Thursday, 5 November 2015

The sinking ship of print... AND BEER!!!



But if Playboy is no longer showing pictures of
naked women, where else can we find sexy pics
of Marge Simpson in various stages of undress?
As a former journalist-editor for a couple of decades-plus, I have been watching the slow death of the print industry, first from within as a player, now on the sidelines as a spectator because, well, the print teams still on the field are getting smaller and smaller each year. Most of the guys I graduated J-School with were pushed to the sidelines years ago and long ago landed in other fields. I lasted longer than most but that's just blind luck - good or bad, I'm still not certain. If I was on the Titanic, I would have been the guy successfully convincing his drunken pals to steal a life-raft for a joy ride a half-hour before it hit the iceberg. So... luck.

But now that I'm out of the industry and no longer financially-dependent on it, it's actually still pretty grizzly to watch the print industry continually adjust itself in a market-place that largely has no interest. Even as a journalist, I was reading the news, sports and even the comics online. Why buy when it's there for free? And magazines and even books are every bit as susceptible to the downsizing trend as newspapers are.
Unfortunately for these aliens, their message landed in the
offices of Playboy magazine, which no longer has any nudes.
Let's take the example of Playboy magazine here, one because it's instantly recognizable to everyone and two, because it's Playboy. About five years ago, I noticed they adjust their monthly print run to 10 times a year, combining first July and August into one issue and then January and February. Not many people noticed and the only reason I did is that I instantly sensed a disturbance in The Bunny Force. Don't even try - it's a Jedi thing. Then just a few weeks back, I was more than a little shocked to read that Playboy would no longer be using pictures of naked women in the magazine. Pictures of pretty young ladies will still be in there in various stages of undress - lingerie and the like - but no full nudity.

When I told my young friend Jonny about this at the recent Rib Eye Jack's Beer Fest, he looked at me blankly and said, "Well, then, what's the point?"
♫ Goodbye, Norma Jean... ♫ This was the 
landmark first issue of Playboy published
way back in 1953. Publisher Hugh Hefner
never put a date on it because he wasn't sure
there would be a second issue of the magazine
Indeed, what is the point? Now the Playboy executives have told us they're eliminating the nudity because it's redundant in this day and age when it's available 24/7 on the internet. This is very true. Or so I've been told anyway. (Note to self: delete Google search history.) Personally, I think they broached the non-nudity rebranding with 89-year-old Hugh Hefner when he was having one of his "Where am I? Are all these girls my daughters?" days. (Yeah, right, more like great grand-daughters, dude.) So what's left? Well, I suppose as the magazine's executives are telling us there's the many excellent articles but honestly, saying you read Playboy for the articles is a little like saying you only go onto Pornhub to see if the plumber did end up fixing that lady's sink.

Now in the end, I don't really care about Playboy's decision. Haven't bought one in years. (You wanna see Miss March 2013? Guess what? Google.) My sole concern is there will now be an entire generation who will never know the vicarious thrill of sneaking into the "old man's" Playboys for a dirty peek. My late father had a staggeringly huge collection that spanned the entire 1960s and early 1970s and believe me when I say, in my youth, my friends and I got more enjoyment from those than he likely did.
If you're an IPA fan and find yourself in the
vicinity of Rib Eye Jack Ale House, order up a
Great Lakes Brewery Maniacal Hopshop IPA.
This 6.4%, 70 IBU (international bitterness
units) hop blast is all tropical fruit on the nose
with more fruit and pine on the tongue. Another
of the brewery's outstanding Tank Ten series,
it won't be available long. In fact, restaurant
GM Steve managed to somehow score the last
available keg. Get some before I drink it all...
We read the hell out of those articles. Sneaking them back in the boxes in the exact right order was the Tetris challenge of that time period.

But using Playboy as a microcosm of the print industry at large, it's easy to see the boats are getting smaller every day and well, that iceberg is not that far away in the distance. Ironically, since leaving journalism (walking the plank may be more accurate), I have landed safely onshore in the beer industry as a Beer Store employee. Why is that safe? Well, turns out Canadians like to drink and when they do drink, 51% of the time, it's beer (as opposed to 27% for liquor and 22% for wine.) And the beauty of beer is, unlike Playboy or newspapers, you will never be able to download an app for it online. It's much like, I dunno, pastrami - you gotta get out there and buy it, be it at the Beer Store, LCBO or soon, grocery stores. And since I returned to the Beer Store in 2005, one segment of the beer world has seen a staggering rise - craft beer. That year, Ontario craft beer sales through the LCBO alone were less than $2 million. By 2011 (the latest LCBO figures I could find), that was up to $16 million. And since that number was up significantly from the 2010 figure of $10 million, we can safely assume they're upside of $20 million now. And that's just the LCBO numbers, not the Beer Store or breweries themselves.

Truth to tell, I have seen it in my own Beer Store. While the LCBO clearly still gets the lion's share of the craft beer, I have seen my own self-serve Beer Store go from a single top shelf of craft in one aisle to an entire large section by itself. And craft single cans (their soon-to-be preferred sales vessel of choice from what most of my craft beer reps are telling me) are slowly taking over our can shelves and coolers, as well.
And my coworker Jay-Dawg's favourite new 
beer is finally available at the LCBO.  I've
reviewed this before so I'll simply say that if
you see it, buy it. You can thank me later...

So is there any connection between the plunging fate of the print industry (specifically using Playboy as a model) and the sky-rocketing success of craft beer? Oh hell no, none whatsoever. Well, except me. I somehow jumped ship from an ink-soaked sinker into a lifeboat now being propelled by its smallest paddle - the burgeoning demand for craft beer. Make no mistake. I mean, I work at a Beer Store so I know the strength of the big guys - still 90% of our sales. But from tiny acorns grow mighty oaks... and other trite, tired cliches to that effect.

With that said, let's dive fearlessly into a fresh batch of new beers, shall we? What do I know about being fearless? Hey, I went to Thanksgiving Dinner at my Mom's house, not knowing my phone was at 25%. It died just before dessert. I had to share "How's your life going?" stories with her. Nothing scares me now.

So let's start with our friends up in Gravenhurst, Sawdust City Brewing Company. A little more than a year after opening their shiny new 12,000-square-foot brewery on the town's main street (they had previously contracted out of Toronto's Cool Brewing), I inadvertently found out how many of my friends have cottages in the Gravenhurst area this past summer. The reason? The amount of Facebook messages I got, asking if I had heard of them and the inevitable follow-up, "Should I go visit them?"
Recent Sawdust City Brewing additions to my store included their Ol'
Woody Alt and Gateway Kolsch. That Lone Pine IPA? Yeah, that's LCBO
only still but I think the cans of Muskoka Mad Tom IPA and Amsterdam
Boneshaker IPA we sell could use some competition. Just sayin', Sawdust!
My answers, in order, were "Yes" and "Why are you still talking to me? Go already!" (One buddy accidentally called them Stardust City but I like that name, too.)

The brewery actually caught my attention some two years ago when I first tried their Lone Pine IPA and Long Dark Voyage to Uranus Imperial Stout (the latter, still one of the best names in Canadian craft brewing.) Still brewed out of Cool at that point, I pretty much rhapsodized about these two beers. I think I may have gotten positively gushy.
When Beer Bro Glenn recently popped into
Donny's Bar and Grill, he came with a Stone
Brewing Drew & Steve's Imperial Mutt Brown
Ale. Brewers are really starting to up their game
with brown ales, a formerly tired boring style...
While coworker Jay-Dawg and I have been patiently waiting for their Golden Beach Pale Ale - a favourite from the Burlington Beer Festival - to show up in stores (it finally did a few weeks back), we had both their Ol' Woody Alt and Gateway Kolsch land on our shelves during the summer. Both lagered ales, the Kolsch is the lighter of the pair while the Ol' Woody pours a deep dark hue. The Gateway has a very faint grassy aroma and is very lager-like and lightly bitter on after-taste. Nice Summer beer. But with Autumn upon us, I will likely be dipping in the Ol' Woody well a little more frequently. Nutty on the nose, thick, malty and bready on the tongue and at 35 IBU, just a tang of hops at the end. My favourite of the pair.

Beer Bro Glenn was a visitor at Donny's Bar and Grill recently because... well, I often forget to lock my doors. However, among the treats in his goodie bag was a Stone Brewing Drew & Steve's Imperial Mutt Brown Ale - the name a play off 'nut brown'. While I would love to tell you it smelled like wet dog just for the irony factor, Glenn got coffee off the aroma, I got licorice. And the taste? Well, at 9% and 45 IBUs, this ain't your grandpappy's brown ale. Using Vienna, Victory and Chocolate Wheat malts, Stone brewers Drew Neldon and Steve Via created a brown ale more than worth drinking with its chocolate and coffee on the tongue. The pair won this year's annual Stone in-house brewing competition with this bad boy.
Why did Stone call this Arrogant Bastard Ale?
Well, a quick read of the back label tells you.

And since we have the Escondido, California brewery in our sights, let's have a look-see at Stone's Arrogant Bastard Ale, which surfaced a while back in the liquor store. Glenn asked me if I'd ever had it and I responded in the affirmative. It turns out I was thinking of Rogue Ales' Dead Guy Ale so in fact, no, I hadn't. Not my first mistake. I once told a super pissed-off girlfriend to "calm down and be reasonable" so I know from mistakes. At least, the Arrogant Bastard didn't turn out to be a near-death experience like that. In related news, given sufficient motivation, it turns out I can run quite quickly. Even in sandals. But back to the beer. In keeping with its name, the back label tells us: "This is an aggressive ale. You probably won't like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth." While it's true that I have neither taste nor sophistication (it's like they know me, man!), I nonetheless somehow managed to appreciate the quality and depth of this beer. As you can see, this 7.2% ale pours a very dark amber and while the brewery is keeping its IBUs shrouded in mystery (definitely 90-plus), you can smell the hops in the aroma, as well as some citrus and pine. You lose the citrus completely in the deep taste but get some nice dark fruits. I get the feeling that this is the Bastard who killed Kenny. Outstanding beer.
A recent road trip into Toronto saw Rib Eye
Jack's GM Steve, beer technician Kylie and
fun-loving Cara return with a treasure trove
of goodies from Rainhard Brewing. Among
the treasures was the Refuge Imperial IPA

Okay, let's paddle this leaky canoe back to Canadian soil with an offering from Toronto's Rainhard Brewing. Now this relatively-new brewery has hit the ground running and I have told them several times on various social media that I believe they are soon gonna be Brewery of the Year at the next Ontario Brewing Awards. (If not them, then Innocente Brewing out of Waterloo. Again, a coin toss - both are stellar.) So when I had a Refuge Imperial IPA at Rib Eye Jack's Ale House recently, that only solidified their standing in the craft beer community to me. At 8% and 90 IBUs, this has tons of orange on the nose followed by big tropical fruit on the tongue. And it lingers on the tongue for a decent stretch. I would suggest you try their Armed 'N' Citra Pale Ale first as a palate warmer before jumping into this little ass-kicker.

Okay, time to wrap this bad boy up but before I go, let's deal with some recent distressing news. Like most of you, I was stunned to see that recent report in the headlines from scientific researchers telling us that bacon can cause cancer. Until I realized in a very different study conducted over thousands of years, involving billions of people, showed that those who don't smoke, don't drink and don't eat bacon also die! So dammit, I'm gonna continue to smoke, drink good craft beer and eat bacon. I'll roll those dice. Like I said, after that low cell battery debacle, nothing frightens me anymore. I'll leave the final word to my buddy Tony at Nickel Brook who recently texted me with this little gem: "Just saw the trailer for the new Star Wars movie. HOLY F**K!! Chewbacca hasn't aged a day!!!" But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...