Sunday, 22 January 2017

Good Robot's condom conundrum

What started as a funny and quite clever promotion got
halted in its tracks by Health Canada. When Good Robot
Brewing wanted to create some condoms with their logo on
the packaging, the government agency stopped them cold.
When I flew into Halifax back in October for my niece Genny's wedding, I came armed with my laptop and a map of the city given to me by the car rental agency. Now granted, I also came with my son and my mother because as the first wedding of any of my nieces and nephews, this was a big deal for the fam-jam.

After we landed, I knew the day before the wedding would be an off-day without any family responsibilities so I pulled up all the information about craft breweries in and around Halifax. I decided on the first three, each for a specific reason. Garrison's and Propeller Brewing were both chosen for their now-20 year history in the city. They were the craft beer pioneers of Halifax. Unfiltered Brewing, owned by husband and wife team, Andrew Murphy and Allison Kearns, was a must-visit simply due to the hoppy genius of their renegade brewmaster Greg Nash. The final pick, the fourth spot, was suggested by a young fellow at the hotel's front desk.
Good Robot head brewer Doug Kehoe is not only hoisted up on the
shoulders of his business partners, Josh Counsil and Angus Campbell in
this Chronicle Herald photo, he is somehow managing to pour beer into
their glasses as he looks dead-ahead at the camera. I can't even imagine
how long it took to get this shot. But I can imagine a lot of spilled beer.

Asking where the nearest Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation was located as my room needed a quick infusion of good craft beer, the young dude told me (a five minute walk) and asked if I planned on visiting any craft breweries while in town. I explained the first three on my battle-plan (or Bottle-Plan, as my buddy Hago calls it) but asked what would be the best fourth. "Oh yeah," he smiled. "Go to Good Robot on Robie Street. It's right around the corner from Unfiltered. The best set-up in town! Huge place!" And thus Good Robot became Stop #4.

Each of the breweries had its own special and separate charms. Garrison's was literally across the street from the Atlantic Ocean. Propeller was a personal favourite of my nephew Thomas who partied there with his buddies while attending Dalhousie University.
My son, David, insisted I get a picture of him besides
this tank at Good Robot, simply because he thought their
logo was "cool." Actually, that is a killer logo they have.
Unfiltered was unforgettable simply due to their dynamite IPAs. As my about-to-be-married niece, Genny, said succinctly about brewmaster Nash, "That man is a genius." (My younger family members know good craft beer. It's a pre-requisite.) And Good Robot? That guy at the hotel front desk wasn't kidding. A huge patio and a two floors of bar area inside the main facility, they built this place to handle some serious foot traffic. While my son David, our beer tour buddy Jeff and I were there, a craft brewery tour bus, jammed with people, stopped there and while this huge hoard wandered in, I marveled that the place still had tons of room to spare. It is the most impressive lay-out of any craft brewery I have visited in either Ontario or Nova Scotia.

But the owners, Josh Counsil, Doug Kehoe and Angus Campbell, all former engineers, nearly went with the name Wrought Iron Brewing at the beginning. Eventually, they decided that name had too much of an Industrial Age feel to it and at the last minute, opted instead for Good Robot. As Counsil told the Halifax Chronicle Herald, "We want to make a business that's fun and approachable, goofy and maybe a bit off-kilter. So Good Robot fit that vibe better."

Their bottle shop is located at the end of the patio portion
of the brewery and adjacent to the main building. In total,
the building is over 1,500-square-feet. So one large place.
And it wasn't long before they created a promotion that was, well, goofy, fun, approachable and off-kilter as they decided last March to create condoms with the brewery's logo on the packaging. The idea was that since they are frequented heavily by the 20-something Millennials, they could promote safe sex with their young crowd. After all, they also have other Good Robot merchandise with their logo, including rolling papers. (Gosh, what possible use could local youth have for rolling papers?) I think the condoms were a great idea - both fun and socially-responsible. Tough to top that approach. Well, except Health Canada had other ideas. The federal agency stopped the condoms being shipped from an American manufacturer to the brewery at the border.
Falling into the category of Experimental Beer,
simply because there was no "So Anyone Wanna
Mix Cherry With Coffee?" category, Good Robot
took a silver at the 2016 Atlantic Canadian Beer
Awards for their Damn Fine Coffee and Cherry
Pie Pale Ale. This beer? She's MY cherry pie!!

Why, you might wonder? Well, it turns out there's a regulation in place that does not allow the importing of "medical equipment" without the department's expressed consent. Wait... what??? Condoms are medical equipment? According to our government, yes, they are. But does that then, by extension, make every university, college and high school student harbouring a medical condom in either their wallets or their purses an actual medical doctor? Careful, gang, that's some delicate medical equipment you're packing there. This is the part of the story where we all pause, gaze at Health Canada and slowly, painfully do a collective facepalm before we look up and sputter incredulously, "Really?"

How did Good Robot react to the news? "We laughed uncontrollably for about two and a half minutes," Counsil told the CBC-News. We'll call that headline: "Good Robot's perfect response to government's are-you-kidding-me rules?" He added that since the rules pertaining to items like condoms were virtually identical in both Canada and the USA, "you wouldn't think that it would be an issue." Well, no kidding. I agree but then again, I never thought condoms would ever be considered "medical equipment" so hey, you live, you learn, bro.

But enough about condoms, despite their value on the Black Market for Medical Equipment. It's time to talk about beer. East coast beer. The good stuff.
Garrison's Brewing owner Brian Titus checks
out the Irish Red Ale coming off the line at his
brewery. This was the first east coast beer I
enjoyed after landing in Halifax and I loved it.
Now the 2016 Atlantic Canadian Beer Awards were held just three weeks after I flew back to Toronto. On the weekend of November 4-6 at The Stubborn Goat Gastropub in Halifax, brewers from the four Maritime provinces all gathered for a right royal piss-up serious and dignified judging of the east coast's best beers. And a few of the beers I lauded in this very space upon my return made the medal cut. Let's file that happy coincidence under "Even A Blind Squirrel Finds The Occasional Nut."

And since we're talking about Garrison's, Propeller, Unfiltered and Good Robot, let's look specifically at their winners. Okay, off the top, you won't see Unfiltered's name here, which can only mean they didn't enter any beer. Much like Bellwoods Brewing in Toronto, who won't put their fine products into competitions, Unfiltered likely figured their IPAs would be too dominant, crushing the hearts and souls of others. So that's a pretty humanitarian gesture on their end.

But the other three were less shy. I was thrilled to see Garrison's Irish Red take silver in the UK Style Specialty Ales category. After stopping at the tiny NSLC outlet near my hotel, I was gutted to see macro beers occupying the fridges while the craft product languished on a nearby lonely shelf.

I smuggled a Propeller Nocturne Dark Lager back to
Ontario in my luggage (as well as a number of Halifax
IPAs for then-coworker Jay-Dawg). The baby was true
black magic from the first sip to the slightly bitter end.
After grabbing bombers of IPAs and Double IPAs from Boxing Rock, Garrison's and Propeller, I also snagged six of the Irish Red. The reason was simply this. The only style of beer I can drink warm is a red ale. That's why I love the style. Equally good, warm or chilled. So this was the first beer I had on Nova Scotia soil and I loved it. But Garrison's wasn't finished yet as they also took a bronze for their Rise 'N' Stein in the German Style Specialty Ales. I never got to enjoy that one but I'll be back.

Propeller also snagged a pair of bronze medals. One was for their Nocturne Dark Lager, a beer that landed on the patio at Donny's Bar and Grill. Roasty malted darkness on the nose, a splash of coffee and some sly hoppiness on the tongue, this 4.8% brew was fantastic. They captured another bronze for their Graceland Too, a 6.5% wheat-based White IPA made with some help from their pals (and our good friends) at Barrie's Flying Monkeys. It wasn't at their retail outlet when we landed there because it was a specialty one-off so at this point, I have consulted an attorney to see if a lawsuit has any merits. (Okay, apparently not. Wow. That was fast.) But when you (kind of) name a beer after a Tragically Hip song, dammit, guys, make it more readily available! That's a humongous slice of Canadiana goodness right there.
Where I normally shy away from White IPAs, one coming from both
Propeller and Flying Monkeys is a different kettle of fish. In fact, it's a
kettle I would happily dive into if Kettle Diving was an actual sport.

Which brings us full circle to the nice (and fun, goofy, approachable and off-kilter) folks at Good Robot. They, too, walked away with a pair of medals at the event. Let's start with the bronze for their Leave Me Blue Kentucky Corn in the North American Style Specialty Ale category. I did not try this beer but buddy Jeff did while we were there. As a devout stout drinker, Jeff was far more impressed with their Tom Waits For No One Stout. But then the Kentucky Corn is a California Common, a very tricky style that takes a macro style, usually a pale lager, and tries to put a micro spin on it. But this one came highly recommended by our server Adam at Propeller. And when a staffer at one brewery endorses a beer from another, you try it.
This is just the facing of Good Robot, patio to the left, two-storey bar to the
right. There's more as the actual brewery is further to the back. Like I
said, this was not a tiny little craft outfit. This was the Beast of the East.
Which brings us to their silver in the Experimental Beer category for their Damn Fine Coffee and Cherry Pie Pale Ale. The coffee flavour comes from the use of Ethiopian Guji coffee grown in cherry soil, which adds a little fruitiness to the bean. Again, it wasn't available when I was there and again, my attorney has told me to drop it. But hey, I will return to Halifax, Nova Scotia again one day. It is now my second-favourite craft beer province.

Time to end this tale but a word to the wise for the guys out there. Before engaging in the wild and nasty, remember to tell your lovely partner: "Hang on, babe, let me grab some medical equipment before we continue." According to the Canadian government, that's some serious romantic pillow talk right there. But guys and doll, that's all, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...