30 May 2017

When I was angry...

  I found myself staring angrily at the screen last night. Scorn and rage were coming out of my fingertips and as a person I thought was my friend continued to speak ill of me behind my back and online I was ready for a full on war. Words are my weapons and I was ready to unleash the hell of verbal assault on this individual. While I was coming from a place of hurt, especially after all I had thought our friendship was, it was a dark hole and the spiral was very real. My positive outlook often can help me through these times, but last night I couldn't hear that voice, only the pain and anger built up inside me. I could feel the tears and the fear that comes from the natural reaction to being put in a position of defense and knew I could take this to a higher and more dangerous level with very little effort. It surprised me that my anger had so much energy, it took little to set me off and my foot went right to the floor for maximum acceleration. The world is full of knee jerk reactions spilling over into a terrible tailspin and that is where I was headed.
  My default position used to be that kind of angry response to any kind of slight, real or imagined. I could rail for days or even weeks on my high horse and it was (and is) draining. Emotional and physical manifestations of anger take a lot out of a person, emptying you and leaving you seeking even higher levels of that emotion to sustain it. I would spiral into dangerous places in my head and that could lead to crippling anxiety and my old friend depression as I felt trapped by my own feelings and needing to strike out in any way I could. Not physically mind you, I have always been more of a talker, but I would do what I could to make sure my voice was raised and my anger known.
  The last few years have taught me some sense of my own faults and I have worked very hard to address the demons I let take control for far too long. Be it my dependence on drinking to forget or hiding out in my own black space, I strived to be better and make my voice a bright one in the world. While my exploration of craft beer has led me to find new friends and experiences, there always remains a darkness in the back of my mind. Some small and unintended remark still gets my head up and looking for revenge, fight or flight engaged and my fingers poised to attack. The blindness of anger and rage give me a hyper focus that blocks out all the good I have come to know and sends the spiral into a deep and fast descent.
  Such was last night...until a friend reached out and touched me in my heart. A simple message and I could feel the anger dissipating, ebbing away like a bad headache under a cool cloth. They reminded me of the innate goodness that surrounds me just by giving me back my own humanity and helping me realise what I was doing. Petty bullshit and drama is not who I am anymore and I was leaning hard into the wind with both of those. Perhaps I should just be better than that, maybe I should let go of the hate that boils up when I am pushed to my limit and beyond. Words do matter and I was using mine in all the wrong ways for worse reasons. It was almost as if by stopping me with her message, she gave me permission to let this go. I am not sure why but I just felt that way almost immediately. The wonderful thing about our social media lives, much like our real ones, is that we can just cut out the person who tries to make us come down to their level. Block, delete and walk away from the black hole that is trying to suck you in. Being prone to the darkness means I can take that turn on a dime, good friends mean I don't have to.
  Thank you to the person who sent me a lifeline when I was drowning in my own vile anger and goodbye to the person whom I thought was my friend. Valuable lessons from both and while I mourn the loss of one, I am indebted to the other for letting me see myself again. Life is too short to be angry all the time and I will endeavour to remember that better next time someone tries to get me to react that way. Try to be good to each other, it really is such a beautiful way to live.


27 May 2017

The Truth in May at a Beer Festival - Preview

With only 5 days left in the Truth in May, I have reached the most difficult day, The Albino Rhino Beer Festival. Not difficult because of the fun and friends to be had nor the 30 Ontario Craft Breweries that will be there. The problem I have is that I promised to document every beer I have for this month, (we currently sit on number 112...I'll be talking about that when we wrap up after the 31st), but I don't want to buried in my phone instead of having a great time. When I proposed the whole scenario, I recognised the real issue of flights and tasters. When do they constitute a whole drink and how should I account for them? At the time, I thought since most flights are four beers of 4 ounces each, that would be the post, 1 flight = 1 beer. So in keeping with that line of thinking, I am going to attempt to try at least one sample from each brewery and then do a post grouping 4 of them at a time. If I can make that work, the total will be about 7 pints over the equal number of hours at the festival. A pace that is not at all uncommon on a day off but will also allow me to enjoy both the beer and the company of my friends. I don't ever want to let writing and documenting my fun times to interfere with the actual events themselves because that is counter intuitive to what I am trying to accomplish.
  So while I will try to put the posts up as I hit the 4th sample, I may push them back a bit as I converse with fellow beer nerds and have a good time for a good cause. But post them I will and as the day goes on, I hope to meet up with even more interesting folks and explore some craft beer I've never seen before and some old favourites that I didn't know I was missing. Keeping in the back of mind to always put people first and not retreat to writing as an excuse to disappear from the crowd. Fun and frivolity will be sure to follow as long as I let it happen. See you at the Festival!

Follow along at : https://www.instagram.com/drunkpolkaroo/
and https://twitter.com/DrunkPolkaroo for updates all day long!

Raise your glass and your standards,
One Beer at a Time!



25 May 2017

5 Years Ago - Rock Bottom and A Way Out

"I just hope you don't end up homeless."
  Actual words said to me 5 years ago by a CRA agent while my business and personal life were crumbling down around me. Said with a serious tone and some malice, she was scathing in attacking my undeniable failure and her hope for my own personal downfall. The funny part to me then was that I thought 'Why would I be homeless? I have a family that loves me and I am pretty sure someone would take me in if I truly lost everything.' I look back at her words now and chuckle because she wanted me scared and I was so lost in the haze of having been embarrassed publicly by my failing and subjecting myself to being treated like a giant loser for doing so, fear was taking a backseat to numbness.
  I took the only lifeline I could see and used (what I thought) was the one skill I had, being a low paid fry cook who wasn't worthy of any happiness, let alone hope. At the very depths of my despair, I heard her words ringing in my ears as I struggled working 70 hours a week just to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. I was turning 40 in less than a year and I had just lost everything I had worked over a decade to build, life was bleak, dark and empty. Clinging to the only route I had out of this self created mess was getting shitty drunk on cheap beer every night when I got home around midnight, rarely having a day off and even then, spending it cramming Brava light one after the other until the fear was quieted. The absolute of my end was that I would never again be happy, let alone ambitious enough to try to make life better...deeper I went.
  The treatment of a failure who has to subject himself to the reminder of his downfall was in my face every day and I was constantly put down and forced to accept that I was only worthy because I could stand in place for 16 hours a day and hate myself for everything I had become. It was wearing me down, minute by minute I was losing parts of my soul, my sanity and my life. And then the break came that gave me a glimmer of hope for something better. The last thing I expected was to reach rock bottom and find a hand come out to help me up, but when it came I felt the first breathe of hope enter my lungs in months.
  A friend of Kat's had a family cottage and with our constant struggle to even live, she offered it to us for a few days in August of 2013, gratis, no strings attached and we jumped at it. Money would be tight in the coming weeks if we went, but it turned out that 4 days at somewhere not around here was not only necessary, it literally turned out to be the place that saved my life. 
  I had been intermittently applying to other jobs, not with much hope given my many years of self employment and low self worth, but the spark was there, I just had to believe. While at work on my last day before we left for our mini vacation, I received a call from a prospective employer and actually did the phone interview just before my long shift started...was this the one?
 Later that day, I received another call asking if I could come in for an interview that week and even with the 45 minute drive from the cottage, something told me to take the chance. I was nervous and with almost no experience in what to say or do on a job interview, I went in with the best thing I could bring, my open and honest way of speaking the simple truths of life. I talked of my skills in building teams, helping people realise their potential and of course, my dream of starting over and growing with an established and well known company that had a bright future. I was done trying to hold on to who I was before and it must have come through because even before I left the parking lot after the interview, I got another call to come back the next day for a 2nd one. Driving back to the cottage, I could feel a weight coming off my shoulders, my head clearing. We celebrated a bit that night and the next day felt like a step out of the grave, a sliver of hope. I once again went in with a positive demeanour and felt good as I left to return to the oddest vacation I'd ever had. We heard nothing on our final day at the cottage and tried to just enjoy our brief respite from the darkness that awaited us at home. It was a quiet time, my mind racing but unable to process if there actually was a way up and out from the hell I had created, Kat sensed it and didn't push too hard. We both were hoping against all odds that something, anything would swing our way and gives us one more shot at a life without the weight of the past dragging it down.
  Coming back to the house and hearing my phone ring that Friday before I headed back into work was like a choir singing to my heart. An offer was made and while I was staring a 40 hour work weekend, I was never happier. Accepting and planning to say goodbye to the people who had helped keep my head above water was all I could think of as I worked away the next few days, waiting to sign the papers before handing in my resignation. I felt light and happy and when I finally put my signature on the line and shook my new employer's hand, it truly gave me a second shot at a life I thought long gone. My immediate superior at my then job had become a good friend and when I told him I had found a new job, he was elated for me. He had watched me slowly drowning and knew my only way up was out. Good bye came fast and hard that week and while I was grateful that they had taken me in and given me a space, I knew I didn't belong there anymore. New feelings of having some worth could be felt as I drove home after my last late night shift as a fry cook and the new day and job were starting only hours later. I was definitely a little scared at starting over, sad to say good bye to something I had been involved with since my early 20's and a little choked up because I still couldn't believe anything had gone my way.
  The road to my recovery from those dark days was far from over, many valleys came before the sun broke through darkness and life still had a lot to teach me about humility and patience. But that all was at least in front of me, hope had come back to my life and that alone made this the first step in becoming a better man, one day at a time.
  4 years later and I can still feel those butterflies, my world is brighter and the future keeps showing me promise of amazing things to come. I'd love to meet that woman again just so I could tell her that despite her assurances of my imminent destruction, I'm not only surviving, I am living a life with purpose and love.
  Keep on keeping on and the world may just give you what you need when you least expect it. The new chapter begins when you finally open you heart to what can be. I did and now there is no limit to where I can go. Trust me, I've been there.


23 May 2017

Rating and Reviewing - My take on the Numbers

Reviewing like a Boss. Pinky's out baby!
  I often get asked about the ratings I give beer at the end of my Instagram reviews. It comes, of course, from the old days when we used Untappd and scored beers to try and help us remember whether we liked them or not. It has morphed into something different as my palate and education in beer have grown and that is what drives me when I put it to the test in my glass day after day.
 Taste is subjective, people differ on what style and flavours they like and this can be a cause for some difficulty when assigning a numerical value to that latest review. What used to be a "like this beer or not" number has become a test on how closely it matches my understanding of the style as well as how I feel about the beer. An IPA that is super malty or lacks bitter citrus will obviously receive a lower score than one that is well balanced. But what separates a 3.75 from a 4? That is where it gets tricky for me and can have me waffling over the send button on some reviews for a lot longer than you'd think. Here is a brief description of how I feel when assigning the specific numbers to any beer from under 1 to over 4.5.

  • Below 1.00 - Not sure what I did to the universe to deserve this punishment. Way off the mark and almost offensive to humanity. A never buy for me and one I actively discourage their production or consumption to all. 
  • 1.25 to 2.00 - Any beer below this number is lacking several distinct characteristics stylistically and will not make another appearance in my fridge unless someone buys it for me, even that is pushing it. Not worth your time or money.
  • 2.25 to 3.00 - Something about these beers is just a little off. They are not horrible, but they are missing or have too much of something or reached too far and didn't achieve it. Would give another chance, with caution
  • 3.25 - Better than average and eminently closer to the mark of what they are. Generally falls because the balance of flavours did not come together quite as well as the style suggests. To be tried again.
  • 3.50 - Solid beer, sharable, will buy again. Not outstanding but hitting all the proper marks with decent balance.
  • 3.75 - Stepping up with a little better flavour profile. More memorable and the palate is pleased but not blown away. Good beer that will be tried again to explore it further.
  • 4.00 - The top end begins here. Balanced and on point for the style. Checks all the boxes for texture, flavour and finish. A candidate for regular pours and recommendations to friends. Buy this beer.
  • 4.25 - Now we are talking. This is when beer gets exciting. Standout balance between flavours, above the norm and sought after for repeat purchases. Something special in these beers that makes them stand out from the crowd.
  • 4.50 - Simply the best. Everything screams amazing from the pour, sniff and sip. Hitting and exceeding the mark on proper style notes, outstanding flavour and texture with memorable moments all the way through
  • 4.75/5.00 - I've never been this lucky or able to appreciate a beer to either of these levels. Perhaps with time I can learn enough to take some of the 4.50 to these heights. Call them Unicorn beers, one day I shall ride the lightning.
  Anyone who reviews beer and gives it a number is always open to criticism and some of that is deserved. Passing judgement on someone else's work is difficult and even more so when you get to know the good people that populate your local craft beer scene. But the honest and open exchange of information and feedback can be helpful to the brewers and I rarely post scathing reviews because it doesn't help anyone to attack or belittle a beer. Ask me privately and I will always tell you the truth, but for beers that don't hit the mark, I generally log them into Untappd and move on, not wanting to waste creativity or my words on a longer review. If I have serious concerns I will and have contacted the brewery directly to seek answers because I always want to know more. If we really are fans of what Craft beer has brought to us, making it a better and more open for discussing things is only going to create a positive place for all.
  I know some people take the reviews I do to heart and will seek out beers I trumpet and avoid ones I pan, so I am conscious of trying to be as honest as I can with everything I write. I know many folks disagree with giving a score at all and I can respect that too. I do what I do because it is part of who I am and how I translate my experience to the world. The rating I give a beer combined with the mood I try to create with the words I use should help to paint a picture that is easy to understand. I take what I create seriously, but never myself. I don't get all caught up in followers, likes or anything of the sort. Writing about beer should always take a backseat to enjoying it and the people who've come into my life are proof of that. My reviews have brought me so many opportunities to meet new people and create friendships with a really diverse group of pretty awesome people. That is what it should always be about, fun and friends with better beer.
  So review your beer any way you want, give it a score or don't, but always be honest about what you taste. Take other people's reviews with a grain of salt and look to those you trust or who you seem to have a similar palate with for suggestions. Remember that what you taste is what it is, so be patient if you're just learning to experience what can found in all the different styles of beer. It took me a long time to get here and I still feel like I have so much more to learn. Take a class, get your Prudhomme or Ciccerone certification to get into what really goes on in your glass. Or just enjoy the fact that we are living in a golden age of beer right now and explore everything your local scene has to offer. Tell a story, take a picture, sing a song or make a video if that's what you want, have fun and create something that shows who you are. I'm going to keep doing it my way because that's what makes me happy. Hope you can stick around because this ride is just getting fired up.

Raise your glass and your standards,
One beer at a time.



4 May 2017

Thoughts on Selling Out

The future is generic? No way!
The last few days have seen the Craft Beer world in a bit of an uproar as Wicked Weed Brewing from North Carolina sold out to AB-InBev and it caused the usual lamentations and chest beating to occur. I want to be honest with you and tell you that until they sold, I had never heard of them. I am certain many of my friends were in the same boat and it isn't really a surprise as we tend to focus most of our attention on our local brewers and some of the more well known American or European counterparts.
Sweet logo, never heard of them until the other day.
This is not to dismiss what happened as not consequential, I have read about the amazing beer and rapid growth that perhaps led to this moment. I know many folks have already sworn never to buy their beer again and the brewers have, as is usual, come out with talks of strategic partnership and expanded distribution and capacity. I am not here to talk about them, or Goose Island or even our own beloved Mill Street selling to Labatt's not so long ago. No, what I want to talk about has kept creeping into my thoughts many times since this story first broke, that being what the future of our favourite craft brewers might be and how we will react to it.

  I want you to imagine for a moment that your favourite craft brewer has been approached by someone from Big Beer about a "partnership". They have been told they will receive a huge cash payment, but will remain in control of all aspects of their brewery, only now with greater distribution and money for expansion. How would you feel? In many cases, we have gotten to know these people personally, raised pints with them and felt proud as they grew and more people discovered them. How would you react to your friend getting a windfall after years of hard work building and sacrificing so much to grow their business? We may be shocked and sad but how can we deny someone the golden dream because we want them to remain small. The answers are, to me, not so black and white and despite my own personal feelings, I am unsure on how I would react.
An old favourite now no longer bought
  I struggled with Mill Street when they sold because they were among the first Craft Beers to help me shake off the demons of the past and focus on better made, more flavourful beer. The Vanilla Porter was my favourite beer of 2015 and remained so until I started to discover my changing palate could take me to so many other styles. Since "selling out", they have grown across Canada, with brewpubs opening East and West and each is "independent" and unique. But the spectre of corporate overlords can not be discounted and we see it in the beer. A corporation is duty bound, by law, to maximize shareholder profit and if we accept that to be true, have we seen a drop in the quality of beer from any of the local brewers who've cashed in? Some, like my friend who still loves Unibroue even after they sold out Sapporo, say no, it is possible to remain a relevant and good brewer even after signing for a fat cheque from new bosses. Others, too many to name, swear off anyone who takes a dollar from the "evil overlords", like Lagunitas in the States selling 50% to Heineken. 
  Where do you fall? I have my own troubles with getting too entrenched in either camp but my feelings certainly lead me to lean one way indeed.
  I am a massive supporter of the drink local ideal, supporting, visiting and promoting the craft beer scene here in Ontario is my mission and I have gotten to know so many wonderful people who work in and around the industry. From owners to brewers to social media and event staff, I have been lucky to get to know these passionate and dedicated lovers of great beer. So I wonder how I would feel if one morning I wake up and X Brewing company has now become part of the "diverse portfolio" of Molson Coors. It is bound to happen and for all we know that time is sooner rather than later. Will you abandon everything you love about your favourite local brewer because of their parent company, despite assurances that it will be business as usual? Or will you stick to some core principal and say good bye to years of loyalty because you feel betrayed. I think that is the emotional response many people haave nd it is the driving force behind that faction, the feeling of back door dealing, abandonment and just plain frustration. Drinking craft beer, for so many of us, is not just about the beer, it is about the community we have found surrounding it. Sending beer saint gifts across the province or country to share our local faves with far flung online friends is becoming more commonplace and helping connect us like never before.
My conscience is always keeping me on my toes when it comes to beer.
  I think for many of us who came to discover it later in life we cling to this feeling and revel in being part of it because so much of our lives have become programmed and corporate. Craft beer has led me to discover small restaurants and local shops I didn't know existed. I am starting to make an effort to make my voice heard with my dollars but then I also shop at Walmart and work for one of the biggest supermarket chains in the country. So I can attest to wanting to shop local but also wanting to save money and have a job that is reliable. The dichotomy of my beer purchases and some of the other points in my life does trouble me so, but that's a whole other thing to write about another day.
 The result of all this meandering is that I love what craft beer has brought to my life and I have a hard time giving the big three any of my hard earned beer budget money. So while it isn't a hard and fast rule, I bought a new Session IPA from Mill Street the other day, I do my best to keep my regular purchases crafty in nature. I will be honest and conclude that I would like to think I would give anyone a chance even if they sold a stake to a corporation, but it would be difficult to sustain my enthusiasm as the culture and even the beer would be sure to change. So choose your path wisely and with honest, open eyes. No matter what happens, this is a discussion sure to crop up many, many, many times in the future. I just really hope it's not about any of my favourites, I'm not ready for that one yet.

Raise your glass and your standards.
One beer at a time.



2 May 2017

My Beer Philosophy - How I got here.

So many choices I could have made better.
To be honest, I am probably not qualified as an expert on anything...except how to screw up your life in 10 drinks or less. Long a blind consumer of the cheapest beer I could get my hands on, I will always be the first to admit my knowledge of the craft beer industry, scene or whatever we choose to call it is growing by leaps and bounds but still pretty new and generally positive due to my recent conversion and what it has done for my life. While embarking on the Truth in May (check it here) to examine what I actually consume seems like a silly idea to some, to me it speaks to a past that never goes away and a darkness that could return every time I open the beer fridge.
My Beer fridge not so many years ago.

 The real truth about macro beers for a lot of us, for myself at least, is that they scare us. They scare us with their tasteless, easy drinking consumability. They scare us with their overwhelming presence and cheaper prices. But most of all they scare us because it is so easy to slip into sweet oblivion without ever having to stop to consider the what you're drinking.
A good night?

  When I would get home from work or finish my chores around the house, that first sip of PBR, Coors Light or Old Mil would signal my brain that we were done for the day and it was time to chase the night. Did I ever pause to taste my beer? Hell no, that was for hipsters and douche bags. Just drink your beer and then get another. They all tasted the same and for years that what was what I wanted. 
50 Selfie
Uniformity and consistency is one thing Big Beer learned early and made their hallmark. A Molson Canadian tastes the same every damn time, anywhere in the world. An admirable trait in any food or beverage business and it has led to huge profits and global domination by the few Multinational giants that control most of our beer consumption. I am not an economist, but when selling a product like beer, consumer confidence in said product is paramount to repeat purchases. And for years I did exactly that. Pursuing the most drunk for my buck became my goal and it led me to some pretty bad beer, even by macro standards. Brava Light was literally as close to tasting like nothing while getting me drunk as I could find. It was not unusual to find myself 3/4 deep into a 24 several nights a week. Drinking them so fast that I would grab 2 or 3 out of the fridge at a time because I could down them before they warmed up and I didn't want to have to get up every 5 minutes. Be it any other brand, I followed the same suit and rarely considered what went into my glass. For a lot of people this is still true and they often view craft beer just as I used to. But the times they are a changin'.
My beer fridge game is much better now...in my opinion anyway.
  As I became more immersed in the world of small batch (and not so small batch) craft beer, I discovered flavours I never considered, styles I didn't know existed and friends I couldn't have imagined meeting. Leaving macro lagers behind at first seemed like an impossibility because I couldn't let go of that comforting numbness they provided. As I pursued even more and different beers, I found that I didn't need those "filler" beers as often and eventually phased them out altogether. I still have to check myself to not slip back into bad behaviour, even with better beer the darkness flirts along the edges of my consciousness. But the conversation of what is craft, what is macro and why it matters continues to rear up from time to time.
  I watched a few online discussions this week and that is what has prompted this from me today. I am a guy who goes out of his way to try and be a positive voice in a world that can be negative far too often. I give every beer a chance and when I don't like one, I usually just don't post it or give it a second thought. I don't drink macro lagers because I no longer enjoy them and what they represent to my life. I struggled early in my journey into craft to not fall into the criticizing of other people's beer choices but found myself judging them nonetheless. I never wanted to be a guy who did that and it has taken some effort on my part to remember that in the end, beer is supposed to be about fun and bringing happiness to our lives. Be a nerd not a snob has become my favourite saying and while I will make an effort to actually show beers I try that perhaps are not up to my personal standards of flavour and the like (looking at you Freedom 35), I want to make sure I don't discount someone because they like Blue. I have learned to separate the beer from the drinker, lose the stereotypes and give people a chance.
I couldn't have appreciated this even a couple of years ago.

  So I will leave the definition of what craft beer is up to the experts. I know what I like and feel that many people are in the same frame of mind. We want to buy local, supporting friends and family in our communities in the process. We want to try new and different style and flavours in our beers and we want it to be better. But we also want a consistent, well made product and that sometimes is the problem with craft beer. With the burgeoning (200+) amount of Craft brewers in Ontario alone, there is bound to be some duds. Will the marketplace ultimately weed out the pretenders? I think so, but it will be up to us, the beer buying public, to vote and support with our dollars the future we want to see in this or any other jurisdiction. I will continue to do my part to spread the gospel of drinking better and more mindfully and hope to use my love of craft beer to bring more people with me. I hope to remain your humble and honest friend in this endeavour and want nothing more than to keep meeting really good people and talking about our favourite or not so favourite beers. I am an open book with most of my life and I think that is why I am able to help show the regular side of the brave new world we are living in when it comes to beer. I love it when people reach out and ask me about a beer or brewery and I will try to connect them with someone who has the answers if I do not. I want to be part of the future that craft beer has come to represent to the regular beer drinking guys and gals of the world and hope to continue to share my life while I do it. So if you want to drink PBR, do it, make yourself happy and be damned the haters. But if you think its time for a change and want to start your own trip into a pretty amazing place, I am more than happy to show you around.

Raise your glass and your standards,
One Beer at a time!