24 January 2017
Some of my most favourite beers from Great Lakes Brewery are getting widespread LCBO release this year in honour of their 30th birthday. Happy, happy!
22 January 2017
19 January 2017
13 January 2017
I'm not much of a prognosticator, leaving that to those who've been around the beer industry a lot longer and with more contact to what's coming down the pike. But I have been noticing some things and thought I'd share them with you because I always let my friends in on whatever happens to cross my path. Three things in particular have been floating around my mind for the last week or so and it has to do with the growth and direction of beer in this province.
I have noticed a newish trend coming from the west coast and decided to look a little deeper into the adding of lactose or milk sugar to ales, particularly IPAs. A brief history of the creation of the Milkshake ale by Pennsylvania's Tired Hands Brewing can be found at Punch Drink, but what we are starting to see coming from Canada's original craft beer scene in British Columbia is a hazy, silky smooth, IPA that has me intrigued. I have a few pals on the coast and have been following the slowly growing movement of these beers. Is it a matter of time before the juggernaut that is Ontario Craft Beer begins to experiment and put out this twist on the ever so popular India Pale Ale? We chase the hoppy dragon with higher IBUs and bigger, bolder bitterness but is the time coming where we see a smoother, yet still bitter style of this industry leader. There is little our local craft brewers won't try and experiment with and I think by the fall, we may see a few Milkshake IPAs come on to the market. Failing that, maybe I'll send a few of Ontario's best to my pals on the Left coast and ask for some of these hazy interlopers in return, in order to see what all the fuss is about. Science, my friends, is what it is all about. Keep your eyes peeled to see if this trend migrates east.
Expansion or Consolidation?
Late in December 2016, Ontario crossed the 200 bricks and mortar brewery threshold and that is quite rapid growth in the last few years. While there are many more new micro and nano breweries slated to come online this year and an ever growing list of contact brewers trying to shoe horn their product onto the shelves at the LCBO, I always wonder what the upper limit is before we are saturated. So far, most of the brewers seem to have found a dedicated local following, especially in the smaller towns where the one or two bars serve macro lagers and the breweries tend to place a premium on being both a place to get beer and a social hub. Many of them form clubs and hold events within the brewery (i.e. running, yoga, paint nights) to help connect to their community and it is this kind of place that will continue to grow their business as well as their footprint in my opinion. Being a part of the larger community not only raises your brand awareness, it connects your beer to more than just a drink, it makes it a part of peoples' lives.
While there are some who have gotten into brewing or contract brewing to take advantage of the current explosion and clamour for better beer, I can only hope that time will help shake the pretenders loose from the world I have come to know and love. There are real and passionate folks who want to make a living brewing beer, but also want to be part of something bigger than themselves; working tirelessly to bring amazing and well crafted beer to your glass and it will inevitably be we, the consumers, who direct the growth of our local brewers.
I don't think we've hit the top of the bubble yet, our love affair with craft beer is just beginning in many cases and while the time may come for consolidation and market corrections, I don't think it will be soon.
Does the size of your bottle matter?
One thing I think we will see for sure is the rise of smaller can and bottle sizes in 2017. The ubiquitous Tall Boy is favoured by most because that is what the LCBO finds easiest to carry. But there is a growing trend of craft beer drinkers towards the 355 ml. can or bottle. Many want to grabbed a six pack of their favourite craft beer to stick in the fridge and I think the brewers will respond in kind. Anderson Craft Ales in London opened last year and that was how they made their offerings available right from the start, along with, more recently, Descendant's in Kitchener and Side Launch from Collingwood with their Mountain Lager. There are others moving into smaller serving sizes and it is a trend worth noting. Collective Arts in Hamilton have long offered most of their core brands in 6 pack bottle format and they make an easy grab when heading to a party or poker game. While I personally love grabbing a mixed bag of tall boys and I am certain that will not change, I think you will see more of a mix of offerings size wise as the year goes on. As always, consumer demand will direct the market and with the growing number of beer drinkers coming to the craft side, we will see which way the can goes.
Another development worth noting is the just under 1 litre crowler, or can growler. A few brewers use this alternative to the glass growlers, including Redline Brewhouse in Barrie and the aforementioned Descendant's. While smaller sizes will drive that section of beer drinkers toward certain brews, this size promises to be a great way to share a pint with a pal or slow sip an evening on your own. Keeping the beer fresher than a growler or half growler is one advantage, the other being less chance of infection from improperly stored or cleaned bottles. Many people do not clean their growlers right when they finish them, leading to a sticky mess on the bottom. A quick rinse will not solve this problem and it can lead to some off flavours in your beer. The crowler solves these problems and still gives you a larger format to experience your beer with.
Take your pick, but I think the trend toward smaller sizes of both regular and growler options will be a continuing story in 2017. The Tall boy isn't going anywhere and the 750 ml. bomber bottle will remain the choice of many brewers, but I think we have glimpsed the future of many a craft brewer and it is trending smaller cans and bottles.
That's all for this Friday my friends, I hope you have great weekend and maybe it's time to take a little road trip and visit some Ontario Craft Brewers to see what is going on. Drink local and support your community at the same time.
Raise your glass and your standards,
One beer at a time.
11 January 2017
Niagara Falls has long been a favourite spot for Kat and I. We honeymooned there 13 years ago and have been frequent overnight visitors since. It has always been a blast but of course it was usually fuelled by copious amounts of macro lagers and drinking way more than was healthy. Taking the sink over to keep my beer chilled to the point it was palatable was my number one concern and then the night could begin.
It's been a couple of years since we've visited and on Thursday night I decided it was time to head back and see what has changed. Of course, the fact that we could hit a few Craft Brewers on the way home and visit the Niagara Brewing Company on Clifton Hill in the Falls had a little bit to do with my wanting to go again. Both of us were off Sunday, so a room was booked for Saturday and we both were relieved to have a night away after a less than stellar holiday season.
Arriving at our old stomping grounds with but 3 beers and a bottle of wine, we had a quick drink in the room as opposed to power drinking as many as we could before heading out on our first brewery tour this year. I even brought proper glassware...because of course I did. Good start with a nice English Style Pale ale from Flying Monkey's brewery. New to Tall boys, Hoptical Illusion is a toasted malt, bitter easy drinker was the perfect kickoff to a night on the town.
We headed to the Hill and Niagara Brewing Company first, having heard mixed reviews on the beer, I wanted to check out this pretty amazing location and judge for myself. Located almost at the bottom of the hill with some beautiful views, it makes for a great way to spend some time planning your activities for the evening. Saturday nights are live music and we were treated to a couple of acoustic performances while we perused the menu. Having been a frequent visitor to Niagara Falls has led me to expect a certain up charge just because its such a popular tourist destination, but I was pleasantly surprised to find both the beer and food prices to be very reasonable, right in line with other breweries we have visited. We decided to order the Big Bang flight, which consists of all 8 of their regular or seasonal beers in 7 oz. glasses. Again, at $19.75, not out of the regular price range and that was a fantastic start.
The selection was pretty varied and we each tried the samples before deciding which ones we liked best. First up where the core brews. The lager was on point for the style, nothing outstanding, but sure to be a favourite of a macro drinker who stops in while vacationing. The IPA leans English with a toasted malt body and grapefruit/pine notes, while I found the Amber a little bitter for the style but not out of the ordinary. Finally for the regular brews, the stout was a little thin on body, but had a pleasant smoky and roasty note that I enjoyed.
The seasonal and one off selections was where I found some really unique picks and both of us found our favourite of the night. They've brewed three that I referred to as "Tourist" beers in an Ice Wine, Peach Radler and Maple Wheat. The fourth turned out to be the best of the night, a Marzen.
We started with the big 9.7 % Ice Wine beer, which was a little extra to get added to the flight but I wanted to try all the beer, so add away was my philosophy. Clean and slightly scented of Ice wine, it was pretty easy drinking and hid that ABV well. Fruity on the finish, that was when the Ice wine kicked in. Sure to be a hit with those wine fanciers who want to try a beer, a little sweet for my liking. Next up was the very crushable (under 4%) Peach Radler Wheat. Loads of peach aroma with an unfiltered body that kept up the promise of that aroma. A pool beer in the making, it would be perfect for the summer months and again, a choice to showcase one of the regions most known attributes. The Maple Wheat was perhaps the most aromatic of all their offerings and smelled like syrup covered flapjacks and made me wish I could have bought some to take for breakfast the next morning. Creamy mouthfeel with a sweet maple flavour that would make this ideal for A.M. consumption or perhaps as a dessert beer. These three beers try to showcase the unique Canadian or Niagara flavours and would do well with visitors from all around. A little gimmicky but fun to try in my flight.
The biggest surprise was the Marzen. Very crisp and clean with a caramel note, toasted malts, bready texture and slight bitterness to give it a great balanced mix. Even Kat liked it and we ordered a glass (12 oz) and a Pint (20 oz) to sip while we enjoyed the atmosphere. It's a big space with two floors and an industrial chic look. The service was not only quick, it was friendly and that is all you can ask for when you hit the town for a fun date night. While we didn't get anything to eat, I saw a few items come out of the kitchen and again, the prices were not inflated for the pub style fare (Pretzels, Charcuterie board) that I would have enjoyed myself. I will say again that I was happy to see them keeping the prices reasonable despite the touristy location of the brewery.
The bottle shop had a nice selection but sadly none of the Marzen or Maple Wheat was available and we headed up the hill for our next stop.
Mrs. Polkaroo has always wanted me to go on the Ferris Wheel in the Falls and despite my crazy big fear of heights I agreed, on one condition...that I get to do a video beer review high above Niagara Falls. Check out the video on my YouTube page here. Suffice it to say that having a delicious Equilibrium ESB from Nickel Brook helped me have some courage while we soared into the night sky. The view was spectacular and I am glad I finally put my fears aside and tried it.
On the way back to our hotel, we decided to stop in at Kelsey's Restaurant at the top of Clifton Hill for something to eat and check out if their craft beer selection had improved since we last stopped in. It used to be near impossible to find anything that wasn't Molson-Coors or INBev while in the Falls and I was very happy to see a few great selections on the menu. The Black Lager from Silversmith Brewing in nearby Virgil was my favourite of that style last year and as soon as I saw it on the beer list, a pint was in front of me. Big smiles from this guy at a surprising and delicious improvement on what used to be in my glass. We enjoyed another acoustic set and meandered over to the bar for a nightcap and to my joy, Muskoka Detour was also on tap and helped finish the night with a hoppy kick.
Sunday morning found us headed home but not without a few stops along the way. We couldn't head out this way without popping in at Silver Smith and Oast House in Niagara on the Lake and even managed to finds a new to us brewery in Port Dalhousie, Lock Street Brewing. Picking up some new beers and old favourites capped off a wonderful, albeit too short, couple of days. These types of road trips always fun and I would encourage you to be a tourist in your own area, exploring something new and revisiting places you haven't been in along time. It is eye opening to see things again for the first time with a new perspective. Plus, think of all the new beers you can bring home, that makes it a winning plan all around.
Until next time my friends,
Raise your glass and your standards,
One Beer at a time.
3 January 2017
|Simply the Best.|
|At 15, coaching was becoming my life.|
I was always a student of the game and I strived to learn all about not just the skills I could teach, but ways to motivate and inspire these two groups of young people. From my own experience with both good and bad coaches, I took the lessons and applied them to myself when I grabbed the whistle. I swore to be true to who I was and treat each kid fairly, be demanding of performance but ultimately try to be a positive influence in their lives. I took courses to become a better coach and worked to bring interesting and new drills to practice to help them improve.
|Coaching my first team with my pals, Kevin, Kyle and Mike.|
|These guys won it all. Dad and Uncle Jim brought out the best in them.|
|An almost dream season and where I found my best coaching and managing|
|The best team I ever coached. Period. Full stop.|
|It was the end of one path and the beginning of another.|