28 February 2017

Day 1 & 2 Routes : Polkapolooza 2 (Electric Polkaloo)

Here we come Ontario! Time to Get Polk'd!
One year ago, we embarked on a 4 day birthday celebration by visiting 20 plus Ontario Craft brewers and really kicking off an amazing year that has seen my palate and list of friends grow. I could not have envisioned what a year in beer would bring to my life, but the people I have met, the experiences I've had and, oh yes, the beer I've tried have truly transformed my life. It was an eye opening experience and this year, as with everything I do now, it is going to be bigger and better.
  An ambitious plan of hitting 50+ breweries on the 2nd Annual Polkapolooza tour will begin on Sunday March 12th with the long drive east to the Nation's capital. Ottawa is home to many fine and growing brewers and it behooves me to start my tour and celebrate this country's 150th birthday at the same time. The route is still in flux but the following breweries are on the list for Day 1 :
  1. Beyond the Pale Brewery - Kickoff at BTP for noon. Join us and raise a pint for this weeklong celebration. The caravan will commence!
  2. Tooth & Nail Brewing Co.
  3. Big Rig Brewing
  4. Whiprsnapr Brewing Co.
  5. Bicycle Craft Brewing
  6. Dominion City Brewing
  7. Broken Stick Brewing
Join me for a pint at one of our stops!
  Many will be quick stops at the bottle shop as time is of the essence on day 1. We will be staying in the area and hope to meet up with friends we haven't met yet for a few pints, food and laughs in the evening. Nothing is set in stone and my love of talking beer is sure to put my plans to the test. Ottawa is full of national treasures and of course many amazing restaurants and brew pubs. I am sure we will be making a few other stops along the way.
 On Monday, March 13th, we will continue east to one of my all time favourite places in Ontario Craft Beer and kick off a long and often circuitous ride home to the Hammer. Changes are possible, but this is what we have so far :
It has to be Beau's!
  1. Beau's All Natural Brewing Company - VanKleek
  2. Tuque De Broue - Embrun
  3. Rurban Brewing Co. - Cornwall
  4. Ganonoque Brewing Co. - Ganonoque
  5. Stone City Ales - Kingston
  6. County Road Brewing Co. - Hillier
  7. Wild Card Brewing Co. - Trenton
  8. William Street Beer Co. - Coburg
  9. Manantler Brewing Co. - Bowmanville
Ambitious? Crazy? Incredible?
Yes, yes and yes!
We will be on the road for two days and then return home for a little respite before heading north to revisit one of our trips from last year and to connect with some friends, new and old. But that's the post for another day. Stay tuned as the rest of our tour takes shape and on Thursday we will release the final 30 plus stops. I am pretty sure we will be at a brewery near you sometime that week, so why not join us when we come to your town and celebrate all that our Ontario Craft Brewers have brought into our lives. See you soon!
Raise your glass and your standards,
One beer at a time.

Oh Canada!

24 February 2017

From drunken to Drunk - My Journey is not over.

I don't know if I've seen my rock bottom, but I sure as hell hope that I have. Broken hearts, crushed dreams and a future dashed against the rocks of reality have been with me many times over the years, mostly of my own doing. I've made impetuous decisions that altered the course of my life and suffered, at my own hands and actions, the results of not looking forward. It was never a conscious decision to throw so much of my life away, but I did it nonetheless. Entering my 20's without an anchor or a dream, I married a lovely lady despite the fact that we were not ready or good for each other. I thank my lucky stars that she was smart enough to cleave the knife on our ill fated journey early, that both of us have found happiness apart and now are friends with a history that brings smiles and not tears. I wandered from job to job, always with alcohol keeping my mind at ease about the fruitlessness of my empty life. Covering up the fact that my early promise of a life of substance was blown away by my lack of focus, addiction and apathy. It was always about today, to hell with tomorrow. I lived for that immediate satisfaction only several beers, shots or the occasional foray into something harder could bring and it is with some shame that there are large parts of my life I do not remember or have only the haziest recollections of.
Meeting Kathryn come at a time when my wheels were spinning and life had no direction. What was supposed to be a friendship blossomed and despite my continued troubles, she stood by me and our love grew. I wish the tale would take a turn for the better in that summer of 1997, but it still had miles to go and a darkness that had several shades of black to be added. Opening a business, getting married, buying a house and then trying to start a family brought some joy to my life, but still the rampage of alcohol abuse continued. Not all the time, not every day, but often enough that I developed and earned a reputation as a functional alcoholic. I never drove drunk, missed work or got into fights, but my lack of remorse for my actions is shameful for me to this day. Having found my niche as the party guy, I threw bigger and more drunken bashes, always focused on getting as much beer into me as possible, often more than a 24 in a single sitting. It was my only focus of any time alone to drink as many beers as I could before my body gave up and I would pass out, mind at rest but not at ease.
When you wake up and the thing you've built for over a decade is starting to come crumbling down around you and you have no idea why, it should be a sobering moment. Once again, I was not stopped by losing my way, even when financial ruin stared us in the face. The depression that had always been held at bay by alcohol, in a sense, came crashing down as I took a job that kept us in our home, but crushed what was left of my soul. Taken as a failure, I was treated as a liability but at least I could fill the roll of a simple line cook and pay the bills. The cheap beer continued to flow, only now it was every day and it was with purpose. That fleeting moment when the drunkenness took over the pain of my actions and I briefly felt a glimmer of joy, even though it was false.
While working 60 plus hours a week to keep the wolves at bay, I was certain I would die with a fryer basket and a beer in my hand. There was no hope, no future and as we had ended our pursuit of fertility treatments, no kids or family. It was then that Untappd came into my life and a world of new beer opened up. It isn't too much to say that this app changed my life, it literally did. I began to pursue the badges that you would receive for trying different styles of beer, for exploring new ones and leaving your everyday macros behind. I found a world of interesting flavours and people were waiting just outside my regular sphere and all it took was letting them in. I stopped pounding 8 or 10 beers every night and found my footing, scoring a better job and some self respect at the same time. For many of my old friends, my slow but steady transformation from drunken idiot to slow sipping craft beer lover was viewed with trepidation. many who knew my 20 plus years of self abuse could not believe that I would change for something as simple as better beer. I didn't for the longest time either, falling into a depression because I could no longer party like I used to but not really understanding that I didn't want to be that guy anymore. It has taken a long time for me to come to grips with my own past, to confront the demons I grew myself and to let go of my hate for myself for throwing away so much of my promise. I have had to leave some of my old life in order to grow a new one, many times I turn down invitations because I still have a weakness that can be hard to control if I begin to feel anxious. The old expectations are still there for so many who used to know me and now that I have turned the corner, I feel them looking at me as if I am a ghost of drunken Rob past.
The new friends that I have made because of the decision to begin writing about not only beer, but my life, have been a real blessing. They too appreciate the way craft beer has changed our lives and we all seem to share similar stories about walking that fine line between happy drunk and the gutter at one time or another in our lives. I am grateful to anyone who has ever been part of this life I've led and while I am feeling everyday more hopeful for the future, I know there are those who will never see me for anything but an drunken asshole. I cannot change the past, I can only acknowledge my roll in my own destruction, apologize and hope that they will come to see that it is indeed a new day in my world. I may take a bit of ribbing because I wax poetic about craft beer so much, but it is not being facetious to say that this community and the people in it have helped to save my life from what was sure to be an early and painful ending.
Writing about my beer on Instagram brought me into another level of interaction with the world and it has spawned into what you all now know as the Drunk Polkaroo blog, videos and well, adventures. I now use craft beer to enjoy, not escape life.
I have written about parts of this many times, my life seems to go in circles and I have learned that I cannot ignore something that is in my head, demanding to be written. I no longer fear the past or the future and despite losing so many years to depravity, excess and hubris, I want to believe that this is just the beginning of the second (or third) act of my life. There is so much to explore and if it takes me the rest of my days, I am going to pursue a life of passion, love and honesty about what I want.
Raise your glass and your standards,
One Beer at a time.


20 February 2017

Tour Durham Craft beer with the Beer Saints!

I strive to explore craft beer from around the province and this past weekend gave me a look into the amazing things happening just northeast of Toronto in Durham Region. While we tend to be hooked into the close by brewery or the latest trend on social media, it really is a good idea to hop in the car and trek outside your usual routine to see some pretty amazing stuff that is happening in Ontario Craft Beer.
Organized by my good friend, Paul the Beer Guy (Instagram and Twitter, respectively), the Beer Saints reunited to explore this untapped region of the province. His love of this area is evident and it was his hard work that resulted in a day I'll never forget. We made the trip to Paul's house and brought with us many craft beers from various parts of the province for the party and bottle share after the tour.
 Months in planning, days of waiting and finally we could head out to our first stop, Brock Street Brewing. Beer saints Away!!!

Stop 1 - Brock Street Brewing

Long touted by Paul as one of his favourite brewers, we made the quick trek from Michelle and Paul's house to the Brock Street Brewing Company to start the day off. Welcomed warmly as they tapped their weekly Saturday Cask day, we made our way in to check out their home that will soon give way to a new location downtown. Met by two of the owners, Mark and Victor, as well as engaging beer wizard/Brew Master Tanner, we felt right at home in this very busy local hot spot. Trying the Yarrow Pale Ale and talking past, present and future with these three passionate guys brought home why Paul wanted the Saints to visit. It behooves anyone who wants to experience the excitement and love of great beer and community to get to Brock Street and see that love in action. I did buy one of everything and am looking forward to experiencing all they have to offer. Onward we trekked...

Tanner is so very passionate about the beers he wants to and is creating.
Huge thanks to Mark and Victor for helping to kick off the Beer Saints tour!

Stop 2 : 5 Paddles Brewing Company

Just a stones throw away from our first stop was 5 Paddles Brewing Company, another of Paul's local haunts. A packed bottle shop greeted us as we came through the door and we made our way into the back to meet up with one of the founders/brewers, Spencer. Pouring from some bottles set aside for us, he regaled us with tales of building the brewery from scratch and even gave us a sample right from the tank of the latest batch of their signature IPA, In Your Face, which had just been dry hopped. A welcoming and engaging time, we again raided the fridge and hopped back on the bus for the journey to stop # 3.
Barrels on Barrels.
Paul the Beer Guy, 5 Paddles Spencer and a Happy Polkaroo.
Stop 3 : Second Wedge Brewing Company

A short drive later, we arrived in Uxbridge and yet another packed tap room at The Second Wedge Brewing Company. As we looked over the bottle selection with stars in our eyes, one half of the team that is the brewery, Rob, joined us and walked us through the back while relating the history of the building and their brewery. Joanne joined us  a little later and we chatted about their plans for the future and how the local community was so important to them. A constant theme from Saturday was how great it was to be involved with local artists and part of the city or region you are located in and that is what great beer is supposed to be about. They even cracked a bottle of the Porter that had been infused with Chocolate when Kathryn talked of her love of porters. We again bought one of everything and hopped back in the bus for stop # 4...
The Polkaroo's with Joanne and Rob, beauty folks!
That Tap list though!
Stop 4 - Old Flame Brewing Company
As the sun set, we arrived at Old Flame Brewing in Port Perry and were all struck by the beauty of the building. Located near the core, this young brewery is making waves locally and beyond. As Jack took us around, he regaled us of not just tales of growing a brewery, but the historic building in which it was housed. A real treat to see this passion again and a place to visit regardless of the season. Their cans are not your usual 473 ml, instead raising the bar to 568 ml, with the best bargain in Ontario Craft beer coming in at an astounding $2.95 a can. A brewery that not only wants to sell great beer, but makes sure its accessible to their fans at an amazing price says volumes about their commitment to the craft. Once again, one of everything from the fridge and it was on the road to dinner.
Jack filling us in on some local history and all things Old Flame.
A gracious and captivating host, I am excited to go back and hang out again!
Thanks Jack.
Stop 5 - Stuttering John's Smokehouse and a Surprise Visit by the guys from Manantler Brewing

Absolutely delicious and Crushable pale ale.
Time was running out on our tour and we were going to be unable to visit Manantler Brewing on our trip. As we pulled into Stuttuering John's smokehouse for dinner, we were ravenous and excited to try one of Paul's most highly recommended Durham eateries. When we sat down at our table, we were surprised to see Chris and Matt from Manantler not only bring some of their Belgian IPA, Hot Tropics, but that they were joining us for dinner. A surprise that Paul had planned all along, it was a topping on an amazing day. The portion sizes and flavours at Stuttering John's were stupendous and our group eagerly ate up both the food and the atmosphere, The guys from Manantler regaled us with tales of their journey and maybe Brett (Ifindbeerenjoyable on Instagram) and I gave them a few ides that could see the light of day...well, maybe not all of them, we are a little twisted sometimes.
It was a great way to finish the tour and we all made plans to visit this bustling new brewery soon. soon our plates were cleared and it was time for the short trip back to Paul and Michelle's for the next best part of a Beer Saint night, the exchange of beer saint gifts and the bottle share.

The Conclusion...
We arrived back at the homestead around 10 and cracked open the Sam Adams Utopia to kick off a night of great beer being shared by amazing people. The talk lasted long into the wee hours of the morning and the samples flowed freely as did the discussions of Ontario Craft Beer, life and everything else. We may have met because of a love of craft beer, but we became friends because we realised we had so much more in common. A huge thank you to Paul for putting all this together, Michelle for supporting him and hosting us in your home and to the bunch of Beer Saints who joined the tour. Robin, Jen, Dave, Tina, Brett, Danielle and of course Paul, Kat and Michelle, you guys made this a day I'll never forget.
Do yourself a favour, jump in the car and head out Durham way. The breweries are making some of the best beer in the province, the communities offer some great shops to visit and you will make new friends and memories along the way.
Until the next time,
Raise your Glass and your standards,
One Beer at a Time.

17 February 2017

How many Beer Glasses is too many? I clearly have no idea...

The first 100 Beer Glasses
I get asked a lot of questions but the one that comes up most often after where I got the name Drunk Polkaroo (answered here), is about my ever growing collection of beer glasses. What started out as a way to commemorate a visit to a brewery and get something to use in my beer pics has morphed into a multiple level storage question in our house. I try to be judicious when purchasing glasses, but with this year's Polkapolooza Ontario Craft Beer tour less than a month away, I know I'm going to break down and buy more. It's not that I need them as much as I want them and who I am to refuse myself happiness. Do I need another tulip/snifter? Pint Glass? Teku? No, but that doesn't mean I won't buy them, I have poor impulse control and an appreciation for a good looking logo.
Every IPA is better in this German made beauty.
The reality is that I really only need two glasses and often that can often be scaled down to just one. My go to for any IPA is the German-made, American Craft beer influenced Spiegelau glass. Noted for its ribbed shape and thin, delicate feeling body, it keeps me coming back for more. Generating a repeat head with the cascade as you sip is a beautiful way to experience your hoppy treat. Your nose fits into the top but its tapering focuses the notes of citrus right at you. Generally sold here in Canada at The Bay (the glass page here), they have started to make appearances at some of the breweries in branded form. The Spiegelau company makes a variety of style focused glasses in consultation with brewers and to be honest, I would struggle to justify spending the suggested price of $60+ for 4 glasses. We've looked around and they can usually be found on sale in the $30 range for that same 4 pack and I am okay at that price point. $10 a glass isn't too unreasonable for a well made beer glass.
Truly, the only glass I ever need to use.
The other style that I cannot do without and the one I drink almost every other beer out of is my tulip or snifter glass. 
Again a Spiegelau or perhaps a heavier version from a brewery, I love this stemmed glass for its feel in my hand, the tapered top that focuses the scents on my nose, allowing me to get a good whiff every time I sip and the large bowl, which allows for good aeration. Something about holding this glass  makes me feel like I am slowing down and really appreciating what's inside. Perhaps it is just the perception of cupping it in my hand, but it just feels right. Stouts or porters go so well in this glass, lagers taste better and even a sour can be appreciated more in this bulbous beauty. This style makes up more than half of my 100 plus glasses(not counting macro or novelty glasses) mainly because it is so versatile and the one style that I see brewers drinking from themselves when we visit breweries.
So many things wrong with this photo, starting with that Brava Light.

For the vast majority of my time as a beer drinker, I was a straight out of the bottle or can kind of guy and that probably was a good thing as there isn't much in the way of smell or any reason to warm up your Coors or Brava Light. I wouldn't dream of going back to that now that I understand a little better the properties of aroma, flavour profiles and aeration in my beer. A good old fashioned (clean!) pint glass is all you really need to enjoy a craft beer and despite my own insistence on buying so many, it is that humble glass that often finds itself pressed into service for pictures. The fact is that most breweries go with this style is the main reason it remains a staple in my work. I must say that I am seeing more and more of them move to the appropriate and different styles as the breweries grow and mature.

Pint glasses travel well and make for great pictures.

The glassware issue is always being debated and will continue to be something beer geeks talk about ad nauseam for infinity.  The truth is a clean glass is the best glass but everyone has their favourite, be it for individual styles or just in general, myself included. And while we may never agree on the perfect glass, we can always agree that with craft beer, any glass is made better by its presence in it.
Raise your Glass and your standards,
One beer at a time.

7 February 2017

Alternative Facts - Beer Writer Collab at Great Lakes Brewery

The Alternative Facts brew crew!
 There are a few experiences I've had since I started writing about craft beer that will come close to this past Saturday. The very thought of being in a collaboration brew with some amazing writers and lovers of the craft was not something I ever entertained but I was humbled and honoured to be included.
When Troy from Great Lakes Brewing invited me a few weeks ago, I honestly thought he sent it to me by mistake. My journey has often been supported by the fine folks at GLB, but this seemed like something that happened to other people. I have long dreamed of spending a day with good beer people, talking and learning from what they have experienced and sharing our stories. My acceptance reply probably was sent within minutes and I anxiously watched the calendar roll towards brew day.
I carefully planned ahead and had my folks drop me off at Great Lakes (Kat was at work and would pick me up). It was a little funny getting Mom and Dad to drive me out to Etobicoke, but I figured I might enjoy a few GLB treats and wanted to be responsible. Arriving just before 9 a.m., we sat in the car for a few minutes before I headed in.
"I'll just wait and make sure you get in okay", my Dad told me as I got out of the car and it gave me a chuckle as I went through the entrance. I might be pushing 44, but my parents still look out for me and it is a warm and fuzzy feeling I get being so loved.
Entering the brewing floor of GLB, I saw a few familiar faces and grabbed a coffee so we could catch up, admire the beautiful new 7 bbl pilot system Great Lakes owner Peter Bulut had recently purchased and prepare for our day of joy. Genius Brewmaster Mike Lackey was already prepping the tank and I was honoured to dump a bag of malts in as we started up our brew. He told me that the usual job when you're at someone else's brewery for a collaboration is to contribute a little labour and then enjoy the company and beer surrounding you. Who am I to argue with the man who has created so many of my favourite beers and as the clock passed 10, Troy brought out a case of Pompous Ass Ale to get our day off to a proper GLB start.

One of my first Craft Beer loves, fresh from the source and the very first GLB beer from 1987.
As we sat around the table, the stories started as soon as the beer hit the glass and we introduced ourselves or renewed old friendships. I was happy to put a face to a few internet friends, relaxed and felt at ease as the conversation flowed. Time came for the next bit of awesome for the day, a tour and talk about the past and future of GLB.
Troy form Great Lakes took us on a tour of the glory that is GLB.
We walked through all the various rooms and production areas that encompass this ever growing brewery and saw a few of the surprises they have coming for us as their 30th birthday celebrations continue all year long. The tanks, bottling and canning lines whizzed by as we approached the one room and singularly most famous tank in Ontario Craft Beer, Tank Ten. Originally given to the brewers to create whatever their heart's desired, it has become an iconic symbol of what Great Lakes stands for. Many of their most popular and innovative beers have come from this tank and it was no mistake as I lingered like Grampa Joe and Charlie at Willie Wonka's so I could gaze in wonder and place my palm on this beautiful steel vessel. I'm not saying I hugged it or said a silent "Thank you", but things happen and I wandered back to the group with a skip in my step.
It's like visiting the Vatican and seeing the Holiest of Holies. Tank Ten Baby!
After our walk through the back, we returned to the floor to see what was next on the brewing schedule and maybe another signature GLB brew. Sure enough, a case of Canuck Pale Ale soon graced the table and another glass was filled with pure and fresh Great Lakes beer. The discussion turned to the future of not only this brewery, but the growth of the industry overall. Questions abounded as we talked of favourite beers, styles of glassware and some not so favourite trends in the industry. I was quite caught up in getting to spend so much time with people I admired and read on a regular basis and soaked up their experiences and words.
Gordie is always a welcome sight.

The dean of Ontario Craft Beer Writers,
Jordan St. John
As the afternoon progressed, we were asked to sit down and contribute some thoughts on film and I watched as everyone talked quite happily about why they love Great Lakes. I even took a turn, although it was a bit more nerve wracking than my usual filming of beer reviews which is done mostly alone and talking in camera in front of people wasn't something I'd ever done before. But watching my fellow beer writers talk about their experiences and maybe because I was feeling like I belonged for the first time in a long time, I was happy to share my thoughts.

Now that's fresh GLB
   After a delicious and perfectly timed pizza lunch, another round of Fresh GLB appeared and it was my favourite IPA from last year, Lake Effect, Canned only the day before, it was a deliciously hopped up beauty that was even better when you consider just how short a time it had spent in the can. Keeping my calm, I sipped one and wandered back to the brew floor to check on the progress. The scent of the mash filled the air and as our Mild called Alternative Facts (haha) was brewing, cocoa nibs were added and hops came into the mix. 

Getting our cocoa on!

Unreal to see this Imperial flow right from the tank
As the sun moved across the sky, the brew day was coming to a close and Mike Lackey gave us a peek at the next great beer to come back into the rotation, Apocalypse Later. Right from the tank and into our glasses, we were pretty excited to see it. Something about getting it right from the man who brewed it and where it awaits the canning line made it even better than I had remembered and I await its return with a smile. Could this day get any better? Oh it did, indeed...

The brewing done, we were then surprised with a few treats out of the cellar at Great Lakes, including a 2012 Barley Wine called Beard of Zeus that was a malted, dark fruit gem. Smooth, warming and boozy, it was a joy to share with my fellow craft beer friends and our gracious hosts. A bottle of Imperial Bout and Behind the Wavy wall rounded out our day at the brewery and I am pretty sure everyone was feeling good about our Saturday as we made our way out front to say our goodbyes.

I don't think I really will ever be able to describe what it was like for a guy like me to spend a day at Great Lakes, surrounded by people who love beer like I do and who write and share that with everyone. Our hosts were not only welcoming, they were actively engaged in making this a day to remember forever. A huge Thank you to Troy and Mike for all the time they spent with the group and myself personally. To the guys I was lucky enough to spend the day with, thank you for helping me to feel like I belonged and for your encouragement. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience and I am going to bask in its glow for a long time to come.
With the Master of Hops himself, Mr. Mike Lackey, Brewmaster GLB!
 Raise your glass and your standards,
One beer at a Time.
What a day!