Tuesday, 9 August 2016

East Coast IPA sends message

Shame on me??? What the hell did I do now? I think the
real problem is that I can't keep up with all the stuff I do
wrong so when someone says, "Shame on you!", I always
let them tell me why. The choices in my case are endless!
On August 10, I woke up, made a pot of coffee and turned on the news...

No, no, not the TV. That's the old-fashioned way. I went online and clicked on Canadian Beer News. I don't care what's going on in the American election and am only paying casual attention to the Summer Olympics. Quick question: did Canada send any men at all to Rio? Because the women are winning everything so far. You go, ladies.

But I want my morning news to be beer news. Start my day in my happy place. That's why I open my eyes every mornings to the latest shenanigans posted by Canadian Beer News. And that morning in particular, I was greeted by the news that Boxing Rock Brewing out of Shelbourne, Nova Scotia and Big Spruce Brewing out of Nyanza (cool name alert), Nova Scotia were teaming up for the release of Shame On You IPA. According to the CBN post, the new IPA takes a swipe at certain "imposter beers lined up for sale next to true Nova Scotia Craft Beer."
In the end, it was a release from the Craft Brewers
Association of Nova Scotia that finally spelled out the
issue. They don't want to see consumer dollars spent on
beers brewed by multi-national breweries when local Nova
Scotia craft beers are readily available. Okay, we get that.

Of course, since I'm 1,800 kilometres (1,120 miles) away from Halifax, I suspected they weren't try to personally shame me. (As I have no shame, it would be a waste of a pretty good name.) So who are they shaming with this new IPA? So I asked my young friend, Megan, the daughter of a coworker who lives in Halifax, the obvious question. "Is this a Keith's thing?" You see, Alexander Keith's is huge on the east coast, being founded in 1820 in Halifax. Except Keith's India Pale Ale is often targeted by beer geeks and snobs alike for calling itself an IPA. Frankly, to most, it's not even a good representation of a malt-driven British style IPA, much less a hoppy west coast one. I will go to my grave convinced it's not even an ale but actually a lager.
Boxing Rock founders and brewers Emily Tipton
and Henry Pedro both brought their respective
families to Sherbourne and from there, Boxing
Rock Brewing was formed. An up-and-comer!

But Megan herself wasn't sure at whom the shaming was aimed, only hearing of the new IPA when I posted it on her Facebook wall. Looking at Keith's IPA as a possibility, she noted, "I'm surprised they haven't changed that (name) yet. IPAs and Imperial IPAs are pretty big around here. (There's a) HUGE craft beer market in Halifax. I think everyone just has enough respect for the company (Keith's) itself that they keep their mouth shut."

Megan, being the little sweetie that she is, ended it as she always does - with an invitation to come out east and check out Nova Scotia's booming craft beer industry first-hand. Hey, if my beer writing buddy Drunk Polkaroo has his way, a bunch of us are aiming our vehicles directly at Halifax and forming a convoy next summer with that very intention in mind. Unfiltered Brewing, headed up by raunchy lunatic and renegade brewer Greg Nash? I have you in my cross-hairs! I will be using my titanium liver for this trip!

But that still left of the mystery of whom the Shame On You IPA was aimed at and as a card-carrying member of the Scooby Doo Gang, I can leave no mystery unsolved. (Hint: In the cartoon, the monsters are always human. Unknown is why Velma doesn't announce their names before she unmasks them. Does she know? Doesn't she know? We can't tell.)
On a crooked little road with a crooked little hill in
Nyanza stands the sign at the entrance of Big Spruce
Brewing. Like Beau's, this brewery is all-organic.

So I went to both breweries with DMs on Facebook and basically asked, "Is this a Keith's thing?" Big Spruce got back to me quickly and noted, "It's a more general poke than that."

Hmmm, the mystery continues a-foot! In the end, as I continued to dig, the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia laid it all out for me in a grand reveal on their website. "Hey, Nova Scotia!" they wrote. "I don't know about you but we're tired of seeing imposter beers lined up for sale next to true Nova Scotia Craft Beer. It blurs the lines between actual #NSCraftBeer and, ahem, beverages that try to impersonate local craft beer." Looking directly at Shame On You IPA, it continued, "Big Spruce Brewing and Boxing Rock Brewing have teamed up to brew you an all-Summer seasonal craft beer that reminds you of the choice you have to make when you make a beer purchase. Should I support my province and its thriving craft beer industry or should I let my money go to big international companies that care mainly about the bottom line and less about the community they supply to?"

In the end, the issue seems to come down to signage, of all things.
Nova Scotia's craft brewers are a little disturbed that the
signage in the NSLC can land beers made by big brewers
right next to theirs, duping the customer in buying beer
that they think is locally-made craft beer but in fact isn't. 
Much like Ontario's LCBOs, most booze in Nova Scotia is sold through Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation outlets. (Except we also have Beer Stores and now grocery stores, too.) But in the NSLC, it seems there's designated signage that craft brewers are finding, well, a little vague, if not outright misleading. In its commercial description, Shame On You IPA openly declares: "Hey, Nova Scotia, don't be duped by new categories like 'Premium Beer', 'Experimental Beer' and 'Craft-Style'! Only when you choose Nova Scotia craft beer like Shame On You IPA are you guaranteed to be drinking locally-made beer." To put an exclamation point on that sentiment, the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia added, "Nova Scotia Craft Beer should be recognized so that beer drinkers who want to keep their beer money here in the province aren't fooled into thinking they have (by the big brewers)."

I get that. While our LCBOs have always had clearly marked areas, our Beer Stores only did so in the past year as a nod towards its own edict to allot 20% shelf space just for craft beers. Now we are very clearly-marked - Domestic Specialty, Domestic Discount, etc, with one large section near the front of my store now very clearly labelled Ontario Craft Beer.
Many Ontario grocery stores, such as the Loblaws shown
here, are earmarking 50% of their beer shelves to Ontario
craft brewers. Have we somehow gone from the backwards
province to one that is finally ahead of the curve? We'll see.
But I am seeing a lot of my personal favourites on this shelf.
With clearly marked shelving for Ontario craft brewers in the LCBOs, Beer Stores and now the grocery stores, Ontario now seems to be in the unlikely position of leading the charge to boost our local craft breweries. A couple of years back, that certainly was not the case. For all that she is being politically condemned for this, that or the other thing, Premier Kathleen Wynne has opened up a huge distribution pipe-line to the public for Ontario's craft beers in a remarkably short time.

And now it's time to look at one Ontario craft brewer that made a very big announcement on August 11. And believe me when I say, this announcement must have been a pretty bitter pill to swallow.

Side Launch Brewing, out of Collingwood, issued a media release on pretty much every form of social media to say, "Recently, during routine quality taste panel sessions at the brewery, we noticed that (our) Wheat beer packaged on certain dates has a strong tendency to sour if it is stored in a warm environment after leaving the brewery." The brewery added the beer posed absolutely no health risk to anyone who have consumed any. Just a "sour taste or uncharacteristic smell." That's usually enough to stop us anyway.
In this two-year-old photo, Side Launch Brewing
president and CEO Garnet Pratt Sidell is
holding a Side Launch Wheat, the very beer
they are yanking off the shelves at the moment.

Instantly, one wag on Twitter said something to the effect of, "Wait! A sour wheat? I might be onboard with that!" Indeed, did brewer Michael Hancock stumble onto the formula for Side Launch's first Berliner Weisse? Okay, probably not. Moving along...

The release continued: "We want you to drink the best beer that we can make. This will always be our commitment to you. We have therefore recalled all Wheat beer that has any risk of this taste defect." They then specified it was the Wheat beers packaged on July 6-7, July 20-21 and July 26-28. Check the bottom rim of the can for the date. Given the date spread, it's a safe assumption that this represents three separate batches of their award-winning wheat. That's a pretty huge "ouch" right there. I mean, Side Launch is certainly not the smallest brewer in Ontario but the brewery itself has only been around for slightly more than two years. (Prior to that, they contract-brewed out of Cool in Toronto.) They are not big player in the craft beer universe quite yet - though they will be. Three lost batches that should be black ink on the ledgers but instead turned to red ink is not small potatoes to them. Especially in the pocket book. (If you're not an accountant, which most of us aren't, black ink equals good, red ink equals bad. And I have no idea why I even know this...)

But Side Launch recognizes their dilemma and seems pretty eager to make amends.
One of my all-time favourite Rib Eye Jack's Ale House
friends, Tiffers, doesn't even drink beer (more an Irish
whiskey fan) but she's there to #StepUpForSideLaunch
They noted, "While we will be replacing this beers as soon as possible, this process may take up to two to three weeks, During this time, you will notice an absence of our familiar yellow can from your local LCBO, grocery stores or Beer Store."

So, okay, they've explained the situation and what we, the craft beer lovers, can expect. Awesome. But then they went a step further.

They continued: "If you have any of this Wheat beer in your possession, we will replace it as soon as possible as soon as we have more available. Please simply photograph the date code from the can (printed on the bottom's silver edge) and send an email to: QA@sidelaunchbrewing.com with your information and we will respond within 48 hours... regarding your replacement beer."

So that's cool. Fresh free beer replacement, right? Wait, it gets better. After that, they drop the bomb. Ready? Here goes: "Alternatively, you can call 705-293-5512 to speak with Garnet Siddall, President and CEO, directly."
Am I willing to #StepUpForSideLaunch? That 12-
pack of their Dark Lager came home with me
last night. Buy one can, buy two or hey, buy a 12.
Granted I got a break price for the 12-pack. Saved
$3.65 over the individual can price. Hey, that's
another can of Side Launch I can get with those
savings! Everything's coming up Side Launch!!

Whoa. And that's a Keanu Reeves-level "whoa". They are offering up Garnet's phone number if you have a beef. Why? Lemme tell you. Side Launch won gold for German Wheat at the 2016 Canadian Brewing Awards back in May with this beer. On top of that, they won Best Canadian Brewery. As Spider-Man himself would tell you, with great power comes great responsibility. So the brewery and Garnet in particular are stepping up huge on this one.

And this is maybe where we come in. My normal routine is to grab a sixer of a good IPA from my Beer Store but then also stop at the LCBO on the way home to grab new singles of stuff I've never had or stuff I really like. Most of you skip that Beer Store step because you don't work there. So here's what I am throwing out there as an idea. Side Launch made a pretty huge and honest move here. I figure the least we can do is return the favour for the gang that bought Best Canadian Brewery back to Ontario this year. So when you're in the LCBO, Beer Store or grocery store, why not grab a can or two of Side Launch beer and throw it into the mix? Their Pale Ale, Dark Lager (my fav) and Lager are all top-notch beers. I mean, obviously, you don't have to but if you did... *Ed Grimley voice* it would be pretty decent, I must say. And if you do, why not take a picture and then tag it #StepUpForSideLaunch on Twitter or Instagram so they know they have our support? As our friends in Nova Scotia showed us, you have to have each other's backs. Side Launch might like knowing we have theirs, right? We're seeing them try their hardest. Buying a couple of cans is all we have to do. I already have a few friends that are ready to #StepUpForSideLaunch. I suspect buddies like Drunk Polkaroo and Beer Bro Glenn will happily help out. Let's show them how much Ontario loves their Collingwood friends. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...

Here you see my stunt-double Brad Pitt in a
scene from the movie Troy, which was set in
about 2000 BC. As far as I know, there were no
jet planes during this time. I mean, I wasn't
there but feel certain planes are more recent.