Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The birthday week continued...

Yup, just outside Kirkland Lake, Ontario, is the
tiny hamlet of... Swastika? First incorporated in
1908, why haven't they changed their name in
their 107 years? Well, I'm glad you asked that...
The problem with me taking an entire week off for my birthday is that when I started my nine days off, I made all these plans. I was gonna visit a bunch of craft breweries, I was finally gonna give my place a good cleaning and hey, maybe even paint a wall or two...

That was my plan. Now that vacation is over and no cleaning or painting got done. Craft breweries were visited but that's it. You see, whenever I have time off, it always goes like this...
Me: Man, I am gonna be so productive today!!!
The Internet: No, you're not.
Me: No, seriously, I mean it this time!
The Internet: No, you don't...
Me: *sighing* No, I don't...
The Internet: Who's my bitch?

But I am happy to report that I learned some things last week - old dog, new tricks and whatever. The one that surprised me the most was that there's an actual town in Ontario called Swastika. Now if you're anything like me, your initial reaction is: "Holy crap! Why didn't they change that after the war? Pretty offensive!" If I have to explain what a swastika is to anyone, well, you might be a Millennial and as such, you are proficient with Google. So I decided to look into it and find out for myself. This is called "real news" and a handful of us are still proponents.
The absolute funniest post I saw on Valentine's Day
came courtesy of Stevil St Evil, down in Wellington,
New Zealand. Local brew-pub, Black Dog Brewing,
decided to turn the usual lame "Hallmark day" into
something a little more exciting by dropping fake
engagement rings into every women's beer glass. Is
that pure evil? Or is it just hilarious? Yes and yes.

You see, originally, the swastika is translated from Sanskrit as "good luck" and is a centuries-old symbol for precisely that - luck. In 1907, local prospectors opened a gold mine and called it the Swastika Gold Mine that because, hey, you find gold, that's pretty lucky, right? A year later, the town took the name.

Now of course, when the Nazi Party started their rise in Germany in the mid-1930s, the symbol became associated with Aryan (White) Supremacy. That's a bad thing. I mean, I'm white and there are squirrels in my backyard superior to me. So the Province started renaming cities and town with German-related words. Berlin became Kitchener and Swastika became Winston. But the townfolk of Swastika were not impressed. So they tore down the new signs and replaced them with the old Swastika town signs. Another sign that popped up explained their intent. It said, "To Hell with Hitler! We came up with our name first!"

So anyway, my cleaning never got done. Neither did any painting. But hey, now you know the story of the town of Swastika. Because I took the week off, I have to somehow justify a mostly-wasted week with fresh but trivial knowledge. I don't expect any of you to buy that. I'm just trying to convince myself. I wish myself swastika... uh, I mean good luck with that. But I did get out to some great craft breweries earlier this week - Black Oak, The Indie Alehouse, Junction Craft Brewing, Big Rock, as well as both Great Lakes and Nickel Brook twice.
Black Oak President Ken Wood holds up the very beer
that prompted my birthday Toronto visit, their Triple
Chocolate Cherry Stout. Minus the beard, Ken used to
be a regular visitor to Oakville Beer Stores when he
started his brewery there in 1999. In 2008, they up and
moved to their present brewery location in Etobicoke. 

And on Sunday, I popped into Brantford's Bell City Brewing and Hamilton's Collective Arts so at least when I promised myself I'd visit a shit-ton of breweries last week, I followed through. Like a goddamn boss! Who's the bitch now, Internet? Oh, I probably checked my phone regularly so I guess it's still me. It's funny how I keep some promises to myself but not others. While craft beer does seem to be the common theme with the kept promises, that can't possibly be it. I tell you, gang, even Batman couldn't solve this riddle. (Batman: "Shut up. It's beer. Get out of my cave before Superman shows up. You're lame! Clark is still laughing about Aquaman's visit!")

But it was on my birthday, February 14, that I made the most stops as a birthday present to myself - Black Oak, Indie Alehouse, Junction Craft and Big Rock. And the first two came with a specific beer targeted. For Black Oak, it was their Triple Chocolate Cherry Stout and at Indie Alehouse, it was their Cockpuncher Imperial IPA. Both have been on my Wish List for quite some time and were only available at the breweries. Stopping at Black Oak first, I was happily chatting with the counter guy when president Ken Wood wandered out, overhearing that I worked at an Oakville Beer Store.
This Indie Alehouse photo shows the hard-to-find
Cockpuncher Imperial IPA that Beer Bro Glenn
has been raving about for quite some time. Granted,
it's Glenn. I wasn't sure. Was the beer or the name?
So he rattled off a few employee names and I gave him updates as I was buying my six beers - that stout and their 10 Bitter Years Imperial IPA. Then I remembered, "Oh, right. I need a glass." Ken simply handed me one and smiled, "Happy Birthday." Cool dude! Usually, the first inclination of a craft brewery when you walk in wearing a Beer Store jacket is to sell you a hoodie so you can take that jacket off. But Ken remembers the Oakville Beer Stores fondly. The feeling is reciprocated.

I have rhapsodized about the IPA many times here but how was that Triple Chocolate Cherry Stout? Well, it's 5.8% for starters so it won't crush your skull. The chocolate malts and the cocoa powder are nicely offset by the cherry juice used, which adds some needed tartness to the sweetness. Not heavy but still rich. Beautifully balanced.

Now for a couple of years, I have heard both Beer Bro Glenn and Rib Eye Jacks Ale House GM Steve, two buddies without much in common, refer to the Cockpuncher Imperial IPA in glowing terms. So this was a no-brainer. Okay, now I get the fuss. At 11% and what has to be close to 100 IBUs (international bitterness units), this is a pine and grapefruit bomb. The first words out of my mouth were honestly, "Holy shit!"
I decided to put the Big Rock Citradelic Single Hop IPA into the
Collective Arts one because the Big Rock one, gifted to me from
Tony at Nickel Brook is black ceramic. I like to show the colour.
Glenn told me that as far as he was concerned this was a triple-IPA and when Steve waxes poetic about anything, it's top-notch, Grade-A goods. Definitely the best beer I've had in this short year.

When I dropped off a four-pack of beers to former coworker Jay-Dawg, this and the Black Oak stout were among them, as well as two dark beauties from Junction Craft, which I haven't had yet. Jay told me that his lovely lady Cara "has made the Cockpuncher sound like a beer legend!" Then he asked me why I was dropping him off beers on my birthday. I shrugged that I heard once in Australia, it was the birthday person giving out gifts. I can find no proof of this on the Internet. (The Internet: "Hah! Made you look. Again! Bitch.") Jay smiled, "Happy Australian Birthday to you... and I guess even more to me!"

After my trip to Junction Craft (more on them soon), I decided to add a fourth and stopped in at the new Big Rock Brewing in Etobicoke. I had meant to much earlier when they first opened in September. I wanted to see what they had that was previously unavailable here.
I quite liked Collective Arts No. 1 IPA but it's no Ransack
The Universe. Because nothing is. Still tasty, though. The
Nordic Sol Gose was also pretty tasty but Goses are mild.
And there was plenty of newbies on tap but only available in growlers. Since I have 11 growlers under my kitchen table that have been collecting dust for months, adding to that unwashed village seems stupid, even for me. I can clean a few out and pop back for their one-offs, I figure. So I grabbed a six-pack of their Citradelic Single Hop IPA. I had a can of it in the Autumn but hadn't gotten around to reviewing it. I also couldn't find it in my transcripts, remembering only that I liked it. Trying it again, I remembered. This is a very lightly citrus IPA, not a brain-buster. Nowhere in the same league of Great Lakes' single-hop Karma Citra but there was something I quite liked about it. At 6% and just 67 IBUs, this is again milder fare than Ontarians are used to these days but it's nice to pop a mellower one from time to time. I remember Jay-Dawg having one at the same time as me and coming to the exact same conclusion: "I liked it." Hey, man, sometimes liked it is more than enough. I'll be back, Big Rock... growlers in hand.
High school buddy Gord posted this on my
Facebook page on my birthday and I thought it
was pretty cool. Where did you find it, I asked
him. "I Googled Redmond Beer," he shrugged.
Okay, that should have been pretty obvious to me
but am I, in fact, "the fresh, bold flavour of the
Northwest"? I would suggest that no, I am not.

A trip into Hamilton's Collective Arts is always a good investment of time so I made a point of it on the weekend after they released two new ones - the Collective Project IPA No. 1 and the Nordic Sol Gose. The problem with Collective releasing another IPA is that they already have Ransack The Universe Hemispheric IPA, my 2016 Beer of the Year. Tough to beat that. Then again, Great Lakes has lots of IPAs, all great but a couple, well, maybe a little more great. So what the hell, eh? If there's one beer style I do not mind flooding the marketplace, it's IPAs. At first, both beer writing-videographer buddy Drunk Polkaroo and myself were concerned about the Nelson Sauvin hops, albeit alongside much higher-profile Citra and Simcoe hops. That said, Nelson Sauvin with its fruity, white wine-like flavouring is probably better as a balancing hop than a stand-alone one. This was quite good. The citrus and pine of the other two hops jump to the fore in this 7.1%, 80-or-so IBU beer and in the end, I really enjoyed it. Four times. Because that's how many I bought. Birthday week, remember? The ones I went back for are... oh just shut up!

The 4.5% Nordic Sol Gose comes with a pretty cool back story. It starts with a Reykjavik, Iceland brewery named KEX - in a country where beer was prohibited until 1989 (not kidding). Seems their team landed in Hamilton to help create this collaborative effort in December. Let's assume their first words were, "So, where's Winter?"
Here's the brewpub portion of the KEX Hostel, so really
it's the part that we care about. Although, hey, it's pretty
damn handy to have a nearby bed when you hunker down
at a brewpub in Reykjavik, Iceland. Hear it's a bit chilly
But, if I understand this correctly, KEX is not primarily a brewery-brewpub, it's actually a hostel. And apparently, one of the best in the entire world and one that hosts the Iceland Beer Festival. Seems they have expanded into other endeavours. Anyway, our Icelandic friends flew to Hamilton, the two breweries had a big bash at Brux House... and this beer was born from that night. Despite the fact they used Icelandic sea-salt and Arctic thyme, this 4.5% sour is far less salty than the Gose released last Summer by Collective Arts. Tart and lemony is the best description of this as I find Goses to be the mildest of all sour styles though I quite liked this one. Those Flanders Red-style sours nearly bring me to my knees. As Homer would say, stupid sexy Flanders. (The Internet: "You'd know none of this without me." Me: "Shut up! I'd know The Simpsons' part!")

Okay, believe it or not, I still have a crap-ton of Birthday Week beers to talk about in this space so stay tuned. Given how many individual trips around the Sun I've taken so far - more than 40, less than 100 - I'm still happy to be on the damn ride and drinking the best beers of my life. And you guys are lucky to have me. Seriously. Buy me beers. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain, as always...