30 September 2016

World Cup? Not even close...

The World Cup of Hockey.
The very name evokes a global notion of sports competition and supremacy; And while I always cheer for Canada to do well on the world stage, this time feels a little hollow. The sport of hockey is almost exclusively dominated, in the last 10 years an6way, by the red and white of my home country and while it is good to win the game we claim to have invented, what is it we are winning? The talent gap is so large that this made for T.V., Toronto centric tournament had to cobble together two teams who have no host nation to call their own. The under 24 North American team was exciting and the Europeans have become the sacrificial lamb in the Gold Medal final with Canada, but how can we call it a world cup when we are unable to even ice 8 national teams that could be competitive. Outside of the Big 6 (Canada, Russia, USA, Finland, Sweden and the Czechs), no country can claim to have a chance of winning or even competing at this level.
Contrast that with the mind boggling, years long journey the 32 teams that make up the only real World Cup go through. Football (soccer for the North Americans) provides so much drama just to get out of the group stage and while its bloated bureaucracy and corruption threaten it long term strategies, the game itself is the true world sport and its champion can claim a legacy of winning its way to the top.
Contrast this with the ongoing World Cup of Hockey. The teams in the tournament do not earn their way in, some are made up and all are forced to play under NHL, not international rules. I am most assuredly not a Soccer fan, but I am fairly certain the rules don't change at the games highest championship. We dominate but it feels somehow less.
The Olympics, combined with the World Senior and Junior Championships are probably a better reflection of the game but it is still controlled by the same 6 teams and to be brutally honest, only Slovakia (in 2002) has broken that domination in over a century. How can we continue to get excited about being the best of 6 countries in anything. I love the gold medal feeling but this tournament is mislabelled and that could be a proper start to its legitimacy.
Bring back the true name of this tournament, The Canada Cup.
We are hockey and until someone can figure out how to level the playing field that will only change if someone gets very lucky. When we line up best on best, no one comes close to staying with us. Calling it the Canada Cup would once again serve notice that we bring the standard that other nations chase when it comes to the rink and despite their success and excitement, ditch the phony teams and let nations play their way in for the last 2 spots. It is Canada's game and I think it could be better if we bring back the original  name of the trophy and challenge the world to come and try to take it from us. It won't fix the gigantic talent gap or dwindling popularity of my favourite sport, but at least it will better reflect what this tournament should properly represent.
Just my two cents. 
Go Canada!

15 September 2016

Life is Better with Craft Beer

Raise your glass and join me for a pint.
Every day is one that I know will end with at least one new beer and therefore, another Instagram story. I have been posting at least once a day since January 1st this year and have described over 700 beers or events that I have encountered. That's a lot of words, somewhere over 200,000 when you get into the blogs and while I've never been known to keep it short and sweet, this surprised even me. I am sure others have written more and investigated deeper about craft beer, but my open and honest style and what that has done for me is nothing short of a miracle.
If you've been following all along, then you already know that I use my life, past and present, in my work and that is not always the easiest thing to do. So many people keep their emotions inside and are afraid to let go. I was there and I discovered that by opening my life to the world through beer, I changed it forever.
Tabernac in Quebec City 2016
I've met some amazing people through Craft Beer as well and am always ready to go out and meet more any time someone wants to raise a pint with me. New experiences and people keep entering my life and it's only getting better.
Nothing could have prepared me for total strangers wanting to share a beer with me or meet up and become real life friends. I didn't start anything with that intention, I just liked writing about what I was tasting with a little of what I was doing at the time. I am actually quite introverted and it can be difficult to force myself into new and different situations; But with Craft Beer, I seem to have found a way to talk to and engage people I don't know. It gives us a common ground from which to work and we always seem to find a whole lot more alike when we meet up and order a flight of beer. I am certain it is the way I have chosen to share my life that encourages people to reach out and I want that to continue as well. I want to hear your stories, your journey and be part of your narrative. I want to do these things because it has made everything so much brighter in my life and the more people I can add to my circle, the clearer I can see.
I am an emotional guy. I react with my gut and go with my intuition about things. I have yet to meet someone from my online life who didn't live up to their digital persona. I'm sure not everyone who drinks craft beer is nice or personable, but the people who I have had the pleasure of meeting have been singularly spectacular. Open and caring, they continue to amaze me with their generosity in bringing me beer to try and spending time sharing our life stories over a pint makes my heart sing.
Some people have reacted negatively online to my openness. I pay them no mind, they seek to bring people down to their level and I encourage everyone to aspire to be better. Fly above those who do nothing but criticize and eventually they no longer can be seen or heard because you have left them behind to wallow in their own self loathing and sadness. I don't understand that type of person because why wouldn't you want to be a positive force when the world needs it so much.
I tend to write about the good and seek to stay that way. I veer a little evangelical now and then in my praise of Craft beer and I am okay with that. What it has brought to me is beyond my capacity to repay with my words or pictures. Every experience I have is born out of a desire to find a new beer, a story or to meet a new friend. Seek and you shall find is how I begin every day. The truth in my life found waiting for me when I opened myself up to it. 
Nights like this are not to be missed.
I am constantly pushing people to get out and explore their communities through their local breweries. I want to not only share my tale but read and see yours. It makes me happy when people chronicle enjoying an event or trying a new beer that catches their fancy. The breweries themselves are constantly coming up with fun things (think Yoga, running clubs, paint and a pint) to do either at the actual destination or throughout the town. This kind of involvement in local events is how they grow organically and cultivate the good will of not only the people who are already fans but those who didn't even know they existed. Every day someone tries a craft beer for the first time and if we can associate that experience with a great memory, it reinforces my notion that better beer can make a difference if people will only try it.
Today I write because I can't imagine not doing it. Either here or in my personal blog (Needs to be Said), Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, I always try to bring you something to think about in a positive and happy way. I want to continue this journey and hope to keep meeting those who travel this road that meets at the corner of Hops and Barley.
Raise your glass and your standards, one beer at a time.
Come by and say hello if you see me out and about, we can sit down and share a pint and a story.
Time for a new adventure

13 September 2016

The Party

So many questions for this guy...
I'll be brutally honest, as always, and say that for an event that I've allowed to shape my life, I remember precious little about The Party. Lost in the mists of time and booze, many of my memories are clouded by what I've been told or think I recollect. The exact details of this life changing moment are never clear, but always there in my mind with one single word...Why?

Why did I stop caring about academics? Why did I turn my back on those who tried to help me? Why did I choose a life of struggle when I could have done so much more? Why did I reject everything I thought I wanted to be?

These are just some of the questions I ask myself when I look back and I have no answers. 43 year old me would love to help the confused 17 year old Rob to not make these errors in judgement, but I know in my heart I wouldn't listen to any reason. There are a myriad of examples of people trying to step in and help me back then and I rejected them all.

It all began on a March break in the early 90's. The family had left for a week and I was left home on my own because I was working and hadn't given my parents any reason not to trust me. I'm sure they suspected I would have a few friends over and maybe bend the rules a little, but nothing to the scope of what I did. As soon as they left, my friends descended by the dozens for a party that now seems to have stretched forever that week. Fuelled by teenage angst, I plowed through bottle after bottle of whisky, oblivious to the fact that we lived in a pretty tight neighbourhood and word of my misdeeds would no doubt get back to my parents. My nihilistic view on life at this time had plenty to do with it. I was losing interest at school, neglecting my studies with an a vengeance and not thinking of any future. I wanted nothing more than to party with my friends and be a "grown up". I put that in quotes because I had no idea what that meant, my arrogance making up for my lack of knowledge.
 I cannot tell you what happened, I see little snippets in my mind, but they are like ghosts in the works. Jack Daniels, pizza boxes and beer bottles litter the floor; a hazy smoke filled basement with hair metal blaring from the boom box and the feeling of this is how life should be linger in my memory as the week went on. I had no concept of what life really required of you, I couldn't do laundry properly or budget my money and yet I knew I was ready to take on the world. Such hubris is a common theme in much of my life since then and I struggle with those consequences to this day.
The Party itself was like a thousand other teenage parties before and after. Dumb kids get access to a place to let loose and someone has a friend who can buy them booze, mission accomplished on both points. While the exact events are not as important as what I did when my family returned, I really hope I had a good time because it was a long time before I felt happy again.
Knowing that I was deep into a whole world of hurt when Mom and Dad found out what I had done, I left before they got home. Long before cell phones, I cannot imagine their struggle to deal with what had occurred and my running away. Again, my memory is not clear on the details, but I know that I made a choice that week to throw away the plans I had been making since I was a young boy to go to university, become something bigger than myself and make a difference in the world. It wasn't a conscious decision, but it was one I made in anger, defiance and depression.
 I now know that I was struggling with anxiety and a darkness that had come down like a veil on my life. This was long before we encouraged young men that it was okay to be sad or express their feelings. You weren't supposed to show any weakness because that was a sign that you weren't man enough. I work hard today to change that not only for myself but for the young men I know.
 Part of my problem was that I was not getting the results I had in school when I was younger. Being labelled as "gifted" was a blessing at first, but as I levelled off and became part of the regular core of kids, I still yearned to be special. I imagine that if I had applied myself a little harder and worked on it, I could have achieved my lofty goals, but when the learning that came easily when I was young turned difficult, I was lost. Once again, I should have talked to someone, many people tried to talk to me, but I was building a wall that still hasn't come all the way down.
 The aftermath of that week long self indulgent, arrogant train wreck of life choice was years of wandering. I moved out and lived on friends couches for days or weeks at a time. Returning home many times, I attempted to go back to my life before, but couldn't stay straight for long. I dabbled in drugs but they never really did it for me. Alcohol was my fuel and it took many of my memories with it in its' wake. Things would be okay for a little while and then I would again begin raging against an imaginary slight and run away. This was my life for many years after and I think it is because my parents never closed the door on my return that I never truly was lost. I could cling to that happy memory and slowly I grew up...very slowly.
I eventually did finish high school, with a big assist to my Mom who made it her mission to see me graduate. I immersed myself in the local hockey association, coaching kids and walking away from the people I had partied with during those fateful years. Occasionally I would have a few beers, but it seemed I was moving away from those terrible days and had something bigger coming. But my self confidence had been shaken by my mistakes and despite an amazing offer to pay for my first years tuition from my Uncle Lyle and Aunt Cathy, I couldn't return to academia. Life was rounding into a form though and my time behind the bench seemed to be the path I needed to find to fix everything. I really thought I was bound for the NHL one day...
 This shows you how little I had learned, nothing is ever that easy and life was going to throw me a curveball once again. The next chapter of my life was both terrifying and amazing; Filled with memories that make me smile and cry, often at the same time...but that is something for another day.

11 September 2016

I Don't Love Every Beer I Try, Here's Why...

Perhaps this label would work .

I was drinking a beer the other day that didn't do it for me. It was uninspired, bland and tasted like what a group of marketing executives thought a beer should be. The logo was minimalist, finely tailored to stand out in a fancy restaurant as craft but not to challenge the esthetics of the beautiful space it was being consumed in.  I see these "brands" more as the craft beer segment of alcohol purchases continues its surge. I'm nowhere near an expert on beer or the industry, but I drink new beers all the time because I love the journey and flavours that I find. The adventures and beers I've had are not unique to me and I actively encourage everyone I meet to get out and experience all that this amazing community has to offer. But lately I've seen some stuff that doesn't sit well with me and my own life.
The search for a profitable business while brewing well crafted beers is not a bad thing. If they didn't make money, your local Craft Brewer wouldn't last long and we would be left with the same old choices we've always had. I applaud anyone who can figure a way to take their passion for brewing great beer and make a life from it, that's the dream of many a home brewer. It's not the person who wants to share their beer with the world that has caught my eye though, it is those who seek only to profit from the rising trend that leave me with the wrong kind of bitter aftertaste in my mouth.
It's not that I am against anyone wanting to grab a share of an ever growing market, but many times I feel that some are in it for the wrong reasons. Watching places like Muddy York and Anderson Craft Ales grow their brand and spaces slowly as the money comes in and their dreams get bigger is pretty amazing. The people behind the beer are in it for more than just a quick buck (I hope) and it is a joy to share a pint with people who seem to genuinely care about their community. There have been other times where I hear about a beer, try it and find nothing behind it. I'm just a regular guy who loves to try new beers, I don't have the time or expertise to investigate every new brewery that opens. I rely on those who have the connections and links to keep me informed of the business end while I pursue my emotional one. That is what I write about and when I get a beer and hear about or feel the lack of substance behind it, I am at a loss.
I know what drives a man to want to share a beer, I do that all the time. But to create a beer with the sole purpose of making money, regardless of how that gets done seems counter to everything I've learned in the last year. It has occurred to me that some of these brands have been created with the singular purpose of being grown just enough to get the attention of the executives at Big Beer so that they can affect a buy out and the windfall of money that could generate. I don't know if that's true, but in my gut, I'm certain that discussion has occurred and those are the ones that scare me. Because what has been built can be torn down. Some of the brands I'm seeing get widespread distribution in the LCBO have little behind them but a "group of friends" and a "dream". Many of my favourite Craft Brewers are still waiting for that kind of exposure. The money they make goes into upgrading equipment and expansion, not photo shoots and lobbying for another SKU at the liquor store.
 I hate to be negative and always try to find the best in any beer I try. Knowing that something might just not be for me and my palate, I never slag a beer or the people who make it. But there have been times where I wonder what I am drinking and who I am supporting by buying or talking about this beer. I don't buy macro because I've given them enough of money over the years and my dollars should go to those who are making a difference in the beer world. But when the contents of my glass are billed as craft and I find out its little more than a lifestyle marketed as a beer, I feel cheated.
The best way to support local craft beer is to go to the source. Not only do you get to experience the atmosphere and people who work there, more of the profit stays with them. There are good examples of people who work hard at creating beer, contract brewing it to get going and then turning that into a brick and mortar brewery. Descendants in Kitchener is one of those. They took a real leap of faith, leaving everything behind to pursue learning brewing in Germany. Returning to contract brew and get that elusive LCBO listing to finally getting their own brewery that has quickly become a community hub with events happening all the time. Great people making better beer. That's a story I can get behind.
 I'm not sure what the future holds, I am certain we will see even more "brands" coming unfortunately. I can only hope that we will be able to tell the difference and choose our next beer wisely.
 I know I will.
The Polkaroo approves this message

10 September 2016


My favourite kind of photograph.

The older I get the more important photographs become. Most of my memories of events come from those photos themselves as opposed to actually remembering them. Its odd, but the further away I get from my childhood, the more I cling to those pictures as evidence of my life before now. Grainy 70's shots look odd and while I know intellectually that is me in the photo, I can't remember that particular moment or how I felt. I'm not sure when that started to happen to me but it seems to be the norm as I get older.
My childhood is commemorated by a lot of photos, especially when we are little. Captured moments of unscripted joy, unhurried lives and a bright future. At play, formal for those family events when we'd be dressed up and looking our best or just hanging around the house; we have documentation that we were there, we existed and those things happened. Moving into my teenage years, they become less frequent because I wasn't around as much and we had started the inevitable moves into our own orbits with friends, lovers and lives. There are many years where there are just a handful of photos with me in them because I was off on my own journey and that did not include a lot of pictures. I wish I could find more from when I was 17 to 25 but I am not certain that many exist.
The advent of an affordable digital camera and subsequent improvements in cell phone technology has led to an explosion of pictures, good and bad, and it has made accessing those memories easier because we are always snapping shots.
I love to peruse Facebook or Instagram and see the pictures of my extended family and friends' and their ever growing brood. Time and distance has made it difficult to actually spend time with some of those people, so those cute shots on the Internet are my window into their lives. I have become a fan of taking a few shots myself with all my craft beer pictures, but it's become far more than beer that has captured my eye. I see the world in a new light because I am always looking for a unique way to show off the bottles in my collection and that in turn has led to my seeing things I've never noticed before and my camera finds them too.
. The digital revolution means my life in the last 10 years has far surpassed its documentation through photos than in the previous 30. I can look at my memories with the click of a button and there are times when I get lost for hours going through the albums on my computer reminiscing about days gone by. It's easier to catch a whisp in time now because we have such easy access to a way to do it and I am thankful for that. These pictures tell a story and the more we have, the better that story gets.
Copying Papa at Christmas time

Remembering Wingnut, our pet chicken
Not many photos exist from these days.
Mall Santa in the early 80's...a little creepy...
I got nothin'

My brothers and I, 1996
One of the best days.

Grampa and I would never get to share a beer, but I have this moment forever.

7 September 2016

The Answer

Many years ago at my local watering hole, a barfly named Frankie told me that the answers to life lay in the bottom of the glass. I must have thought that was sage advice as I spent the next 25 years searching for that answer. Bottle after bottle, pitcher upon pitcher, I drank on. Bleary eyed and hungover I would wake and the answer would be just out of reach, hanging in my mind like a spider's web and then gone with the rain of macro lagers I pounded in vain. What damage was wrought by two plus decades of silencing my voice with beer? Who knows but the Polkaroo the evil caused and done by drowning your troubles in tasteless, over chilled, mass produced brews? Time and time again I would vow to stop, to moderate, only to find another morning surrounded by empties, shame and a hazy memory of what had occurred.
 Then into my life came a light, a small flickering one at first; Growing slowly as it took down the ancient castles of ignorance, depression and anxiety. To taste a beer and enjoy it without losing yourself to the darkness was new to me. It wasn't a quick lesson, my life is not that simple. But it was a presence, a force and as time went on, Craft Beer became a way to be in the moment, not disappear and hide. You look deep into your glass because you know it will be a singular experience. This liquid is someone's dream, their hopes and passion brewed with care and quality. To pound it back and disregard that love is not only an insult, but a waste of what your vessel contains. Beer should not be an excuse to leave your friends and enter your own world. It is meant to be shared, to enhance and grow your life and maybe even bring some joy to a dreary day. Be it an old favourite or something you've never tried before, each one is waiting for you.
I chose better beer because I know the answer now. Where I searched frantically before to gain a moments joy from the fleeting haze of a drunken state, I slow down and ponder. I look not to the bottom of the glass, but into the full one that sits before me. I imagine the brewmaster planning the recipe, preparing to brew, firing up the kettle and then waiting to see the final results. It is a leap of faith to send your creation into the world and it is that act that has changed my life forever.
So I will go on. I will preach my thankful words and high praise for those who make this magic elixir. I will raise my voice in joy at the opening of a new beer and I will watch with a patient eye as the liquid hits the glass. The building of the foamy head, the scent of hops, malt or perhaps even coffee fills my senses. Before you sip, look at what has been carefully constructed and placed in your hand. Pick it up, say "Cheers!" and enjoy what is the answer I was looking for all along.
To raise your glass in happiness and drink in all that life has to offer is what I wanted. To see new and wonderful places, to meet amazing people who share a passion for something and to learn new things was all right there for the taking. I just had to remove the only obstacle in my way.
I learned to let myself experience life and despite my own trepidations, step out of my routine and comfort zone. Without Craft beer, this never happens and I am left bereft with nothing but sadness and that empty feeling. But I now know the thing that was missing, I choose MY path less travelled and it has indeed made all the difference.

This poem from Robert Frost of often quoted for its last three lines; It is also misunderstood just as often. Both paths are equally worn, but your memory and your choice will be what you are left with when your time comes to an end. I keep it close because it reminds me that while Frankie had good intentions, that path of macro was well worn with sad results. The Craft beer one is also well travelled, but when you look back, it will be this way that brought the most happiness to your life. Take a chance, try something new and explore all your local Craft Brewers have to offer. It is your choice, make it wisely and be brave.


The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

5 September 2016

The Move

1987 Rob was a better dresser than 2016 Rob.
 Few events stand as life changing to me as much as our 1985 move from the gritty East End Hamilton neighbourhood to a relatively suburban Stoney Creek mountain one.  Growing up in the shadow of the steel plants shaped much of my character with its blue collar values, front porch sitting neighbours and the feeling that the whole community was looking out for you. The Move came at a time when our family was settling into its happiest time, yet it shook my life to the core.
As with any 12 year old, news that we were leaving all my friends and familiar landmarks behind was not greeted with enthusiasm. Who wants to leave their life and start over? Especially when you are like me and crave the simplicity and normalcy of routine. My best friend, Kevin, lived 4 houses away and we spent our free time on our bikes exploring the streets of the surrounding area. Adventure awaited every day and we felt safe no matter where we went. All that changed with a single move that led to some of my biggest triumphs and loves of my life, as well as some of my worst decisions.

We arrived in that semi detached house on Fuller Court soon after school finished and began to settle into our new lives. I had discovered a passion for hockey the previous few years and it was here that it blew up into a full blown obsession. The history, stories and numbers of the NHL gave me a foundation for stability and I grew attached to everything about the sport. I would spend hours in my room researching statistics and memorizing the players. With only 21 NHL teams, it was a simpler time and I immersed myself in everything hockey. Strapping on skates for the first time and taking to the net still remains a vivid memory and while my brief 5 year foray into actually playing hockey was filled with more defeat than victory, it stays with me as one of my happiest times. My talent never matched my heart but I soon found that those who cannot execute as a player drift towards coaching and that is where I found my calling, for a brief time at least. Our family became a Hockey one and we had a blast being part of that community for many years. This was my safe place, my refuge and these memories will always be close to my heart.
Old School Goalie!
My parents tried to ease the transition from our old neighbourhood, often bringing Kevin to stay overnight. But as any kid will tell you, when you are removed from the daily routine of hanging out, there comes a distance that cannot be filled. Not being part of the pulse of the old neighbourhood means you lose touch with the shared experiences. Drifting, I began to cut myself off from the world and live more inside my own head. I had a fantastic ability to create vivid imaginary worlds and inhibit them. With my love of books, I was never at a loss for material. The school year loomed and while I was in love with learning, the thought of being the new kid terrified me. This was a long time before any sort of anti bullying campaign and I knew what happened to the new kids. The larger problem occurred when it came to the actual school work. Several false starts and miscommunications about what I was actually supposed to be accelerated in led to a wasted few months and despite my best efforts, I started to struggle and that was new to me. I had been part of an advanced curriculum at my old school and remained so at my new one, but something had shifted in the transition. My grades remained high and my expectations hadn't changed, but the thrill of getting an A+ started to fade a bit.
I found out years later that my parents had discussed letting me return to the old neighbourhood to live with my grandparents because my depression was so deep. My struggles felt so huge and I was unsure what to do. I still get that feeling of sadness in my chest when I think of how lonely I was. But, as with most things when you're young, life changed. I met a kid from the next court over and slowly made friends at school. It was in trying to fit in that I first used humour, especially the self deprecating kind, to make myself part of the majority and it was then that I began a sideways drift towards what would be a lifelong battle with my self image. But in the meantime, I was finally happy. Our family was becoming part of the new community, especially at the arena, and life was once again appearing normal.
That time we met Gordie Howe!
The last two years of grade school present no real stand out memories. I functioned well as part of the leadership group in class and I remember mostly joyful experiences. We played road hockey, explored the ever expanding growth in our area and enjoyed many happy family times. But part of me never felt wholly present living there and despite everyone's best efforts, I yearned for a past that didn't exist anymore. Graduating from Grade 8, I tried and won a scholarship to a prestigious private high school in Hamilton and rather than continue with the friends I had made in the last two years, I decided to once again be the new kid. Looking back, I have no doubt that I was engaging in what has become a real theme of my life, Starting over. The feeling that if I just change everything about my circumstances, my life would be better. I lasted a year in that school before transferring to the local public high school because I couldn't fit in with the wealthy crowd that ran Hillfield. It was becoming obvious that I had no idea what I was doing and my grades began to drop. I started seeing school as an interference in my life rather than a help and even starting skipping class. My social network started anew, but with less than the best kind of results. No one knew what to do and while many tried to help, I was no longer listening. A theme that will present itself again in my life, many times, with the same results.
It's been almost 30 years since these events and most of reminiscing is of the happy kind, but that notion of changing everything and fresh starts remains. The next part of my life shaped the direction I would take for close to a quarter century. One decision took me off the path that most people, including me, thought I was on. One choice and I descended into over two decades of self medication and poor choices. It was a future wholly of my own volition and it started with The Party...but that tale is for another time.  

2 September 2016

Head West with The Polkaroo...and Craft Beer Too!

Not a bad way to spend a day off. 6 Ontario Craft Brewers and a whole lot of fun.

I am as guilty as the next person of being a little myopic when it comes to Ontario Craft Beer (OCB). For many, it begins and ends in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and the breweries outside of that sort of expanded suburban context tend to get lost in the mix. The fans of these small town breweries, however, are legion and as passionate as any I have encountered. Inspired by the current Golden Tap awards that recognize the best in OCB and being a little out of the mainstream myself, I decided to visit some breweries that fall outside of that invisible boundary and talk about the great things happening there.

Bell City Brewing

Their slogan game is on point!
Located in Brantford, Bell City has been stepping up their beer game with new releases almost weekly and you could spend all day in their beautiful taproom. Always a welcoming place, they are fans of all craft beer and have time to talk to anyone who stops in. We grabbed a few bottles of the new wheat ginger beer and sampled the famous Breakfast with Tiffany, which was made with 57 boxes of captain Crunch. An ever growing list of awards dot the brewery and their new Flight Club on Wednesdays is a great way to get over the hump of the work week. Only a little over a half hour from my house, I always head here when there is a new brew to be had.
I really like Captain Crunch!

Kevin was a wonderful host!

Lots going on when we got to Grand River Brewing just outside of Cambridge in Galt. Getting ready to can some more of their LCBO releases, this almost 10 year old brewery is a favourite of mine for their Curmudgeon IPA, one of my first craft beers that became a regular in my fridge. I had to get a sample of the pumpkin beer and was impressed with it. We grabbed a few bottles of Curmudgeon and some other tasty treats and hit the road again.

TWB was a place we had visited on the Brew Donkey tour back in the spring. A co-operative brewery that is filled with enthusiastic and friendly folk who love their community and a good pint. We were greeted with open arms and even Kat was pulled in by their pure joy. Trying samples of everything and taking a few fun pictures, we grabbed a growler of the delicious IPA for sharing this weekend. A must stop in the area if you want to see how people can come together for the love of beer. When I told them about how I used one of their smaller growlers to store my home brew (I know, not a good idea, but we ran out of bottles) and the bottom had popped off, they offered a replacement even though its demise had nothing to do with them. I politely declined and told them I want to pay for my stuff because I know every dollar counts when you are growing. We will be back and you should make the trek yourself.

TWB let us have a little fun with the mash paddles

She's the best!

Our next stop was a place we have been to many times. Descendants just opened this year and it is a huge space that gets better every time we drop in. An open bier hall concept has led to many new friends and interesting discussions. Not only do they have great beer, but they also offer several beer cocktails which I think we will be returning to try on a less hectic travel day. The new Sugarman's stout was just bang on and I bought 4 to share and sip at my leisure as the weather turns to fall. Once again we experienced people who love what they do and that is infectious. Great spot in Kitchener for a break from your day.

We love this space!

Flights and my favourite person
Hitting the road to beautiful St. Jacob's, we arrived at Block 3 to meet up with my friend I just haven't met yet, Scott. We have exchanged messages on social media for quite a while and when he heard I was coming to his favourite local brewery, figured it was a good time to meet up. The building is one of the most unique I've seen and the taproom was hopping with people when we arrived. Greeting my new friend, we settled in for a flight and some beer talk. Brewmaster Kevin was there and he joined in the discussion as well. Personable, excited and again, passionate, everyone we encountered at Block 3 was exactly why I love to head out and visit my OCB. You can combine a trip to this quaint town, perhaps a stop at the local Farmer's Market and several pints of a growing list of amazing beers. I left with 12 bottles, some for me and a bunch to share with my friends who've never been here. What a great time we had, but there was one more stop and we had to say goodbye for now.

Love this entrance

Flights once again. The Noon on a Weekday IPA was my jam!

Getting to meet new friends and sharing our stories. Thank you Scott!
Innocente Brewing
I have been to Innocente many times. Their Two Night Stand Double IPA is not only award winning, it is one of the best beers I have had this year. No trip to the KW area would be complete without a stop in this beautifully set up brewery.
We were lucky enough to arrive on brew day and founder and brew master Steve was working hard on a new beer. Our friend Craig was hard at work as well, but stopped to say hi and talk about their new Berliner Weisse (we even got a sample right from the tank! Thanks Craig!). Steve came over and we chatted about the future of Craft Beer in the province and the realities of getting your beer into the hands of consumers. He is one of my real joys to talk to in this industry because of his honesty, passion and vision. They have a few releases in the LCBO right now and it would be an even better thing if they had more. We have discovered that Kat loves porters, so we grabbed some of their amazing Charcoal Porter, 4 bottles of  the Conscience IPA to share with my fellow hop heads and made our way back to the highway for the trip home. The Two Night stand will be ready in a short while, so I will be back soon.

One of my fave logos in Ontario.

First full beer of the day and Conscience is spot on.
Home again

At the end of the day, the GTA is the dog that wags the tail of brewing in this province. By sheer numbers in population and breweries alone, it will always dominate the social and news feeds of beer lovers. But you would do yourself a great beer injustice if you didn't step outside your normal routine and explore all this provinces' brewers have to offer. The people who are setting up shop in small towns all over the country are bringing great beer to places where often the only choices are dominated by the tiny local liquor or beer store.
We love to find new to us breweries, meet the people who create them and their fans. There is nothing better than sitting in a small town craft brewery and sipping away your afternoon with people who would love to share a story or two about their journey.
Remember to vote for all your favourite Ontario Craft Beer, people and other categories for this year's Golden Tap Awards. Show your appreciation and love and make your voice heard for your local brewers.
Vote Here and then get on the road for a day of adventures in Craft beer, you will not regret it.
Maybe we will meet up and you can share your story of discovering better beer and leaving macro behind. I would love to hear it.
Raise your glass and your standards, one beer at a time!