3 December 2019

Beer's the Thing - Tuesday Thoughts

My entry into drinking craft beer came rather late in life, well after my 40th birthday to be precise and as such, I cycled through the phases of being a toe-dipper, supporter, enthusiast and zealot to slowly arrive at my current state of calm indifference to what is in anyone else's glass. I remember being so damned determined to snuff out any macro beer love when I saw it and there are still times when I slip into that comfortable robe of self importance about what I'm drinking and what someone isn't. But those times are becoming fewer and fewer as I slide toward my 50s and the calm knowledge that at the end, it isn't about what is in your glass but rather the person holding it that matters the most. Being a kind person who makes time for what is right and truly important is far more a real picture of who you are than whether you drink craft beer or not. Would I rather everyone joined me at a local taproom to experience the difference a quality craft beer can make to their life? Yes, but not at the expense of judging them because of what beer they choose to drink.
  I think the kind of snobbery that pervades most craft beer folk online isn't an intentional attack on anyone who doesn't follow suit, it is rather a response to being perceived as part of an exclusive club that makes them feel a little special in a mundane world. Who doesn't want to feel cool or different while being part of something that isn't that far out of the mainstream. Beer remains a social lubricant regardless of its origin but with craft or independent beer, we get that cache of moving past what our parents drank and setting a new path. Some are trying to forge businesses, make contacts and find a way to make their now hobby pay them later and give them the freedom from the 40+ hours a week at the behest of others. Some just want to share and expand their own friend base, meeting like minded folks and partaking in brewery events put on by the brewers themselves or by an increasingly entrepreneurial Craft beer experience creators like the IGBrewCrew and tour groups around the regions.
  It has become apparent that there is indeed a divide though, between those who have been around craft beer 5 or more years and those who are recently coming to see the light. Even between social media platforms there is a massive disconnect about what is happening around this growing community. Instagram tends to lean heavy into lightness and praise, fostering a tight knit and often resulting in many real life friendships that have transcended race, culture, work and class, Twitter on the other hand is full of the more veteran contributers to the narrative of the craft and can be quite a bit more volatile, even angry when it comes to what is happening in the land of hops and barley. As an outsider, yet somehow a member of both groups (I tend to stay home and drink in peace 99% of the time), I see it first hand at any event that crosses the invisible boundaries between the two. The recent discussion of Influencers and free beer/tickets to events from craft brewers was a big deal to us but no one outside of our little corner of the beer world cares a lick. I have received many a beer gratis and tickets to events that far outnumber my ability or desire to attend hit my inbox, but it has almost never been with any strings attached. To be honest, maybe 2 times in all my 4 years writing about beer have I been asked to write something specific or have the brewery review what I was going to say before I posted it, both times I politely declined to even talk about said product.
  The culture of what is a growing part of Craft beer and the clash with those who helped usher it all in will eventually settle itself out as one continues to expand and grow along with the number of breweries who can draw in more people with an eye to supporting local businesses. The connections that the boots on the ground brewers can make with people are a huge part of what draws people in and will help keep them dialed in. They might not drink much craft outside of the few that are close to their home, but they will be fiercely loyal to a fault.
Life finds a way, I need a beer and we still have work to do.


2 December 2019

Drink The Cellar - Beer Advent and Beyond

 The days stretch out in front of us with the final horizon unknown. Our hours flow by as beer to the glass and the final moments often descend as a curtain, to applause, love and praise for a job well done. Other times it is sudden and unexpected, out of the blue when the end comes and we are left with no time to say goodbye.
  Maybe a little dark for the beginning of December, but once again we find ourselves at the cusp of Beer Advent and for our 5th annual daily present of beer we turn to our cellar and the gems found therein. I hear so many of my friends say they are saving this and that beer for a special occasion and often fall victim to that myself, but as the years begin to pass and 50 seems closer than I realise, I have found myself looking more and more to the little things I can celebrate and enjoy each day. What began in 2015 when Kat brought me home 24 assorted American craft beers from her Black Friday trip to Buffalo with my mom morphed into a celebration of Ontario Craft beer the next two years, stuff I would buy at the LCBO and have Kat wrap up and number randomly for me to enjoy over the month as Christmas approached. Last year I looked into our rather modest beer cellar and decided on taking advantage of a whole whack of "special days" to give myself permission to drink what otherwise might sit long past it's lifespan. This proved to be a most spectacular time and this year we return again to this format because it truly does bring great joy for a little bit of each day as the sun sets before dinner and the winds howl outside.
  The concept of saving a beer was so bizarre to me even 4 years ago that when I first put an Amsterdam Brewing Double Tempest Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial stout away and opened it a year later to spectacular results, I was immediately hooked. I loved being able to compare the differences a few months or years could make to a barrel aged or wild fermentation beer, not to forget the high ABV gems from Belgium or brett beers lounging in my basement. What troubled me was trying to decide when to drink them. What day was special enough to pull one of them out and celebrate with?
Many folks choose life accomplishments, their kids achievements or family birthdays or milestones, all worthy choices to be sure, but for me so many of those will never be present and I wondered what my track would be to deliver these aging wonders to my glass.
  As with everything we do when it comes to beer, we always are looking to what will bring us the most happiness and decided to start having these beauties just because. Random week day off together? Break out an Imperial some thing or other. Had a great day at work or conversely a bad one? Why not enjoy a Belgian Quad that has been biding its' time just for you. Seemingly ordinary days can be transformed by the simple acknowledgement that being alive is something to celebrate in and of itself. This became our guiding force, not too often but just often enough to retain the feeling of being a "Moment", writ large by what was in our glass as opposed in response to something else. It worked but still left us with more stock than we were comfortable having lie around, just waiting to be lost to time.

  Enter Beer Advent and the Cellar Pull of the day. This conversion of a childhood daily treat to a grown up version has now become a way for us to clean out the last year (or beyond) of stuff we bought and make way for the new things to come as the calendar turns. We have given ourselves the chance to embrace a live in the moment mentality while maintaining a little patience to save up 25 different big, boozy bastards with an eye to December. It's fun and to be honest, Life is far too short to leave good beer behind when your time has come to an end. You can't take it with you, why not share it with someone you love, celebrate life now and be joyful at the season to come. I know it makes every day this month have something to give me joy, at least as long as my glass is full and my heart is open.


16 October 2019

Close to Home - The Future is Local

We all love coming home at the end of a long day at work. The comforts and familiarity of our place gives us a stable base and a place to rest and relax after doing the things we need to do to earn our living. We crave the normalcy and routine of what we find when we encounter the familiar and warm embrace of what we know. This is also becoming increasingly true when it comes to craft beer as the number of breweries begins to approach the 400 mark and it seems everyone has a local that has quickly become a second home.
  Here in Hamilton, the growing number of breweries has luckily been matched by their quality and innovation when it comes to beer, so it has become even easier for me to eschew long drives or even the LCBO for weeks on end and still have enough new and interesting stuff to satisfy both my curiosity and my palate.  Of course, even in the city limits, beer lovers have an even smaller list of favourites and while a lot of that has to do with the beer and styles made at each place, proximity plays a larger part than most people want to admit. Although it is a certain fact that each of the 6 Hamilton area breweries have not only distinct flavour profiles but different personalities and core fan bases that reflect them in many ways. I've spent time hanging out at each one and can attests to the vibe being as unique as the beers each one brews and this bleeds over into their regular crowd and biggest fans on social media and real life.
  The closer you are to a brewery means the less you have to spend getting there if you're planning on having a few at a special event. If it's on the way home from work, even better because you can do the quick pop in to pick up something for the evening or weekend ahead. You get to know the people working there and in the case of the smaller breweries, often the owners and brewers themselves. You feel a sense of ownership, of pride when bringing people you know to your local or favourite brewery. It becomes part of your story, attaching itself to your narrative and blending into your life as an ingredient in its' daily or weekly composition.  Many people I talk to eschew the LCBO or Beer Store much more than they thought they would when they got a brewery close to home and often are inspired to seek out more and more breweries to stop at when out and about. They begin to learn and acquire knowledge about the process, the flavours and the character of their stops and bring home a taste for new things but still find comfort in their favourite spots and beers close to home.
  The rise of a brewery in every small town is a little far fetched, but most folks certainly have far better and closer access to local craft beer than ever before. It shows not only in social media, but in the fact that the viability of such operations can hinge on a close by following, developed and nurtured by business that is inviting and creative. Some do it with a stream of events attached to the space, making it feel like a community hub or even a whole lot of releases that seemingly never end, inspiring weekly stops to see what is new. Some are only open a few hours each weekend and the beer seems sent from heaven, a cult like following growing with each tank of beer sold. And while beer tourism is on the rise and road trips containing brewery stops as a destination rather than a surprise stumble upon continue to grow, people still fall back on the local, the known and the place where everyone knows your name.
  It isn't that I am positing an end to seeking out the best craft beer or that people will shrink their exploration if a new brewery opens close to home, but I do feel that the future of so many of the craft breweries we see will and does indeed depend on the voracity of its local following. The nerds like myself may visit once in a while and buy one of each of the releases, but the regulars will be in weekly, maybe more and spend far more time and money supporting that place where barley, hops, water and yeast meet the hopes of so many who dare to dream.
  Life has been changed forever as a beer drinker for so many of us and I hope we continue to explore a wider world around us while making sure we support the home team and keep the world close to us filled with beautiful moments at our local taprooms.


9 October 2019

A Canadian Beer Day Thought - Let people have the things that make them happy.

  Today, October 9th, 2019, is Canadian Beer Day.
  Who decided this? Beats me, Beer Canada perhaps. An industry lobby group made up of various breweries, mainly macro, giving designation to a particular day to celebrate Canadian Beer, Brewers and of course, drinkers. Matters not, I'm in!
  Regardless of who created it, it becomes what the people who celebrate it make it, not unlike any other "Day of..." that we see throughout the year. Christmas is one thing for your family and another for mine, but what we all really should want to see is a happy time being had by people simply enjoying what they like. What may be a marketing scheme could become something used to celebrate the independent craft beer makers that we love so much and the community we want to have going forward.
  The naysayers and usual collection of "I thought every day is beer day" people tend to want to drag everything down. We see it every time people start to get excited about anything, not just beer, movies, TV shows, and so on. There is a streak in some folks out there that just wants to shit on anything that brings people happiness. Why not let people enjoy whatever it is that makes them happy? National days let people celebrate the little things in life and with all the other crap we deal with on a daily basis, isn't that a good thing? Shouldn't we be encouraging people to find the spark in an otherwise normal, working day? Why take that small happiness away with snide remarks and hate? What makes people so sure and smug that they feel the need to cut down anyone who dares experience a moments joy at something they love?
  I have times like this myself and when I do, I take a step back and look at why I don't like a thing. Is it hurting someone or promoting hatred or fear? If not, then why am I against it or do I even need to bother wasting my time. My father often used to tell me when I'd be ready to react negatively to something for absolutely no reason to "Be nice, don't be yourself." What he meant was to stop and think before I reacted, a character trait I have struggled with most of my life. Hot tempers run in my family and I work diligently to make sure I don't step on people or the things they enjoy.
  I have learned to slow my roll, let folks have their small moments, encourage more of them and embrace the fact that in this often too short and sometimes difficult thing we call life, it is those tiny things that bring us the greatest happiness. You gain nothing but a smug self satisfaction and an empty heart by trying to take those gems away from people. Don't like the idea, no problem, don't celebrate it. But maybe look at yourself and ask why other people's happiness is such a target for your own unhappiness...just sayin'.
Be nice to each other, you don't know the struggles others face and this single day might just be what makes them smile for the first time in a long time.
Happy Canadian Beer Day! Visit your favourite local Craft Brewery, have a pint with a friend or maybe just enjoy a little time with yourself and a great beer!



18 September 2019

On it goes...1400 days

  In 72 hours it will happen...
  1400 straight days.
  Almost 4 years of beer.
  Sunrise and sunset, elbows up and pints down for longer than I could have ever imagined doing anything. Since November 21st, 2015, I have drank at least one beer and wrote about it on Instagram. Well over 4000 posts, beer reviews, pictures and videos now reside in the vacuum of the internet to show the universe who I was long after I am gone...a little scary to be sure. Why did it happen? How? When will it stop? Should it?
  I don't know.
  In the beginning, it was all in fun, there was no intention of writing about beer every day, never mind sharing my life, grand failures and triumphs et all, with the world. I was just a guy discovering a new world and seeing beer differently for the first time since he discovered how good it made him feel two plus decades before. Slowly, things grew and changed organically, set pieces with thought out backgrounds and stories faded as I realised it was just about the beer and my daily existence with it that was what my purpose was. I began with a thought to share beer with the world and that became the driving force behind everything I do. I decided without consciously knowing it that I would write about things as I did them, as I drank them and with little thought to anything but my own truth.

  There is no master plan, no hustle to what I do every day. I don't have a cache of posts, blog or Instagram, YouTube videos or poems for Twitter saved up on my phone or computer. I try to live very much in the exact moment I am experiencing things and leave the well thought out and executed stuff to those far smarter and more dedicated than I. Truth be told, once done with something, I have left it there as a marker in my life, moving on with the knowledge that I was there, but now I'm gone.

I have too much respect for people who work so hard to create amazing images and videos, thoughtfully written treatises on craft beer and other things to believe that I possess the patience or structure to do any of that. I am a fan of the beautiful and the mundane, the words that flow and the pictures that capture my eye every damn day. I love the passion so many people have found for crafting a small part of this niche in the world for themselves, some for fun, some for profit and some because they just want to feel like they are part of something a little bigger than themselves. I am an encourager of expression, a minstrel of positive messages and a believer that craft beer has changed a lot of lives for the better in a world that often seems hell bent on taking away the joy and community of people who just want to live and love with abandon and an open heart.
  I have fallen out with people I thought were friends, made new ones and found old ones once again. I have offended and fought battles with words, given shots and taken them in defense of beliefs I didn't know I had. I have loved and lived with the idea that the simple act of sharing a beer picture can make the world a little better for someone not having a good day. If my videos make someone laugh or encourages them to do something creative because even this old war horse does it, then I feel like I've done my part right. If my pictures gave anyone the idea to do it themselves or my words moved them to write their own, then it was all worth every pint and every agonized moment after I hit send. I wish I had the drive to create a space in the world where my words and love of great beer made me an income, but I long ago came to grips with the direction and ambitions I have. I salute and will help lift up anyone who is trying to capture lightning in a bottle and create something of value for themselves and their future, I see you and will always have your back. I help promote things and people I believe in, my voice added to a cast that can be in single digits or tens of thousands, no matter the number, know that I believe in you and what you're doing if it is a positive impact on the world.
  Thank you, my friends, for being a part of this, a trip round the sun 4 years long and many, many pints deep. Things have changed so much in our community since I began and while I prefer to sit sidelines as home and share that experience with you, know that I am cheering you on as you go forth and find your own piece of the pie. What I do is who I am, be yourself and do things in a way that makes you proud, happy and filled with joy...I feel it everyday.


9 September 2019

Gone Growler?

  When I first truly discovered craft beer, I was a major growler enthusiast. 2 litres of delicious beer in a big jug all for me? Sold! As a still confirmed mass consumer of beer, this was little trouble for me to get through in a single sitting and at the cusp of the revolution and explosion of new breweries, it was often the only choice to be able to bring home some of the more exciting brews from newcomers. Canning and bottling adds costs to any beer and many start ups tended to lean hard into growlers or howlers (1L) as a cheaper alternative to having to buy or rent the equipment or expertise of others. The deposit often a forgotten part of your growler purchase, a one time fee that usually set you back $5 but then allowed you to get a fill at the price posted afterward, while completely forgetting that you could return said vessel and get your deposit back. But in the beginning, it was all so glorious we just returned to have our brown bottles filled every time and off we would go in happy gratitude for such luck as we had.
  Over time, the availability of cans and bottles has increased at almost every stop. The rare or small one off batches may still be growler only, but for the most part, the growing public attention paid to craft beer seems to be shying away from such large volume purchases that must be consumed in a relatively short time.  My own personal collection of 24 Growlers and 20 Howlers is a testament to those early days and the fact that only a few of them have been purchased in the last year or so speaks to a changing landscape of both drinker and producer. There are people who still get their fills on the regular but I feel, anecdotely of course, that the days are numbered for these behemoth carriers of liquid dreams in terms of their percentage of purchases. They will never go away completely, but their popularity has certainly peaked as the public demands more options and leans hard into cans as the perfect delivery of both freshness and preservation for later consumption.
from 2016's Polkapolooza
How I used to feel about my growlers
  I know some will say the death knell for the 2 litre is premature and with places like Barncat going strong with little but growlers for their IPAs and selling out to boot, there will always be a market for them. But I feel the tide has turned as more people enjoy the idea of mixing a six pack with a few options, not just 4 pints of one thing. A recent Twitter poll showcases just this as over 85 % of people responded to my question about growler usage with either Never or only for Special releases. The world is changing all around us and craft beer is going right along with it.
The reason so many get into craft beer is the options available, not the same old thing glass after glass. The sharing of a growler still makes a strong case for it's continued use, but even that seems to be fading as it's easier to pick up an extra can of something special to share with a  pal, easier still if it is in the 355ml option, a growing segment of beer can choice. 
  But I will say that something about writing about this brings me joy as I reminisce about the heady days when I first started exploring beer in a new and exciting way and my growler felt like I belonged to a cool and exclusive club. I'll hang onto my beauties for now, for the times I get nostalgic and pick up a jug of Ransack or Headstock, maybe a trip to Barncat or some other old friend will bring me home with a night's worth of memories in one long pour.


31 August 2019

Grotto Thoughts (2)

We all have favourite styles of beer. Some love IPAs, others go for lip puckering sours or maybe a dark roasted stout or porter, but what we all have in common is the love of really good beer, no matter the preference in composition. Every can or bottle poured into the glass is the culmination of something that began as an idea or dream in the brewers head, a creation writ real by the mash tun.
  We see only the final result of what could have been months or years of hard work and development, perhaps less in the case of a growing confidence and mastery by the brewer, but nonetheless, it is an end of a process that starts long before the first bag of malted barley is poured or the kettle heated. The beginning of any recipe calls for some sign of what the final product should and can be, a beer is no less a design of components mashed together to create something unique in a world of bland corporate sameness. The only limitation is the edges of what constitutes a drinkers palate, there is an open possibility of what can come next if we are willing to try it.
  While we may debate why we drink the beer we do, there is no doubt that along with the creativity and design of each new brew, we are drawn in by the community surrounding our beer even more. It is the experience of the taproom, the communal nature of sitting down and being able to talk about the beer with the people who make it or who have a passion for it just the same. The new friendships that have happened because of simply sharing pictures or thoughts about your beer online are astounding, it's not just the beer traders, it's the groups that get together and go on beer tours, self guided or otherwise, who meet up when they go out and who have formed new and lasting relationships with people they would never have met in a million lifetimes, just because they choose to drink craft beer.
  Dreamers alike, brewers and beer drinkers, we hope for a bright future for this industry we call craft. We seek to support local business, some larger than others, some hyper small and serving only a tiny space in this world. We want people to succeed with their dreams because we feel connected with every pint we buy and every story we tell. We belong to this community because we see the possibility in what comes next, believing in a future where it transcends beer and becomes ingrained in a more inclusive and diverse world we can create. We look around us at a planet resting on weary legs and wonder what if we can make some part of it better, from the start and with conviction. The door needs to be open wider, we who have come in already need to make a place at the table for anyone who wants to sit down and if we really mean we want to make this world a better place then we need to be more active in defending and calling out the actions we see that bring harm or disrespect to anyone.
  It's not about beer anymore, it can be so much more than that if we want it to be.
  It matters because we can make it matter.


30 August 2019

Craft or Independent? Does it matter...

  Is "craft beer" dead?
  Has this term of endearment that has meant so much to so many of us as we have grown and changed over the last few years when it comes to our taste in beer become co opted and broken from overuse, misplacement and so much noise?
  Seeing things in black and white is what I did when I look at who makes my beer and where my dollars will go when it comes to supporting breweries, the grayness of that decision has grown in the last few years. The call of "craft beer" used to mean being independent of giant, multinational conglomerates that see beer as nothing more than a part of their bottom line at the year end P/L statements and to ensure that stock dividends are met. And while you and I may find Molson or Labatt's beer boring, it is indeed a well made product and maintains consistency no matter where in the world it is brewed or consumed. We are not so much about the beer as the world around our beer that we want to be part of. In your 20s, it was all about the party and being part of that "in crowd". As we have gotten older, we see the shift and want more than just pithy advertising, we want substance and a connection to what we consume when it comes to certain things, beer and food being chief among them.
  It isn't just about beer at all, but more and more about the culture shift and community around the breweries than beer itself that has drawn so many like me and you into the fold. It is the people that drive the engine of making the beer, dreamers and creators who want to share their visions with us by the glass. But at the end of the day, all beer is business and their business is to sell us that beer at a profit and in a timely fashion to pay their people, their bills and their suppliers. So it becomes about finding great beer as well as an atmosphere and attitude that makes us feel independent and also part of a movement at the same time. "Craft beer" is cool and knowing that, the macro producers attempt to buy into that market by hook or by crook and time after time, people fall into the circle of not knowing where their beer is made or not caring because they like it or have been given an incentive to do so. The terms around our beer make us feel superior, above the average drinker who doesn't know better and it is that type of snobbery that will keep driving people away and into the arms of he macro producers and their faux craft subsidiaries.
  Perhaps we have moved past the term craft beer, although it will continue to be the de-facto designation because it is too well ingrained into the minds of the general public to change overnight. I'd prefer to see the Independent label, much like they've gone to in the US (website here : https://www.brewersassociation.org/independent-craft-brewer-seal/), as a means of truly identifying these standards we would like to see define what craft beer is. What those standards are will be a subject of some debate as large regional and even national brewers will be suspect as their volume grows while maintaining an independent ownership that still feels crafty, the times are changing and we need to figure out the next steps.
  Some will say, and have for some time, that it doesn't matter who owns the brewery, that it is the quality of said beer that matters much more. A technical point for a macro purchased craft brewer that is made all the time and not unfairly. If it is about the beer itself, then the quality issue is the only consideration. In "craft beer" though, I have found that the beer is only a component of what draws people into this world. It is the taproom experience, the story behind the beer, the people who work and make it and the community that has grown to surround the world that is this beer.  It isn't just about the beer and that is why the descriptions and labels matter so much to those of us who wish to see nothing but more growth and inclusivity into this transformative drinking experience that has shaped and changed how and why we drink beer.
  What will we see as the percentages of craft beer drinkers continue to grow? Will more brewers look for exit strategies that involve selling to a macro producer and cashing in on a lifetime of work? Will breweries become legacy projects or sold to the people who work there as a way to keep alive their independence from the big boys of beer? Is all of this just a very first world problem that really is about a luxury and a business that we have turned into community and a proud label to wear? Craft beer drinker or Independent beer drinker? Only time will tell...


20 August 2019

Shades of Gray in Beer and Politics

The world we live in is messy. It's complicated and every day we are faced with decisions on where our money will be spent for necessities, essential things like food and shelter and a myriad of other products we need to exist day to day. Then comes the discretionary money, probably not as much of what we take home as we would like to be able to spend on the frivolities, hobbies and joys we try to give ourselves to brighten our days and nights. For some of us that little slice of life includes craft beer and while we sometimes spend a too much, it brings us happiness to share our beer with friends and online to the wider community. Where you buy your beer from, however, has a lot of factors and sadly in this province, supporting the current government is indeed a hot button issue we must examine further.
  There have been outright displays and inducements from certain craft breweries who participated in the low hanging fruit that is buck-a-beer, even to the point of hosting the premier and his cronies for ill thought out ad campaign style promo spots, ignoring the wider discussion about the cuts to so many social, educational, and environmental programs in the face of making it all about business as usual with the government of the day. I've written about my own feelings regarding anyone who participates in or consumes the buck-a-beer nonsense and while that is an easy target to avoid if you are the least bit aware, the nexus of what is happening now is a little deeper and shows more shades of gray than I would like to admit.
  Businesses contributing to political parties was a way of life in Ontario prior to a change in legislation, some hedging bets by spreading money around, others targeting the likely winners to curry favourable legislation and goodies at the trough. Craft breweries are no different, although for the most part most are too small to engage in the kind of donations that make much of a dent in a politicians gaze towards power and privilege. But some have made donations in the past and perhaps their individual owners have or will in the future, the question we must ask ourselves as consumers is what is the limit and depth of our willingness to continue to patronize a place that supports an ideology that we ourselves find repugnant. How deep will we dive to discover the political and social mores of the businesses we go to and when do we stop spending our dollars?
  These questions are very much at the forefront in recent conversations on Twitter and while some of the accusations and terms thrown around do inflame the conversation rather than encourage it, the intent is to keep a light on behaviour that people find contrary to their core beliefs. So it is with great trepidation that I even move into this discussion, always wary of having to fend off trolls or even worse, being unable to articulate how I feel and missing my point being heard clear and concise. So I asked myself some questions that maybe you should too...

1. Does a past contribution to a political party indicate an endorsement of said parties future actions? Well, that is pretty much what has people discussing this now. Prior to 2017, some of the larger Ontario Craft brewers did donate to political parties, including Doug Ford's PC party during the lead up to his election and while they may not have known just how disruptive and divisive this government would have been, the donations leave a bad taste in the mouths of many of us who drink their beer on a regular basis.
2. Do we hope they thought of the donations more as a cost of doing business, taking the political temperature at the time and seeing that the PCs were all but inevitable as winners of a majority Government? A little more likely than the first question. Most educated guesses hoped that the cooler and more experienced members of the incoming caucus would reign in Ford's wilder and more outlandish behaviours and actions but did not take into account their inability to separate people from party and fell into lock step with every utterance of the premier.

3. Do they continue to contribute, albeit as individuals, now that we know the full and harmful extent of what Ford's government has inflicted on the poor, sick, mentally ill, LGBTQ2, minority and so many more marginalized groups in this province?  This is where the rubber meets the road for most of us, the shades of gray will become black and white in a heart beat as the next election cycle begins to heat up in the coming year or so. The alignment of political opinion and currying favour with the Ford style of governance by division with the inclusivity and community feel of most craft breweries will not reconcile and for most of us who are informed or try to stay that way, a continued support of any kind for Ford or his cronies would be the final straw. It isn't easy to say, but the gauntlet has been thrown down by the no longer progressive conservative folks who take pleasure in inflicting pain on those less fortunate and unable to defend themselves or fight back.
4. Do we walk away from a brewery if they continue to support the PC government and by attachment, Ford and his politics of angry white guys?  Some already have, taking into account past actions and when saying no more of their discretionary spending will go anywhere near the stink associated with the current government. A staunch and principled stand that I understand and can feel sympathy for. Personally, I'd like to think that past actions and current ideals will see the light and that these brewery owners will understand that not only is giving money to such a divisive and polarizing individual and party bad optics, it will hurt their business going forward from this point. Isn't that giving them a pass from their past support? Maybe, but I think the truth is they had no idea where this government was going to go and despite the loosening of regulations concerning where they can sell their beer, this alone is not a hill you want to die on. Treading carefully, anyone is free to support whatever political party they want, free speech and all that jazz, but that doesn't mean you are free from the consequences of your words and actions...

  I don't know what will happen in the future, I wouldn't have believed any of what has happened since 2016 if you had told me about it back then. The sheer divisiveness of politics now and the anger and fear of "the other" being stoked by those claiming to be conservative is most assuredly not the party or politics I grew up with and followed for years. It is the ultimate first world problem to be worried about the politics of your favourite brewery, but in a world where every dollar counts, it does to those of us who wish to see the world a better place for everyone. Our money is a reflection of our beliefs to a certain extent, although most of us still shop at Walmart, Loblaws and other huge corporations with spotty track records in how they treat their employees, the environment and even their loyal customers. Context is everything I suppose.
  It is a distinct piece of privilege that we have the time and freedom to investigate and make informed decisions about our beer purchases, try to understand that not everyone has that available to them. We must decide where our money goes and if a business decides their need to support a political party outweighs public opinion, hopefully we can use that decision to show how we feel going forward.
Just my 2 cents, I'm learning as I go. This isn't the place I ever thought I would end up when I started taking pictures of my beer on Instagram 4 years ago. Subtle nuances are becoming much clearer and I am growing into a life lived with more awareness and love.

For more info on who donates to what political party, check out this link and have at it...but know that you might not like what you find.

16 August 2019

Golden Tap 2019 - A Polk Preview

It's all about the beer, the people who make it, drink it and love it and the places where we go to enjoy it. It is time for the only democratic, publicly voted beer awards in Ontario and I am stoked to see some changes and updates to this years Golden Tap Awards (click to go vote!) ((Vote Polk 2019)) categories. winning last year as Ontario's Best Beer Writer will long remain a highlight of my time spent in craft beer and was a truly special moment for a guy who had long since given up hope of writing about anything, let alone having people read and enjoy it. This year, The Bar Towel (Cass Enright) has tweaked the Golden Taps to better reflect the changing landscape of Ontario craft beer and I thought this would be the right time to delve into those changes and maybe help spread the word a little further so everyone can have their say and make their vote count.
Going down the list, their are so many amazing choices for each category and I have no doubt that the winners in each will be worthy of their fans support. In the end, it all comes down to real people writing in the names of their favourite people and places and that is the highest honour I can think of.
Off we go...

1. Best Brewery

  This one will break your heart eight times before you finally type in your answer. Serious consideration goes to your regular stops, the places you go to frequently because of proximity or sheer love. The other choices are those places you may have never actually set foot inside but you have either found their beer at an LCBO, had it delivered via Canada Post or maybe a beer saint brought you something so good, you can't get it out of your head. Choose wisely, your vote could be the one to send your favourite straight to the top. Want to help ensure a spot on the podium for your pick? Get your friends involved, launch a campaign, write a witty slogan!
2. Best Beer
  You thought Best Brewery was hard? Oh man, this one almost made me cry. One beer out of the thousands we pour into our glasses each year? Dang...I'm not going to lie, I wavered back and forth over 5 or 6 different beers of various styles and even after I picked one, I felt like I was choosing my favourite child. But choose we must and this one could be a one-off, seasonal or regular release core beer. Have your say, pick a beer and encourage others to join your cause!
3. Best Beer Bar or Restaurant
  As someone who infrequently goes out to eat or drink, this one was hard for me. There are a lot of really good and well curated tap and bottle lists out there that could be paired with wonderful food as well, you know where you like to go and this is your chance to get the word out about your hidden gems. The social aspect of food and beer should not be discounted as part of the overall experience of enjoying a pint, vote your heart.
4. Best Taproom/Brewpub
  This is another tough choice for anyone who has spent time in most of Ontario's breweries. They each have their charms, great beer and often people who bring out the best in all of us. I have found in my travels that the people working in a brewery's taproom can be a huge part of your loving or hating a certain beer. The personality of each brewery is defined as much by what they make as by the people who pour your pint and ring up your purchases. This award reflects that as much as the ambiance, beer and visual setup of each place you visit. Love one place so much that you can't wait to get back? Get the word out and get people to Vote!
5. Food Award
  While I am not a big proponent of beer and food pairings, I like my beer as a stand alone experience, there are some damn fine options when it comes to eating at Ontario Craft breweries. From full scale kitchen and dining rooms to rotating food trucks to simple dishes that bring out subtle nuances in the beer, there is a cornucopia of stuff just waiting for us when we walk out the door. Stuff your face and get the word out to Vote!
6. Marketing Award
  With the growth of social media and the rise in popularity of craft beer, it makes sense to examine the marketing and communication between brewery and consumer. I like this one and as a voracious devourer and commenter on craft beer social media, I can tell you that some are way more involved and entertaining than others. Other factors such as packaging, advertising and events will weigh heavy into your decision, so pour a beer and ponder if the medium is indeed the message.
7. Retail Award
  I mean, we all gotta buy beer and we love dropping in on the breweries to do it. Think about your retail experience? Is the staff engaged, organized and passionate? Or are they punching a clock, doing the bare minimum and going home? Beer matters but the retail store may be the most important contact a brewer has with a consumer.
8./9.10. New Brewery/Bar/Beer
  I'll put these three together because they require a little thought from us. What was new since September of last year? What bar gave you the best selection, service, food and beer in its first year? What new Brewery stood out among the plethora of openings in the last year? And perhaps most difficult of all, what beer stood tall among the rest of all the new and shiny things from the last 12 months? Vote with your heart and head!
11. Beer Personality
  Okay. I'll admit I really like this change from Best Beer Writer, even though I am the final winner, reigning Champion and Golden Tap Highlander in that category. The written blogs and reviews are not the sole form of communication anymore. Few are published writers and most of us who do write do so for the love of beer, working full time and squeezing out a few things when we have time in a busy life. The rise on Instagram, YouTube, Twitter has delivered some shining examples of great accounts and people who help promote great beer, try to fix the problems we see or just have fun with their pictures and words. Many brewery folks themselves are pretty damn engaging online and in real life and with this change, the Golden Tap awards open up the world to a whole bunch of possibilities.
Do I want to win? Umm, Vote Polk 2019!!!, Hell yeah, I love awards, they make me feel shiny! But at the end of it all, its about working together to keep this train moving forward, opening up new avenues and exposing people of all stripes to what this community can be. I have my favourite people and next week I will give you a deeper look at who they are and why I think you could vote for any one of them.

So there you go, vote and let your voice be heard...much love to Cass for all.the hard work he does making this happen!