11 April 2017

Polkapolooza Craft Beer Tour 2017 Review - Welcome to The Polkapocalypse

The end of a long and winding road for Polkapolooza 2017.
  Choosing where to finish the 2017 Polkapolooza tour was not an easy task. While we would be able to reach our goal of visiting 50 Ontario Craft brewers, it was less than a quarter of the bricks and mortar places that existed. I wanted to spend an evening at a final stop that would allow us to figuratively put up our feet and relax after the long journey we had been on. Lucky for us, the south western portion of the province provided not only the right amount of breweries to get us to that magical number, but some good friends and a few surprises at the very end. I had originally planned to head as far south as Windsor, but after consulting the incredibly useful and integral to the trip map at the Ontario Beverage Network, I realised that would not be possible. I put a pin in that area for a future trip and we loaded up the car for the final time early Saturday morning.

1st Stop!
  First up was a stop at one of 5 new to me breweries (out of 8) on this day's trip, Upper Thames Brewing Company. Walking in, we were greeted by the weekly Beer and Yoga group that was just finishing up. Something I'd love to try myself, it looked like everyone was relaxed and enjoying their first pint of the day. The décor was decidedly outdoorsy with canoes hanging from the ceiling containing the light fixtures giving it a cool river vibe. Grabbing a couple of flights, we settled in and talked to the friendly staff about our week and where we were headed. As with almost every stop, they gave us some suggestions on where to head next and some points of interest along the way. We enjoyed our brief sojourn from the road, but knew we still had many stops to make before we reached the end, so we bade farewell and headed back out towards our next Brewery.
First Fight of the day!

  A unique place was in our sights as we drove to Norfolk county : Peanut legend John Picard, and his Ramblin' Road Brewery Farm. Long a tourist destination for their delicious snacks, it became apparent that the growing craft beer industry in Ontario was a logical next step when you have a giant farm and thirsty, peanut loving people to help. We were greeted warmly by a couple of Ramblin' folks, including Granny, who insisted we come upstairs and meet John himself, who was manning the grill in the restaurant above the taproom. A little surprised that the brains behind the entire operation would be hard at work making burgers for the hungry visitors, when I got to talking with John, you understood why. He talked of an honest and hard working group of people who not only enjoyed the labour of love but the beer as well. He was a blue collar, truly down to earth guy and if we didn't have so far to go, I would have settled in for one of those delicious looking burgers and a few pops of my own. We took our leave with a six pack, some salty snacks and a promise to come back when the Hop garden was in full swing. Make this one part of a day trip to Norfolk and I think you'll find yourself smiling like we were. Make sure to say hi to Granny, she's pretty awesome all by herself.
Stop #2! Ramblin' Road was all about stocking up!

  Returning to a place I had visited solo back in the summer of 2016, we drove into New Limburg Brewing and took a seat at the bar in the converted school room for a little rest before the next leg of the long day. Established as a haven for Belgian inspired craft beer, the staff was quick and courteous, with time to chat about how they are always going back to the masters of the style to remind themselves the level of perfection they were after. Kathryn laughed at how weird it felt to be drinking beer in an old elementary school and we looked forward to coming back for some patio drinks as the weather warmed. Winners of my favourite Dubbel and Blonde Ale for last year, I was happy to see their Quad was in stock and after our all too brief rest, we loaded up more bottles and drove on toward St. Thomas for the next leg of the day.
Such a cool looking brewery at Stop #3, New Limburg!

    A big seller in the LCBO and makers of the delectable Black Coal stout, Railway City Brewing were an hour's drive away, but we took our time and enjoyed every moment. Spring was slowly awakening in the small towns and farms we passed and as we pulled into the parking lot, we knew it was time for a pint.
Stop #4 was the very busy Railway City!

The taproom was jammed with a bachelor party outing and the tours they conduct on the weekends, but the staff remained cheerful and quick to help get your glass filled despite the seeming chaos all around us.
Saturday afternoon was rockin'!

We settled in for a flight each and then met the soon to be departing Sonya, who made the day at Railway City even more fun with her enthusiasm for all things craft beer. It was to be her last day at this brewery before heading off to work for Barrie's Flying Monkeys, but she was a wonderful proponent of all the things this St. Thomas brewery was doing and made sure I got a pint of Dead Elephant before we left.
Sonya was a great host! Good luck at Flying Monkeys!

It is always fun to hang out and just people watch as they try new beers and experience what we were getting almost every time we stopped and spent time at a taproom. Joy, excitement and laughter filled the air and it behooves you to add this excellent space to your next south western road trip.
Arty flights by Polk.

  Chasing the final 4 breweries meant a stop in only one city and that makes this Hamilton native jealous of all my friends in London. Home to that number of Ontario Craft brewers and some pretty nice pubs that carry great beer, we had decided on staying here and enjoying the final night of Polkapolooza, which I always call the Polkapocalypse. It is meant to commemorate the end of my macro pounding days and my turning to the good side of beer. We headed first for Forked River Brewing as they were closing sson and I didn't want to miss a chance for some of their unique barrel aged beers.
Forked River, stop #5.
London Brewing Co-op was stop #6!

  Our next stop was going to be a similar run and gun but we ran into a pleasant surprise when we walked in the door and one of our beer writing friends from Brewvy was found working at the London Brewing Co-Op.
Beer Friends back together!
Happily getting reacquainted with Tim as he walked us around the brewery, he told us of their commitment to using as local of ingredients as they could get and showed us the map on the wall that showed where everything they used in the beer came from.
Want to know where the beer comes from? They tell the tale with this map. Awesome!
Truly drinking local is always good and this Co-op brewer was buzzing on an early Saturday evening. Grabbing a pint, Kat and I settled down for a moments rest and started to really feel the finish line approaching.
Pints and good times.
Another place to add to your list of road trips, I could have spent all night talking beer and enjoying the atmosphere, but the Polkapocalypse was waiting and we left with some beer saint gifts to try at home.
Toboggan Brewing for the 7th stop of the day.
  We had planned on staying at the penultimate stop on the last day of Polkapolooza for some food and beer, but as we discovered early on, those plans usually get thrown out the window. We ended up spending so much time hanging out with friends at earlier stops that we were desperate for time and only had a quick grab and go at this very popular brewpub near the downtown core. I wanted one of the Toboggan Brewing flights shaped like their name so badly, but we had some good folks waiting for us and still had to drop our stuff off at our hotel before the final stop of the tour. I will be back this way sometime soon and I will get that flight!

The 8th stop and 50th brewery visited for
Polkapolooza, Anderson Craft Ales!
  When choosing the final destination for the tour and the Polkapocalypse, I wanted a place filled with not only great beer, but people I know loved it as much as we do. The team at Anderson Craft Ales have been huge supporters of mine since we first met last year. We have since run into them a few times at various festivals and their enthusiasm for all things crafty is infectious and

made them a logical choice for the place to end this wonderful week of beer. When we showed up, it was a happening place and we happily took a tour of the brewery with Jim, who had just celebrated his birthday that week and is the father to brewmaster Gavin. Proudly showing us the hard work they had put into building this family run business, we headed back to the taproom for a few pints and the first of the surprises that took this stop into the stratosphere. Working hard behind the taps was my good friend Pat, who I met before he joined the team at Anderson and someday hope to collaborate on some home brews with. He snagged us a few pints before we headed up to the loft style beer gardens and as I turned around, I was greeted by fellow beer reviewer Parker Edwards (his Instagram here). A happy, bearded fellow, Parker and I had planned on sharing a pint and then some beer saint gifts before the end of the night, but little did we know what awaited us upstairs.

Such delicious Beer!

  Unbeknownst to me, the two head brewers, Christina and Chris, from Toronto's Folly Brewpub were also in town and they were sitting at a table with Curtis from VQH Farms, a local farm that supplies hops to many Ontario craft brewers. I do tend to go a little fan boy when I get to meet the people who create the beer I love to drink and this was no exception. I was so happy that this was to be the end of the tour and that I was able to spend it with all these people who were involved in the industry I love so much. Jim ordered us a couple of pizzas as our trip left us little time to eat and being so caught up in talking beer we kind of forgot how hungry we were. This was the type of hospitality I found with the whole team at Anderson and we ate, drank great beer and talked until it was time for the brewery to close its doors. We were prepared for that to be the end of the night, but life is always opening doors and I am only too happy to walk through them.
As usual, I got too wrapped up and excited to remember to take a picture.
Thanks to Curtis from VQH for getting the snap !
(Curtis, Chris, Christina, Kat, Polk and Parker)

  As we were taking our finals sips of  beer, our other good friend from the Anderson clan, Aynsley, arrived straight from her flight in from the States and that's when we decided to keep the party going by heading to the legendary local Craft Beer Emporium, Pub Milos.
A must stop in London and the capper to an incredible week!
  I had long heard of this purveyor of the malted barley through many of my beer friends and it was made even sweeter to get to enjoy some food and even more Ontario Craft beer with the group (minus Curtis, who had to drive home) from Anderson and Folly. It was a fun night in a very cool pub spent talking about beer, life and anything else that came up with some really down to earth, honest folks. The trip we took was coming to and end and we felt a mixture of sadness, relief and joy that we had accomplished our goals. Well after midnight, which is pretty late for us, we said our farewells to the gang and headed back to the hotel to catch a few hours of shut eye before the drive home Sunday Morning. The fact that I remembered every stop, conversation and person from the trip make me happy because just a few short years ago I would have been too drunk to remember any of it. I often say Craft Beer saved my life and that's why I do what I do...It's the absolute truth.

  It's been a little under a month since we finished the Polkapolooza tour of 50 Ontario Craft Breweries and to be honest, it's taken that long for me to wrap my head around what it meant to me. Much more than the numbers (50 breweries, 27 cities, 2700+ kilometers), it has become an integral part of the story I am trying to tell about craft beer, here, there or wherever you are. It is about getting out on the road and exploring all there is to see. Going to your favourite breweries, local restaurants and pubs is a great way to support your community and I have been to a few of my own since we got back. But more than that, I wanted to showcase what you can experience by stepping outside your normal routine and taking a day or even a weekend trip away. There are so many amazing beers and even better people just waiting to be discovered. Be open to new flavours, styles and places and the world will give you all that and more. The friends I have made inspire me to want to do it again and more often. The people who make up this community are the real treasure waiting to be discovered and that is why I truly encourage you to get out there and visit as many places as you can. You don't have to go as big and wide as we did, but make it a point to try and go somewhere new soon,
  A final thank you to my partner in all things, Kathryn. It's a sometimes bumpy ride being my better half and I couldn't imagine this trip without you by my side. You inspire me with your kindness and open acceptance of adventures in beer. We have both grown and found our footing in a life spent meeting people, sharing beer and exploring the world. I'd like to think this part of our life is just starting and with you by my side, there is nothing we can't do. Thank you my love, for just being you.
  Wrapped up and put into the memory banks, the 2017 Polkapolooza tour was a whole lotta fun and I look forward to exploring Craft beer even more as the year goes on. 2018 will be hard pressed to top this one, but I'm willing to give it a shot!

Make your next beer run a little more epic

Break your routine and Explore everything Ontario Craft Beer has to offer.

You will be happy you did.



1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to moving to the Hammer and trying some of the fine (and new) breweries opening soon!