Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Adventures in Public Speaking

This man, "Downtown" Wayne Brown held a
recent Beer Fest called BurlOnTap and as it
turned out, Downtown Brown had a special
assignment just for me. My coworkers could
have told him just how foolhardy that was...
Usually when someone asks something above-and-beyond of me, it's almost always at work. Crazy stuff like, "Are you planning to do any work today?" Or weird things like, "You do know they're paying us to work, right?" Or philosophical questions such as, "What part of work are you so afraid of?"

That's why I like going to work. The people there are such jokers. Always with the laughs. So when someone outside my work-place asks something of me, the answer is always the same. "Who are you and how did you get my name?"

Except this time, I knew who he was and how he got my name. Unlike others, he didn't have to search the Halton Police Criminal Data-Base. You see, it was "Downtown" Wayne Brown, the cofounder of two Burlington Summer Beer Festivals, as well as the cofounder of the more recent BurlOnTap Beer Festival in August. So I definitely know this guy. He's beer-related. That's why I'm his buddy.

So anyway, before the BurlOnTap Fest, he said to me, "You know what I'd like to see there?" Yes, I answered confidently, lots of beer! "I'd like to see an educational component to it," he continued. Yes, I replied still confidently, many tasty beers! Wait... an edu-what-now?
I have two ex-wives and a handful of ex-girlfriends
who could tell you a "quickie session" with me does
not last 20 minutes. It's probably something better
timed in seconds. However, talking about beer styles
for 20 minutes? That I can do for the full time period.
Turns out Downtown Brown wanted someone to speak to the crowd in a seminar-way, explaining different beer styles. Capital idea, I told him. Then I suggested that maybe I could do it. That's when a capital idea quickly became a lower-case idea.

I gently tried to balk, suggesting our local craft brewery Nickel Brook had a surplus of brewers hanging around that could do a far superior job. And let's face it - for once (and perhaps the only time), I had a damn good point! All of Nickel Brook's Funk Lab bunch are friendly and outgoing. They're also legally allowed out in public. It was a perfect fit.

But no, Wayne was pretty persistent that it be me and believe me, he is not one to give up easily. Still, I was reluctant. It's not because I'm afraid of public speaking. Quite the opposite. I enjoy it. When I read those studies that show public speaking is people's number one fear, even ahead of dying, I'm truly baffled that most would prefer to be in the coffin rather than reading the eulogy. No, in this case, it was more a matter of knowing there were others nearby that could do a far better job. Many, many others. Anyone else, really.

In the end, I eventually relented.
My man Charles from Nickel Brook Brewing
came up front and told the audience about the
work that goes into making a good sour beer.
I tell you this - this young guy really killed it!
My thinking was basically that I already make an ass of myself on a daily basis. At least now, I'd have a captive audience. And if I really messed it up super badly, I could at least be a You-Tube star for a day. They must have a "Check Out This Idiot" section on the website.

So I went home and jotted down three or four bullet-points for each of the style I picked: lagers, ales, wheats, porters, stouts, Kolsch and sours. The rest of the talk, I would simply ad-lib. I've been writing about these styles for over three years so perhaps it was time to see what I've retained and what's been lost to excessive Imperial IPA brain damage.

Now right off the top, I missed my Friday Night 6 pm Session because I was stuck in traffic and didn't even get home until 6 pm. And then I realized I left my phone at work so I had to drive back and get it. So the first session was super easy. Without me there, I thought it went extremely well.

But that still left three sessions to go. So at 9 pm on the Friday night, I got up to talk. There were about 20 people listening. I've played to bigger rooms. Yes, they were court rooms, actually, but I could do this. So I yacked away about the various beer styles, mostly true but with some embellishment along the way, to be sure.
Boy, if I was gonna to grab a guest speaker,
it should have been Sarah, the Brewmaster
from Lock Street Brewing in St Catharine's.
She is holding up their Jealous Mistress
Brown Ale and Naughty Sailor Lager here.
Unfortunately, she was short-handed so I
brought in some others to speak for me...
So no, Imperial Stouts weren't invented by Russians because it's too damn cold in Siberia and they needed a warming beer to keep their strength up in order to fight the KGB. But some 20 people in Burlington now believe that's the case.

But towards the end, something kind of crazy happened. The last style I talked about was sours and as I was talking, I noticed Charles Voyce from Nickel Brook striding towards the front. When he got there, I was still talking but noticed he had samples of the brewery's Raspberry Uber Berliner Weisse in his hands. So I simply said, "This is where Charles will talk to you about sours."

And that's precisely what he did
. In an informative and entertaining way, Charles started talking about the work involved with making sours. The fruits that have to be crushed. The kettles that have to be cleaned afterwards. The bacteria used in the brewing. Walking among them, still talking and letting them each smell or taste the beer. Everything. I've known Charles for about a year and my guess is he's about 23 years old. But he held this audience, age 20 to 65, in the palm of his hand. He was one of the most engaging public speakers I have ever watched, even if it was just for the closer. And when Downtown Brown opened the floor up for questions, Charles was right there beside me, answering as many as I did. Even when it was over, more people approached us with questions. It was like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid's Kid up there. It was pretty awesome. It went so well, we were both kind of bummed when it finally got cut off.
On the right, Matthew from Beau's All-Natural
Brewing explains the complexity of the Kolsch,
a lagered-ale. Beside him is Devon who was
merely days away from completing his class at
Niagara Brewing College. Like I said, it was
high time to get a few pros up front for this...

By Saturday morning, my head was spinning with thoughts. Like how Aquaman protects 70% of the Earth's surface and everyone thinks he's lame but Batman protects one lousy city and everyone thinks he's awesome? Or as a Game of Thrones fan, how bad I feel every time a character in the show dies because they basically just got fired in front of all of us. That's gotta suck. Oh... and also thoughts about my little beer seminars. That being simply, I could bring pros up there on Saturday night's sessions. The room was full of them. I mean, while Charles does, at this moment, work the retail side of Nickel Brook, he is also a Prud'homme Level 2 Beer Specialist. This is precisely the level of expertise that should be doing the talking.

My first thought was that Sarah Casorso from Lock Street Brewing in Port Dalhousie, a suburb of St. Catharine's, would be perfect. Not only is she a female craft brewer, she is the first female Brewmaster I've met. So that's a whole new perspective and take on the industry that could come from her. The problem is, as stupid as this sounds, she would be too perfect. I mean, why am I even standing up there if a Brewmaster has the floor? Don't get me wrong. I'd much rather have her up there than me (especially to hear what she had to say) but I promised Downtown Brown I'd do this. Handing the whole show over to a brewmaster, regardless of gender, would have been a Game Misconduct.
My younger brother, Gary, dislikes social
media and has asked me many times to never
post him on Facebook, Twitter and even this
blog. His wife, Phe, is cooler about it as she
does Facebook. But he's not the boss of me!!
So... that's Phe on the left and Gary on the
right. Sorry, bro, held off as long as I could.

Also just she and one other were taking care of the booth so if I pull her away, I'm leaving someone stranded. Still, I am happy to report that Sarah was there to correct some serious pronunciation issues on my end. You see, I pronounced Port Dalhousie as "Dal-Howz-Eee". Sarah said, no, no, no... it's "Dah-LOO-zie." For the record, I totally nailed "Port." Like on the first try. But Sarah, your brewery is just a hour away from me. You deserve a lot more than a mere mention in a blog that includes others. So one night, I will travel there and over your beers, we shall talk about your beers, many other beers, the craft beer industry itself, the role women play in it and the general lack of respect that Aquaman gets. Deal?

So it was time to con cherry-pick others who could come up front. Charles had the sours nailed down as Nickel Brook was the only brewery with a sour beer there. So he was a gimme. But while I had most styles in my back pocket, I figured I could use a little help with the Kolsch, that tricky lagered-ale style.

And when I saw Matthew from Beau's All-Natural Brewing working the room on Friday night, I knew I had someone who could explain the complexity of the Kolsch brewing process. (It might be remarkably easy - I have no idea.) But here's the tricky part - he'd have to agree. So I asked him. He said yes. Okay, gotta admit, negotiations went a little more smoothly than I initially thought they might.
Josh and Sam from Four Fathers' Brewing in Rockwood,
Ontario, hold up the fine samples of their beers we would
be enjoying on Saturday evening. But in Sam's left hand
is the Shevchenko 9 Ukrainian Dunkel Euro Dark Lager,
the beer that got the nod from, me, my brother and his
lovely wife as the one we collectively enjoyed the most.

And Saturday was set. That's good because my younger brother, Gary, and his wife, Phe, were in town from Barcelona, Spain and I would be bringing them to their first ever craft beer festival. They had been in Canada for a few weeks looking after my Mom before I could step in to do so and were pretty much regulars at my Beer Store at that point. Their beers of choice, at that point, were Gary's European go-to, Guinness, as well as Molson's Rickard's White, a macro Belgian Wit that they both quite enjoy. I have to agree that it's a pretty good example of the style... but now they were entering Big Brother Donny's Craft Beer Den of Sin. There would be no macros on this night, though as both Jerry and George would say, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

Now before I tell you how Saturday night's beer-talking sessions went, perhaps a quick look at some of the beers that stood out at this event to my brother, his wife and myself. Topping that list was the one we three all agreed was delicious - Four Fathers Brewing (Rockwood, Ontario) Shevchenko 9 Ukrainian Dunkel Euro Dark Lager. As Guinness drinkers, I suspected this might be to their European tastes and with me, the darker the lager, the better.
Which beer was my go-to through the weekend? Well,
Mackenzie and Whitney at the Beau's All Natural
Brewing booth will tell you that they served me more
than my fair share of their outstanding Full Time IPA

Now despite the fact that Four Fathers Brewing began with four fathers meeting in the hockey rink as their sons played, someone in the group is a soccer fan as the name is a tribute to retired Ukrainian soccer star Andriy Shevchenko, who (oddly) always wore jersey #7, not 9, during his illustrious career. So after two samples, I asked Gary and Phe what flavours they were getting from the 5% lager in terms of taste. "Chocolate, for sure," said Phe. "Like a nut and coffee thing," added Gary. And both were bang-on.

But after that, it was the Beau's booth that saw a lot of our time. For me, it was refills of their Full Time IPA, one of the best beers put out in 2017 to my thinking. I don't know an IPA lover out there who wasn't wowed by this beauty this year.

But Gary and Phe found something else at the Beau's booth that they loved - the brewery's Quads & Rockers Belgian Style Quad that tips the scales at a weighty 10.5%. I'm not sure that either had ever had a Belgian Quad before and lemme tell you, Beau's turned them both into huge fans of the style within mere hours. Less, actually, as it was love at first sip.
Beau's Haters Gonna Hate Imperial Kolsch was actually a mistake from
the first crack at making their big Ontario favourite Lug Tread Kolsch.
Matthew from Beau's told that to the crowd during his stint up front.

The pair of them went through as much as the Quads & Rockers as I went through the Full Time IPA. And it is a one great Belgian. I have had it before and always got plum on the nose. Gary got raisins and some banana (which I then got as soon as he said it) while Phe got a lot of coffee in the flavour. But to be honestly, I think the pair just liked drinking a beer over 10%. I don't think they see a lot of that in Spain. And all of us could feel the warmth of the alcohol as it slid down. Rich and oh-so-very dark, it's always been one of my favourite Belgian Style Ales brewed in Ontario.

Let's move on to Matthew from Beau's and see how his turn at the front table turned out.
Hmmm, looking at that glass on the right, I
can see I covered all the big styles in my talk
but it's the glass on the left that speaks to me.
Drink local Ontario craft beer if you want to
live a good life and eventually go to Heaven. 
Well, here's a guy who's used to working the room at Beer Festivals so you know he's going to have the gift of gab, right? He was a lot like Charles that way.

And when he was speaking of Beau's provincially-famous Lug Tread Lagered Ale, he told the story about how it started out as a mistake. (That's okay, Matthew, so was my brother, Gary, but let's just keep that between ourselves.) When they were brewing their first-ever batch of Lug Tread, it accidentally froze, which, in turn, jacked the alcohol level above 7%. So they did it correctly a second time and came out with the desired 5%, instead. But that batch that was a mistake? The damn thing won "Best of Show" at the Golden Taps Awards in Toronto that year. So the brewery recreated the initial batch, named it Haters Gonna Hate Imperial Kolsch, which is a must-have for fans of the style. But be warned, at 7.1%, this ain't your grandpappy's Kolsch. Well, unless your grandpappy is Irish like mine was, in which case, he'd be slamming this down like soda pop.

But Matthew didn't come to the table alone. While there, he met one of the volunteers, Devon, who was, at that point, just days away from graduating the Niagara College Brewmaster Program.
Yeah, I got my little sign up front at the cash counter for the two days of the
BurlOnTap Beer Festival but gang, here's a REAL sign!! When my man
Drunk Polkaroo and his lovely wife, Kat, visited Cowbell Brewing in Blyth,
Ontario near the end of October, the brewery took this sentence out of his
subsequent blog and made this, which is framed and posted in the brewery!
So for the final session, I dragged poor Devon up there. I talked about lagers and ales, then basically passed the whole thing over to him. Like, "..and here's Devon to talk about everything else!" I gotta be honest - that worked exceptionally well for me. The audience got a real understanding of the various styles from a young man on the cusp of turning pro.

So if I had to describe my public speaking style after this event, I would suggest that I seem to shine when it comes to delegating the work to others. So there you go - just like every day at the Beer Store. Always play to your strengths, I say.

But here's an interesting sidebar. On the afternoon of BurlOnTap Day Two, I ran into Nickel Brook co-owner John Romano working the retail counter at the brewery because, of course, Charles was at the Beer Fest. Because I know John fairly well, I absolutely raved about the awesome job his young superstar did for me the night before. Now, a couple of months later, Charles is training for an Inside Sales job there. Was this on the strength of my praise? Absolutely not. It was gonna happen. Because, you see, we always hear the same things repeatedly about Millennials. They're entitled, they're spoiled, they have no ambition, they have no focus... and so on. I call absolute bullshit on that crap. Because I watched three of them come up front with me and they absolutely stole the show. I'm not surprised. As The Who said way back in 1965, "The kids are alright." Some things never change from generation to generation. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...