Friday, 7 July 2017

When two breweries part ways...

At one point, their banners flew side-by-side at 207
Burlington Street East in Hamilton. No longer. Turns
out Collective Arts got the brewery in the divorce.
Well, that was quite a way to start my vacation. It was June 30th and we were, as expected, getting our asses kicked at the Beer Store, which was closed on July 1st for Canada Day.

When I was finally finished my shift (ever have an eight-hour shift that feels like 87 hours?)  I thought I could relax finally and start my vacation with my son. So God laughed in my face, called me ugly and somehow directed my attention to the Canadian Beer News late in the day where I - and many other craft beer lovers in southwestern Ontario - learned that Collective Arts and Nickel Brook Brewing were getting a divorce.

You see, the two breweries have jointly shared the old Lakeport Brewing facility at 207 Burlington Street East in Hamilton since officially opening in May 2015. Their joint venture was called Arts & Sciences Brewing. For those a little slow on the uptake, the "arts" represented Collective Arts and the "sciences" represented Nickel Brook. My early suggestion of Everyone Else Sucks Donkey Ass Brewing was ignored. They were all "something, something, PETA and the Catholic Church would be pissed." I was all, "something, something, don't be pussies, it's a great name!" My marketing credentials are a bit sketchy but in my defence, it's only because I have none.
This old file photo of Nickel Brook owner John
Romano should now read "Brewery Wanted In
The Niagara Region. Must be massive and have
enough space to party, brew and learn about
good beers." There's two years on the clock.

So anyway, the two breweries have co-existed (uneasily at times, it would seem) under the same roof for two years, cranking out both the Nickel Brook core line-up, as well as all of Collective Arts products, which is getting to be a growing and lengthy list.

But that all changed on June 30th when Collective Arts announced that it was taking "sole ownership of the Arts & Sciences Brewery." Effective immediately. The deal is that the Collective Arts will now continue to brew Nickel Brook's core line-up for the next two years while Nickel Brook builds a shiny new brewery in the Niagara Region. Of course, (for two years anyway) Nickel Brook's brewery on Drury Lane in Burlington doesn't budge. That's great news as they are cranking out some phenomenal Brett and sour beers from their "Funk Labs," under the watchful eye of Funkmaster Brewer Patrick Howell. And, of course, they're right around the corner from me. What's really important is "How does this affect Donny?" Let's be realistic here, people.

As well, Brewmaster Extraordinaire Ryan Morrow will continue to split his time between the two breweries just as he has been doing for several years now. After all, he created Collective Arts' first beer, Rhyme & Reason Extra Pale Ale at Nickel Brook back in August 2013. This year, the same beer just struck gold at the Canadian Brewing Awards.
In this July 2015 photo taken by photographer Nick Wong for
a Draft Magazine article, Ryan Morrow, left, is shown with
Collective Arts co-owner Matt Johnson. Now it looks like Ryan
is sporting a traditional Craft Brewer Beard. He is not. That's
more like Craft Brewer 5 O'Clock Shadow. Saw him recently
and now he has a beard that could house a nest full of birds
without him knowing it at all. And it might. He doesn't know.
Actually, I first spotted Rhyme & Reason at a Burlington LCBO back in October 2013 and was pretty excited to see "Burlington, Ontario" on the side of the six-pack. Having just started this little shit-show of a blog a few months prior, I thought there might be a second Burlington craft brewery. That notion was dispelled quickly when I showed up shortly after to get my growlers filled with Headstock IPA and I saw a skid of it on the Nickel Brook floor. What it was doing there was explained to me and thus I learned of contract brewing. Remember, kids, you never stop learning!! Also remember it doesn't really matter because you forget 99% of it anyway but the most important thing here is... uhh, something, something, I don't remember.

And while the split came as a shock to many, should it be? It wasn't to me. For starters, I have been hearing whispers of some acrimony between the two camps for well over a year now. Let's face it. You can't have one business, regardless of the industry, under a roof without the usual amount of tension among the staff. But two competitors under the same roof? As they would say in New Jersey, "Fahgettaboudit."
Is the parting of Collective Arts and Nickel Brook
Brewing worth a classic Johnny Bravo jaw-drop?
No, not really. Just two companies that continue to
grow and frankly, now need their own facilities.
(That's how they talk in New Jersey. True story. I know a guy who knows a guy. That's got nothing to do with "fahgettaaboudit" but I know a guy, anyway.)

But the initial premise of two breweries under the same roof with a humongous amount of brewing capacity back then was a great idea - at least for that time. Not only could the tiny Drury Lane brewery not keep up with the growing demand for Collective Arts beer (Saint of Circumstance Blonde Ale came next), they couldn't even keep up with the screams for their own product.

I remember talking to John Romano in the Autumn of 2014 and he told me LCBOs were calling him directly, saying they needed 10 trays of Headstock IPA and Naughty Neighbour American Pale Ale each! Like immediately! "And I'm here telling them that I can maybe give them two trays of each but that's it," he said, looking as harried as hell at the time. So 10 trays? Fahgettaboudit. With their smaller vats, they just couldn't make the beer fast enough for the demands of both breweries. So something had to happen... and it did. The creation of Arts & Sciences Brewing in the old Lakeport Brewing facility. Yeah, sure, the partnership wasn't destined to last forever but it served its exact purpose when it needed to. And that was two years ago. Things needed to change at that time so they did. Bigly! (They say that in New Jersey, too.)
Neatly sandwiched between my son's stylin' Marvel superhero sandals is
Collective Arts' IPA No. 3, the latest in their experimental new product
series. Okay, I loved IPA No. 1 and thought IPA No. 2 was solid but this
bad boy is the best of the bunch. But to deal with what's really important
here, that's Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wolverine, Captain America and
Thor on those sandals. Let's just get that out of the way first. Priorities.

As for Collective Arts getting the whole brewery to themselves, well, I knew Nickel Brook beers were brewed there but even I never thought of it as anything other than Collective Arts. They have the retail component. That's the face of any business. That's why companies don't use me as the face of their business. Last time they used my face, it was for the Titanic. And you know what, Rose? There was room for Jack on that door. "I'll never let you go," she said... as she let him go. Bitch.

So unless someone accidentally mentions to Taylor Swift there was a break-up, this will not be the thing from which stupidly-catchy pop songs destined to be forgotten within minutes is born. It's business. It's growth. And it happens every day somewhere. But you know what? We came here not to praise Caesar Salad but rather to not eat salad at all. It's Beer Time!
Oh my lawdie, the Nickel Brook With Glowing Hearts
Sour was a cherry-tweaked little batch of tasty. At 8.2%,
it's definitely on the strong side for a sour and man, does
it pack a punch. The Funk Labs continue to rock it out.

Well, why not stick with Collective Arts and Nickel Brook since the breweries are both cranking out tasty newbies with alarming frequency these days.

And first on deck is Collective Arts No. 3 IPA, the latest in their experimental series. All three of the new IPAs were 7.1% and exactly 80 IBUs (international bitterness units) despite using different hops with each of the trio. Not sure how they pulled that off but dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor not a brewer! All I know is this. I thought all three were great but until I had this one, IPA No. 1 was the leading contender. It just go bumped from the throne as No. 3 is now affixed to the golden chair. Using Crystal and Citra hops, this had a tropical fruit aroma with almost an earthy hemp-like whiff (I know one hop smells like a lot like marijuana but I can't remember which) but lots of mango and melon on the tongue. I'm Team #3 all the way, baby but keep them coming as this is the sort of experiment where nobody loses. I can only assume what the folks at CA are doing is giving us these goodies in the form of a competition where winner-takes-all and is named the brewery's next official IPA. To which I say... facking schweet!!!!
I had a shot of Nickel Brook's Proud as Funk Flanders
Red-Brown Blend but opted to use Drunk Polkaroo's
instead. Not just because it's a far superior photo but
actually because he had the foresight to emphasize the
back label which is a shout-out to our friends in the
LGBTQ community. It's a great message to share.

Okay, Nickel Brook's Funk Lab on Drury Lane is pumping out sours for hours these days and they did not disappoint with the latest pair. First up is their Canada Day special, With Glowing Hearts Sour. According to its commercial description, this is a "golden sour aged in oak barrels for two years with Brett (yeast) and Lacto (lactobacillus, a lactic acid), then aged an extra three months on Montmorency cherries." Okay, since that's all brewers' bafflegab, what does this taste like? Like a funky cool Cherry Pop Tart. At 8.3%, you're gonna be sipping this one. Pouring a deep red, this was all cherries and Sour Patch Kids on the nose while on the tongue, there was a sweetness (almost vanilla) balancing the tartness but also more cherry goodness. You could feel the warmth of the alcohol as this warmed up. Great job with this one!

Okay, next on deck is the Funk Lab's Proud as Funk, a Flanders Red-Brown Blend, aged separately in oak barrels before being matured in a fermenter together.
Nickel Brook co-founder Peter Romano manned the BBQ when the
brewery held their June Fundraiser with all proceeds going to the
Ronald McDonald House Foundation, which houses children and their
families as they are being treated in nearby hospitals. At the end of the
day, Nickel Brook and those of us who came out raised nearly $2,500!!
The beer was created as a shout-out to the LGBTQ community and was released just prior to Pride Week. Also, my Nickel Brook buddy, Tony Cox, helped name it so 10 points to Gryffindor for that. Okay, usually Flanders are the sourest of all the sours so, well, was this? Oh yeahhh. The 7.1% beer poured dark brown and was heavy with the darker fruits on the nose, such as plums and even purple grapes. On the tongue, the mouth-puckering brew continued with more of the same with almost a red-wine feel lurking in the background. Sour, sweet, a little bit of everything in this one and a great tribute to the Pride Week festivities.

But because I'm, well, clueless, I had to admit to my Beer Store coworker, as well as proud Prider, Trey, that I didn't know what the Q meant in LGBTQ. The first four initials, yeah, I got those but Q? Well, it turns out that stands for "questioning," meaning, I guess, you're not quite sure where you land. There you go. Learn something new every day.

And hey, if you want to support your friends in their community, it's probably helps to have a better understanding of it, even down to the acronyms.

Okay, before I "peace out" here, let's look at a couple of fundraising events and products where craft brewers successfully supported their communities.
Shauna Stacey holds up a cheque from Barnstormer Brewing for the
Simcoe chapter of Autism Ontario. One dollar from the sale of every
bottle of their SR-71 Blackbird Black IPA went to the cause. The beer
was the first release in their fund-raising "Community Series" and as
you can see, they sold 697 of those beers! And three of them were to me!
First up are my homeys at Nickel Brook who held a Charity BBQ in their parking lot on June 17 with all proceeds going to the Ronald McDonald House Foundation. I was part of that fun and in the end, the bunch of us rowdies helped raise nearly $2,500 for the RMHF.

Meanwhile up there in Barrie, Barnstormer Brewing and Distillery was also raising funds, in this case going towards the Simcoe chapter of Autism Ontario. Head brewer Jeff Woodworth created a special Black IPA that they named SR-71 Blackbird Black IPA and a buck from every bottle went towards the charity. In the end, they raised nearly $700 for Autism Ontario Simcoe.

So a great job by two fantastic breweries, proving once again, Ontario craft brewers kick ass! Okay, I'll be back soon but at the moment, my son, David, and I are heading to Gross Pointe Farms, Michigan to visit my high school buddy Cheesy and his lovely wife April so that Cheesy can show me the best craft breweries in the Detroit area while April spoils the hell out of my boy! Talk about a win-win! But guys and dolls, that it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...