20 September 2017

An Odd Morning

Driving home from work and I was looking forward, as is usual for me, to a few pints in the Grotto with the next day being my first off in a week. I had missed many dinners with the late nights and overtime but since we don't have kids, it didn't really impact us that much. Kat and I spend a few hours together and then she heads to bed while I stay up a little later for some quality time alone with a beer to settle my mind. I started thinking about how different our life would be with kids, how the hell people afford them and what I would be doing if we did have them. I pretty sure I'd be different too and chances are I would but I also started to wonder about what I want to do with the back half of my life.
  Life without kids isn't really something people like to talk about. Some give their time to charitable and community organisations. Others concentrate on their extended families, becoming integral to nieces and nephews and involved in their lives to contribute something. I thought about some of these things, but my work schedule sees me home long after most everything that would like my help or on the weekends when I almost never am off. It crossed my mind to go back to coaching but in reality, with my schedule I would miss almost every game and practice, rendering me at best an ineffective assistant who would be missing 80 percent of the time.
  So where does that leave me? I ponder what I am doing, working so hard and despite the financial rewards, do I need to pursue money for the sake of money? When you have children, your focus obviously shifts to making sure they have a better life than you did. You strive to give them the best you can and  sacrifice to ensure that happens. I don't have to do that, the only people I have to worry about is Kathryn and myself if you get right down to it. I love my extended and immediate family but through the combination of lifestyle, work and just plain neglect, I have become a peripheral member at best. I wish them only the best things, but I am not involved enough to be considered anything but a member in name only it feels sometime. Perhaps as we get older, things will change with a little more effort on both sides.
  I used to be involved in all sorts of family events, hosting and planning them because I wanted to ensure a strong bond and a history of family traditions for my future children. Not having them means that any tradition becomes moot after I die, perhaps the memory of what I did carried for a generation but then I become a picture in an album that eventually finds its way to that dusty attic. A little dark but not untrue. I can tell stories of long ago relatives, but do the children of my cousins and brothers know them? How long before they are left to the past and a world that goes on regardless? Its a weird way to look at life I will agree, but it's where I am right now.  The best thing about writing down my thoughts is to help me see what is bothering me and when I am finished, they tend to recede to the past.
 With holiday season approaching, I become more introspective about what they mean and how I want to deal with them. Thanksgiving has long been avoided, along with easter, because they never felt like fun. Having to choose which side to go to makes it a minefield and I am not even going to get into Christmas, that mess isn't made better by hosting. I see nothing of value in forced bonhomie with anyone and since we really don't celebrate any of them with the verve of those around us, I am always left with nothing to say when we get together. We don't exchange gifts or have anything near a traditional holiday. It isn't necessary to perpetuate the myths of the santa or the rush of presents and family time when it is just two people, we buy the stuff we need and occasionally what we want when we can afford it. Just because it's December doesn't mean we suddenly have more money for things we don't need. So not being part of that and stepping out of the larger family gift giving takes us further afield. It's not the season of my youth obviously and while I do enjoy the trappings of the season, the specials on TV, the beer and the food, I cannot get excited about something I no longer participate in. I don't hate Christmas or anything like that, it's just different for me now and I don't know if I like that or not.
 It's not a "pity party" as one wonderful member of my family said of my work last week, I just write what I am thinking to help me understand it. None of this is ever intended to ask for sympathy, it is and has always been a way for me to convey my feelings, work out the problems I am having and maybe help someone who is suffering in silence to realise that they are not alone. I don't want anyone to think I hate my life or how it has turned out. I write because it works for me, no one has to read it if it bothers them, I would never want that. My social life has shrunk but thanks to my online friends I can always find someone to talk to and that has added value to my life that I can't measure. Do I want to go out more? Sure I do and I hope we will as my work life returns to a more normal pace.
  It is easy to become inward looking when you don't have to look outward and you see the march of time ending with your own demise. I get a little maudlin when I realise all this comes to an end when I go and no one carries on the lessons I would teach. But it isn't all doom and gloom, I intend to squeeze every moment of enjoyment I can out of whatever time I have left. I will do what I want to and make decisions about my life that enhance it wherever I can. It's been a weird way to arrive at this conclusion, but that is what this process has always been for me. Write and understand my own mind, it's taken me far and I don't want to stop now. The depression and low feelings are a thing of the past and it is though this medium that I have found peace with who I am. I'll be as surprised as you where this all ends up,

18 September 2017

Who Changed? You or Your Beer?

It happens every year. Your favourite seasonal release is eagerly awaited and talked about with rising anticipation on social media. Maybe you plan a special trip to the brewery or anxiously scan their website or your LCBO app for the moment it appears in stock.  Your glee at its eminent return is finally met with fruition on release day when you acquire and then prepare for a return to the glory of yesteryear. Pouring carefully so as not to spill a drop, your happiness grows and you take your first sniff and sip...and are left pondering what your purpose in life was and what the hell did they do to my beer.
"It's not the same"
"They changed the recipe"
"It used to be so Juicy/dank (or whatever)"
  The beer nerd in me sometimes agrees and we look to the brewer for answers. Did they change something about the recipe? Cut corners on costs or perhaps it was the new equipment/staff? We want accountability and ask these questions privately and often very publicly. When you anticipate something for so long and then it doesn't measure up, you are disappointed writ large. I get messages from friends all the time about how this or that beer has changed. I experienced it myself with the year to year release of Mill Street Brewing's Vanilla Porter, finding it falling from my favourite beer in 2015 to a watered down mess in 2017. But did it really change or is there a more plausible explanation. While Labatt's acquisition of that particular brand had me walking past them on principle, they didn't suddenly forget how to brew great beer just because they now answer to the lizard people of macro beer and pseudo craft.
Did Great Lakes change the hop bill of Lake Effect or Karma Citra? Unlikely, in fact if you ask them, they'll tell you it's the same beer, year after year, Mike Lackey doesn't skimp when it comes to quality and you can see every time you crack open a GLB product. This is true for the majority of our Ontario Craft Brewers and their commitment to making good beer. I am not naïve enough to think that it never happens, but I think the reason we are seeing more people questioning their beer is much more personal.

  Maybe we are the ones who've changed.
  There is little doubt in my mind that my palate has grown. My ability to perceive flavours I didn't know existed 3 years ago continues to amaze me and when I talk about beer with my pals, we are getting deeper into it every time. Is it possible that as we grow and change as beer drinkers, our perceptions of past releases is tinted with rose coloured glasses. My first foray into IPAs left me hating them, all pine tree bitter and nothing else was what I got out of it. But for the sake of Untappd and logging new beers I kept at it, pour after pour. Slowly I began to perceive the citrus notes, the complex relationship between the malt body and the hops used. Did they suddenly make Headstock better or did I understand what was in my glass because I had worked to train myself to? There is truth to learning flavours, I grew up with a pretty boring approach to food and drink, simple was best and I didn't venture far from the cores of middle class meat and potatoes, so to speak. As I've grown older, I have tried to open up to new culinary experiences and with beer it has been even more dramatic. Where before we would look to a sixer as a way to escape reality, we now turn to our fridge for flavour, texture and an experience to transport our taste buds to a magical place. We want our beer to be special, unique and offering us a chance to transcend from the everyday. But from your first stout to the 15 % Bourbon barrel aged bombers you'll find as the snow flies, you have changed and that has to be part of the conversation.

  For me with Mill Street in 2015, the Vanilla Porter just clicked one day. It went from being a bitter coffee to a smooth dessert in a glass. I bought it every week and lamented its disappearance as the spring came around. My pursuit of great beer continued and when the next year headed for its last few months, I couldn't wait to get my favourite beer back. Spying it on the shelf, I bought a few and headed home with great joy. Turns out it was short lived and I was left with a bad taste in my mouth and a beer that I felt let me down, Truth was I had learned so much about myself through my beer in the year that despite my memory, it was the same beer but I could perceive it differently now. The growth of our own ability to pick out flavours and textures has to be part of what we discuss when we talk about the changing nature of any beer. The influx of new and very creative craft beer makers has challenged our long held notions of what is normal and we are confronted with things we couldn't have imagined not so long ago.
  This isn't to say that variations and changes don't happen. There have been instances when I have had a beer that doesn't measure up and I always check with the brewery privately to see what's up. Most will be straightforward, a conversation is always better than a confrontation in my books and they are still a business trying to sell beer and grow their market share. So it doesn't do them any good to put out substandard beer or treat an inquiry with disdain. Do some of them do those two things? Sure, but they don't last long and the quality of your product and the way you treat your consumers flies along the craft beer pipeline really quick. Certain brewers are avoided just because their attention to detail or lack thereof is well known and time will bear out the pretenders.
  I try to approach every beer with an open mind. I want to understand what the brewer is doing and if they are on point with the style they have chosen. My memory of a beer is often tinted with the happiness of the first time I had it because it was so new. That IPA you gushed about last year led you to try so many more and now you have a better grasp on what to expect. Maybe when you had it this year, it was still a great beer, but the wow factor was gone. Your personal growth didn't change the beer but it did change how you perceived it. I am living proof that we can and do become when we are more attuned to what's in our beer. Going from only perceiving the outside to digging deep and learning what true flavour is there.
  First love is always bittersweet, be it human or beer. So take a moment and look inward to see what has changed about yourself in the last year and then go deeper into the beer. A true examination requires you to be honest and understand what the pursuit of the perfect pint has brought into your life. You know more than you think you do and that knowledge has given you insight you didn't know you had. And as always, remember that it's just beer...try and enjoy it while it lasts!

Raise your glass and your standards
One Beer at a time!


12 September 2017

Never a Dad 2.0

  I still wonder what my life would be like if we had been able to have kids. The vision of being a father is fading fast in the rear view mirror of my life and the empty canvas of the unplanned back half is unknown. I often find my connections to other people can be difficult because we don't have children. The shared experience of having a family as a parent is lost on me in absolute terms; I understand it but I don't really "get" it. That undying love that a parent feels isn't something I can pull from my life and to be honest, I find myself leaning inward and becoming more withdrawn sometimes as we pass further from this time in our lives. It's not depression anymore, more a numbness on an old wound that never healed properly.
 We still get the adoption question and while I know people are well meaning, the process is something we looked into and for our own reasons feel like it isn't for us. Our lives are careening toward a future we couldn't envision and our options have been exhausted. It can be frustrating when you know the barriers to your reproductive health are both medical and financial and there is nothing you can do about either. We contemplated IVF with the announcement of Ontario's funding increase but it became apparent that even with that help it was beyond our means to afford, emotionally or otherwise. To know you came up short and are leaving an important part of the human experience in the dust is unsettling some days, despite an overall happiness with our lives.
    The great unknown of what could have been is what will always linger in the back of my mind. Having been raised by parents who did everything they could to give us a good life, I envisioned being a very involved Dad. Coaching sports, helping with school projects, playing made up games, healing hurts and all the other million things a parent does. Late nights caring for a sick kid aren't high on my list, but I would have done it because I would have loved my child more than anything in the world. That kind of love transcends anything I have experienced and knowing that I will miss out on that is probably what kills me the most. I wanted to feel that kind of joy when I looked down at my sleeping child, heard a first word, watched a first step or even shared their first beer.
   Long term, life will go on, joy will be present in other forms but I know that I will never get to hold my child in my arms. That one is tough to take, I have had loss and disappointment in my life but I never saw being childless as a possible outcome. It's not that there is no value without kids, many of our friends and family have gone through this and live rich and fulfilling lives. I love what I have built with Kathryn and have no wish to be anywhere but here. I have a good job and am almost at the point where the mistakes of the past, financially anyway, are behind me and repaired. I get to drink amazing beers all the time and am constantly meeting new people who quickly become friends. But there are going to be quiet moments when I will be caught off guard and feel that longing to be more than I am. Dad is one title I shall never acquire and that will always be the saddest thing I can imagine.


10 September 2017

That First Beer...

  There is a moment every day that beer drinkers know and look forward to. That first sip of beer to make it to your lips is sweet ambrosia, be it a long day at work or a mid morning eye opener on your day off. Nothing quite compares that ripple in time when the world stops and you get to embrace yourself. Choosing the right style sets the mood for the ones that follow or perhaps it is your only one of the night and it has to be perfect. Do you choose an old favourite or let caution fly and grab something you've never had before. The pop of the top and a scent should grab you, enticing you further into the zone. The pour is perfect, tilted and then straight, for maximum effect. Swirl and sniff, it's getting good now, you can almost taste it. Raise up the glass, look at the colour, embrace what you hold in your hands and smile because it is time.
Close your eyes and experience with joy the reward of being alive to experience this moment. Texture, flavour, nuanced responses as you sip, smell and savour. Is it a heavy stout, slow sipping and mind bending? Crushable Helles lager, making you feel like you could stay here and crack another one? Simple saison with citrus, banana and clove reminding you of why you love this so much? It matters not what you do for a living, your bank account or love life, craft beer is there for you.
  Slowly taking the time to understand the flavours, complex or simple, as you take another sip is part of what makes this different. You are not mindlessly pounding macro after macro, chasing oblivion, you want more. You want flavours you never considered, new and exciting. You want funk, barrels and fruit. You want to be tested and tempted to push the boundaries of what you know. The art of enjoying your beer may be new or perhaps your palate is refined and educated, this matters not to the beer as it does what the brewer intended, nothing more or less. The communication from conception of recipe to brewing to your glass is done with care and if you let it, the beer will speak to you. Hopes and dreams fill the bottles and cans we buy, there are people behind these beers with stories that match our own. We are one in our pursuit of that perfect moment when expectation meets reality and we can finally let the world drift away.
  The final sip always seems to come too soon, there is never enough when you find the right beer for your day. You think about your life as you stare into the glass, its contents now down to one final test. Did it hold up? Do you? Pause before you finish, savour the happiness you have just experienced and give thanks to be here, right now. You let the glass rest a moment and then let the end come to you. You don't immediately head to the fridge for another one, you sit and wait, giving this time to be thankful we live in the time we do. Can you have another beer, another moment? Of course, but it will not be like this. The first beer is always special because it is the time you have given yourself to truly be who you are. The world may not always be fair, we may not always have sunshine in our hearts but your first beer is waiting and if you let it, it can bring you light in the darkest of days. Don't rush through life, stop and make sure you have time to just be, you deserve it.

Raise your glass and your standards,
One Beer at a time.



9 September 2017

This is Us, Craft Beer Edition.


Way back in the summer of 2015 when I first started writing about beer, it was for fun. I had no agenda, idea or coherent plan. I didn't set out to do anything special or create content. I didn't think it would lead to adventures, friendships and yes, the occasional free beer. Although on the latter I always thought (and still do) that if I got one it would be the coolest thing ever. I started it simply as a way to share what I was drinking with my friends as well as show that despite the troubles I was in at the time financially and personally, I was still alive and doing well.

  In December of that year, I did my first Beer Advent calendar and began to take a little more care in my photos and descriptions. I enjoyed thinking about what I was drinking and with some encouragement from friends, I put a little more effort into my words. I began the blog and videos to add to the initial Instagram page because it was fun. It was a way to express myself even more and as anyone who follows along here, it has turned into a personal journey as well as a beer one. Revealing parts of my life that I had hidden away helped to heal old wounds and bring up emotions I hadn't felt in years. It helped me connect with people on another level and despite some trepidation at the nature of what I was revealing, it was cathartic and did my soul some good.
  While craft beer is always my main focus, I began to see how the platform I was on could do some good for other people. I talked about depression, infertility, starting over and alcohol abuse to name just a few. I believe in being honest about everything I write and I think that's why I have made so many great connections over the last 2 years. People who drink good beer are, for the most part, good people. I've encountered few folks I wouldn't want to share a pint with and for this guy, that's the very golden pot at the end of the Rainbow.

  I see new craft beer focused accounts and people all the time popping up on social media. Groups of friends are getting together to share a page and even more great beer. Some stunning photography and creative video clips are showing up and it is only helping to promote the community even more. The enthusiasm of many of the newcomers is infectious and the friendships you see being made are awesome, all because we love great beer. But not everyone is doing it for the right reasons or in an honest and straightforward way.
  Within any community there will be people who want to exploit and lie their way to a position of prominence. Whether it is to make themselves feel important or for financial gain, it matters not. Paying for followers, acting like you're better than everyone else and generally shilling for free shit is not what the majority of craft beer drinkers stand for and when I see it, I want to call it out. I don't understand what makes a person pay actual money to get fake followers, fake friends and ultimately a fake life. I do what I do because it is who I am. The Drunk Polkaroo was a persona I created as a joke on my stupid drunken days and the promises I would make when I was snackered to do things with people and then flake on when I was sober. I didn't plan out a "brand" or target breweries with promises of increasing their business. For myself and most of the others who share our pics and stories on social media, we do it for fun, to connect with like minded folk and maybe share a pint in  real life. Phony accounts run by someone with an agenda or a marketing plan is, in my opinion, the opposite of what the majority of us do. We share our pics and stories because we care about the beer, genuinely want to meet people and enjoy being part of something that allows us to interact with the small businesses we support.

  The community of craft beer is at its core a place where we make friends, real or virtual, enjoy the creativity and design of the breweries we love and the people we follow. It has grown so much in such a short amount of time that I can hardly believe it. New styles of beer and amazing takes on traditional ones keep us hoping for a trade or beer saint gift with others. Road trips mean an opportunity to meet up in person and share a pint with those we've become such good friends with online. Being able to communicate our finds and what is new at our local breweries sparks conversation and inspires us to want to visit. We do it with pride and want the beer world to know about the latest release from places near to our hearts. We post old favourites because we love them and enjoy them regularly. But most of all, we just want to share a little bit of our life, the good and bad sometimes, with the world. We want to be part of something bigger than us and we have found that in beer. Stay true to yourself, always share honestly and keep those photos, stories and videos coming, they bring a smile to my face every single day. And remember to always Raise your glass and your standards, One beer at a time.



3 September 2017

Want a date? Yes we do!

Legible Dates make me smile.
Great Lakes Octopus wants to Fight drank 2 days after canning last week!
  I work in a grocery store and few things matter more than customer service and  the freshness of what we sell. We are vigilant in monitoring our products to make sure consumers get what they pay for and while most best before dates are early warnings of when the food or drink should be consumed by for optimal flavour and nutrition, they also help people decide whether to purchase a product or not.
  If only it were so simple for our beer.
  So many craft breweries have opened in the last couple of years and a lot of them have begun listing their beer at the liquor and grocery stores without proper date codes. Smudged, illegible or just plain missing, it was a shock to many folks I work with to see this almost negligent omission taking place. Putting the question to my fellow beer nerds on social media, I discovered they didn't want a best before date as much as a canned/bottled on one. "Let us decide if we want to buy based on when it was produced and we are good to go," most said. A lot of them adding that a best before was often arbitrarily decided by the brewer. My novice craft beer friends reach out all the time and ask me how old a beer is too old and how to tell the difference when the codes are missing or unreadable. Of course, storage, temperature and light all play a factor in how long our beer lasts and we all know too well about the famous warm shelf storage plan of our local merchants.
Brimstone gets it

  Craft beer is far more susceptible to age than their macro counterparts due mostly to their lack of pasteurization and filtering. To put it simply, they use only all natural ingredients without the benefit or downfall of more processing and that leaves them vulnerable to mishandling, improper storage and neglect. The education of the people selling our beer is just as important as helping the consumer understand what are best ways to keep it at optimal conditions. This, along with proper inventory control (first in, first out) and storage from source to home would go a long way to enhancing the viability of every beer sold. No one intentionally sells sub standard beer (I hope) but far too many brewers/retailers don't give enough attention to the fact that it only takes one bad experience to send an inquisitive macro beer drinker headed right back to that over produced but consistent swill. An educated public will demand more transparency from their beer makers, rewarding those who take care to ensure their products' freshness and punishing those who treat them like they have no idea what they are talking about.
Easy to read and right up front. Good Job Block 3

  I am not an expert in many things, but I understand that the fresher your beer, the better it will taste. A window of a few months for some styles (Lagers) to longer, think years, for others (some Stouts/brett beers) leaves many people new to craft beer being overwhelmed and unsure about what to buy and when to drink them. Why we can't help with simple guidelines for most styles is beyond me. We have the science and knowledge of hundreds of years of commercial brewing and yet some breweries still keep quiet about when their products should be consumed by or even when they were canned. I understand there is a cost associated with dating every can or bottle and for many small micro breweries that are just starting, every penny is being poured into making better beer. I am okay with that, most people who drop into one are getting the freshest of beer, with a few exceptions (you know who you are). They can also usually engage in a conversation with someone at the brewery who usually understands beer and will explain to them freshness and storage if they ask.
  I still think an industry standard of clear and concise labels without insider jargon or codes and in the same spot on every can/bottle (Muskoka, Great Lakes and Beau's are really good examples) would go a long way to helping alleviate this problem. I can't think of another consumable product that isn't required to at least have a legible date of production on it and if we want to keep bringing converts to the good side of beer, we need to advocate for better transparency in our labels. Is there a nefarious dumping of old product and an intentional lack of clear stamping going on? Maybe, but I really hope not. I know that I saw a lot of really questionable dates or none at all on some of the product that first appeared in my grocery store. Without proper training, how would your average retail worker be able to distinguish or answer questions from people who want to try something new.
  The big picture requires a rethinking of how we sell, label and store our beer. The lack of a direction from government should not be the deciding factor in this case, I'd like to think craft brewers are ahead of the curve in many ways. I understand that every beer is different and with the proliferation of adventurous brewers and their amazing creativity, we are pushing the bounds of what we knew about everything in brewing. But to ask for a clear date of canning/bottling isn't much and is the first step in helping eradicate stale beer. Getting retailers and brewers on board with proper storage (i.e. the end of "shelf aging") is also paramount and an educated public completes the trio. I know it isn't easy to give a true best before date for every style and I am aware of the cost of making sure every bottle or can is dated, but I think as the industry grows and more people join the revolution, all these factors will begin to matter. Lets strive to give people at least an idea of how long a beer has been sitting there for and let them decide for themselves if they want to purchase it. A handy guide/poster or web page on a craft brewers site (Check out Muskoka's) would go a long way to helping us to understand our beer even better. 
  Maybe I'm tilting at windmills here but I want to think that it matters to the people that make the beer and those of us who drink it that we are getting the best representation of what the brewer intended every single time we pour it in our glass. Let's hope the future brings a world where everyone drinks better beer and knows it.
  One last thing, try not to overbuy. Please. Drink your beer fresh and get more later. There is no need to hoard it. Life's too short to wait and a beer wasted is the saddest story I know. As I always tell people, "Drink your damn beer!"

Raise your glass and your standards,
One Beer at a time.


P.S.  - My own personal timeline is pretty simple, I store all my beer either in the fridge or cellar, depending on space, but keep the temp consistent. Beer is best kept cool and constant.
As for how long before they start to lose their freshness, it depends on the style but this is what I generally try to do if I am practicing good fridge management.

IPAs/Pale Ales/Sours/Gose/Saison(most) - 3 Months (still good for a few more, but they tend to lose that juicy, tropical note and become more malty or bitter)

High ABV Stouts/Brett  Beers - 6 months to a few years. Check with the brewer about how long they think you should age these beers. Some require time to really mature and become what they were intended to be.

Everything else - 6 months tops. I drank some year old lager the other night and it was less than enjoyable. Pilsners, Kolsch style ales and the like shouldn't sit there too long.

25 July 2017

308.2 Pounds

That's what the scale I keep hidden in my office tells me that I weigh.

I am not okay with this.

  I've always been the "Fat Guy". The jolly, looking for a good time kind of person who indulges himself at every whim and leaves nothing to the imagination when it comes to giving into his cravings. I eat and drink what I want, when I want and that has always been the way I live my life. I used to joke that I wanted to be like Homer in that episode of the Simpsons when he tried to weigh 300 pounds so he could work from home, but never thought I would get that far gone. Apparently I am willing to let myself go to that extreme and I am not shy about saying I am appalled at what I've become.
  It's not just that I have put on close to 40 pounds in just 2 years, it's that I watched it happen and did nothing to stop it. I eat late at night, drink a little too much, too often and am sedentary to the point of furniture. I can feel my clothes getting tighter and my breathe a little harder to catch. I know I stress eat and when the hours I work increase or my own personal anxiety goes up, I turn not to people but to the one thing I can trust not to judge me and that I alone control, my food and drink. It is usually funny to share the pictures of my 8 hot dog dinner, but I don't always share the whole bag of Doritios and crackers and cheese I would eat later that night. I laugh off the concern of those who think I am headed for a heart attack with my humour and toss a few fat jokes at myself to deflect the conversation away from it. I feel the pain of trying to make those pants fit and knowing that my shirt is too tight every single morning and am relieved when I get home and can slid into my sweats for the night. It's not that I don't understand nutrition and exercise, on the contrary, most overweight people are intimately versed in how to lose weight and live healthier.  It pervades our thoughts perhaps more than healthy people. We yearn to do it, but often are not willing or are just unable to change or make it happen.
 I wrote about being okay with who I was last year (read it here), but even then I was struggling with myself. I kept working on being body positive and not caring about what other people think. I still believe that. Screw anyone who tells you how to live your life or makes you feel bad, but I am not giving in to anyone else's pressure but my own. There is something wrong with how I am living my life and I am beginning to feel that on a very real level.
  When I finished recording every beer I drank in May (150 - The real truth in May), I was trying to be okay with it, but inside it was tearing me up. I have been an advocate of mindful and responsible consumption and the impact craft beer has had on my life and then I was supposed to be okay with averaging 5 beers a day? I made a concerted effort after that to reign in my impulsive and destructive multiple beer nights and have done myself proud on that front, cutting down to less than 100 in June and am on pace for around 50 in July. I don't know where I need to be with this but I am trying.
 Beer is not alone in my spiral downward, food has become the dark yet warmly embracing place I find my comfort. Long days, stress and a lonely life built on my inability to seek help for my anxiety means I look to anything else to bring me a sliver of joy. While talking about and sharing my love for beer gives me some online human interaction, financial and work reasons coupled with an often crippling level of anxious and angry feelings leave me looking for a way to feel good when the likes stop coming. When everyone else looks to spend time with their families, food provides that comfort to me. Lots of salty snacks, late night binges and multiple trips to the cupboard have left me full of calories but empty of emotions. I don't eat for pleasure, I eat to survive and then to fill whatever emptiness remains. I've always had a complicated relationship with food but never to the extent where I am now, beholden to a bag of chips for happiness. I lurch from the couch to the bed, sleep fitfully for 4 or 5 hours and then go through the workday with my eyes on repeating the minimalist lifestyle I've created.  I am thrown into a spiral if there is any deviation from my quiet and lonely plans. I see people joke about not wanting to see others and put what I am sure are supposed to be funny memes on social media about how they hate people and want to be alone. Of course it's all just in good fun because they wouldn't want to actually be alone all the time, the weight of that silence would crush them. I have retreated into a world of my own making and while I do love the odd event we get to attend, it is becoming harder and harder to leave the house for anything but work. I talk myself into it every morning because I need money to live and a man does what he has to provide for his family. But because my job involves working with the public, I must always maintain a positive and cheery attitude and when that work day is done, I usually have nothing left in the tank for anyone else. I can literally not speak for hours after work in real life, despite a lively online presence. I know it is of my own doing and that only deepens the spiral.
 That scale reading was far beyond a wake up call and now I know I have to do something, anything to restart the passion I once had and try to now instill in other people. I want to feel better about myself and despite my own protestations to the contrary, my weight is impacting my ability to function as a human being and is dragging me into a dark place I am not ready to go. So I will not do what I always do and I will ask for help. I will talk to the professionals who are there for me and have the ability and knowledge to give me hope and guidance. I will admit that I don't know what the hell I am doing and seek those who do. I don't hate myself but I am feeling like I don't even know who I am anymore and want to prevent that from happening. I will, as always, share this journey with you and try to use it to inspire others who are suffering in silence to seek help and a better way before it's too late.
  We are not alone and I know how hard it is to reach out and say you need help. But it is okay to admit your weaknesses and ask someone for their hand to lift you up or their shoulder to cry on. Trust someone, anyone and seek out answers for yourself. I always sort of knew this day would come and I am glad I can still stand up and try to make it better. Life is about the journey and I don't want mine to be over just yet.

Thank you to everyone who has encouraged me as I write about not only beer, but real life and the things that make it mine. I appreciate it more than you'll ever know. I will keep you posted as this detour takes me to a place I've never been.



20 July 2017

Budget Life

Drinking good beer on a budget isn't always easy and when you are a guy who loves to try new and different ones all the time, it can get downright difficult. I will admit this is a very first world problem and do not wish to diminish the struggles myself or anyone else has in their life when it comes to money and survival but this isn't about that, it is about how I spend what money I budget and still enjoy many different beers.
 Contrary to popular belief, I don't receive much in the way of free beer. I have had the occasional brewery send me a beer or two, sometimes it is people who I have met online or in real life that give the gift of beer to me. But that isn't a weekly or even monthly occurrence and while I treasure anything someone sends me, I don't rely on the largesse of others to explore beer. I buy the majority of what you see me consume either at the breweries themselves or the LCBO. It pains me sometimes to receive a beer saint gift because at the end of the day, I don't have the means to return the favour, no matter how much I want to.
Last year's Tabernac Craft Beer haul from my Eastern Beer Saint friends
  Years of poor financial decisions left me almost broken and with a very bleak future staring me in the face. For far too long, I spent money on what I wanted and damn the bills. Even repeated warnings, final warnings and actual disconnections didn't scare me, I just kept blindly throwing money everywhere without regard to anyone or thing. While I have documented how craft beer has helped me control my over indulgent lifestyle, I rarely touch upon how it has changed my life when it comes to money. In order to try so many new beers and make sure the bills are paid, I had to do something most people do automatically, make a budget. But not just any pre fab program or idea would work and it took a few years of trial and error, slip ups and mistakes to finally arrive at a workable plan that has me less worried about the hydro bill and more concerned with living my life.
Issues man...

  To achieve this I had to get myself back to even on all my bills and then plan out the entire year, with some flexibility for emergencies, to make sure the utilities, mortgage, and other necessary things were always up to date and even a little ahead. I tracked years back on the bills and laid out a reasonable bi weekly amount that went to each and every one of them. Looking at an entire year of Hydro bills, for example, led me to see that $130 a pay to them meant I would always be in the black when the bill came due without wondering how I would be able to pay the entire thing. I did this with all the bills and began every payday with a few moments reviewing and then paying a certain amount to each bill. It was scary at first because my bank account would dwindle so fast but the money left was truly ours to spend and not borrowing from stuff that really needed to come first. I am still digging my way out of my poor decisions in the past but the light at the end of the tunnel is just over a year away and I am chugging along with the plan that has got me this far.
It was cheap and got me drunk, not my best choice.

 For the most part, I only buy 1 or 2 of any new beer that I find. Would I like to have 6 or 10 to try and then share/trade with my beer pals? Of course, but with a very limited budget, I had to make choices that respect the course I have found to bring me back to where I need to be. So I keep track of who has sent me something and when there is a little room in the budget, I try to return the favour. But I am indebted to those folks who just send Beer Saint gifts with no demand for a return, your karma is growing and one day I will show my thanks properly. The beer fridge is mostly full of whatever is new at the LCBO or the odd trip to a brewery, stuff friends give me and the rare thing sent from a brewery themselves. I am so lucky to get things from my friends in the industry and believe me I know how awesome any beer mail can be. So a big thank you to anyone who does this wonderfully thoughtful thing and I acknowledge my debt to you.
Durham Beer Saints Bottle share

  Respecting my budget and buying new beers leaves me with some cash left for a few favourites and regular craft beers to have when I just want a beer. These are usually purchased at the Liquor store and given that my free time is limited, like most people, that's where I am forced to do most of my shopping. Grocery stores are getting better with their craft offerings and as they see the sales and demand grow, hopefully it will continue to expand their selections. There is little doubt in my mind that without my turn to better beer, I would still be living paycheque to 4 days before paycheque and I will always continue to sing the praises of our local and not so local craft brewers for all the good they have brought into my life. I choose my regular beers based on knowing their quality, cost and what style I am feeling. There are many options for all price ranges and stuff like Great Lakes Canuck Pale or Collective Arts Ransack the Universe still provide the most bang for your buck and deliver great flavour. Look around at your local LCBO and breweries, they are sure to have something to fit your budget and taste. I have learned to let go of not being able to get every release I want. Given the sheer amount of breweries in Ontario that is a good approach because there is no way I could afford to buy every beer that comes out. Even when it comes to the ones that I really do want when I see them posted on social media, I remind myself that what is important is to contribute what I can to the cause and be joyful that my fridge has so many amazing things already. I wish I had an unlimited budget and the time to get the beer I want, but I have finally come to a point in my life when I accept what is and embrace what I have. I have learned to appreciate what is in my glass without worrying about what is in someone else's. I hope to be able to keep sharing when I can afford it and when the tide of my life has fully turned for the good, I will make it my mission to do more. Keep sharing and let's never doubt that this community is pretty damn amazing.

Raise your glass and your standards,
One Beer at a time.



4 July 2017

Avoid Fridge Gridlock - Drink your Beer!

Choices, Choices...
Have you looked in your fridge lately? Your beer cellar or closet? Taken stock of what you have, when you acquired it and more importantly, when you plan on drinking it? So many of us tend to want to hang onto a beer because we only have one or two of them and with the exception of those beers actually designed to be aged, this madness must stop. I am not great when it comes to cellaring my beer because for the most part, I buy them to try them. I understand that Imperial Stouts and Brett laden beers will change and even improve with time spent waiting but I think sometimes we are focusing too much on the hoarding and having and less on the drinking and enjoying. I was having this discussion with a few friends the other day and it struck me as odd that we used to make sure we had enough cold beer in the fridge as opposed to buying 10 of something to age it and save it for later. When did the exclusivity and difficulty in acquiring a beer or simply having a dozen of one of them take away from the fun of drinking it?

  I am as guilty as the next beer lover of wanting that latest release from the darling craft brewer of the day. Only 600 bottles you say? Oh baby, I want some of that. But as I have spent more time trying and enjoying beers from all over the world, it has occurred to me that, with very few exceptions, I want to drink them now. What good is a fridge full of IPAs if I am unable to enjoy them fresh? Outside of those Imperial stouts or bottle conditioned beers, what am I really waiting for? Most beer has a shelf life based on how it was produced, the style and how it has been stored. If a beer is to be aged, usually the brewery will either do it themselves or let you know it can be saved for a later date. But the vast majority of beer we are buying at the stores or breweries is meant to be consumed fresh. No preservatives or additives means Craft beer is susceptible to the ravages of time and temperature so to age them makes no sense.
  Creating what I call 'Fridge Gridlock' is a serious problem for many people I know and the only way to resolve it is to drink the beer as you buy it. We all too often go rushing out to buy this or that must have new release and then repeat that behaviour a few days later when the next brewery announces their special, limited edition bottle. While I am also guilty of wanting all the beer I can get my hands on, this means I encounter Fridge Gridlock as I pile more and more beer into my fridge. Without proper FIFO (First in, First Out) management of my stock, some beers that should be consumed immediately get shoved to the back, only to reappear months later when cleaning or attempting to re-organize. It is important to move the newest beers to the back, rotate the older ones forward and then drink your way through. Not to say you shouldn't drink a new beer the day you get it, but if you have more than one, make sure you are not trapping older beers behind your 3 cans of the newest IPA.
  Having said that, I make it a point to drink most of my IPAs as fresh as I can, moving them to one side of the fridge and creating a zone for as many other styles. Lagers, ales and other longer lasting (flavour wise, anyway) styles can wait a while and I can generally work them into my rotation a little easier. Mood can determine your beer a lot of the time, as well as availability and time of the year. But to relegate beers to the back of the fridge because you bought too many and want to move on means maybe you should plan better or perhaps Beer Saint some of those out to friends to make room for more. I work on a pretty strict budget right now and with few exceptions only can buy one or two of the latest releases to go with my regular brews. I don't often buy cases of anything and have learnt that less is indeed more when it comes to choosing a beer every night.
I occasionally go a little overboard.
 Fridge Gridlock is not only about losing track of what is in there, it is also that weird paralysis that can come from having too many choices. I have had many times where I stare at the shelves unable to choose and walk away until I can decide. If the fridge is so jammed that you can't even see everything you have or your styles are all mixed up, this problem can be even more pronounced. A lucky few who only like one or two styles can avoid this problem but for most of us, organization is the key.
  I have been refining my fridge skills for a few years and despite many setbacks due to my own occasional self indulgence. I have found a  good way to keep Fridge Gridlock from taking over and leaving me with beer that is less than optimal. Some of my strategies are :
  1. Keep rotating - As said before, first in-first out makes a huge difference.
  2. Don't overbuy - Unless you are trading or beer sainting, why have 10 of anything that is just going to get pushed to the back of the fridge. Buy what you will drink and enjoy fresh.
  3. Create Style Zones - If you're lucky enough to have the space, try to keep your beer separated by style and date bought. I try to keep the different types to different sides and shelves with some overlap (i.e. dark lagers near lagers; porters and stouts together). Regular go-to beers tend to go in the door, with the one offs or seasonals up front on the shelves to remind me to drink them first.
  4. Cellar beers - I keep a list of what I have and when it went in. If you love to do verticals (many different years of the same beer) make a space for that particular one. Have an idea when you want to pull them out as not everything will get better more than a few years out. Keep them at a constant cool temp and resist the urge to look at them if you want to wait. Unseen is best until the right time.
  5. Be Reasonable - Unless you pound beers every day, do you really need 60 beers at a time in your fridge? Buy when you can, stay on budget and keep your fridge clean.
  6. Enjoy what you have - Don't let every new release make you buy more than you can drink. It is normal to want every beer you see but it is better to focus on what you have in front of you than to worry about all the others. Savour the tasty beers you have and create space for new ones at the same time.
  7. Be a Beer Saint - Make room and have a great time by sharing your spoils with friends and family. It will help clean up your fridge and make you feel good about doing it.
  Know yourself and be true to what you enjoy drinking. Keep that beer flowing and don't let Fridge Gridlock take over your life. Drink your damn beer!

  Raise your glass and your standards,
  One beer at a time!



4 June 2017

150 - The Real Truth in May

  The number of beers I drank during the Truth in May was just that...almost 5 per day. That seem like a lot to you? Because it seems like way more than I thought I consumed when I set out to document what was a craft beer lover who maybe tipped back a few more than the average person. I didn't or couldn't imagine that as the final number because I was convinced I was having one or two most nights with the occasional evening of 5 or 6. What I found was as the month went on that most were 4 or 5 and some came in at 9...even with sharing, that many beers more than once in a blue moon is troubling to say the least.
Beer No 1 just after midnight on May 1st
  I only had one evening where I would say I chased the darkness and given that it was at the Albino Rhino beer fest with a whole whack of my friends, I have no issue with that particular day, even though it topped at least 12 pints all in. We were sharing beers and having a great time doing it, nights like that are few and far between for me, so I again am okay with it.
A Rhino and a Polkaroo!
  The other ones though are the ones I want to talk about here.

  I like beer, that is pretty easy to see. I've always liked it, for different reasons, but historically for how it made me feel and as a social lubricant. When I fell into craft beer, it opened my eyes to what I was really doing with my macro loving overindulgence and I could feel the brakes come on and my consumption plummeted. I went from 3 or 4 24's a week to a much lower count, albeit with higher alcohol contents and bigger formats. But I wasn't getting hammered every night and that was something really positive. That continued through to the Truth in May, I still drank less than I used to but more than I thought I did.
Posted 3 times during the Month. A slow sipper I usually kept to myself.

  One thing about my consumption that I have struggled with has been that I didn't feel I was drinking for the wrong reasons. I was enjoying every sip, writing and talking to my virtual and real life friends and doing all the stuff I had to do in my normal, non beer
life. I went to work every day, did my chores at home, went out a few times when the budget allowed it and generally lived my life in a positive and mindful manner. So how to bring that together with the fact that by any definition my drinking is both binge and alcoholic in nature when I don't feel that way personally. Craft beer and the community of people I have met have brought me much happiness and a renewed sense of purpose. Writing about beer every time I drank one and finding a picture was challenging but fun and I was glad to share the boring, mundane late night pint as much as that special edition Imperial IPA that I go all out to showcase. Am I making excuses to deflect from the fact that I drank 150 beers in a month and cannot stop on my own accord? I hope not and that is why its taken me a week to finally sit down and start to comprehend what it all means.
One of my favourite beers from May. So good.

  I started this post 6 times, each one different and none giving me satisfaction. That you are reading this means I found my voice and it both soothes and troubles me. To any normal person I am an alcoholic, a high functioning one, but still alcohol dependant. I cannot dispute that fact, I want to have a few beers every day but not to the detriment of my necessary tasks. I could not imagine drinking before work or getting smashed every night. It doesn't fit in with my life now but I do want that new or favourite beer and I enjoy writing about them several times a day. I discovered that it was those validations from social media that were driving a lot of my drinking. I always drank 4 or 5 a night but would save a few to post the next day so I could spread them out over a longer period. So I didn't drink more to post it, I merely posted it when I drank it and saw the truth in pictures every day. It bothered me a bit but didn't stop me in the least. That I didn't drink too much was always my argument and with every beer that went on Instagram, that façade was crumbling.
  Working in the service industry for 30 plus years certainly drives a good part of my love of beer and its' calming nature. I do not love what I do but it pays well and I am far past the age where I search for validation from my employment. When you're a blue collar working man, you care about doing a good job for a salary that pays the bills and maybe a little extra. I work to live but I do not live to work. Let me win the lottery and I will be the same guy but way happier. So my drinking is a reflection of a life in service to others and a way to let go of the anger that must be reined in when people treat you like a piece of furniture. Abuse of service people is a whole other topic and the stories I have from the trenches would make you question your humanity. People are good but the ones who we often spend the most time dealing with would make a teetotaller drink...a lot.
A few new breweries opened in Hamilton during the Month. Merit was first.

  Another large and usually quiet reason I do what I do is that we don't have any children. While we wish we did, and honestly every few days I wonder if we gave up too soon, the fact is that after work, I have absolutely zero responsibilities. I have to do my household maintenance and cook the occasional meal, but in terms of things I must do, there is nothing. I don't give in to familial guilt about things and without children we don't get invited to or feel comfortable attending many of the kid centric events that surround people with large families. Our friends are now largely craft beer folk so events we do with them tend to exacerbate rather than alleviate my consumption. But the very simple fact that when I have done what I need to for survival, I am free to do or not do anything I want. It is freeing, a little selfish and the truth in my life. So I have to admit that it is a large part why I can enjoy so many beverages, especially on my days off. Mow the lawn, clean the house, do a little laundry and then the rest of the day is mine. I can't apologize for a life that I stumbled into and I have no doubts that if there were children in our lives, I would not be doing the things I do now. At least, I can hope.
Fairweather Brewing in Hamilton opened just before the end of May.

  So with this long and meandering piece have I learned anything about what last month meant to me? I think so, I understand that my child free lifestyle has allowed me to claim a future that is focused on myself and those I choose to let in my life. My work schedule of long shifts, working most weekends and with the public leaves me feeling a need for a few pints after a long day, no harm in that on my part. I like the way 2 or 3 drinks make me feel and the release they give me, but I don't want to escape into the blackness that I used to chase. I understand that drinking 5 beers a day is not normal, not necessarily healthy or productive, but I see no reason to stop. I will make a better effort to find something to occupy my time but creating art with beer pictures and getting to tell stories of my life are important to me and my mental health. I am a caring and loyal person but I guard my free time jealously and plan for days when  I have almost no interaction with other people because I can. I feel a lot of sadness that I will never be someone's dad and want nothing more than to see that change, but it will not. I will work harder in my job, more hours, stress and I will be fine with that because it will give me the money and freedom to do the things I want when I am not there. I do not hate my life. I only get one, so I value every moment and day.
Beer #150 for the Month.
 Do I drink too much was the question I asked and the answer is way more complicated than I could have imagined. Yes, by every conventional standard, I do qualify as a heavy drinker. Clinically I am an alcoholic and if labels make people happy, feel free to call me that. Do I crave beer at the expense of living my life and doing the things that I need to do? Not at all and the knowledge that I have the ability to limit what I consume is something I probably need to spend more time on. I love my family and friends and want them to be happy and successful but because my path is now non traditional and child free, I will have to find out where that leads me. I do drink too much but in my life, that's what I do. I was for many years a person who put everyone else first and while I have wonderful memories, I plan that the second half of my (hopefully) long life is when I learn to say no and live a little more for me. The craft beer revolution has found me a way to express myself that I thought was lost forever and given me opportunities for adventures I didn't know existed. My own personal evolution as the Drunk Polkaroo has given me a platform from which to help others and myself. I want to think I learned something but the real truth from May is that I am having a good time and with everything else in the world feeling like it is headed to hell in a handbasket, my enjoying 5 beers a night and talking about them is the least worrying thing in my life.
  So thank you to everyone who followed along, hung out for a few pints during the month or dropped in from time to time to see where I was. It wasn't my intention to drink 150 beers in a month, but having done so, I must accept what it says about my life. I wish I could say I will drink less, but I will never lie to you my friends, Let's just say I am more aware of what is going into my glass and I am looking forward to a bright future with tales and great times with more of you.

Raise your glass and your standards,
One Beer at a time.



The Numbers from the Truth in May
76 Different Breweries.
(W means I worked that day, O means Day off)
1st - 5 W
2nd - 4 O
3rd  - 4 W
4th - 4 O
5th - 1 W
6th - 2 W
7th - 2 W
8th - 6 W
9th - 4  O
10th - 3 W
11th - 7 O
12th - 4 W
13th - 4 W
14th - 3 W
15th - 5 W
16th - 4 W
17th - 4 W
18th - 6 W
19th - 4 W
20th - 6 W
21st - 4 W
22nd - 9 O
23rd - 7 O
24th -  2 W
25th - 5 O
26th - 3 W
27th - 12 O
28th - 3 W
29th - 5 W
30th - 8 O
31st - 9 W