Sunday, 31 July 2016

Nickel Brook wins a... what is that?

Okay, so what the heck are the Elsie Awards? And what is the
"Made In Ontario" award that Nickel Brook Brewing won at the
Elsie Awards? These are questions I needed to have answered!!!
As always, it was my Nickel Brook Brewing homeboy, Tony Cox, who got the news to me. In a "look what we won!" text, he sent a picture of Nickel Brook's June 25th win of an Elsie Award.

What I said: "Whoa, that's awesome news, dude!"
What I thought, "Whoa, that's awesome news, dude, but what the hell is an Elsie Award?"

I mean, it's already been a heckuva year for awards for my hometown brewery on Drury Lane in Burlington. At the Canadian Brewing Awards in Richmond, BC at the end of May, they scooped up four medals. Their Raspberry Uber Berliner won gold for the best German Style Sour Ale. Then their Naughty Neighbour took silver in the North American Style Pale Ale while my much-beloved Headstock took silver in the American Style India Pale Ale. And finally, they nabbed a bronze for Immodest in the American Style Imperial India Pale Ale. (Coincidentally, Naughty Neighbour, Headstock and Immodest were in my "Best of 2015" column as the Best Triple Play for the brewery with, collectively, the best pale ale, IPA and Imperial IPA combo.)

But they weren't done yet. At the U.S. Open Beer Championships in Oxford, Ohio on July 11, they won a silver for their Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout in the British Imperial Stout division while their Continental Drift took silver in the Belgian Pale Ale category. Over 5,000 beers in 90 different styles were entered from all over the world.
In the TV show, Game of Thrones, the Great Wall is what
separates the North from the Wildings, the White Walkers
and the giants. It is 300 miles long. My backyard is a lot
smaller than that and frankly, I'm just looking to keep the
neighbours out. I think this wall of Headstock IPA will do.

But those weren't even my favourite Nickel Brook wins at the U.S. Open. No, every year, they pick the Top-10 Most Creative Beer Names and this year, Bolshevik Bastard took sixth. The winner? Middleton Brewing's (San Marcos, Texas) took the top spot with Wit or Wit Out You. Hop Dogma Brewing's There Gose My Heart made me laugh, too.

But that brings us back to the beginning. What is an Elsie? Well, turns out it the annual LCBO awards that go to breweries, distributors and writers not named Don. To wit, this is when the LCBO honours "its suppliers and their agents for innovation, creativity and commitment to customers service and social responsibility." Well, now I know what an Elsie is. That's pretty cool.
So Nickel Brook named their Cucumber-Lime Gose
after Ceres, the Roman Goddess of Agriculture, Grain
and Motherly Love. Now I don't put a lot of stock into
old Roman Mythology but if I did, I would say Ceres is
something of a Roman stone-cold smokeshow. I'd bow.

So you know, the Elsie refers to the LC in LCBO. They could have called them the Bee-Ohs, I suppose, but you want people to happily accept awards, rather than be insulted about potential body odor issues.

Still, the award Nickel Brook won is called "Made in Ontario." I wasn't sure what that meant. After all, I was also made in Ontario after one night when my Mom and Dad drank too much gin and... *gets visual image*... yeah, I really don't want to talk about that anymore because... gross reasons.

But of course, I have to find out what "Made in Ontario" means. So I picked up my this little portable computer in my hands because as it turns out, it can be used for more than just taking beer pictures, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and online Poker. I can actually telephone someone with it. (Why did no-one tell me this?)

And I called Genevieve Tomney, the LCBO Media Relations Coordinator to ask that very question. Resisting the urge to tell her this was an actual telephone call, as she seemed oddly familiar with the concept, I asked her, "What exactly is the Made In Ontario award?"
Okay, I am loving all these experimental beers coming out
of Nickel Brook now that their main line is brewed out of
Hamilton in the Arts and Sciences Brewery, shared with
Collective Arts. Head brewer Patrick is having some fun!
This is the Ceres Cucumber-Lime Gose on the left and the
Dreamsicle Vanilla Orange Pale Ale on the right. Coolio.

"Ah yes," she said. "Let me just go find the exact criteria and I'll call you right back." Well, okay, that seems fair enough.

Three minutes later, my camera and Facebook-thing rang. It was Genevieve with the answer. "The Made in Ontario award is about being a local commercial success. It's about having a great story and being a community builder. Using local ingredients. It has to be a bricks and mortar establishment. Really, it's about celebrating local achievement."

Well, hot damn. That's pretty impressive then. Having had my growlers filled there once or twice, okay, hundreds, fine, thousands of times with Headstock IPA, I can confirm it is, in fact, a bricks and mortar facility, complete with fermentation vats. And they definitely use Burlington water, the same water I bathe in because no one wants a Bee-Oh Award. However, like all breweries, they condition the water, adjusting the pH levels until it becomes "brewing water."
The aroma of coffee was SO strong when I opened the bottle
of Nickel Brook's Cafe Del Bastardo that I instantly switched
a beer glass for my Marvel superhero coffee mug. Nuff said.
Also if my growler fill numbers are causing you any concern, remember that I am supporting a local business. It's pretty damn noble, if you think about it.

And speaking of fermentation vats, it's no secret that Nickel Brook's shift into the old Lakeport Brewery in Hamilton, alongside Collective Arts Brewing, forming Arts and Science Brewing, has seen them easily able to keep up with demands for their core beers. After all, the new vats are 6,000-litres (1,585 US gallons) whereas the ones on Drury Lane are around 1,000 litres (264 gallons). So what's brewing on Drury Lane, you might ask? Well, folks, all whole lot of fun, crazy experimental beers, guided by the facility's Head Brewer Patrick. (Brewmaster Ryan is downtown Hamilton, watching over both Nickel Brook and Collective Arts' beers.) I know Patrick well from a night spent at the brewery last year as he showed me how to make beer, beginning to end. Brewing, it seems, is a whole lotta "Hurry up and wait." I don't have the patience. I just want the end product.
When a recent beer delivery brought two cases of Nickel
Brook's Headstock IPA, I knew it had to be a mistake but
was elated anyway. I told Sassy Cassy to guard it with her
life but in the end, the delivery dude came back and told
us it was slated for an LCBO in Milton. Well, that sucks!

But let's look at some of the latest to come out of Drury Lane. The Ceres Cucumber-Lime Gose (a style of sour beer) was actually Brewer Cam's brainchild and when the boys say these are brewed in their "Funk Lab." they're not kidding. This was very tart. On the nose, the 4% beer is all lime but on the tongue, you get that lime, plus the cucumber and then a healthy dollop of Himalayan sea salt. This might be the saltiest beer I've ever tried though I may have to drink a few more to be certain. But its lightness screamed Summer Sipper, which was the intent. "I love the play of sour, salty and fruity flavours in this beer," said Brewer Cam in a release. "It's a really unique, refreshing beer. Perfect to beat the heat of the Summer."

The Dreamsicle Orange Vanilla Pale Ale sounds as gimmicky as hell. But the beer itself was not. I expect tons of sweetness as lactose sugar was used in the mix but it was surprisingly tangy. The orange is there both on the nose and tongue but the 4.1%, 25 IBU (international bitterness units) beer was subtle with both the orange and vanilla. Yes, it's there but fainter than I thought it would be. And a Summer Sipper? For sure!
When Beer Bro Glenn bought his first ever grocery
store beer in Oshawa late last year, he went straight
for the good stuff. Whenever he visits, I always make
sure I have at least one full growler of Headstock IPA
on hand because Glenn loves the smell of the fresh
batch I get directly from the brewery. Finestkind!
"This beer is my childhood Summer memories in liquid form," says Brewer Patrick. "Eating a melting popsicle on the front porch on a warm Summer night, that was the idea we had when we designed this beer."

But the biggest beer to come out of the Funk Lab? No doubt it's Cafe Del Bastardo, a huge imperial Stout busting with flavour. So what these Funky Cold Medina Mad Scientists did was take their Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout and aged it in Kentucky bourbon barrels? Wait! Isn't that how they make their Kentucky Bastard Imperial Stout? Yes, usually, but this time they also threw in coffee beans, supplied by Detour Coffee Roasters, direct from Los Idolos, Colombia. This ain't your crappy "Folger's in a cup," kids. These are primo coffee beans! The smell of coffee was so overpowering when I took the cap off that I immediately put away the beer glass and poured it into my Marvel superhero coffee mug instead. Holy geez, this was outstanding! Coffee and bourbon on the nose with more coffee, bourbon, vanilla and chocolate on the tongue. At 12% and 70 IBUs, I made one mistake with this beer. I didn't share it. In that big 750-ml (25 ounce) bottle, that was the equivalent of about five beers in one half-hour sip fest. I think I muttered "Bastardo!" at my own recklessness when I went to stand up and got wobbly on the patio. Remember Bambi trying to stand up on the ice and that little A-hole Thumper laughing at him? Yeah, that was me.
The ever-helpful Megan models the latest baseball
cap from Nickel Brook, now available in the retail
shop. Having just bought a 2014 Ford Focus hatchback
she was relieved to hear that I hadn't had a lick of
trouble with my 2007 Focus hatchback. (Both black!)
Since she has the sad misfortune of being my newest
growler pourer, I'm glad to give her some good news,
Beer writing buddy Drunk Polkaroo saw my picture on Instagram and instantly chimed in, "I loved this beer. So much coffee love!" And I'll wager he was smart enough to share his.

But my main man, Tony, had a bunch more brewery news for me. Tony says, according to brewery owner John Romano, the brewery's Headstock IPA, Green Apple Pilsner and Cause and Effect Blonde Ale are among the Top-Ten sellers in grocery store sales with Naughty Neighbour Pale Ale checking in at 12th. I have no idea if John is just talking about their placing within craft beers listed at the grocery stores or all beers listed there. I suspect it has to be the former... but hey, who cares? Point is they're doing well. I would have had my doubts about that Green Apple Pilsner but the speed at which Molson's Mad Jack Apple Lager and Bud Light Apple fly out of my Beer Store tells me that style definitely has its audience and the Nickel Brook version came out years before the mainstream ones. I'm not a fan but hey, you brew what sells. Apple juice and beer come in two very separate containers in the fridge at Donny's Bar and Grill. And I have a deal with my son. I won't touch his apple juice (or Pop Tarts or cookies) if he doesn't touch my beers. That's working well for us.

The other big news was the July 1st opening of the Beergarden at the Arts and Sciences Brewery at the 207 Burlington Street East location in Hamilton.
I had GOT to get to this Beergarden. Tony Cox says
it's great. Drunk Polkaroo and Mrs Polkaroo say it's
great. According to Google Maps, it's like 16 minutes
away. I will get there soon - there's beers to consume!
Open Thursdays 4 to 9 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 11 am to 10:30 pm and Sundays 11 am to 8 pm, the Beergarden is one of the latest hot-spots in the Hammer and features six beers from each brewery, as well as food trucks, live music and tons of fun events.

Anyway, I was going to end this with an uber-cool video made about Nickel Brook for the Elsie Awards because that would all tie in nicely to the beginning, right? It was on Vimeo and was really excellent. Nickel Brook founders John and Peter Romano explaining how they built the brewery from the ground up. Even though it was only six minutes long, I laughed... I cried... it was better than Batman vs Superman. Much better, actually. The entire theme didn't change just because someone uttered the name Martha. But just as I was about to attach the link, it disappeared. I'd watched it like four times. Some of the info here came from it. What the hell, Vimeo? Well, I'm not letting some scumbag website beat me out. Not when I have the entire Internet at my disposal! So I found an even better one where Matt Gibson takes his Sounds Like Beer web-show to Nickel Brook and interviews John about their humble beginnings. So you can view that right here at: Matt Gibson Kicks Vimeo's Girly-Man Ass! So before I go, I want to remind other parents that every gift from your child is precious. Except that time my son brought me a handful of dandelions from the front lawn. I tossed those disgusting weeds in the trash the second his little head was turned. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...