Sunday, 27 December 2015

2015: The weird, the wild, the wacky

When Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne bought
the first six-pack of grocery store beer in a Toronto
Loblaws on December 15, she chose Collective
Arts Brewing's Rhyme & Reason Extra Pale Ale.
Naturally, the Hamilton brewery happily splashed
the picture on their Facebook page. That lead to
disturbing responses from the brewery's readers
As 2015 begins to wind down, it's now time to look back on it in sombre reflection of The Year in Beer. Don't worry - I said sombre, not sober. Ain't nobody got time for sober. So let's look at some of the cheery, beery things that happened in the past 365 days...

When Good News Turned Into Bad Reviews: There can be little doubt that the introduction of grocery stores selling beer was the biggest story of the year. Staid, boring Ontario finally got onboard with what other North America provinces and states have been doing for decades. The big day was December 15 with a couple dozen grocery stores selling beer and many more to follow over the next few years - 450 in the end or something like that. But Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne made damned sure it was she who bought the first six-pack ever sold in a grocery store. Fair enough - her initiative thus her prerogative. The manager at the Toronto Loblaws was also clever enough to make sure the cashier who sold it to her also carded her. (One of the concerns about grocery store beers was that they would not have the same level of social responsibility as the Beer Stores and LCBOs.) It made for a great political sound bite but a tad unnecessary as Wynne is 62 years old and looks a lot like your Aunt Pearl who has dishes of hard candy in her living room. Wynne's choice for the first purchase was Collective Arts Brewing's Rhyme & Reason Extra Pale Ale, a truly delicious pale ale. So naturally, the Hamilton brewery splashed that picture on their Facebook page within minutes.
Sunday of the Burlington Summer Beer
Festival, we got hit by a monsoon at about
3 pm. Lasted about a half hour as we all
quickly sought cover. I sought mine in the
Samuel Adams tent and continued to drink
their Rebel IPA. It was tough. I managed. Also,

this Shiny Apple Cider dude did something cool
I mean, hey, that's a pretty big feather in your cap, right? Being part of history? Okay, what should have happened was non-stop "way to go!" comments. But social media being what it is, it turned into a few "way to go!" comments offset with a couple hundred nasty, even vicious, political comments about Wynne with zero mention of the beer's accomplishment. It got so bad that Collective Arts eventually yanked the picture. A moment in Ontario history tarnished by open internet access to the knucklehead anonymous Joe-123's of the world. Turns out the view from 32-year-olds still living in Mom and Dad's basement can be, at times, scathingly negative. Go figure.

This Cider Server Got Shiny:
You see this smiling chap to the right? Never got his name but he was server with the Shiny Apple Cider booth at the Burlington Summer Craft Beer Festival in Spencer Smith Park. Well, we got nailed with a freakin' monsoon for about a half hour on the Sunday afternoon. I mean, it was coming down hard and sideways. The ground was a mucky mess when it was done. As the storm trickled down slowly, this dude decided to do a face-first mud slide down a 35-foot decline. It was damn impressive to see. That t-shirt and his shorts were completely mud-caked when he was done. I shall never mock cider again as their servers are frikkin' hard-core.

Lord Stanley's Mug, Part 1: When the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in mid-June, something happened in the dressing room that had never happened before.
"Here you go! You're probably sick of Bud and Canadian
and Bud Light! Here's some outstanding tasty craft beer!"
The Stanley Cup finally got its first taste of real craft beer. Nope, as you can see, this particular player opted not for mainstream fare but instead, poured in some Steady Hand Brewing (Crown Point, Indiana) Citra City IPA into what we Canucks affectionately call Lord Stanley's Mug. It's obvious which hop is used in this beer so somewhere, the ghost of Lord Stanley is saying, "Oh thank gawd, finally!"

Labatt bought Mill Street Brewing - No One Died: In fact, despite the purchase on October 9, Mill Street continues to brew their beers with complete autonomy. The most amazing thing about it all is that when I wrote a column about their joint media announcement, I never once joked about the fact that the Labatt president's name is Jan Craps. I'm gonna guess he took it on the chin enough at school for that unfortunate surname as it was.

Smuttynose Island is one of the Shoal Islands, located
six miles (10 kilometres) off the coast of New Hampshire
but is actually part of Maine. The brewery, of course, is
in New Hampshire. As to the seal? Well, just a mascot
Smuttynose Misses A Golden Marketing Opportunity: When it finally landed in my Beer Store after weeks of being told it was on its way, I instantly bought a case of Smuttynose Brewing's (Hampton, New Hampshire) Finestkind IPA. Just in time for Christmas! Why? Because I knew three employees at Rib Eye Jack's Ale House in Burlington had never had it. And these would be Christmas presents for general manager Steve, beer technician Kylie and server Cara. While there's still dozens of IPAs that Cara hasn't yet tried, you gotta ball hard to find IPAs, whether they be single, double or triple, that Steve and Kylie have never tried. Glorious success! So they all got six-packs while I kept one for me (review coming in the new year - but I will be buying more so 'nuff said.) But all over the case was the slogan, "Make Mine a Smutty." Is it just me or would this not be much better with the word "a" removed? Just sayin'.

Most Mangled Classic Rock Lyrics Of The Year:
My new (well, at a few months, new-ish) Beer Store coworker, Katrina, knows all the lyrics to both classic and contemporary rock.
Yes, that craft beer was good but this Chicago
Blackhawk player decided to have his morning
breakfast of Lucky Charms out of the bowl. Was
it magically delicious? Let's assume it was "yes"
At just 27, she was weaned on it as a child by her parents and it continues on to this day as her favourite musical genre as a young adult. So, of course, always a pleasure to work with her. The sound of us singing together in the empties area while we work is pretty common. For the record, our harmonies suck. Also we don't care. But while we have the classic/new rock on in the empties area, our cooler and lobby has piped-in music. It's not horrible or anything - just no songs recorded after 1985. So when Creedence Clearwater Revival's Bad Moon Risin' was playing in the cooler, co-worker Jay-Dawg came into the back area, singing his heart out. Except at one point, Katrina had to intervene. "Did you just sing, 'There's a bathroom on the right'?" she asked. Yeah, said Jay, is that not it? "There's a bad moon on the rise," I told him. "Oh," he noted, thinking for a second. "Nah, I like mine better." Fair enough.

Jay-Dawg Strikes Back On GLB Swamp Juice: Great Lakes Brewery has created something they ship to bars called Swamp Juice. It's a mixture of three of their beers but at the core is always their Canuck Pale Ale, a damn solid brew. While I forget what the combo was in Batch 18, it was great smelling but not as strong on the tongue. With Batch 19, they hit the jackpot, mixing Canuck with Thrust! and Lake Effects IPAs. I loved it but Jay really loved it - it was our go-to at Rib Eye Jack's for a couple of weeks.
Canadian children's TV icon, Mr Dressup, and his
notorious "tickle trunk". Kinda creepy now that I
give it some thought. The late Ernie Coombs played
the guy so we kinda know where to point the finger. 
Really outstanding. With Batch 20 now out, they went with Thrust!, Canuck and their Long Dong Pilsner as the combo. It was good but not nearly as good as Batch 19 so I told Jay about the combo change. "Putting Long Dong and Thrust together?" he grinned. "That could be pretty painful!"

And Speaking Of GLB's Long Dong Pilsner: When Stevil St Evil visited Donny's Bar and Grill in late May-early June, one of the byproducts of our craft beer drinking marathons was joint beer reviews for this very column. Quite often, as the days and evenings progressed, those reviews spiraled as out of control as a plane that had lost a wing. Indeed, while drinking the Mikkeller Black Imperial Stout, which clocks in at a killer 17%, neither of us knew what the beer was - its label was just some Asian symbol. This was Stevil's review: "It's like a porter mixed with molasses mixed with bourbon that some Danish God's scrotum was dipped in. It's f***ing amazing!" So here you can see the level of professionalism we brought to the joint beer review proceedings. Little to none. So when it came to Long Dong Pilsner, Steve's review was this: "It's a tickle trunk of tasty treats." Ah yes, the tickle trunk. In our youth, there was a Canadian children's TV show called Mr. Dressup. And in retrospect, it was kind of weird.
The Goose Island Beer Company tent at
the Burlington Beer Festival. I remained
dubious of the answers I got from them...
His tickle trunk was an actual trunk where costumes and props for skits were kept and also served as counter for his puppet friends, Casey and Finnegan. Never mind a Danish God's scrotum but using Mr Dressup's questionable tickle trunk to describe a beer? That's just wrong on every level.

So Who Brews That Goose Island IPA? When Goose Island IPA landed in Canada, just two weeks after I had enjoyed it on many bar taps in Las Vegas, I was thrilled. Because Labatt is tied to American giant Anheuser-Busch and both are under the umbrella of Belgian behemoth A-B InBev, Labatt got the rights to the beer brewed by Chicago's Goose Island as it was purchased by Anheuser-Busch in 2011. When it arrived, I was instantly suspicious because it came with the Labatt delivery in Canadian industry standard bottles. So I bought some. Pretty good beer, citrusy flavour, 5,9% and 55 IBUs (international bitterness units) but I was 99.9% certain this was not the same beer I drank in Vegas. I mean, it was pretty good - I still buy it on occasion but no, not the same. More citrus than I remember though Vegas was kind of a blur. I saw more than a few vague references on the internet that it was the actual Chicago product and was not brewed up here. I remained skeptical.
Wait just a goddamn second! This is not my
Goose Island IPA. Also, I may be a duck...
Then I just kind of forgot about it because, well, how important is that, really? It's a decent enough beer. That is until I saw the Goose Island Brewing Company tent at the Burlington Beer Festival. On the Sunday when I attended with Beer Bro Glenn, I told him of my suspicions. He shrugged and said, let's just ask them. So we did. Nope, the boys at the booth insisted it was the Chicago goods. In fact, one of them was a fellow Beer Store employee out of Toronto, who is also a Cicerone. He recognized me because he taught me and a group of coworkers how to pair beer with cheese. With their assurances, Glenn was satisfied and moved along. Me, still that nagging doubt. Finally, I found a Toronto Star article that quoted Goose Island's Suzanne Wolcott. She acknowledged that the beer was brewed up here by Labatt and yes, it was a different recipe. Why? The brewing tanks at Labatt are much larger than Goose Island's and it turns out, you can't just take the same ingredients and then multiply by, say, five. "Tank geometry is huge," said Wolcott. "If we just tried to multiple everything by the size of the tank, it would have been a different beer. It just wouldn't work." So the Labatt brewers tinkered with it until they got a product they were happy with. Wolcott's take on the Canadian version? "They've done a really good job." I agree with her. And now I have a definitive answer as to why it tasted different than the one I had repeatedly in Vegas. In the end, that's really all I wanted to know.
On the other side of this glass is the Burlington
Beer Festival logo. On this side of the glass is a
logo that I see on a daily basis. So I know it well

Why Was The Beer Store On Those Burlington Beer Festival Glasses? When the Beer Store logo appeared on the glasses used at the Burlington Beer Festival this past Summer, its inclusion brought about different reactions, depending on who I was with. When it was coworker Jay-Dawg on Saturday, he spotted it and said happily, "Hey look! We're on the glass!" When I was there on Sunday with Glenn, he noticed and snarled, "How the f*** did you guys end up on the glasses?" Well, the answer came from none other than Wayne Brown, the genial co-organizer of the event. He explained one night at Rib Eye Jack's to both myself and server Tracy that the Beer Store had sponsored a "Win Beer For A Year" contest in which any online ticket purchaser would be automatically entered. And what was "beer for a year"? Well, that was twelve $50 Beer Store gift cards or $600 worth of beer. Or as Tracy quipped to Wayne, "So really, beer for a month." She beat me by less than a second.

The Final Word On Beer For 2015: I will leave the final word on beer to my friend, Liam Mckenna, the brewmaster at St John's, Newfoundland's Yellowbelly Brewing. His words are simply this. "All beer is good beer." Doesn't matter if it's made by Molson's or Muskoka Brewing. I have my preferences; you have yours. But as long as we can all sit around the same table and enjoy our respective beers, that's kinda what it's all about. So sit tight because the Best Beers of 2015 are coming up in few days and there's bound to be many that everyone can enjoy. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...