The year comes to a close and it is time to say goodbye. Without a doubt, 2017 saw the explosion of Ontario Craft Beer reach lift off speeds. It became apparent early on that there would be far more beer released than I could ever hope to try and I came to terms with that in my own mind. Instead I focused on what I was able to get and then look a little deeper into what each of those beers has meant to me. The Ten is not meant to be a definitive ranking of the "best" beer of the year, but rather it represents the memorable, the important, the emotional and the community of craft beer drinkers that have made their way into my heart. So read on my friends and maybe contemplate yourself what this year in beer meant to you. It should always be about raising our standards, making friends and sharing a love of beer that motivates us going forward.
These 10 beers defined the previous 365 days, much as the year comes to an end, so too does this man`s journey though Ontario. But have no fear, 2018 will see even more trips, giveaways and hopefully, connections with the people who love their beer just as much as I do.
10. Full Time IPA - Beau`s All Natural Brewing
Beau's All Natural Brewing has long been a major part of my craft beer journey. Their constant and ever changing line-up a life raft at a time when the LCBO wasn't the sea of craft beer it is now. Many of my first exposures to different styles came from this Eastern Ontario brewer and it is no coincidence that we made the trip to visit them twice in a year just because I love to stop in and say hello to the crew. When we heard about their intention to release Full Time IPA and make it a core LCBO beer, it was both a surprising and happy moment. A well made Beau's beer is a thing to behold and when I first poured this into my tulip, I was sold. It just wasn't me, many of my crafty brothers and sisters were singing it's praises and buying them up. So for bringing a beautifully made new IPA to me any time I want to go buy one and for being a great supporter of the industry here and abroad, I couldn't think of this list without them. Thank you for always reaching out and making sure the people who love your beer know you love them back.
9. Shevchenko 9 - 4 Father's Brewing
This list is about beers that caught my eye or made an impression so deep that I can still taste them, even months later. From 4 Father's Brewing and also my favourite Dark Lager/Dunkel of 2017 comes Svenchenko 9. Meeting some of the team from the brewery at the Albino Rhino Beer Festival in May gave me an insight into their passion for craft beer and this beer confirmed it. Beautifully balanced, I feel it is overlooked in a crowded marketplace and we need to correct that. A well made and easy drinking dark lager is just what we need in an overhopped and sour beer world. For being good people, making a great beer and bringing it to us with a wink and a smile, I am happy to include you in The Ten this year. Buy this beer!
8. Huronic Tripel - Side Launch Brewing
Side Launch Brewing's core lineup is without a doubt one of the finest, to-style, 4 craft beer pickup anyone makes. They bring a simplicity and truth to the beer and while they seem safe and old school, most of my craft beer loving friends constantly have one of their beers in the fridge. For me it is the wheat beer and when I saw that they were finally going to bring something new to the LCBO that I could get, I was ecstatic. The Huronic Tripel was a delightful beer that brought me joy when I took my first sip. I love Belgian beers almost more than anything else and this one did not disappoint. Full of bright flavours, orange and lemon, with a pepper and clove backend, it was excellent. Showcasing the great things being done at the brewery and maybe a little under the radar to the larger community that is new to the scene or too buried in the hop craze, this one should be added to the must try list as fast as you can. For bringing the simplicity of good beer and never wavering in their dedication to brewing and selling only the best, Side Launch joins us on this year's The Ten.
7. 2016 Double Tempest - Amsterdam Brewing
We don't really do beer release days. I won't stand in line for anything and too often the hype isn't worth the hassle. But starting last year and now a family tradition in the Polk household is the winter release of Amsterdam Brewing's Double Tempest. Throwing a huge party with a wicked beer lineup and food to pair it with on the waterfront is something we have come to anticipate, marking my last weekend off before the Christmas rush at work renders me the actual Polkaroo for the rest of the month. We aged this one for an entire year and while many people have way more patience and better cellars, we always make the pact to enjoy them in a year at the latest because beer is for drinking, not hoarding. This 2016 Double Tempest became even more balanced, losing some of the boozy heat and ramping up the vanilla bourbon and dark chocolate to a higher plane. Sublime and memorable, I will miss it until the 2017 makes it's appearance next Christmas Eve. The Ten is the perfect place for this delectable stout made by people who give a Damn!
6. Boxing Bruin IPA - Cowbell Brewing
I opened my first Cowbell Brewing beer maybe a year and a half ago when they were contract brewers with a dream of something bigger. A nice Kolsch style ale, it was their commitment to donating 5 cents from every pint or can sold to local charities that really caught my eye. Early in 2017 I had their Doc Perdue's Bobcat West Coast Red ale and was convinced of their dedication. A later release of Kelly's Contraption solidified a lineup available at the LCBO and I eagerly awaited the brewery opening in mid year. Hearing great things, we made our way to Blyth and were blown away by the architecture, people, food and of course, beer. Meeting with brains behind the entire thing and the team putting it together added to the lustre. But when I was given their flagship IPA that was to be added to their core beer lineup I was blown away. Doc Perdue's Boxing Bruin is a beer any brewery would be proud to call their own, Brewmaster Stephen Rich is indeed making a name for himself with this and many other excellent beers available on tap at the brewery. For being good citizens, building a destination brewery and making beer that matches the promise of the people who make it, Cowbell joins The Ten.
5. Pineapple Milkshark Milkshake IPA - Bellwoods Brewery
I had been calling for the milkshake IPA revolution late in 2016 and made it one of my 3 predictions for this year. Little did I know the genius minds at Bellowoods Brewery were 10 steps ahead of me and all of the Ontario Craft Beer scene. From the first release to the last, they just kept the pedal to the metal all year long. This iteration was a revelation with it's milky texture, pine apple juice like flavour and smooth backend, I couldn't believe this was a beer I was loving, imagining what Brava Light chugging me would have thought of this juicy vanilla fruit bomb. I savoured every bit and lamented it's end with much passion. While I have had many more great beers from Bellwoods, this one maintains its spot in The Ten because I just can't get it out of my head. I dream they bring it back in 2018 and even I might break my no line ups for beer rule.
4. Sour Goldie -Block 3 Brewing
Sour Goldie from Block 3 Brewing makes The Ten not only because it is an exceptionally brewed beer that was one of the most memorable I had in 2017 and won my Strong Ale category hands down, but because of how it came to be in my possession. Attending a birthday party for my cousin Matt at the brewery, I happened to see brewmaster Kevin Freer sitting at the bar and wandered over to say hello and chat for a bit. It was so much fun to talk and get to know the guy who makes so many beers I love and when he told me he had a special release for me to take home, I was positively giddy. The beer in question was this one and I cannot praise it enough but it was that conversation with Kevin, his generous nature and my entire experience that floods back whenever I remember this beer. I always say that the people who make the beer can make or break your experience with it and for combining all of that and more, Block 3 joins The Ten with Sour Goldie. What a day that was!
3. Aggressive Jazz Hands - Redline Brewhouse
The blending of styles into a hybrid can be fraught with peril and pitfalls. Redline Brewhouse and their Belgian Strong Ale/Double IPA release of Aggressive Jazz Hands was a hit and then some. Bringing together two of my most favourite things, Belgian beers and IPAs, they found a fantastic middle ground that had the best of both worlds. Their Double Clutch (Fave DIPA 2017) shook my world but this one brought me joy as a beer saint gift from my friend Verena. It reminds me of her generosity and love for craft beer and I can still remember how I felt when that first sip hit my lips. For a year full of great customer service, fantastic beer and many memories, Redline Brewhouse goes into The Ten with my highest regards. I so want to see this beer back in 2018, it needs to be in more hands so everyone can experience what a Canadian brewer can do with a legendary Belgian style. Well done my friends, well done.
2. Sundrop Wheat IPA - Fairweather Brewing
My hometown brewery list grew exponentially in 2017 with 3 new brewers opening their doors with more promised for next year. None more prolific or consistent than the hard working folks over at Fairweather Brewing in Hamilton's West End. Every single release was spot on with little wiggle room for doubt and the family like atmosphere they have created brings a smile to all who visit. This Wheat IPA was so smooth, juicy and filled with bright citrus notes that I immediately regretted not buying a dozen, A work schedule that flooded my summer kept me from getting more but I can still taste it's bitter and dank finish. How does a brewery come out swinging with great beer right out the gate and make such an impression that people are drawn to them just because. Fairweather joins The Ten because of Sundrop but also because they bring a pure joy and effort to making absolutely beautiful beer all around. I am a fan of not just the beer, but the people who work at this sure to be legendary Ontario Craft Brewer. Come visit, you will be joining the Fairweather family once you've had your first sip.
1. Audrey Hopburn Belgian IPA - Great lakes Brewery
"I don't want to open my eyes, because it's like a dream."
- me, September 28th after my first sip of Audrey Hopburn from Great Lakes Brewery (find the video here)
My world is a better place thanks to the beer I drink, the people I've met and the experiences I've had. 2017 was GLB's 30th birthday but they were the ones giving the gifts with well over 100 releases this year. So many of them were new and creative things and then there was the return of a whole lot of classic fan favourites.
I had eagerly awaited the return of Audrey Hopburn because I could still remember it from back in 2015 and lamented it's non return in 2016, leaving me breathless when I spied social media telling me she was coming back. It is rare that a beer lives up to our memories simply because our palates evolve and the sheer number of beers we try trains us to appreciate new and different things. Audrey was not that. She was a beautiful beer 2 years ago and on that night in September and many more after that, she was absolutely sublime. A beer that celebrated a year given to the birthday of a Brewery that not only cares about the industry and making great beer, they want the people who drink it to have a good time, every time. Parties, giveaways, friendly chats and a bunch of awesome beers made for one hell of a 2017 and I will never forget my day spent brewing with the beer writers, Troy and Mr. Mike Lackey, brewmaster extraordinaire.
I am not sure why this beer made such an impression, but it's still running through my mind even as I type. Perhaps it was the memory of those early days and the fact that it not only lived up to them but exceeded it. Maybe it is that I now understand better what I am drinking or the most simple explanation of all, GLB gets me and you and why we love beer. They love beer too, they make some of the best damn stuff in the province, maybe the country and I am proud to say that I am a fan. It is just beer, but to us and the good people at GLB, it is so much more.
Thank you for everything you do, I appreciate the effort put into making great beer like Audrey and I look forward to seeing what year 31 brings because I have no doubt that Great Lakes will continue to lead the way for Ontario Craft Beer. My review from September says it all :
" She's back and she's beautiful! Since October of 2015 I have patiently awaited the return of Great Lakes Brewery's Audrey Hopburn a 6.2 %, 58 IBU Belgian IPA. It had stuck with me since that day and it did not disappoint. Pours a hazy golden straw colour with a thick long lasting and boldly lacing white head. Smells of banana, grapefruit and orange. On the sip, sweet ambrosia I am in heaven. Citrusy with lemon, grapefruit and orange. Banana clove and a spicy pepper kick on the finish with more citrus lingering on the dry finish. The fact that I have waited two years to try this again and it not only lived up to but exceeded my memory is pretty damn outstanding. I love this beer. It's a combination of a lot of things that make my senses sing and I am glad I have one more to experience this again. Get yourself to Great Lakes soon, this one is a limited run and won't be around long. A contender for my Beer of the Year without a doubt. Cheers! 4.5/5"
I can't think of a more fitting way to finish a weird and wonderful year than with this lovely beer. May 2018 bring you happiness and a glass that is full of the very best the world has to offer. Ask for and accept nothing less.
Raise your glass and your standards,
One beer at a time.