22 March 2018

Day One - Polkapolooza 3 : Rise of Polk

Any time we hit the road in search of great craft beer, we are always on the lookout for the new and interesting. We seek a taproom with personality and the stories we find when we stop and take a seat at the table. We want to talk beer with the people who make make it and those who drink it. We are not purveyors of a fine lifestyle, but rather your regular working folk who do some things with a little more enthusiasm than your average person would require. Live large and explore isn't just something we say, we live it everyday and Polkapolooza is that special time of year when we shed the coils of work and home to celebrate Ontario Craft beer.

This year's tour kicked off on Sunday March 11th with an early morning 230 kilometre drive to the northeast of Toronto and the beautiful town of Bowmanville. Manantler Brewing was our destination and we arrived just as the doors opened to sidle up for a flight to kick things of for the week. Often we stop in and grab some bottles to try at home, sometimes a few samples to split and others, like this one, we are joined by distant old friends and new ones we just haven't met yet. First through the door was Josh, a young guy who is quickly building a name for himself in both the craft beer and woodworking worlds with his beautiful creations. Our old pal Glenn was next to show up as we were close to his hometown and it was a welcome sight to see a fellow beer writer settle in across from me. Jen and Shannon were last to arrive but would remain with us all day as we raced the clock of early closings to make all of our stops on Day 1 of Rise of Polk 2018.
  We ordered our flights and that's when Manantler's own beer saint Matt showed up and the bottles started to appear from behind a magic wall. Samples of past, present and future creations were doled out and the chat turned from where Manantler was, to where they are going in the context of a burgeoning scene in the region. Finding your voice and keeping the ball going forward is never easy in any business but when it comes to craft beer, the fickle nature of humanity is in full play.
 The taproom has grown since our visit last year and you can feel the vision becoming a vibe as Manantler grows to fill and respond to the needs of their community. Laughing and joking while discussing his own journey, Matt was the epitome of a good host as we reluctantly said our good byes after what was supposed to have been a half hour stop gone on 4 times that long. A common theme this week and one we will be addressing at the conclusion of these look backs. I'm not one to stop a good time so we threw the timetable out the window for the sake of just that.
Ringing up a solid amount of beers to go with some lovely gifts, we turned next to a brew pub beneath one of my favourite smokehouse restaurants in the province. Sir Monty's Brewing is located underneath Stuttering John's Smokehouse in Courtice, Ontario and has an English pub like feel to it as you descend the stairs. Jen, Shannon and Josh made the trip with us and as we walked in I was greeted by a couple of other beer loving pals we had met briefly a few weeks before at Left Field in Toronto. Out for a bite and a pint, they wanted to say hello and welcome me to their region as the tour kicked of on day one. I loved being able to chat with people who love great beer as much as me and was greeted warmly as we headed for our table by another fellow beer lover who was following along on social media. Extolling the virtues of both the food and drink, he was an example of something that became a theme more and more as we travelled. People are proud of their local craft brewery and want nothing more than to share that with you. Local is quickly becoming a watchword and something we will encounter as we look back and then forward on this week.
  Feeling the press of time, we split a few flights and found that the beer was promising with the Irish Red being the standout for both Kat and I. Only growler fills available, so we left with nothing but memories of meeting great people and a new brewery we will revisit when we can to see what changes as they grow.

Saying goodbye to Josh at this stop, we next made our way to two breweries in Whitby that we had spent considerable time in last year on the Beer Saints tour with our friends from all over Ontario. Brock Street Brewing is still awaiting their new downtown location as construction continues with it's usual delays and complications but their original location was full and rocking for a Sunday afternoon and we grabbed a few more cans to add to a generous gift Josh had delivered on their behalf earlier.
A short drive down the road led us to 5 Paddles Brewing and we once again stayed a little longer than planned as a few samples of their recent wares were tasted and discussed along with the purchase of some very anticipated IPAs and stouts. They have increased the space in the taproom by putting some retro movie seating and couches into the brewery proper and it was buzzing with folks enjoying an afternoon among the bright tanks and fermenters.
We next made our way to Whitby's newest addition and a big space with lots of possibilities. Little Beast Brewing has some very cool label art that incorporates their beast logo and will help them to stand out from the crowded sea of beer popping up in Ontario. Talking about the challenges of getting people out and visiting, we were soon joined by 3 more beer friends from the Society of Beer Drinking ladies on their way back from Ottawa and the room filled with excited chatter and raised glasses. Always good to get to see our friend Erica, however briefly, and we soon had to head out, with some tasty saisons to boot, and try to keep the day on track.
Town Brewing makes it 4 craft breweries in this town of 130,000 people and showcases the different philosophies and styles that help each stand out in the beer world. Known already for their fine beers, Town's sours and IPAs keep grabbing everyones' attention, and we took a seat to experience some samples of the beer and a much needed snack. The taproom was filled with people of all ages and the conversations were boisterous and happy as Sunday moved towards its closing. A place that would be at home in any city, we lingered to enjoy some tart treats and plan for the final leg of a 400 plus kilometre opening day.
Heading east toward home, we made an all too brief stop at Ajax's only craft brewery, the just turned one year old Falcon Brewing. Located in a strip mall like you'd find in any city, it had the feel of a neighbourhood bar with a bright, airy feel and a nice tap list. We grabbed a few bottles and made our apologies that we couldn't stay longer but our goal was in sight and the early closing times on Sundays made it impossible to sit and chat at every stop. So many people pop in and out of breweries every day and that is part of the larger story we will tell as the week goes on.

Jen and Shannon had beat us to our final destination and when we arrived at the 8th and final brewery, it was a bittersweet moment because we only had a little time left with these two who had stayed with us all day. Located in Markham, home to 329.000, Rouge River Brewing has quickly built a reputation for making great beer and pushing the envelope when it came to flavour. The Imperial Stout with coconuts was like drinking a chocolate bar through that tropical fruit and was outstanding and of course, the IPAs were spot on and deserved further reflection at home. The sun drew low in the sky and we knew the day was drawing to a close but we lingered a little at the bar having a little chat about beer and brewing with the guys from Rouge.
  Hugs and promises of future trip around Lake Ontario were exchanged as our young friends headed home and we did the same. It always feels heavy when Day1 is done because you realise how much is out there and how little we can actually do with the time we are given to explore. It was a great way to kick off Polkapolooza and this growing region will be a hot spot for people looking outside the typical Toronto centric view we too often have.
  Having said that, Monday would find us heading for the Big Smoke itself as I am not immune to the pull of Toronto and the 35+ craft breweries contained within. That story will come in good time but below I'll give you a snapshot of each stop and our impressions of each. Keep in mind, some of these were less than 15 minutes, while others stretched in an hour or more. Look all of them up next time you're out that way and experience it for yourself.


Polkapolooza Day 1 - Something Polk this way comes...the short and sweet

1. Manantler Brewing
Website - https://www.manantler.com/
Favourite Beer - Siesmic Narwhale Imperial IPA
1st Impression - Hanging out in a pal's rec room, but with better beer.
2. Sir Monty's Brewing
Website - https://www.sirmontys.com/
Favourite Beer - Irish Red Ale
1st Impression - A Fool and Flagon but less British
3. Brock Street Brewing
Website - http://www.brockstreetbrewing.com/
Favourite Beer - Black IPA from All Ontario Hops Competition
1st Impression - Bursting at the seems. Cramped and busy.
4. 5 Paddles Brewing
Website - https://www.5paddlesbrewing.ca/
Favourite Beer - In Your Face IPA
1st Impression - That punk bar you went to when you were cooler.
5. Little Beasts Brewing
Website - https://www.facebook.com/LittleBeastsBrewCo/
Favourite Beer - Dark Saison
1st Impression - Spacious and anxious.
6. Town Brewery
Website - http://townbrewery.ca/
Favourite Beer - Superfluos Sour Ale
1st Impression - If I had an older sister, this is where we would hang out
7. Falcon Brewing
Website - https://www.falconbrewingcompany.com/
Favourite Beer - Too soon to tell...
1st Impression - Your neighbourhood burger bar.
8. Rouge River Brewing
Website - https://www.rougeriverbrewingcompany.com/
Favourite Beer - Summer Pale Ale
1st Impression - Where the cool kids from high school ended up.

6 March 2018

Polkapolooza 3 : Rise of Polk

On the Road again!

  I live my life out in the open, large and loud with no filter except the ones on my pictures to clean up my days. I proudly enjoy my beer and shout from the rooftops my undying love for those who make it. Rescued from a fate surely locked in to an early grave, my journey from macro pounder to appreciator of the finer things in malted barley has been one of joy and exploration. For the third year in a row, we are taking that gratitude on the road in a week long road tripping, beer running trek of Ontario Craft Beer.
  Polkapolooza was conceived in March of 2016 to celebrate Ontario craft beer and what it had come to mean to me. I conveniently selected my birthday week and we made 22 stops at breweries over 5 days and 1200 kilometres as we tentatively put our toes in the water when it came to beer road trips. Many day jaunts followed and we fell in love with time spent in a tap room, often surrounded by new and old friends talking about beers past, present and future. 

Our first Charcuterie at Barnstormer's (2016)
  2017 saw us take Polkapolooza to another level with the 2nd annual tour being dubbed "Electric Polkaloo", encompassing 2500 kilometres, 7 days and a point of pride, for me anyway, 50 Ontario Craft Breweries from Ottawa to London. It was a pretty epic journey that included a few snowstorms, some luck and a whole lot of great people we met along the way. We found our friends waiting for us at many stops and that was a hell of a thing to discover. Heading out with no expectations and being blown away by the kindness and friendship we discovered was truly a blessing we are eternally grateful for.

Always together! From 2017 Polkapolooza tour
  Polkapolooza 3 : Rise of Polk commences Sunday March 11th and will go 7 days again this year, sending us east and west in a joyous exploration and pursuit of our next favourite beer, taproom and hopefully some new friends. I have pushed the limit to 61 Ontario Craft breweries and well over 2200 kilometres as we once again want to use this week to showcase so many of our gratitude and love for all this community has meant to us. It's about the people, the beer and what we can do to help spread the gospel of a better way of life and drinking.
Meeting friends we didn't know we had in 2017!

  I chose Rise of Polk because I still feel like we have only scratched the surface for what we can become. a market share that hasn't yet surpassed 10% and so many people we can help see the light means our work has just begun. I join with my fellow beer lovers who share their pictures, stories, videos and reviews in wanting to make sure the next beer you have is one that may alter the course of your life. I do this because I am utterly convinced that craft beer not only saved my life, it changed it and me for the better. It helped me to come to terms with a life lived in the shadows, learn to express myself in a way I thought I had lost and helped me connect with who I truly want to be. That work isn't done yet either and as my 45th birthday rushes toward me near the end of the trip, I can hope the backend of my life will be filled with more happiness and positive experiences than I thought possible.
  Follow along on Twitter (@DrunkPolkaroo ) and Instagram (Drunk Polkaroo) as we start my favourite road trip of the year. The stops for this year's tour are posted below, with any luck we will be able to make them all. I hope to see some of you as we pass by your town, come out and say hello, I've always got time for friends I just haven't met yet!


Day 1 (Sun Mar 11th) -
Something Polk this way comes (326 km)
1. Manantler Brewing
2. Sir Monty's Brewing
3. Little Beasts Brewing
4. Brock Street Brewing
5. 5 Paddles Brewing
6. Town Brewery
7. Falcon Brewing
8. Rouge River Brewing

Day 2 (Mon Mar 12th) -
D.Polk in the 6ix (169 km)
1. Black Oak Brewing
2. Great Lakes Brewery
3. Muddy York Brewing
4. Left Field Brewery
5. Eastbound Brewery
6. Steamwhistle Brewing
7. Amsterdam Brewhouse
8. Bellwoods Brewery
9. Henderson Brewing
10. Indie Alehouse

Day 3 (Tue Mar 13th) -
Polk goes North (575 km)
1. Muskoka Brewery
2. Sawdust City Brewing
3. Flying Monkey's Brewery
4. Barnstormer Brewing
5. Redline Brewhouse
6. Side Launch Brewing
7. Northwinds Brewhouse

Day 4 (Wed Mar 14th) -
Niagara Polks and Rec (256 km)
1. Brimstone Brewing
2. Niagara Brewing Company
3. Taps on Queen Brewhouse
4. The Exchange Brewery
5. Niagara Oast House Brewers
6. Silversmith Brewing
7. Lock Street Brewing
8. Kame and Kettle Brewing

Day 5 (Thur Mar 15th) -
Westward Polk (343 km)
1. Sons of Kent Brewing
2. Frank Brewing
3. Sandwich Brewing
4. Brew Microbrewery
5. Midian Brewing
6. Walkerville Brewing
7. Chapter 2 Brewing
8. Motor Craft Ales

Day 6 (Fri Mar 16th) (Also Polk's actual B-Day!!) -
Take the long Polk Home (478 km)
1. Refined Fool Brewing
2. Rusty Wrench Brewing
3. Strathroy Brewing
4. Storm Stayed Brewing
5. Toboggan Brewing
6. London Co-op Brewing
7. Anderson Craft Ales
8. Forked River Brewing
9. Railway City Brewing
10. New Limburg Brewing
11. Concession Road Brewing

Day 7 (Sat Mar 17th) -
Home Sweet Polk (102 km)
1. Cameron's Brewing
2. Nickel Brook Brewing
3. Shawn and Ed's Brewing
4. Fairweather Brewing
5. Grain and Grit Brewing
6. Merit Brewing
7. Rust City Brewery
8. Collective Arts Brewing
9. Clifford Brewing

6 February 2018

The Honest Review - Advocating for better beer.

   I think we have all been there. You grab a couple new beers at the Liquor store and rush home with your treasures, eagerly anticipating a night of exciting things. Chilled and waiting after dinner, you open the first one and watch the cascade of liquid fill your glass, hoping for the aromas and flavours to match what the brewer has promised. Watching the final drops flick into the foamy head, you sniff and feel like something's off. A little deeper perhaps and still, it comes up short. No worries though, clearly the first sip will reveal the true depth of character this beer has been presented to us with, flavours will surely come forth to justify you spending your beer budget on this exciting looking new beer.
  Except it doesn't and now you aren't sure what to do. Do you keep drinking it, clearly it isn't hitting the style marks or descriptions given to you. The early excitement fades and the promise of a fun night has morphed into a disappointing evening of self doubt and recriminations. You could have stayed with your tried and true craft beer favourites, but you want try new things because that is what this whole thing is really all about. While every beer certainly can't be the very best ever, they should at least hit the level of competent and close to style.
Who wants to go back to the old generic beer days?

 The rush to market feel I have seen recently looks like the tip of the iceberg and this Titanic voyage is just getting started. I can understand people who have been home brewing for years banding together with like minded friends or family and making a go of commercial brewing. Be it as a contract brewer or an actual brick and mortar shop, those dreams are worthy and I support anyone willing to undertake it with an honest and open plan. But we all know the ones that just don't feel right. Slick marketing, glossy photo spreads, product placement for money and a general sense of a disingenuous approach to a community that still feels very grassroots at its base. The heart we so often speak of cannot be found in such places or brands and the slimy feeling you get is because deep down you know what you're drinking.
 There can be some difficulty in trying to separate the real from the fake because it can subjective but the people who make up the strength of the craft beer movement, the drinkers and lovers of well made, independent beer can sense when someone is feeding them bullshit. Poorly made beer that is sent out because they have deadlines or investors isn't just the calling card of a contract brewer, some long term brewers have reputations for sub par releases that make you wonder how gullible we appear. Getting a listing at the LCBO means you've passed some kind of quality control but it doesn't ensure that quality translates into something resembling good, on point beer.  Malty IPAs when they're supposed to be balanced, watery lagers to try and capture that borderline segment who want to experience craft and labels meant to catch the eye but with little in the way of substance inside. I have only found a few of these kinds of pseudo craft beers but I fear the time is upon us when the market fragmentation and the pursuit of a share of a still pretty tiny pie is deluged with witty slogans, artwork and not much substance. My experience buying wine (a story for another day entirely) gave me an inkling what it is like to be new to the scene, relying on labels and descriptions, guided by names that sound like I should know them or perhaps something someone has told me to help influence my purchase.
I'm always learning
  How do we combat this invasion of the flavour snatchers? It starts and ends with us, to be very simplistic. We who have come before must be the voices that sustain the revolution. The advocacy for better beer and more honesty in that must be paramount. The toehold craft has in the overall beer marketplace is solid but not huge and the potential is there for exponential growth in the coming years, but a flood of poorly made or executed beers will turn people off and send them back to the bland, yet always consistent macro brands. Helping your friends who are new to craft beer find good transitional beers that are to style and full of flavour will help stem the tide of gimmicky bullshit that is starting to pop up and can ensure we don't let this cold turn into pneumonia.
  I say we try to keep our social media filled with honest and straightforward discussions about what we are drinking. You will know I am not a person who ever trashes a brewer or even a beer as being intentionally bad. Rather I let the world know that it's not for me, missing some key mark or flavour along the way to explaining why it wasn't a beer I'd buy again. You don't have to be an asshole about it but your friends deserve and will appreciate your opinion when they seek it out. Advocate the best in beer and try to help them when it comes to steering them into beers that match what they like about flavours and textures. Ease them into it, a triple IPA for a dedicated Bud Light drinker isn't doing them or the beer any favours.
It's always been true for me,

 If you're an explorer of craft beer like me, you're going to try every beer you can get your hands on and as long as you try to see them for what they are stylistically rather than trying to attack them, you will help the cause go further with those who are asking your counsel. Let's make the conversation about what is the best side of our beer but not without acknowledging the weak spots and poor decisions we see on the shelves. Call them out, be truthful and always use your words wisely as those who seek your council will be grateful for your candor. Let the light of truth shine on your pursuit and always keep a sense of wonder about just how amazing this time is for people who love great beer.



3 February 2018

Get in the Cellar

A present to myself from my beer cellar
  Ever look on in amazement when someone posts a series of beers from 5 years worth of releases or more that they've held onto for a special occasion? A vertical for the ages takes a huge amount of patience, a little luck and the ability to delay gratification that most of us do not possess. I look on in wonder as a friend takes a snap of a decades worth of beer, carefully stored and lovingly shared amongst their nearest and dearest. How do they do it and should you join in the fun that is cellaring your beer? I should think so, although I do so with a few caveats that work for me. Take these as you will, I am no expert but I've learned a few things along the way.

1. Temperature Matters
  One mistake we make is moving beer from the fridge to the counter to the cellar and back again. Early on I was given probably the best piece of advice about saving my beer for years, keep it cool. If you have room in the fridge, tuck it in the back and leave it the hell alone. No need to move it, agitate or disturb the aging brew. Just keep it consistent, if left in an actual cellar, leave it there until you want to drink it and then move it when ready. Try to keep it in the low temps though, no need to speed up the aging process with warm, shelf aged beer...leave that for our lovely LCBOs.

2. No Light Man
  If you've followed rule number 1, that beer isn't seeing the light of day until it's going into your glass. We all know the natural enemies of our beer are heat, oxygen and of course the sun, natural or otherwise. Take no chances and keep those beauties in the dark until D-Day.

3. Age Appropriate
  There is little sense in aging a hoppy IPA unless your goal is to create a malt bomb. I recently had an almost year old IPA and it was like drinking a toasty glass of caramel, with little in the way of the hoppy deliciousness I was used to from this particular brew. Same goes for low ABV beers, they don't have the requisite chutzpah to go the distance. Dark beers with an ABV over 7% tend to populate most cellars with stouts, barley wines, farmhouse ales, bretty beasts, bottle conditioned gems and barrel aged anything are the usual suspects, The age tends to mellow out the heat or harsher aspects of the beer in comparison to when it's fresh and that can add a balanced complexity to what your drinking.
Do not age!!
4. Buy 2
  I don't understand just buying one of something I'm aging. How can you even begin to compare the two or understand why you're aging a beer if you don't know what is going on with it when it's released. I haven't come across a beer that was released and you were told not to drink it with the exception of last year's 11.05 from Sawdust City and Nickel Brook. It needed a little more time to can condition and we were told to wait a bit longer to give it time to develop that funk. For the most part, beer is released when it is ready to drink, although with the caveat that it can be cellared for enjoyment and comparison at a later date. For me that's what it is all about, contrast and compare what happens from a year spent aging versus the current release. A prime example was the 2016 versus 2017 Kentucky Bastard Imperial Bourbon Barrel aged Stout from the aforementioned Nickel Brook. While the latest release was delicious and boozy, it's older counterpart had lost some of that heat from the alcohol and melded together to create an amazingly balanced beer. Truly sublime.
A truly sublime experience. 2016 Nickel Brook Kentucky Bastard.
4. Forget about it
  The hardest thing to do is look at a beer, day after day, trying to decide if it's the right time to drink it or not. My friends who aged a lot of beer tell me the secret is to put it out of sight, make it something you don't see and you will let it go from your thoughts. Make your cellar or fridge space where you keep your precious and unique treasures as out of the way as possible. The bottom shelf, back of the fridge works best for me, covered by all my other stuff and tucked away out of my eyeline. Proper rotation is, of course, paramount and should be the only time you engage the shelf or cellar until it is to add stuff or when it is time to drink said treat. Which brings us to the next and last tip...

5. Say When
  As with all things, there must come a time to say enough is enough. While I am dazzled by the collections so many of my friends have built, mine remains relatively modest by comparison. I do not have the patience or fortitude to sit on multiple vertical stashes for years on end. The ability to set it and forget it is lost on me and I have a pretty decent amount of self control for the most part. So for us, saving it for a special occasion means whenever we think it is the right day. While many people are saving a beer for a special occasion, I say that the beer itself makes the day special, even if it's a Wednesday in January and you just want to brighten a dreary winter day. My personal rule of thumb is about a year or until the next annual release of what I have in the cellar. I love comparing the differences the age has made and don't want to sit on a beer forever just because. It can become a form of indecision paralysis when it comes to drinking something from your cellar and that can be quite a problem. Knowing that when this beer is gone, its gone forever can be tough and no one likes to say goodbye. But saving a beer forever means you might never get to try it or in the most terrible of endings, oxidized and become nothing more than an aged drain pour. Try and keep your beers in some sort of order and pull the trigger while you can.

6. Share the Wealth
  There is nothing quite like a child's face on Christmas morning when they get their first look at that tree and all the presents Santa has left for them. That is what a beer lover experiences when you bring out a rare whale to share just because you care. Sharing the wealth of your diligent saving means bringing joy to another person and really that is what beer should be all about. Hoarding and being a  miser doesn't pay homage to the hard work and love you put into saving that beer and what better occasion than a friend visiting, maybe with good news or just some cheese and crackers, to crack open that 2015 Barley wine and making the world a little better. Try organizing a 'Cellar Night' every so often and have everyone bring a few things they would like to share, believe me it can bring joy to a dreary day when you open the door and see a friend with something to open and savour. Your beer karma goes up when you become a beer saint and the universe tends to make things balance out in the end, so be happy and make it a night your friends will be talking about for months to come.
  Finally and most importantly, drink your damn beer. I say it all the time and mean it with all my heart. Life is so very short and while the rewards of a 10 year vertical of Bellwood's Barn Owl cannot be measured, there is no guarantee that either of us will be around to taste them all. I don't want to miss a thing and that includes my cellared beer. The finest things are worth waiting for but if you keep saving everything for a special day, you might just have missed the one you were looking for.  Life is best lived in the present and while I encourage and applaud those of you with the ability to save beer for such a long time, I think I've found my happy medium and can't wait for that random Tuesday in March when I can open something to brighten my day and bring back the memories of beers gone by.



2 February 2018

School Daze - From Genius to Drop Out in 13 Years

Baby Polk had great hair and no clue what was coming.

  I used to be smart.
  Well, book smart anyway...not so much with the life decisions as it turns out.
  School was always easy and I never doubted that I was headed to university at some point and a life as a lawyer or perhaps teacher in my future, with a side of semi famous novelist on the side. And while those dreams persisted for many years, by the time I hit grade 11, it was evident to me and those who knew me that my attention to pursuing higher education had waned and the appearance of drugs, alcohol and bad decisions was taking a premier place in my life. It wasn't a certain event that took me from scholar to scumbag but rather an indifference to the entire process that crept in as I learned just how much effort I actually had to put in to stay ahead of the curve. Making my teachers like me was pretty easy if I behaved, turned in good work and didn't stir the pot. I was quiet, appearing attentive in class and never missing a beat, even when I hardly gave any thought to what I was doing. Their attention was always on the troubled kids, so a supposedly smart one didn't warrant any attention as long as the high marks continued and the behaviour didn't change. I should have seen it coming and maybe they should of too, but the blame falls squarely on me as I knew way earlier than anyone that I was slowly sliding into a morass of doing just enough and not caring anymore.
  The beginning was much like anyone's at school, I enjoyed going and developed an affinity for English, history, math and science very early which had me tested and labelled as advanced in my grade school years. Attempts were made to keep me stimulated with early 80's computer lab programming and skipping ahead in math to the higher grade bringing me some focus and making me work a bit for what I had. Good teachers and parents who wanted nothing but the best for me felt I wasn't ready to skip an entire grade or two, fearful for my social integration, which even then wasn't my strong suit. Looking back is easy but who knows what would have happened if someone pulled the trigger on that move. I don't think it would have made much difference as I was already manipulating the system and taking advantage of my standing as a good kid.
  Then came The Move and I found an even easier way out.
  As a new kid and part of a rather large class with established social hierarchies I fell in with the nerds and some of the kids on the perceived wrong side of the tracks at the same time. A mix-up in my transfer led to me being assigned to math classes way above where I had been and it turned me off the entire thing as I didn't want to bother anyone and struggled for the first time in my life. Instead of buckling down, I began to explore even more ways to make my life easier even as it got more complicated. I kept my grades high but the effort was falling every month, never a good trend as High school loomed.
Grade 8 Grad.
Channelling my inner Punch Imlach

  Going to a private high school for grade nine and abandoning all my new found friends and then quitting that for a local public school after one year left me grasping for some stability and that was where things really started to go off the rails. Perhaps I was searching for something I used to have or coming to the realisation that my youthful burst of intelligence was but a fa├žade that covered up a mostly lazy kid who did just enough to get by. Either way, by Grade 11, it was clear time was up and I had to choose a path, right or wrong, light or dark and when The Party happened, away I went.
One of the few pictures in existence of me from age 17 to 19
I was like the Loch Ness Drunk
  My aptitude for learning never stopped but my ability to sit in a classroom and deal with deadlines and group work was done. I pursued several attempts at going back and even when my aunt and uncle offered to fund my first years tuition if I would enrol in University, it wasn't enough to get me to look at where I was headed.
Working nights at a gas station and hanging out with weird chicks.

 I slogged on with life, ultimately ending up here and now in this moment. Did I miss out on my true calling by abandoning higher education and pursuing my early dreams? An answer I struggle with because had I chosen a different path, I never would have met Kat, nor the other hundreds of people who helped shape the person I am today. I am sure I have made a difference to someone I've mentored or given advice to along the way and that is a comforting thought. I am not a believer in destiny or religion but I always feel like I am where I am solely because of the decisions I made and that is what it is supposed to be. We are the sum total of every choice we make up to this very moment and while shaping my life by not chasing my early promise was something I did unconsciously, it was ultimately the first in a series of things that led me here.
  My true comfort comes by being able to write and share about what I've done and that may be the best thing about what this entire endeavour into craft beer has brought me. A sense of peace with each part of my not so glorious past that I write about. It is almost like once I see the words scroll across the screen, I let go of whatever pain my mistakes caused me go into the universe, troubled by that moment no more.


One more Baby Polk pic because I miss that mop of hair

1 February 2018

Beer Festivals and Polk - A complicated relationship

I don't think there is any other way to do this. I mean I've known for a while my true feelings and kept them to myself. I tried and tried to get in line with popular thinking and experience the things like everyone else does. I want to be part of the good time gang but it is time to admit the sad truth about life as Polk.
  I don't like going to beer festivals.

  There I said it and I'm sure I will feel better at some point. I am not sure when this transformation happened, what kind of beer loving person wouldn't love seeing tens of great craft brewers in one place, hanging out with like minded people and experiencing all the frivolity a festival can bring? Apparently it's this guy and as I usually do, I have a theory.
  At the beginning, beer festivals were novel and fun, Kat would drive or we'd take a cab and get bombed on great and not so great beer, one 4 to 6 ounce sample at a time. I always went to every event with the intention of only sampling a few beers and maintaining my wits but ten minutes in and  I'm downing beer like Nic Cage in Leaving Las Vegas and trying to test every beer offered. It's loud and the lines may be long but all I can think of is pounding the next one, regardless of style or flavour profile.

  What makes me like this? I practice self control all the time at home and this should be no different except for one thing...I have to be social and that's when the anxious nervousness kicks in and I turn to the one thing I know can calm me down. Every sample alleviates my fears, bringing a false peace that exists only if my blood alcohol reaches a state of pure drunkenness. I have never gotten comfortable in relating to other people without alcohol and that is something I guess I should work on but I'm not sure if a hall full of $3 beers is a place to explore and confront the demons of anxiety.
  I don't like waking up the next morning feeling the effects of the previous evening. When I drink at home, I never go hard, preferring to enjoy every beer for what it is and not get hammered. I have no desire to see the return of the blackness and despite my best efforts, it always happens when I get together with a group of people and the beer flows. I chase inebriation in a crowd like a dog on a bone, my one skill as a former heavy drinker is the ability to put away a lot of beer faster than almost everyone else. The slurring words, half open eyes and poor motor skills are but a happy by product of a night filled indulging the worst of who I was and could be, I don't blame the festivals or the people I know, I just can't help who I am. That nagging voice comes creeping in whenever we hit the entrance and my self doubt about being able to handle a crowd without liquid courage roars into the front of my mind.

  It is funny that I spend 50+ hours a week working with the public in my job and at no point do I crave a beer. I mean, who wouldn't love a pint at lunch but I don't need alcohol to be able to do what I do. I talk to and deal with so many people and their problems every day and don't let it affect me but put me in a convention centre with 20 breweries and 5 friends and I'm looking for a funnel and a keg. It's not normal but it is what I deal with. Maybe it's the bro factor, no matter where we go, it's creeping its way into this craft beer space as the scene becomes more popular and mainstream. Or maybe it's that I can't really enjoy and experience each beer the way I've trained myself to that makes me lose control. Not staying focused and present in the moment and scrambling to get to the next one is not how I drink anymore nor do I have any desire to return to that life.
  It would be silly to say these festivals aren't about drinking a lot of beer. If you have 20 brewers show up with even 3 beers each that's 60 possible samples over perhaps 4 or 5 hours at best. After the 10th one, you're not really getting much out to them anymore except the ABV if you're being honest and that is fine for most people. They attend these events to have fun and let loose and I can support that whole heartedly. I will continue to promote and encourage people to go to these events but for me, right now, the cost in both money and my self worth is far too high a price to pay.
  The answers I seek about myself aren't always the ones I like to find but my pursuit of an honest and open life mean that is what I get sometimes. I don't want to give the impression that I don't like festivals, the people who attend them or the breweries who participate, I just am struggling with the person I become when I go. Not everyone has that kind of problem and I do love to see the pictures and stories my friends share when they go to various events around the world. I hope someday I will be able to come back in a better state of mind and without the anxiety driving me to forget everything I've worked so hard on and lean in hard on getting my drunken stupor on. Life is funny but not when your knee deep in a sea of trying to bullshit yourself about being in control.
  I'll be cheering you all on from the sidelines this year and hoping everyone has a safe and fun time at every event. The people who volunteer or work them are pretty awesome too and along with my extended beer family, those are the things  I will miss the most. But after a lot of time spent reflecting on my own mental health, I do need a break from that part of my craft beer life so that I can keep my sanity intact.
Have fun and remember to try something new when you get the chance, that's a pretty awesome part of any festival for me.



31 January 2018

Frankie & Cat Stevens - When I was a Drunk in a Bar

Order another round Young Polk.
I used to frequent a local hole in the wall bar near my house when I was in my early 20's called Shuffles. The food was outstanding, homemade perogies and cabbage rolls with so many more amazing dishes I get hungry remembering them; it was a fine but simple place with the usual macro beers on tap and some decent but not pricey liquor. The proprietors were friendly people who remembered your name and were a part of why you stopped in as the cold beer you craved. Much like Cheers, it was indeed a place that felt like home and I would drop in almost every day after work to read the paper, have a little conversation and a $5 mini pitcher or 3 of whatever was on tap, more often than not Canadian or Coors light. It was when you could smoke in bars and the blue haze along with a juke box filled with classic rock, country and the odd 90's hit made it feel like a basement hangout, just with a motley crew of East End Hamilton's finest degenerates.

  Becoming a regular in a bar after my divorce caused me to move back home again at 23 wasn't what I had envisioned my life being but I quickly grew to love that feeling when I walked through the doors every day. A couple of my Uncles had long been patrons and many a night I spent at their sides, drinking a few pints and shots, listening to old tales and feeling like I had found my place. I was hurting bad inside from the break up but hadn't really been into drinking for so many years that I didn't see the slide begin. And when I did, not only was it too late, I didn't care any more.
  Many times we made last call and after the door was locked, dimmed the lights, pulled the shades and kept right on drinking. Like I said, we were degenerates but we gave a shit about each other and didn't want the party to end.
  One guy in particular still stands out in my memory and I am certain I am being nostalgic and seeing it with beer covered glasses but he was one of those people you don't forget. His name was Frankie and he was the most regular of the regulars, there when they opened, home for a meal and back again. Slumped against the bar in a legendary pose, smoke in one hand, beer or shot in the other, he would opine about any subject and I often spent my time listening to his glorious drunk talk about loves won and lost and life lived on the outside of normal. We would head deep into that zone only real drunks know where you think you're figuring it all out and wake the next day with the feeling that everything you said was bullshit but that didn't matter because we were getting close. Searching for answers at the bottom of the bottle and not finding them didn't mean we would give up, it meant we would get another bottle and look again. But what I remember most is the music he would pick as his time at the bar wound down, almost every day. 'Father and Son' and 'Wild World' from Cat Stevens are burned into my memory for life as both sides of the same coin. Struggling with the end of what was supposed to be the grand love story of my life, not knowing where to turn next and having little in the way of direction, I felt the loneliness and longing in each note he played. Drunk is no way to try to process life's big questions, but what did I know then. Looking back now with a lifetime of beautiful and sad memories I can feel a tear and a smile at the same time because I know it turned out okay even if I had no way of knowing it would.  
Still on rotation in my house.
All the feels.
These two songs always get me no matter what I am doing or feeling, they make me want to remember the times I forgot because I was so deep in the well of depression and self loathing but medicated by booze and beer to the point of pure inebriation. There exist no pictures from these "legendary" times as it was the mid nineties, long before digital cameras and smart phones had us documenting our entire existences. Part of me is grateful for that but there is a longing for a snapshot or two of those times just so I can prove they really happened.
  Frankie was probably a lonely man with lots of friends and I'd be lying if part of me doesn't wonder if I will ultimately end up on that same path. Searching for answers that I don't even know the questions to while drinking myself into oblivion has some pull, even now after the last 3 years of trying to calm that beast inside me. I've worked hard to leave that guy behind me but when the stress of everything life throws at you points you to the bottle and you know it will make you feel good, even temporarily, that's hard to say no to. Even knowing the problems don't go away and in fact could be made worse by drowning them in drink doesn't faze the dark Polk that I know lurks down inside me.
  Choosing life and knowing I don't want to go back to being that guy again has to be a conscious decision. I ponder every beer I drink and try to enjoy what it brings to the glass without pounding it in search of the darkness again. I miss my bar fly days but only in that way we all look back on the simpler times when a beer was a beer and we drank because that was what you did, feelings were for wimps and smokes were cheap. It wasn't better, but it just was who we were and what we knew. Things are different now but part of me does long for a time when I didn't care because it was so much easier to just let go and get bombed.
  I'm not looking to recreate my youth, just ruminating about the times I was so close to just letting my life slide into the haze because it is floating in the ether of my mind and won't let go until it is written. I don't hide behind the booze or drugs, I bring that beast into the open and expose it to the light to kill it and take back my power over what leaves me powerless. It's a good day when I stay in control and the more of them I have, the more I want. Moderation is my watchword now and with a little luck and some attention to the triggers that drive me to over consume I may not end up that old guy at the end of the bar playing songs to bring back the memories only to drown them in my glass.



30 January 2018

Beer Time in The Aleyards - Polk in Toronto

From the Stockyards comes The AleYards!
  A journey to Toronto is always a wonderful thing for anyone in search of great beer. So many legendary breweries like Amsterdam, Steamwhistle and Great Lakes call the GTA home and the explosion of new and innovative smaller brewers have driven the number to a mind boggling 39 with another 17 in various stages of planning. It can be difficult to see through that many places to visit when organizing a day trip or even just an afternoon but The Aleyards is striving to make that decision a little simpler, putting 3 fantastic Ontario Craft brewers within walking distance of each other.
  Formerly the largest livestock and meat packing district in Canada, The Stockyards or Junction was a gritty, industrial neighbourhood that was also dry well into the 1980's and has seen an explosive growth in both retail, restaurant and housing as Toronto's gentrification reached north and west. Our first visit to this area came in 2016 and every time we go back it is growing, including 3 breweries sure to meet anyone's needs when it comes to styles, flavours and palate. Take a walk with us as we visit The AleYards and spend an afternoon with great craft beer.

Shacklands Brewing
Location - 100 Symes Road
Website - https://www.facebook.com/shacklands/
Hours - Monday-Tuesday Closed/Wednesday to Friday 11 to 9/Saturday 12 to 9/Sunday 12 to 6
Personal Fave Beer - Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter
  Opening just a year ago in January of 2017, Shacklands has quickly gained a reputation for it's Belgian style beers, eclectic tap room and overall positive vibes coming from the incomparable Dave Watts, who mans the front of house. Jason Tremblay was already a well regarded brewer within the community when they opened and since then has taken it to another level with some of the best brett focused, barrel aged and Belgian beers in the province. Sold exclusively in 650 ml bottles for take home, the lineup for pints and flights is constantly changing as is the music and a collection of vintage finds that floods the senses with memories long forgotten. The vibe is very chill, laid back and welcoming. You feel like its a local bar, long standing and comforting as you chat beer, life and anything else with Dave ping ponging around the bar, serving up tastes and ringing out folks at the front. Not shy about being socially aware, it feels good to visit a place where the beer matches the people and you want nothing more than to spend the afternoon listening to stories and drinking great beer.

Rainhard Brewing Company
Location - 100 Symes Road
Website - http://rainhardbrewing.com/
Hours - Monday-Tuesday Closed/Wednesday to Saturday 12 to 9/Sunday 12 to 5
Personal Fave Beer - Revolution 8 Double IPA
 The first to build in this burgeoning area of Toronto was Jordan Rainhard and since our first visit back in 2016, his reputation has grown along with his brewery. Opening in May of 2015, Rainhard Brewing has become a destination for Hop heads in search of some of the finest IPAs and Pale Ales in the province. That's not to say there isn't something for every palate as they have a great variety of amazing craft beer styles, including some fine barrel aged and sour beers to go with a taproom that is flooded with natural light and a bar that begs for an afternoon of beer and friends. An expansion is taking place and that means more great beer is coming as production ramps up and Jordan can explore the limits of his imagination. We were lucky enough to find him behind the bar on our last visit and his passion for the community is evident as we talked about the challenges and rewards of the last few years and where he wants to see his beer go next. Never content means always looking forward and demanding the very best from everything you brew and that indeed is Rainhard Brewing. The OG to The AleYards, it behooves you to make this a stop every time you make this trip.

Junction Craft Brewing
Location - 150 Symes Road
Website - https://junctioncraft.com/
Hours - Every Day 11 to 9
Personal Fave Beer - Junction Road Black Lager
  Originally opened by Doug Paterson and Doug Pengelly in 2012 down the road on Cawartha, Junction Craft moved this weekend into a building that used to house the old Toronto works incinerator and comes by the nickname "The Destructor", which may be the best named building in Ontario Craft Beer. Their original space was a cramped but cozy space that they outgrew as their LCBO available beers ramped up sales and their desire to make even more great things lept to match that rise. Moving into a larger space will allow them to expand their lineup and also help other small brewers to realise their dreams with their larger capacity to accommodate contract breweries now available. More English style focused than their 2 cousins in The AleYards, their Conductor IPA and Black Lager are but 2 examples of an impressive tap list and bottle shop. Available in growlers, 650 ml. bottles and cans, I can see the possibilities of constantly rotating styles and offerings as they get their feet under them in their new brew system. While the new facility dwarfs the old one, the feeling of a close nit pub remains. Our visit was in the late afternoon and the taproom was a collection of young people tasting and snapping pictures, families with strollers taking a respite on a beautiful day and other regular folk just chatting and enjoying the sunshine streaming through the windows. The English focused beers in our flights that included an excellent Porter, also gave us a nice Black IPA and I think we will see Junction be able to really explore new and exciting things now that they have a facility to match their vision.

  So there you have it, 3 very different breweries making distinct yet complimentary beers just steps away from each other. The Belgian, American and English influences on Craft Beer cannot be understated and on one block in Toronto you can experience them all in an afternoon. If that doesn't call for a road trip I don't know what does, so find yourself some free time and make The AleYards your next destination. Bring a friend or 5 and really explore something special with a stop at each one but make room in the trunk because you'll be bringing a lot of stuff home.


29 January 2018

Beer Time in The Hammer - Hamilton's Craft Beer Scene

My Hometown
The rise of craft beer in Hamilton took a little longer than I would have liked, but damn if 2017 didn't take off like a rocket. The 3 year old Collective Arts was joined in the west end of the city first by Merit, then Fairweather, Grain & Grit and finally in early 2018 by Clifford Brewing on the east end to bookend a very busy 12 months for this beer fan. I have moments of joy at each brewery and now that we've reached that critical mass of making Hamilton a beer destination, it's time to take a snapshot look at this city's growing craft beer scene. No doubt I will revisit each of them more in depth as the year goes on, but my weekend spent hanging out at all 5 inspires me to spread the gospel of my hometown today!

First pint at Clifford January 2018

Clifford Brewing
Location -  398 Nash Road North
Website - http://www.cliffordbrewing.com/
Hours - Monday to Thursday - Closed/Friday & Saturday 12-9/Sunday 12-5
Personal Favourite Beer - Clifford Porter
  The newest Hammer brewer is led by one of the most liked people in Ontario Craft beer, Brad Clifford and is the culmination of many years hard work and persistence. The Clifford Porter and Pinball Wizard APA are well known and LCBO available beers that helped build the brand while Brad worked to make his dream happen. The space itself is a huge 10,000 square foot former Mattress factory located in the city's east end and is now home to the closest brewery to my house...that's pretty awesome right there. With 5 beers on tap, a Dry hopped session lager, English ale and East Hamilton Lager in addition to the more well known Clifford beers, it has the laid back feeling of a neighbourhood gathering spot that should gain more character as they fill out the large tap room to reflect the personality of the people who work there. Friendly and ready to show off the open concept brew space, its easy to see why a quick visit to Clifford turns into a few hours talking all things beer and then some. Look for a variety of excellent beers as Brad gets into a groove and no doubt there will be barrels and one offs for even the most discerning of drinkers to go along with easy drinking beers to help bring those new to the community of craft beer drinkers into the fold.
First Flight at Grain & Grit October 2017

Grain & Grit Brewing Company
Location - 11 Ewen Road
Website - http://www.grainandgritbeer.com/
Hours - Tuesday to Saturday - 12-9/Sunday 12-6/Monday Closed
Personal fave beer - Bob's Best Bitter
  Opening in October of 2017, this former garage turned cozy and inviting brewery was first visited by us months earlier and we couldn't believe the hard work to transform it so beautifully. The team of Joe and Lindsey Mrav along with Head Brewer Alex Sporn have brought a fine example of taking your dream and running with it till it comes true. The beers are in constant rotation as they bring different styles to the fore and let the consumer decide what is possible when hops and barley meet. From Pineapple Rye to the Candy cane White stout, they have a unique take on traditional styles that will serve them well going forward. The natural light from the big garage doors serves to heighten the bright white and clean lines of the brewery with the tanks so close you can rest your hand on them and give a little prayer to the beer gods for bringing these good beer folks to Hamilton. Upwards of 8 different beers on tap and a fridge stocked for you to take home, Grain & Grit is ready for you anytime.
First pint at Fairweather May 2017

Fairweather Brewing Company
Location - 5 Olfield Road
Website - http://fairweatherbrewing.com/
Hours - 11-9 Every day
Personal fave Beer - Dream Pop
  A May opening led to a summer of amazing releases that just kept hitting the mark every time. Fairweather brewing caught the city and the Ontario Craft beer scene at just the right moment with a combination of big hoppy IPAs, deliciously roasty porters and more and more, sour beers that are transforming peoples perception of the style. A family friendly place that feels like its been there forever and welcomes you back like a long lost friend, it fits the city and its community like a glove. Founded by Ram McAllister, Brent Milcz and Dan Ryan, this cozy taproom belies the enormous production facility in the back. A place that was made for lots of expansion, the early success of their initial offerings bodes well for the future and a growing fan base that makes there trek to Hamilton's west end for stops here and at G&G are becoming more frequent. Available in 500 ml bottles with just 3 words used perfectly to describe each beer, growlers and on tap, Fairweather has made a statement and it behooves you to listen, taste and join in the fun.
First Pint at Merit May 2017

Merit Brewing Company
Location - 107 James Street North
Website - http://www.meritbrewing.ca/
Hours - Monday to Wednesday 4-Midnight/Thursday Noon-Midnight/Friday and Saturday Noon-2 a.m./Sunday Noon-10
Personal Fave Beer - California Never Felt Like Home IPA
  May of 2017 saw Merit accelerate the craft beer revolution in The Hammer when they finally opened the doors to their location on a James Street that was in the beginnings of a serious revitalization. Located in the downtown core, the city has been working to transform this gritty urban landscape into a haven for art, good food and now great beer. The addition of not only the brewery but a proper kitchen that was full of delicious sausage and fries to die for help Merit stand out right from day 1. Communal seating encourages conversation and when we stop in at anytime, someone is sipping, eating and enjoying this gem on James Street. Tej Sandhu, Aaron Spinney and the group here make guests feel like family and the combination of a love of great beer from all over the world and the passion to brew it make this a must stop for lunch, dinner or a quick pint. The bottle shop is full of great 500 ml bottles and growlers for further home enjoyment.
First Growler fill Collective Arts September 2015

Collective Arts Brewing
Location - 207 Burlington Street East
Website - http://collectiveartsbrewing.com/
Hours - Every Day 11-9
Personal Fave Beer - Ransack the Universe IPA
  The OG Hamilton craft brewery that brought back our proud heritage as a beer making town when they took over the former Lakeport Brewery in the city's industrial North End in 2014, Collective Arts has since become a leader in the Craft beer scene for their innovative and constant new releases. Core beers took off almost immediately after opening and I was among those getting multiple growler fills every week as we started to experience what really good beer could be. Matt Johnson and Bob Russell along with Brewmaster Ryan Morrow have created lineup worthy beer that has people buzzing about every release, rivalling some American markets or even Bellwoods for their anticipation. Expanding their distribution to 7 U.S. states and even overseas, the sky is the limit for my first Hometown Heroes and their amazing beer. The taproom is filled with art and a buzz of people most of the time with a Biergarden for the summer and a hopeful expansion with a kitchen to come in the near future. Someone had to take the lead and Collective has been a partner to create the ripple that turned into a wave when it comes to craft beer in my hometown. Online ordering makes it easy to get CA beer anywhere in Ontario and the tap room is fully stocked with every offering as well as growlers and pints.

  Wrapping up this quick look at Hamilton's burgeoning scene makes me thirsty and anxious to make another road trip around the city to visit and hang out with the friends I've made along the way. It is now a whole day trip and worth making a drive to my hometown to explore the vibrant cultural scene that has been helped in part by the great craft beer being made at these locations. All seem to have a social connection to local charities and events and their support of those causes gives rise to a pride this town needs. The restaurants and bars are becoming more in tune to what beer drinkers want and you can find many fine establishments with either taps or cans and bottles from1or even all 5 of our Steeltown brewers.
  This is just the beginning, new and exciting beers and brewers to come as the year goes on I am sure. Hamilton has been my home almost my entire life and now I can proudly show off it's beer with a smile and a wink. See you all soon!