26 May 2016

Summer & Sours & Saisons, Oh My!

There is something happening here and what it is ain't exactly clear...
(Buffalo Springfield)

While that's a great lyric, the coming wave of sours,wheats and saisons/farmhouse ales is perfectly clear to people who love craft beer. These styles have become a staple rather than a novelty in my fridge and those of my friends and I say "Hooray for our side!"  Citrusy, tart and a whole host of other amazing flavours have made this a brave new world for a former drinker of cheap, watery beer.
 Many people have been predicting sours in particular to be the new IPA for a while now, but to the regular macro beer drinker, it had been off the radar or an afterthought. No longer is this the case and it is time we get our pucker on! Here's some of my recent favourites for you to get an idea about what is capturing my heart.

Many of my friends have recently tried and fell in love with the Raspberry Uber from Nickel Brook Brewing. From its brilliant red colour, pinkish head and tart raspberry flavour that reminds you of eating them fresh from the garden, this beer has quickly become a staple in our summer beer fridges.  Soon available at the LCBO, this one is a serious contender as the beer of summer. 
Raspberries all up in your face!
If your near western Ontario, the Half Hours on Earth folks have captured our hearts with their takes on this refreshing style and I have horded a few of my pick ups from the other week because they are so good. I lament being so far from this brewery and will plead with my family who have a cottage nearby for a pickup anytime I can.
Small and nimble, this brewery will take your breath away

As for local options, I am just beginning to scratch the surface. Collective Arts has its Gose (Gose-Ah) available now and it is a smaller sour with a salt kicker in the back. Super crisp and clean, this was my choice for a growler fill the other day and when two of my friends stopped by the that night, it was quickly consumed and loudly applauded. Look for it in bottles/cans.
This is going to be a big hit!
I must say that the Farmhouse Ales and Saisons are now my go to beers when I want to take a break from all the yardwork. With their big citrusy notes, they provide a great flavour burst from the ordinary. They can range from not sour to mouth puckering so be cautious. You'll find everything from banana, orange peel and lemon zest to earthy yeast and pepper notes that can really punch the flavour up. Bellwoods, Muskoka, Black Oak, Block Three and Folly Brewpub are just the tip of what is a very big iceberg of amazing beers I've had recently and are either available in the LCBO, Beer Store or are worth the drive to get some really good stuff.
Beautiful Wheat beer.

Lots of orange and banana!

Saisons for days!

My 1000th distinct beer and it was a tart lemon beauty!

Folly has it going on!

I looked back on my summer beer pictures from last year and it was a lot of MGD, Old Milwaukee and Pabst. I had just really started to find my legs as a craft beer drinker and had not yet let go of my over consuming macro ways. I am imagining the summer of 2016 is going to be a much different photo album.
The amount of people who are getting into these fruitier tasting beers astounds me and it has been the people who hate IPAs and stouts that seem to have gravitated to the sours or saisons the most. I think a lot of it has to do with being tired of the same old "beer" taste and wanting to be part of this growing community of drinkers who are rising up and demanding better and more diverse things. I for one will be happy to be part of that charge and the more people we can bring into the fold the better. It will be an interesting time as demand grows and our craft brewers respond with their creativity being the only limit. I'm liking where this is headed.
So it's time to crank up the summer tunes, head on out to the deck and crack open a few beers to celebrate the beginning of my favourite time of the year. Bring on the heat and I'll see you by the pool!
Raise your glass and your standards, one beer at a time.

22 May 2016

Through the Darkness to the Light

The blackness of depression and white hot panic of anxiety are always near me. Without warning they can flare up and make any day a struggle. If you live with these twins of despair, you know what they can do to you. Clouding your judgement and making even the simplest things difficult.
The other day was a good one...until it wasn't. I cannot fully explain what triggers my emotional response sometimes and it is with much trepidation that I even type these words. The dark and empty feeling when you cannot make sense of the world around you can trap you in a spiral of doubt and shame that is hard to pull out of. Add alcohol to the mix and it can burn hotter and longer than you intended to let it.
In the old days, I would respond to this mood by trying to drown it with cheap beer. I've talked about not going Full Polkaroo before and it is part of my journey through craft beer that I must acknowledge every time I crack open a new one. I no longer want to be that guy, so my response to the trials and tribulations of everyday life are much more thoughtful and measured now. At least I hope they are.
Earlier this week the clouds rolled into my mind and I couldn't shake them off. Nothing really was the cause, but I felt the crushing weight return and I was at a loss. Instead of responding with copious amounts of booze, I decided to wait it out. I had grabbed three tall boys of my favourite beers and considered just downing them to ease the pain, but I couldn't do it. My appreciation for a well crafted beer means I don't want to waste even one on trying to cover my feelings. As I stared at the cans in front of me, I tried to imagine what it would be like to not care about what I drank and just pound beers until I didn't feel anything anymore. It is a scary thing to know how far you can go to try to escape yourself, But as I have grown in the last year and learned about myself, I discovered a reserve of strength inside and put the cans back in the fridge. Not wanting to pound one beer in anger on a bad day was a triumph to me and it helped to lighten my mood.
It took the better part of two days for the sun to shine in my heart and while I knew I was off the rails, there was nothing to do but wait. I'm impatient at the best of times and that was part of the problem before. I knew that popping the top on ten or twenty Brava lights would make me feel better right now and that was all I needed. But the false happiness of those beers was soon followed by the realisation that my problems hadn't gone away, I was now hung over and still faced my own demons. The fact that I could enjoy my one beer and not give in to those old feelings was part of what helped my come out the other side in one piece. I enjoyed each of those beers in time and I was so glad I hadn't just pounded them mindlessly. I've learned that sometimes the best beer is the one you don't drink.
Bad days come to all of us, but it is our response to them that counts. Being aware of my own problems and not hiding from them is part of what I am doing in becoming a better person. I say it all the time, but it deserves repeating...Craft beer saved my life and I am grateful for that. I will continue to sing its praises and enjoy the wonderful and innovative flavours I find when I open the next one. Brighter days beckon and with summer coming, I am excited to see what's next.

Raise your glass and your standards!


6 May 2016

Craft Beer thoughts on a Friday Morning

Mrs. Polkaroo and I at Descendants Brewing Company.
I want you to imagine that you live in a world where what you do for a living is as scrutinized as those who make Craft Beer. Visualize that every day your workplace was filled with visitors, your social media blowing up with positive and negative comments and at the core of it all, people passionately discussing your every decision. I would think that it would drive you batty after a while and you'd want to find a quiet place to hide at the end of every day. With the exception of professional sports and politics, I don't think there is anything that generates the intense discussion that your favourite (and not so favourite) craft beer does day after day. Oh I know that there are devotees of any number of things, but if your just watching from afar and don't really get the whole craft beer phenomenon you still can't help but notice its rapid explosion in the last few years. Not that it hasn't always been with us, but it has become so much more mainstream and accessible recently that many people have been drawn into its flame and that of course means more opinions.
"How would you like a job where you make a mistake, a big red light goes on and 18,000 people boo." - Jacques Plante, Goaltender
I have been asked many times if I've had a bad craft beer and the honest answer is that it is not the quality of the beer I didn't like, it was just one that didn't meet MY expectations or wasn't MY style. I capitalize the MY because no matter who you are, from Master Ciccerone (Trained/certified Beer Expert) to someone cracking their first IPA, it is all about your experience and palate. I have worked diligently to create an understanding for myself, my friends, family and finally a wider world about the journey I've taken through Craft Beer without taking the snob route. I couldn't fathom ever liking the bitter "pine tree" beers a little over 18 months ago and now I will drive for an hour to grab the latest Innoccente Brewing Double IPA. Reading and following breweries and other beer geeks on social media to keep track of the latest releases from Bellwoods or my own hometown Collective Arts is how I spend my lunch break at work and I get excited when it's my day off and I can galavant around the area picking up new brews. But does that make me better than anyone else? Do I look down on someone who loves their macro lagers?
In one word...No.
All it means is that I have taken what was a destructive and potentially addictive force in my life and turned it into a positive. It means I use my spare time to try a few new beers and write about them. I do that to help me track and understand my own growing base of knowledge as much as to share them with the universe. I don't think anyone should tell you what you are tasting and judge you if you don't get what they do out of something like a dark roasted malt stout. I do love to read other people's descriptions of what they are tasting in a beer I just poured or purchased; It has been massive help to me in understand the often subtle and nuanced flavours found in almost any style of craft beer. But if you don't find that licorice flavour in the beer that I did, it only means that you tasted what you tasted. I understand the need for tasting notes and use them all the time, but don't beat yourself up if your not pulling the passion fruit or blood orange flavour out of your new beer. In time and with lots of different beers, you will be able to identify and put into YOUR own words what you taste. And that is what it is supposed to be about, tasting good beer with friends that you can enjoy and share.

I think the passion that we as a community have developed and joyously share with the world (in some cases), comes from a few places. One is the feeling of smallness and access to the people who make the beer. In many places, the brewing is taking place right in front of you when you visit the brewery and you can talk to the people who make your beer when you stop by. As I stated at the top, I couldn't imagine the pressure that comes with such a rabid and opinionated group of followers each brewer has. Two is the people who work in the breweries themselves. With few exceptions, they are even more passionate, enthusiastic and dedicated to the craft than even the most devoted fan. They help each other out, prop each other up and come together like no industry I've ever seen. That feeling permeates everything they do and it is their local connections and promoting of their communities that helps to integrate them into our towns and cities. It's easier to talk to the owner of your local craft brewery than it is your own mayor most of the time.
Such a thing to meet the person who creates your favourite beers.
 The Polkaroo and Steven Innocente, Innocente Brewing Co.
I'm sure we all have a moment when we crack open a new beer, pour it into a glass and let out a contented sigh at the end of another work day. To me it also means I am saluting the men and women who work so hard to imagine, create and brew my beer. I will never question the integrity of a beer, even if I personally may not enjoy it. Beer on the craft level is an experience in trying new flavours and textures. So when you read a glowing, over the top review or a slamming take down of a beer, try to read between the lines for the truth. Every beer has its place and I urge you to keep trying different styles and coming back to revisit ones perhaps you didn't like the first time. Saisons, sours, IPA's and other summer ales will soon be flooding out into the LCBO and local breweries and you should always be on the lookout for something you've never tried before. Who knows, next year you may be like me and taking trips to places you've never been for a new and delicious Craft Beer that we can share.
Raise your Glass and your Standards.
One Beer at a Time.

5 May 2016

KW gets Polk'd with a Tour on the Brew Donkey!

If you have been following along at home for any length of time, here or on my other outlets, you know I love to visit breweries. In a few short years I've gone from only buying 24's of the cheapest macro lager I could find to mixing in a few new craft beers to planning a days travel to hit as many breweries as possible. It's been fun and a journey I believe is just starting.
In this vein, when I was asked if I wanted to be part of the Media Launch for the new Brew Donkey KW tour, I jumped at the chance. Getting to visit the places where my beer comes from, not having to drive and making new friends are all things that appeal to me. Not only did I meet some interesting people, I was lucky enough to run into old friends and spend the day talking beer with everyone.
We started at the very cool Waterloo brew house Abe Erb with a bite and a brew. Brad, owner and man of many hats for Brew Donkey, greeted us warmly and laid out a bit of the plan for the day. I grabbed a Broke Spoke Double IPA from the bar before we left and it was the perfect opener for what was to come.

I haven't been on a school bus in a long time, but it seems to me that the seats are smaller. Perhaps I've put on a pound or two since grade 10, but I digress.We all eagerly boarded the bus and while we drove to our first destination, Brad filled us in on how he came to be the mind behind Brew Donkey. I won't spoil it for you, but it involves travel, beer and one of my favourite charities, The Donkey Sanctuary in Guelph. The story alone had me cracking up and when we pulled into St. Jacob's and Block Three Brewing, spirits were high.

 I've been here before and I love their take on Belgian style beers. The samples were flowing and we wandered around a bit before getting a tour of their brewing area. Lovely space and I must say I was taken with how busy they were on an early Sunday afternoon. I of course grabbed one of everything I hadn't tried before and we were off to our next destination, Innocente Brewing in Waterloo.
One thing I loved about the trips between breweries was that it wasn't just sitting on the bus and staring out the window. Brad was engaging and fun, filled with stories and making sure we were having a good time.
Arriving at Innocente, we were met with a sample of their Irish Red, a delicious brew and, to my surprise, Brewmaster/Owner Steve Innocente. He gave us a great tour of their facility and told the story of how he had come to be where he is today. I had a chance to chat with him before the tour started and thanked him for making his Charcoal Porter, which is one of the beers that kicked my pursuit of craft beer into high gear. He even took the time to take a photo with me and I will admit to being a little in awe of this innovative brewer!

Thank you good sir!
 After purchasing their new 1815 Rye Saison and a few treats for some pals, onward we went, with a tasty beef panini for lunch and more laughs. I really was having so much fun and the day was only half over. Next stop was the unique and new to me Together We're Bitter Cooperative Brewery in Kitchener. Their approach to community brewing and worker/owners was outlined by the very enthusiastic Head Brewer Culum. It was an infectious talk that had us laughing and seriously considering joining this merry band of brewers. Great place that was brimming with an energy that was hard to contain in those four walls. I picked up a couple of half growlers for later inspection, but was really taken with their Pullman Porter, a coffee forward brew that spoke to my soul.
I could have listened all day!
Going home happy!
So much coffee, I might be in love!
 Our last stop was the recently (Friday at 4 p.m.) opened Descendant's Brewing in Kitchener. It's going to be a real treat to watch this brewery grow into the space they have and you could feel the pride emanating from Lee and Robin as they filled us in on their amazing trip to where they are today. Their faces beamed with what I would call exhausted excitement. Most people would have been dead on their feet after all the hard work they have put in over the last months but they took time to speak to everyone and you could feel their joy at having finally opened their doors!
Hanging out with the guys from Brewvy!
Gotta get a photo with my favourite person!
It was finally time to board the bus for the last time to head back to Abe Erb and our normal lives. I will admit that I didn't want the day to end, who would after all the fun we had! The whole experience was first class and to be able to share it with Mrs. Polkaroo and all the craft beer lovers on board the Brew Donkey tour was amazing. If you are looking for an easy way to visit some of the great Craft Breweries in the KW and Guelph area, head on over to the Brew Donkey KW site and book today. I think it is the perfect way to spend a day, with a lunch and all your beer samples included. When you get back, you can keep the party going either at Abe Erb, Beertown Public House (just across the street) or head on home with the new craft beer you picked up and share it with your friends. It could be a precursor to a wonderful evening or a gift for anyone. Whatever the reason, I'm planning on joining one of the future tours with my friends and enjoying another round of brewing awesomeness!

 On a side note, Mrs. Polakroo and I could not pass up the chance to hit up Beertown Public House
for some appetizers and beer. I found 5 beers I'd never had before and enjoyed the whole atmosphere. More on this very interesting place another time, but suffice it to say it is a place high on my list to revisit, this time to take on the Mega Flight of all 30 taps called the Beermageddon
Paddletron 3000. Waterloo is going to Get Polk'd and I may have found my new home!

Raise your glass and your standards one beer at a time!

I'm Home!
What a flight! Bring on the Paddletron!
Mrs. Polkaroo approved the food!
Dessert in a bottle. Love a Lambic!


1 May 2016


Always time for my beer cat and constant companion.
 Jinx is a real example of being present.
Cats only care about the now.

What do we all wish we had more of and eventually run out of? What is the most precious commodity on earth that some people have a lot of and others get almost none?

I constantly hear people talk about how busy they are and how they have no time. Granted if you have kids or two jobs you are probably pressed for some alone time, but it's the context of that "busyness" that makes me wonder.
I sat down one day and tried to plan some time to work on the various Drunk Polkaroo irons I have in the fire. Between work, sleep and my chores, I figured out that I have four to five hours a day for myself. That's pretty outstanding in my books and yet I am always feeling pressured to do more. I know part of it is procrastination, who doesn't get caught up in a Netflix marathon every now and then or a good book. The black hole of the internet and where that can take you is one of my biggest weaknesses. I can get lost for hours reading other peoples blogs, researching beer related things and general nonsense. Wikipedia can gobble up an hour in the blink of an eye.
My issue always comes with catching myself and others complaining about how we have no time. I have been honest with people before when they tell me they haven't seen me in a while and try to let me off the hook with " I know you're busy". I tell them that I'm just as busy as they are, but lazy and a poor planner of my free time. I think that is true of most people, you try to make time for what is important and excuse yourself from anything else with fooling yourself that you're just too busy to do anything about it.
I've been pondering this problem for a while now and it is part of getting north of 40 that triggers my wanting more time. I can look back on what time I've already squandered and know that I only have a finite time left to accomplish something with my life. Not that I think I've wasted my life, just took a different path to arrive at the same spot. Wool gathering about the past is a dangerous place to go and I'll just move on. The big thing is how to make the most of what I've got left and the best way to do that is to be in the present more. That's a constant theme of my beer travels and the one thing I can control about my life.
Sometimes beer reminds you of the past and you just go with it.
Sawdust City won a Gold at the OBA and it took me to my first trophy as a kid.
Little Norway Pale Lager. 
I am constantly trying to be on top of my game when it comes to enjoying the moment and when I sit down to write my nightly beer reviews, I take stock of where I am and where I want to go. I use the past, present and future to illustrate the brew in my glass and that has led me to some interesting places indeed. Because the beer always demands my attention to figure out what it is trying to tell me, my mind becomes focused and calm with the flavours and textures speaking to me. When I was a guy who pounded 15 or 20 Coors Light's a night, the only thing I could think of was how much I hated everything and wanted the sweet release of the blackout. No longer is that a goal and one I can use beer as a solution to.
Beer as dessert and a great slow sipper.
Dinner out with friends and family is as great use of my time!
Stranger than Fiction from Collective Arts.
Big, slow sipper beers are ones that have a high alcohol content and demand some respect. Anything north of 7 % is in this category for me and when I pour these big boys into my glass, I can slow down and be present. Mindful drinking is part of utilising my time better and enjoying what I have more. But I now find myself slow sipping almost every beer I have so I can work on something, be it the blog, reviews, videos or future plans. I still feel pressured to be more things than I am comfortable with, but for those few moments when the beer hits my lips, time stops and I get to just be me.
It's funny to think that the cause of my biggest problems for more than 20 years can be used as a solution to them now, but it's true. It takes dedication to the principals I have given myself, but it is possible to remake your beer drinking life, no matter your age. Utilizing time as a measure of what is important to you allows you to plan better the future you want to see happen. I work very hard to make each minute count and while I may feel like the walls get close sometimes, I push back with hope and dreams.
 But still the feeling of needing more time persists and I know you feel it too. I am not sure what we can do except put a stop to all the ridiculous attempts to "Have it all" and be content with what we have. Strive for a better life, but don't ignore the amazing things you already have. Maybe you should sit back, crack a beer and just enjoy it all. It's okay to watch the world go by sometime and when you stop and look, you may be surprised by how much more time you have. Slow sipping beats macro pounding any day. Stay present my friends.
Raise your glass and your Standards.