Monday, 9 November 2015

Hot Brinks Guard and double dry-hopping

This is the standard uniform for a Brinks guard.
The difference between this guy and Hot Brinks
Guard is she makes this look good. Damn good!
It was a morning like any other dreary grey morning at the Beer Store. That is, until the Brinks truck showed up. You see, every couple of weeks, they pop in to deliver us our coin order while we, in turn, empty out the contents of our Brinks safe (which only they can unlock) into a big bag that they, in turn, deliver to the bank. It's a "shampoo, rinse, repeat" kind of ritual for any medium-to-large retail outfit in the province.

Usually Brinks guards tend to be dour, humourless dudes and frankly, you don't know the meaning of "forced conversation" until you're trapped into making small talk with one. But this one particular morning would be different. Hot Brinks Guard was back. Now while it's difficult to describe Hot Brinks Guard with mere words, I am going to try my best nonetheless in my stumbling, awestruck manner. Hot Brinks Guard is a staggeringly pretty brunette with a warm, beautiful smile, a deceptively quick wit and friendly manner who combines that girl-next-door wholesomeness with the stark reality that she's packing a loaded sidearm. And yes, ladies, I recognize that "hot" should only be used to describe the weather, rather than a human being, but let's face it, Stunning Woman Who Turns Donny Into A Stammering Pile Of Goo Brinks Guard doesn't have the same lyrical ring to it.

Watch as this baby re-enacts my stunned
expression when Hot Brinks Guard came
back. This photo also illustrates that I
would willingly drink a Corona but only
if Hot Brinks Guard handed it to me...
Now Hot Brinks Guard has been missing in action for quite some time - at least a year has passed since she last graced my presence with her lovely visage. I feared she was gone for good. As it turned out, she said she'd been doing the St Catharine's Brink run in that time. I suspect the company shifts them around from time-to-time so that none of the guards build any sort of personal rapport with the customers. Certainly not a problem with the male guards. A huge concern in her case. So we chatted away happily (every time I see her, I try to learn a little more about her and against all odds meet with some measures of success) while I pulled together the cash for her sad, inevitable departure. As she was leaving, she glanced into the beer cooler and joked, "Let's just lock the door and drink some beer!" What I said? "That's a great idea! Tell the driver to go ahead without you." What I thought? "What baby names do you like?"

The second she was gone, I texted former coworker Gordo at his new store. Gordo knows my infatuation with Hot Brinks Guard all too well. In fact, since the Brinks drop is an aspect of our job that has to be done absolutely to the letter, he once told me, "Dude, you seriously have to calm down when you see her. When it comes to Brinks, you have to pay full attention to what you're supposed to be doing."
When the guy at Stone Hammer head
office called my store to say they'd be
adding their Oatmeal Coffee Stout to our
Stone Hammer line, he probably wasn't
expecting my response which was, "Are
you shitting me?" "Uh no," he replied.
"Sweet, that's my absolute favourite of
Stone Hammer's beers!!" At that point,
he laughed and said, "Very good to hear!"
Well, after receiving my text, "Holy f**k! Hot Brinks Guard is back! My heart is racing like 100 mph!!", he likely thinks I have some sort of hearing/listening impairment. Reading my schoolboy crush text, Gordo chuckled and replied, "All you need to make this day better is to see me." Uhhhh, yeah, sure, whatever floats your boat, Freakshow.

All I know is a very dull and dreary morning instantly turned to sunshine and frikkin' rainbows. Hot Brinks Guard was back. It turns out that sometimes, life is very fair and will provide you with a breath-taking view on occasion.

Okay, reluctantly dragging my arse away from matters of the heart to the far more level-headed world of beer (a different kind of love), the clocks at Donny's Bar and Grill are all finally in alignment after some were adjusted for Daylight Saving Time while others were forgotten. Lemme put it this way - my phone, laptop and alarm clock all do that hour-back thing automatically. Except for my wristwatch, any clock in this place I had to manually adjust, well, that's a 10 to 14 day process. If I notice... or think of it... or bother. The fact is I'm so lazy that if I was kidnapped, I'd look around and simply shrug, "Well, I guess I live here now."

There are a handful of people out there who have a pretty good sense of my tastes in craft beer. Certainly Beer Bros Stevil St Evil and Glenn have a solid handle on it. Co-workers Jay-Dawg and Marie are in that not-so-select club, as well. As Jay-Dawg has noted, "If it's way too hoppy for me, you'll love it." But pretty much at the top of the list are Rib Eye Jack's Ale House's beer technician Kylie and general manager Steve.

That's the double dry-hopped Headstock IPA in
the bottle while the regular version is there in
the can. The former can had that bright orange
design you see on the bottle label. However, I'm
colourblind so I never cared but apparently, it
was graphically unappealing to those drinkers
with normal colour sight. Such picky people...
So when Rib Eye Steve texted me the other morning to tell me that my local home boys, Nickel Brook Brewing, had a limited supply of bottles of specially-made double dry-hopped Headstock IPA and Naughty Neighbour American Pale Ale, I paid attention. (All of my high school teachers would like to know his secret. It's not that hard, educators. Talk about beer. Or be Hot Brinks Guard.) I had seen it on Twitter or Facebook or somewhere but likely before my first coffee of the day so it fell out of my brain faster than my son eats a Pop Tart when he's suppose to be eating a healthy snack and hears me coming down the stairs.

But back to the beers. Rib Eye Steve graciously offered to grab me some on his way into work so I was like, perfect, thanks! And knowing that Naughty Neighbour APA was one of Jay-Dawg's favourites, I told him about it, as well. "Supposed to be really good. Steve at Rib Eye Jack's says so," I told him. That's all Jay-Dawg needed to hear. Knowing my respect for both Kylie's and Steve's opinions, he stopped into the brewery on the way home and texted me a picture of the Nickel Brook beer booty in his back seat. The text simply said, "... so 44 bucks later." Okay, with their shift to the new Hamilton facility they share with Collective Arts Brewing, this has been a period of adjustment for Nickel Brook.
And this would be the double dry-hopped version
of the Naughty Neighbour American Pale Ale in
the retro bottle. The regular version is in the can.
I'm sorry but I will never be convinced that the
new label is better than the old classic but then
again, these are matters of graphic design and best
left to the pros. All I really care about is the beer.

The bigger tanks at the new facility originally proved to be tricky for the brewers, used to the tried-and-true brewing methods of the smaller tanks in the Drury Lane facility in Burlington. Don't get me wrong - the beers at the new place were still pretty good but not quite there. That said, I continued to buy my growlers of Headstock here and there, carefully monitoring as they got closer to their Burlington glory. The fact is they're my hometown brew crew (shop locally, people) and having hung with Brewer Patrick one night as he patiently walked me through the brewing process, I saw first-hand that it's a finicky bit of business. Not much room for error. Smaller tanks, smaller room for error, right? Bigger tanks, same Math applicable. But Brewmaster Ryan is reputed to be something of a perfectionist and he and his loyal squadron of brewers are getting damn close. And they are hitting it out of the park with the new Collective Arts beers, particularly the Ransack the Universe IPA, which is "you'd step over your momma for one" good. (No disrespect meant to your Momma. Except she's fat.)

So what is double dry-hopped beer? Well, I am not a brewer but I will try to get this right. Single dry hopping means adding hops to the fermented beer a few days before bottling or kegging. Double dry-hopping means adding hops on two separate occasions such as a week before and then again a few days before.
Ah, yes, Amsterdam Brewing's Fracture Imperial IPA
is now in the liquor store and completely worth the few
extra shekels you will shell out for it. Dynamite beer!
So why do that? It adds hugely to the aroma and if your nose smells it, your tongue tastes it. This is also why we always pour our beer into a glass - both to smell it and release the carbonation. As Mr Burns would say, "Release the hops and malts, Smithers." When I collected my beer stash from Rib Eye Steve, he noted succinctly, "You are going to love this Headstock."

Was he right? Well, lemme put it this way. One day, he will be wrong... but this was not that day.
Tropical fruits on the nose, more on the tongue with huge lingering bitterness. And I mean, it really lingered. Might still be there. But as soon as I tried one, I instantly drove to the brewery for another dozen because, well, limited time. That gave me a chance to talk to Retail Robbie, who told me Nickel Brook owner John wanted special batches of Headstock and Naughty Neighbour (their two anchor beers) to ship to the United States. Americans, you are in for a treat. Trust your Canucknucklehead brother.

Naughty Neighbour was more of the same. Same citrus and pine on the nose, except it was like someone whacked you in the face with a pine tree. Jay-Dawg was beside himself over the taste.
Well, actually, selling beer IS my day job
but I like sentiment behind this bar sign!
Now as you can see from the pictures on my patio, I had both the regular versions of Headstock and Naughty Neighbour, as well as the double dry-hopped ones. How did they compare? Okay, lessee, last night I barbequed chicken wings for my son and myself. As I did so, I instantly wished the BBQ sauce was double dry-hopped. The ketchup we put on our fries? Why isn't it double dry-hopped? Because the beer I was drinking with it sure was. The originals are among my all-time favourites. But the double dry-hopped are the Hot Brinks Guards of beer. That good. Damn, Nickel Brook, well done! I'll be back again tomorrow for a full case of that Headstock.

Okay, turns out Steve and Kylie aren't the only ones at Rib Eye Jack's Ale House paying attention to beer. Rib Eye Regular Steve, a genial bearded chap, was recently telling me that Amsterdam Brewing (Toronto) was releasing their fantastic Fracture Imperial IPA in the liquor store any minute. (Frankly, I know too many Steve's. Two more and I'm gonna start numbering them because I'm running out of nicknames.) "It's a little pricier," he told me, "but hey, it's Fracture."
Since I spend a majority of my time trying to convince
Stevil St Evil that I am, in fact, Batman, he created
this picture and simply noted, "If you ARE Batman,
 this is probably the only way you'd ever respond to
the Bat Signal." What can I say? He's right, you know
Well, he was absolutely right. It's out and at $16.95 a six-pack, yes, maybe a little pricier by a couple of bucks. But at 9.1% and 115 IBUs (international bitterness units), you can't expect them to give it away. Using Simcoe, Columbus and Centennial hops, this little bomb-blast is also... double dry-hopped, which is getting to be a bit of a theme in my life. Mango on the nose, way more mango on tongue, tons of staying power - so much so that if Ted Nugent was singing about it, he'd be all screeching... ♫ It's a wango tango mango! ♫ (This is why I don't write songs. And probably why Ted Nugent shouldn't, either.) After Nickel Brook's Immodest IIPA, this is one of the best you'll ever have. But that might just be me being a homer. This is truly an outstanding beer for hop-heads.

Moving from hoppy goodness to malty lagers, my store started carrying Rainier Lager earlier in the Summer. I knew I had heard of it before but being as it's a Pacific North American beer, I couldn't figure out why. When I Google Imaged the beer, it turned out that it made the occasional guest appearance in the TV show, Frasier (along with his father Martin's beloved Ballantine.)
Courtesy of the Toronto Star and Toronto Public
Library Archives comes this 1971 photo taken by
Boris Spremo. While it is an interesting enough
photo, it was the cutline that cracked me up. And
I quote directly: "Carried Away: A drink-at-home
enthusiast takes comfort from the fact that he gets
to save time and money." So he's a drink-at-home
enthusiast rather than the far more accurate
neighbourhood pisstank? Times have changed.
It turns out Rainier Brewing started up shop in Seattle way back in 1884. A little more than a century later, it was bought out Stroh's and then later by Pabst. In 1999, the brewery was shut down for good. I now remember Stevil St Evil telling me about his Vancouver days and how he and his buddies used to do border runs into Washington state to buy dirt-cheap bargain beer. Rainier was one of them. "It was something like 10 bucks a case," he chuckled. "It was filthy swill but at the time, we didn't care so it did the job." Meaning simply it had alcohol in it. Now brewed in Canada by Sleeman's, Rainier only comes in 15-pack cans. According to the Beer Store index (which is, of course, provided by the brewers themselves), this is its commercial description: "Rainier beer bring together nature's bounty from the great Northwest. Pure spring waters combine with golden barley and verdant hops to produce a beer rich in taste and texture..." And it goes on but I'll stop there. So I bought a 15-pack to try it. With one sip, 14 of them were instantly relegated to the bottom shelf of the fridge in Donny's Bar and Grill - an area known only as Guest Beers. Took me about two seconds to Friend-Zone this ugly sister. Thin even by mainstream beer standards, they got the spring water part right but I remain dubious about the inclusion of golden barley and verdant hops. Just... don't. I'm not sure how we wronged Seattle but this was just cruel.

Okay, I am a mile (or 1.6 kilometres) behind in my beer reviews so I'll be back very soon to play a little catch-up. In the meanwhile, I just read that everyone on Earth has a perfect doppelganger - someone that looks exactly like them. If you'll excuse me, I have to go find mine and steal his liver. By any means necessary. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...