30 January 2016

My Home

I'm helping some old friends move today and it reminded me of all the times in my life that I have packed up my stuff and tried starting again in a new place. When I was a kid, we moved a few times, at least 7 that I can remember and each one brought me no closer to finding my place in the world. As an adult, I continued this pattern with coming home and going away an astounding 8 times in 13 years. I would leave for a variety of reasons, being a smart ass teenager was one, a failed marriage another; but mostly just because I had a burning desire to get out. I would move out, love my new life for a while and then retreat to something familiar when I got my ass handed to me. This probably would be continuing to this day if it wasn't for my wife.
We have been together for almost 18 years and married for 12. When we first got hitched, we lived in an apartment and saved as much as we could for the down payment on a house. It wasn't easy, but after 2 years we had enough to start looking. Not the quickest thing to do from what we had heard, but we were prepared for a long search to find our home. How wrong we were. We went to see a big old century home in our preferred neighbourhood and Kat was quite right in seeing that it was way out of our comfort zone in terms of repairs, style and upkeep. I was on the fence, but then Rick, our realtor, suggested since we were down in the area, we should see his newest listing for comparison. Why not?
When we pulled into the long driveway, I saw the two car garage at the back and was intrigued. Then we went in the front door and came around the corner from the living room that was off the foyer, this was the moment I knew we were going to buy it. The house was a standard two bedroom, but the owners had put a full addition plus a sunroom on the back of the house. the look in my wife's eyes told me all I needed to hear. That sunroom was a window to a huge, overgrown yet potentially amazing backyard. The property backed onto a ravine and with all that room, we could have some fun back there. We couldn't put an offer in soon enough. It was a few days of back and forth but in the end we won our dream home and have been here ever since.
While contemplating the purchase of our home, I have been thinking about all the times I've talked about selling it and moving somewhere else. Not because I don't love it, quite the opposite. It is my favourite place in the whole world. My Grotto in the backyard for all my warm weather needs. Decks on decks is the motto and I build them as I need them. My basement bar, which I've dubbed Merle's (A place to get Haggard) after one of my favourite classic country stars, is my winter hangout and the place where I feel most at peace. But I have a rambling spirit and I imagine new adventures await just over the horizon. In reality all that awaits is spending another ten years getting everything up to the awesome place I have now. Kat always brings me back down to earth when I want to move to the west coast or Toronto. She knows that I am happier here than I will ever be anywhere else and it is her who keeps me from doing stupid things like moving every year or so.
But still the open road pulls at me. I haven't lived in one place this long since I was a kid and some part of me will always miss that freedom when I didn't have so many responsibilities and could just pack up my belongings and go. That wouldn't be easy of course, I have accumulated ten years worth of stuff and even with repeated clean outs, more stuff appears every year. So I will remain firmly planted in my home. We may not have the best of everything, but we have enough of what really matters.

28 January 2016

Warming up with a Stout

You need this in your life.
Long, cold nights followed by short freezing days is what winter brings to Canada. While this year has been milder than most, it is still not summer. I don't complain about winter, I love all the seasons and the differences they bring both in the weather and my beer. It seems only right that I take a moment and salute those brews that bring warmth to my belly when the temperature falls.
When I was a younger man, I avoided stouts. Although, given the state of the beer world in those days , it wasn't like I was given much choice. For the most part, the only stout we had access to was Guinness and it held no appeal to me. Oh, I would choke one down on St. Patrick's Day when we would start our pub crawl in Hess Village (think lots of bars, little self control) but then it was on to green food colouring in my beer and the sweet release of blackout drinking.
Hmm. This seems wrong.

My recurring them from the last two years has been how craft beer saved my life and with stouts and porters, it is particularly true. Lagers and IPAs can be very crushable (Easy drinking) and even as I was beginning to understand how destructive my drinking was to myself and others, I could still get ramped up when drinking those as well as any macro lager.
Enter the humble Mill Street Vanilla Porter. This is one of those beers that changed everything for me and one of the reasons I will not drop this brewery from my regular rotation despite their being bought out by Labatt's. It is a creamy, vanilla, coffee bean and chocolate dream. I often refer to it as ice cream in a glass. It is just so smooth and tasty, I found myself lingering over each glass and when I would look up at the clock, an hour had gone by and it was time for bed. This was a new development for me, as I would most often race to cram as many Old Milwaukee's as I could down my throat before passing out. I loved how it warmed me up and filled my senses with wonderful flavours. This was a something different.
I was moving forward with porters, but still struggling with stouts. They are generally have a higher alcohol content and the roasted malt can give you at bitter note that, when you are starting to try them, can turn you off. I know it did for me and much like the amazing IPA, it took some time for the changes to my palate to take hold. Slowly I began to purchase and consume more stouts as the weather turned cold and they began to make sense to me. The thicker mouthfeel helps you to really experience the most common flavours of the roasted malt, dark chocolate and the bitter coffee beans. Most often, a stout slows you down with its large body and high ABV. You don't want to pound a 10% Oatmeal stout, it is something to sip and savour. This was the essence of my discovery. I had found a style of beer that really held me back and slowed me down.
Grab a Kentucky Bastard from Nickel Brook, a Winter Beard from Muskoka or maybe a Chocolate Manifesto made by Flying Monkey's. You do not put these beers in a funnel. Well, you shouldn't, but it's your life. These beers will force you to sit up and  notice the flavours they impart. They are big bold beers that make you pause as you drink and feel the warmth spreading through your heart. Stouts can range from smooth and creamy to strong and biting. there is something for everyone and most assuredly you can find one that speaks to you.
When I grab a dark beer and settle into my chair for a night of hockey watching or maybe a movie or two, I like to think of it as my Hi-beer-nation. Just letting go and putting myself in the mood to shut out the world and relax.
 I have an Amsterdam Brewing Company Tempest Imperial Stout that I have been ageing for a year and a bit chilling in the cold cellar and I think tonight is a good time to see how it has changed since last year. That's one of the other things about higher ABV stouts that I was surprised to learn. You can age them for a few years and really see how the beer changes. It never occurred to me that I would want to save a beer for that long, but I have cellared a Kentucky Bastard and a Cuvee from Nickel Brook from this year as well to see where they go next year or maybe even into 2018.
So if you are hesitant to get into a stout, give a porter a try. they are generally less bold and have a thinner mouthfeel and flavour profile. They have many unique takes and they should help you to ease into the often bigger, stronger notes that stouts bring to the table.
But don't give up on these dark angels, it is in the attempt to find the Perfect Beer that I have come to love them and you could too. They bring so much to the table and while it is the season of snow and ice, it is also one of robust flavours. It will soon enough be time to break out the saisons, lagers and IPAs. But for now, why not get your snifter or pint glass and pour some warming love into your life.

25 January 2016

Protect your Beer - Bottle vs. Can

    Yesterday was National Beer Can Appreciation Day in honour of the first sale of canned brews by New Jersey brewer Krueger on January 24th, 1935. I did not know that until now and it got me to thinking about my preferred method of purchasing my beers. When it comes to my American Craft beers, I usually have to buy brown bottles, since that's what most of the offering in the 6 pack for $9.99 deal at Wegmans comes in and I will take what I can get. It is not that I don't like bottles, I drank out them for the better part of a quarter century, but there is something to be said for a Tall can and its possibilities for art. I would say well over 85% of my Ontario Craft beer comes from that style. They are as different as you could imagine, from Collective Arts use of rising artist to illustrate their brews to the simple and elegant green can with blue logo from Steamwhistle. I am always drawn to unique attempts at grabbing my eyes. Give me a visual cue that you are different and I will place your beer on the counter for purchase. Some of my most favoured brews are from Great Lakes Brewery in Etobicoke and their resident artist Garnett Garry. He has a style for character design that is unique and stands out from the ordinary. Sir Fuggled Double Bottom on the Pompous Ass can is my personal fave and combined with the beer inside drove my love of this local brewer.
    I hope most of us understand that the darker the container and more protected from light it is, the better your beer will keep. Clear bottles are death to the brew if not kept out of the damaging effects of the light.(Beer with little or no hops are the exception) This is what can cause that skunky smell/tastes and should be avoided at all costs. Next up are green bottles. Originally used in place of brown bottles during World War 2 because of all the brown glass being diverted to the war effort, they are better but still let more light in than the next option. Green glass became prevalent in many European breweries because of its low cost and accessibility during this time and when their beer began to be viewed as exotic imports, unfortunately it led to the green bottle being viewed as classier than the brown.
    That brown bottle, be it long neck or stubby, is the choice of most brewers. Especially the industry standard bottle that the majority of them use in common. This reduces costs and makes it easier and cheaper to return the empties to the various bottling plants for re-use.
    Craft brewers have taken a different tack and as they grow, many of them veer away from the industry standard to make unique and wonderful variations on that bottle. Logos, bigger, smaller or different shapes abound to try and catch your eye as they shuffle for space in the LCBO.
    I will finish with the cans. I am a fan of these for a couple of reasons. One is their completely shutting light out from my beer. That is a key selling feature. Number two is portability. Less chance of accidentally breaking one than with bottles and are great for camping or any other outdoor activity. Finally, their larger and uniform surface make for a wonderful opportunity for the breweries to go a little nuts with their artwork and this is great for guys like me who have a wall of beer.

    But I will once again ask you, ever so politely, to please put your beer in a glass. Drinking from the bottle or can is best reserved for Macro lagers that have no real scents to speak of. Putting a craft beer in a glass allows all the aromas to come to you and the visual of that beer pouring into the glass or swirling around as you sip and contemplate life is just wonderful.
    Treat your beer right and keep it away from the light. A cold cellar in your basement is best, but the fridge or any dark cool place will make sure your beer is free from the damaging ultra violet rays that will turn it into something best left to attract slugs in the garden.

24 January 2016

Beer of the Week - January 17th to January 23rd

Drinking beer is supposed to be fun and this week was no exception. Well there was that one. I did the dirty work and tried Molson 67 Session IPA for you this week. I don't want to linger on it, it made me sad. Go check out my Instagram or Facebook pages if you want to read all about that train wreck of a beer. It was amusing but not something I think you need to do yourself. Leave that to the professionals.
Since it's inception, I use my Beer of the Week (BOW) to showcase one beer from the last seven days for its unique ability to rise above all the other brews and stick in my memory. It occurred to me that perhaps the 67 was the one, but to be honest, it was just so full of nothing that it barely registers. I then turned to my Master Beer List and found some worthy candidates. Dam Buster from Silversmith was a great English Pale Ale and one I am anxious to get another one of. There were some great American Craft Beers from my trip last month to Buffalo, including an Imperial Stout called Choklat from Southern Tier Brewing that was just outstanding and smooth for being 10% ABV. But it was once again my old pal Beau's All Natural Brewing Company who rose to the top with a beer that surprised me and challenged my sense of sight versus taste.
Yet another beer I started to see pop up all over Instagram early in the week, this Black IPA called Le Coeur Noir (The Black Heart) was getting great reviews from my fellow enthusiasts and I picked one up to chill for Friday night.
As you can see, a simple yet elegant label design and of course the distinctive Beau's logo. It poured dark, like a stout or porter, with a creamy tan head that laced my glass as I drank. What really stood out for me was the contrast between what I was seeing and what I was drinking. I knew it was an IPA, but when I looked at the glass, my mind wanted to register a roasted malt brew. It had a sharp, hoppy scent and when I took a sip, it really took off. It had a creamy texture that featured a crisp and bitter tropical mix of grapefruit, pineapple and mango. Piney and dry to the finish, this was an outstanding IPA.
As I make my way through the world of craft beer, I am beginning to see patterns and distinct attributes for each style of beer. Most have an appearance that is consistent with that style, but this Black IPA challenged my notions. I like that I struggled a bit to put what my tongue was telling me together with what my eyes had first registered. That is what makes my journey so interesting to me, I never know where my beer will take me until I pop the top and get it into my glass.
It was a delight to drink and I will be picking up a few more to enjoy as the winter swirls around us.
Congrats to Beau's All Natural and their Le Coeur Noir for making me smile and think about what I am drinking. A well earned BOW and I am sure not the last one they will get in 2016.

22 January 2016

Confessions of the Last Radio Listener

I had one of these sweet babies in my youth.
I must admit that I am still lagging behind when it comes to how I get my music. I mean I watch videos on YouTube, I even created playlists specifically designed for when I am drinking my beer so it just plays in the background and I can get on with tasting and writing about all the delicious new beers I find. There was a dalliance with satellite radio a few years ago where I discovered my love for all things Buffet, but that costs money to maintain and I am on a budget. I haven't bought a CD in  a long time. So when I am writing the blog, editing videos (sort of), working around or on the property or anything else where I am busy, I put the radio on. Driving, sitting, standing or going to sleep, I love the radio. I like listening to the DJ's, being surprised by an old favourite I haven't heard in a long time or maybe a will be a new tune that captures my ear. I'm a classic rock guy for the most part, so the stations I listen to reflect that. Listening to songs I know and love lets me sing along and revel in some old memories.
 Sometimes I listen to Top 40 radio to see what is going on. Being north of that number means I may not get all that today's music has to offer, but I am at least willing to try. I am sure our parents thought our music was terrible, their parents the same thing about what they listened to and so on in perpetuity. When I hear people talking about "real music" and how the electronic stuff we get today doesn't hold a candle to the "old days" I always remember that people booed Bob Dylan when he started playing the electric guitar. Lighten up guys, just because you do not like it doesn't mean it has no merit. Each generation creates their own sound and while we prefer the music that we are familiar with, putting down or dismissing anything new seems too much like being "The Man". Didn't we hate that guy when we were young, exclaiming "You just don't get me!" over and over. Yeah, I thought so. Don't be "The Man".
I probably will give Spotify a try. It seems like a cool idea, access to all the songs, specific playlists targeted at your likes and an ongoing soundtrack for your life. But I still think I will listen to the radio. I work in my office every morning before going to work. Usually on this blog, but sometimes on other things like the family budget or future projects. I love morning radio. The familiar voices, hearing quick snips of the news and all the inside jokes that crack me up.  There is something just so simple about turning on my stereo before I sit down at the keyboard. It feels like an old friend is visiting and working with me while I type away. I know it's old fashioned, but it helps fuel my creativity because it is familiar and non interfering, so I'll stick with what works for now.
I know people are ditching cable I droves, going all digital with their music and generally shunning all that came with my youth. I applaud them, I just keep trucking along. I like the immediacy of turning the TV on and finding the game or maybe a gem of a movie I haven't seen in a while. We finally broke down and got Netflix and I am pretty sure my wife is addicted to streaming already, but that doesn't mean we will walk away from what we usually do either. As the technology grows and becomes better, this will no doubt change how we view it and I am always open to change. But for now, nothing beats my radio and I'll keep turning that dial till I find a that song and settle in for the night.

21 January 2016

The Ritual

I think one thing that I have gained from exploring all that good beer has to offer is that I no longer desire or need to get blackout drunk. I might sound like a broken record, but Craft beer may have saved my life. This is a subject I keep coming back to again and again as I write because it is so important to me. It is always hovering in the background and I have no doubt that if it weren't for some self control and of course, delicious Craft beer, I would fall off into the abyss again.
It is with this in mind that I want to pause my day for a moment to discuss The Ritual.
I think we all have some sort of routine we fall into for anything we do, brushing your teeth, cleaning the house or car or even getting ready for bed. These things are mindless activities that we go through every day and for the most past they occur without any real forethought. I used to drink macro beer with the same approach. My only concern was with having enough and getting it as cheap as possible. Growing as a person and coming to the realisation that I could do better than I was has created a lot of change in my life and part of that is how I approach beer and life in general.
I like to call my approach The Ritual and it helps me to be fully present in the moment for the purpose of gaining all the experience I can from anything I do. With beer, it begins when I choose what to drink. I have an array of beer in my cold cellar and fridge and often take a bit of time to consider my choices. What am I feeling? What do I want from my beer tonight? Am I enjoying the game, someones' company or is it a quiet night just sipping and reading? All of these things play in my head as I scan the bottles and cans before me. It was easier to just grab an Old Mil and get plastered, but hey, I am trying to grow here.  A lot of times, I will latch on to a theme, like a particular region or country or perhaps a  style like a stout or pilsner and ride that for the evening. Other nights see me choosing a beer I have seen popping up all over Instagram or Untappd. It is not so much falling prey to advertising, as it is reading what others I trust write about the beer and wanting to try it myself. 
I always consider the proper and recommended temperature for serving the beer when choosing. Often I need to bring a beer out 30 minutes or so before drinking it in the case of a stout and warm it a bit if I need to. Check with the brewers website or someone you trust for advice based on the style you want to consume. Macro lagers must be drunk ice cold because that is the only way you can avoid any flavour issues they have as they warm.
Once a beer has been chosen, it is my next step to get the glass I want to use and rinse it out. I have harped on this subject as well and I cannot drink out of the bottle or can anymore unless I am forced to by circumstance. I always drink some water before I have my beer, as well as between brews to help cleanse my palate, slow myself down and fill me up. Not a bad idea.
The Pour is maybe the best thing about beer after the taste. The moment when you pop the top, crack the can or twist off the cork begin a cascade of events that lead to the first sip. The sound of opening a beer turns my head and heightens my other senses. I know what is to come. Tilting the glass in front of me, I begin delivering its contents forward. Slowly and deliberately, it is almost a religious experience. As it fills the vessel, I begin to straighten it up and the head, be it thick and bubbly, or thin and ethereal, begins to form. The aromas can make you salivate sometimes. I love it when a beer announces itself as soon as you open it and often it really explodes as you get it into your chosen glassware.
I always take a moment when the Perfect pour is done and consider what the beer looks like. Hold it up to the light and pause for a bit. You can start to tell the character of the beer by its how it looks. Is it thick and dark with a large head? Thin and straw coloured with a foam that just sits on the rim? An amber? Cloudy? So many things can come into play when you take the visual impact of a beer into account. But you must always approach with an open mind as appearances can be deceiving. I have been surprised plenty of times when a beer looks like one style and delivers a knockout flavour I wasn't expecting. I recently had a Farmhouse Ale called Biere de Noel from Niagara Oast House Brewers that poured black with a thick tan head, but it delivered a saison like orange peel, the spices of a winter warmer and a hint of roasted malt chocolate flavour. Great discoveries in beer take all the senses into account.
Only a small step left before the grand finale. Smell your beer. Give it swirl, get in there and sniff. The main reason I hate drinking from the bottle or can is that I miss a lot of what I was intended to receive when the brew master conceived the brew. The sense of smell tells you so much about what you are about to experience and why you would want to miss that by bypassing the aroma is beyond me. Especially with the stouts and porters. They can transport you to distant places with their thick heavy smells of roasted malts, coffee and spices. Other, lighter beers can have floral notes, grassy takes and fruits, even banana. I wouldn't have known that I was supposed to slow down and smell my beer from my previous experience with beers like Brava Light, as those are meant to be consumed quickly, not savoured and enjoyed.
Finally the time has come for the final step in The Ritual.
 The Sip.
I call it that and always begin my flavour descriptions with the phrase "On the sip" because that is what I want to do. You should too. Take a sip, swirl it around. Let it play on your taste buds. Often times when I take that first sip and begin to feel the brews notes expand I am surprised by what appears. There are a myriad of flavours in any beer and it is up to you if you experience them. Quickly downing beer after beer will get you nothing but drunk. Stop and consider what you have in your glass and savour the whole experience. I get the need to just pound beers one after the other, I really do. But it is in the slowing down and deliberately giving in to the beer with all your sense that you truly open yourself up to new and wonderful things. I have travelled the world through my beer and it is that kind of thing that has led me to this point. There are so many different styles and sub styles and even smaller niches that I don't think I could do them justice in one lifetime. The discovery of a flavour that you never considered before in a beer can be eye opening, as it was for me with English pale ales and their bready, caramel and nutty flavours. I never thought I would crave that kind of thing, but I never pass up a chance to grab one and enjoy that combination of tastes and many more. 
The drinking of my beer is always a singular experience for me. If I am going to a party or dinner, I always choose something I have had before. I want to be there for the experience of the event, not trying to make notes or take pictures about the beer. I touched on that last week and work very hard to pair the beer I drink with what I am doing. When I am chilling with my wife or alone, I always try to get new beer or two and just really enjoy them. Every beer deserves your attention because if you are not going to get all that it has in it, why bother. Get a case of Coors Light and get lit up. Even a brew that you don't like can tell you something and it is often by revisiting a style I didn't like at first that I am most surprised. IPAs, saisons and stouts are prime examples of beer types I struggled with when I first began my journey, but now clamour for on a nightly basis.
So please take the time tonight to slow down a bit. Open your senses to what is before you and really give your beer proper consideration. Explore something new and try something different. You will be surprised at how much you can learn just by letting yourself become immersed in that beer you have in front of you and shutting everything else out.
I know I will.
So Damn Good!

As always, check out my Facebook Page for links to my videos and other great stuff.

20 January 2016

Sometimes the Tank is Dry

I have been pretty consistent in posting on my blog for the last 34 days. But today as I did my morning creative hour, I was bouncing around from idea to idea with nothing really getting me going. I couldn't find a spark that carried a post all the way to publication.  I had several good starts that I am confident will become something great,  but I didn't get the feeling that I could finish them today. This is not a surprise,  writing can be a draining exercise and I am sure that I will be able to reinvigorate my mind with a quick pause and reset.  But I also am realistic in knowing that I have already shared a lot with you and while I have so much more to say, it will not come as easy as it did in the beginning. 
I want to write something everyday, but I have to realise that just because I create something, doesn't mean I am ready to share it with the world. Sometimes it may take a little more time to get the words just right.
For now, I bid you adieu and hope to have something new for you when I wake up Thursday morning, grab my coffee and hit the keys. But if I only have some bits and pieces, I am okay with that too.
Cheers and thanks for the support.

19 January 2016

On Winter

It has been one of the quietest winters I can remember. Not much in the way of snow and even the temperature has been mild. Not what I think of when you say Canadian Winter, but hey, no complaints from this guy.
My brother lives up north a ways and is amazed that people seem to forget we live in Canada and that in the winter, it snows. He laughs every time we get a little snow and social media explodes with all the exasperated posts about bad drivers, shovelling snow and bitter cold winds. He has a point. If you look around Facebook or Twitter, they are filled with the same posts everybody made last year. And the year before that and the year before that, forever and ever amen. What is it that causes us to lose our collective minds when the mercury dips down and the fluffy white stuff falls from the sky? And what makes us forget that it happens every damn year?
I work with the public and not a day goes by when someone doesn't mention the weather in some way. It's a safe subject and a very Canadian way of saying hello. What I have noticed over my 25 plus years in customer service is that the same people that bitch about the humidity in the summer, do the same for the cold in the winter. I am not sure what they were expecting. The weather is something that changes every ten minutes up here and you would think they were used to that by now.
I am a summertime guy myself. I love it all, from the warm sun and cool air of the May 24 weekend to the humid nights of late August and everything in between. I revel in the heat and spend as much time as I can outside in the Grotto.
This place is where I spend my summer. Beauty!
The winter on the other hand is not my friend. Cold, dark days that are too short. Lack of sunshine does a number on me and I struggle more each year to keep my spirits up while the snowy weather drags on. From the beginning of January until we start to see the first buds break ground in late March, I have to remind myself that summer is coming and I just need to hang in there a few more days.
Despite my struggles with the winter, there are things I love about it. Hockey is T.V. every night and my Leafs keep finding new ways to lose. There is almost nothing better than BBQ in the cold. It just seems to taste better when you know not everyone will brave the elements to have a wonderfully grilled steak and potato dinner. It helps that I have propane heat and a garage to hang out in while the 'Q does its thing, but the flavours seem to be brighter when it is out of season.
Nothing stops the Polkaroos from BBQing.
I also must admit to a bit of a dirty secret. I like shovelling. We have a rather long driveway for the suburbs and a double car garage behind our house. It is a lot of space, but I love when I get out my trusty 10 year old shovel and begin to clean up. There is something soothing about pushing the white stuff around to reveal the blacktop underneath. I never rush, no need for a wrenched back here. I love the feeling of my body heating up as the wind swirls around me. The steam when I take my hat off and accept a mug of Irish coffee when I take a break during a big clean up makes me smile. But most of all, I think I feel like I accomplished something. Small and not world changing, but by clearing the snow from our driveway, we somehow connect with the outside. I don't ski or snowboard. Being a fat guy and having a grasp of physics means that my weight on two sticks going down a hill would result in a funniest videos sort of ending and perhaps a cracked limb or two. But give me a shovel and I am just fine. Trying to work through the drifts that form as the wind pushes the snow around makes me move my body, and in Winter that is a big accomplishment.
Looking back at a job well done.
I would hazard a guess that this is what makes it so soothing for me. Struggling with anxiety and depression, especially at this time of the year, can leave me feeling lethargic and empty inside. Shovelling focuses my attention on an achievable physical task that also allows me time to work through some stuff that may be bugging me. I am not sure why, but as I work my way to the end of the driveway, I become more relaxed and let things that had been upsetting me all day just slip away.
We have talked about getting a snow blower many times and I always resist. I know it would make life easier for those 3 or 4 heavy snows that can take over an hour to clear and leave me a little sore the next day, but still I hold back. Some of that is the cost of purchasing and maintaining a quality machine. The other reason is far simpler, I am not ready to give up my big blue shovel.
Old Blue, she's held together with
Duct tape and love.
It still means something to me to look down at the back of the house and see a clean slate. Maybe we could all approach the snow with a little less hatred and embrace the seasons in the Canadian way, with a smile on our faces and a knowledge that spring is just around the corner.
 Well, not around the corner, but just down the street and kind of walking slow. I mean you think this season could pick up the pace a little. Come on spring, get your ass on in here.
It's okay, I know that when it comes, I will get out the garden stuff and begin the process of getting ready for the summer again.
I can't wait!
My favourite sign that summer is coming!

18 January 2016

Shooting Videos with the Drunk Polkaroo

I've often said I have a face made for radio. The older I get, there are fewer people that get the joke. "What's radio?" they say, slowly back away from my ancient technology. But as I continue my Year of Beer, I want to try new ideas and expressions, so it with that in mind I am starting to make short beer review videos on the YouTubes. I know there is no "the" at the beginning or an "s" at the end, but that's how we tell us old timers apart from the rest of you.
When posting a photo and write up on Instagram or the blog, I have the ability to rewrite and polish my work. Sometimes I do edits later on if I notice something is just not working or spelled wrong. With video, that is a little harder. You can only open a beer one time and in the case of many of my brews, I only have one of them to drink anyway. But I like the rawness that video provides. It pushes me to focus on every aspect of what I do with the beer, from the opening of the bottle to the last drop in the glass. Yes. A glass. Every time. Come on guys, it's not hard, but please stop drinking out of the bottle. You are missing so much. I wrote about it twice, here and here.  Check them out. They both will explain why I always pour my beer into a glass. That subject is becoming like the 1993 Leafs for me, I just can't give it up.
Back to videos. I started with a few simple pour videos, using an old digital camera until I realised my phone has better resolution. I don't have a stand for it yet, so I made my own out of some scrap wood I had lying around in the basement.
A little crude, but it gets the job done.
I think it is time to step it up in the camera department and will venture forth to find an affordable but good webcam. That will make editing a little easier and probably improve the quality.
I use my Wall of Beer as the backdrop, but will eventually be filming all of my reviews and video blogs at my bar, which after 10 years I am actually going to build. For my "research". Man, beer is pretty awesome when it motivates you to get projects done. Just make sure you drink after you build or it might be a little lopsided.
That's a whole lot of fun on one wall.
I really want to capture all the sights and sounds of opening, pouring and tasting a beer, so playing with some different formats and techniques will be something we can do together. Subscribe to my YouTube channel, here, and follow along as I talk about beer and no doubt so much more. I can only promise that I will keep searching for the Perfect Beer and with that a better life. I am not going to lie, watching a video of myself is a little odd, but I do love all my Fat Guy shirts and am glad they are finally getting the exposure they deserve.
Happy Monday to you all and I'll see you later on the Internets.
(Again, I know there is no "s". Just testing.)

If you enjoy the blog, follow along on the Facebooks. 
(Now I'm just messing with you)
(But follow along, lots going on there too)
Thanks again for the support and Cheers!

17 January 2016

Beer of the Week - January 10th to January 16th

I usually have a hard time picking the Beer of the Week (BOW), and this week might have been the toughest yet. So many great new beers from Stouts to Saisons, but only one could win.
Trying new things is my theme of 2016 and in that vein, I made some short videos and put them up on my YouTube channel, here. Give them a look and get a peek inside how I explore the flavours, textures and aromas of my beer. Plus my shirts are pretty cool. Another expansion of my digital footprint is my Facebook page. It should help connect all the different expressions of my love for beer in one convenient place. Join us, we may have donuts.
I want to expand how I communicate with you and show you beer is not just a thing to smell, taste and feel, it is a visual and aural experience as well. What you see and hear when you open and pour your beer is also important in understanding what it is all about. The whole beer is something I refer to often when I talk about my brew and it includes all 5 senses.
Having said that, it is the beer that gives me purpose and this week I landed a whale. The term alludes to a highly sought after, but not easily attainable brew. It is in reference to Captain Ahab's single minded pursuit of Moby Dick and it isn't far of the mark for me with this beer.
Founder's Brewing from Michigan makes many unique and delicious beers that come in their distinctive "stubby" bottle. Rarely a misstep from these guys and I jump at the chance to try anything new when we venture south of the 49th parallel. As you begin to explore all the beer blogs, magazines, Instagram accounts and various other forms of digital media, some beers pop out at you more than others.
Just damn great beer!
The Double Chocolate Coffee Oatmeal Breakfast Stout from Founder's was one of those for me. From the cool label with a baby on it that gave them some problems is New Hampshire (since cleared up) to the descriptions I have read of its contents, this beer had me chasing it in my dreams.
When we went to the States a couple of weeks ago, I finally found it at a Wegman's. A joyful day indeed. Waiting for just the right occasion to open it, I figured my first Saturday off in 6 months was a good enough reason. It poured a deep sea black with a tan head that kept coming back. The aroma of fresh ground coffee kept beckoning me forward. When I took my first sip, I understood the hype. Creamy and smooth with a dominate coffee flavour. Well roasted malts also give off a chocolate note that helps to level out the bitterness. The finish is dry and has the distinct note of  bitter black coffee, but in a good way. Put this in your mug for breakfast and you'll start the day off right. It is a pretty strong beer at 8.3% ABV and 60 IBUs, so you'll want to take your time with it. I'd recommend having some more bacon.
I really wish I had grabbed a 12 pack when we were down there, my life needs more of this wonderful beer in it. I imagine I can a still taste it, but alas, it is no more. The next time we go on a beer hunt, I will harpoon more than one and you can come over and join the cult of Founder's with me. We may not have donuts, but we do have outstanding beers!
That it can't be found here in Canada makes me sad, but I am still going to say Congratulations to Founder's Brewing Company and their Breakfast Stout for winning the BOW and delivering a reminder that sometimes life gives you exactly what your looking for.

The label that started it all.

16 January 2016

Finding a "Go-To" Beer

I love to try different beers. My fridge and cold cellar are usually filling up faster than I can drink my acquisitions and it is not always easy to decide what to try some nights. Choice can be a devious thing. Studies have shown that too many choices can confuse and intimidate a person, freezing them into indecision. I honestly feel that way from time to time as I open the fridge and reach for a new brew.
A lot of time it is just a style thing. Do I want a strong beer? A refreshing one? Or maybe a little IPA love with some bitter, citrus kick? Oh the problems of a Craft Beer guy.
. I tend to stick to lighter and less filling beers at the start, moving to big bold ones as the night progresses. But I try to make sure I have several different breweries and their respective takes on each style in there, so I am often left waffling over where to start.
When I drank macro beer, it was easy. Lakeport, Brava Light and finally Old Milwaukee were my quick pick me up choices and I never gave it much thought. As I began to venture into Craft Beer, I would add a new beer or two a night, but it was so easy to grab an old faithful or more likely four of them, as the night wore on. When I made the decision to not purchase this type of beer anymore, it left me in a quandary.
What would be my "Go-to" brew?
By "go-to" I mean the beer you just want to chill after a long day at work. It is also a beer you have had before and loved. I am not always in the mood for something new and sometimes just want a good beer to relax and enjoy the evening with. Something familiar, yet tasty and well made. There are a myriad of choices out there for this type of beer and a lot of it will depend on your own personal taste and what is available near you.
For myself, I generally try to go with beers that are lower in alcohol by volume (ABV), so I am not getting hammered while I watch the game. Despite how bad my Leafs are, I still want to be able to enjoy the action, not stagger around in a stupor. 
Summer come soon!
Pompous Ass Ale from Etobicoke's Great Lakes Brewery is always in my fridge and I love chilling in my chair with one of these. I wrote about it here, on My Top Ten of 2015. Great, easy drinking beer and available at grocery stores as well.
The goal of having a "go-to" beer is to have something familiar that you can reach for when you just don't know what you want. I am often finding myself getting a Cause and Effect from Nickel Brook when I am thinking about what I want to review that night. Or maybe a Fireside ESB from The Collingwood Brewery. Can't forget Steamwhistle, my favourite Pilsner. I have literally dozens of beers I can grab at the LCBO just to have in my fridge for plain old drinking.
I love my Steamwhistle.
The thing I want to stress the most is that it is fine to enjoy a beer more than once. Hell, that's what beer is meant for. I absolutely love the pursuit of the Perfect Beer and all that entails, but I need to be able to just drink a damn beer once and a while. Especially when I am around other people. I don't want to be writing things down and trying to figure out all the different notes in the glass when talking to my friends.
Should I be doing this at a party? Hell no!
Those times call for something I know I like and will not be disappointed by. I used to hide behind my beer by getting drunk and blacking out. I now use beer as a social lubricant and consume with care. I want to be around when the night ends and to be able to carry a conversation past 10 p.m. is a fun idea too. So when I go out, I am choosing from a great list of beer that is pleasing to the palate, easy on the system and sharable.
Discovering that an everyday beer didn't have to include hangover inducing macro lagers is part of the reason I am here today and with my dogged pursuit of the next great beer in full swing, I have no doubt I will keep adding "go-to" brews to what is a pretty great list already.
Find your "go-to" beers and it will make your evenings full of tasty, yet familiar deliciousness.
My Current Go-To Beer List
All Available at the LCBO
  1. Steamwhistle Pilsner 5.0% - Steamwhistle (CAN)
  2. Pompous Ass Ale  4.2 %- Great Lakes Brewery(CAN)
  3. Lake Effect IPA 7.0 % - Great Lakes Brewery (CAN)
  4. Pale Ale 5.6 % - Sierra Nevada (USA)
  5. Fireside ESB 5.8 %- The Collingwood Brewery (CAN)
  6. Headstock 7.0 % - Nickel Brook Brewing(CAN)
  7. Boneshaker 7.0 %  - Amsterdam Brewing (CAN)
  8. Boston Lager 4.7 % - Samuel Adams (USA)
  9. Barking Squirrel 5.0 % - Hop City Brewing (CAN)
  10. Wells IPA 5.0 % - Charles Wells Brewery (ENG)


15 January 2016

Cameron's Brewing - A Quick Visit and an Amazing Deal

Mrs. Polkaroo and I had an appointment in Burlington on Thursday and I figured since we were only 15 minutes away, why not drop in to Cameron's Brewing Company and check it out. They only do tours on Saturday, so we were out of luck for that, but I had a beer to drop off for a friend from Instagram and he had one for me, so at least there was some fun to be had.  When we got there, I scoped out all they had in their showroom at the front while I waited for the ladies in front of us to finish their purchases. I had already decided to get a Growler ($6), which is a refillable 64 ounce glass container with the sweet Cameron's logo on it, and have it filled with their Dark 266 lager.
So damn good.
When I saw the deal they had, I got two (the 266 and a Tripel). For $55, you get 6 growler fills. That is a savings of over $25 and who doesn't like a bargain when it comes to beer.  The next time you come in for a fill, just present your card and they'll use the hole punch to mark it off and give you a refill. This is ideal for me, since Kat works nearby and can grab one for me whenever I need it, without having to pay for anything else. Just remember that this is fresh beer and you need to consume it within 4 or 5 days unopened and within 24 hours once you crack it open. Sharing is caring!
Get one today! Great deal.
I also bought a Cameron's pint glass with a logo for $5 and should have bought all of the styles. I am such a sucker for different shapes and sizes in my beer glasses. So that is something I will be getting next time I am in. Plus, they will look great on the shelves.
Great logo.
The service was friendly and quick. Very helpful people who clearly love what they do. This is going to be a recurring theme I imagine. It seems that this industry attracts a certain type of personality and it shows in their dedication to helping people understand their products. Being passionate about Craft Beer has changed my life and as I go forth on my journey around the province and the Year of Beer, I am so happy to meet other people who share my love of a well made brew.
As for the beer, The Dark 266 lager had a roasted malt flavour that combined chocolate and coffee notes with a crisp and refreshing texture. Not heavy and low in ABV (4.5%) this beer is an easy drinking, but flavourful, alternative to your regular choices. I finished my first growler last night and will be getting a refill soon. The Tripel (7.5%) will have to wait until the weekend.
I will find a way to get back for the tour as well. I work most Saturdays, but when I do get one off, my travels will take me where the beer is made. I have only been on one brewery tour (Steamwhistle) and as it was back in my binge drinking days, I don't remember much about it. This time, I plan on being present and learning all I can about the process of making great beer.
I endeavour to drink local and hope to make Cameron's a regular in my fridge. You should too. They have a good selection of different styles and seasonal offerings that will delight and challenge you. Here is a link to their website, check them out. The next time you are driving around and see a sign for a local brewery, do yourself a favour and stop in for a taste. It might change your opinion and as in my case, save your life.

14 January 2016

Treat your Beer Right. Put it in a Glass!

That looks delicious!
Do me a favour, won't you? Put your beer in a glass. It's not hard and you will thank me for it. I can do it for you or show you how if you are unfamiliar with the process. It's not that I want to be "that" guy, but you are really missing out. Beer is not just meant to be tasted, it is meant to be smelt, felt and dealt. By that I mean smell the aroma, feel the texture and deal with the flavours as they come. Don't force yourself to decide your love or hatred for a particular beer based on one sip. Relax and enjoy the journey.
One of my first posts was about whether the glass you use to drink beer matters, check it out here. It was a pretty simplistic view of what a proper beer glass means but had one central theme : Don't miss out on the wonderful aromas that the brewers intended you to have as a component of the beer by chugging it straight from the can or bottle.
If your having a Macro lager like Coors or Canadian and all you are after is a little refreshment or that sweet oblivion that only many beers can bring, you should ignore what I am saying and keep tilting them back. Maybe shotgun one and speed up the process. These beers are only "good" if they are served ice cold and flavourless. The less time you spend trying desperately to find some flavour, the better.
However, if you are like me and really want to get into your beer, grab a glass, something clean and big enough to hold your beer. Try to avoid novelty glasses or plastic. They will do in a pinch, but for best results a  glass appropriate to the style is best.  If you can find all six of the glasses below, you have all you need to really drink your beer. They are available at the Bay here in Canada and while they are not cheap, I love them for drinking beer. German glass maker Spiegelau has teamed up with well known brewers to design glasses that are ideal for every style of beer from IPA to Stout. Here's the link to the glasses available online here.
I hope someone got to drink all those beers.
I only have the IPA glass on the far right so far, but am anxiously saving money to get all of them. They'll run you $29.99 for two of each, so you are paying a little more for the quality. The glass feels thin but they are quite sturdy despite that delicateness. I am not gentle by any means and they stand up to a night of citrusy Pale Ales very well. I think it is the fact that they are designed with brew masters that makes them perfect. These guys get what you need when you want a beer, so they really tried to help deliver the whole package in a glass.
If you don't want to spend more than $200 on beer glasses, then any pint glass will cover 90% of your needs. I have several that I love to use on a regular basis and would encourage you to get a couple that you can really hold on to as you drink your beer. If it feels good in your hand, the vessel becomes an extension of you. I am not conscious of the glass when I drink my beer if it feels right and that is fantastic. Nothing should get between you and that delicious lager or ale you have been waiting to try all day.
I have an cabinet built into the wall of my basement and it acts like a cold cellar. This is where I store my glasses until I need one. I always rinse it out before I use it to ensure there is no dust or residue left from washing. A clean glass is imperative for a good pour. Tilting your glass at a 45 degree angle as you start the pour will allow the beer to flow without building up a crazy huge head that, for the most part, you don't want. As you pass the halfway mark, start straightening your glass, this will help create the right amount of head and really release the aromas. Pour at a slow pace to start, there is no hurrying a good brew. Not all beers have a head that lingers. Depending on the style you will see very different results. My Saison last night had a big 2 finger foamy head that lasted the whole time I drank it, but the Barking Squirrel lager I drank after was just a thin off white one that dissipated quickly to the rim. There is nothing better for me than the creamy thick head a stout gives you. It adds to the complexity of the brew and it looks cool too.
Take a moment when you have poured your beer to admire how it looks. Damn that's nice. Give the beer a sniff and a sip. Dig into your senses and use them to really experience the whole beer. Swirl it around (gently, don't spill) and give it another smell. You will get something every time and as your beer warms up, the flavours will change too. Sometimes becoming stronger or weaker depending on what you have. I am always surprised as new notes emerge and combine to create something special.
But do this one small thing.
 Pour your beer into a glass.
 It's worth it every time.
Saisons are still growing on me.
But Dougie will always be my favourite!

13 January 2016

Did you Play your Numbers?

Somebody's got to win. Might as well be me.
I don't know about you, but I am a guy who casually plays the lottery. I have no system, just Quick Picks. I am not completely lost if I forget to play my ticket or don't win. I just like to drop a couple of bucks a shot on a piece of paper that represents a dream of freedom.
Our neighbours to the south are in the middle of a billion dollar frenzy with their Powerball lottery hitting the 1.5 billion dollar mark and climbing. That is a lot of coin, even after the tax man takes his cut you're still getting north of 900 million dollars. That is some serious F-you money.
I know the odds against winning are so ridiculous it makes playing a waste of cash and I hate to use my hard earned dollars on anything but stuff that makes my life better. But for us, the jackpots aren't a real goal or an achievable dream. Instead they represent what our true ambitions are made of. It is the notion that we could have more than enough money to do what we want, when we want  and without having to slug it out 40 plus hours a week to get it. Who doesn't want something for nothing? Luckily, we both know that life doesn't work that way and bust our asses every day to try and achieve some financial freedom when we retire. RRSPs, pensions and just plain old saving is the only way this Polkaroo is going to be able to put down his deep fryer basket and enjoy his golden years. It is not sexy, but it is the only way to go.
Still, the dream persists. Sometimes when the Lotto Max jackpot hits a ridiculous 50 million, we will linger after dinner and talk dreamily about all the things we could do and the people we would help if our numbers came up.
We could do this every day.
I don't think it does any harm to talk about travelling all over the world (imagine the beer), or paying off all of our families mortgages and making sure they never had to want for anything in their lives again. It is good to look around and dream of bigger and better things. Wishing for that and doing something about it are two very different things however. So while it is all well and good to buy that lottery ticket, it is quite destructive to spend gobs of cash trying to win something that is just this side of impossible. We spend about $14 a week and that is about all I am comfortable with. It's not a huge sum out of our budget and it's a fair price to pay for some daydreaming. We continue to be aggressive with our saving and are very conscious of where every dollar goes because we want to be able to enjoy our lives. When the bills are paid and you've got some cash in the bank, that is really what winning is to me.
There is no way for guys like me to jump the queue on life. I didn't go to college or university and that has made me work a little harder to make up for the poor decisions of my youth. I am just now getting my head up above the clouds and looking around, its pretty nice up here. I put in my hours at work and endeavour everyday to not only earn my pay, but make sure I feel good about doing it. It's not my dream job, but it pays the bills, allows me time off to pursue the Perfect Beer and gives me a sense of purpose. That is what work is for me, a means to an end. If you are lucky enough to do something you love, consider yourself ahead in the game of life. If not, at least give it your best while you're there and keep reaching for something better.
Playing the lottery or grabbing the occasional Scratch ticket are not a waste if you can do so with the full knowledge that it's more of a dream than a reality. Doing this allows you to enjoy the thoughts of financial freedom while still realising that the alarm clock is going to go off in the morning and work awaits. You rarely get something for nothing and when you earn it, the results are so much sweeter.
Still, what I could do with $1.5 billion.......

I got nothing.

12 January 2016

Just One Beer

When I finally decided to try to record at least one beer a day for the whole year, it was a daunting task. Not because I would be drinking a new beer every day for 366 days, that's the easy part. It is being able to stop at one most days that worries me. I know how much I love to explore Craft Beer and all it has to offer, but I must use caution as the year goes on. It is so simple to cruise through three or four new brews a night, never mind a sprinkling of old favourites. My intention is not to get hammered every day, but rather to expand my palette and hopefully my mind.
With this as my goal, I am doing my best to really stretch out and enjoy that first beer of the evening. Last night I opened the Waterloo Spiced Dunkel and it was a different brew. Full of cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices, it is reminiscent of a pumpkin beer or winter ale. Lovely texture with a finish that includes my nemesis flavour, the clove. I was not trying to drink this slow, but as with a lot of craft beers, you just don't pound them. I sipped along for about 45 minutes and by then it was a little after 10 p.m., so time for bed.
That is one of my "tricks" for drinking less while trying to still keep this beer train rolling. The other is quite simple, I delay that first beer until after I have finished all my chores, eaten dinner or accomplished anything else I need to do. This can mean I open my first beer as late as 9 p.m., which when you need to be up at 6 a.m., is awfully close to bed time. This forces me to choose wisely, enjoy responsibly and keep my demons in check.
Some nights you feel the groove and have a couple and really enjoy them. Other nights are one and done. Both appeal to me, but it is a test most days to limit myself to a reasonable consumption. There is always the desire to squeeze one more in and that can snowball into a whole lot more beer than I need or want to drink.
So I use my mind and discipline every day to control my desires. I have so much planned for this year and waking up hung over and wasting even one day is not one of them. I love meeting all the people who enjoy beer as much as I do and don't want to be that drunk guy when we grab a pint. And finally, I have been building a new life that includes beer, but oh so much else. Travelling, writing, exploring Ontario and connecting with friends (new and old) require a sober and dedicated approach from me. So with that in mind, I will try to keep approaching each beer as a new experience and use Just One Beer as my guiding light.
Unless you come over, then I'll crack another open and share it.

11 January 2016

David Bowie

I woke up this morning and as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes took my usual stroll through social media to see what happened since while I was out for the night. We go to bed pretty early on work nights so sometimes a lot can happen.
My first stop is always Instagram. I love to see all the new beers the people I follow try and the sometimes innovative way they photograph them. Plus, there are cats. That is what I follow, beer people and cats. That is a conversation for another day.
This morning I opened the app to find picture after picture of David Bowie. I always liked and respected him. He made some of the most iconic classic rock songs ever. As a guy who almost exclusively lives his musical life from 1955 to 1989, it was an odd sadness that I felt. I always had Bowie on the fringes of my mind, his newer music was not what I loved, but I always checked it out. He seemed to be able to reinvent himself so often that he was relevant to people from my parents generation to my nieces and nephews.
Robert Plant and Mick Jagger have a swaggering, prima donna dominance that shines as they strut the stage. But David Bowie, like Freddie Mercury before him, seemed to be above that. He seemed almost too cool to be concerned with what we thought. His androgynous look and curious lyrics always pushed the boundaries of a much more conservative time. Kids today may not understand how important Bowie was to many people back in the 70's because he was able to not only cross over musical genres, but gender ones as well. He no doubt took a lot of abuse for that, but never stopped changing. What person of a certain age doesn't sing Space Oddity from time to time while cleaning the house or driving the car and a whole new generation was introduced to the song when Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield did a version on the International Space Station. China Girl always brings a smile to my face for the very special memories it brings. My favourite Christmas song is his duet with Bing Crosby from the late '70's, Little Drummer Boy.  I must admit to a weakness for Let's Dance and singing along as I watched the video this morning. The man just oozed elegance.
I picked just a few songs you might also know, but there are literally hundreds of well and lesser known ones. David Bowie was a prolific musician who refused to be pigeonholed into one genre or style. He will always be Ziggy Stardust, Jareth, the goblin king (Labyrinth) and an iconoclast of the highest order. I always felt he didn't get the respect we give far lesser accomplished singers and musicians, but also took for granted what he did. I am stunned and saddened at his death and will keep his music with me as I go about my day.
It strikes me as a little odd that the death of a rock star has so much impact on so many people, but with Bowie it seems justified somehow. His ability to constantly push forward and not give in to the demands of what should be from a society that didn't always get him, make him a trailblazer to those who struggle with their place in the world. He will be missed and I doubt there will be another like him.

Here am I floating
round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do.

10 January 2016

Beer of the Week - January 3rd to January 9th, 2016

The first week of the year is usually filled with grumbled thoughts of going back to work for those who took a vacation at Christmas and the resumption of everyday life after the hustle and bustle of the season. I've even seen something called "Dry January" taking hold, with no drinking...at all... for 31 days. Maybe some people need that but I am okay with my choice to have a pint or two a day of new beer and report back to you, faithful reader.
When choosing my Beer of the Week (BOW), I am trying to be conscious of what makes a beer memorable to me. What stands out in the flavour and texture of the brew? Label and bottle choice can be important from a visual or tactile point, with some artwork grabbing my mind and not letting go. As I move forward in the Year of Beer: Project 366, I have no doubt that I will have weeks when one beer stands out above the rest without a challenge. This was not one of those weeks. Our journey to the States, combined with my usual stops to the local LC and a very pleasant afternoon in Wine Country with my mom at two breweries has left my cold cellar and fridge bulging with new beers to try. I really need to get a handle on what is in there so nothing expires or goes off its intended flavours. Something to explore another day.
I try to mix my American and Canadian Craft beers in an attempt to balance my stash. Getting the beer from down south involves a little more work than the stuff close to home, so there is little sense in plowing through them too fast. Plus, there is the fact that nothing made down there is better than what I can source locally. Canadian brewers are among the leaders in innovation and quality, so it is with great pleasure I choose a simple, yet tasty beer from a micro-brewery in Virgil, Ontario as my BOW.
The Dark Lager from Niagara's own Silversmith Brewing Company was a beer I had been waiting to get to for a while. Only available for bottle sales at the brew pub, I made the short journey down the QEW with my mom this week. I chronicle our short trip in my post Niagara-on-the-Lake Beers with Nana and I.
Sometimes anticipation of a beer can be a terrible thing. You build it up in your head and think it is something else and when you finally drink it there is no way it can live up to your expectations.. This is not one of those times. I'll quote my Instagram post, because I cannot do better than when I drank it.
"Finally, it is time to get into The Black Lager from Silversmith Brewing Company. I've been waiting all day for this one. Couldn't do it without a beauty glass from the pub. Pours black with some amber poking through the light. Nice creamy tan head that hangs on all the way through with some beauty lacing. Smells roasty. On the sip, those roasted malts spark this brew up into the sky. Just a wonderful combination of coffee and chocolate notes. Some dried fruit and sweetness in the middle, but it is the crisp medium mouthfeel that is taking me over the top. You see a dark brew and get that feeling that it's going to be thick and sticky. This is a black lager that plays bigger than the usual beer. Finishing with a nice bitterness that is complimented by a cocoa flavour. Glad I made the journey to the brewery, sad I only grabbed one of these angels of the dark. If this what the rest of my Niagara beers are going to be, it might be one of the best tasting weeks of my life. 4.25 / 5 "
I really wish I had grabbed two, but it's only a 40 minute drive and I didn't do the brewery tour, so a return visit is in the near future.
 This year is off to a roaring start that I hope leads to bigger and better things. What started off as a simple way to keep track of my beers has become a larger platform from which I can express so much more. I thank you for your continued support and hope you keep coming back to see what the future holds for this Polkaroo.
Congratulations to Silversmith and their delightful Black Lager on being my BOW this week. Please do yourself a favour and take a drive soon to visit them.
 Their pub is a gem, the food is amazing and the people who work there are fantastic .
The beer will speak for itself.

9 January 2016

One Less Bad Habit or A Smoke Free Polkaroo

I have another confession to make. I used to smoke and I liked it. I loved the way the first cigarette of the day would wake me up and get me going. Nothing beat a smoke and a beer after a long day at work. Take a break, light one up and inhale that lovely nicotine. Damn that was stupid.
I started smoking, like a lot of people, when I was a teen. Probably to be cool or something. Everybody I hung out with did and I wanted to fit in. I can still remember the foul taste and odour from that first pack. I coughed and choked and kept at it. Terrible, but slowly I began to need one. I needed the lift it provided or the calmness when I was upset. It was the last thing I did before sleeping and the first thing I thought of when I woke up. I have been addicted to many things in my life, but nothing can match tobacco for sheer destruction and cost.
I would imagine being smoke free, but it scared the hell out of me. What would I do when a craving hit? How would I calm my nerves? Would I get fat(ter)? I was never the best person at denying myself any pleasure, so quitting smoking seemed like something I could do later.
As I got older, I noticed that I knew less people who smoked. Many of my friends and family never did, so it was a non starter with them. Some people I knew tried many times to quit before it took hold and many gave up trying and kept on puffing. I may have tried to quit once or twice, but never seriously.
Sitting outside all winter to get my fix, I bought propane heaters for the garage and thought this was normal. Having to get up from a movie or party and traipse outside for a butt was something I did so often I should have just stayed out there. I was hooked, knew it and didn't care.
Summer was easier, I could stay outside all night and smoke while I drank my macro brews. Something about alcohol and tobacco just clicked and I associated them with each other. I would smoke like a chimney when drinking, often going through two packs at a party. This was part of the pattern of abuse I put on myself. I didn't care about the future, just right now.
A year and a half ago, I was in a wedding party and if you know me, you know I love an open bar. The wedding was in September, so the weather was still fine and I looked forward to a night of drinking, dancing and of course smoking. Many of my "smoke free" friends still puffed on stogies when we drank, so I would have company that night. A funny thing happened as the blessed day approached. I had seen people using e-cigarettes and thought no way that would work for me. Beside that, we were broke all the time and I couldn't afford it.  My cousin Angie and her husband Glen bought me one when I expressed a desire to try it and quit smoking. I hung on to it, trying it out now and then, but still spending upwards of $100 a week on packs of Player's. But with the wedding approaching and the knowledge that I would be stuffed into a limo with non smokers made me self conscious of the smell associated with it and I decided for that one night I would use the "vape" only.
My last cigarette was when I was driving back from Burlington after picking up the flowers for the wedding. As I puffed away down the QEW, I decided it wouldn't just be that night I wouldn't use the demon weed, it would be for good. I had half a pack left and put it in the ashtray of the truck in case I failed; I always hedged my bets.
 I threw them away a week later.
It was a wonderful evening and while I drank way too much still, I didn't smoke. I vaped away like a hipster (I know) and showed it to my mom and dad, both of whom had smoked for decades. Little did I know that by the end of the year Dad would have quit any sort of smoking altogether with the help of this little machine and Mom was not far behind. The next day dawned and I didn't smoke again. It continued that way as the winter came down over us and I had no desire to ever go back.
Early in 2015, we finally came up with our first workable budget and I knew I would never smoke again. The financial costs are out of this world. At $11 a day and around 9 packs a week, we were going broke one cancer stick at a time. My costs on keeping the e-cig going come in at about $40 every 6 weeks or so, just remarkable. Controlling my bad habits has not only improved my life, it has been a financial windfall. This is the stuff grown ups have to do I guess.
I realise that vaping is still not good for you, but there are far less chemicals and other nasty stuff coming out when you do, so it is a start. I am trying to work up the courage to give up even this device. I know there are serious concerns about its long term affects and have no desire to leave this world even a minute before my time is up, let alone accelerate it by poisoning myself. But for now, it keeps me off the cigarettes and that is a victory I savour.
I try to leave it at home if we go out and find myself using it less and less each week. Not binge drinking helps me to avoid temptation and I don't have the edgy feeling I would get when I couldn't smoke for a few hours.
I have made so many changes to my lifestyle in the last year that I kind of forget smoking. It doesn't lurk in my mind the way excessive drinking does. It doesn't creep up on me at night and tug at my sleeve. I wish I had done it sooner and hope I quit before much damage was done. My taste buds have roared back with a vengeance and it is partly why I have gotten so into craft beer. I can actually detect the subtle and not so subtle flavours the brewers are trying to impart in the beers and it is wonderful.
If you smoke, I want you to know you can quit. But don't beat yourself up, hate the habit. Look around at all the loving and wonderful people in your life and think about how much you would miss them if you leave. Think of the money you can save and what you can do with it. I use it to pay bills on time, but if your good with money, maybe you can save up and take a trip. Whatever your motivation, just do it. Your body will thank you and so will your wallet.