29 November 2017

Are You Available?

If the world's best beer does indeed exist but you can't get your hands on it, is that really the best beer in the world to you then? I've been lucky enough to have friends and family put some of the most sought after craft beers in the world into my glass. From Pliny to Heady Topper to that latest Bellwoods release, I am truly a blessed guy when it comes to the generosity of others. But what if I had never had any of those and instead just drank what I could find locally, on one of my tours around the province or at the LCBO? Would that make those beers any less amazing or my life any less interesting? The truth is if you have never tried a beer or have no way of ever getting your hands on it then it really is just another release that doesn't impact your life outside of the fact that who doesn't want to try every legendary brew they can. Distribution matters when it comes to beer and perhaps that also is why we view those hard to get beers so differently than our close by, often better, craft selections.

  I was once a guy who lusted after those whales, lamenting when I couldn't get them and feeling like I was missing out if I didn't find a way to grab a few to post about and enjoy. I was so wrapped up in finding and drinking those beers that I started losing sight of what was right in front of me, World class beers made right here, as good or better than anything else. It has only been through a long process of learning to let go of what I cannot control that I have come to appreciate what is happening right here and now. To be honest, as Canadians we have long looked south for validation and it continues with the beer.  Not only does it apply to those amazing US craft beers but to those you cannot get up here by traditional means, needing a long road trip or a beer saint to get them to your fridge. We can establish some really good friendships by building a trust in trading beers but even then, you are going to miss out on something because that is just the way it is.

  A great example of this is right down the highway to Toronto and the famous Bellwoods Brewery. This icon of innovation has really ramped up the releases this year with an array of IPAs, Milkshake and otherwise, which cause lineups and sellouts almost every time. With small bottle runs of a few thousand and a strict purchase limits, they create the perfect storm every time because the quality has been without reproach. I have been able to get a good chunk of them and can easily place most of them in the top of any list when we talk about Ontario Craft beer in 2017. An example of the problem arose when at the Golden Tap Awards, which are voted on by the general public in an open nomination online ballot, Beau's All Natural took home both best brewery and best beer for Lug Tread, a solid Lagered Ale. Scores of my beer pals were outraged and railed against a system they couldn't fathom wouldn't just give every award to their personal favourite brewery. For me I saw the wide distribution and excellent customer service combined with a willingness to take some chances on their beer that led to this recognition. Is Lug Tread better than Witchshark? In my eyes, that's not even a discussion because they are different styles and while I might review the latter, it behooves me to inform folks that if you can't get to T.O. then you are out of luck because that's the only place to get this amazing beer. If there are only 1200 bottles of a certain release and a limit of four per person then at best maybe five or six hundred people will experience that particular beer. That matters because if you cannot try a beer, does it really impact your life? I would put forth the notion that getting your beer into the most hands is also part of the discussion and being able to produce a great beer at a consistent and large volume has it's merits as well. I always say that brewing a great one-off is good but creating a beer that you can replicate with reliability is the holy grail. Add volume and you've got my attention.

  The argument continues with the example I use more often than not. Great Lakes Brewery Canuck Pale ale is one of the most widely available and finest examples of the style I have found. Is it better than Jutsu from Bellwoods? I'll leave that to the experts but for me I can have a Canuck and know that it will give me the same great punch every time. Jutsu is an amazing pale ale too, but to get one involves a trip to the heart of Toronto and with the busy work or life schedule most people have, that is not always possible. So many beer lovers I know have neither the means nor the will to brave that drive for a beer, so they remain outside looking in.

  For the majority of beer drinkers I know, most of the smaller/midsized breweries are still an unknown and that is something I'd like to see change. The move to online ordering is giving us access although the shipping costs can sometimes be onerous. Good friends who send us something we can't get in exchange for the same from us is another way to get these great beers into our fridges but that too can get expensive and time consuming. An idea floated by those much more in the know than me is that there should be a OCB controlled Craft beer store or perhaps allowing cross selling between the brewers themselves, a kind of cooperative effort that would lead to even more growth in an industry already heading to the stratosphere. I'd personally like to see a combo of the last two and would hope that the future of beer is more access not less. Availability matters and while I have learned to accept what I cannot have, I still have that little bit of hope that someday we can all share in the bounty that is Craft beer at it's finest. But until then, let's celebrate what we can get and enjoy it with gusto!

Raise your glass and your standards,
One Beer at a time.



21 November 2017

730 Days Later...One Beer at a Time


2 Years.  730 consecutive days.   Over 2000 Instagram beer reviews containing more than One Million words about craft beer. It's been a long, strange trip...and it's just getting started!

  On November 21st, 2015 I posted a beer review on Instagram, as I had been doing sporadically for a year or so. Nothing ground breaking or in depth, hell the picture wasn't even very good, but it marked the 1st day of that 730 in a row I drank and reviewed a beer. It was never my intention to do it, I couldn't imagine where the next two years would take me but it has become a part of who I am and I am proud of what I have accomplished.
November 21st, 2015

  I have always strived to be honest in what I write, be it a beer review or something more important. I haven't changed my style from when no one was reading my posts and I think that is why I have made so many new friends. I have no pretensions or goals when it comes to talking about my beer. I drink it, write what I taste and give it a score. The scoring a beer out of 5 has evolved a bit from how much I liked it to how I feel it meets the style requirements but that's about all I have changed since I first coined "On the sip,"
And counting...
 The writing part is almost more fun than the drinking and the fact that everyday I know I will be able to write anything from a couple of hundred words about a particular beer to many thousand in a blog post makes me happy. I look forward to finding a voice and a narrative each time and often it starts a whole other conversation as the evening rolls along. I am far past the age when I am given to dreaming about what I'll be when I grow up but I can at least say I'm a writer, even if it's just about my foibles, my past and my beer.
I understand that having a beer every day for 2 years isn't everyone's idea of a good thing. Most people I talk to think it's crazy and that I should seek some help. I try to explain that it is in having and writing about that beer that I have come to understand the demons that plagued me for so long, but a lot of them still think I'm getting hammered every night and partying my life away. The truth is that I do my job, enjoy a little time with Kat and then look in the fridge for the evenings libation. Most nights I have 1 or 2 and enjoy the game or a movie while talking to my friends on social media. I don't go out a lot because we are still digging our way out of the horrible financial decisions made in the past but I am pretty good with hanging out at home with my ladies anyway if you want the truth. But I do acknowledge it isn't a great idea without some more balance and continue to explore ways to make my life better.
  So I want to say Thank you to everyone who's come along for the ride, shared a beer or just stopped by to say hello. It's been a hell of a trip so far and I see no end in sight.  Will there come a day I don't have a beer? Absolutely,  but it will happen when it is meant to and I am okay with that.  Until then, I will see you every day, same Polk honesty every single time.
November 21st, 2017
Raise your Glass and Your Standards. 
One beer at a time.

20 November 2017

Why the Drunk Polkaroo?

  Why do I call myself the Drunk Polkaroo? What are the origins of the name? What the hell is a Polkaroo?
 The best place to begin is at the start.
 The Polkaroo was a character from a children's show on TVO called Polka Dot Door. On the show there are two hosts, a man and a woman. Whenever the Polkaroo would appear, the man was never around and when he would come back to the show later, he would always be so disappointed. When I was little, it never occurred to me that the man was indeed dressed up as Polkaroo and that is why he never got to meet him.
Regular Polkaroo.

  Drunk Polkaroo came about when I was in my macro beer pounding days. Routinely over consuming and forgetting what I was doing usually had no real consequence except for a pounding headache and a wasted day after. But sometimes, the Drunk Polkaroo would pop his head out and promise to do stuff the next day or week and I would have no recollection of these until prompted. Finally, after a night of stupid pounding of Old Milwaukee and then finding out that I had made plans I couldn't afford and had to cancel (yet again), I told my wife  " Sober Rob needs to meet up with Drunk Rob and have a talk with that guy, but he's never around when I am." And a little light bulb went off over my head. "I am the Drunk Polkaroo!" I shouted, and my wife just looked at me sideways and went back to her tablet.
  But a legend was being born that day and combined with the realisation that I no longer wished to lose control or drink huge quantities of shitty beer I began to play with my Instagram and lose myself in the flavours and textures of Craft Beer.
  But I never forget the lesson of the Drunk Polkaroo and work very hard to make sure I never go back to making plans I cannot remember or afford.

  Besides, it just sounds funny.


Beer Advent 2017!!

  The Christmas season is fast approaching and the time has come to begin preparations for the 2017 Beer Advent calendar. Be it for yourself or someone you love, this winter tradition has become something to help lift the craft beer drinkers spirits as winter takes hold. I like to prepare early and not blow the budget, so I get everything together well before December 1st, spreading out my purchases to be ready for the big day.
  The premise, if you are new to it, is that you buy 25 craft beers from either your local LCBO or at different craft breweries you happen to visit and then wrap them up and randomize them for a tasty treat every day leading up to Christmas. Last year I bought some and raided my cellar for a few more, had Mrs. Polk wrap and number them in an order I didn't know and put them in the fridge. Every day was a new to me beer or perhaps an old favourite and I loved every minute. Not knowing what style I was getting was part of the fun but if you know you don't like certain ones, you can avoid them altogether. The important thing is to make it enjoyable for yourself or someone you love.
  If you're putting a calendar together for someone it would be a great idea to know their favourite styles and even their favourite breweries. This can help guide your purchases and even inspire a road trip or two to get a few gems only available at the brewery. Ask their beer drinking pals what they really like and surprise them with a Christmas miracle of 25 craft beers to help make the season bright.  I would encourage you to seek out a few local breweries and add those to the list because I can assure you that they will appreciate getting something new and if it's a limited release, even better.
  Try and have a unique way of giving your gift. Maybe a custom decorated box, have the beer just show up in the fridge every evening when they get home, wrapped and numbered, chilled and ready to go. Get a big bomber 750 ml bottle of something special for their days off or to share when you can do it together. Add in a new glass or other branded merchandise and you can be assured that your gift will be over the top and make all of your beer loving partners Christmas wishes come true.
  The whole point of doing the calendar is to have fun and to give yourself or someone you love a little "me" time when we need it most. The holidays are not easy for everyone and if a pint after a long day can bring a smile to someone's face, I say we are doing something right. The clock is ticking, so get stocked up, wrap or box those beers and bring a smile to the world with the gift of Craft beer!

Merry Christmas!



13 November 2017

It's Time...

"We have to get together for a pint and catch up."
  I've said it, you've said it but we rarely made it happen.  Our intentions were good, but life somehow always got in the way and we kept putting it off, laughing at the absurdity of what we deemed more important every time. Was it that we didn't want to hang out? Not at all, sincerely and deeply we were friends. But we prioritized getting together low because we thought there would always be more time and we could wait. 
"Has it been that long?"
  Why couldn't we find the moments we needed when we had them? Tired from work, overcommitted or under the weather, we would send a message begging forgiveness and promising to buy the first round when we finally made it happen...but it never did. We lost touch, moved around and moved on. You'd get that birthday notification and send a message, maybe a quick hello and I'll let you know when I'm in town so we can catch up. But we fell short of our promises and this will always be our regret.
"Great to see you, let's do it again soon!"
  We would, on that rare occasion, when all the planets aligned, get together and raise that glass. The conversation wasn't stunted because we knew who we were and it flowed as naturally as we could imagine. Too brief, busy, busy, gotta head out and do what I do but we should do this again, real soon. Lingering in the parking lot, one last thing to say and then we part ways and head onto the next thing, a smile on our faces but the night fading into the mist of what comes next. The years passed and it felt like it never happened at all.
"Goodbye old friend"
  The news drifts in and it isn't what we wanted to hear. We missed our chance to have that one more pint. Our friendship spanned  years, decades maybe, but only in the briefest of moments and always with the promise of a future when we would have more time. The eternal optimism of our youth and the endless amounts of "later" we thought we had have now come to an end and how little we have is now clear. Waiting to do the thing, say the words or get together has given us only regret now and wishing it were different won't bring back what we meant to do.
  Why we continue to put off the things we want to do, the places we want to go and the people we want to spend time with still confuses me. The priorities we set often don't match what they should be for our happiness, putting what we see as responsibility ahead of our own joy. We tell ourselves we will have time later to do what we want, go visit that friend or cross that thing off our bucket list. The reality is that our time is finite, tomorrow is not promised and every second spent not at least trying to live true to yourself is one that you will not get back.
"Hey, let's go grab a pint."
  Did I make the call? Did you? Letting go of the past is good for your soul, learning from it is good for your life. Continuing to let other things get in the way of what you want to do is to say you relinquish control and will never put your own happiness first. Their isn't a magic button that gives you back the time you have already spent so make sure whatever you have left is not squandered. The moments you have missed are gone but the ones you want are just waiting to happen if you let them. Stay out of your own way, make the connection and get that pint with that one person today. Do it because you want to and tomorrow might never come.


12 November 2017

Why do we care? Craft Beer and Selling Out

  Why does it matter so much to so many craft beer supporters when another brewery gets bought out by one of the macro conglomerates? What is it that sets us off and makes us gnash our teeth and tear at our hair, swearing to never again purchase the offending brew again? This week's purchase of Troue du diable by Molson/Coors set off the usual and predictable, in some cases, response of both sides, one claiming it will not change the beer and the other damning the brewers for selling out.
  I fall always on the side of supporting local and as you all know been a proponent of the craft beer industry for many years. I have stated many times my respect and love for the good people who have helped transform my personal life and drinking habits with their passion for making great beer as opposed to just cramming tasteless macro lagers and underwhelming marketing down my throat at every chance they get. While it is indeed a business, to most of us it is much more than that and therein lies the problem we encounter whenever this happens.
  We are attached to our favourite things. Brand loyalty is a consumer trait we acquire young from which brand of pop we drink, our favourite restaurants and movie franchises to the clothing we wear and the shops we frequent. With Craft beer, this is dialled up to the nth degree and then some, our allegiance coming from deep within and burned onto our souls in many cases. We not only love our favourite brewers' products, it is the people behind the beer we come to know, respect and admire that makes it about so much more than just beer. We become emotionally attached to them so much that they begin to feel like friends, even family and we cheer at their every success, touting the latest release as though it was our own. We are given ownership in the community and this is encouraged by everyone, from people like myself who tout its virtues to the owners and staff at the breweries themselves. They are for the most part earnest and straightforward about wanting to live that dream of brewing, sharing their creations with the world and driving forward the engine that is slowly gaining ground and market share on the big boys of beer.
  We join growler or stein clubs, buy the merchandise, glasses, hoodies and t shirts that seem more visible all the time and it becomes part of our identity. As we get older, we feel like the world we knew is gone and yearn for a return to the simpler times we think existed in our youth. We have grabbed hold of craft beer as a way to keep that feeling going. We trade, gift and talk beer whenever we can. I've witnessed love bloom over pints, friendships and adventures ensuing from a simple comment on a social media photo. The craft beer community is very real and when we feel like that special bond is threatened we circle the wagons and look for a common enemy.
  When a brewery decides to take the money that these multi national corporations offer them, I am going to imagine it isn't as easy as looking where to sign. They have to know the backlash will be swift and loud, I know I hear the recriminations and swearing off of buying their products from so many of my friends all the time. The business of Craft beer is not something we like to talk about because let's face it, we love to drink it, talk about its flavours and nuances, not market share, profit margin or break even points. But the brewers must always be conscious of these things. You may not go into craft beer to get rich, but at the end of the day the bills need to be paid, suppliers wont extend credit forever and the people you love who work in the tap room want to eat and have somewhere to live.
  So how to we reconcile their business decision with the beer we love so much? For some people, it's black and white, sell to macro and our relationship is done. They have their standards and limits and stick to them no matter what. I know them and lean this way myself. I saw a few people getting vehement on the other side too, declaring it to be stupid to care about who owns the brewer and good for the people who made the dream happen by getting paid the big bucks while still getting to make great beer, now with solid finances and better distribution. For myself, I haven't really experienced the "loss" of a favourite craft brewer into the behemoth so it is still a case of outside looking in. When Mill Street sold to AbInBev I was at my infancy in this community and didn't grasp all the nuances of what it meant to me. Do I regularly purchase their products as I once did, well no, but that has a lot more factors playing than just who owns them. I don't think that Joel Manning forgot how to brew beer when the deed changed hands but there is a part of me that still feels a little sad whenever I reminisce about those old days when I first started drinking craft and Mill Street was a big part of that. I have so many options now when I go to my local liquor or beer store and that along with the sheer number of craft brewers located close by means I have options I couldn't have dreamed of years ago.
  We buy into the ethos of us versus them and the brewers themselves push this independent and small batch thinking in their social media marketing and when you visit them. They build relationships with their customers and when they take the money from big beer we are left feeling duped and cheated by their seemingly overnight switch in direction. Are they any less local the next day after the papers are signed or do they not employ the same people as before? Does the beer actually change or is it our perception that moves as we imagine corporate interference and influence on our most treasured brews? We feel let down after years of supporting a small local business despite the fact that many of us continue to shop and work at even larger corporations. Wal-Mart, Loblaw’s and the like employ tens of thousands of Canadians and the big brewers are no different. Ask the people of London, Ontario if Labatt's is a local brewer and the thousands of people affected by their facility would tell you it is indeed. Every job is local when it keeps you warm and fed.
  So how do we deal with what feels like a death in the family and stay true to our own personal passions? Many swear off the offending brewery in an instant, pledging to only support independent craft brewers and sticking to it. Some, usually the fans of that particular brewery, will wait it out, ultimately declaring the product hasn't changed and claiming the people working there are still paramount and arguing that the better distribution and equipment/materials hasn't changed anything at the brewing level. And a large portion of the population will just keep buying the beer because they just don't care who ultimately owns it, they just know what they like and that is all that matters to them. If the answer was easy, it wouldn't make me want a beer as I write this.
  I am conflicted because the more you get to know people who work in craft beer, the more you see that passion they have for creating unique and flavourful beer. You see them pushing the boundaries and exploring things we couldn't even dream of a few years ago. They do indeed become like family and how do you deny someone a big pay day because you want them to remain a big fish in a small pond. We don't want to feel like we are supporting big business, it runs counter to everything the people who make the beer tell us. They have driven the narrative of this conversation about small batch craft beer and when they turn around and take the cheque we don't know what we should think. I think we have to acknowledge the part that plays in how people feel, they feel duped and angry and lashing out is but one way to show that. No one wants to support a giant foreign corporation, macro beer never drives people to go on road trips, was poetic or get artsy with their pictures. Grown men and women who never would have thought to share stuff on social media meticulously plan and execute videos and pictures in tribute to their new and favourite finds. So it is a very real problem for us who love craft beer when we hear someone has left the path we thought we were sharing and stepped into a windfall.
  I can't figure it all out myself, let alone tell you what to do. It's more than just beer for me now but my journey may not be yours and I can respect that. I always say drink what you like and I'll do the same. But I don't think this is the last time we will be having this discussion, there will be more purchases, more argument and without a doubt more great beer from places we love.
 I just hope I am ready when the next shoe drops, it might land closer to home than I like and the narrative of this may be different then.