Monday, 18 June 2018

Liquid Arts Fest was killer!

Barrie Beer Brother Hago snapped this picture of me in front of one
of the many murals that literally got painted on the brewery's outer
walls during the Liquid Art Festival on June 15-16. I thought the
art would be a component that I wouldn't pay much attention to. I
was wrong as watching the murals being created was fascinating.
Everything went right. That is probably the easiest (and laziest) way to describe Collective Arts Brewing's Liquid Art Festival this past weekend on June 15-16.

The weather cooperated, especially at the Saturday afternoon session that Barrie Beer Brother Hago and myself attended. And believe me, I have been at many Beer Fests that weren't so fortunate. Nothing but blue sky and sunshine for us that day.

The collection of breweries from around the world was phenomenal. I tried beers from all over America and Europe, some of which I'll get to eventually in this space.

The two bands we saw on Saturday afternoon, Toronto's Twist and Philadelphia's Mt. Joy were talented, lively and professional, particularly the latter.

And the art - the part of the event I honestly didn't think I'd pay much attention to - man, it was absolutely captivating me. Watching countless artists, all using spray-paint, turn various gray, boring, humongous walls into eye-popping art. No lie, I just kept pausing just to watch. These guys were up on these huge industrial cranes... it was too cool.

I'll be honest here. Going in, I figured, hey man, 51 breweries from around the world, including Japan and Iceland, in one setting, that's the big draw for me. Who gives a damn about music and art? Turns out in the end, I did, very much to my surprise.
I nicked this picture off Collective Arts' Facebook page. That's me and
Hago on the left waving. If you can't see us, please have your eyes exam
sooner rather than later. Actually, what you can see on the left is some of
the murals painted on walls as over 2,500 square feet of boring grey were
turned into something far more colourful over the three-session, two-day
Beer Festival that emphasized art and music as much as it did brewers!
Talk about a perfectly-executed triple play - beer to music to art - that ended up nailing the perfect troika.

Again, to play off my opening line, I knew it was gonna be good but I don't think either Hago or I were anticipating it was going to be this damn good. 

But before I wade in too deep, a quick word about my buddy, Hago. As you may know, I take a lot of trips to Las Vegas, the last five times solo. I will happily talk to anyone and everyone while there. And I do. I'm not shy in the least. But next to Hago, I honestly look like a frikkin' introvert. Put this man into any social setting and he's off and running. He works a crowd better than Oprah.
Okay, why am I telling you the Story Of John The Security Guard?
For this reason. He see that Joker tattoo on his arm? (He has Groot
and Rocket Raccoon on the other.) Well, John was at a Comic Con a
few years back and one of the guests was Mark Hamill, better known
as both Luke Skywalker and the voice of The Joker on the Batman
cartoon show. Hamill sees his tat and pulls him aside for a photo and
an autograph. For free. It cost other people at the Comic Con $1,000
for the same thing. John told us it was the coolest thing ever for him.
Surround him with craft beer lovers? Talk about a man among his people. He was having a field day at this.

Not that I was sitting on my thumbs, mind you, because, well, who actually does that? Sounds like a good way to break them, frankly.

I got a chance to introduce Hago to Joe and Lindsey Mrav, the husband and wife team that opened up Grain & Grit Small Batch Beer in an old auto garage on Ewan Road in East Hamilton late last year. Numerous trips there, including ones with Beer Bro Glenn and my son, David, have made me fairly easy-to-spot for the amiable couple. (David got to regale Joe with a story about how cool the movie, Black Panther, was. That was Joe's mistake because he asked David what he had done that day. That's all it takes. But bless him, Joe smiled and took it all in.) My first question to them was basically who's at the brewery since I've only ever seen Joe, Lindsey and one other person working there. Like, every single time. They assured me they had covered it off. Well... okay, then.

They, in turn, got to talk to us about one of the two beers they brought - Max's Big Ride, a 5.5%, 57 IBU Milkshake IPA with peach and vanilla. Turns out Max's Big Ride is a charity-event in the name of a seven-year-old local youngster named Max who has a rare genetic disorder called Duchenne muscular dystrophy that halts any muscle growth. So for the past two years, his parents have organized three events to help fund-raise for a cure.
Lindsey and Joe Mrav, owners of Hamilton's Grain & Grit
Small Batch Beer, explained to Hago and myself how Max's
Big Ride Milkshake IPA came about and how some of the
proceeds go directly to a specific charity. Just a great job!
So Lindsey and Joe got involved this year, creating the beer that contained Max's two favourite milkshake ingredients - peach and vanilla. When they released it on June 10, all of proceeds from the tap sales that day went to the charity. Since then, 50 cents a can goes to the same thing. People like these two are why Hamilton has become such a cool place to visit and for some of my friends, live.

But we also met some familiar Twitter friends while there. While Hago and I were basking in the beer-filled atmosphere, Jen Heaslip (@crftbeernkittns) and well-known Toronto beer writer Mike Burton (@beermostly) spotted us and came over to say hey. Like us, both were having a fantastic day in the sun. Mike confessed the only complaint he had was the people who complained online about the Friday night session. It seems everyone and their mothers' basement where they live knows how they would have done it better. News Flash: No, you wouldn't, not even close so go troll your local Dairy Queen or something. It's funny because on Sunday, I posted on Twitter about how great everything was at the Liquid Art Festival with a picture of the event glass.
When a pretty lady from Toronto radio station, Indie88, offered up free
high fives, Hago was onboard! Hell, so was I. The Price Was Right, eh?
Instantly, some guy I don't follow and who doesn't follow me jumped on to say it could have been done better. I guess he saw it because I hash-tagged the event.

But the fact is I know what Collective Arts spent on this event and while I won't say how much, it's a fargin' huge chunk of cash. I could retire easily on it. They won't make money. In fact, they'll lose it. A shit-ton. But to them, what the brewery is trying to build here is important. Think about it. Bringing in breweries from around the world costs a little more than pocket change. So - what's the diplomatic way to say this? - take your complaints and shove them up your ass. Because 99.99% of us had a blast.  Keep your chirps among the 0.01% of you. (Sorry, that's a downer. But I'm weary of online keyboard warriors griping about everything good. I'll stop now.)
Brewer Paulie from Thin Man Brewing in Buffalo
offers me up their Burning Money IPA, a dandy 6.6%
New England style with a big citrus and melon aroma.

And it was great to meet Jen who I tag in a lot of beer photos because I dig her enthusiasm. Hell, I've used her pictures in this. She was wearing her Society of Beer Drinking Ladies ball-cap so I had to ask her how those Beer Fest events they hold were because man, they look like a blast. They were exactly that, she told me. She said while she sometimes doesn't get along with other women in social settings, the comradery at the SOBDL events was completely the opposite. "I can walk in there without knowing a single person and walk out with 25 new friends," she smiled. Very cool.

But it was Mike who did me a huge solid when he steered me towards the Twin Sails Brewing booth out of Port Moody, BC, suggesting I would love their Diamonds Are For Never Honey Oat Double IPA, assuring me, "You'll really like it. And the brewer is there and happy to talk." (My one complaint? That I forgot to get a picture of Jen and Mike when they were standing right there in front of me!!! Bloody rookie move.) Diamonds ended up being one of my favourites of the day. Mike seems to know the styles I favour the most. (So IPAs... following by other IPAs.)
What are the odds of TWO guys wearing Flying Monkeys' "What
Would Jesus Brew?" T-shirts being at the same session at a Hamilton
Beer Fest,  miles away from Barrie, be? I don't know but I wish I had
bet big on it because here's Hago and Sergei both wearing that shirt.

Okay, by the end of the three-and-a-half hour session, I had enjoyed nine beers from around the world and I gotta be frank, every single one was solid. I've already told you about Max's Big Ride and Diamonds (again, great call, Mike) so let's see what else was on the play-list?

There was Magic Rock Brewing's (Huddersfield, UK) Damn Son!, a 6.5% Sour Damson IPA (tasty pucker-face), Two Roads Brewing's 8.2% (Stratford, Connecticut) Two Juicy New England IPA (juicy was bang on the money), Brewski Brewing's (Heisenberg, Sweden) 6% Dolph Double Dry-Hopped IPA (Sweden's onboard with the hops and doing it right), Left Field Brewing (Toronto - local so try this one - a Hago recommendation and he totally called it) 6% Whip Smoothie IPA with passionfruit, orange and guava, Thin Man Brewing's (Buffalo) Burning Money NEIPA (mentioned above).
Again, another picture I plunked directly from the
Facebook account of Collective Arts. What can I
say? I liked it. For starters, I now want to try the
beer that's in that glass because I like the colour.
Okay, two more to go but anyone sensing a pattern here as to beer style? Like I said, Mike nailed it. And finally, Civil Society Brewing (Jupiter, Florida) 7.5% Weapon of Choice IPA (tons of tropical fruit but the best malt backbone of the day) and lastly 18th Street Brewing's (Hammond, Indiana) and their 8.9% Overlords Revenge Double IPA (citrus but despite its ABV, one of the smoother beers there.)

On a final note, when I was watching Philly's Mt. Joy play in the bandshell, I noticed something. While the four guys were doing their kick-ass rock dudes thing, the serene keyboardist and back-up singer Jackie Miclau was gazing out at the happy crowd while she played. Flashing smiles or nodding to whomever she locked eyes with. Like us, she was soaking in the off-stage vibe (as I'm sure the guys were in their own way) but I think she may have been connecting to what the rest of us were, as well. An environment beyond music. An environment that had three prongs just like Aquaman's sick-ass spectre - great music plus really top-flight craft beer aided and abetted by a healthy dollop of wild free-form art. So Collective Arts, you know what you can do better next year? Nothing. Just match this year's Liquid Art Festival because this guy's got plenty more time for that. Hago, my brother, next year, the weekend pass. There was over 120 beers there... and I had nine. I need more! Okay, Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...



Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Liquid Arts Fest is bringing it!!

I'm not sure we'll ever see a collective (pun intended) of
outstanding international craft breweries as we will this
weekend at Collective Arts' Liquid Arts Festival on June
15 and 16. Well, that is, until they do it again next year.
Okay, if Collective Arts Brewing from Hamilton held a Beer Festival at their Burlington Street location featuring just themselves with a handful of great bands and artists working on walls and murals everywhere, it would be pretty cool. Definitely colourful, right?

But hey, on second thought, maybe they should amp it up a little and include the other Hamilton freshman and sophomore craft breweries, such as Grain & Grit Small Batch Beer, Fairweather Brewing, Merit Brewing and Clifford Brewing. That would be five great breweries and a beer fest with a truly Hamilton-centric theme, which would kick some serious ass.

But when Collective Arts decided to throw the Liquid Arts Festival this Friday night and then two more sessions on Saturday, they had a real "Holy shit, hold my beer! Here's an even better idea!" moment.
From their Facebook page, here's the band best known to
me, Jane's Party - probably because they've been around
since 2006. They and Charly Bliss are playing the Friday
night session (6-9:30pm) while Mt. Joy and Twist will hit
the stage for the Saturday afternoon slot (12:30-4pm) and
The Beaches and Lost Cousins will close it out on the final
Saturday night show (6-9:30 pm.) Burlington Street will
be getting a very fun musical atmosphere this weekend.
How about six bands, a healthy handful of artists (because art has always been entrenched in the brewery's Modus operandi since Day One) and 50 more breweries on top of themselves for the two days? Yes, fifty... 5-0. Not just from the GTA. Not just from Ontario. Hell, not even nation-wide. Try world-wide!!!

The best news? You won't have to wait long. It's all happening starting this Friday night (6-9:30 pm) with two more sessions on Saturday from 12:30 to 4 pm and again at 6 to 9:30 pm. Tickets are $60 for each session unless you want the $100 VIP Mothership package, which give you a seven-ounce glass as opposed to five-ounce. Oh and for the poor folks stuck pulling designated driver duty, there's a no-alcohol ticket for $30 because hey, great art, great tunes, great times! I'll include the link at the end.

Ready for the list of visiting breweries? Get in your comfy chair because this is gonna take a while. Omnipollo (Sweden), Mikkeller (Denmark), Les Trois Mousquetaires (Quebec), People Like Us (Denmark)... whoa, Bellwoods (Toronto)?
One of the places you will not see me this weekend is at
the three Beer Yoga sessions. I love beer and it's nothing
personal about yoga but my body no longer bends that
way. They'd be carrying me out on a stretcher. And no
one likes to see an ambulance at a beer fest. Not pretty.
I'm whoaing on that because Bellwoods does not do beer fests except their own. Like ever. Okay, continuing on... Aslin (Virginia), Moon Dog (Australia), Brewski (Sweden), Finback (New York), Dieu Du Ciel! (Quebec), Dageraad (Burnaby, BC), Civil Society (Florida), Voodoo (Pennsylvania), Dugges (Sweden), Garage Beer (Spain), Lamplighter (Massachusetts), Cruz Blanca (Chicago), Dunham (Quebec), Twin Sails (Port Moody, BC), Weird Beard (UK), B Nektar (Michigan), Revel Cider (Guelph), Other Half (New York), Half Hours on Earth (Seaforth, Ontario), West Ave Cider (Freelton, Ontario), Great Lakes (Etobicoke - so ours, not Cleveland's), Pohjala (Estonia), Marz Community (Illinois), Wild Beer (UK), Evil Twin (Denmark), To Ol (Denmark), Magic Rock (UK), Transient (Michigan), Stillwater (New York) 18th Street (Indiana), Two Roads (Connecticut), Dry & Bitter (Denmark), Thin Man (Buffalo), Founders (Michigan - colour me happy - one of my all-time American favourites!) Sorry, got sidetracked there!
Collective Arts Communications Manager
Toni Shelton gave us insights as to how this
Beer Fest was all pulled together, as well as
answer a query that has stumped apiarists
(those who study bees) for decades now...
Okay, moving along... Barrier (New York), Sloop (New York), Graft Cider (New York), Threes (New York), Coedo (Japan), Four Winds (Delta, BC), Kex (Iceland) and finally, hey those four other Hamilton brewers we talked about way back in paragraph two!

No beer festival like this... of this magnitude... with all these international breweries has ever been pulled off or pulled together before, at least not in Ontario and probably not Canada. So how did Collective Arts do it? Well for that, we had to chat with Toni Shelton, the brewery's Communications Manager. So, Toni, what's it's been like throwing something this humongous together?

"From the day we pressed 'go' on the fest, it's been full throttle ahead. I'd like to tell you we had it all figured out the second we announced but it's been a six month process. We've been lucky enough to be invited to beer festivals around the world so we've made some amazing brewer friends that are jumping onboard even though it's our first festival." 

How about those bands and artists? The artists alone are taking over 2,500 square feet as a urban art gallery that will stay put after the beer fest is done.
During the last weekend in May, the Canadian Brewing
Awards touched down in Halifax and Collective Arts won a
big one - Best Imperial IPA for Radio the Mothership! It
won "Gold, Jerry, gold!" The awards keep piling on...
"On the music front, we knew we wanted to curate the best in up-and-coming artists and the connections we've made through our 'Call for Art Program' helped there. The response has been amazing so far so without the support from all these people, this ambitious goal would be a pipe dream." 

While there are still tickets left for all three sessions (but hurry if you want Friday), Toni said response was immediate. "The day we launched ticket sales, the response was overwhelming! We sold almost 500 tickets in one day. As the music line-up and breweries were announced, the buzz has just been an uphill climb in a good way."

But because we were talking on Twitter DM, I had to be sure this was actually her and not some pre-programmed cyberbot. So I threw in a skill-testing question, which was, "According to every Law of Aerodynamics, the wings of a bubblebee should not able to support the weight of its body. So how does it fly?" Toni answered quickly, "They're aliens, obviously." Holy shit, she got it on her first try! Okay, here's the link to Liquid Arts Festival, entitled: This Gonna Be Cray Cray... Plus here's an interesting one the fest put out for us hopheads called: Ten IPAs You Gotta Try At Liquid Arts Fest!!! But Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...



Saturday, 26 May 2018

Looking at Ontario Craft Lagers 2.0

Sean from Side Launch Brewing, who was something
of a mountain himself (I came up to his chin), holds a
cold can of Side Launch Mountain Lager, just after its
release in the Spring of 2016. Sean was at the annual
Rib Eye Jack's Streetsville Beer Fest to serve us all!!
You ever get the feeling that "Hmmm, something's missing here?" Your phone? Your wallet? Your car keys? Any shred of dignity you once had? (Just the dignity one? Okay, that's cool because you still have your phone, right?)

Well, I got that the other day. You see, the ink (What ink? This is the Interwebs) was barely dry on my last column about some top-flight Ontario Craft Lagers when the Twitter folk struck with a passion over what was perceived to be a missing beer. A vengeful mob gathered outside my front door with Tiki torches and pitchforks.

Okay, perhaps I'm overselling it a little. It was actually just three guys on Twitter but they all said basically the same thing. "What about Side Launch Mountain Lager?" To those three gentlemen, let me say, "I assure you that I was not going to forget that crisp and delicious beauty from our good friends in Collingwood!!" (To everyone else... I totally forgot it. D'oh!) Brewed in the German style as an answer to Czech pilsners, this 4.7%, 27 IBU lager is beautiful balanced without that slight (but perfect) bitterness at the end of a pilsner. So a very worthy addition of this list and I thank those three guys for reminding me. I looked everywhere and never did find my dignity so gentle reminders are always appreciated.
It always comes back to Drunk Polkaroo when you're talking good craft
beer in Ontario and here on his You Tube channel (please subscribe - it's
free!), Polk's reviewing the excellent Wellington Brewing Helles Lager...

And speaking of German styles, I have a couple of Helles Lagers to add to this list before we get to the hoppy lagers. I'm sure you're all familiar with, say, Becks, a traditional German lager? Well, think of Helles Lagers as that style but on good beer steroids. Not that there's anything wrong with those traditional lagers but keep in mind, the entire salad dressing industry thrives because basically, none of us like the taste of plain, washed lettuce. It's nice to add that palatable extra something-something to the mix.

First on deck, out of Guelph, would be Wellington Brewing's Helles Lager. This is only sold in six-pack, 355-ml (12 ounce) cans so there's a commitment there.
When I posted this on Twitter, I called it art entitled "Gaslight
by Nightlight" as my back door has a motion detector to scare
off both burglars and apparently the raccoons. Except for one
thing. You could shoot a flare gun at a raccoon and the damn
critter won't flinch. Trash Pandas are as fearless as they come.
I recognize that I'm asking you to make a $13.50 investment but I firmly believe it's a beer you'll love. Also a great one to treat your macro friends, should they stop by. It's always good to have a cross-over in your fridge and I think this beer and Steam Whistle Pilsner are your best bets. Just 4.5% and 17 IBUs, this has that grassy, grainy aroma and smooth, easy-drinking back-end. But man, it really pops on its carbonation! So for gawd sake, pour it in a glass to oxidize it. It's one of the few lagers I've enjoyed that maintains a slight head nearly to the end. Or maybe I just drink it that fast. That's entirely possible. As you can see from the above photo, Drunk Polkaroo has gone with his trusty Wellington tulip glass (a solid choice for nearly any style) whereas from the photo on the right, you'll see I opt for the curvy IPA-style glass.

Next on deck is a beer I enjoyed actually on the deck just the other night... or last week... I dunno, it was recent and where the hell are my car keys? The phone's charging so I know to look somewhere near electricity. Anyway, that beer would be Muddy York Brewing's (Toronto) Gaslight Helles Lager.
Another Polk production here and this time, he captures
Redline Brewing's (Barrie) Kollision Hoppy Lager. You
know, I'm always praising Polk's pics but really, what do
his have that mine don't... except proper focus, solid colour
balance and exactly-right exposure?? But aside from that??
This was exceptionally tasty and a solid reason I have to get to that within-an-hour brewery sometime this Summer. They make consistently great beer - period, end of sentence. And I'm glad I had this one before I wrote this. At a reasonable 18 IBU but a more up-there 5.4%, they use Bohemian malts and a "unique yeast strain" on this one, this was a solid starter beer after a late shift. No idea what that yeast strain was but it added some zing to this one. Or maybe it was the Bohemian malts. I have no idea. I'm not a brewer. But I do know this - lagers, especially tasty ones, are one of the hardest styles to brew because there's no dark malts or big-ass hops to hide behind. The style is the ultimate "The Emperor Has No Clothes" beer. You either nail it or it's a weak cuppa tea. This was full-flavoured for a lager. Beautiful job here.

Okay, these days, Ontario craft brewers have decided that, hey, there's nothing wrong with a little hop boink in a lager and have proceeded brewing them according. To them, I say... I worship you all with the same reverence I reserve for the All-Father Odin. So let's look at some hoppy lagers leading up to the one I think is the best in Ontario.
How much did I like Michael Duggan's Sorachi Lager? Well,
I drank it in my Excalibur Casino and Resort glass from Las
Vegas. That's one of the highest honours I can bestow upon a
beer. Clear and very golden, this had some great spicy taste!

The first time I sampled Redline Brewhouse's (Barrie) Kollision Hoppy Lager was at a Rib Eye Jack's Ale House Beer Fest back in October 2016. It was, hands down, the stand-out lager in an afternoon mostly dedicated to IPAs and the odd stout. Even within my criteria of pale-golden lagers only, it meets that with a lovely bit of haze as you can see from the picture. What former Brewmaster Sebastian McIntosh created was a traditional lager, using the usual malts and hops in the boil but dry-hopped it at the end with Cascade and Simcoe hops. That gives the 5.4%, 37 IBU brew some nice orange rind and grapefruit on the aroma followed by a bit more orange and citrus as it's going down. Lager with a definite punch to it.

I stumbled upon well-known Parkdale (Toronto) brewer Michael Duggan's Sorachi Lager not too long ago and came away very impressed. While it is an exceptionally light beer at 4% and just 15 IBUs, the addition of Sorachi hops give this a lemon nose and a bit of a spicy, peppery kick on the back end. Definitely, a light, refreshing Summer lager.
I have actually bought a dozen or so of the Railway City
Express India Session Lager as the weather turns much
warmer up here. For my money, this may be the second
best lager in the Province at the moment. Hoppy good!

The next one out of Saint Thomas comes from our friends at Railway City Brewing and has been available for months now at the LCBO - their Express India Session Lager. This one firmly falls into the Lager-Meets-An-IPA territory. In fact, in a blind taste-test, most of us would likely guess this was a Pale Ale. You've got orange and citrus in the aroma of this 4.8%, 18 IBU (it tastes much hoppier than that) pale gold beer but there's also some pine and the malts on the tongue. Sounds a lot like a Pale Ale, doesn't it? In fact, it won a Silver medal at the 2017 Canadian Brewing Awards in the Session Ale category, despite being a lager!! So clearly, I'm not the only one getting a huge ale vibe off this one. In fact, the 2018 Canadian Brewing Awards is happening right now in Halifax as you read this so we're always eager to see how Ontario breweries fare at these awards. Maybe I'll have another lager or two to add to my next treatise on this often-ignored style.

But that brings us to the beer that I think is far and away the finest lager in Ontario and has been for a while now. That would be my hometown homeys, Cameron's Brewing's 12 Mile India Pale Lager.
As far as I'm concerned, Cameron's Brewing's 12 Mile
India Pale Lager is THE best lager in the Province right
now. I'm not saying that because they're my hometown
brewery - I'm saying that because this is a delicious beer!
In fact, while the men and ladies at Cameron's just two minutes down the hill from me in Oakville do not presently have an IPA or pale ale on their everyday roster, it's not like Brewmaster Jason Britton is ignoring us hopheads altogether. While their outstanding Dark & Sticky India Brown Ale was recently relegated to seasonal status, the popularity of their even-better 12 Mile India Pale Lager has basically forced the beer's way onto the brewery's full-time brewing slate. Usually lagers are evening's starters - light fare to get the sunset session started before hitting the ales. But this one? It's so flavourful that you can drink it all night. And I have. On many occasions.

While it was formerly only available as one of four beers in their Brewmaster Selection Pack, a Bronze medal at the 2017 Canadian Brewing Awards (as well as a Country Winner at the 2017 World Beer Awards) may have turned the tables for this lager in terms of demand for it. Last August, the brewery finally announced its new fulltime status with Britton saying, "We are always listening to our beer fans and watching what is tantilizing their palates."
This one - Bellwoods Bellweiser Pilsner - made
me laugh hard at the name. Firstly,  Bellwoods
seldom makes a light style, leaning heavily on
the IPAs and dark styles. And secondly, I can't
believe they called it Bellweiser?? How have
they not received a 'cease and desist' on this??
"We launched 12 Mile last year (2016) in the 4-Pack and on draught. It was a relatively new beer style for us and quickly established a passionate following," he added of the 5.2%, 40 IBU lager. (Try finding any other lager at or above 40 IBUs.) Malted with 2-Row and Dextrapils, the hoppiness comes from the addition of Mosaic and Galaxy hops. Cameron's has, of course, a number of outstanding beers but this has been my favourite since it first came out in 2016. With its tropical fruit and citrus aroma and taste, it's the one lager that all IPA drinkers should try.

Okay, finally a pilsner that just simply made me laugh out loud when I saw its name. That would be Bellwoods Brewing (Toronto) Bellweiser Pilsner. They called it Bellweiser? Are you shitting me? That's hilarious. And also unusual for a brewery that seldom dips its toes into lighter styles such as lagers and pilsners. Like, never really as far as I can recall. Until this. At 4.8% and probably 15 IBU, it's lightly floral and grassy on the nose and goes down like an easy-drinking pilsner should. Nice beer. But face it, I'm including this for the name. I can't believe the big boots at Anheuser Busch have not stomped this into the ground. Well, yet...

Okay, I'll be back next with a look at the upcoming two-day Liquid Arts Festival, being hosted by Collective Arts Brewing in mid-June. Over 50 breweries from around the world and dozens of bands will be converging on Burlington Street in Hamilton for what's bound to be THE Party of the Summer! But Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...



Monday, 21 May 2018

Is anyone still drinking lagers?

Only Drunk Polkaroo would have the balls to pose for a photo like this in
an Ontario Winter. And by gawd, there he is, mimicking the label for
Great Lakes Brewing's Over My Dad Body Pilsner in the Arctic Tundra
we call a country. The illustration was created by former GLB artist
Garnett Gerry and inspired Polk to show off his Dad Bod in the chill.
It started, as many things do in Ontario Craft Beer circles, with a simple question on Twitter from our man, Drunk Polkaroo...

Basically, the question was: Does anyone drink lagers anymore?

You see, not all that long ago in our macro days, that's all we drank! Pale gold lagers. I drank Labatt Blue. Polk was partial to a few, notably Old Milwaukee and Brava Light. My old college buddy, Beer Bro Glenn, was a devout Brava drinker. The list of now-craft-beer-fanatics and their macro lager past goes on and on.

But when we all stumbled our way into the Wonderful World Of Craft Beers, lagers quickly fell to the wayside as we were assailed with favourful ales - Red Ales, Brown Ales, Amber Ales, Pale Ales and, of course, the Belle of the Ball, India Pale Ales. Because our tastes had shifted, lagers quite simply were no longer a preference.
So then if you're like me and drink only beer, that can put you into a bit of a pickle when you're out on the town with friends in a traditional roadhouse-style bar. Your choices are macro lagers and... well, that's about it. It's not like I can switch to wine or liquor, simply because I never acquired a taste for them. Spending the night drinking macro lager - and believe me when I say you won't drink nearly as many as you did in the old days - is definitely something to be filed under First World Problems. Not life-threatening. I can safely assure you that you'll live to drink tastier craft beer tomorrow.

When we had a high school reunion at Monaghan's Sports Pub and Grill last Summer (another coming up this weekend), I quickly checked the place out. Found out it was a Molson's bar. So I figured, "Oh well, I guess I'm drinking Canadian tonight..." And frankly, that's not a big deal. (In the end, I lucked out as they had Creemore's Hops and Bolts India Pale Lager on tap as well and that has some nicely-hopped tangy bitterness to it. Macro-owned but micro-flavoured.)
I've heard this in the past and I believe it's very
true. You can tell a lot about what kind of craft
beer drinker you're dealing with by their initial
reaction to Steam Whistle Pilsner, If they simply
dismiss it out-of-hand, they are Beer Snobs as it
is an excellent Czech-style Pilsner. Always tasty.

But in its defence, Molson Canadian is a perfectly good example of a balanced macro lager. I drank a ton of it in bars during my macro days. No bells. No whistles. Very far from my first choice these days but as my young friend, Charles from Nickel Brook Brewing pointed out after someone's question about macro quality when we were guest speakers at the 2017 BurlOnTap Festival, "Molson's and Labatt make millions of dollars every year. Face it, they are doing something right." But I understand where the question was coming from (as does Charles) in that Molson's and Labatt products are brewed at such an insanely-high volume, the breweries have little choice but to include adjuncts, such as corn, oats and rice, to keep up with the demand. Craft breweries don't include adjuncts, simply because they are making beer on a much smaller scale and hence, don't need to. ("Thankfully so," said every craft beer drinker reading this.)

But back to Polk's original question, which was: Is anyone drinking lagers anymore? Since it's Polk, let's assume he meant craft lagers and further to that, I will simply add: Are there craft lagers worth purchasing, given our tastes have shifted so dramatically towards ales? Both Polk and I know the answer is "Yes!" - me because I started trying a large number of them for this very column. And Polk because I've seen him review plenty on his You Tube channel.
Okay, this is one of the best pilsners I have ever enjoyed -
Rainhard Brewing's Unfiltered Pilsner. As you can see, Thor
himself was willing to fight the Frost Giants to procure one
for himself, leaving all that goddamn snow in my backyard
after their epic battle. Still, for this beer, I would do battle.

Now in this little treatise, I will be looking at both lagers and pilsners, since pilsners are a form of lager, named as such simply because they were created in the Plsen region of Czechoslovakia.

Now before I begin, I will caution that I tried a few dozen Ontario craft lagers for this and I have one complaint about a great number of them. A lot of you are just making your own nearly-identical versions of Molson Canadian. Not naming names, certainly, because I get why you're doing it. You want an accessible lager for macro drinkers to sample your fares. To that, I say one thing - Don't! We already have tons of access to Molson Canadian and I won't pay extra to drink your damn version of it. In fact, one honest clerk at a craft brewery actually waved me away from their lager once, saying simply, "It's basically Canadian." So knock that shit off, brewers. Create a different one. Molson's has Canadian nailed down.

And as I start now, a second caution, gentle readers. I will be dealing with only golden pale lagers. No ambers, darks or Viennas.
If the Drunk Polkaroo picture up top is my second favourite
Polk Pic, then this clearly is my Number One! Taken a couple
of Summers back, Polk told me it took countless tries to get
this picture because of wave reasons. This is a beauty of a pic.
Cameron's Captain's Log Lager looks damn refreshing here!
Just pale lagers. That's the style we all used to drink so that's my subject criteria here.

Let's start with Ontario's Big Two Straight-Up Lagers and they would be Muskoka Craft Lager and Cameron's Captain's Log Golden Lager. For my money (and both breweries have received a tidy sum of my money for this pair), these are the two most solid craft lagers in Ontario. Captain's Log (a reference to Oakville's first lighthouse formerly used by captains as a navigational landmark) is 5%, just 15 IBUs (international bitterness units) that uses Canadian 2-Row malts, as well as Noble Variety and Saaz hops, the latter being a traditional pilsner hop. At 4.8% and 13 IBUs, Muskoka Craft has an extra little touch by being unfiltered - a rarity for lagers. This one also uses 2-Row, as well as Crystal 40 malts with a boost of Saaz and Magnum hops. Both are smooth, easy-drinking lagers, created for warm Summer days and as such, are great starters to any patio evening. Style-wise, neither is a massive step away from macro lagers but taste-wise, both are a significant step up from them.

While those two are probably the Province's best-known craft lagers, one I wish had similar exposure is HogsBack Brewing's (Ottawa) Vintage Lager.  As a gold medal winner twice at the Ontario Brewing Awards and once at the Canadian Brewing Awards, this 5.2%, roughly 15 IBU lager is very European-style - a crisp, clean and delicious lager, using three malts, Saaz hops and German brewing yeast. (In the Far-Less-Relevant Award Category, it was also my Lager of the Year for 2015.) If you see this at either the LCBO or the Beer Store, part with $3 and try it as your evening starter. You can shower me with love and affection afterwards. (Don't be shy - I'm used to it dying for it.)

Okay, so that's three solid craft lagers so let's look at three top-notch pilsners. In Ontario, you have to start with the one that's our longtime gold standard - Steam Whistle Pilsner. As much as we love our hops, I don't know any serious craft drinker who doesn't enjoy this beer. In fact, it's the one I always keep on hand because macro lager drinkers always happily enjoy this one as well. This might just be the ultimate macro-to-craft crossover beer.
Trust Steam Whistle, affectionately known as "The
Good Beer Folks" in these parts to have a little more
fun than others. Each year, they put out a "Steamy
Men of Steam Whistle" calendar which invariably
has their workers, beer guts and all, putting it all out
there for charity in various stages of undress. A riot!
First brewed at the iconic Roundhouse in 2000, the recipe has not altered one iota since the original Brewmaster Harald Sowade created it. A true Czech-Style Pilsner, the 5% beer uses barley malts from Saskatchewan, hops from Germany, spring water from Ontario and yeast from Hungary. Being as all of their Brewmasters over the years have been European, it also adheres to the rigid confines of the Bavaria Purity Act of 1516. With all the crazy tastes available in Ontario's countless craft beers, Steam Whistle's hand has always been on the rudder - never wavering and consistently outstanding in its style. It honours us all having this gang of rowdy-ass thugs around.

However, there's a few more Ontario craft pilsners that I'd put in Steam Whistle's lofty stratosphere and not too surprisingly, Great Lakes Brewing of Etobicoke makes one of them - their Over My Dad Body Pilsner. Hilariously illustrated by my man Drunk Polkaroo's picture up top, the 5%, 25 IBU German-style pilsner has the same straw and light citrus on the nose that the rest of these do and is a little hazy, meaning unfiltered to a certain degree. I can also personally confirm that it goes beautifully with a three-pound Shrimp Burrito made by my buds over at Mucho Burrito here in Oakville. How do you beat that? (You don't.)
Sometimes change is good. In this case, change is great!
When Lake of Bays Brewing rebranded and swapped out
their Rock Cut Baysville Lager for the new Switchback
Pilsner, they did a very pure and noble thing. Because this
is one of the better pilsners in Ontario right now. Smooth!

Okay, last Summer, our friends up at Lake of Bays Brewing (Baysville) rebranded nearly all their beers and in my opinion, replaced them with far superior ones. However, the one that seemed to cause the most stink online was replacing Rock Cut Baysville Lager with the new Switchback Pilsner. Their beleaguered social media person just kept repeating the same thing over and over: "Try the pilsner!" I hope those whiny-ass bastards did because man, Switchback blows its predecessor out of the frikkin' water. Created (or would that be recreated?) by Head Brewer and the sole Dane in their chop shop, Dan Unkerskov, he created a whole new bird with this 4.5% beauty that's fresh-cut grass and floral on the nose with some nice citrus on the tongue. This is both one of my favourite pilsners and session beers, all in one cool rebranded package. To those who complained, look, I'll admit that it's not my place to say you were wrong. So I'll say instead that you were completely incorrect. And possibly suffering from head trauma.

This all leads me into my favourite Ontario pilsner and one that may owe a favour to Steam Whistle... in a kinda, sorta way.
When Jordan Rainhard, right, got together with
Beau's All Natural Brewing's co-founder Steve
Beauchesne a while ago, well, Steve gave Jordon
the ol' rabbit ears. They were brewing a beer
together but when in Vankleek Hills, Ontario,
well, shenanigans will ensue. It be crazy there.
You see, whenever Steam Whistle goes to a Beer Festival, they always bring an unfiltered version of their beer, as well as the original. Inevitably, that leads to the Fest drinkers saying one thing. "Why do they not bottle this one, too?" Seriously, I hear it every time. Well, someone else put out an unfiltered pilsner called... *checks notes* okay, this is a little too on the money, Unfiltered Pilsner. That would be our man, Jordan Rainhard of West Toronto's Rainhard Brewing. When Beer Bro Glenn and I got together for a pre-Christmas 2016 lunch, we popped into the brewery and despite being a hophead like me, this was the beer Glenn insisted I try. This 4.9%, 35 IBU (that's not a typo) beauty was all citrus and a nice hop punch. It's a seasonal at Rainhard but when I see it, I grab it. It's that good.

Okay, here's the deal. I'm stopping this now but I'm only halfway through my list. I'll be back here Wednesday morning with the remainders because yes, the Province has some great lagers! Upcoming is one from Bellwoods Brewing that should have (but didn't) get them sued, two beautiful Helles (German-style) Lagers and a healthy handful of nicely-hopped lagers, including the one that I think is Ontario's Reigning Lager Champion. And you know what? I thought I'd be able to cover them all today. But this is gonna need a Part Two. That's good news for lager lovers. But Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time (so, you know, Wednesday morning), I remain...


Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Brewery news you may already know

That's my main man, Liam Mckenna, on the left, Brewmaster of Yellow
Belly Brewing in St John's, Newfoundland, beside the boys from Central
City Brewing and Distilling in Surrey, BC - head brewer Zak Plowright, 
Brewmaster Gary Lohin and lead hand Len Tremayne. YellowBelly is
this year's partner for Newfoundland in the annual Across The Nation
Collaboration Pack which features beers from one brewery in each of
the 10 provinces and two territories. Last year was the first year for the
split six-packs and was such a success, Lohin decided to keep it going...
If you're a craft beer lover, you already know the Red Racer line out of Surrey, BC. It's been available for years in Ontario and has some pretty huge popularity, particularly their Red Racer IPA.

But actually, Red Racer is just the beer line of the real company, Central City Brewing and Distilling, which, of course, also produces liquor, as well as beer. But most people are so familiar with Red Racer beers that they've just assumed that was the name of the brewery. So now you know. And you're a better person for learning something new because knowledge is power. Admit it, goddammit! Or don't. Thanos will snuff your ass either way. Snap of his fingers.
That George Clooney-looking bastard
up top is Liam Mckenna and the beer
below is Me Ol' Trout, his brewery's
contribution to the Red Racer Across
The Nation Collaboration Pack coming
all across this country this Summer...

Well. Red Racer Brewmaster Gary Lohin and his gang of rowdies at the brewery came up with an idea to help celebrate Canada's 150 Birthday last year. They enlisted one brewery from each of the 10 provinces and two territories to create a unique beer to be included in split six-packs called Across The Nation Collaboration. Ontario and east to the Maritimes would be in one pack; Manitoba to the west and north in the second pack.

Great idea for Canada's big birthday, right? A taste of every Province and Territory. Well, then something interesting happened. The six-packs flew off the liquor store shelves. Everyone, it seems, was eager to try good craft beer from regions outside their own. In fact, it was so successful that Lohin and his Red Racer gang decided to do it again this year. And this time, I actually know one of the brewers.

My Facebook buddy, Liam Mckenna, Brewmaster at YellowBelly Brewing in St John's, Newfoundland was selected to be the brewery from The Rock. Pretty big honour. Each brewery is expected to submit three different styles and then the Red Racer gang decide which from each to balance out the packs so that it's not all lagers or stouts or IPAs. (Though, Mr Lohin, sir, the latter would rock my world.)

Except Liam didn't announce it on Facebook or Twitter. I actually stumbled across a story from the island's alternative media newspaper website, theovercast.ca. In the story, Liam explained how one of Steam Whistle's founders, Greg Cromwell, who eventually moved to Australia and created Top Shed Brewing down under, popped into his brewery one day. He was in town for a wedding. Cromwell wanted to make a Cream Ale with Mckenna but it was tough pitch as Liam finds the style to be a little too easy, not much of a challenge for a brewer. However, Cromwell persisted and eventually, the pair brewed up the new East Coast Cream Ale. Well, it was a huge hit at YellowBelly so Liam has certainly warmed to it, making it a seasonal. And when Central City came knocking for his three different styles, he included the Cream Ale but tweaked even farther forward with some dry-hopping at the end. Turns out that was the one picked for the Across The Nation Collaboration Mixed Pack. 
As you can see the Across The Nation Collaboration Mixed Packs are
getting their big launch this weekend  So within a month or so, we can
expect the two separate six-packs to start showing up in Ontario's
LCBOs. So very soon, I will be able to try my first YellowBelly beer!

But Liam has given the beer a spiffy new name, Me Ol' Trout, which means... uhhh, it means... I haven't a frikkin' clue. So time to message the brewer directly.

"Me Ol' Trout is a term of endearment here," he told me. (Really? Because that would probably get you clobbered in Ontario.) He added that while the beer is just 4.8% and 18 IBUs, it was "redolent of hops with little bitterness. Pacific Gem and Mosaic are the hops. Dry-hopped both warm and cold with Mosaic. A Cream Ale with a little somethin' somethin'." And while I, too, find the Cream Ale style to be a little mild for my tastes at times (though it can be a solid evening starter), I can honestly say I'm excited about having my first YellowBelly beer. Former Beer Store buddy Tommy Salami, whose daughter goes to university in St. John's, has been to the brewery-restaurant and told me their Fighting Irish Red Ale was fantastic. I've never been this pumped for a Cream Ale, like, ever!

Okay, moving on, something really bad happened in my Beer Store recently. No, no one died or was seriously injured. I didn't rip the arm off a customer. It's way worse than that. An IPA in MY Beer Store went old-code, meaning simply it had passed unnoticed its best-before date. That has never happened to me before.
Beau's All Natural Brewing in Vankleek Hills, Ontario,
called my store last week to tell me their 600-ml (20 oz)
bottles, right, were going to be swapped out for 473-ml
(16 oz) cans. Being as it's my 2017 IPA of the Year, that
will make my life easier. No more going old code for this!
My coworker Patchy was shocked, appalled and even a little disgusted with me. He said words to the effect of "You've let me down! You've let the Ontario Craft Beer Industry down! You've let society itself down!"

You see, we only have a handful of craft IPAs available in my store and if I notice one is coming up on its best-before date, I do the proper thing. I buy it all up and drink it. IPAs deserve a Viking's funeral, not a pauper's one.

And this particular IPA - Beau's Full-Time IPA - was my IPA of the Year for 2017 so it deserves like a Norse God (think Thor) funeral. In my stomach. But because it came in tall 600-ml (20 ounce) bottles, it was stored on a top shelf way up high. It was easy to remember when it was in our store's lobby cooler but it got rotated out. And because it was well above eye level in the back cooler, I simply, well, forgot it was there.
When Oshawa Beer Buddy Paul The Beer Guy posted a picture of a
broken Brock St Brewing pint glass on Twitter, I got a little choked up.
But 20 minutes later, he was back with another Brock St Blonde, again
in a Brock St glass. I asked him how many he had from Brock St and he
answered straight out that he had three. I thought that was odd until I
saw I have three Cameron's Brewing glasses and two from many others.
To my friends at Beau's, I honestly feel badly over the whole situation. However, I have a plan to rectify my wanton carelessness.

You see, Beau's is making it way easier to always remember we stock this beer. Their sale rep called last week to say my store was getting both Full Time IPA and Lug Tread Lagered Ale in 473-ml (16 ounce) cans. Now we store cans at, just above or just below eye level in the back cooler. Same with regular bottles so IPA cans or regular bottles have never gone old-code at any Beer Store where I have worked. Ever. I won't allow it. My coworkers wish I had the same slavish adherence to working hard as I do to protecting IPAs within my store.

Has Von Bugle Brewing, an off-shoot of Steam Whistle,
let the new beer cat out of the bag? Perhaps. This was
sent to me from someone on Twitter after he read my
blog on Steam Whistle opening their second, different
brewery in Etobicoke. It looks legit but we'll see soon.
But that's just ridiculous. I don't know what they're thinking or if, in fact, they're on Meth. But gawd, talk about unrealistic. However, here is a realistic promise I will make to Beau's. Full Time IPA will never go old-code at my Beer Store again! Not on my watch! (Note to self - keep the cans at eye level!!!)  But we have a box of 12 fresh-code bottles up high again that came in last week. We just got the new cans, as well, this week, which, I think means the bottles are being phased out of stores. Those bottles are coming home with me. I am taking no chances with my sketchy memory and vision lines again. I will honour Beau's befittingly but mostly, I will honour myself by not being careless again. Patchy was right to (not really) yell at me.

Okay, a few blogs ago, I talked about how Steam Whistle in Toronto was creating a second brewery, Von Bugle Brewing, in Etobicoke. But I held back on some information about the new brewery and the new beer because I was asked to. Is the new beer known to the public now? It just may be. One fellow, simply named "gg" sent me a picture on Twitter that identified the new beer as a Munich Lager. While most Munich Lagers are pale and gold, there is certainly a handful of amber ones and we did know for sure the new beer was a darker style.
When one craft brewery buys another, it's always a big
news story. So when Old Tomorrow bought out Double
Trouble Brewing a couple of weeks back, they effectively
doubled their size and output. Both companies made some
fun beers that I have enjoyed. Let's see how this plays out.

But we'll know by the end of Summer if this is the real deal as "gg" just found a pamphlet in a bar with a bunch of text on the back about the new beer so he thinks it is. I suspect it probably is, as well, because they are getting closer to opening the second brewery in Etobicoke and they must want to stoke some public interest in the new product and brewery. Either way, we'll know soon enough.

When Old Tomorrow Brewing (Toronto) bought out Double Trouble Brewing (Guelph) two week ago, a few eyebrows were raised as craft breweries buying out other craft breweries doesn't happen often.

In fact, when one fellow on Twitter asked if this had ever happened before, I could only think of two examples - Lost Craft Brewing (Toronto) bought out Sextant Brewing (Toronto) last Summer, which was unusual in that they're both contract brewers. Where does a contract brewer get the cash for that? Lost Craft owner Shehan De Silva spent years working in banks so he knows his way around both money and investment of said money.
I first met Ian Mcdonald Jr at the 2015 Burlington
Beer Festival when his fledgling brewery had but one
beer - their Canadian Pale Ale. While the brewery's
beer line-up has become larger, so too has the brewery
itself with the May 2 news of their purchase of Double
Trouble Brewing. The two breweries operating under
one umbrella will now be called United Craft. Catchy.
And about three years ago, All Or Nothing Brewing (Oshawa) bought out Trafalgar Ales and Meads (Oakville) going from a contract brewery with one beer - their outstanding Hopfenweisse wheat ale - to a bricks and mortar brewery owner. That's a huge step up there.

But a couple of notes about Old Tomorrow and Double Trouble first. Old Tomorrow is owned by Ian Mcdonald Jr and his mother, Pat, founded in 2014. As far as I know that's the only mother-son owner tandem in Ontario. So that's cool. As for Double Trouble, founded by Claude Lefebvre and Nathan Dunsmoor in 2011, well, their flagship beer, Hops and Robbers, was one of the first IPAs I bought on a regular basis when I switched from macro to craft in 2013. It's a milder one to be certain but one helluva starter IPA and a consistent Top-40 seller in the LCBO.

So where did Old Tomorrow get the investment cash to buy out Double Trouble? Hmmm, it seems the firm of Tricapital Solutions represented them in the purchase. The financier on their behalf was - hey, how about that? - Ian Macdonald Sr. There you go. It helps having friends in high places. Anyways, the two breweries will now operate under one umbrella organization called United Craft. I've got to think two smaller minnows joining together to make a bigger fish is a smart idea in Ontario's congested craft beer market.
Here's your chance to get Cameron's Brewing's
outstanding Dark & Sticky India Brown Ale at a
deep discount price of $48 a case. Yup, $2 a can.
Yup, when they decided that it would be seasonal,
rather than full-time, they cut the price to clear it.

Okay, that's it for today but I'll be back with Ontario's best craft beer lagers this weekend because Twitter buddy, Paul G, is wondering where the hell that blog is, given we are crossing into easy beer-drinking weather. (I promised it months ago. D'oh!)

After that... yikes. A lot! A preview of the upcoming Liquid Arts Festival being put on by Hamilton's Collective Arts Brewing, which will feature over 50 breweries from around the world, as well as dozens of artists and bands over a two-day span at the brewery June 15 and 16. That's gonna be insane. (If you just added, "... in the membrane" quietly to yourself, then we can be friends).

My macro lager and Guinness-drinking brother, Gary, was in town for a week in April from Valencia, Spain. Which of the many craft beers in my fridge appealed to him? Also, whatta mooch he is. (Actually, my bad. I made the mistake of telling him to help himself. So that's on me.) As well, what beers did Nepean Beer Store Brother Ben mail to me here in Oakville, followed by a front door visit from Newmarket Beer Store Brother Paul, bearing American gifts? And more brewery news because I only got through half here, believe it or die. (That forces you to believe it a little more.) But Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...






Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Leaving Las Vegas... eventually

Night One in Vegas and I had to pay homage to my
hometown homeys at Cameron's Brewing with the
classic "Beer Geek" t-shirt. In my hand is the 10
Barrels Brewing's Apocalypse IPA, 6.5% and 70
IBUs of tasty-ass beer. I am standing at my usual
starting place - New York New York's Pour 24 bar!
Okay, so here's the short story, the Reader's Digest version if you will, on how I missed The Great Ice Storm of 2018. I'll put it in quotation marks so you know it's the story part.

"I wasn't here. I was in Las Vegas. Sin City. The Mecca Of The Decadent (and also me, a virtually sin-free lad.) The only ice I saw was in drinks and on the actual ice surface as the NHL Playoffs were now in full swing."

But that's leaving a sizable chunk out of the real story. And that's because I was supposed to be back here in Ontario for that gawd-awful shit-storm.

You see, my trip was from Monday, April 9th to Friday, April 13th. And believe me, five days in Vegas is a long time, even for me. And I love the place. But Monday was the cheapest flight in and Friday was the cheapest flight home so five days it is.

But something weird happened on Thursday. My phone started tweeting and buzzing throughout the afternoon - or evening in Toronto time. So much so that I heard it even in a loud casino. It seems pretty much all of my friends wanted to warn me that a humongous ice-storm was about to hit Southern Ontario (as well as northern Michigan, New York and Minnesota) and that it was entirely possible my home-bound plane would not be able to land.
Some dark night after the Las Vegas Golden Knights' first playoff win on
April 11, some clever people managed to get a humongous hockey jersey
on Lady Liberty outside of New York New York Resort and Casino. So
keep in mind, this is a YUGE statue so that's a lot of fabric. Eventually,
I noticed who ponied up for it. Some chap named Bud Weiser was the
name on the back. Yeah, yeah, they're macro but hey, this was very cool.

I was getting countless messages from old high school friends and much newer ones on Facebook. More messages from Twitter friends that I have never even met in real life. Pretty much everyone.

And with regards to the impending ice storm, they all said basically the same thing. "Stay put!!" So off to my room I went to check my laptop for a cheap, later flight home.

I found one on Monday night (April 16) that would allow me to sidestep the ice storm altogether. So, as tough as it was, I hung in Vegas for another three days, enduring sunshine and 25C (77F) temperatures while Ontario became encased in ice.

Yeah, I blew off my original airfare home but no way I was coming home to that.
While I was wandering the Las Vegas strip in Summer-
like temperatures, this is apparently what all of my
friends in Southern Ontario were dealing with. Ice,
ice and more ice! Not to mention power outages. So I
checked in on my Mom, who was fine, and on I went.
You see, an airplane ride entails three factors: Going up into the air very high above the clouds, flying forward to where you're going and then landing at your destination. You take any one of those three things out of the equation, it does not work. And it didn't sound like I would be able to land in Hamilton, due to a slick icy covering top to bottom.

So instead of five days in Vegas, I spent eight days. Which doesn't suck but to be honest? By the end, it was basically, "How would you like to feel really, really exhausted... but not at your actual home like you usually are?" So if I'm gonna be "stranded" somewhere, I can't think of a place better than Las Vegas and the Excalibur Resort and Casino. My home for the last four of nine trips to Vegas, I stick the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door on Night One and never take it off until I leave so that my room is the same comfy mess all week. Hey, man, that feels like home to me. And I don't believe life is meant to be lived in one place so you have to at least have two. Vegas is mine. Granted, I had brought enough money to last until Friday, not the following Monday, so my credit cards got a helluva work-out over that extended weekend. Oddly, I can live with that over frikkin' ice.
I'm pretty sure this was Photoshopped because
the flag pole looks, well, fake but hey, who cares?
Even Caesars Palace got into the Golden Knights
Lovefest on their Twitter, posting this photo after
their hometown team swept the LA Kings. Nice.

But because the NHL playoffs started on April 11th, I ended up seeing the first three Las Vegas Golden Knights games against the LA Kings (all close Vegas victories), as well as the first three Toronto Maple Leafs game against Boston (two very lop-sided losses before a Leaf win in Game Three.) So I was in Hockey Heaven, especially since those Leafs-Bruins games started at 3 pm, primo craft beer beverage hours!

Now the Knights are in the Western Conference Finals, just one step removed from the Stanley Cup Finals! The next round will be tough but hey, they're an expansion team. I didn't think they'd even make the playoffs at the beginning of the season. Their own fans probably didn't, either. A real Cinderella Story!

The beauty of Sin City is that even if you need a post-game nap - and I pretty much did after every game due to craft beer reasons - when you wake back up at 10 or 11 pm, you can head back out onto the strip and it's still as hoppin' as it was mid-afternoon. Brush your teeth, comb your hair, head back out. No need to adjust your wardrobe because you likely fell asleep in your clothes. Well, maybe put your pants back on. This city truly does not sleep. If you want to know what time it is, check the alarm clock in your room or have your phone on you because I've never seen a clock anywhere on the strip in my nine visits since 2007.
It's roughly 11 am on the Las Vegas Strip. That means
Starbucks gets the bench and Stone IPA is on the field
now. Coffee did its job but the time's arrived for beer!

But that's enough about ice... and ice hockey... and other things that aren't beer. Time to talk about the beer here in a little segment I like to call: "Hey, Redmond, You Asshat, Talk About The Damn  Beer Already!" That Redmond icehole. Amirite?

After my New Years Eve visit to watch the Leafs play the Knights, I talked all about the beers. But I've been back to Vegas twice since and written nada. Drank tons. Wrote zero. Not the way this is supposed to work. So here's some of the highlight-reel beers from my Birthday Week mid-February and this most recent visit in April.

The most accessible craft IPA on the strip is easily Samuel Adams Rebel IPA. That's a good thing because it's a solid brew. The first time I had it was up here in Canada when it popped into LCBOs in late 2015. It was a solid beer then. But it's gotten even better since. It seems the Boston Beer Company wanted to up its game.
Joshua at my favourite craft beer establishment in Las
Vegas, The Yard House on the LINQ Esplanade, holds
up a Uinta Brewing (Salt Lake City, Utah) Hop Nosh
IPA that I mightily enjoyed on my birthday. Nothing
but pine, citrus and grapefruit on this 7.3%, 82.4 IBU
bad boy. A sidenote? Yard House won't serve IPAs
above 7.5% in the half-yard glass show here and they
have some heavy duty Double IPAs on their menu.
The reason? High ABV plus this glass means death!
While it was a solid grapefruit-pine combo when it was first brewed in 2014, last year Sam Adams brewers decided to really Pump Up The Hop Jam, working with a hop farmer-breeder in Yakima Valley, Washington last year. They created a proprietary hop called HBC-566. No idea what it is but man, did it add some pop to that puppy. When I returned this year to Vegas, the Rebel IPA, while still a lowish 45 IBUs (international bitterness units) and a reasonable 6.5%, now has a lot more citrus and tropical fruit than the original version four years ago. It's a great up-and-down-the-Strip traveler brew and very drinkable straight from the can. In fact, it you can just look past the Buds and Miller Lites, Rebel IPA is pretty much available everywhere on the strip. Some clever sales rep at Sam Adams has done his or her job very, very well.

Another American classic that sees a good deal of exposure on the strip is one of North America's best-respected beers - Stone IPA. Our Stone Brewing friends in Escondido, California see their beer occasionally available at Ontario LCBOs but in Sin City? It's in a lot of places. I don't know what I can say about this one that I haven't said before but quick notes? Created 21 years ago, it's 6.9%, 71 IBUs, eight different hop, pine, citrus, beautiful aroma, outstanding. It not only lead the charge towards IPA's increasing popularity in North America, it may actually be the beer that initially created that thirst, that demand for the style.
Basking in the sun on some bushes along the strip,
Stone's Ripper San Diego Pale Ale was supposed to
be my session beer to start the day. Uhh, nope, it's
a little more hefty than any session beer, for sure.

And while I had my fair share of Stone IPA on my recent trips, I found a newer Stone brew on my most recent trip - their Ripper San Diego Pale Ale. Okay, when I first saw it, I thought, "Cool, a pale ale. Something milder and sessionable to start my drinking day." Uhhh, not so fast, Kid Canuck! At 5.7% and 40 IBUs, that's a pale ale that packs a wee punch. First brewed in late 2016, they source Cascade hops from both Washington State and... Australia? (Whatever works, man.) So this is not a sessioner. Full flavoured, grapefruit and in case you missed it the first time around, more grapefruit. My favourite new Strip Walkin' Brew from my last trip, hands down. Little 355-ml (12 ounce) cans, too. Less likely to go warm in the heat. I did mention it was hot down there during the ice storm up here, right? Good. I'm glad I didn't leave that part out.

But, of course, Stone already does have an outstanding sessioner - their Go To IPA, also available on the strip. With the motto "The Hop-Heavy IPA for every day" (the "every day in Vegas" is implied), this is a lower 4.8% but still hefty 65 IBU whack of pine and fruit. But it's the 4.8% that truly appeals to you at 11 am. You gotta start lighter.
When I went into the casino washroom at New York
New York Resort and Casino to do, uh, washroom
stuff, some dude had left his full Corona right on the
urinal. So I put my Stone Go To IPA on the top to
establish dominance and then gave that poor beer the
proper burial that its purchaser had not. Poor guy...
And this nifty tallboy was available in all those ABC (convenience-souvenir) Stores along the strip. I don't believe that starting to drink high-ABV beers a hour or more before the crack of noon makes you a swash-buckling pirate, a suave playboy, a roguish devil-may-care card shark or even an alcoholic. In Las Vegas, what it makes you is back in your room sound asleep in front of Seinfeld reruns on the TV at roughly 3:30 pm. Especially if it's a sunny, hot day.

So you don't start with a Double IPA!!! You could miss some playoff hockey from the eastern teams because with the time change, that's about when they start. I was very judicious on Leafs Game Days, padding my stomach with a three-pound Shrimp Burrito from Baja Fresh Mexican Grill right within Excalibur at about 10 am. This top-flight Mexican place is open 24 hours a day - I love this city! It takes hours to get light-headed with one of those bad boys padding your stomach. And if you can't eat a big-ass burrito for Breakfast, then you shouldn't eat burritos at all. Ever.

Okay, let's move on from Escondido, California (that would be our Stone buds) to San Clemente, California and our friends at Left Coast Brewing Company. I'm not sure how to tell you this but Lost Coast nearly killed me on my birthday in Vegas. You see, that birthday, because it was a significant one... well, that was the day I was gonna get my picture in front of the world-famous "Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas" sign. And I did. In several ridiculous poses and everything. That was really all I wanted for that particular birthday. Me and that beautiful, elusive sign that I had never seen in all my times there.

So there's this tram (like an above-ground subway) that goes from Excalibur to Mandalay Bay Casino and Resort further south on the strip, putting you that much closer to the sign.
Hmmm, this could take a while. Actually, not really.
I was at the front in 20 minutes. The Tourism Board
has a guy at the sign taking your pictures and he
uses your phone, digital camera or whatever. And
man, he sure knew how to take a picture or five...
And as I was leaving Mandalay Bay, I asked the door-guy how far a walk it was to the sign. "About 20 minutes," he assured me. And this is why they are no clocks in Vegas. No one there understands the concept of actual time.

Some 45 to 50 minutes later in "I'm Not Usain Bolt" Time, I was there. And then spent less than 20 minutes in a very long line-up. The Las Vegas Tourism Board (I assume) has very wisely put a person on the site to take pictures and this dude was really good at his job. Multiple poses for anyone or any group but he was fast, fast, fast! Everyone leaves happy and the line moves quickly. Phones, digital cameras, actual film cameras - I saw him use them all. "Stand back there!" "Now come closer to me!" "Arms in the air!" "Kiss her!" "Hug!" "Okay, jump!" 

So you know, I cleared at least five, six inches in my vertical leap. He had to take that one a second time to even get me in the air. The first shot, he wasn't expecting my jump to be so "lame old white dude" and I was on the ground before he caught it. He nailed it on the second take. He was ready for me. But what a great idea having a pro there to do it, rather than having people clumsily futz about with their own camera. He had that line moving quickly!
I have been to Vegas nine times and this Left Coast
Brewing Hop-Juice is by FAR the biggest beer I've
ever had enjoyed there. It knocked me on my ass.

But on my way back, I passed one of those booze superstores called Super Liquor in the same little strip plaza as a McDonald's. For the record, that's where I ate my birthday lunch because obviously, class oozes out of my pores. So I went and holy shit, did they have a lot of craft beers. Like fridges full. And I grabbed a bunch. Some big bottles and a healthy handful of cans because glass isn't allowed on the strip. And this is where our friends at Left Coast Brewing come in. One of the big bottles was their Hop-Juice Triple IPA. At 10% and 100 IBUs, that seemed like a reasonable birthday gift to myself. I had a couple of other beers first on my way back to the room before heading back out. Or at least, that was the plan. Decided to crack the Hop-Juice because "It's my damn birthday, blah, blah, blah" reasons.

Holy shit, this thing floored me! Or at least grounded me in my room for a while. I drifted in and out of four episodes of Jerry asking me, "Did you ever notice..." Well, Jerry, here's what I did notice. The brewery uses five premium hops in both the boil and later in the dry-hopping according to the stats on the label. I know they use American 2-Row for the malt base but there's also wheat in there. I'm sure of it.

At the Super Liquor, this was just the single
bottle craft beer fridge. There was another
with six packs and a third with single cans.
Yeah, sure, the rest were filled with macros
but this is still a lot of different craft choices.

But on the nose? Whoa, one big boozy bastard, as Drunk Polkaroo would say. Alcohol, heavy orange rind, every possible citrus combo, grapefruit... everything! Tons of pine, resin and a sturdy malt backbone on the tongue. This is one of the biggest beers I have ever consumed. But alas, a Big Mac and fries does not give you the same stomach padding as a three-pound burrito so the Birthday Boy had to rest beer-free for a while as he was seriously buzzed! (Fret not, I bounced back later and more birthday beers were definitely consumed.) 

Okay, I still have tons of Vegas and Nevada craft beers to talk about but I'll leave those for some Summer filler columns to help beat the heat. Also I need my passport renewed and the second I've got the new one in my hands, I think you know I'll be plotting a course back to Sin City sooner rather than later. If you listen on a quiet night, you can hear it call my name on the breeze, singing, "Hey, get the hell back here. You suck at gambling and we could use the dough."

So we're bouncing back to Ontario matters, breweries and delicious craft beers for the foreseeable future and upcoming are a catch-all of all the brewery news from the last month, as well as a look at Ontario's best craft lagers. (That one is a request from a Twitter buddy.) But Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...