19 July 2018

Don't Give in to Style Fatigue

  The other day I was perusing Twitter, as I do(a lot), and I came across this tweet from the Beer Scribe (@beerscribe) :

  It hit me that I do this unintentionally almost daily and I wanted to explore why. I see so many people who never leave their comfort zone of IPAs, sours or whatever it is they love. They eschew any other style as boring or not for them while what Jordan St. John (@saints_gambit) described as hop creep begins to take hold. 

  Clearly after a month of discount lagers, your taste buds would be more susceptible to intense hop flavours, but what If the opposite is true as well? What if drinking nothing but IPAs, sours or any other style exclusively led to some sort of flavour diminishment or fatigue?
  As a general rule, most people don't keep going to the well once they have decided they don't like a particular style and that's a damn shame if you ask me.  To get stuck in a rut of one or two beer styles seems to me to defeat the true reason we all got into craft beer in the first place, the hatred of homogenous pint after pint. Whether it was an IPA, saison or bitter, I had to learn to appreciate the nuances, flavour profiles and textures that come with each one. Variations on the styles led me down a path of real exploration as the only limit seemed to be the creativity of the brewers who express their art in liquid form. Not everything I've had has been perfect or sometimes even workable, but onward we go in search of the next beer to enjoy.
  It is very easy, however, to get caught up in what you love. I think this happens more with people who subscribe to brand loyalty, even if they won't admit it, when it comes to macro lagers. It used to be you were a Blue or Canadian drinker and that still exists today, albeit in a more diverse way but still with the same downward spiralling results. As a beer drinker, you owe loyalty to nothing but a well made product and an enjoyable experience. Getting caught up in a particular brewery or style of beer makes the whole thing a little reminiscent of our not so distant past and that's a place I for one have no desire to return to.
  Now this is not to say that just because a beer comes from craft brewery that it is automatically the best thing in the world. Indeed, we all have had some beers that completely miss the mark in every way and it's important to be honest about what you are tasting if you choose to share your thoughts with the wider beer world. To not tell the truth because you don't want to rock the boat or you're afraid of some kind of blowback is no reason to pad out a beer that isn't on point. There is no need to be an asshole about not liking something, but it gets tiresome reading that every single beer some people try is awesome, it's just not possible. Want to be taken seriously? Tell the truth. Always and in a way that is productive and open to discussion.
  To return to the initial point of where this was headed, I will refer simply to my own approach to how I drink and share my beer. I look to be as diverse in style as I am in brewery. I want to know about as many different variations on classic and new flavours and I want to experience as many different brewers ideas on those that I can get my hands on. Having visited 135 Ontario Craft breweries in person and having tried a beer from at least 500 different brewers worldwide, my pursuit is wide ranging and never ending. I love big hoppy IPAs, dank and juicy as well as the malty west coast hop bombs. I am a fan of saisons and farmhouse ales, so many directions to go with those that I am surprised almost monthly by what I find. Sours are still relatively new to me and I embrace the opportunity to explore them further. This is to say nothing of the other 20 plus recognized styles and their many, many sub-styles we have access to at any given moment. The only limitation remains the imagination of those who brew and those who drink.
  To find yourself in a never ending loop of one style can only be broken by a conscious effort to diversify what's in your fridge. There's nothing wrong with having a whole whack of your favourite style but try to include something different whenever you are going to enjoy more than one. I usually have the newest beer or the style I am working to understand the most first and then will happily go to whatever suites my fancy next. Sometimes it's Ransack the Universe or Canuck Pale Ale but I always look to find a new beer or brewer to spice up my life.
  Break out of your hop lock, saison straightaway or porter porthole, make the next beer you try something different and let the world into your glass.


17 July 2018

Monday at the Bar (Part 6)

The light is dim in here.
It almost always is, even in daylight.
You can see but the shadows seem to fall on every corner in this place and that feels a little disconcerting.
Sitting at a booth because the bar stools feel a little too familiar and uncomfortable at the same time.
It takes a few minutes longer than you would wait anywhere else to get service but you do it because it would be awkward to leave at this point. The regulars give you a glance as you pour that glistening bottle into a glass you're pretty sure hasn't seen the inside of dishwasher
No one recognizes you. The people you used to drink with here every night have moved on or died and that takes a little bit of you away with it. The bartender looks like she wasn't even born when you started drinking here and you close your eyes to try and remember what was...
The stale smell of a thousand cigarettes and $5 mini pitchers of beer fill your head as that old song plays over the speakers. You open your eyes and see that she's here, a little late and looking at you like you never left. She's the only reason you came back here and it's time
She walks with the confidence of a woman who doesn't take anyone's shit and that was something you always loved about her. Pausing to grab a whisky at the bar, she slides in across from you and for a brief moment, the clock stops and everything goes silent and still...
Do you talk first? Apologize? Does she? Shared silence as you try to find a way to say hello means a few seconds of the look that you both know too well and she smiles as you fumble with your words. She's truly still beautiful and you are glad you came home, even for one day...

16 July 2018

Polk's 5 Stages of Craft Beer Life


  We've come a long way as beer drinkers the last few years and as our ranks steadily grow and our palates change with them, I look back on how we've come to be where we are in 5 stages. Now, granted, these are sort of simplified and reflect my personal journey in beer but I have no doubt you will see part of yourself in each one.  The pride we have in what we put into our glasses now comes from a place of our beer birth drinking macro lagers, the toe dipping exploration of the different styles, becoming a full on convert and then a hard core preacher and judge of what other people drink before finally reaching the nirvana of understanding that acceptance is the key to all.
  Like I said, simple, but a trip every craft beer drinker has taken in one form or another. Some are taking different ways to get there, but understanding that the path to enjoying life and indeed, your beer is never ending and being open to that kind of growth and change will make it an enjoyable one for all of us.

1. Denial
  In the beginning, there were lagers and ales. Perhaps we stole a sip from our father's bottle or a relative gave us a drink and laughed when we made a face at the bitter, sharp flavour we were unaccustomed to. For so many of us, our very first experience with beer isn't something we even remember and we move to those teenage years where intoxication is the only goal, flavour a far off consideration compared to the thrill of scoring a case and getting drunk at a bush party or in someone's basement.
  My own first experiences with beer were as a side to the whisky I chose for its "cool" factor and ability to get me hammered quick. Beer was what we drank once we were good and liquored up. This changed as I started to get older and beer transformed into a more social drink, still trying to get drunk, but finding hard liquor not as much fun once I hit my 20's.
  All through this, craft beer wasn't really on the radar, but as the scene was shifting and as local and imported choices of different styles made their way to the liquor store, we would deny ever wanting such weird stuff, touting the "Real men drink real beer" mantra and shutting down any conversation of trying a fruity, dark or any other beer that wasn't straight up beer.
  To be sure, Sleeman's Honey brown and the occasional British dark ale would sneak in when that one friend would make you try it, but for the most part, we just ignored the existence of any choice and kept on with whatever was our traditional and known choice...but things were about to change.

2. Exploration
  It begins without thought or foresight. Maybe you were at a friends house and out of your regular beer. Perhaps you found yourself at a party or a bar and someone just bought you a beer and you didn't want to be rude. Or maybe you just got curious and finally decided to see what the hell the fuss was all about. All of these or 100 other reasons could be how you started to explore the wider world of beer, but at some point you stopped caring about just getting hammered on the same old stuff and reached for the unknown.
  Today we take for granted the myriad of options and 260 plus craft breweries with taprooms and educated staff to help us try new things. Not so long ago, none of this existed and the tiny craft and import section at the local liquor store was like an exotic wasteland you went into unprepared and unarmed. For me, it began with a few "Guy's Nights" parties when the ladies would be away and we would have Beer around the World themes, each guy bringing a dozen beers not from our normal purchases and sharing them together. We'd still get drunk but once in awhile we would stumble across a new beer that caught our attention. This would be added to the rotation as a special beer and while our macro lager, 24 buying days were not done, the need to find new flavours and seek out interesting things for Untappd started to take hold and we were off. It became almost a contest to see who could find the most new beers and this tepid, toe in the water exploration soon led to the next stage, which sets the rocket alight and we ascend to new heights.

3. Conversion
  For a lot of us, the craft beer revolution was a slow build, a gradual addition here or there of a few new beers or styles as we still drank macro lagers. As the time went on and we began to visit more breweries and connect with like minded folks in real life and online, we started to feel part of something special, something unique and that appeals to anyone. We start to actively look for ways to get new beers into our glasses, we start to plan trips and meals around finding new breweries and places to go. We begin to feel like the money we spend on that 24 of Coors Light every week is being wasted as we eschew it more and more for a craft choice. The basic lager sits in the fridge longer each time, getting drank only when everything else had run out.
It becomes a bit of an obsession and as the macros fade into the background, slowly disappearing from our fridges, we turn and find ourselves becoming acolytes and preachers of a new gospel of a church made of hops and barley.  Eventually, you buy your last case of macro beer and something changes inside, you feel the burn of a fire you want to spread and you turn to the world, alight with energy and a new way to live.

4. Evangelical
  There comes a time for almost every craft beer drinker when you feel the pull of a need to share your love. You post pictures online, perhaps write about what you taste and then share that with the world. You bring a mixed dozen of your favourite craft beers to a party because you cant drink that 'macro swill'. You start to talk about your friends beer choices and deride them if they still drink Blue or Coors or any other non craft beer. You rail against Big Beer buying your favourite craft brewery and swear you will never buy any of their beer again because they sold out. You engage in lengthy debates about government policy and grants to help the industry grow and dream of cracking a higher percentage of the market. You check dates on your cans obsessively and post rants about pseudo craft and forget about one fundamental fact that helped drive you into craft beer in the first place...fun.
  You wanted beer to be fun and it has become a zero sum game of getting that latest, hard to get release and mocking what your friends and family drink. You start to feel like you've lost something on this particular Road to Damascus and begin to come down from your mountain top, enlightened and educated but also with a vision of the future and taking a new path, one of being a true lover of beer and of those times we have to enjoy each other.

5. Acceptance
  The final stage, the one hardest to reach for many Craft beer lovers, is this one. Learning to accept and let people drink what they like can be a difficult path to find, grown over with the sure knowledge that we know a better way and should shout it from the roof tops. Becoming an advocate and an acolyte are two very different things and as I've moved through these stages, it became easy to tap that righteous anger and superior feeling you get when you first fall in love to try to push the needle and force others to see the world as you do. It is easy to slam a fist on the table and openly mock people and their beer choices, forgetting that at one time, we too held fast to our macro lagers, not knowing what the future held.
  We started to drink better beer because it was fun to do. We went to events, visited breweries and met interesting people who had the same interest because we found it ourselves. Sure, we followed others who came before us, but the decision was ours. We sometimes forget that this journey started with one sip of one beer that made you stop and wonder what was happening. We lost sight of the joy felt at finding a new flavour or style that helped shape who we are now. We seek to recapture that moment so many times, we forget that everything was supposed to be about enjoying life, not judging others or chasing things to posses them.
  Be an advocate, an ambassador and a voice of passion. But approach every moment with joy and not scorn. Let light in where there is darkness when asked but be not the scowl of judgement on what other people drink. Give suggestions, share and be open to new things yourself. Be honest and let stand your opinion, with the knowledge that all of our palates are different and no one responds to mockery with acceptance.
  The end game is always to enjoy our beer without being an asshole about it. Pour, sip and ponder life while spending time with people you love. Respect the choices of others and always make room in your fridge for different things. Life is too short and often too hard to let that kind of stress in when it comes to beer.
  Have fun and be cool.



12 July 2018

In the Goblet - Radlers for the Summer of 2018

The Grotto Approved Radler Goblet

  The summer sun shines down and with the heat comes the appearance of a refreshing, low ABV beer style that keeps you cool and offers a break from the norm. Celebrating Radlers with the 14 I could find at my local LCBOs, I delve into this beer blended with fruit juices or soda to find my favourites and share them with you.
  The citrusy nature of these crushable summer drinks makes them ideal for Grotto livin', whether yours' is a patio, a balcony, a park or a backyard. Light but not without substance, I found many to be utterly delightful while some were decent but not memorable. I discovered through my own exploration that I prefer the radlers made with fruit juice to be more to my liking, less sweet and sugary than the ones made with soda. But everyone has their own preferences and I encourage you to try as many as you can to find the ones you want to keep in the cooler this summer.  
  Take a break and give yourself a moment to just enjoy life!

1.Ace Hill Radler - 2.5%
Made with organic juice concentrate from apple, grapefruit, orange, lemon and lime, I'm pretty interested in what comes out of the can. Surprisingly hazy with a thin white head that dissipates quickly. Smelling peach, orange, apple and grapefruit. On the sip, a lovely juiced up fruity mix that is up front with apple, peach, orange and grapefruit and has a tart but not sour finish. Lingers with grapefruit and apple with a dry backend. Refreshing and basically beer juice for multiple takes in the pool or grotto.  4.25/5

2. Schoferhoffer Wheat Beer Grapefruit Radler - 2.5%
Using fruit concentrate to mix this summer crusher, it pours a cloudy but few peach colour with that bubbly but quickly dissipating white head we've come to expect from the style. Smelling grapefruit, on the sip, a beautiful blend here with a juicy grapefruit, orange and lemon zest with a but of earthy wheat notes, perhaps even some banana. 4.25/5

3. Sawdust City Brewing Pink Grapefruit Radler - 3.5%
A mix of a golden ale and pink grapefruit juice, it pours a slightly cloudy pale gold with a fluffy white head that has some staying power. Smells of light grapefruit and lemon. On the sip, crushable, refreshing and citrusy with pink grapefruit notes and a nice bubbly carbonation with some tartness and a touch of lemon.  4/5

4. Moosehead Brewery Grapefruit Radler - 4.0%
 Grapefruit focused using fruit concentrate as opposed to soda. Pours cloudy and gold with a bubbly white ahead that sticks around unlike most of the other Radlers we've tried. Smelling a fresh grapefruit note. On the sip, a fuller textured body with a citrusy grapefruit and a lightly tart lemon note.  4/5

5. Stiegl Braueri Grapefruit Radler - 2.5%
50% grapefruit, lemon and orange fruit juice mixed with beer offers a European take on this summer crusher. Pours a cloudy soft gold with a bubbly white head that fades to the sides. Smelling mostly grapefruit up front. On the sip, orange and grapefruit juice dominate with the latter taking the lead. Slight tartness but all refreshing as this juicy patio pint does exactly what it should do...refresh and renew. Lingers with a dry and citrusy grapefruit. 4/5

6. Waterloo Brewing Raspberry Radler - 3.1%
Pours a lovely shade of rose with that same bubbly head we've come to see in all our Radlers. Again made with fruit concentrate, not soda, it smells of raspberries, juicy and sweet. On the sip, bright with a nice sweet/tart kick from the raspberry, it's effervescent and refreshing, giving the Grapefruit a run for its money as my fave of the pack. Dry with lingering berry notes 4/5

7. Grolsch Radler - 2.0%
Made with real lemon and orange juice in addition to the beer. Pours a cloudy pale yellow with a fast dissolving white head, it smells of lemons. On the sip, right where I want it with a bright lemon citrus up front, light tart and sweet notes, a little like lemonade but not overly sugary. A touch of that orange on the dry finish but this one has lemon lover written all over it. 4/5

8. Waterloo Brewing Grapefruit Radler - 3.1%
It pours a clean gold with a bubbly white head that disappears quickly and it has scents of fresh grapefruit. On the sip, a delightfully citrusy and tart grapefruit with a nice dry and acidic finish. Easily going down fast and refreshing, I like the bit of peel I'm getting that makes it like biting into a slice of real grapefruit.  4/5

9. Waterloo Brewing Citrus Radler - 3.1%
Pouring a relatively clear gold with a crackling but fast fading white head, it's got a bright lemon lime scent. On the sip, crisp and bubbly with a nice lemon front and lime coming in to deliver a bit of a light sour note. Some sweetness, but since it's using fruit concentrate and not soda, I find it's not so sickly sweet.  3.75/5

10. Old Tomorrow Beer Honey Ginger Shandy - 3.0%
It pours clear and golden with a bubbly white head that fades quickly. Smelling ginger and lemon with some honey. On the sip, the ginger ale they used in making this shines with a lovely honey smoothness added. Ginger and lemon with a bubbly carbonation that makes it eminently crushable. The sweetness may be a bit much for me, I like a little more juiciness, but this is a different take on the style and one that has a place with those who enjoy that particular way of making this delightful summer drink. 3.5/5

11. Warsteiner Brewery Grapefruit Radler - 2.5%
Made with half Pilsner and half flavoured carbonated drink, it pours a cloudy pale peach with a bubbly white head that disappears quickly. Smelling sweet grapefruit notes. On the sip, a crisp and carbed up citrus grapefruit with some sweetness from the added soda, cut a little by the Pilsner but still a little too much sugar for my liking.  3.5/5

12. Big Rig Brewery Bongo Grapefruit Radler - 2.9%
  Pouring a cloudy light grapefruit colour with a fast dissipating bubbly white head, it smells of sweet grapefruit soda. On the sip, grapefruit with a sweet soda kick and a bubbly carbonation make for a refreshing patio beer that will have an appeal to folks who enjoy that kind of thing. A little too sweet for me, but it went down fast and with that ABV leaves you room for more. 3.25/5
13. Bud Light Lemonade Radler - 2.4%
  I said I would try all the available radlers at the LCBO this summer that I could find and because I am a man of my word, here we go. Sickly sweet, like a powdered lemonade drink from when you were a kid. Just no. 0.75/5

14. Bud Light Grapefruit Radler - 2.4%

  Somehow worse than the lemonade, sickly sweet with a fake tartness that is like someone rubbed sugar all over a grapefruit air freshener. Never drink this. 0.50/5

  A fine list of Radlers for you to try and a couple to avoid as we make our way deeper into this season of Pools, Pals and Pints.
For all the videos, head to the 2018 Radlers/Shandys Playlist on my Youtube channel and see what I thought with a little more live action.



9 July 2018

Grotto Approved - 10 Great Beers at the LCBO for summer !

Summer time and the living is easy goes the popular notion. And while most of us continue our regular work-a-day lives, we do tend to find ourselves on vacation or just spending more time outside with a beer in our hands as the mercury rises and the sun shines down. Looking for excellent and widely available summer beers is a mission and Polk is here to give you 10 (plus) Grotto Approved Ontario Craft Beers that will be in heavy rotation in my fridge for the next few months. All are available at the LCBO and select grocery stores and while I know so many of our local breweries are cranking out great beers, I am going with the ones easiest for the majority of beer drinkers to lay their hands on. Look to your favourite Craft Brewery to see what is exclusively available in the bottle shop or online to augment this list, it's always good to expand your horizons.
  Some of these are long standing classic beers and others are new releases just in time for summer. I'll stick to just one beer per brewery but there are a whole lot of amazing things out there, make your own list and have some fun! Either way, may your glass always be full and the sun always shining when you find yourself patio bound and off work!

1. Muskoka Brewery Summerweiss Tropical Wheat
  Available on it`s own or in the Muskoka Summer Survival pack, this year`s Summerweiss packs a tropically hazy fruit kick that is made for outside. Loaded with passion fruit, peach and mango flavour, this 5.3% juicy wheat beer offers refreshment and a blast of citrus for those IPA lovers without the bitterness that scares away people from that style. Crossing lines and appealing to anyone who wants a treat this summer.

2. Sawdust City Brewing Little Norway Pale Lager
  A lager is often the most overlooked style of beer as craft drinkers search for the latest and haziest IPA or Sour but there is most certainly a time and a place for a well made and flavourful straight up lager. Sawdust City`s Little Norway rolls in at a very crushable 4.3% and is a balanced apple, lemon grassy hoped pale lager with a touch of spice. Not boring, but rather a full flavoured, low ABV beer that will have you restocking faster than you`d think.

3. Nickel Brook Brewing Raspberry Uber
  A redesigned bottle with the same great tart berry flavour on the inside. A favourite around the pool for the last few years, Nickel Brook has upped the bottle size and given us more Uber for our Patio Pints. tart and refreshing, loaded with raspberry sour and lemon notes, Uber redefined the style for so many people and will be a feature with it`s distinct red colour as the sun comes out to play.

4. Great Lakes Brewery Sunnyside Session IPA
  A hit returns to fill my fridge with its boldly hopped up but low ABV presence at just the right time. A seasonal release that is consistently filling glasses and cup holders on beaches and patios all summer long. Juicy citrus notes of lemon and pineapple make this light 3.9% IPA drink bigger than it is with a solid body bringing it all together. For the hop head who wants to have a beauty day, this one is for you!

5. Beau`s All Natural Brewing Saison
  A 500ml bottle of everything you love in a saison. Loaded with banana, orange peel, clove and having a most lovely white pepper coriander backend, Beau`s has a 4.7% Patio crusher that is great for BBQ and pool times. Sharing is encouraged and this bottle will make any craft beer lover smile when you bring a few to the table as the sun goes down.

6. Clifford Brewing Porter
  You`ll need a dark beer sometimes and none hits all the marks like Hamilton`s own Clifford Brewing Porter does. Available at Loblaw`s stores and the LCBO, this 5.0% porter is full of dark roasted chocolate and coffee notes, Black Pale Ale. Summer needs more porters, Clifford has delivered.

7. Cowbell Brewing Shindig Huron County Lager
  A beer fridge is somewhat incomplete without a few straight up lagers or ales to enjoy while doing what needs to done outside. You want a beer that is crushable and tastes like a damn beer, then grab a few of Cowbell Brewing`s Shindig Huron County Lager. As much of a house beer as you can find, this 4.2 % is ready for anyone.

8. Bench Brewing Twenty Mile Farmhouse Ale
  Full of fruity banana, orange and lemon zest with just the right spicy pepper kick on the backend, the recently opened Niagara region Bench Brewing consistently hits all the marks with this one. Also available at Tim Horton's field here in Hamilton for Ti-Cat games and other events.

9. New Limburg Brewing Wit

  From a brewery that is making the best Belgian style beers this side of the Atlantic comes their very crushable Wit. A balanced approach to the style with a slightly spicy, chamomile and citrus mix that goes down refreshingly quick.

10. Side Launch Wheat
  Iconic. Legendary. Damn good.
  The best straight up wheat beer made in Ontario, found everywhere and it should be. Loaded banana, bubblegum, citrus with a slight spice on the finish. An anytime beer that is best served on the patio with pals.

   And just because I can, here`s another 10 you should probably grab while your at it...

11. Mascot Brewing Pilsner
12. Collective Arts Liquid Arts Fest IPA
13. Silly Sir Brewing Easy Tiger Lemon Grass Ale
14. Muddy York Brewing Gaslight Helles Lager
15. Descendant's Beer Co. El Buscador Cerveza
16. Block Three Brewing King Street Saison
17. Amsterdam Brewery 3 Speed Lager
18. Black Oak Brewing Beat the Heat Wheat 
19. The Collingwood Brewery Saison
20. Steamwhistle

  Enjoy every moment you can this summer, find your grotto and pour yourself something to remember.
Have a wonderful time with friends, family and all the amazing craft beer you can find. It's party time!