's dressed in a sharp Brooks Bros type suit and has a big-ass devil's tail that can grab or even choke you. If you care about his power, he's a teleporter, meaning if you take a swing at him, *poof* he'll disappear into thin air and then instantly appear behind you to clobber you on the back of your skull.
My bro, Charles, looks a little panic-stricken as he has his
Mov shaved at the Nickel Brook Movember Wrap-Up
Party. Charles, my inside sales rep, didn't place in the
Stashe Contest but was happy to be rid of the face-hair!
How good was his Azazel? His picture was our screensaver in the office for months afterwards. He frikkin nailed it. Bright red and all. Used actual theatre make-up. Like I said, he's good.

So anyway, as Nickel Brook's Movember Wrap-Up Party fast approached, I said to the Costume King that I was worried about my stache. Yes, it was ugly and hairy but also far too gray. "I bet if it was orange or blue, I could win this thing!" I said confidently. I suggested that I could use either the orange or blue highlighter in the office to touch it up.

At this point, I imagine Trey could see being stuck having to look at me at work for a month with orange or blue all around my mouth and offered an alternative solution. He suggested going to the dollar store, buying a little girl's make-up kit and using the eye shadow on my stashe. (I mistakenly called it "mascara" on Twitter and Facebook but it turns out that's the eyelash one. I needed the eyelid one, which is actually what I bought. I just called it the wrong thing.) So I did. There's a dollar store in our mall and I found a Pretty Princess Make-Up Fun kit there. Set me back $1.50. One of their more expensive mark-ups, I assume.
Rick got his entry "Wolverine" shaved off at the end
of the Movember festivities. I think the issue here is
the same one I had. Gray is distinguished and all but
it doesn't show well. Rick had one of the best staches
there but didn't place. Next time, use girl's make-up!

So the night of the big Mov Party, I cracked open the Pretty Princess kit and used the brush to colour my stache. Honestly, I couldn't see anything at first. But being colour-blind, subtle shade changes elude me. So I kept going until all the baby blue eye-shadow was gone. I could see it pretty well then. That sucker was bright pale blue.

What it also did was add like five pounds of gunk to my stashe, making it look huge. So much so that when I walked into Nickel Brook, guys were asking, "Did you grow that in a month?" That is actually the subject of some debate at work. I honestly maintain I did. The others there, so used to seeing me scruffy as shit so often, are less sure. I'm sticking by my possible lie memory of the events as they occurred.

In the end, the contest judges, Jerry and his three-man crew from Village Cigar Co. in Burlington, would ask us each to say what the name of our stashe was. I had already taken care of that. When I came in, I spotted Charles, my inside sales rep and Matt, the brewery's marketing manager at the bar. I introduced them to my Lemmy From Motorhead stashe and added, "If you can name more than five Motorhead songs, then you're actually in Motorhead."
Now Nickel Brook marketing manager Matthew
Gibson may not be rocking the Mov but dammit, you
can't beat him at the Zoolander Contest. That good
looking bastard. He makes us all look like wannabes.

In the end, slightly more than a dozen of us went up to the stage area for the big Mov-Off. I was liking my chances... until I spotted Jake. That bastard had grown the perfect Tom Selleck in one month. Any guy will tell you a Tom Selleck trumps Lemmy From Motorhead. Hell, in a Moustache Contest, a Selleck trumps everything. It's the perfect stache.

So we all paraded past the judges, one by one. Meat market? More like a meat-head market. One of the judges asked me, "Is yours blue because you're a Leaf fan?" As I was opening my mouth to answer, two of them barked, "Just say yes!" So I just said, "Auston Matthews forever!" Beats explaining the Pretty Princess Make-Up Fun kit by a mile. But the last judge was so uncertain I had grown it in one month that he started feeling the rest of my chin and neck for stubble. Being as I had just shaved the night before, there wasn't much to feel. Some rough edges, maybe. The doubt was strong in this judge. And with good reason. While I am able to grow a solid ugly-ass goatee, a full beard? Nope. Too many patchy spots. But that was fine. I knew placing would be the best I could do on this day. So after the judges ran us all through the hoops, we all retreated to our tables (or in my case, the bar) and awaited their deliberations.
Hey, man, I didn't win but I got second place and walked
out with a free sixer of Nickel Brook's core line-up. I think
any craft beer lover will call that a win. Oh yeah, I also
won a Movember ball-cap which is now in the big box of
other ball-caps I don't wear. Not that I don't appreciate it.

Eventually, Nickel Brook marketing manager Matt got up and grabbed the mic. He announced the third place winner. Not me. Holy shit, could I actually win this damn thing? Next he said, "With some help from special effects..." Okay, well then, that would be me. Jake, of course, won. As he should have.

So I texted Trey, still at work, and said, "I came second!" I was pretty proud and I figured, given his expert input, he would be, too. He was. I got his text back. "You were first runner-up." (Man, I tell ya, this dude takes his costumes seriously.)

But on my way home, I popped into the Beer Store before it closed for the evening to slide a couple of thank you beers Trey's way. At the cash was our stellar part-timer, Armen, who didn't even recognize me. "There's a character in the Game Of Thrones books who has a blue beard," he told me afterwards. "I thought you were him." To that, I will just say... George RR Martin, I am ready for my blood-drenched battle-ax-swinging close-up!
Me and my Nickel Brook inside salesman Charles share a big cheers at
the brewery's Movember Wrap-Up Party. It was a great night of fun at
the end of a great month of fund-raising for men's health issues. I know
the brewery itself raised over $4,000 through sales of Cheeky Bastard
Stout because 25 cents of every can went to the cause. In fact, between

the Cheeky Bastard sales ($2,500) and corporate sponsorship from the
community, Nickel Brook raised over $4,000 during Movember. Nice!

Both Armen and Trey were actually stunned I lost until I explained the winner had a Selleck. Okay yeah, they both acknowledged. You don't beat that.

But gang, I'm still getting chirped on my Mov. You see, Barrie Beer Bro Hago, thinks it's Photoshop. He does not believe a stache this glorious is even possible. But here's the thing. I'm seeing my favourite Canadian soldier boy today at our big Barrie Craft Brewery Invasion. It's the same Group of Seven that took over Whitby craft breweries last year. So I kept Lemmy for another week and bought another Pretty Princess Make-Up Fun kit to go Code Blue on this ugly-ass bastard again. Because he can't call "photoshop" if he's taking the pictures. You know you'll be reading about today real soon. We're hitting Redline, Flying Monkeys, Barnstormer, Muskoka and Sawdust City. One day. Five breweries. No one standing by the end. Not even joking. But Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Thank you to Nickel Brook for such a fun night. Until next time, I remain...

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Southern Ontario Beer Boys giving back

This was the second of two cheques Steve, right, of the Southern
Ontario Beer Boys would donate to the McMaster Children's
Hospital Foundation last week. In fact, it's the smaller of the
two. So why highlight this one? Because it came from one
single day of fundraising on September 23rd. That would be
the Brewers' Ball baseball tourney held at Collective Arts on
that day. I take some personal pride in this one because on that
beautiful Autumn day, I was part of the "fun" in fundraising.
Steve from the charitable Southern Ontario Beer Boys (@SOBeerBoys) gang of thugs and I both have an addiction issue. In fact, it's the exact same substance addiction. And while I don't like to air another man's dirty laundry in a public setting, I feel like neither of us will survive this debilitating addiction without first coming clean about it.

So what is it? Heroin? Blue Meth? Coke? Amphetamines? Steroids? LSD? Mescaline? Government-subsidized DOPE??  Oh gawd, we wish! It would probably be cheaper if it was one or any number of these common drugs.

No, ours is far more serious. (*Puts on brave face*) You see, Steve and I are hooked on Left Field Brewing's Laser Show Vermont Style Imperial IPA. At $9 per 650-ml (22 ounce) bottle, it's not a cheap addiction. We could buy almost three cans of any other craft beer for that price. And yet, he and I keep returning to the scene of the crime (the Oak Park LCBO) to score another fix. You know, I wanna say I could quit Laser Show any time I wanted but it would be an outright lie. It might never happen. Okay, it never will.
Police insiders says this may been the only known photo of the Southern
Ontario Beer Boys all in the same place at the same time. And you know
what? If they didn't do such good charity work, I'd be suspicious of the
entire lot of them. They are, in no particular order, Neil, Mike, Paul and
Steve with random young'uns and a crap-ton of donated empties. Nice!

Okay, now that I've aired our addiction woes, let's move onto something a little more positive and noble. That would be the Southern Ontario Beer Boys themselves. You see, this is the time of year where you want to see the good works of others fully displayed. Also because I do absolutely no good work for my community, I figured if I shine a bright light on the charitable work of others, well, hell, there's my contribution to society. I call that my "Pretzel Logic" because it's so bent out of shape, no one really wants to deal with its inherent flaws. So late in 2016, this band of four dudes (Neil, Mike, Paul and Steve) got together and wondered what they could do to help the community.
The Southern Ontario Beer Boys would be more
than happy to take back your empties for a good
cause - Kans4Kids which goes to the McMaster
Children's Hospital Foundation. Quick tip: it's
easier for the guys if you sort in bags of 100 per.
As a Beer Store employee, believe me, it's best
when they are already counted and easy-to-sort. 

After deliberating it over several nights of exceptional Ontario craft beers consumption, they struck upon Kans4Kids, whereby they would ask like-minded beer-loving folks to donate their empties for a good cause. The proceeds of their charity leg-work in this case would go to the McMaster Children's Hospital Foundation so, you know, a really good cause! As a father who has taken his own son to McMaster for any number of tests (from heart to hearing - you name it) over the years, I doubt they could have picked a recipient closer to my heart. The folks there are wonderful and always treat my boy like gold.

Now McMaster wasn't their first dip in the charitable waters. Paul and Steve took part "a bunch of years ago" in an event that supported Camp Trillium, the group that send kids with cancer to summer camp. But they stopped when they found out half of what is raised for the group goes to overhead costs. (Check your charities carefully - in some cases, less than 10 cents on the dollar goes to the actual goal while the rest is eaten up by executive salaries and overhead.)

Noted Steve, "We said we wanted to do something in the future where we were in control of the money we raised." They struck upon a simple solution. Cut out the middle-man - the charity organization - and become the charity themselves. Hence, the Southern Ontario Beer Boys became the number one craft beer loving charity in Ontario.
Paul, shown here, acting as one of two umpires
during the Brewers Ball baseball tournament at
the two diamonds adjacent to Collective Arts
Brewing in Hamilton, was the man who came up
with the name Kans4Kids and, hey, so far they
have done pretty well with their charity efforts.

As their Instagram followers numbers started to rise (over 2,500 now), they decided to make their charitable largesse local with an eye to McMaster. Paul suggested that they start collecting beer empties during their baseball season-end tournament from both their and other teams in the league. Paul came up with the name Kans4Kids and in the end, Steve told me, "It was a huge success, collecting three times what we thought (we would)."

Their (first ever) 2017 donation last November to the McMaster Children's Hospital Foundation was $1,463.05. That was only the beginning.

Through a work college, Steve was put in touch with Dave Clarke, the COO of Cowbell Brewing up there in tiny Blyth, Ontario. You see, Cowbell's pretty damn big on money going to children's hospitals, too, and one of the four kids' charities they regularly contribute to is McMaster.

"We spit-balled ideas over beers and the Klubs4Kids golf tournament came to fruition. (As co-sponsors) we had about eight local craft breweries sampling beers on selected holes. It was a great event, raising over $16,000 for MacKids," said Steve of the tourney held at Flamborough Golf and Country Club on May 16th.
Well, holy crap! There's our friends at Cowbell Brewing up in
the $25,000 to $49,999 category for the plaque at McMaster
Children's Hospital and just below them in the $10,000 to
$24,999 category, those Southern Ontario Beer Boys. Damn!

But it was their next event that involved me personally so pay close attention because I have a ton of friends who would say, "Donny did something for charity? Seriously? Is he dying?" To put their minds at ease, I will say I didn't do a lot but I was kind of a social media chronicler for the day, except for the pictures the guys posted themselves. Meaning simply, I took a crap-ton of pictures myself and wrote a blog about their Brewers Ball Baseball Tournament on September 23. You see, Steve asked me if I wanted to be on Team Insta, a rag-tag group of bloggers, vloggers, Instagrammers and Tweet-Heads. So, let's see. I have two shoulders that have seen far better days, a left elbow that hurts if a butterfly lands on it and a right wrist that can lift a case of beer (because the job depends on it) but can't throw a softball much more than 17 feet. Getting old is awesome, gang!!! But I promised Steve I would help him find players for Team Insta. Well, as I told him later, turns out most of beer people I know on social media live miles and miles away. I never thought about where people live. It's like I assumed they were all just down the street from me or something, I guess. So I was of little help.
Doug Birrell, the owner of 5 West Brewpub and
Kitchen, located at Walker's Line and Dundas in
Burlington, was a major contributor to this
year's Kans4Kids drive. I've known Doug for
quite some time and still he was mum on what
his restaurant donated. Of course, I found out. 
Fortunately, the guys had it covered.

While they were organizing the golf tournament, Steve noted, "At the time, I was in contact with (media liaison) Toni (Shelton) at Collective Arts (Brewing). She and (brewery co-owner) Matt Johnston said, 'Run with it' and they opened up the brewery patio to us for the day." 

In the end, it was a crazy fun day of softball, drinking, comradery, drinking, donating our empties to the cause and also drinking. We all had a blast. There was a raffle for a table full of beer that we all contributed towards and in the end, the amount of beer on the table was so huge, it got split into five prizes. There was a 50-50 draw where the winner, Ken, also known as the Ontario Beer Guy (@ontariobeerguy) turned around and handed that cash right back to the boys. In the end, that single day of softball collected $1,150.

But the Southern Ontario Beer Boys weren't done yet. There was still the year-end totals from the Kans4Kids drive, which the guys get to the hospital towards the end of November, just before the Christmas holiday season. Remember last year's was upwards of $1,400? Well, they kinda blew past by that number this year - big-time - with a cheque totaling $3,153.25. That means over the course of, oh say, 16 months, the four guys have raised over $22,000 for McMaster.
Tiffany Martin, better knows as the Travelling
Pint on Twitter and Instagram, gives us a big
"Peace Out, Homeys" as Team Insta shut down
their opponents after an inning at the Brewers
Ball Baseball Tournament back in September.

But Steve had special praise for one business in Burlington for their help with this year's Kans4Kids drive - 5 West Brewpub and Kitchen at the corner of Walker's Line and Dundas in Burlington. And that's interesting to me because the owner, Doug Birrell, and I have known each other for, well, more than a few years. So, of course, I asked the rather large Scotsman what his Kans4Kids exact contribution was. He shrugged it off. "Massive amount." Okayyy. Well, I do know that Steve lives in that neighbourhood and figured he might be a 5 West regular. So I pitched that and Doug gave me a little more. "Yes, Steve came in and was telling us about the (Kans4Kids) program," Doug said. "Steve is a great guy." Okay, folks, here's the numbers. Steve calculated that 75% of this year's total came from 5 West. In cash, that equals about $2,365. In empties? That's over 20,000 returns. Nice job, Doug. I live in Oakville now but I have to make a point to get over there and check 5 West out since they switched to brew-pub. I'm sure Steve's up for a pint or two.

In the end, it's been a busy but rewarding year for the Southern Ontario Beer Boys. All that money and hey, they're on the donation plaque at McMaster, something that still blows the guys away. "That's crazy to us," he laughed. "But it's funny as people will now ask forever, 'Who the heck are the Southern Ontario Beer Boys?' Crazy." Anything but crazy, my friend. More like exactly the kind of story we all need as the holiday season descends upon us. It's the season of giving. But these four do that all year long. Okay, Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that all and I am outtta here. Back soon with some big Movember fun at Nickel Brook. Until next time, I remain...

Friday, 30 November 2018

Nickel Brook's new Tap Room? So good...

If you ever see these four gentlemen in one place again, call the cops. I
mean, a larger selection of No-Good-Niks you will never find. Actually,
we all just got together to check out Nickel Brook's new Tap Room and
geezuz, it's pretty sweet. From left, you have Bill from @craftbeersblog,
a random homeless dude, Dan from @craftbeersblog and, of course, my
man, Steve from @SOBeerBoys. Hell, we had a great afternoon there...
It started, as so many things do, with a simple Twitter post.

I posted a picture of a Nickel Brook's Wicked Awesome IPA with a simple mention that I needed to get in the proper frame of mind to visit the brewery's brand spankin' new Tap Room the next day - two Sunday ago. So November... *looks at present date on laptop*... I dunno, 13 days ago.

Suddenly, a couple of Twitter buddies joined the conversation. Dan from @craftbeersblog wondered when I'd be there. He hadn't seen the new Tap Room so he was curious himself.

Next on deck was Steve from @SOBeerBoys, who was dropping his daughter off at a 1 pm sports (gymnastics, I think) practice near Mapleview Mall, five minutes away, who wondered if we'd still be there.
"Good afternoon, fellows. I'll be your entertainment
today." Nickel Brook owner John Romano came to
our table and regaled us with stories for at least an
hour. This is why we love our craft breweries. There
is always a personal touch. He's also a beer server!

Now before I tell you about our afternoon, let me bring you up to speed on the two separate blogs-social media accounts run by these gents. Craft Beers Blog is actually a group of seven or eight women and men, each of whom write beer blogs with an eye to their specialty. "So we have that person who loves sours, another who loves the dark beers and so on," Dan explained to me. So a multi-tiered, multi-viewpoint approach. Very democratic and pretty creative.

And then there's the Southern Ontario Beer Boys, a group of four very charitable fellows. You see, they run the Kans 4 Kids program, which collects beer cans from anyone wishing to donate and then channel all the proceeds directly to McMaster Children's Hospital. So they have taken a love of craft beer (or any beer - hell, Bud cans are also worth 10 cents) and turned it into something noble, which we all love to see. You can connect with them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Great guys, great cause.

Okay, let me continue to write this blog, which offers just one opinion and contributes absolutely nothing to society whatsoever. We all agreed to meet up at Nickel Brook to check out their new digs.
Because he had eaten lunch (I hadn't), Dan was able to
enjoy this year's 11-05, the annual collaboration between
Nickel Brook's Ryan Morrow and Sawdust City's Sam
Corbeil, both of whom were born November 5th. This
year's version is a cherry-laced Belgian Quad that clocks
in at 11.05% ABV. Which is why I couldn't drink any...
Holy crap, what a change! I guess I haven't been there since Barrie Beer Bro Hago and I popped in during the Summer. For many years, they were my hometown homeys, right around the corner from me, until family matters intervened and I had to move back to Oakville last September.

But the east end of the Nickel Brook brewery not too long ago was a wine-making facility. Apparently, that has since shifted down Fairview Avenue to a strip-plaza, opening up a fair bit of space for this new Tap Room. And man, it's gorgeous! The shape is like two L's connected, one upside-down, with the top and bottom facing different directions. It zigs, goes long... and then it zags. (That is probably the shittiest room description I've ever given but in fairness, I've never had to describe many rooms. Most are square or rectangular.)

After happily greeting my favourite Tap Room Manager, Rob Nagy, Dan quickly introduced himself and the pair of us got down to the business of beer. The first question of the day? How much did we think this facelift cost? I threw out $300,000 as my guess and Dan said that sounded about right to him. We would soon find out that we weren't far off.
Okay, Nickel Brook posted this a week before the Grand
Opening. You have to kind of use your mind's eye for this
but unseen to the left is the bar with over 20 taps and a
seated space that juts to the west. At the top right of this
is another section that goes due east. (We are facing north
here.) You know what? It's easier to come and just enjoy.

You see, not long afterwards, a voice boomed behind me. "Oh no, you let him in? And on a Sunday?" It was John Romano, who co-owns Nickel Brook with his brother, Peter. And yes, the comment was completely aimed at me.

You see, John and I met in October 2013 when I landed in the brewery for the first time and John himself was behind the counter, filling growlers. After getting directions, I had come in for, of course, Headstock IPA (still in the six-pack bottle back then) but also Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout, which I had heard about but never tried. John sold me my first-ever growlers. (The empty jugs cost just $5 at the time.) He said words to the effect of, "The kegs I'm filling these growlers from come from the room right there. There is no fresher beer." Because I was still pretty new to the blog game, he explained the importance of getting beer, especially IPAs, as fresh as possible, the difference in taste... pretty much everything.

Finding out I worked at the Beer Store (perhaps a perceived "enemy" at that time), he smiled, arched an eyebrow and asked why I was there? I shrugged and mumbled, "I just think it's important to shop locally." Based on his reaction, 10 points for Gryffindor.
John himself got this board together for Dan and myself. It's billed as a
"curated menu of local cheese, charcuterie and bar snacks." Folks, it's
bread, cheese, meat, mustard and pickled veggies. As we say in English.

So I walked out of there with a new friend and very important contact. But it also meant lot of jocular teasing to come.

I'd walk in with my growlers. If John was with someone, he'd point me out and taunt, "You see that guy? He works at the Beer Store but comes here for his beer!"

Granted, I gave as good as I got. One summer, John's son, Nick, an university student, was working the growler station. So one day, I strolled in with my growlers, saw John 20 feet away with a client and basically yelled, "Hi, Nick! Once again, I'm here to pay your f**king university tuition!"
Another of Dan's great interior shots of the new look
Nickel Brook Tap Room. I told him that I would be
stealing these pics. He didn't seem all that concerned.
But the new Tap Room - 20 different taps plus retail!
(Got some looks - totally worth it. I could see John doing the laughter shake from behind. Nick had a small smile but you could totally see the "What's this dude's damage?" in his eyes.)

So anyway, back to the main story. After a while, Dan and I noticed a light drilling sound at the far end where John was set up. It almost sounded like a dremel, that little hand-held spinny, grindy tool you use to round corners on wood and steel. So I had to investigate. It was John with the world's smallest meat slicer, getting food trays ready.

Of course, I simply asked, flat-out... the new look? $300,000 or so? He smiled and said yeah, pretty much. Turns out a contractor had quoted him exactly that amount! (Damn, Dan and I are good!) But included in that was some bizarre consultation-supervision fee of $27,000, which, I guess meant the contractor paid himself first before the workers. (I don't really know.)

In the end, John figured out that a handful of brewery workers and personal friends could do it for much cheaper. So that's what they did. And lemme tell you this for free. For my money, it looks like professionals did the work.
John Romano working the smallest meat cutter in the
history of things that cut meat. He told me it was the
one he used at home and that he might had to get a
bigger one if they were cranking out meat and cheese
trays in the Tap Room. That would be a wise investment
"I knew how to do the (really nice wood) flooring and I knew how to do the wall tiling," he told me. (You can see the tile behind him in the pic of him at the meat-slicer.) In the end, the total bill after a few weeks of labour - $150,000 all in. Half price. The ultimate craft brewery DIY project. And it looks awesome.

But a quick side-story before I get back to the Boys Afternoon At The Tap Room. While my man, Charles, is still my Beer Store's inside Nickel Brook sales rep, meaning he calls us and sees what we need every weekend, we also have an outside travelling sales rep, who goes to all the customers - Beer Stores, LCBOs, bars, everywhere - to make sure things are running smoothly. Our present rep, whose name eludes me (I met her only once over a year ago), is off on maternity leave. Filling her shoes is the Golden Horseshoe rep, Meghan Bell. She popped into my store so instantly, we started talking about the Tap Room. Meghan casually mentioned that John brought in a special friend to assist. "He had this buddy who's really good at this stuff come down from somewhere way up north to help him and everyone else." (Thank you, Meghan. You da best.) Busted, Johnny. You brought in a Renovation Ringer! 
About a week before they opened but I want to draw your attention to
lights, which have been stylized to look like the Nickel Brook "atom"
logo. You see those rings on each? They've been collected from the many
bourbon-wine barrels that have come through the brewery. Brilliant!
(Actually, it's gonna be hard to chirp him on that. If you can get your own personal Mike Holmes in, you do it.)

Getting back to the story at hand, when I returned to Dan at the bar, he had been joined by Bill, also from Craft Beers Blog and before long, Steve from Southern Ontario Beer Boys caught up. One of us finally noted, hey, let's take a table over there, which we did. In the end, we were sitting right in front of John and his meat-slicing adventures.

So within minutes, John had come to greet our table. None of the other three had met him before. They were in for a treat. Now, despite the fact I warned him that we were a table of beer bloggers, John did what he always does - hit the "on" button while ignoring the "edit" button. And man, did we learn a thing of two.
Well, I'm not gonna stop into Nickel Brook and walk out empty-handed,
am I?  No. So I grabbed four-packs of Wicked Awesome IPA, Headstock
IPA, Lost In Orbit Session IPA and Immodest Imperial IPA, as well as a
hella sexy new IPA glass. Young Charles has been urging me to do so...

It seems the Romano's are sitting on a pretty sweet parcel of land. You see, they are just to the west of the Burlington GO Station. And what developers are trying to do is snatch up all the land around GO Stations to build high-rise condos. Condos within easy walking distance to the GO Train. Young couples will snap those up quickly, I suspect. So we found out from John what the lands adjacent to him went for. The brothers, who own the property, are figuratively sitting on a gold mine when it's time to pack up and move operations into their future St. Catharine's brewery.

As for the big move, no exact timeline yet but within the next year or two.
Their Cheeky Bastard Stout has been their big
Movember fund-raiser with 25 cents from each
can sold being pledged to the men's health
movement. I heard they were sitting at about
$1,000 so far so that's 4,000 cans sold this month.

We also inadvertently found out who's been contract-brewing their core line of beers while they sort out the new brewery issues. As you know, Collective Arts was doing it but that deal fell apart. And since the Drury Lane brewery is jammed, cranking out Funk Lab recipes, someone had to brew the core line-up - Headstock, Naughty Neighbour, Equilibrium ESB, Wicked Awesome, etc. So when John mentioned the core line-up being brewed elsewhere, Bill simply asked him by whom. And he told us.

Well, here's the thing. That's been the brewery's best-guarded secret for months. Even with all my contacts there, no one was budging on the name. As soon as John named them, I was like, "Uhhh, I'm pretty sure we're not supposed to know that." So John instantly swore us to secrecy. But, trust me, Nickel Brook's core line-up could not be in better hands.

In the end, John probably talked to us for about an hour. I can't even remember all the subjects now, other than to say it was all very informative and entertaining. And through that hour, John's phone kept buzzing. It was his parents as he had promised to be there by X o'clock. He is literally in the same boat as me - taking care of an elderly parent. Well, two, in his case. You do what you gotta do, eh?
Nickel Brook retail manager Rob Nagy mans the
drums with his band, The Saturnines, during the
Nickel Brook 2017 Oktoberfest fund-raiser. So
I'll see him tonight at the big Movember Party!

But before he left, we were talking about the potential condo development since it's already started on the east side of the GO Station so, it's only a matter of time. He pointed out that all these new condos around the GO stations have retail outlets on the first floors, mostly so condo owners could do a quick shop or grab a quick bite when they got home. So it's usually places such as Rabba's Fine Foods, Pizza Pizza, Subway and the like.

He wants to be part of that. He wants a Nickel Brook bar or retail outlet in there. Why? To thank the Burlington community for their years of support and more importantly, keep the brewery's connection to the area alive. "I think that'd be great," he told us. "A satellite place to wherever (we land). But still here in Burlington."

Granted, this is all crystal ball star-gazing at this point. Because they're still here!! And frankly, I have bigger fish to fry at the moment.

You see, Nickel Brook is holding their Great Movember Wrap-Up Party tonight from 6 to 9 pm at the new Tap Room. I made sure I had a day shift just to maximize my Nickel Brook Hairy Face Time! (So, you know... attend.)
You know who loves himself some Nickel Brook? Yupper do,
our man Drunk Polkaroo, shown here exploring last year's
Nickel Brook Mystery Pack. Like me, Polk voted for C, the
New England IPA, which became Wicked Awesome IPA
early this year. Frankly, it was the only choice and won with
ease. Although others got votes, as well. That disturbs me...
There'll be a Best Mov contest, a big Mov Shave-Off, before and after pics and, hey now, food by Dundas eatery Thirsty Cactus. Sounds great, right?

It would be but... well, I'm having Mov issues. You see that sweet stashe in my headshot up top? Thick, brown with distinguished flecks of gray? That was taken five years ago. And while the hair on my head is still the same colour, the stashe, well, it's all gray now. And I want it to show up in pictures, which it kinda won't.

I took my problem to my coworker, Trey, the King of Halloween Costumes, and explained I could go the Just For Men route and make it brown for the night. But I added it would be more fun if I could make it orange or blue. I could even win the contest! Trey, as always, had the answer. "Go to a dollar store. Find a make-up kit for little girls. It'll have mascara to colour your moustache. But it has to be for little girls because it's non-toxic!" Okay, one, how does he know this shit? And two, what the hell kind of toxicity is in adult women's mascara? So I'll see some of you folks tonight at the new Tap Room with my sweet blue stashe, courtesy of my Party Princess Make-Up Fun kit, which cost me $1.50. But Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am out of here. Trust me, pictures to follow. Until next time, I remain...

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

From Oshawa to Oakville... and back

My boy, David, and Eric Dornan, co-owner of All Or Nothing
Brewhouse, as well as Trafalgar Ale and Meads and Trafalgar
Distillery, strike the common All Or Nothing stance. That of
their boxer cartoon mascot, Cornelius. While the guys set up shop
in Oakville back in 2016, they will soon be headed back to Oshawa.
The first time I met brothers, Eric and Jeff Dornan, co-owners of All Or Nothing Brewhouse was the Summer of 2014 when they attended the Burlington Beer Festival down in Spencer Smith Park on the lake.

Having just created the brewery a few months prior, it was their first public outing and their first ever Beer Festival. Except for a small handful of Oshawa residents, their city of origin, I was among the first to sample what was then called Underdog Hopfenwiesse, their only beer.

Eventually, the "Underdog" had to be dropped as another Ontario brewery was using the name for their pale ale. Rather than fight the cease-and-desist, they took the fiscally-prudent approach and simply used their brewery name as the beer name. I mean, it was their only beer and coming as it does in a bright yellow can, it's not like it's going to get confused with another. But the beer itself, using three malts and four hops, has long been a favourite - a German wheat with some west coast zing.
This would be Eric and Jeff Dornan's rookie card,
their first ever Beer Festival in Burlington on a very
soggy Saturday in Spencer Smith Park back in 2014.

I met the guys again that Autumn on the Toronto Craft Brews Cruise on Lake Ontario - every time I saw these two, water was near - but then it would be two years again before our paths crossed.

That would have a 2016 happenstance meeting in the parking lot of Hopedale Mall in Oakville, the same place my Beer Store was the time. I was on a break and as I wandered across the parking lot, I spotted their All Or Nothing Austin Mini. I stopped to take a few shots with my phone and the next thing I heard was, "Don, is that you?" It was Eric calling out as the pair approached their car. It is turned out they were at a lawyer's office in the mall, signing up the paperwork to take possession of Trafalgar Ales and Meads and Trafalgar Distillery.

The brothers had their work cut out for them, taking over the Oakville establishment. For starters, they had to bring in a canning line as all of Trafalgar's product was bottled. As for the existing equipment, well, let's just say that Trafalgar Ale and Meads was established in 1993 and a healthy portion of the existing vats looked like the original parts some 23 years later.
That chance meeting with Eric and Jeff Dornan back in June 2016, just
after they left the lawyer's office and took possession of Trafalgar Ales
and Mead. Now after two years, the guys are shifting their equipment
back to Oshawa, re-opening their brewery in a discarded Beer Store.

So yeah, work was needed. Lots of work. And the pair did exactly that. Salvaged would they could and pitched the rest. A tour these days shows the fruits of their labour over the past two years. Stainless steel here, there and everywhere. And so much cleaner.

You see, I know this first-hand as my son, David, and I popped in last week to talk to Eric. Just a friendly hello? Well, yes, of course but also a fact-finding mission.

You see, early last week, the brewery announced it would be shifting its operation back to Oshawa in the old Beer Store, located at 439 Ribson Road South.
One of the things that impressed my son the most when
we popped into All Or Nothing was that all the vats had
names. When Eric pointed out the ones named after his
father and grandfather, David's eyes just lit up. He digs
family connections. Plus they're all big, silver and shiny.
So when I tagged my Oshawa friends, notably Beer Bro Glenn and Durham Carpenter of the Year Josh Beaven (it was a one-person competition and I was the sole judge) on the Facebook announcement, response was, of course, resoundingly positive.

After the emergence of four stellar breweries in nearby Whitby - Brock St, 5 Paddles, Little Beasts and Town Brewing - Glenn was thrilled Oshawa was gaining an established brewery in his town. And he was a fan of the new location.

"They closed that (Beer Store) a couple of years ago after building a fancier one in the Costco Plaza, near where I live," Glenn noted. "But every time I passed the old Beer Store, practically daily, I would think, 'There's a cool spot for a brewery.' No lie."

 Josh, on the other hand, said, "I've known about this for a while! Glad it's finally official and announced." The thing is we all kinda knew. It was the "where" and "when" that were the questions. You see, even when they left a small industrial plaza in Oshawa to come to Oakville, the brothers always made one thing perfectly clear. That their loyalty lay in Oshawa.
It doesn't look like much here but... The abandoned Beer Store at 439
Ritson Road South in Oshawa, build back in the 1950s, is actually two
floors, covering over 20,000 square feet. To the right in this picture, if it
wasn't cropped, you would see a driveway down to the lower level. This
is obviously just the front facade. But it's gonna look sweet very shortly.

When I talked to the guys during their 2016 transition into Oakville, they made it clear that their roots were in Oshawa, maintaining an administrative office there. Let's face it - with good reason. For starters, you have two brewery owners making the commute from Oshawa to Oakville, more than a few times a week. That blows chunks. That's 200 km (125 miles) round-trip through some of the worst traffic Canada has to offer.

So even as an Oakville resident myself, I'm happy the guys are making the big move back. Eric told me while the keys to the new place would be in their hands on December 1st, we all know it'll be months before the all-new All Or Nothing is up and running - setting up the vats, proper drainage, electrical work - the list goes on and on. The boys are hoping for a Spring opening. But that's a "without hiccups" scenario.
The present facade of All Or Nothing/Trafalgar on
Speers Road in Oakville. Look a good look, folks,
because it's not going to be here much longer.

In their media release, Eric was enthusiastic about the return to Oshawa, saying, "We look forward to coming back to where our company started and to help further revitalize Oshawa through job creation and large strategic capital investments in the community."

But I was, of course, curious. How much of the old Trafalgar brews would be returning to Oshawa with them? One thing the old Trafalgar Ales and Meads specialized in was... meads (as the name possibly suggests.) A big favourite of the Vikings back in the day, to be certain, but a beverage that never really caught the attention of modern-day society.

Jeff said a couple of the meads would still be created in Oshawa, simply because they do have their fans. And what of the distillery portion of the business, something created by former-Trafalgar owner Mike Arnold several years back?

Oh yes, Eric said, that was most definitely continuing in Oshawa. "A brewery you do for yourself," he told me. "A distillery you do for your grandchildren." (Meaning simply it takes years to established a proper distillery, based on the lengthy production time booze takes to become... well, booze.)
When we first met the brothers, they were adamant they were going the
Steam Whistle route and brewing just one beer - their Hopfenweiss. But
since landing in Oakville, they've added a couple to their repertoire. So
I grabbed a Persistence Czech Pilsner and an America Amber (in a
funny little 296-ml can), as well as a glass while the guys were still here.

And while I believe the brothers' purchase of Trafalgar saw a vast improvement in the quality of the core line-up, the fact is I'm an Oakville boy. So what I believe might seem suspect... that I'm perhaps a homer. If only I could find a couple of expert voices from, say, Toronto that agreed with me. Oh wait, I did.

In The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, a book co-authored by respected beerologists (Spellcheck is telling me that's not a word - leaving it anyway) Robin LeBlanc and Jordan St John looked at the Black Creek Historic Brewery on their Most Improved list.
Hey, look, cartoon mascot Cornelius gets a quote
on the wall at the entrance of the grain silo area.
Also it turns out he has a last name, Das Weisse.
Hold on! That's German for "the white" meaning,
of course, a wheat beer. These guys are so sneaky,
After first looking at the Black Creek brewery, the pair shifts their attention Oakville's way.

"Outside the village, however, the beers are brewed through a partnership with Trafalgar Ales and Meads in Oakville, where the modern equipment yields a more consistent product that can be regularly produced for bars and the LCBO."

But here's the part where the Dornan brothers make an entrance. "With All Or Nothing's purchase of Trafalgar in June of 2016... the beers brewed in Oakville have since undergone a dramatic improvement in quality and consistency as equipment has been updated and methods made more refined. This is excellent news for drinkers of Black Creek Historic Brewery who, for whatever reasons, can't visit the historic brewery and have grown fond of such beers as the Rifleman's Ration, the Pumpkin Ale and their famous Porter."

There you go. If you don't want to take it from me, take it from a couple of pros. We'll keep you updated on their progress as All Or Nothing makes its shift back to Oshawa. But Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Back soon with a Nickel Brook update on their new Tap Room. But until then, later, skaters...

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

A close call on that New England Octopus

This Thursday, October 8 photo was posted on Twitter by Steve, one of
Southern Ontario Beer Boys (@SOBeerBoys). It was the day that Great
Lake Brewing in Etobicoke released this year's batch of Thrust! An IPA.
The beer had just been kegged that morning so yeah, Steve, was singing
its praises. Understandably so. But there was an ominous mention at the
end about a "mystery release" the next day and I was tagged on it. Hmm
I get tagged on a lot of Twitter posts when it comes to Ontario craft beer and breweries, just as I tag a great many others. It's all part of the social media game. If you learn about something great or even something not so great happening, you share that info with your friends.

So when Steve of Southern Ontario Beer Boys (@SOBeerBoys) tagged me on an October 8th post, I naturally took a look. It was a picture of Thrust! An IPA, which had just been released by Etobicoke's Great Lakes Brewing.

That, in and of itself, is solid intel to a guy like me. The beer comes out once a year, I love it and I don't wanna miss it. So honestly, I thought, "Good on ya, buddy. Thanks for the heads-up! Much appreciated."
I was going to wait until Sunday to visit Great Lakes Brewing with this
young fellow named David. But I was warned by Steve that their new
release, New England Style Octopus Wants to Fight IPA would not make
it to Sunday, despite its Friday release. He was right. Gone by Saturday!

You see, Steve and I, as well as Charles, my inside sales rep from Nickel Brook Brewing, all share a kinship. We're all dangerously addicted to the Oak Park LCBO at Dundas and Trafalgar in Oakville. Both Charles and I live five minutes away. Steve passes it every night on his way home from work. And why is that so dangerous, you may wonder? Well, here's the thing. The man in the store in charge of ordering beer goes by the name of Josh. Because that's his name. So he says. He could be in the Witness Relocation Program. We don't know. But Josh brings in some of the best Ontario craft beer into that store. Last week, I walked in to buy my Mom a bottle of wine for a lunch she was going to.
This photo of Hollywood director-producer-actor Kevin Smith
was posted on Twitter by Toronto arcade/bar Tilt Toronto in
early November when Smith was in the city. Sandwiched in
between the taps for Canuck Pale Ale and Octopus Wants To
Fight IPA is Great Lakes Brewing's Tilt Brau Blonde Lager. 
I walked out $65 lighter from the briefest of pit-stops in their craft beer section. Dammit, Josh, you're making a shambles of our bank accounts! (Also, God bless you. You spoil us. Keep doing that.)

Okay, back to Steve's Twitter post. As well as digging the Thrust because it was "Fresh AF!", he added, "Loved this beer and chatting with Cole behind the taps. Psst... he shared a secret about a mystery release tomorrow. You are going to want this! No, really! Especially you @BeerStoreDude. #wow."

So anyway, on Twitter, I'm Beer Store Dude and of course, I wanna know what the mystery beer is. Steve knows my tastes run from hoppy to hoppier all the way up to hoppiest. Turn that Hop Dial up to 11. I'm a simple man. Ridiculously simple, in fact. Moronic, some might say. So, anyway, I ask, any hints?

Well, this is where GLB jumps onto the thread. And by GLB, I mean Troy Burtch, their manager of communications and marketing. So he's their Twitter guy, too.
THIS was the super-secret big deal. GLB
made a batch of their Octopus Wants To
Fight IPA with Vermont yeast, rather than
California yeast, giving it an east coast spin.
Now, Troy, though speaking only for GLB, was an outstanding spokesperson for the entire Ontario craft beer industry on TV during that whole Doug Ford buck-a-beer fiasco. Seriously, he killed it, pointing out how inane it was, though in far more diplomatic words. I would have been all "Does this guy have a metal plate in his head?"

So Troy (as GLB) jumped on the thread and says, "Thrust! An IPA." So his hint was the beer I was looking at in Steve's picture. Helluva hint there, big guy.

I try again, saying, yes, I know Thrust is out. I can see that. About that mystery beer, though? His answer: "Frust! An IPA." Okay, at this point I'm thinking Troy's now just making up words, probably the end result of too many Canuck Pale Ales. (He actually wasn't - we'll get to that in a minute. Although the "too many Canucks" guess is as likely as not.)

The mystery beer is still unknown so I decide to go to sleep. I'll find out in the morning like everyone else. And I did. When I woke up, I clicked on GLB's Twitter and there it was - the mystery release. New England Style Octopus Wants To Fight IPA. Three words. Ho. Lee. Shit. The Etobicoke brewery canned up 2,400 of them (100 cases) for a limited special release. It's the basic Octopus, one of Ontario's most popular IPAs, with Vermont yeast, rather than the California yeast.
Okay, I was under the impression when I landed first in line on Saturday
morning that there were only 10 trays of this left. So I just bought 12 and
frankly, I felt guilty about that. I thought, "I'm wiping out 5% of their
remaining stock!!" Then I saw guys grabbing trays of it behind me and
realized I was being far too "polite Canadian" about it. Happy to get it!

Of course, I don't have to tell Ontario craft beer lovers this was a must-have beer. So I messaged Steve and said I would grab him a couple as I knew he couldn't make it back to the brewery last weekend.

Well, when GLB opened Friday morning, the crafties descended like locusts. Still, I thought, hey, I'm picking up my son, David, after work Saturday and we love a good father-son brewery trip. We'll go Sunday and grab some. By Friday night, Steve alerted me to some urgency on the matter.

Based on what he read on Instagram and Twitter, the New England Style Octopus Wants To Fight IPA was damn near cleaned out by Friday close. He figured from what he had seen that maybe 10 cases or so remained.

Okay, then, change of plans. I didn't work until Saturday afternoon so at 9:30 am, I took my coffee traveler and hit the QEW. GLB opened at 10 am and at 9:55 am, I was first in line. So I was good. I just grabbed a dozen, plus a few other goodies, including Troy's not-made-up-at-all Frust, An IPA and, as I said, Thrust! had just come out so, of course...

So there we go. Scored some of those New England Octos and sitting pretty, am I right?
Okay, what I thought was addled babbling by GLB communications
manager Troy Burtch was an actual thing. That would be Frust! An IPA
in the 1L howler, surrounded by fresh-AF Thrust! An IPA which was
just released on Thursday. Frust is a Thrust hybrid with passionfruit
added along the way. Different colour, different flavour but damn good!
Well, yes and no. I mean, now I have to divvy them up. I had promised Steve a pair. So down to 10. Of course, I have to give Drunk Polkaroo a couple. That's down to eight. Hmmm, I had to think of friends far enough away, that they had NO chance of getting their hands on this so I figured Dan in Sudbury, Beer Bro Glenn in Oshawa, Barrie Beer Bro Hago and hey, of course, Nepean Beer Store Brother Ben.

That left me with four. I'm good with that. I don't need 12. Later, I would find out there was more than 10 trays left. Probably closer to 30. But you know what? It was still gone just past noon on Saturday. So I'm glad that Steve sent me the SOS. Better safe than sorry.
Thrust! An IPA, meet Triple-A Angus striploin steaks!
I thought this would be my last snow-free BBQ of the
 year. Today is still mild enough that another snow-free
BBQ is on the docket. Which GLB beer will be there?
Well, I'm not sure yet. We'll see when it's time to cook!

Now it's interesting because when Polk had his New England Octopus, he posted a video about it, singing its praises. But he also singled me out for getting it to him because he couldn't get there, also praising my wont to share these beers. And that's cool hearing kudos being aimed in your direction... not gonna lie. But the thing is there's a whole core of us that have been doing this for a while. As well as Polk, Beer Bro Glenn goes without saying. He has brought me tons of great Ontario beer, as well as American beers from Stone and others. Stuff from Manantler, Little Beasts and others in his neck of the woods that I would have missed. Barrie Beer Bro Hago is likewise with Redline Brewing, a big favourite of mine in Barrie and oddly enough, 5 Paddles Brewing in Whitby. I think he passes through often for the exclusive purpose of visiting them. And Nepean Beer Store Brother Ben? Holy shit, from Ben, I've received the best Ottawa craft brewers have to offer, including some mind-boggling beers from Dominion City Brewing, a brewery I now believe might be one of Canada's best.

So yeah, I'll include Polk's video at the end because he describes the New England Style Drunk Octopus Wants To Fight IPA beautifully.
I can't believe I've never had a GLB Miami Weiss White Pale Ale
before this past Summer. I mean, I've been at this for over five years
and somehow this has eluded me. But damn, what a great combo of
a great German wheat and a west coast pale ale. Please bring it back!
But when you watch it, remember, every time he says my name, he could be saying his own... or Glenn's... or Ben's... or Hago's. Sharing hard-to-find beers is what we've always done. I think it never dawned on any of us to do anything but that. Not to sound lame but why enjoy a great, hard-to-get beer by yourself when your friends could also be enjoying it, too?

Okay, before I end this, time to let you in on a little secret. Octopus Wants To Fight IPA is not the only established GLB beer that's gonna get the New England Style funky yeast treatment. I know which of their beers is next. And, folks, it's a doozy. You'll be gobsmacked! But I cannot tell you. Okay, for $2.7 million, I will tell you but you have to keep it secret. No cheques. Also don't ask Troy unless you wanna hear the word "Frust" over and over. Anyway, here's Polk's review of the New England Octo called: Sharing Is Caring. But Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Share your beers and hey, later, skaters...