21 June 2019

Leap of Faith - One Polk's Dream..


I look into the mirror every morning and I see a tired man looking back at me. I am old at being young, but young at being old (to quote The Barenaked Ladies), but I feel every year sometimes. Life is rolling along at an ever increasing clip and as a blue collar guy who left high school and has worked in a variety of customer service jobs over the last 30 years, I don't have much in the way of plans for the future. Little savings from being self employed for 13 of those years and working for chains that don't offer retirement packages means I am most likely to work till I am well into my 70's or until I keel over at the grill one day. The prospect of another 30 years spent grinding out 50 hour work weeks with 2 off for good behaviour seems daunting at times as the entirety of my life will be spent working to just stay put. Not an appetizing thought by any means and I lack the self discipline or guts to trim my life to the basics so as to save and retire a bit earlier on a modest budget. But one day I had a thought, perhaps I could "retire" for a few years now while I can enjoy it and then toil away my remaining years with the wonderful memories I could create.
  How's that now, you ask yourself?
  Well, admittedly it isn't the smartest plan or the most stable but it is a dream to dream each night.
  We bought our house about 12 years ago, right before the market went ape-shit. Coming in at a very reasonable price, we looked at it as our forever home where we would raise our child (to come soon after) and enjoy the life we were building. A simple 2 bedroom home with a huge yard and room to grow, we hosted parties,a wedding and so much more before life got really complicated after I lost my business in 2012. The struggle to stay afloat was real but after a time, we found our footing and on we went. The real blow was when we found out that it wasn't in the cards for us to have kids, tough to swallow that one I will tell you, but once again, we refocused and strode on into the night with our sights on tomorrow.
  But I did get tired of it all some days. I looked at a future where we just keep doing the same things, day in and day out, a fait acompli until I take my leave of this mortal coil and no longer care. This cannot be all there is and one day, a mad plan, a decidedly crazy and unabashedly irresponsible plan popped into my head when I was a few pints in.
  We sell the house.
  Travel the world for 2 or 3 years.
  Come back and resume our lives, but with the tales and memories to carry us to the end while we still can enjoy them.
  Simply put, as madness usually thinks of itself, the profit from the sale of our house is going to exceed $300,000 and while we do have decent jobs, they are nothing we couldn't find again after a few years away. I don't have a career that needs saving, a life worth living should be lived well and hard. This is what I proposed one evening...
 We take half of what me make, maybe a little more and just go.  Leave with the wind at our backs and don't stop until we have to come back to ground and resume this life lived proper and true to what is expected.
We would head to Europe for a few months first, chasing beer dreams from Belgium to Germany and the Czech Republic. Drinking Belgian Trappist beers in taverns across from the monastery that produced them, sitting in a German Bierhaus during Oktoberfest and crushing Pilsner Urqhell on the patio in Pilsen would no longer be a dream and without a rigid travel timeline, we would be free to explore at our own will.
  Returning across the Atlantic, we would embark on the most ambitious part of my "retirement" plan; Polkapolooza : North America. Buying a truck and a trailer, we would start our journey in Newfoundland, exploring the local craft beer and food scene in every province and territory in Canada as we travelled across this great land. Timing stops for cultural events that pique our interest, we would search out experiences that will give us the memories promised but left unfilled in an uncertain future. Perhaps a year or so spent driving and stopping in to visit anywhere we fancy before we turn south and visit our friends and neighbours in the United States to do more of the same.
  Rather than looking for a reason or a purpose, we will simply go where the wind takes us and live the life that we cannot expect as our years advance. There will be no lazy senior days for this guy and this rather wacky and wholly un-thought out plan remains a dream that tantalizes my soul when the days get dark and the future a muddled mess of repetitive convention. Is it idiocy or madness that drives me to contemplate taking a risk and just letting go of all the routine and "correct" things we are supposed to do? Sure, a little of both but I do know one thing for sure, I was not born to just work until I die and pay bills.
  There you have it. The flights of fancy of a middle aged dreamer who will head back to work tomorrow with a little glimmer of what may be, even if that's all he has to keep him going.


16 June 2019

Reflections on a Beer Festival

  I do not do beer festivals anymore. I work early in the morning and most weekends, so that has a part in it for sure. I struggle with big crowds of people and have little tolerance for drunken frat boy behaviour or jackassery. All told, I'd rather stay home and drink amazing beer in The Grotto in peace and quiet.
  I have a soft spot for my OG Hometown Craft beer heroes Collective Arts and when they asked if I'd like a pair of weekend passes to this years Liquid Arts fest, I couldn't really say anything but "Thank you" and "Can't wait to see you all". I haven't been writing about beer that long, not quite 4 years, but I haven't missed a CA release in the whole time either. So I come by that love quite honestly. I am enamoured with the community of craft beer lovers and with the closeness to my house, this fest seemed like we could at least go for 1 of the 3 sessions and then wander back to The Manor for a night cap. I joked that there was no way I could do all 3 Sessions without dying but in the end we did go to all 3 and had a blast at each one.
  The vibe was super chill all weekend, little in the way of drunk and disorderly and anything untoward was addressed quickly by security and with no bullshit taken. A large concern for me going in was the "token less" nature of the festival, that is you only pay for your admission and then you drank what you wanted, no tokens or further money required. Rampant over consumption and rowdy drunks were not an issue as the volunteer staff was well versed and had no trouble cutting people off if necessary, not that I saw much of anything resembling that level of idiocy, although I am sure it existed. The upside to a non token festival is that you can get half pours, dump a beer you don't like and you don't feel like you've wasted your money. So many times I would take a few sips and feel like it wasn't for me and politely dispose of the contents and proceed to the next one. A green peppery tasting off flavoured Hefe met this fate along with a few stouts that rocked the smokey level too high for my style, but for the most part it was smooth sailing.
  The layout of the festival this year was a solid plus as well. Spreading out over a larger footprint gave it a strolling component but not like you had to trek for miles for the next tent. It didn't feel overcrowded even when the place was jumping because you had room to move and sip. The grouping of breweries was easy to navigate and with little trouble we found styles to each of our liking every step of the way. Loads of IPAs, Double and Triple IPAs, NEIPAs, Imperial Stouts, Sours and even some Pilsners and Lagers for an old guy like me who just wanted a damn beer from time to time. Breweries from 14 countries meant we were getting stuff from all over, although I would have liked to see more locally or culturally significant to that particular country as opposed to another hazy IPA. But overall, there was literally a beer for everyone and any taste bud could find happiness in their afternoon or evening.
Meeting my Beeroes

  I will admit the art and music were not a huge thing, but my tastes in both run a little more old school so it wasn't really something I was putting much stock in as the day went on. For the most part, it was just noise in the background as the festival crowd rose and the laughter and pints flowed along with it.
  Running into fellow beer lovers you only know online is a big part of why we did all 3 sessions. So many friends coming in at different times and I couldn't help but want to hang out a little and chat while we drank. As someone who does very little to no socialising, it was a safe and beautiful way to experience the community and make people as part of my day. Lots of folks stopped me just to tell me they enjoy the videos or the writing and to be honest, I am stunned and humbled whenever anyone tells me that. A lot of hugs and handshakes, although as the night went on the latter became more prevalent. Craft beer isn't just better beer, it seems to create some very strong bonds between strangers who quickly become friends.
  While I am no longer an UnTappd kind of guy, it was fun seeing people's excitement as the added to their running totals and got badges all day long, well over 200 different beers available and that included a dedicated Ontario Craft beer tent that was often staffed with the brewers themselves. Things sold out and although there was the occasional long line for certain beers, I didn't have to wait long when I wanted something. Literal strangers would strike up a conversation and within minutes we were enjoying beer tales of days gone by.
Polk doing Polk Things

  For the most part, these things are the things happening every weekend at Beer festivals and breweries around the world. People like being part of something bigger than they are and this community is made up of a lot of regular working folks who just want a little tipple on the side of fun at the end of an often heavy and dreary work week. Family obligations, kids events and just plain old life are complicated and messy and if for a few hours we can escape that and just enjoy a couple of pints with like minded people, I think that is the biggest success of all.
  Whether or not you enjoy yourself has a lot to do with what you expect going into the day and this year I think Collective Arts certainly took the things from last year that did not work (i.e. international bottle shop and a VIP that under delivered) and fixed them by keeping it simple. Getting in an hour ahead of everyone was worth a few extra buck for those with the Mothership Passes and with the other events, food trucks and even a complimentary Caesar/Gin Bar, hair cuts from Architect Hair design, Tattoo artists and more, the value was there for anyone who wanted it.
  Thank you once again to Toni and the staff at Collective Arts for always including us in these events and for being open and accepting whenever I have a question or criticism of what they are doing. I do strive for honesty in all things and I can truly say Kat and I had a wonderful time that we will long remember.


13 June 2019

Don't Gamble with my Beer - Quality Matters

  Beer shouldn't be a lottery ticket.
  I know, I know.
  Not exactly something most people think about when it comes to their beer, but when it comes to Craft Beer, it is something that continues to pop up more and more. The growing market share of our favourite beverage will not continue it's rise if breweries start to cut corners and put out sub standard beer to control costs or hit a planned release.
  The macro beer producers learned long ago that consumers demand a consistent, albeit boring, quality product that will give them exactly what is advertised. Beer that delivers the same thing whether you buy it in Toronto, Vancouver or St. John's. A Canadian or a Labatt's Blue may not be the things beer nerds like myself line up for on a Saturday morning, but the people who buy 24s of them on a regular basis are never disappointed in what they purchase. While you or I may have left these plain lagers far behind, the majority of beer drinkers still enjoy them because they are what they say they are, every time.
  I am certain that there are a few Craft breweries that could learn a lot from this kind of quality control, dedication to consistency and being prepared to admit when their product is less than optimal.
  I have had beer that contains off flavours, resembles poorly conceived home brew or generally lacks in any kind of quality control and yet still it was released to the public, even when privately you hear whispers that it would have better to sit in the tanks longer or even meet its fate in the drain on the floor.
  While the recent Flying Monkey's "Sparklechunks" debate is still running on Twitter, it is the lack of concern from some people that truly concerned me. Phrases like "I got lucky, no chunks." accompanied photos of the very good version of this beer, while other times people would lament their fate and report a clear, chunky mess of a beer that appears to be something completely different. While I am not privy to all the world, I know that if I buy your product and you tell me it is one thing, it had better be that or we have a problem.
  This is not about not liking a certain style or even a certain brewery and their take on it. It is about being honest with your consumers. I was not a fan of Collective Arts IPA No. 6 last year and talked about how it was just not balancing well together for me. Trying it a few weeks and another batch later, it was better but still had me questioning the release of the first one. Too many times I find beer that is not quite ready for prime time and whether that is a decision based on money or production is a questioned best left to be explained by those who released it.
  This industry grows every year but people will not suffer sub-standard fare for long. The hope of more market share rests on delivering a good product at a fair price on a consistent basis. $5 for a lottery ticket of a tall boy is not something I'd like to keep trying my luck at. 
  While the wild and crazy things we see in craft beer are no doubt entertaining and helping to open a world of creativity and flavour, quality must remain the watchword and in a time when anything goes, it is paramount to always keep the bar moving up when it comes to making sure every pint is on point and consistently well made.
  It falls on consumers to make the choice to support those who follow the path of good beer and fairness. Your dollars speak and when you spend them, you are showing support for what you believe in. Believe in better beer and demand nothing less than the best from what you buy.



7 June 2019

Comfort Beer - You can go home again.

The pursuit of the new and novel is the hallmark of most craft beer drinkers. We love to find different styles or variations of such and of course, pursue the elusive whales of our dreams. These flights of beer fancy are fun and leave us looking whenever we stop at the Liquor, grocery or Beer stores or the breweries themselves for something we haven't seen before. This is the reason so many of us got into craft beer in the first place, the constant and changing landscape of innovations and ideas drives the need to keep searching for the next thing.
 While this is what we do most often, we also lean back sometimes to the beers that took us from there to here and enjoy them quietly and in a deep appreciation for what they have brought to our lives. Whether you've been a consumer of craft beer for decades or are just dipping your taste buds in slowly right now, we all have those beers that bring us joy and ones we return to again and again without fanfare but with much love. Some people call these "Go-To" or regular rotation beers but I like to think of them as "Comfort Beers" and with good reason, they give me just that.
  A Comfort beer is trustworthy, never wavering from the original intent and always reliable. It delivers what you remember and what you enjoy with equal aplomb and even if it's been a while and your palate has changed or improved, it still gets you smiling when you take that first sip. You find yourself buying a few cans of this beer every so often just because and it can surprise you when you haven't had it in a while because it continues to be a consistently beautifully crafted ale. It isn't flashy or trendy and for some of them, even well known, it can seem like they have been missing from your life for far too long. You know them and you love them for exactly what they are.

  While each of us has our own version of a Comfort Beer, the hallmarks of consistency, quality, reliability, availability and trust play huge factors as often times new beers can miss the mark or leave us wanting as brewers change and challenge the notion of what a certain style of beer should be. For me, a true Comfort Beer is as close to the style points as possible and delivers them in balance between all flavours and aromas. It also has to be readily available all year long as a one off or seasonal release may not be there when the notion hits you and you crave the familiar. Although having said that, I do count on a few releases every year to join me as I roll along through life like long distance love.
What hits the mark for one person will not for another but here are a few pints that you should pick up again or maybe for the first time to enjoy and reflect.

Nickel Brook Brewing Headstock IPA - The OG of West Coast style IPAs for me. Big citrus pith and pine with a toasted malt body that is all about balance.
Wellington Brewery Imperial Russian Stout - The only year round Imperial stout in Ontario. As a slow sipper at the beginning of the day or the last pint of the night, it is perfect.
Amsterdam Brewing Boneshaker IPA - The beer that taught me citrus pith and pine are good things. It's big brother Fracture is a yearly Comfort beer that never disappoints.
Steamwhistle Pilsner - Legendary quality. The original crossover beer for so many of us and a ubiquitous part of our craft beer life that appears again and again, especially in summer.
Great Lakes Brewery Canuck Pale Ale - That most Canadian of Pale Ales. Available fresh and with an unmatched consistency of taste.
Clifford Porter - One of a handful of beers that sets the benchmark for any that come after it.
Collective Arts Ransack the Universe IPA - My first love. A tweak has developed it once again into a must have on a regular basis.
Side Launch Wheat - My favourite straight up wheat ale. Perfect in every way.
Muskoka Brewery Mad Tom IPA - A cottage take on the classic West Coast IPA. It hits different hop notes than most classic IPAs and that brings me joy. Twice as Mad Tom is delightful too.
Sawdust City Brewing Lone Pine IPA - A brilliance of balance. Pine, resin, grapefruit and more citrus check all the boxes. Twin Pines...oh baby.

  While I am sure I could list a dozen more and that your own personal list of Comfort Beers may contain a completely different set of beers, the intention is the same. Identifying the beers you trust and know will always deliver what you ask of them, Finding your way back home after an adventure and enveloping yourself in the love and spark of what you know and love is a fabulous feeling.
  Enjoy your summer and remember it's okay to just drink a beer because you know it and enjoy just drinking it. Life is all about chasing the dream, but sometimes you just need a break and a Comfort beer should be exactly that.