21 November 2017

730 Days Later...One Beer at a Time


2 Years.  730 consecutive days.   Over 2000 Instagram beer reviews containing more than One Million words about craft beer. It's been a long, strange trip...and it's just getting started!

  On November 21st, 2015 I posted a beer review on Instagram, as I had been doing sporadically for a year or so. Nothing ground breaking or in depth, hell the picture wasn't even very good, but it marked the 1st day of that 730 in a row I drank and reviewed a beer. It was never my intention to do it, I couldn't imagine where the next two years would take me but it has become a part of who I am and I am proud of what I have accomplished.
November 21st, 2015

  I have always strived to be honest in what I write, be it a beer review or something more important. I haven't changed my style from when no one was reading my posts and I think that is why I have made so many new friends. I have no pretensions or goals when it comes to talking about my beer. I drink it, write what I taste and give it a score. The scoring a beer out of 5 has evolved a bit from how much I liked it to how I feel it meets the style requirements but that's about all I have changed since I first coined "On the sip,"
And counting...
 The writing part is almost more fun than the drinking and the fact that everyday I know I will be able to write anything from a couple of hundred words about a particular beer to many thousand in a blog post makes me happy. I look forward to finding a voice and a narrative each time and often it starts a whole other conversation as the evening rolls along. I am far past the age when I am given to dreaming about what I'll be when I grow up but I can at least say I'm a writer, even if it's just about my foibles, my past and my beer.
I understand that having a beer every day for 2 years isn't everyone's idea of a good thing. Most people I talk to think it's crazy and that I should seek some help. I try to explain that it is in having and writing about that beer that I have come to understand the demons that plagued me for so long, but a lot of them still think I'm getting hammered every night and partying my life away. The truth is that I do my job, enjoy a little time with Kat and then look in the fridge for the evenings libation. Most nights I have 1 or 2 and enjoy the game or a movie while talking to my friends on social media. I don't go out a lot because we are still digging our way out of the horrible financial decisions made in the past but I am pretty good with hanging out at home with my ladies anyway if you want the truth. But I do acknowledge it isn't a great idea without some more balance and continue to explore ways to make my life better.
  So I want to say Thank you to everyone who's come along for the ride, shared a beer or just stopped by to say hello. It's been a hell of a trip so far and I see no end in sight.  Will there come a day I don't have a beer? Absolutely,  but it will happen when it is meant to and I am okay with that.  Until then, I will see you every day, same Polk honesty every single time.
November 21st, 2017
Raise your Glass and Your Standards. 
One beer at a time.

20 November 2017

Why the Drunk Polkaroo?

  Why do I call myself the Drunk Polkaroo? What are the origins of the name? What the hell is a Polkaroo?
 The best place to begin is at the start.
 The Polkaroo was a character from a children's show on TVO called Polka Dot Door. On the show there are two hosts, a man and a woman. Whenever the Polkaroo would appear, the man was never around and when he would come back to the show later, he would always be so disappointed. When I was little, it never occurred to me that the man was indeed dressed up as Polkaroo and that is why he never got to meet him.
Regular Polkaroo.

  Drunk Polkaroo came about when I was in my macro beer pounding days. Routinely over consuming and forgetting what I was doing usually had no real consequence except for a pounding headache and a wasted day after. But sometimes, the Drunk Polkaroo would pop his head out and promise to do stuff the next day or week and I would have no recollection of these until prompted. Finally, after a night of stupid pounding of Old Milwaukee and then finding out that I had made plans I couldn't afford and had to cancel (yet again), I told my wife  " Sober Rob needs to meet up with Drunk Rob and have a talk with that guy, but he's never around when I am." And a little light bulb went off over my head. "I am the Drunk Polkaroo!" I shouted, and my wife just looked at me sideways and went back to her tablet.
  But a legend was being born that day and combined with the realisation that I no longer wished to lose control or drink huge quantities of shitty beer I began to play with my Instagram and lose myself in the flavours and textures of Craft Beer.
  But I never forget the lesson of the Drunk Polkaroo and work very hard to make sure I never go back to making plans I cannot remember or afford.

  Besides, it just sounds funny.


Beer Advent 2017!!

  The Christmas season is fast approaching and the time has come to begin preparations for the 2017 Beer Advent calendar. Be it for yourself or someone you love, this winter tradition has become something to help lift the craft beer drinkers spirits as winter takes hold. I like to prepare early and not blow the budget, so I get everything together well before December 1st, spreading out my purchases to be ready for the big day.
  The premise, if you are new to it, is that you buy 25 craft beers from either your local LCBO or at different craft breweries you happen to visit and then wrap them up and randomize them for a tasty treat every day leading up to Christmas. Last year I bought some and raided my cellar for a few more, had Mrs. Polk wrap and number them in an order I didn't know and put them in the fridge. Every day was a new to me beer or perhaps an old favourite and I loved every minute. Not knowing what style I was getting was part of the fun but if you know you don't like certain ones, you can avoid them altogether. The important thing is to make it enjoyable for yourself or someone you love.
  If you're putting a calendar together for someone it would be a great idea to know their favourite styles and even their favourite breweries. This can help guide your purchases and even inspire a road trip or two to get a few gems only available at the brewery. Ask their beer drinking pals what they really like and surprise them with a Christmas miracle of 25 craft beers to help make the season bright.  I would encourage you to seek out a few local breweries and add those to the list because I can assure you that they will appreciate getting something new and if it's a limited release, even better.
  Try and have a unique way of giving your gift. Maybe a custom decorated box, have the beer just show up in the fridge every evening when they get home, wrapped and numbered, chilled and ready to go. Get a big bomber 750 ml bottle of something special for their days off or to share when you can do it together. Add in a new glass or other branded merchandise and you can be assured that your gift will be over the top and make all of your beer loving partners Christmas wishes come true.
  The whole point of doing the calendar is to have fun and to give yourself or someone you love a little "me" time when we need it most. The holidays are not easy for everyone and if a pint after a long day can bring a smile to someone's face, I say we are doing something right. The clock is ticking, so get stocked up, wrap or box those beers and bring a smile to the world with the gift of Craft beer!

Merry Christmas!



13 November 2017

It's Time...

"We have to get together for a pint and catch up."
  I've said it, you've said it but we rarely made it happen.  Our intentions were good, but life somehow always got in the way and we kept putting it off, laughing at the absurdity of what we deemed more important every time. Was it that we didn't want to hang out? Not at all, sincerely and deeply we were friends. But we prioritized getting together low because we thought there would always be more time and we could wait. 
"Has it been that long?"
  Why couldn't we find the moments we needed when we had them? Tired from work, overcommitted or under the weather, we would send a message begging forgiveness and promising to buy the first round when we finally made it happen...but it never did. We lost touch, moved around and moved on. You'd get that birthday notification and send a message, maybe a quick hello and I'll let you know when I'm in town so we can catch up. But we fell short of our promises and this will always be our regret.
"Great to see you, let's do it again soon!"
  We would, on that rare occasion, when all the planets aligned, get together and raise that glass. The conversation wasn't stunted because we knew who we were and it flowed as naturally as we could imagine. Too brief, busy, busy, gotta head out and do what I do but we should do this again, real soon. Lingering in the parking lot, one last thing to say and then we part ways and head onto the next thing, a smile on our faces but the night fading into the mist of what comes next. The years passed and it felt like it never happened at all.
"Goodbye old friend"
  The news drifts in and it isn't what we wanted to hear. We missed our chance to have that one more pint. Our friendship spanned  years, decades maybe, but only in the briefest of moments and always with the promise of a future when we would have more time. The eternal optimism of our youth and the endless amounts of "later" we thought we had have now come to an end and how little we have is now clear. Waiting to do the thing, say the words or get together has given us only regret now and wishing it were different won't bring back what we meant to do.
  Why we continue to put off the things we want to do, the places we want to go and the people we want to spend time with still confuses me. The priorities we set often don't match what they should be for our happiness, putting what we see as responsibility ahead of our own joy. We tell ourselves we will have time later to do what we want, go visit that friend or cross that thing off our bucket list. The reality is that our time is finite, tomorrow is not promised and every second spent not at least trying to live true to yourself is one that you will not get back.
"Hey, let's go grab a pint."
  Did I make the call? Did you? Letting go of the past is good for your soul, learning from it is good for your life. Continuing to let other things get in the way of what you want to do is to say you relinquish control and will never put your own happiness first. Their isn't a magic button that gives you back the time you have already spent so make sure whatever you have left is not squandered. The moments you have missed are gone but the ones you want are just waiting to happen if you let them. Stay out of your own way, make the connection and get that pint with that one person today. Do it because you want to and tomorrow might never come.


12 November 2017

Why do we care? Craft Beer and Selling Out

  Why does it matter so much to so many craft beer supporters when another brewery gets bought out by one of the macro conglomerates? What is it that sets us off and makes us gnash our teeth and tear at our hair, swearing to never again purchase the offending brew again? This week's purchase of Troue du diable by Molson/Coors set off the usual and predictable, in some cases, response of both sides, one claiming it will not change the beer and the other damning the brewers for selling out.
  I fall always on the side of supporting local and as you all know been a proponent of the craft beer industry for many years. I have stated many times my respect and love for the good people who have helped transform my personal life and drinking habits with their passion for making great beer as opposed to just cramming tasteless macro lagers and underwhelming marketing down my throat at every chance they get. While it is indeed a business, to most of us it is much more than that and therein lies the problem we encounter whenever this happens.
  We are attached to our favourite things. Brand loyalty is a consumer trait we acquire young from which brand of pop we drink, our favourite restaurants and movie franchises to the clothing we wear and the shops we frequent. With Craft beer, this is dialled up to the nth degree and then some, our allegiance coming from deep within and burned onto our souls in many cases. We not only love our favourite brewers' products, it is the people behind the beer we come to know, respect and admire that makes it about so much more than just beer. We become emotionally attached to them so much that they begin to feel like friends, even family and we cheer at their every success, touting the latest release as though it was our own. We are given ownership in the community and this is encouraged by everyone, from people like myself who tout its virtues to the owners and staff at the breweries themselves. They are for the most part earnest and straightforward about wanting to live that dream of brewing, sharing their creations with the world and driving forward the engine that is slowly gaining ground and market share on the big boys of beer.
  We join growler or stein clubs, buy the merchandise, glasses, hoodies and t shirts that seem more visible all the time and it becomes part of our identity. As we get older, we feel like the world we knew is gone and yearn for a return to the simpler times we think existed in our youth. We have grabbed hold of craft beer as a way to keep that feeling going. We trade, gift and talk beer whenever we can. I've witnessed love bloom over pints, friendships and adventures ensuing from a simple comment on a social media photo. The craft beer community is very real and when we feel like that special bond is threatened we circle the wagons and look for a common enemy.
  When a brewery decides to take the money that these multi national corporations offer them, I am going to imagine it isn't as easy as looking where to sign. They have to know the backlash will be swift and loud, I know I hear the recriminations and swearing off of buying their products from so many of my friends all the time. The business of Craft beer is not something we like to talk about because let's face it, we love to drink it, talk about its flavours and nuances, not market share, profit margin or break even points. But the brewers must always be conscious of these things. You may not go into craft beer to get rich, but at the end of the day the bills need to be paid, suppliers wont extend credit forever and the people you love who work in the tap room want to eat and have somewhere to live.
  So how to we reconcile their business decision with the beer we love so much? For some people, it's black and white, sell to macro and our relationship is done. They have their standards and limits and stick to them no matter what. I know them and lean this way myself. I saw a few people getting vehement on the other side too, declaring it to be stupid to care about who owns the brewer and good for the people who made the dream happen by getting paid the big bucks while still getting to make great beer, now with solid finances and better distribution. For myself, I haven't really experienced the "loss" of a favourite craft brewer into the behemoth so it is still a case of outside looking in. When Mill Street sold to AbInBev I was at my infancy in this community and didn't grasp all the nuances of what it meant to me. Do I regularly purchase their products as I once did, well no, but that has a lot more factors playing than just who owns them. I don't think that Joel Manning forgot how to brew beer when the deed changed hands but there is a part of me that still feels a little sad whenever I reminisce about those old days when I first started drinking craft and Mill Street was a big part of that. I have so many options now when I go to my local liquor or beer store and that along with the sheer number of craft brewers located close by means I have options I couldn't have dreamed of years ago.
  We buy into the ethos of us versus them and the brewers themselves push this independent and small batch thinking in their social media marketing and when you visit them. They build relationships with their customers and when they take the money from big beer we are left feeling duped and cheated by their seemingly overnight switch in direction. Are they any less local the next day after the papers are signed or do they not employ the same people as before? Does the beer actually change or is it our perception that moves as we imagine corporate interference and influence on our most treasured brews? We feel let down after years of supporting a small local business despite the fact that many of us continue to shop and work at even larger corporations. Wal-Mart, Loblaw’s and the like employ tens of thousands of Canadians and the big brewers are no different. Ask the people of London, Ontario if Labatt's is a local brewer and the thousands of people affected by their facility would tell you it is indeed. Every job is local when it keeps you warm and fed.
  So how do we deal with what feels like a death in the family and stay true to our own personal passions? Many swear off the offending brewery in an instant, pledging to only support independent craft brewers and sticking to it. Some, usually the fans of that particular brewery, will wait it out, ultimately declaring the product hasn't changed and claiming the people working there are still paramount and arguing that the better distribution and equipment/materials hasn't changed anything at the brewing level. And a large portion of the population will just keep buying the beer because they just don't care who ultimately owns it, they just know what they like and that is all that matters to them. If the answer was easy, it wouldn't make me want a beer as I write this.
  I am conflicted because the more you get to know people who work in craft beer, the more you see that passion they have for creating unique and flavourful beer. You see them pushing the boundaries and exploring things we couldn't even dream of a few years ago. They do indeed become like family and how do you deny someone a big pay day because you want them to remain a big fish in a small pond. We don't want to feel like we are supporting big business, it runs counter to everything the people who make the beer tell us. They have driven the narrative of this conversation about small batch craft beer and when they turn around and take the cheque we don't know what we should think. I think we have to acknowledge the part that plays in how people feel, they feel duped and angry and lashing out is but one way to show that. No one wants to support a giant foreign corporation, macro beer never drives people to go on road trips, was poetic or get artsy with their pictures. Grown men and women who never would have thought to share stuff on social media meticulously plan and execute videos and pictures in tribute to their new and favourite finds. So it is a very real problem for us who love craft beer when we hear someone has left the path we thought we were sharing and stepped into a windfall.
  I can't figure it all out myself, let alone tell you what to do. It's more than just beer for me now but my journey may not be yours and I can respect that. I always say drink what you like and I'll do the same. But I don't think this is the last time we will be having this discussion, there will be more purchases, more argument and without a doubt more great beer from places we love.
 I just hope I am ready when the next shoe drops, it might land closer to home than I like and the narrative of this may be different then.

30 October 2017

Help end the Stigma - Movember 2017

  Last year for Movember, I shaved off my goatee and grew a moustache in support of Men's Health awareness. It was the first time I had participated in anything like that and I choose to make the focus of my efforts on mental health initiatives. Getting men to open up about their difficulties with depression, anxiety and a host of other quiet diseases that affect them isn't easy and this year I would like to take that campaign a step further and try to help end the phrase and culture of "Man up."
  You hear it all the time, hell I used to say that exact phrase when talking to people who seem to always have some kind of issue. "Man up" isn't just about pulling up your bootstraps and carrying forward despite any obstacles, it has come to mean suppressing emotions, fears and depression. It symbolizes a kind of toxic masculinity where we revere the silent type who never reveal their pain or ask for help. We tell young boys to stop crying because it's weak, we tell them to control their emotions because a man is quiet and keeps such things to himself. When I was growing up we never were explicitly told to bottle up our feelings but the slurs that would rain down on anyone showing the slightest weakness made clear the path we were to take. I cannot imagine the pain caused for those who are gay, questioning their sexuality or place in the world when we were growing up as the words and actions of those afraid to express themselves would manifest in severe bullying, even assault. To protect at all cost your rep as a man was paramount and no one wanted to be seen as a sissy or worse. Being different meant an exile from the social world of our youth and we learned to keep our feelings to ourselves, putting up a front of toughness to the outside world.
  I have definitely noticed a shift in how we teach young men to deal with their emotions and mental health issues. Even coming from a generation where we were taught to keep it inside, I see an opening up in the channels of communication and that is good. But society and culture are sometimes slow to react and every time I see or hear the phrase "Man up", I cringe and want to ask the person just what they mean. Do they want the guy to ignore his mental or physical problems? To bottle up whatever he is feeling and conform to some out dated notion of what it takes to be a man? It isn't enough anymore to be silent in the face of increasing societal pressures and changing norms, we have to do better. Teaching young men that it is okay to show weakness and ask for help would go a long way to addressing the bigger issues facing us today. The rise in suicides, substance abuse and lashing out in an attempt to escape from or numb their internal pain means we aren't doing a good enough job of reaching out either. It is more than being good role models and showing the next generations how we can be better men, it is about communicating to them that we are supporting them as they grow and learn.
  We have to be the beacon on the hill for our fathers, sons, nephews, brothers and friends when it comes to mental and physical health. To take down the "Man up" crowd means we have to show vulnerability in asking for help when we need it and creating a place in our lives where we reach out to them when we see they need a hand. Not everyone who needs help will ask for it and I say putting the onus on those who are secretly hurting to come forward to seek help is simply ignoring a problem and hoping it will go away. If you care about someone and see they are hurting, sometimes it is going to take a little effort on your part to get them the help they need. And to those of us who let pride get in the way of seeking help I say the time has come to admit we can't do it all, we have doubts and fears and need a shoulder to lean on every once and a while.  I don't want to create a society of dependence but the silent screams of millions of men who just wish they could talk about things that are bringing them down and causing them pain and the needless deaths that result from that have to stop. "Man up" means internalizing your thoughts, feelings and doubts and the end result is the perpetuating of a culture where our sons and nephews continue the cycle. We can break the chains to a past that doesn't exist anymore and create a world where we feel safe and secure in expressing ourselves without fear of losing face or the respect of our peers.
  It is on us to show the way and lend a hand up to anyone we can. Being a man is more than being tough, it is about doing what is right and knowing when you need help yourself. To affect change we have to start somewhere and removing the phrase "man up" is a small and subtle change to broaden the tent and bring everyone closer to the help they need without marginalizing their mental or physical health needs.
  So let's try to do something, because doing nothing isn't an option anymore and we have to end the senseless deaths of our brothers. Every time a man hits the bottom of his resolve, the answer shouldn't be "man up", it should be the hand of a friend helping him to his feet and lending ongoing, positive support. I have come a long way since last November, seeking help for my own problems and trying to be an active friend for those around me when I see something is amiss. To truly change we have to acknowledge where we are coming from and where we want to be, the young men we are raising to go out in the world need to know that they are allowed to have feelings, doubts and fears. But we also have to show them that by opening up and addressing those problems, we are getting stronger, not weaker. Let's end the culture where our silence is killing those we love and leaving us a little emptier inside.
  I will be shaving away my goatee again this year and I hope you will join me (in reality or in spirit) in helping to end the stigma surrounding men asking for help when they need it. Let's work together to make sure the future is a place where everyone can find happiness and joy with their life.
  You can follow along on my Mo Space page at Drunk Polkaroo , donate and help us change the world for the better.


25 October 2017

You Need a Craft Beer Road Trip!

  As dawn breaks this morning there are 237 operating brick and mortar breweries in Ontario and we have been to 107 of them in the last year. According to Ontario Beverage Net's Brewery directory (here), there are a further 112 in various stages of the planning/building and another 71 (We've tried 31 of these) contract brewers operating right now. That's an amazing amount of growth and I hope we are merely at the cusp of an expansion that should continue for quite some time as under served communities begin to see what a driving force a local craft brewery can be when it comes to tourism and neighbourhood revival.

 We experienced it first hand when we travelled around last week to a bunch of small and new to the scene craft breweries. From husband and wife operations (Shakespeare Brewing) to full scale Cathedrals of Beer creating hundreds of jobs in a small town (Cowbell Brewing), we saw every variation on the story of how they got started, their plan for the future and the differences in their beer. Part of why we like to go out on the road in search of these newer and out of the way (for us anyway) breweries is my interest in helping to spread the word about what happens outside the big cities in this country. We tend to become myopic when it comes to a lot of things, even beer and if it happens outside of a major city centre, everything is seen through a muted lens.

  Leaving behind the road always taken means experiencing different styles and explorations of them by people who maybe don't adhere to the usual way of doing things. Half Hours on Earth in tiny Seaforth, Ontario started right off the bat with online ordering in addition to creating unique farmhouse and mixed fermentation sour ales. They have developed quite the cult following and will be a force to be reckoned with as they continue to grow. There are a lot of small towns who are opening up to the idea of a craft brewery with a tap room as part of their planning to help create jobs and drive that niche tourism only this industry can provide.

 There is a pride to having people come and try "your" beer that we see whenever we post about going to these smaller towns on our trips. People want to share the stuff they can get close to home that never seems to make it to the bigger centres. There has always been a chip on some shoulders at what they see as big city navel gazing and after going out and visiting so many of them I have to agree. We tend to follow the crowd when it comes to the next big beer, trend or otherwise and become enamoured with the latest darling of social media. The fear of missing out on that whale everyone is raving about takes over and we lose sight of all the amazing things happening just outside our usual life sphere.
 We tried a lot of beer in the last week, splitting samples and talking with the people who man the counters as we visit and can attest to the fact that not every single one was a home run or an amazing success. Some places still don't get customer service and the people can be like any other industry, there for a paycheque and little else. We have also been to places where they can't do enough for anyone who comes in the door, proudly relating their story and pouring the beer they dearly love for you to sample. Many times the beer was underwhelming, perhaps overly ambitious or just not quite there yet. You could see the promise of good things to come and despite the fact that we could have just gone to our usual haunts, our world is better because we took chances and stretched our legs. Conversely we found some absolutely outstanding craft beers of many different styles that we had no idea about until we crossed the threshold of the doors and said hello to our new friends. From big juicy IPAs to Belgian strong ales and Dopplebocks, we were finding hidden gems that deserve to be brought to the light and given their due as good damn beers.

  The world of craft beer is expanding at a rapid rate here in Ontario and pretty much everywhere else you look. There are people looking to make a buck, exploiting the latest trend for profit before moving on to the next thing and those can be difficult to spot until time shows the lack of dedication and care in the beer. But for the most part, we saw people who actually are deeply committed to making and selling a part of their life in every bottle or can. They are passionate about the beer you are trying, sharing tips on where to go next and other businesses in their town you should be visiting. They genuinely want to see the industry prosper because a rising tide does indeed raise all boats. Quality people crafting good and consistent beer will only help everyone and those who are in it for a quick buck will hopefully be shunned and left out of the conversation in the coming months and years. But all of this is moot if you don't get out there and make exploring this land part of your life. The trips can be short, long, epic or standard but the key is to go and get outside of your routine. The rut you're in may be filled with great beer already but your next favourite beer could be sitting in a fridge in a tiny town you've never heard of with a new friend saving you a seat at the bar. It has to be more than just beer though, stop in for lunch at the local diner, get some sweets at that bakery beside the brewery or stay overnight at a local B&B. Sit down and have a conversation, ask about the community, the beer or anything else that you think of. People want to share what makes their town special and you just might make a friend you didn't know you had.

See you out there, one day our glasses shall be raised together!



23 October 2017

The Road Home - Polkapolooza 2.1 Day Four

The road home on the last day of Polkapolooza is usually a straight shot with no stops but since this was a truncated tour to start with, I wanted to keep the good vibes going with a few more Ontario Craft breweries that just happened to be en route. The first stop was bang on at 11 a.m. in Stratford at Black Swan, where a half dozen ladies of the senior persuasion were waiting out front for their porters as part of a chocolate tour that was happening that very morning. The best part was they all tasted the beer and then proceeded to purchase a litre bottle each to take home. It was pretty awesome to see to be honest.
We gathered ourselves to the bar and ordered a pint of said porter for breakfast and stayed for a little under an hour for some conversation with the guy keeping things moving. A hopping place that had people wandering in for refills, pints and more refills, we grabbed an Elixr (1 litre) of the IPA and made our way out to take a photo of the street sign, which was most appropriate for the soundtrack of our week after the death of Canadian icon Gord Downie.

  A little up the way was a fairly new to the scene brewery in Shakespeare Brewing Company. Founded by husband and wife team and still in its' infancy, it nonetheless has some legs and is perfectly situated on a busy stretch between KW and Stratford.
Grabbing a flight of their three available beers, we chatted with Ayden about how they got started on a farm in England and took that six month unexpected apprenticeship and are trying to grab hold of a piece of this crazy craft beer dream we see exploding all over the place.
We took our leave after filling up with one of each from the fridge and Mrs. Polk eyeing the Merlot barrel holding their Farmhouse Ale with a promise to return as the weather turned colder and the stouts appeared.

  New Hamburg was just a short hop up the road and is home to Descendant's off shoot Bitte Schon Brauhaus, a salute to the area's German population and an homage to the culture of tiny brewhouses that dot the landscape there. Greeted warmly and taking a short tour, we marvelled at the equipment and heard about their experimental but leaning traditional brews. Of course we grabbed a flight in the cool Bauhaus looking tap room and were happy to find a very good Hefe and an show stopping Doppelbock that left me wanting more. We kept our heads about us and after a quick stop at the bakery next door, because of course we did, it was on to Cambridge and two more stops.

  By nature of their operating hours, I had yet to get myself to Barncat Artisan Ales. Open only 4 to 7 on Friday and 12 to 4 on Sunday, I was happy to finally have a weekend off to see what all the fuss was about. Easily surpassing what I had heard, a small sample of both the Grapefruit IPA and Rye Porter were enough to convince me to purchase a litre of each with the nagging suspicion that I should have bought three times that much. While they currently aren't as accessible as I'd like, given the high quality of their beer, I'd say that dream of long term success is almost guaranteed.

  A hop and a skip away was another in and out stop as time had become pressing. Northworks Brewing was host to a few thirsty travellers as we sampled the Jamaican Pumpkin Ale and I couldn't help but grabbed a couple of those Crowlers they sell their beer in. A SMASH IPA with mosaic and my ever favourite style, a Black IPA found their way into the trunk as the old Fiesta turned its shiny Ford nose toward home and our final stop.

  Hamilton's latest craft brewery to open was jumping as we pulled up to the open garage doors and full as could be patio at Grain & Grit Beer. Finding a pair of chairs at the bar, we ordered a flight and spent a little time chatting with the good folks who were living the dream they had worked so hard for. Pride, joy and love could be felt as we talked about the process of transforming this former garage into a gleaming but down home kitchen party feel of a space. The laughter and conversation came easy all around us and we once again grabbed one of everything and left to finally get home to Jinx and some sense of normalcy...Polkaroo style.

  The final moments of any road trip fill me with a poignant sadness because I always think I could have done more, visited this brewery or that and I of course don't want that feeling of what the Craft Beer community has come to mean to me to ever end. Getting to share that with Kathryn makes it even better as we can now talk about our favourite and not so favourite moments, beer and breweries. She helps me flesh out my ideas for what we experienced and gives me the support to keep going no matter what. So this 1400+ kilometre, 24 brewery tour comes to and end and I am left with some great memories, more new friends and a fridge full of Ontario Craft Beer that will help me remember all of that every time I pop one open.
  I hope this has inspired you to step outside your normal routine of visiting the same breweries over and over again. While I too have my own personal faves that I go to often, after making it to over 100 different Ontario Craft Breweries this year, I can attest to the reward of hitting the open road with an open mind, an empty cooler and a song in your heart.


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


22 October 2017

That Night in Blyth - Polkapolooza 2.1 Day 3 in Huron County

  Day 3 found us packing our suitcase for the traditional over night stay during Polkapolooza. We try to support as many local businesses on our trip as we can and decided our trip to Huron county, while only a few hours away, would be perfect for this edition. After some consultations and advice from friends, we found the most interesting place to stay and booked the room at The Queen's Bakery and Accommodations in Blyth, just down the road from our final stop of the day at Cowbell. After checking in, we took off to visit a couple of craft brewers before our evening in this small town with the big brewery. 

Stone House Brewing

Up first was the aptly named Stone House Brewing in nearby Varna. Located on a farm with an impressive building housing another single beer brewer. The Pilsner is crisp and clean with a nice floral note that has a grassy dry finish. We looked around and chatted with the owner for a while about his move from a U Brew proprietor to salesman to farm/brewery purveyor. They cannot keep up with demand and were proud of their place in the Huron county landscape. We took 4 pilly's home with us because it was so easy drinking and a sure fire BBQing beer.
 Half Hours on Earth Brewery 

Next was one of the most sought after and highly acclaimed brewers since the moment they opened last year. Half Hours on Earth is located under an old Creamery and at first glance a novice to craft beer would question your choice of visiting here. It's down in the basement and filled with brewing equipment and an industrial look that belies the genius going on inside the tanks. Makers of some of the finest mixed fermentation/sour/farmhouse ales in the country, their online store booms with traffic and they acknowledge the need for a taproom as business increases and more people make the pilgrimage out to Seaforth. We sampled everything they had and then bought the same, I cant get enough of their stuff and even broke my own strict no new glassware policy because I just had to have a new HHOE tumbler. We didn't have much time before our evening plans began, so we reluctantly bid farewell with a view to making this trip again soon with some of our craft beer friends to show them this mighty engine in a small town. 
Cowbell Brewing

  We returned to our suite and got ready for an evening we won't soon forget. I have been following the building and growth of Cowbell Brewing since they first launched Absent Landlord in the LCBO as a contract brewer. Two more excellent releases in Doc Perdue's Bobcat and Kelly's Contraption hooked me as did the interactions I had with their staff at festivals and online. Pictures do not do justice to the scope and size of this Cathedral of Beer that springs up seemingly out of nowhere and dominates the landscape while being part of it at the same time. We were greeted warmly at the door and thus began one of the most unique experiences we have ever had in craft beer.

  Steven and Grant Sparling, father and son, owners and very proud members of this farm country were just inside the door and after the hellos were said, a pint of their Shindig, an approachable 4.2% lager was in each of our hands as Kat and I marvelled at the unreal dimensions inside of this brewery. The beer was perfectly approachable to a macro drinker and with both them and the craft beer lover in mind, it has a crisp malt body that gives just enough oomph to keep everyone happy. A gateway to their more adventurous fare, I saw many folks with a mug of it and a sampler of something a little different at the same time.

  We made our way up to the upper level, which is accessible to anyone to take a self guided or booked tour of the entire facility. They have taken great steps to ensure everyone, regardless of physical ability can enjoy all they have built and if it was just that I would be so happy to support this 10 week old brewery but it goes further. Since the very first pint and can sold, they have donated 5 cents from every single one to local charities and when you take that into account, it is indeed a beautiful thing.

  Cowbell have built the first carbon neutral brewery in Canada, taking time to ensure not only the finest ingredients for their beer but that they do no harm and ensure the vital nature of this pristine part of the world isn't impacted by their business. They have so many environmental controls in place from water reclamation to green roofs to the equipment that is both efficient and beautiful. They have found a way to run both a busy (100,000 customers and over a million pints poured since opening) and focused on the long term health of the place it inhabits. Amazing architecture that is also practical, accessible and beautiful makes for quite the experience.
  But the question I heard as I gushed about it on Twitter was all about the beer. Did it match the hype? Could Brewmaster Stephen Rich make beer that would be able to compete with the best this province has to offer? As we walked around with him and my Instagram pal and fellow Cowbell brewer Jeremy, we were witness firsthand to the passion and vision they have when it comes to their beer. Knowing how much I love a good IPA, Jeremy grabbed a pint of Boxing Bruin and I was floored by this hazy, juicy citrus hop bomb. Slightly sweet with a big bitter grapefruit and orange kick, it will be the game changer for many of my hop head friends when it comes to Cowbell. While I have been a huge fan of both their West Coast red Ale and Hefeweizen, this one was an eye opener to what they could do now that they had their own facility and the time to really go deep into Stephen's bag of tricks. I am found without proper words to describe how every inch of the brewhouse was built with not only functionality but inadvertent or overt art in everything, including the pipes and walls.
  As we said good bye to our new friends and went down to have dinner in their spacious but cozy dining room, we saw a lot of people enjoying not just the beer, but the amazing and well thought out menu. With price points offering something for everyone ($2 Hot dogs!), they have built it with being in line with their policies of supporting local and having only the best ingredients in their food. Almost 75% of what comes out of the kitchen is from Huron county and combining that with the 150 jobs in this small rural community, you have a decidedly positive economic impact to go with the environmental one.

  Ordering a flight each, we wanted to experience as many of their impressive 13 beers on tap as possible. From the Founder brews to the Rengade series, they have a lot of styles to choose from. Highlights for Kat were the hefeweizen and the Molasses Vanilla Porter, both regular and on nitro. For myself it was the aforementioned Boxing Bruin and my surprise of the night, the Holiday Spiced Belgian Ale. Loaded with a huge scent of spices and dark malts, it proved to be a full on slow sipper. Nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, dark fruits and sweet malts combined for Christmas in a glass. So good, I got another snifter as the night went on. They ensure the proper serving temp for every beer that comes out of taps, from 3 to 12 degrees depending on style and with various types of glassware, you are sure of a grand experience each pint.

  We had the burgers, with fries for Kat and a Caesar for myself, delicious and cooked just right. We looked longingly at the wood fired pizza and other fare but wanted to enjoy the simplest of fare this time before we called it a night. No doubt multiple trips will be required to try everything we wanted and that is a good thing for any place looking to build a rep as a destination for food and beer. The cost was in line with what we spend when we go out to dinner at our local Hamilton spots for dinner, check out their menu here. A solid lineup of spirits and local wine round out a dining experience with something for everyone.
  As a nightcap, Kathryn decided to try one of their Renegade series of beer cocktails, created in house with the beers and ingredients on hand. Hers was a deliciously spicy Molasses Vanilla porter in a tulip glass with ice, rumchata, kahluha, a maple/pumpkin simple syrup and a cinnamon stick. Warming, delightful and a worthy finish to a wonderful meal.
The service was friendly and quick and despite a full house and a big crowd, we never felt hurried. I watched as every guest was greeted warmly, people marvelled at the size and wandered about the catwalks as they waited for a table. They have many rooms available for private parties at no extra charge (reservations obviously required), including a wonderfully appointed, full of natural light space that was host to a wedding the very next day, their 3rd, including Brewmaster Stephan Rich's a few weeks earlier.

   We took our leave to the large outdoor patio space and slowly let the day sink in. I may have underestimated what this trip meant when I first envisioned it but with the sheer number and diversity of places we had visited, I was seeing that it all was coming together under the vaulted ceilings at Cowbell. The Sparling family has built a destination not to be missed but more than that they care about the larger community they are part of. From the environmental controls, to the care of the guest, the beer and every nook and cranny of the building it is indeed a place you need to go. 
  I suppose I do look at things in a positive light most of the time but after spending 5 hours at this Blyth, Ontario Craft brewery, I know my optimism isn't misplaced. The future of Cowbell Brewing is very bright and to answer the question my friends asked about whether the beer could possibly match the hype I will leave you with this; It exceeded what I was hoping for but you need to make the trip yourself to really understand what is happening here in Huron County. A big thank you to everyone who took the time to answer our questions, talk about beer and make our visit a memorable one. We will return.

  We walked back to our hotel above a bakery and enjoyed a pint while we talked about what a day we had. Our dreams were filled with visions of pints, friends and the open road that beckoned us tomorrow when we would head home with even more new stops along the way. The success of any road trip is the happiness it generates for those who undertake it and we were winning since the moment we first stepped foot out the door this week.

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

The Big Smoke Redux - Polkapolooza 2.1 Day 2 in Toronto

   Day 2 of Polkapolooza 2.1 dawned and we slept in a little after the epic 800 plus km. journey of the day before. How could we sleep in with another 8 breweries lined up on this trip? Simple, the huge amount of new craft brewers that had opened in one of my favourite cities made it easy to take our time and still hit all of them with a good chance of being home for dinner. Toronto day is a staple of any tour, but much to the dismay of many of my crafty friends, their would be no Bellwoods, as we tried to give another perspective on the trip to the Big Smoke.
  We each choose one old favourite to visit that had something for both of us and we started at a brewery we go to almost every time we hit Toronto, Muddy York Brewing. We met up with beer pal Dave Lee and had a good chat with Jeff and Susan as always. We related stories of the previous day up north and heard a few suggestions for the stops to come, it's always good to ask the folks who live in a city for tips on where to go, park and eat. Securing a resupply of great MY beer, we hit the road for a quick trip down to Godspeed, opened by Dieu du Ciel alumni Bim Fontaine.
  While we had hoped to partake in their Japanese inspired menu to pair with our beer, the kitchen didn't open until 4, so it was a quick "pickup some beer" stop and a pin was put into the dinner plans for another day. It's an open and airy setup that we promise to explore more.

  The next stop was just minutes away and once again we were faced with a beautiful space and decided to stop for a few samples before continuing on. Rorschach Brewing is a relative newcomer but their tap/bottle list is already very impressive. Kat was immediately drawn to their Systematic Desensitization, a horchata dessert lager. Bursting with notes of vanilla and cinnamon, it did taste like rice pudding and was a hit. I tried the Absolute Truth Double IPA and came away impressed at what was being done here. Balanced with a juicy and bold bitter grapefruit, orange citrus, the oats added to the smooth texture. Grabbing 4 pack to take home of a few we hadn't tried, we scooted across the city for a bit to find the most unusual stop of the day.

  Saulter Street Brewing is located down a narrow street and tucked in behind a row of townhouses in an alley. Its' bright and open doors invited us in and I was struck by how much it resembled a neighbourhood bar, perfect for the place it was situated. They have one core beer, a Pilsner brewed with some dark malts and I was pretty impressed with the pint we decided we needed to have.
They also have one rotating tap and on this day it held a Common style brew that Kat enjoyed as we talked and rested before the final sprint. As the conversation went on, we came to find that our old pal Tanner, of Brock Street brewing, had moved on and landed here at Saulter Street. A pleasant surprise and a reminder that as the business of craft beer grows, we will see such movement while the people in it find new and exciting opportunities for change and growth. Informed that our next stop was only a few blocks away, we decided to enjoy the beautiful October day and walked on down to Eastbound Brewing to see what was our 5th stop in only three and a half hours.
  A big and open space, they were busy preparing for the evenings food service when we arrived but took the time to stop and talk about not only their beer but the scene in Toronto in general. We lingered for a while sampling and chatting before making some purchases and heading back into the sunshine for the walk back to the car. It's never long enough when we are doing these trips and we can't wait to come back here to try some of their food inspired and made with their beer.
  The day was more than half over and we were moving at a good clip...for Toronto. Although this day's trip was about a quarter of the kilometres of the previous one, it was a little more draining as the traffic was intense and packed. But we kept our spirits up and enjoyed the sights of a busy city while we turned to a spot located in the middle of a bustling and proudly multi cultural market.
  Kensington Brewery has molded itself into a very unique neighbourhood and added to the community with their take on the industrial chic that other Toronto brewers have embraced. It feels airy and open and while we only had a few moments to peruse the site, the folks working there were happy and informative. Another day to spend just hanging at the shops along the way is in order, post haste. Our time in the city was at an end but there were two more stops as we turned the Fiesta toward the Hammer and Casa de Polk.
  I'm an unabashed fan of what Great Lakes Beer does and with 3 new beers in the fridge on this day, it was an easy choice as my old fave stop of the day. We made our way out of Toronto to Etobicoke and the familiar GLB tap room. We grabbed the beers we came for and while I looked longingly at a few more Audrey hopburns, we had to stick to the budget... A quick hello/goodbye sent us on our way to the final stop of the day, western legend now open in 2 different spots in the GTA, Big Rock Brewing.
  Located down The Queensway from Great lakes, it can be found at the back of a full industrial plaza featuring many different importer and exporter wholesale distributors. A massive facility made for large scale production, it was not exactly the most inviting of space and had an almost corporate feel to it. The taps were decent, but the bottle list was almost devoid of anything that sparked our interest. We bought a few we haven't had because I am always willing to explore deeper, we left with a tired but happy outlook on the overall scope of the day.
  As hard as it was to pass buy so many amazing craft breweries in Toronto, Left Field, Bellwoods and the like, it was important to us to be able to see what was going on in different corners of the city and help break the routine we find ourselves in when it comes to this city. There are so many places we didn't get to and I am making a promise to myself that we will continue to make it our mission to go to each and every one as this journey continues.
  For the record, day 2 was 7 hours on the road, 195 kilometres, 8 breweries and over 30 new beers. It was a whirlwind, as this day always is and we went to bed knowing the next day was a longer drive but to quite a different setting and environment.
  Get out of your rut and try adding a new to you brewery on your next run to Toronto, you'll be glad to you did.

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