Saturday, 6 August 2016

When "The Goose" landed at the LCBO

The Summerhill LCBO is one of the most architecturally beautiful
buildings in all of Toronto. Opened up in 1916, it was originally Toronto's
main train station before Union Station opened a few decades later. The
LCBO eventually purchased it and it has become their flagship store,
hosting any number of special events, tastings and various shenanigans.
A couple of columns ago, I talked about Nickel Brook's big win at the Elsies in June. My local lads and lasses in the brewery around the corner won the Made in Ontario Award for being community builders, an actual local bricks and mortar structure that celebrates local achievement. It was all pretty cool. Usually the awards Nickel Brook wins are for their beers. This one went to their positive attitude and community involvement - a very different kettle of bubbling malts.

But, of course, I needed Genevieve Tomney, a media relations coordinator at the LCBO to explain to me what the heck an Elsie was. While she was at it, I asked if she'd explain the actual significance of the annual Golden Globes Awards. Turns out there is none.
Ahhh, the object of every stout lover's
desire - the Goose Island Vanilla Rye
Bourbon County Imperial Stout. That
beer will reduce a grown man to tears.
But something other than Nickel Brook caught my eye when I was scanning the winner's list. Labatt was listed as the winner of "Special Event" connected to the Goose Island Vanilla Rye Bourbon County Stout. I was confused. With Labatt being a major shareholder in the Beer Store, how did they come to win an LCBO award? Technically, they're competition - at least at the boardroom level. So I had a couple of more questions for Genevieve yet again. First up was the Labatt thing...

"Oh yes," she said. "Last December, Labatt hosted a special event at the Summerhill LCBO for the limited release of Goose Island Vanilla Rye Bourbon County Stout and..." At that point, I could stop her. I suddenly remembered the event well. Beer Bro Glenn was one of the people in line.

My next question for her was "How on Earth did Matt Damon win a Golden Globe for The Martian? I mean, he was up against Al Pacino! What happened there, Genevieve?" But I let it drop and didn't ask. Some things just cannot be explained...

So I pulled up Glenn's blog from December last year and rehashed the details. As Glenn sagely told us, it was a one-time limited release, it was bloody expensive at $35 a bottle and he had to stand in line with a bunch of dudes sporting man-buns. Since Glenn was actually old enough to be father to the Man-Buns crowd, he had a fleeting moment of feeling young and/or hip.
Gord Stimmell, the now-retired, long-time wine
reviewer for the Toronto Star, won a Special
Recognition Award at the 2016 Elsie for his 25
years of writing about wine for the publication.
According to his Twitter account, he reviewed
5,000 wines a year for those 25 years. That's 13.6
different wines every day. For two and a half
frikkin' decades! Frankly, he should just be given
an award for still being alive. Dude is a Viking!
But as Glenn recounted, most of Ontario's bigger and better-known beer columnists and bloggers kind of looked down their noses at the event. (By bigger and better-known, I mean everyone other than Glenn and myself - including the kid who spray-painted "Beer roxx!!!" on the wall behind the local supermarket. I hear his following is huge. His subtle use of colours, his penmanship... he's the real deal.) It seems their issue with the beer release was tied to Goose Island's ownership. You see, in 2011, the renowned Chicago craft brewery sold 58% of its ownership to mainstream beer giants AB-InBev. The AB in that name is Anheuser Busch, the Missouri brewery that pumps out copious amounts Budweiser and other thin lagers to the frat house boys. To put it in general terms, it would be like General Motors buying out Lamborghini. To most, that would seriously devalue the brand. Except that, Lamborghini is now owned by the Volkswagen people so it's already kinda taken that hit.

But Glenn, being the trooper he is, ignored the ownership issue, waited in line and said, "Screw it. I want this beer!" I should add he was blissfully unaware of the $35 price tag. Now I have no qualms about the Goose Island ownership. I take no issue with the $35 price tag. My only beef would be, well, waiting in a line-up. Not my forte. I can Christmas shop for 12 people in less than 37 minutes. I have little patience for waiting in any line-up. That's pretty much the only reason I would have no interest in getting a special limited edition anything. Unless it gave me superpowers. Then I'm all in.
Here, The Simpsons deftly parody the too-close-to-truth
perception that most of us craft beer lovers have about the
big mainstream brands. That said, they are the big sellers!

So what's the Labatt connection? Simply put, they are also owned by AB-InBev. As such, they secured the rights to brew Bud, Bud Lite, Busch and a few others up here years ago. They also, within the last year, launched their own Goose Island IPA, Goose Island Endless IPA (a session brew) and Goose Island Honker Ale line here in Canada. To their credit, their Goose Island line is not too shabby. Didn't love them but certainly liked them. That's pretty good. And as such, Labatt was, by default, the host brewery when the Goose Island Vanilla Rye Bourbon County Imperial Stout landed here at Summerhill LCBO last December.

Now I have no real interest in ownership issues. If a small craft brewery can remain untouched, hey, more power to them, I say. Carry on, wayward sons... and all that jazz.
Ahhh, yes, a Mill Street West Coast Style IPA or 12
were definitely enjoyed on the patio of Donny's Bar
and Grill this past Summer. This is a damn fine IPA

But to be brutally honest, that's on a case-by-case basis. If, say, Nickel Brook or Cameron's Brewing in Oakville got bought up by a huge multi-national beer giant, I would probably be gutted. I would be in their offices, making them all sign affidavits that their brewing process and ingredient quality would also remain untouched. That's because I feel a personal attachment to these local breweries.

However, when Mill Street Brewing got bought out by Labatt last year, I barely blinked. They're in Toronto - a little farther away. I enjoy many of the beers, though - particularly their 100th Meridian Organic Amber Lager, their outstanding Tankhouse Ale, their delicious Coffee Porter and have highly praised them all in this very spot. When Stevil St Evil left Wellington, New Zealand to visit Donny's Bar and Grill last Summer, that Coffee Porter was our transition beer from coffee to, well, beer. Every morning. At the crack of 11 am. Why? Because we could. So we did. And you would have, too. Don't lie.
Why is Stevil St Evil smiling? Two reasons.
He has a Mill Street Coffee Porter in front of
him which signifies the drinking portion of the
day is about to begin. And number two, this was
during a four-day stretch of the time-honoured
tradition known as Day Drinking at Donny's
Bar and Grill last Summer. Good times...
I would also say, "Don't judge!" but I suspect that ship has sailed away from the port long along in my case.

But something even more significant happened after Labatt bought Mill Street last October. This Spring, Mill Street finally released a hoppy west coast style IPA called, ummm, West Coast Style IPA. Really? Okay, guys, that's a little too on the money. I suddenly feel the need to sit down with your marketing department. When I reviewed the beer on Instagram, I noted there was "mango - so much mango on the nose with grapefruit and resin on the tongue... this 6.6%, 60 IBU (international bitterness units) brew is a contender. Liked this one quite a bit!!"

Since I had outright stolen beer writing buddy Drunk Polkaroo's visual effect of hooking the tab onto the glass to give the beer the illusion of floating, I gave him a nod, as well, basically saying, "Hey, bro, stole your trick. Owe you a beer. Don't sue." He laughingly responded, "That's some fancy floating can magic there, sir. It was a good beer (which) surprises a lot of people who wanted to hate it."

And why would people want to hate it? Because Mill Street is owned by mega-giant Labatt. See the pattern now? That said, many of us take our craft beer on an individual glass-by-glass basis. Many of my favourite craft brewers crank out a few that I am "meh" on at best. I was just elated that after all these years, Mill Street finally made a hoppy IPA. About time!
Ahhh, yes, the portion of this little dog and pony show
called Steve's Stash. This pays tribute to the many fine
beers bestowed upon me by Rib Eye Jack's Ale House
General Manager Steve. He really outdid himself with
the latest offerings from a prized Vermont brewery.
But my co-worker Jay-Dawg had a theory. "So Mill Street goes all those years without making a decent IPA but when they get bought out by Labatt, they finally do?" I guess... but what's the point? "Well, I can't help but think Labatt said to them, Look, you're a craft brewery! Make a proper hoppy IPA already!" he laughed.

I don't know about that. But still, I'm about as familiar with corporate boardroom strategies as Kid Rock is with personal hygiene. It's a foreign element. That said, I do know I don't have to line up at an LCBO in the early morning for some great American beers. These things often land in my lap. Beer Bro Glenn is infamous for his illicit cross-border runs. My favourite beer technician Kylie at Rib Eye Jack's Ale House visits family in Arizona quite often and smuggles back some serious swag for me and a small handful of regulars. And then there's Rib Eye Jack's GM Steve.
I'll be frank. I had NO idea that The Alchemist, which recently moved
from Waterbury to Stowe, Vermont, even made more beers than their
world-famous Heady Topper Imperial IPA. Sonuvabitch, turns out they
do as Steve brought me back their single IPA, Focal Banger, left and
another Double IPA, their Crusher. Like Etobicoke's Great Lakes
Brewing, it seems that these guys are incapable of making a bad IPA.

Some of the goodies laid on me by my main man have been unbelievable. Last Summer, he wandered over to Donny's Bar and Grill (well, actually he cabbed it) and came bearing a Heady Topper Imperial IPA from Vermont brewery, The Alchemist. Heady Topper is one of the most prized and sought after beers in America, if not the world. Why? Like a Pokemon GO player seeking the elusive Charizard, this beer is hard to find. (Also the Pokemon GO reference - I had to Google that - I have no idea what it means. All I know is back in my day, if we stumbled upon a Pokemon GO character, we had to beat it to death with a rotary phone.) When Beer Bro Glenn and former Beer Store co-worker Carter saw I had a Heady Topper in my possession, they both saw red with anger. Or was it green with envy? Or blue with bummed out? Damn this colourblindness!!!
There were smiles all around when The Alchemist Brewery opened
the doors of their new brewery in Stowe, Vermont on June 30. In a
story from the Stowe Reporter (where I found this pic), crowds
waited roughly a half hour to get their hands on some beloved Heady
Topper. Remember what I said about refusing to wait in line for
anything ever? Yeah, there are exceptions to every rule, you know.

But Steve had just returned from a huge craft beer festival in Vermont and he did not come back empty-handed. No, sirree, Bob. (Who's Bob?) Since I got my Heady Topper last Summer, it was Jay-Dawg's turn this year. His review, not realizing the beer's public acclaim? "That was one of the best beers I have ever had in my life!" No kidding, eh? But I got two other offerings from the Vermont brewery from Steve - their Focal Banger IPA and Crusher Double IPA.

So how were they? Oh my stars and garters, they both blew me away! Okay, let's start with the Focal Banger. How many single IPAs do you know that are 7% (okay, hundreds - fair enough) but also 98 IBUs? Uhhh, not many? None, even? An IBU count that high belongs on an Imperial, not a single. This was as hazy as a London fog with huge blasts of grapefruit and hops on the nose, fruity and bitter as hell on the tongue. Had this been a blind taste-test, I would have bet someone else's house that this was an Imperial IPA. That much flavour, so damn good!
Sandwiched in between two outstanding beers from The
Alchemist. Hill Farmstead Brewing's Society & Solitude
#8 actually held it own! At 90+ IBUs, it was Hop Heaven!

Steve and I shared both this and another from Hill Farmstead out of Greensboro, Vermont, on my patio (more on that one in a second) while he cautioned me to hold the Crusher Double IPA until the next day. Why? Two reasons. One, give my palate a day to adjust. And two? "It'll knock you on your ass," he smiled. So some 24 hours later, did it? Uhhh, that's an affirmative. At 9% with the IBUs simply listed as "A LOT!", this bruiser bashed my pointy beak with huge wallops of citrus and tropical fruit with more of the same, as well as pine, on the tongue. I could feel the warmth in my throat and tingle on my tongue as I swallowed. How does this stand up to Heady Topper? I have no idea. I had them a year apart. In fact, Steve said when he was down there, he met a couple of people who thought Focal Banger was superior to Heady Topper. He settled that argument quickly. "It's not," he stated flatly. Still, I'd love to try all three in one sitting.
Let's not forget this beauty Rib Eye Steve
gave me back in February after a trip to
Santa Rosa, California's Russian River
Brewing. Just like Heady Topper, Pliny
The Elder is an eagerly sought-out and
elusive Imperial IPA, rated one of the
best in the United States. Also, this is not
my hand as it's an outdoorsy photograph
and I will never do outdoorsy anything!

Which brings us to that Hill Farmstead offering. Now these guys out of Greensboro are also one of Steve's favourite Vermont brewers and he's a picky mofo so you know they're pretty damn good. So I got a 750-ml (25-ounce) howler of their Society & Solitude #8 Imperial IPA. The brewers have made seven of the Society & Solitude series with each one being slightly different - tinkering of the hops and other Mad Scientist stuff that brewers do. So while I can't speak for One through Seven, lemme tell you about Number 8. But this 8%, 90+ IBU bad boy is all blasted up with Citra, Simcoe and Mosaic hops, giving it grapefruit and tons of pine on the nose with tropical fruit and citrus on the tongue. How did it stack up? Honestly, this was damn close to those two Alchemist offerings. Had I not had it with those, I would be singing from the rooftops about its glory and magnificence. And after falling off the roof and waking up in a body-cast at the hospital, I would utter a weak "Totally worth it." And then lapse into a coma. So thank gawd, I had it with some of Stowe's finest.

Okay, that's it for now. But coming soon are some sick gifts co-worker Marie got me from both Block 3 Brewing in St Jacobs and Wellington Brewing in Guelph. And of course, after a recent trip to Arizona, Kylie dished up a couple of America's finest IPAs directly into my fridge. I don't know what the weather's like where you live but at Donny's Bar and Grill, it's raining beers, baby. And yesterday, also the regular kind of rain. Finally to those adults criticizing Millennials for running around chasing Pokemon GO characters, can I offer a suggestion? You'd be a little more credible if you stopped using Snapchat to turn yourselves into cats and dogs. Just sayin'... Let them have their fun. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...