When I started to look back on all the great beer I tried this year (over 825...and counting), I was struck by not just the variety of styles and flavours, but the experiences this journey has brought me. I started to write as an extension of being mindful while I drank, a way to slow down and consider what I was having as opposed to chasing oblivion; now it is my passion to write about not just craft beer, but my life, past and present. My voice coming back to me is something I will always be grateful for.
|2016 in one photo.|
The truth is, I still marvel at many of the craft beers that I find in my glass because I honestly never knew it could be this way. Sure beer was always a social lubricant, but I used it to hide my fears and anxiety from other people and I couldn't have envisioned what would happen when I left the macro brews behind and embraced the honest and true Craft Beer revolution. For my Favourite 10 Beers of 2016 I will give you what each one of them meant to me rather than rehashing the flavours and compositions. Those can be found in the various Best of posts from the last week but I want this to be a celebration of what Ontario Craft Beer has done for me and what it can do for you. My writing often focuses on the emotional side of the beer drinking experience and for the last post of 2016, I want to carry on that road. Next year will bring us many new and exciting things, may you always be open to them...I know I will enjoy sharing mine with you.
On with the tales of ales...
10. Anderson Craft Ales Brown Ale
In late August I headed down the 401 to London on a spur of the moment post work road trip. My purpose was to visit one of Ontario's newest Craft Brewers, Anderson Craft Ales. I had been following the building of their dream all year and wanted to see the place and try a flight. Quietly I sat and soaked in the atmosphere, their running club had just finished and the excited voices and raised glasses to another great run made me smile. You could see the pride the Anderson crew had in not only their beer but in what they were experiencing in the moment on a hot August night. Eventually I had a chance to chat a little, made a few new friends and plans to come back that I still have in my mind. This Brown Ale came home with me because it captured the essence of that night so clearly. It is aromatic, evoking my senses and with its rich flavours, I can feel myself smiling at the memory of my spontaneous trip. This one is a keeper.
9. Silversmith Brewing The Black Lager
In early January I started to step out of my comfort zone and head out on little trips to breweries. I took my non beer drinking mom with me to Niagara on the lake and we hit up Oast House and had a delightful lunch at Silversmith Brewing. The Black Lager is not just a great beer, it represents a triumph over my own fears. I wanted to try this beer so bad and could only get it by heading to the brewery. Once there and with my mom cheering me on, I started to feel like I could go further, take some more chances and have fun doing it. When I wrote my review of this amazing lager, I felt that day was captured in the glass. It's worth a trip to wine country to get some great beer.
8. Block 3 Brewing Through the Quad
It was spring and I was turning away from macro beers more every day. We had visited Block 3 Brewing a few times and loved its unique adobe look, great Belgian inspired beers and excellent people. What made this one special was its big and bold attempt at a style that was for me difficult to understand. I found it at the right time and place and it introduced me to an entirely new world of beer. It was one that led me to discover how a malty dark fruit beer could shine the light of a new day on my life.
7. Bellwoods Brewery Jelly King
A legendary bar and the first beer saint moment led me to this Bellwoods Brewery Sour Jelly King. After an amazing Brew Cruise around Toronto Harbour in June, we went to Bar Volo to pay our respects to this landmark Craft beer bar before it closed and it was there that my friend Steve bought me this tart and sour dream to end my indecision over the incredible tap list. I went to Bellwoods many times after this and had all iterations of this King of tartness. That moment when he bought that beer however inspired me to write about being a Beer Saint and my world grew even larger that day!
6. Innocente Brewing Two Night Stand
One of the first times I put a person to the beer I liked was when I met Steve Innocente during the KW Brew Donkey Tour in the early spring. This Imperial IPA is a damn good beer but it was that moment when I was talking brewing, marketing and an assortment of craft beer related topics with a man who had created some of my favourite beers that I really felt like I was doing something worthwhile with my reviews and stories. I have been back many times to visit and if Steve is there I am always lucky to have some of his time to talk about the world around us. A man who understands not only beer but the people who love it. He knows what we like and makes it with the dreams we all have inside.
5. Muddy York Brewing Porter
When I was planning a Toronto road trip during Polkapolooza in March, I looked for the farthest east post to start at and found Muddy York Brewing ... little did I know it would result in a most fortuitous friendship. Meeting Jeff then and Susan later helped to sell Mrs. Polk on not only their deliciously smooth and roasty Porter, but on the entire Craft beer movement. It was their open and engaging personalities along with great beer that made my solo journey a place where my partner wanted to join in. A favourite in our house and an inspiration for Kat's foray into home brewing.
4. Collective Arts Ransack the Universe
There was a time when I couldn't stand IPAs. I would run from them after only trying the smallest glass possible to get a check in on Untappd and then turn to Old Mil to drown my sorrows in. This year, all that changed and this big Hemispheric IPA was partly the reason. I have a real soft spot for Collective Arts not only because they are located in my hometown but because they are all about the community they are in. Huge boosters of the Hammer, artists of every stripe and makers of some of the finest beers in the province, CA just gets it. The people I have had the pleasure of meeting dring this year from my Hometown Heroes reinforce my love of this amazing IPA and all their other offerings.
3. Nickel Brook Brewing Café Del Bastardo
Perhaps the strangest thing about this year has been my growing love of not only stouts but the biggest and boldest of bourbon barrel and coffee ones. Nickel Brook Brewing makes some of the best, but it wasn't just the beer that made me a regular visitor to this Ontario Craft Beer legend. John and the entire team at NB made me and my friends always feel like we were the most important people to come through the door at the brewery and were always ready to help in any way possible. Having time for the people who love your beer and making them a priority over anything else is the hallmark of Nickel Brook and a reason that we make the trip over the bridge as often as possible. One offs and seasonal delights like this coffee forward stout make that trip an absolute dream.
2. Nickel Brook Brewing & Sawdust City Brewing 11.05
A yearly collaboration brew between genius Brew Masters Ryan Morrow (NB) and Sam Corbeil (SDC), whose birthdays fall on November 11th, I was fortunate enough to try it on the year when they brewed an Imperial Saison. This beer helped me to truly understand slow sipping and while it is still available in very limited quantities at Nickel Brook, it is not going to be around forever. Teaching me about the ephemeral nature of some craft beers and also helping to bring me a greater understanding of the bold citrus and fruity banana notes of a saison. This beer can change your perceptions of this style and make you smile no matter the day that came before you.
1. Great Lakes Brewery Lake Effect IPA
The most important lesson this entire year of beer has taught me is to have an open mind. Before lake Effect I struggled with IPAs, feeling the piney punch and not much else. This was the first time I really understood the tropical and citrusy properties of the hop and made me a Great Lakes Brewery fan for life. But it was once again the people who work at the brewery who took my beer expeience to a whole other level. Troy and the team at GLB always make you want to settle in and share a pint, trade some stories and hang out. Little comes out of this Etobicoke brewery without some clamouring and rushing to be first to try it. They have been a huge supporter of everything I do and often lend an expert touch to my rough around the edges life. This one will be back and in wide release soon, I implore you to get it into your glass and join me in saluting the fine team at Great Lakes as they embark on their 30th year of fighting the good fight.
There you have it my friends, the 10 Craft Beers that defined the Drunk Polkaroo's 2016. I hope you have enjoyed everything that this year has brought and I want to wish you and yours all the best in the coming year. Try to expand your palate and your travels as the new year dawns and may we get to raise our glasses together in 2017.
Raise your glass and your standards,
One beer at a time.