18 March 2020

Wednesday Morning Thoughts

  The days seem to blend together right now and while we do the right thing and keep our social distancing to a maximum, it helps to know that everyone else is feeling the same thing too. Some folks are still working, front line health care, fast food, grocery and retail, not to mention the truckers, manufacturing and distribution folks all out there trying to keep the world turning in the positive direction. Imagine the constant state of worry their loved ones feel as they go off to try and keep some normal going in a most abnormal time.
  I work in food service, although luckily for some reason I booked my vacation and don't have to be in the store until next week. The pressure is real though and I've been talking to my staff to make sure they know I'm still in the fight with them, going so far as to stop in and give the good old reassurance to the troops in the battle. But it feels so surreal to consider the measures already in place and those to come in the coming days. I temper my hope with reality without giving in to panic or hoarding. We know things can turn sideways in a minute and lean hard into doing our best to spread positive messages when we can.
  Virtual meet ups and cheers are happening, people are utilizing technology to see each other and even party together, apart. We are not meant to be in isolated pockets away from those we love and are used to seeing every day and it will become more strained as the days turn to weeks turn to months. I have little doubt that this two or three week pronouncement will be extended as we deal with an increase in cases of Covid-19 due to more testing and an inevitable spike in those requiring hospitalization and urgent care. But I remain hopeful that we can flatten the curve, stretching out the impact on our health care system and those who stand on guard for us.
  The biggest problem for many will be the sure boredom of not being able to go out and do things they are used to. I do worry that a false sense of security or more likely a sort of pandemic fatigue will set in and individuals will loosen up the stringent adherence to instructions from our medical professionals out of sheer mental exhaustion. Stay the course and stay safe.
  I feel a little overwhelmed sometimes with the wall to wall pandemic coverage, both online and in traditional forms of media. I try to step away and do something, anything to separate my mind from racing toward a dark and dangerous place of despair. A new movie or an old favourite to take me to another place, a silly video game or watching old music videos on YouTube help bring me happiness and of course, my moments talking or writing about beer are golden times of distraction. The funny thing is I have always used these platforms to help work through my issues in life and they are a good part of how I am coping with what is happening all around me today.
  That is the report from here today, an early morning spent sipping a little Irish coffee and contemplating the world around me. Take care of yourselves and those around you and wash your damn hands.


15 March 2020

On Life Right Now...

  Things are different now.
  There is little doubt the current pandemic outbreak of Covid-19 will not be something that passes by in a couple of weeks or even months and it will bring changes to how we live and do the things we took for granted not a week ago. Worried and anxious, pondering what to do next, I am hopeful in the way most Canadians are that we are listening to the medical community and trying to get ahead of this thing. I am hopeful that the initial panic buying will subside and rational people will return to some semblance of stocking up with an eye to not hoarding or depriving people in need. But most of all I am hopeful that we can come out the other side of this in the months ahead with a sense of humble awareness that we must do better in all things. We must find ways to support those who need help when sickness or disaster strikes, personally or in a larger community, to be able to stay home and deal with it without fear of losing their place in the world or going hungry. Paid sick days will be a point of discussion and we need to make sure our elected officials know this as we go forward. Full time workers in retail and food service are among the largest sectors that usually have no access to a paid sick day in any form and with most making minimum wage or just above, cannot afford to miss even one shift without jeopardizing their financial health.
   Working sick was a badge of honour for me not even two years ago, I proudly would proclaim that after 30 plus years of full time work I had never taken a sick day in my life and was often condescending to those who did. Let me tell you that I have learned in the last few years as I get older and see my friends and family find themselves caring for elderly relatives or dealing with their own health scares that there is nothing brave or smart about putting yourself in that position to keep your employer happy. It is difficult for me to let go, but I have come round to being an advocate for those who work with and for me to take a day if they need it. I watch for signs of mental and physical health issues and offer whatever I can to help the people who I have responsibility for. As I approach 50, I realise that my wisdom should also be tempered with compassion and sympathy that I never had from some of those whom I worked for.
  During what is to be a drastically changed world in the coming year, I hope we can find some humanity and lean hard into caring about more than just ourselves. The world is hurting right now and without us coming together to do what must be done, it will go on much longer than it should. Following the advice and direction of medical professionals and those managing this crisis is imperative to give us a shot at flattening the curve and acceleration of the infection. If missing some events and having to forgo things for a few weeks or months means helping to make that happen, then it is imperative we do so, with an eye to a future where we can once again hug and shake the hands of those we meet. Vigilance and dedication to being a part of the solution is our only way forward. We cannot stop the virus yet, but we can mitigate its spread and give our scientists a chance at a vaccine and a cure for those already afflicted.
 So know that no one is alone, even though we are apart. The whole world is in this together and while my own mind may feel the darkness and pessimism of a nihilist, my heart tells me we can do this. I write when I need to, when my thoughts get to heavy I feel compelled to let them out and then I feel better inside. I'm here with you and may we share virtual pints until the time comes when we can share real ones again.
Stay calm, stay safe and stay home if you can.
Oh, and wash your damn hands.


17 January 2020

I wish...


  I wish I could get lost in a beer again like I did at the beginning. Discovering a chance to change my life one more time as I pour and savour. Immersing myself into it wholly and without knowledge or forbearance of what was to come next. Void of context or politics, lacking any preconceived notions or bias against style or brand, a blank slate of open exploration into the depths of the novice beginner. To be able to joyfully be summoned to the tap and given permission to be new again, it would truly be heaven.
A depth of information comes not without it's own issues. The more you know about something, the more you discover that there is far more going on below the surface of both what's in the glass and who makes it than you ever thought possible. Evidence of a growing palate means learning to identify any number of things, flavours and aromas you never even knew you liked...or hated. From a simple Adjunct Lager that was brewed to be as inoffensive as possible, all the way up to the boldest barrel aged stout or funky brett beer, it is always possible to go deeper than you could imagine. In all things, you can be open to discovery and in delving into your glass, you can find yourself.
This is not to say you cannot appreciate or even gleefully enjoy regular, everyday beer, seasonal and one off releases just as much now as when you first began drinking craft beer, but there was something so unique about the beginning that cannot be recaptured simply because that time can only exist once for each of us. With every new style, we expand our repertoire and understanding, become a living embodiment of what we like and what we don't, viewing each pint with the full weight of everything that came before. You cannot separate the past from the present and know that the future is built on these experiences, the building blocks of a great beer drinker come together one sip at a time.


13 January 2020

2020 - A look ahead to the year in beer

 Every year I sit here in January and try to peer into the hazy future of craft beer for the next 12 months. A staunch supporter of drinking local but remaining open to thinking critical about my beer, I endeavour every time I write to bring a regular beer drinkers approach to what we see and taste when we sit down for a pint or two. The year ahead will prove once again to be filled with hazy IPAs, big and fruited up sours and the occasional bright and crispy lager, but there will no doubt be something new that grabs our attention, if only for a moment. Controversies, real or imagined, will happen, unnoticed by the world but making waves across the craft beer social media that will make it seem large and groundbreaking. The shiny and pretty influencers will continue to make lots of folks cringe, but breweries will seek them out as cheap and easy promotional tools to be used whenever something new drops, but have no doubt that their imagined reach and influence outweighs their reality. Taprooms will be even more important in creating an identity for new and old school breweries, the experience of visiting and beer road trips will make every customer through the door a potential convert and a vocal one at that. Let's take a look a little deeper at these and a few other things as the decade begins anew...

1. Hazy Domination
  While I do poke fun at the Haze Craze, I am a fan of the dank and tropical IPAs that permeate the market, mostly outside of the LCBO and dominated by the smaller batch brewers like Badlands and Barncat. These fleeting and beautifully crafted beers do not have a long shelf life and fade like my will to live after Kat started watching The Bachelor last year. They remain the high water mark for many new and long time craft beer drinkers and will be going nowhere anytime soon. Look for bigger ABV, more new hop varieties and attempts by breweries to find a way to get them into the LCBO, despite the fact that they will often turn into a much lesser version of themselves after spending a few weeks or even months on the shelves at our local liquor monopoly
2. Sours and Satisfaction
  The Haze will continue to be the big story, but the growing rise of sour beers, mainly kettle sours with fruity additions, will also be the reigning entry for a lot of people into craft beer. Turned off by  typically bitter IPAs, beer that tastes like beer or macro lagers, the folks who's first foray into this world will often gravitate toward this style, reminiscent of sour candy, wine and even juice. They will feel comfortable experimenting and not having to be reminded of their dad's skunky Canadian that they stole sips out of in the past. The fact that this style can hide a lot of imperfections, perhaps even beer that just didn't turn out and can be sold at a premium makes for an easy spot on the taproom and bottle shop list for a certain number of breweries. Not a huge fan of the style myself, they tend to give me heartburn if I have more than 2 in a day, I completely understand the draw and see no let up in their popularity.
3. Lagers...again
  I think my love of lagers, pilsners and any kind of regular, old style 'beer that tastes like a beer' is well known. We joke every January that we will see more breweries making them and the industry swinging back to these kind of "normal" beers and then remember that the light lager and pilsner are the biggest selling beers in the world and craft beer was more of a wanting to leave that behind than anything else. The bland and tasteless Coors lights of the world are often what we hated and despite the fact that some of our craft brewers are making incredibly complex yet accessible lagers, a lot of beer snobs turn away at the mere sight of them. There is room for this style of beer and be it a blonde ale, kolsch style or pilsner, we will continue to see them as sort of a gateway beer for the expanded interest in local taprooms from folks who want to see what all the fuss is about and like to support local businesses.
4. Return to Style
  Having said all that about lagers, I do think we will see a lean back into true to style beers this year. The flavour pendulum swings back and forth as the palates of consumers mature and the traditional brown ales, porters, lagers and even bocks can be just as enticing as any IPA when made right and given their place in the spectrum of beer. Lower ABV English milds, bitters and simple and accessible smaller cans will help to spring forth a new respect for the beers that built the base of what we see and love now. It is all about quality and attention to detail that will help bring about a full turn on the revolution and I think there are enough new and even older, craft beer drinkers that will respond to a brewer who bucks a little at the trendy sours and hazies to deliver solid, if not spectacular renditions of on point beers.
5. Shorties on the way
  Short cans remain an enigma for some. Used to getting tall boys and the price points contained therein, the use of 355ml cans and the sticker shock of what some charge is difficult to communicate to a non craft beer drinker. No doubt there are some brewers that hit the dollar sign a little high despite the smaller container, I personally love them because it allows me to try a few different beers in an evening without getting wasted on 2 or 3 high ABV beers. Look for this format to expand further in 2020, people seem to like the smaller portion size and they respond in kind to a well made beer if it shows value for what you spend.
6. Retraction with Expansion
  No doubt we will see an increase from 2019 in the number of actual brick and mortar breweries in Ontario, but I have some feeling that we will lose a few along the way as well. The easy money of a boom is followed soon after by the reality of the return on the investment made not hitting projections and that leads to cost cutting, quality issues and panic at the disco. There are places struggling out there even as others expand and grow. New and impressive additional locations for existing breweries will show up on the scene as the year goes on, tapping into the trust and confidence the public has in a company that is consistent in their product and delivers the goods every time. There is a feeling of peak beer, but I think we have some way to go before that happens. Ripples become waves eventually, but 2020 will remain an exciting time to be a craft beer fan in new places and old as well.
7. It's all about the Experience
  There is nothing better than spending time in a taproom and experiencing what a brewery's character is all about as you sample their wares. You can tell a lot about a beer by sitting down and soaking in where it comes from, the staff, ambiance and even the food if it is part of the package, will reveal more than you think about what goes into your glass. Be they small or large, taprooms have become focal points in communities, towns and big cities and will continue to be a great way for a brewery to attract new customers to stop in and see what all the fuss is about. The importance of the margins in terms of sales is not to be lost in this discussion and with a fickle government agency gatekeeping many from their shelves, it is the only venue for most to move their product.
8. Influencers...again
  The world of Instagram continues to make old school folks cringe as breweries send product to influencers in hopes that they will take a pretty picture and help spread the word about their beer. I have been on the receiving end of my fair share of beer mail and while I have but once been asked to see what I write (hard pass), I am aware that some people curry free stuff and are light on real reviews or criticism because they don't want to stop the gravy train. My wish that those types of people would not be given any credibility by those who matter will no doubt fall on deaf ears and I'll just say I take most things I see with a grain of salt, while continuing to try and tell the truth about what I drink at every turn, good or bad. Influencers aren't going anywhere anytime soon and as long as they remain docile and pliant to only saying nice things, they will continue to be rewarded.
9. Beer Tourism
  This is the biggest opportunity for craft breweries in the coming year. People now look to what breweries are close to their travel plans and many, myself included, make the visits a priority and often the reason for any road trip at all. Being family and dog friendly helps make the camping or cottage weekend include a stop at your brewery and with the rise of guided tours, people can safely visit many spots in a certain geographical area without having to drive at all. This industry is in flux as the economic model is difficult to make work, pricing and timing are everything, but the coming together of craft brewers in city or region and creating a cohesive plan together will help drive people to visit all of them when they may have only known of one will do wonders for all involved.

I could go on, I most likely will in the coming months, tracking trends and seeing changes I cannot even imagine. I have doubts as to if we will see any consolidation or Macro beer buying up an Ontario craft brewers, even with whispers around the edges that won't go away entirely. I look forward to finding a new style or variation of a current one that blows me away and I hope to visit far more places this year than last. The growth of craft beer in Ontario is still on the upswing and that also means we must remain honest and true to being vigilant about quality. We cannot be sucked into the only talking about the good things, we must hold our support to a higher standard when it comes to our choices in beer, otherwise we should just grab a 24 of Bud and be done with it. 
This is my wish for 2020, that more people will think for themselves and be honest without fear of reprisal. Bad beer hurts us all, drives newcomers away and no doubt leads to more bad beer if we don't hold those who make it accountable for every sip we have.
  While it has been a pretty incredible pace of growth as new breweries are opening in towns and cities across the province, it remains to be seen whether there is the consumer demand or that the quality of product will continue to drive market share up into the teens this year. But I think we are in for another great ride in the next 12 months, so pour a pint and come along!


3 January 2020

The Path not Taken - A tale of Coors Light, Temptation and the Christmas that wasn't


There is a very fine line between craft beer enthusiast and common drunkard and I am a man who lives quite easily on either side of said line. A long time ago I discovered the transformative, albeit potentially and actually destructive, properties of alcohol and have often ventured down the path of oblivion for the pure and simple embrace of darkness. I'll not lie and say I don't enjoy the good buzz 4 or 5 pints gives me or the warm and fuzzy feelings you get after a few shots of whisky, but in the last few years, it has been far more about the flavours and exploration of what this craft beer life had to offer. Occasional missteps aside, I certainly do not consume the sheer volume of beers I used to put back when I was really and truly a drunk. I've relived a lot of those times in different posts here on the blog, my penchant for cheap macro beer that could be consumed in large quantities and quickly deliver a short to my central nervous system was well known, troublesome and yet somehow just part of who and what I was. I would come home from work many nights at midnight after a 15 hour day and quickly pound a 6 or 12 pack in a matter of an hour or so before heading to bed and then repeating ad nauseam as I struggled to stay afloat in a world that was quickly falling apart around me. Enter craft beer, a whole lot of soul searching, drinking, anxiety, depression, adventure, excitement and growth as I tried to change the track of my life as my mid forties chugged along headed for the mid-century mark of life. I like to think I've changed a lot and for the most part my relationship with beer has changed, most days are one and done and off I go to do what I do with my precious free time.
  But there are days...
  This last Christmas season was not a good time for this guy. I was mired deep in a funk that brought out the worst in my moods, quietly brooding and honestly thinking about little but the darkest of thoughts about myself, my future and how long I was even going to be around for. I could not shake it and while to most folks, my outward social media and real life performance was one that seemed happy and carefree, excited for Christmas even as I pondered if it would be my last. Kat took the brunt of my silent struggle as I was monotone and morose at the best of times, leaving her no doubt feeling helpless and alone as I struggled with dark demons that are known only to me, in my head and soul I fought on. I'm here to say that she helped me overcome my own damn self and I am well on the road to recovery once again, a little battered and bruised, but wiser and armed with some new tools and outlooks on how I can avoid slipping again.
  Why is this important to the end of the tale I tell today? It leans heavy into my past and the loss of control I used to relish when one beer became ten became a two-four. On Christmas Eve, I was shaken with demons inside and struggling to compose myself around my extended family without resorting to self medicating as I was finding my footing without sliding into over consumption as the holiday approached it's zenith. I had brought several big ABV beers to share, but no one was really into the sauce, a good thing I'd say as we gather with my Mom's extended side of the family and there are still a lot of little ones around. While I was trying to avoid going off track, I couldn't decide what beer to drink and not really feeling anything at all, I stepped outside and grabbed a Coors Light out of the case Dad always has on hand for Christmas guests. Why? I don't know, for a lark, because I hated myself a little for how I was feeling at a time of year I usually shone with joy or maybe because I know exactly what that kind of beer is to me. I quickly downed 3 and took a couple of travellers next door to my Granny's, where the clan was gathering for an hour or so of Eve gift exchanging and yearly checkins with those cousins we wish we could see more of. The Coors lights were having zero effect on my mood or delivering that old fashioned, good time Polk buzz that I was so used to and yet, as I drank them, I knew it would be so easy to slip back into that comfortable robe of empty promises I used to wear so well. You don't drink macro beer because it tastes good, although a lot of us drink craft beer a little like it's macro sometimes too, you drink it because it delivers what it promises, refreshing a dry palate and sweet, sweet drunk love. I am not going for the beer snob angle at all with this, I am quite capable of madness on a dozen IPAs too, but it isn't something I chase quite so quickly or often...if at all. But these blue mountains flowed from the can and bottle like ambrosia to some part of my mind and while I didn't get hammered and have some sort of tale of redemption a la Scrooge, nor did my mood improve until later that week when Kat was finally able to get me to listen and see where and what I was feeling wasn't real that I pulled out of my spiral and headed back to a higher altitude with a broken wing that was holding on with a little duct tape and best wishes.
  I couldn't quite shake that feeling though, the one when the beer hits your lips and just goes down without any thought or interest in what was going on, save another one and the one after that. It is tempting to shut all this social media down, lean back with a 24 and just let go and be gone into a haze wholly familiar. It would be so much simpler, easy to work a 10 hour day, get bent on a 6 or 12 pack of MGD or Pabst and sleep it off, I was and am practically immune to hangovers and that is a whole other story that will need another day and time to cover. I know that guy I was, I am comfortable being that guy and it seems far too easy and maybe preferable to let all this go and become that guy once again...
But I don't want that to be how my story ends, I have changed so much that I cannot fathom letting everything I've learned about who I am and what I could become go because it is easier to do things the old way. I may drink too much occasionally, I may not always be the best role model for anyone, but I am leaving nothing hidden and that honesty has delivered me from darkness again and again.
  So that's a little peek inside the Mind of Polk this early January Friday, I want to do more of this stuff this year, I miss getting these thoughts out of my head and onto the screen. It isn't perfect, but neither am I, best I can do is try and tell you how I feel, how I got here and what is going on. Maybe it helps someone, I don't know, but I do know it helps me and that's gotta be worth something at the end of it all.


31 December 2019

The 2019 Polkies - The List

  I used to stretch out my favourite beers of the year for days on end. By style, from dark and roasty to light and fruity, it was a labour of love and while I will still tell you what my favourites of each style were for 2019, I'll do it in one shot, right here and right now.
Let's go exploring!

Beer that tastes like a Damn Beer - Lagers, Pilsners
1. Merit Brewing No Limit Dry American Lager
2. Wellington Brewery Helles Lager
3. Collective Arts Audio/Visual Lager
4. Great lakes Brewery Humber Helles Lager
5. Merit Brewing Wrong Tree Extra Lager

1. Fairweather Brewing Donna Pils
2. Tooth and Nail Brewing Vim and Vigor Pilsner
3. Anderson Craft Ales Summer Pilsner
4. Left Field Brewery Glorioso Italian style Pilsner
5. Barncat Artisan Ales Motueka Pilsner

Come to the Dark Side, we have Beer - Porters and Stouts
1. Clifford Brewing Porter
2. Great lakes Brewery Harry Porter and the Bourbon soaked Vanilla Bean
3. Collective Arts Brewing Stranger than Fiction
4. Big Rig Brewing Tales from the Patch Pumpkin Porter
5. Oskar Blues Death by Coconut

Barrel Aged Porters
1. Collective Arts Brewing 2019 Imperial Porter
2. Fairweather Brewing 2018 Wishing Well
3. Clifford Brewing 2019 Imperial Porter
4. Shacklands 2019 Brewing Belgian Porter
5. Collective Arts Brewing 2018 Imperial Porter

1. Fairweather Brewing Madrugador
2. Merit Brewing Continental Breakfast
3. 5 Paddles Brewing Grim Reaper
4. Fairweather Brewing small hours
5. Calaboogie Brewing Brown Cow

Imperial Stouts
1. Wellington Brewery Imperial Russian Stout
2. Bellwoods Brewing Black Liquids Vol 2
3. Nickel Brook Brewing Bolshevik Bastard
4. Sawdust City Brewing Blood of Cthulhu
5. 5 Paddles Brewing Peanut Butter Godiva

Barrel Aged Imperial Stouts
1. Nickel Brook Brewing 2016 Kentucky Bastard (Bourbon)
2. Amsterdam Brewing 2018 Double Tempest (Whiskey)
3. Muddy York 2019 Inkwell (Cognac)
4. Left Field Brewery Blackburne (Bourbon)
5. Nickel Brook Brewing 2019 Café Del Bastardo (Bourbon)

All things good and hoppy - Pale ales, IPAs, DIPAs and more
Pale Ales
1. Fairweather Brewing Menagerie El Dorado
2. Great Lakes Brewery Canuck
3. Bench Brewing Jordan Harbour
4. Black Lab Brewing Sitting Pretty
5. Beau's All Natural Brewing Countdown

1. Fairweather Brewing High Grade
2. Merit Brewing Young Rival
3. Badlands Brewing Marma
4. Great Lakes Brewing Karma Citra
5. Nickel Brook Brewing Headstock

1. Badlands Brewing August w/Galaxy and Sabro
2. Fairweather Brewing melange
3. Sawdust City Brewing Super Juicin'
4. Nickel Brook Brewing Brett IIPA
5. Dominion City Brewing/Sawdust City Brewing Numerals

 1. Barncat Artisan Ales Triple the Juice

Brut IPAs
1. Anderson Craft Ales Brut IPA
2. Nickel Brook Brewing In this Corner
3. Muskoka Brewery Rose Cheeks
4. Collective Arts Brewing IPA No 9
5. Shacklands Brewing Brut to the Head

Milkshake IPAs
1. Merit Brewing Weekends for Breakfast
2. Left Field Brewery WHIP
3. Bellwoods Brewing Pineapple Coconut Witchshark
4. Merit Brewing Cali Creamsicle
5. Stonehooker Brewing Mae West

1. Great Lakes Brewery Thrust!...An IPA
2. Sawdust City Brewing Juicin'
3. Muddy York Brewing Working Hard Mosaic El Dorado
4. Great Lakes Brewery Furthermore...You forgot to mention Bigfoor
5. Nickel Brook Brewing Wicked Awesome

Belgian IPAs
1. Stonehooker Brewing Three Sheets
2. Shacklands Brewing Farmhouse IPA
3. Fairweather Brewing White Mystic
4. Black Bellows Brewing Himalaya
5. Beau's All Natural Brewing Wag the Wolf

Black IPAs
1. Great Lakes Brewing Apocalypse Later
2. Rainhard Brewing Nosebeeratu
3. Dominion City Brewing Melodie Noir
4. Barncat Artisan Ales Shadow Realm
5. Big Rig Brewing Release the Hounds

Session IPAs
1. Fairweather Brewing Forever Eva
2. Royal City Brewing Exhibition
3. Nickel Brook Brewing Lost in Orbit
4. Collective Arts Brewing Hazy State
5. Muddy York Brewing Switchboard

Sour IPAs
1. Fairweather Brewing Fairy Floss
2. Sawdust City Brewing The Morning of our Lives
3. Fairweather Brewing Window Seat
4. Shacklands Brewing Cosmic Trigger
5. Nickel Brook Brewing Zap!

Tart Puckers - Sour Ales
1. Fairweather Brewing beki (Mint/Raspberry)
2. Merit Brewing The Other Side
3. Collective Arts Brewing Blueberry Sour with cocoa nibs
4. Nickel Brook Brewing Uncertainty Principle No 4
5. Fairweather Brewing Gummy Venus

Farmhouse for Life - Saisons
1. Shacklands Brewing Saison Davenport
2. Sawdust City Brewing There's No Way of Knowing
3. Fairweather Brewing Aviary
4. Bench Brewing Henry
5. Sawdust City Brewing Princess Wears Girl Pants

Malty goodness - Red Ales
1. Sawdust City Brewing I, The Mountain and The Leprechaun
2. Royal City Brewing Remebrance
3. Cowbell Brewing Doc Perdue's Bobcat
4. Bobcaygeon Dockside
5. Cassel Brewing Lil Red Ale

The best of the Rest, styles that I had less than 5 examples of in 2019.
Berliner Weisse - Nickel Brook Brewing Passionfruit Uber
Best Bitter - Wellington Brewery Arkell
Black Lager - Silversmith Brewing The Black Lager
Blonde Ale - Collective Arts Brewing Lunch Money
Bock - Goodlot Farmstead Brewing Bock
Brown Ale - Wellington Brewery Good Buddy
Dark Ale - Goodlot Farmstead Brewing Dark Ale
Dubbel - Chimay Red
Dunkel - Stonehooker Brewing Dunk Tank
ESB - Beau's All Natural Brewing ESB
Belgian Golden Strong Ale - Clifford Brewing Marigold
Gose - Merit Brewing What Dreams may Come
Pumpkin Ale - Great Lakes Brewery Pumpkin Ale
Quad - Rochefort 10
Radler - Beau's All Natural Brewing Radler
Rye IPA - Redline Brewhouse Rainbow in the Dark
Tripel - Sawdust City/Nickel Brook Brewing 2016 11.05
Vienna Lager - Clifford Brewing Vienna
Wheat Ale - Sandwich Brewing Prairie Sunshine

Over 700 beers reviewed, these are my favourites. Next up, my annual countdown of The Ten, the 10 most memorable beers of 2019.


The Ten (2019) - The Best of the Best


 There is a joy to be had when you drink a really good beer. It can be a turning point in a bad day or a reward at the end of a good one. Beer should be fun and when you get a finely tuned pint, it is a sublime piece of joy to behold and consume. The Ten has always been about beer that made me take notice over the course of the last 365 days. It is not just about great, to style stuff or taking chances on something new that shifts the paradigm of what we think we know, it is about beer that stops you in your tracks and gives you a moment's respite from the everyday. While all the beers on this list are no doubt incredible in their own right and highly regarded, they represent so much more than just a score at the end of an Instagram review and a pretty picture. After 1500 straight days and almost 5 years of chronicling the beer that is in my glass, I still get excited when I find something that delivers an unsurpassed experience to my palate and my soul.
  Without further ado, I give to you, my friends, The Ten of 2019.

10. Merit Brewing - No Limit American Dry Lager (June 15th) 4.50/5.00

  On a day when we were at a the Collective Arts Liquid Arts festival, drinking massive barrel aged stouts, Imperial IPAs and sours from another damn planet, a break between sessions found a group of glowing Ontario beer drinkers on the patio at Merit and this simple, elegant beer defined the day for me from the first sip. While I am a lover of big and boozy stouts and all manner of IPAs, I found this year that my palate has come full circle as the lager and pilsners of the world began to creep back into my glass. More so than just being an absolute gem of a beer, Tej and Spinney have created a unique place in Hamilton's food and beer scene, partnering with charities, local arts events and doing good in our community on a daily basis. While Merit has many, many amazing beers, Young Rival IPA is a top notch choice I make often, I must salute them for creating this ode to a simpler time that somehow feels like I am drinking the future at the same time.
Video Review - Pints with Polk on YouTube
9. Bellwoods Brewery - Black Liquids Vol. 2 w/peanuts and chocolate Imperial Stout (January 4th) 4.50/5.00
  Almost a year has passed and I can still remember clearly the first sip of this rich and delectable Imperial Stout from Bellwoods. While I do not get as much beer from Bellwoods as in past years, they continue to put out some of the finest creations in Onatrio and beyond. This was straight up one of the best things I've had in my glass in 5 years. Real peanuts, real chocolate, real high bar for any pale imitation that followed from anyone else. It was robust, rounded and ridiculously good. lingering long into the night, never to be seen again, I bid adieu and say sleep well, my friend.

Video Review - Pints with Polk on YouTube
8. Badlands Brewing - August DIPA featuring Galaxy and Sabro (September 1st) 5.00/5.00
  The only thing I can say negative about Badlands is that they are only open 12 to 5 on Saturdays...that's it.    Amazing and near perfect beers emerge from this tiny operation like clockwork and when I was finally able to make my way to the farm, the hype meet reality and was found true. Their rotating monthly Double IPA for August featured the comeback hop of the year in Galaxy and the sexy new star on the block, Sabro. Peach, orange, coconut, grapefruit and dank, hazy pine was my reward for breaking out of my routine and taking the drive to Caledon. They have damn near found heaven in their bottles and I must say, the allure of being just out of reach most weeks only makes me want them more. Soon, and not soon enough, we shall visit again.

Video Review - Pints with Polk on YouTube
7. Wellington Brewery - Imperial Russian Stout (November 7th) 5.00/5.00
  A happy circumstance if you don't always realise just how beautiful a beer is until you find it again at the perfect moment. A long time favourite, Welly's Imperial stout is one of the few available all year round in Ontario and was always lurking in the background of my mind when I would think of solid, if not spectacular, core beers. An early November evening found me closing my eyes as the first sip hit my palate and being awoken again for the first time. It is a timeless classic that should be a part of anyone's beer fridge at all times and even after many years, is unlikely to be surpassed by anything in the style to come. It is a greatly needed reminder of all that made this craft beer scene in Ontario gain traction and will no doubt remain a part of that group of OG creations that will never go out of style.

Video Review - Pints with Polk on YouTube
6. Great Lakes Brewery - Apocalypse Later Imperial Black IPA (November 15th) 5.00/5.00
  I coined the term "Singular Beer" when I finally got my hands on this year's release of one of GLB's finest seasonal beers. The most under-represented style of beer, in my humble opinion, the Black IPA represents such a dichotomy of what you see, smell and taste coming together in the most beautiful way when executed perfectly. It is singular in that it helped transform what I thought beer could be and when it comes back, far too infrequently, it gives me pause. Bold and full roasted, bittersweet, pithy and pine with everything one could desire in a Black IPA. It is an event and should be enjoyed with vigor and joy.

Video Review - Pints with Polk on YouTube
5. Sawdust City Super Juicin' Imperial IPA (October 4th) 5.00/5.00
  A beer saint moment placed this one off from Sawdust in my hand and the beer gods deemed me worthy to be able to enjoy it and be happy doing it. Epochs of peach and orange flavour, softly bitter, tropical and juicy with a lingering feeling that the Universe sometimes does give us a moment of pure joy. While it was a surprise to get it, I long ago stopped fretting about missing beer releases when I could do nothing about it, I cherish most anything from Sawdust as they have become one of the core Polk places where I trust implicitly their integrity and dedication to great beer and good times. This was a showcase of that writ large and maybe we shall see it again as the calendars show 2020.

Video Review - Pints with Polk on YouTube
4. Shackland Brewing Saison Davenport (November 24th) 4.75/5.00
  The saison remains one of my favourite styles of beer and no one, save perhaps someone in Belgium, is hitting it quite like Jason is at Shacklands. Saison Davenport delivers consistently one of the best examples of the Belgian yeast, banana, bubblegum, clove and a beautiful peppery coriander back that lingers forever. Summer day? Davenport. Winter night? Davenport. It transcends what hype beer may be the flavour of the day and is one the beers I tell people they need in their lives if they truly want to know what love is. Dave and Jason have created a truly unique place, striving to be a better in a world that is often cruel and indifferent, a spot that delivers love, acceptance and great beer to all who walk through their door. It is not just beer, it is the people behind it that can make your day shine.

Video Review - Pints with Polk on YouTube
3. Barncat Artisan Ales Triple the Juice Triple IPA (August 25th) 5.00/5.00
  More times than I can count, a beer saint has given me the opportunity to enjoy a beer I desired but had no way of getting my hands on. Barncat has much the same problem for me as Badlands, in that their hours of operation is the only criticism I have of them. Friday from 4 to 9 and Saturday from 12 to 5 means I am most often working when they are open and I had resigned myself to not getting this juicy, dreamy tropical citrus dream. So when It appeared at my home courtesy a kind soul, it cemented the absolute genius of what they are making at this Cambridge brewery. Soft and dank, pithy and full of mango, peach, grapefruit and orange, it was a sublime moment in time. I wish they were open more, but it is part of their allure that I must make time to get their beer, desire is an emotion that adds to the single sip of a Barncat beer.

Video Review - Pints with Polk on YouTube
2. Nickel Brook Brewing 2016 Kentucky Bastard BBA Imperial Stout (August 15th) 5.00/5.00
  It took 3 years of patience and a bright and shining light broke through as this legendary big, boozy Bastard helped me realise that perfection existed and waiting is worth it for something this beautiful moment of clarity and joy. The balance struck between to heavy bourbon aging and roasted malts reached sublime levels with every sip. It could not, nor ever will, be like this again. Rich and velvety, it's peak a window into what beer can truly be if we let science and nature meet love and vision. While it will remain a top level beer for the foreseeable future, it is at this time, one of the finest things you can consume, enjoy and love while doing whatever brings you joy.

Video Review - Pints with Polk on Youtube
1. Fairweather Brewing Donna Pilsner (September 11th) 5.00/5.00
 The very name evokes great emotion when I think of what this beer has delivered unto me this year. In search of the very soul of great beer, this simple, yet complex Pilsner delivered a real time glimpse into the deep and beautiful things life should be. It is unpretentious, a pint that captures the real moment of bliss and shows you what could be, is and was at the same time. I could fill this list with Fairweather beers, they had a year of hit after hit and in addition to that, they remain some of my favourite people to visit when I can. Champions? in every damn way.
 I'll let the words from June finish this, my life, my love, my Donna. 
 "In my dreams, it's Donna.
In my glass, it's Donna.
In my life, oh so briefly, it's Donna.
 She's no #crispyboi, she long ago left such definition behind. She is transcendent, beautiful and only here for the tiniest of windows. Don't live your life in a haze, Donna will make everything clear and new.
Trust me, hear me and you can thank me later."
Video Review - Pints with Polk on YouTube

  This list is fun to do, but leaves out so many amazing beers from the last year. I wish I could include the dozens that were also amazing, I will always remember them as life rolls along.
  We are here for the briefest of moments it seems, drink good, do good and be good.

  Until next year, I remain your humble friend and wish you and yours the very best in everything in 2020.


29 December 2019

I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed - My Least Favourite Beers of 2019

  You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of beer.
   As well as documenting some of the finest beers in Ontario, I have also had the opportunity to indulge in a little self torture of drinking some of the worst and most disappointing craft beer to hit my glass. While the majority of “meh” beers get middling ratings of 3 or so, some are so outstanding for their lack of substance, misleading labels or just plain flaws that I feel compelled to comment further. Most often I choose to ignore the simply boring because life is too short to talk about every single beer that passes through your lens. I always try to be kind while dissecting a beer, trying to walk a fine line between honest criticism and the odd feeling I get when I think the beer is intentionally released even if it is not up to snuff. Money talks and you and I know that there exist in the craft beer world, much like the real world, people who place profit above integrity and quality. Some of these are that and some are just plain off the mark. To quote the thing that cuts to the quick if you ever hear it, “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.”
  Here we go…

5. Whitewater Brewing - Peanut Butter Shake Stout (January 6th) 2.50/5.00

   Coming on the heels of the very highly regarded Bellwoods Black Liquids Vol 2, which was brewed with real peanuts, this 4.5 % session stout with lactose looked to deliver a follow up of chocolate and peanut butter goodness.
   It did not.
   The brewing with peanut and chocolate extract was evident and despite the addition of flaked wheat, oats and lactose, it lacked in the body department in a major way. Artificial and disappointing to say the least. I see it has returned to the LCBO and I will most definitely give it another go, it had potential and I’m all about second chances.

4. Magnotta Brewery - Double Drooling Dog Black IPA (April 16th) 2.25/5.00

   One of my favourite styles of beer that is criminally underrepresented in Ontario is the dark and roasty, bitter pith and pine Black IPA and when I saw that there was a new one in the LCBO in April, I was intrigued. When I saw that it was from the same brewery that made last years Top 3 worst beer Inukshuk, I was less intrigued and more concerned. Magnotta Brewery has a pretty poor quality track record in the 5 years I’ve been writing about and drinking craft beer. Off flavours, styles promised on the can and not delivered in the glass and a general malaise about anything I’ve seen from them, it was not a promising start. It was a confused mishmash of English IPA, IPA and Black IPA which appeals to no one and found a way to make me question whether I liked the style or if that was just a fever dream. It was roasty and had some bitter citrus pith, but also a caramel sweetness and that took away from any kind of one-two punch you expect from the style. Burned twice, there will not be a third time, Magnotta is a hard pass.

3. Syndicate Brewery - The Boss East Coast IPA (March 22nd) 2.25/5.00
 I have serious issues when it comes to breweries mislabelling their beers according to style. Each and every style of beer has certain benchmarks you must hit in order to be able to label it as such and a failure to do so is not only misleading, it is dishonest and only serves to hurt the industry as more people dip their toes into the craft beer waters. Having said that, this was most assuredly not an East Coast IPA, leaning more into dry hopped lager territory and a weak one at that. Little to no citrus, pine or body, it showed a disregard for the money that hard working people would spend, hoping to enjoy a fine East Coast IPA and finding instead a muddled mess. I’m good with this being a one time thing, this guy will head away from anything else from The Syndicate.

2. NAC Importers - Hoperation SMASH (February 26th) 1.50/5.00
The two worst beers of 2017 both came from this nascent contract brewer and somehow that wasn’t enough as they released another bomb on Ontario in 2019. Hoperation SMASH is billed as a NEIPA but really is mostly sadness. It began with citrus pith, floral hop notes and proceeded to get worse with each sip. Hardly a moment went by when I wasn’t questioning my life choices as this incredibly mislabelled beer drifted into odd toffee notes, soap and finally a dry and bitter end. It was almost like someone took the idea of a New England IPA and simply decided they hated beer altogether and released this. If they have another beer hit the LCBO I will question the integrity of the lab at our liquor regulators and the choices made by their elite staff who are supposed to ensure the quality of the product being offered Ontario and beyond.
Big Nope.

1. Lock Street Brewing - I.P.A. (Industrial Pale Ale) (September 28th) 1.25/5.00

  I went to this brewery once a few years back and had a terrible customer service experience that was coupled with beer that was flawed and to be honest, not worth my time. Fast forward to 2019 and my mom was kind enough to stop in at this Port Dalhousie brewery when her and my dad were in town for a race. She had a similar experience to what I had and still did the mom thing and bought me some beer to try when she came back to town. What bothered me was less the treatment of their customers who aren't "regulars", it was also the disregard for anyone who loves beer. I'll leave my original post here, I think it says it all...
"I'll say this about that.
An IPA is an India Pale Ale.
Full stop. 

This is an "Industrial Pale Ale" from @lockstreetbrewco and to be very honest, it was well below what I was hoping for. Metallic, off point, missing even a malty back that would head in an English direction, it felt quite misguided and mislabelled from the first sip. Sadly my mom bought this for me, but her experience there matched my own from a few years ago...not good. Should I bother wasting my valuable time off writing about stuff that isn't worth those very rare moments? So many people don't actually read what we write here and just see the pic and move on.  I don't know, but wasting my mom's money and treating her poorly makes me pretty pissed. Hope your experience is better, but as always, honesty is all I got this was a disappointment, but not an unexpected one. Pass. Hard pass."
Mislabelled beer, off flavours and poor customer service will do their work as the craft industry grows in the next few years. One can hope Lock Street will find their way, because if they can't, people will find themselves another place to drink and enjoy a well crafted ale or two. Two strikes and your out for me though, I'll let someone else try and see if anything changes...I'd wager it won't.
Video review - Sadly, one of the few beers I didn't do a video review for.  
Worst Macro Beer of 2019 - Coors Slice (May 29th) 0.25/5.00
  While these craft beer options failed to impress, it was a macro attempt at being crafty that was my absolute least favourite beer of 2019. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...Coors Slice. a 4.2% "flavoured beer", it appeared in my glass on May 29th and I immediately regretted my life choices from the first sniff of it's artificially constructed evilness. The best way to describe this "beer" is that it is akin to drinking Murphy's oil soap, sickeningly artificial orange flavouring with sweet corn syrup as a backdrop to self hatred. It was gross and even now I wonder why I think I had to know...I didn't.
Video review - Pints with Polk on Youtube

Special Addendum- Flying Monkey's Brewing Sparklechunks...I mean Sparklepuff TIPA
  I won't get into this one again. On the surface, it was brilliantly executed, hazy, fruited up beer, until the chunky, clear ones started surfacing and we all could see that there were clearly two versions of this beer on the shelves in Ontario despite no words from FM except the old, "Sorry you're not happy, there is nothing wrong with the beer. We will give you your money back if you just go away". No acknowledgement of the obviously completely different things we were seeing pop up. I wrote about it here (Don't Gamble with my Beer) and ranted about it on YouTube here (#Sparklechunks). It wasn't the worst beer of the year, but it was the worst example of taking your consumers for granted and while most people could care less, I still remain committed to not drinking beer from a brewery that isn't truthful or upfront when they screw up. I don't gamble on bad bets anymore.

Make good choices my friends, let's hope 2020 has us seeing the light and bad beer finds it's place in the dustbin of history...even if we know it won't and I'll be back here in a year with another 5 pieces of regret for us to discuss.


13 December 2019

Santa Claus and Santa Polk - Love and Christmas magic.


The Christmas season used to my my favourite. The parties and gatherings spread out over the month meant getting together with friends and family to spend a little time celebrating another year and looking forward to the next one. The last couple of years have taken a bit of a toll on my love for the holidays and I'll be honest, without my having the Polk persona to help lift me up, it would be likely no decorations, movies or Christmas music would be seen or heard in my home. It just isn't there anymore. Be it not having children, the unending struggle of keeping things going financially and feeling emotionally drained as our lives have changed so much in the last 6 years. There is little doubt that my path to Christmas is littered with self imposed obstacles to getting back to where I once was.
Enter Santa Polk, courtesy of my Aunt Karen and Uncle Tom.
  My beer advent calenders have helped to make the season a bit brighter and I have included myself in every holiday beer picture as kind of a 'proof of life' moment for myself. I'm still here, I'm still standing . The inclusion of the Santa suit, however, is a little more meaningful than most people know. It belonged to my late Uncle Tom, who played the most loving of Santa's you would ever know. Every year he would do events and malls, donating the proceeds to Camp Trillium, a camp for children with cancer to go to so they might enjoy some time in the great outdoors. He didn't so much play Santa as become him, embodying the role with a verve and gusto I would watch in amazement every year. We were close, I remember sitting with him the night before my wedding to Kat, quietly talking about life as the beer flowed, things like that stick with you a long time.
  After he passed away, my aunt Karen asked if I would like the suit, a symbol of something bigger than myself or the season to me. I was hesitant, but relented and hung it with care in the spare room until it finally became clear to me a use for this piece of magic. The Advent Calendar and my quasi fictional character of the Drunk Polkaroo come together each December to try and spark a little joy in a dark and dreary world. The suit has powers I cannot describe, but when I finally hit the halfway mark and don the jacket, beard and glasses, it starts to feel a little more festive, a little more love and a little more hope. I will never capture it completely, it hovers just ahead of me, but I feel the glow and love that it contains and feel peaceful and serene.
  This year I will be taking another step as I take Santa Polk out in public for the first time ever. I've always confined it to my house, pictures and videos, having a little fun and celebrating the memory of a good friend and mentor. When my friend Jeremy from Clifford Brewing here in Hamilton asked if I would be able to help raise some funds and gather toys for some kids who need a little help this year, I couldn't say no, despite that little voice inside that seems to win more times than not when it comes to doing anything other than work and sitting here at home. I felt something give me the strength to say yes and while I am filled with apprehension, the shoes I step into, literally, have been walked in by a legend in red.
  So this Saturday, December 14th at 4 p.m., I'm gonna take Santa Polk out to Clifford Brewing, give my Christmas blues the boot and take up the chair of Santa to try and bring some good to the world with a little laugh and a lot of leaning on the man who came before me. Join us if you can, an unwrapped, new toy gets you a free beer and a chance to take a pic with this jolly fat guy, bring your dogs, kids and friends and help spread the love a little further this year.
  Scared? Yeah, a little, but I think I have a secret weapon and Uncle Tom's legacy, memory and love of us and the season is very much alive every time I put on that suit of Santa Claus...because I knew the real one.
Cheers and Merry Christmas!


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.