Friday, 18 September 2015

Beer Exchange Program lives on!!!

Who's that dashing man in the kilt? It's none other than
Brian Wilson, the brewmaster at Highlander Brewing
Company in South River, Ontario. This past weekend,
the brewery collected first place at the North Bay Craft
Beer Expo, held at the Voyager Inn's Convention Centre
A couple of weeks back, I wrote about a tiny South River, Ontario brewery in a blog entitled "A closer look at Highlander Brew Co." Had a great chat with their brewmaster Brian Wilson about beers and pipe bands and his preference of malt-driven over hoppiness. I have a buddy with a family cottage on Eagle Lake in South River so the next time I am there, I will pop into the brewery for a closer look, hopefully meet Brian and of course, drink their outstanding beer!

Well, it turns out that I'm not the only drinker enthusiastic about their products as Highlander won first place at the North Bay Craft Beer Expo held on September 12 at the city's Voyager Inn Convention Centre. The tiny brewery won the top prize against such Ontario craft brewing stalwarts as Beau's All Natural Brewing, Steam Whistle Brewing, Muskoka Brewing, Sudbury's newer Stack Brewing, Hockley Valley Brewing (presently the only craft offering at Toronto's Rogers Centre), Manitoulin Island Brewing and hometown favourite, North Bay's New Ontario Brewing Co. And while several of my favourites were there, I was nonetheless thrilled to see Highlander take top spot. Muskoka can take some consolation in the fact that Mad Tom IPA has been my Summer go-to beer and my consumption alone has likely seen an uncanny sales spike.
So Highlander Brewing Company has been hiding an
American Pale Ale on me all this time? I will find this
Beerded Lady as no Highlander beer goes untried!!!!

But here's the power of social media. Not long after I posted my Highlander blog onto Twitter, I soon became engaged in a tweet-fest with a lady named Heather Bee, who read the blog and had visited the brewery for the first time a couple of months back, promptly declaring them to be "my best discovery of the Summer!" She confessed that she had missed the Blacksmith Smoked Porter (my personal favourite) but loved the Scottish Ale, the Wee Heavy Scotch Ale and the Beerded Lady American Pale Ale. Uh, hello, the Beerded what-now? Well, it turns out there is a Highlander product that not only have I not tried but I didn't even know existed. Clearly, Heather was a fan as she bought a six-pack after sampling it and went back in a couple of days for some more. I am now on the prowl for it.

Okay, the clocks at Donny's Bar and Grill are telling me it's Beer O'Clock here which can only mean one thing - I either forget to spring forward in April or fall back last October. Regardless, it does mean the clock in my car is correct for at least half the year. The other half of the year, I just do the Math.
Straight from New Zealand comes the Panhead Triple Eye
Monstrous Pale and the 4 Horsemen of the Hopocalpyse
Triple IPA. That 4 Horsemen is one of the best beers ever!
Well, with my young beer technician Kylie relinquishing her duties at Rib Eye Jack's Ale House in Burlington, swapping it for a month-long holiday in Greece (good frikkin' call!!!), I assumed my Beer Exchange Program was on hold or at least on Summer Vacation. Turns out the program actually did live on in her absence as several other craft beer lovers jumped in to fill the void.

Beer Bro Stevil St Evil stepped up huge as he mailed me four top-flight New Zealand beers in a care package marked "souvenirs". The Wellington resident actually did tuck a few actual souvenirs in the package - a cool t-shirt from Behemoth Brewing, a Wellington Lions rugby jersey (courtesy of NZ beer writer Neil Miller) and an enthusiastically-received Ant-Man bobblehead doll for my boy, David.
As well as being incredibly rich and
complex,  Garage Project has put this
in a bottle with a sick-looking label!

Well, Stevil did not hold back in the beer department, sending me some monsters with skull-crushingly-high alcohol content - the 14% Four Horseman of the Hopocalypse Intergalactic Imperial IPA, the 13% Panhead Custom Ale's Triple Eye Monstrous Pale Ale, a 11.2% Garage Project (his local brewery) Hellbender barleywine and 9.5% Garage Project Louisiana Voodoo Queen herb-spiced ale. Uhhh, whoa... that's okay. I wasn't really using the few remaining brain cells I have. And if I go blind, well, I've always wanted a dog. The boys at Garage Project even tell you on the bottle how many "standard drinks" - 12 oz (355ml) beers at 5% - each of their offerings are with Hellbender equaling 5.7 and Voodoo Queen equaling 4.9. That'll give you an idea of how many standard drinks the other two high-octane beers contain. Unbeknownst to them, Canada Post was basically handing me over a box filled with moonshine masquerading as beer.

Well, let's start with the big-gun, the Four Horsemen of the Hopocalypse Triple-IPA. The collaborative effort from the hop-crazed New Zealand brewmasters at Epic Brewing (Luke Nicholas), Fork Brewing (Kelly Ryan), Liberty Brewing (Joseph Wood) and Hallertau Brewing (Stephen Plowman) getting together with one shared goal - to make the hoppiest triple-IPA ever as a collective group.
When I had this beer from Steve, I was ♫ walking on
sunshine and don't it feel so good! ♫ A dynamite IPA...
I'll include the video they filmed about making of this beer at the end but the reason the four got together was that they used so many hops - an obscene amount, actually - that it would be financially unfeasible for any one brewery to do it solo. Share the tumultuous glory, split the fiscal loss, as it were. (To put this into Ontario terms, imagine if the brewmasters at Nickel Brook, Great Lakes, Flying Monkeys and Sawdust City all got together to make a triple-IPA. If you're American, the equivalent would be the brewmasters at Stone, Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada and Doghead Fish doing likewise.)

Okay, let's check out this hop monster. Hmmm, imagine you bought a shotgun and sawed off both barrels. Fill the gun with hops. Stick out your tongue. Aim gun at tongue. Pull the trigger. So yeah, something like that. The aroma was massive - citrus, grapefruit, tropical fruit - sweet baby Jeebus, everything! But, much to my surprise, what you did not smell was the booze. And the taste? Everything I smelled plus a bit of pine, a slight sweetness and again, no alcohol though I could feel its warmth down my throat. One of those incredibly rare beers (a very limited edition) that you actually feel honoured to drink. As close to a perfect beer as I have ever had. The Kate Upton of beers.
"State your mission!" "I seek the Holy Grail"
Well, how about that? Thanks to Rib Eye
Jack's GM Steve, I found the Holy Grail...

The Panhead Custom Ale's Triple Eye Monstrous Pale Ale was an interesting one. Very sweet smelling on the nose, that also turned up in the taste as I got both cherry and rock candy (the kind your grandma kept in that old-style bowl in her living room) on the tongue. Obviously hopped to the gills at, well, I can't find the IBU (international bitterness units) anywhere but well over 100 (that's high), a slight smokiness quells the sweetness to a large degree. In all honesty, I should have tried this before the Four Horsemen. I went out of order and this may have suffered a little because of that. Still, no doubt, one head-banger of a brew.

The two Garage Project beers are being held for a separate piece on the brewery itself as it's Stevil's home brewery, much as Nickel Brook is mine. Despite living 14,000 kilometres (8,800 miles) away, I have now had a few of their beers and frankly, I love how the story about how the boys turned an old gas station into a brewery four years ago. I will be relying heavily on Stevil St Evil's input for that piece in the near future. That's usually dangerous. But that's okay, Danger is my middle name. *Checks birth certificate* Okay, actually it's Ian. "Donald Ian!" when my Scottish Mom was pissed at me.

Gawd bless my former coworker Gordo as he jumped into
the Beer Exchange Program. While neither of these beers,
as well as the Junction Craft Brewery's Engineer IPA,
will end up on my Best of 2015 list, he definitely gets an
A+ for effort when he picked me up this assortment...
Okay, back to it. While Kylie was romping on the Greek beaches, another Steve stepped up to the plate. Her boss and Rib Eye Jack's general manager Steve jumped into the Beer Exchange Program, gifting me with a Rainhard Brewing (Toronto) Armed 'N' Citra Pale Ale (one for another time, as well) and two American IPAs that could be best described as nectars of the gods.

But as well as being a wine sommelier, Rib Eye Steve is also a beer expert so when a Lawson's Finest Liquids (Warren, Vermont) Sip of Sunshine IPA and The Alchemist (Waterbury, Vermont) Heady Topper IPA landed in my lap from him, they came with instructions from the man himself. The Sip of Sunshine was to be sampled first, followed by the Heady Topper and I was to pay attention to how long the flavour danced on my tongue. There were other instructions to be sure but one of his pretty waitresses walked by and, well, I remember that first instruction anyway. That's not bad for the easily distracted.
Hmmm, a Beer Fest... in October? Yeah, let's
face it. This is as close to Oktoberfest as you're
gonna get so head on over to Rib Eye Jack's
Ale House (Harvester Road, 50 feet east of
Walker's Line in Burlington and get your
tickets before they're gone. Over 20 breweries,
five food stations, a free stein and beer, beer,
wonderful beer, all for $25. You can't go wrong.

Let's start with the Sip of Sunshine IPA since I was instructed to - apparently, if you want me to do what I'm told, simply throw beer into the mix. (I hope my exes see the error of their ways now.) Okay, this 8%, 75-80 IBU brew is all grapefruit and mango on the nose, even moreso on the tongue. And just as Rib Eye Steve suggested, it actually stayed on my tongue, even tingled a little, long after the beer was holding a frat party in my stomach with the Four Horsemen. Steve suggests this is one of the best double-IPAs in Vermont and I am not about to disagree.

Which brings us to 8%, 75 IBU Heady Topper - the Holy Grail of east-coast double-IPAs. If you land in Vermont and if you happen to wander into a store at exactly the right time, you might score a four-pack of The Alchemist Brewery's beer. Maybe. If you're exceptionally lucky. It's that in demand and that scarce. Somehow Steve managed to grab some, one of which he gave to me. (Attention Nobel Peace Prize judges: Steve's application is on its way. If you could give it due consideration as I spent at least 15 minutes filling it out. Please excuse the crayon.) I got citrus, grapefruit, mango on the nose while on the tongue, I got... well, I'll let my voice recording take it from here. "Oh my... oh sh*t... that is so freaking good. Just as Steve said, this stays on your tongue for a while. Not going away anytime soon. Oh geez, this is everything they said it would be. Wow, there's some resin on the tongue." This is a once-in-a-lifetime beer. One that will send Beer Bro Glenn into a fit of jealous envy so hey, I got that going for me...
Meanwhile in a very frightening Parallel
Universe where up is down, left is right and
cats fornicate with dogs, this "craft beer"
display is set up in a Grocery Store from Hell

The final contributor to the Beer Exchange Program was my former coworker, Gordo, which is a little surprising as he is our resident Coors Light-Canadian drinker (though if Carlsburg Lite is on sale, he's all over that.) But four of us were off to the Burlington Rib-Fest on its opening night and stopped at Gordo's for our pre-drink as he lives across the street from Spencer Smith Park. Gordo had ventured into the nearest LCBO to find some specialty beers for me and upon my arrival, he happily presented me with a Junction Craft Brewery Engineer IPA, a Railway City Brewing (St Thomas, Ontario) Dead Elephant IPA and a Descendants Beer and Beverage Co's (Wellesley, Ontario) Harbinger Pale Ale. While the Dead Elephant is on the light side, the Engineer IPA actually grew on both myself and Stevil during his Canadian sojourn, starting at malty but slowly sliding towards hops with each progressive sip. The Harbinger was a new one for me. At 5.6% and 38 IBU, it's a malt-driven pale ale so a more traditional style. The nose was mostly sweet, slightly hoppy with some nice fruit on the tongue. It won't blow you away but is a good example of the malty style. But frankly, what impressed me the most was Gordo's efforts on my behalf. While we worked together, we had a brotherly relationship, meaning simply we insulted the hell out of each other. I invented the word "dipshidiot" to taunt him and suggested he was the reason that shampoo companies feel compelled to put instructions on the bottle. That was gentle teasing next to what he would say about me.
If you consider yourself too high-class for shower
beers, then you are an amateur and we can never be
friends. Also who makes this awesome beer holder??

But that's what brothers do. Harass the hell out of each other. So to Gordo, I will say, "Hey, way to finally step up, loser!" Okay, that's it for this edition. I have been off for a while as my boss gave me the bloody flu so now I have a lot of catch-up to play with this thing. Next up (this weekend) is a real treat as I take a closer look at YellowBelly Brewery in St. John's, Newfoundand after a ribald chat with their hilarious and occasionally-raunchy brewmaster Liam Mckenna. I sent one of my best operative, Tommy Salami, into the pub/brewery as an advance scout when he was dropping off his daughter at Memorial University a couple of weeks back. I also will have a look at the East Coast Craft Beer Scene after receiving a care-package from my young friend, Megan. Then there's that Rainhard Armed 'N' Citra Pale Ale, a Rogue Ale (Ashland, Oregon) Srirachi Hot Stout (muy caliente), a bunch of Mikkeller (Denmark) beers, a Brewdog (Ellon, Scotland) Punk IPA, a couple from Sawdust City in Gravenhurst... you know what? There's too many to mention. I hasten to add if you are worried about my beer consumption that I only drink on holidays. All 365 of them. But guys and dolls, while I will be back in two days, that's it, that's all and I am outta here!!! Here's that Four Horsemen of the Hopocalypse video right: HERE!!! And while I'm at it, here's the latest commercial from the boys at Longslice Brewing in Toronto: These Guys Crack Me Up! Owner Jimmy Peat is promising two more to come! Until next time, I remain, as always...