30 October 2017

Help end the Stigma - Movember 2017

  Last year for Movember, I shaved off my goatee and grew a moustache in support of Men's Health awareness. It was the first time I had participated in anything like that and I choose to make the focus of my efforts on mental health initiatives. Getting men to open up about their difficulties with depression, anxiety and a host of other quiet diseases that affect them isn't easy and this year I would like to take that campaign a step further and try to help end the phrase and culture of "Man up."
  You hear it all the time, hell I used to say that exact phrase when talking to people who seem to always have some kind of issue. "Man up" isn't just about pulling up your bootstraps and carrying forward despite any obstacles, it has come to mean suppressing emotions, fears and depression. It symbolizes a kind of toxic masculinity where we revere the silent type who never reveal their pain or ask for help. We tell young boys to stop crying because it's weak, we tell them to control their emotions because a man is quiet and keeps such things to himself. When I was growing up we never were explicitly told to bottle up our feelings but the slurs that would rain down on anyone showing the slightest weakness made clear the path we were to take. I cannot imagine the pain caused for those who are gay, questioning their sexuality or place in the world when we were growing up as the words and actions of those afraid to express themselves would manifest in severe bullying, even assault. To protect at all cost your rep as a man was paramount and no one wanted to be seen as a sissy or worse. Being different meant an exile from the social world of our youth and we learned to keep our feelings to ourselves, putting up a front of toughness to the outside world.
  I have definitely noticed a shift in how we teach young men to deal with their emotions and mental health issues. Even coming from a generation where we were taught to keep it inside, I see an opening up in the channels of communication and that is good. But society and culture are sometimes slow to react and every time I see or hear the phrase "Man up", I cringe and want to ask the person just what they mean. Do they want the guy to ignore his mental or physical problems? To bottle up whatever he is feeling and conform to some out dated notion of what it takes to be a man? It isn't enough anymore to be silent in the face of increasing societal pressures and changing norms, we have to do better. Teaching young men that it is okay to show weakness and ask for help would go a long way to addressing the bigger issues facing us today. The rise in suicides, substance abuse and lashing out in an attempt to escape from or numb their internal pain means we aren't doing a good enough job of reaching out either. It is more than being good role models and showing the next generations how we can be better men, it is about communicating to them that we are supporting them as they grow and learn.
  We have to be the beacon on the hill for our fathers, sons, nephews, brothers and friends when it comes to mental and physical health. To take down the "Man up" crowd means we have to show vulnerability in asking for help when we need it and creating a place in our lives where we reach out to them when we see they need a hand. Not everyone who needs help will ask for it and I say putting the onus on those who are secretly hurting to come forward to seek help is simply ignoring a problem and hoping it will go away. If you care about someone and see they are hurting, sometimes it is going to take a little effort on your part to get them the help they need. And to those of us who let pride get in the way of seeking help I say the time has come to admit we can't do it all, we have doubts and fears and need a shoulder to lean on every once and a while.  I don't want to create a society of dependence but the silent screams of millions of men who just wish they could talk about things that are bringing them down and causing them pain and the needless deaths that result from that have to stop. "Man up" means internalizing your thoughts, feelings and doubts and the end result is the perpetuating of a culture where our sons and nephews continue the cycle. We can break the chains to a past that doesn't exist anymore and create a world where we feel safe and secure in expressing ourselves without fear of losing face or the respect of our peers.
  It is on us to show the way and lend a hand up to anyone we can. Being a man is more than being tough, it is about doing what is right and knowing when you need help yourself. To affect change we have to start somewhere and removing the phrase "man up" is a small and subtle change to broaden the tent and bring everyone closer to the help they need without marginalizing their mental or physical health needs.
  So let's try to do something, because doing nothing isn't an option anymore and we have to end the senseless deaths of our brothers. Every time a man hits the bottom of his resolve, the answer shouldn't be "man up", it should be the hand of a friend helping him to his feet and lending ongoing, positive support. I have come a long way since last November, seeking help for my own problems and trying to be an active friend for those around me when I see something is amiss. To truly change we have to acknowledge where we are coming from and where we want to be, the young men we are raising to go out in the world need to know that they are allowed to have feelings, doubts and fears. But we also have to show them that by opening up and addressing those problems, we are getting stronger, not weaker. Let's end the culture where our silence is killing those we love and leaving us a little emptier inside.
  I will be shaving away my goatee again this year and I hope you will join me (in reality or in spirit) in helping to end the stigma surrounding men asking for help when they need it. Let's work together to make sure the future is a place where everyone can find happiness and joy with their life.
  You can follow along on my Mo Space page at Drunk Polkaroo , donate and help us change the world for the better.


25 October 2017

You Need a Craft Beer Road Trip!

  As dawn breaks this morning there are 237 operating brick and mortar breweries in Ontario and we have been to 107 of them in the last year. According to Ontario Beverage Net's Brewery directory (here), there are a further 112 in various stages of the planning/building and another 71 (We've tried 31 of these) contract brewers operating right now. That's an amazing amount of growth and I hope we are merely at the cusp of an expansion that should continue for quite some time as under served communities begin to see what a driving force a local craft brewery can be when it comes to tourism and neighbourhood revival.

 We experienced it first hand when we travelled around last week to a bunch of small and new to the scene craft breweries. From husband and wife operations (Shakespeare Brewing) to full scale Cathedrals of Beer creating hundreds of jobs in a small town (Cowbell Brewing), we saw every variation on the story of how they got started, their plan for the future and the differences in their beer. Part of why we like to go out on the road in search of these newer and out of the way (for us anyway) breweries is my interest in helping to spread the word about what happens outside the big cities in this country. We tend to become myopic when it comes to a lot of things, even beer and if it happens outside of a major city centre, everything is seen through a muted lens.

  Leaving behind the road always taken means experiencing different styles and explorations of them by people who maybe don't adhere to the usual way of doing things. Half Hours on Earth in tiny Seaforth, Ontario started right off the bat with online ordering in addition to creating unique farmhouse and mixed fermentation sour ales. They have developed quite the cult following and will be a force to be reckoned with as they continue to grow. There are a lot of small towns who are opening up to the idea of a craft brewery with a tap room as part of their planning to help create jobs and drive that niche tourism only this industry can provide.

 There is a pride to having people come and try "your" beer that we see whenever we post about going to these smaller towns on our trips. People want to share the stuff they can get close to home that never seems to make it to the bigger centres. There has always been a chip on some shoulders at what they see as big city navel gazing and after going out and visiting so many of them I have to agree. We tend to follow the crowd when it comes to the next big beer, trend or otherwise and become enamoured with the latest darling of social media. The fear of missing out on that whale everyone is raving about takes over and we lose sight of all the amazing things happening just outside our usual life sphere.
 We tried a lot of beer in the last week, splitting samples and talking with the people who man the counters as we visit and can attest to the fact that not every single one was a home run or an amazing success. Some places still don't get customer service and the people can be like any other industry, there for a paycheque and little else. We have also been to places where they can't do enough for anyone who comes in the door, proudly relating their story and pouring the beer they dearly love for you to sample. Many times the beer was underwhelming, perhaps overly ambitious or just not quite there yet. You could see the promise of good things to come and despite the fact that we could have just gone to our usual haunts, our world is better because we took chances and stretched our legs. Conversely we found some absolutely outstanding craft beers of many different styles that we had no idea about until we crossed the threshold of the doors and said hello to our new friends. From big juicy IPAs to Belgian strong ales and Dopplebocks, we were finding hidden gems that deserve to be brought to the light and given their due as good damn beers.

  The world of craft beer is expanding at a rapid rate here in Ontario and pretty much everywhere else you look. There are people looking to make a buck, exploiting the latest trend for profit before moving on to the next thing and those can be difficult to spot until time shows the lack of dedication and care in the beer. But for the most part, we saw people who actually are deeply committed to making and selling a part of their life in every bottle or can. They are passionate about the beer you are trying, sharing tips on where to go next and other businesses in their town you should be visiting. They genuinely want to see the industry prosper because a rising tide does indeed raise all boats. Quality people crafting good and consistent beer will only help everyone and those who are in it for a quick buck will hopefully be shunned and left out of the conversation in the coming months and years. But all of this is moot if you don't get out there and make exploring this land part of your life. The trips can be short, long, epic or standard but the key is to go and get outside of your routine. The rut you're in may be filled with great beer already but your next favourite beer could be sitting in a fridge in a tiny town you've never heard of with a new friend saving you a seat at the bar. It has to be more than just beer though, stop in for lunch at the local diner, get some sweets at that bakery beside the brewery or stay overnight at a local B&B. Sit down and have a conversation, ask about the community, the beer or anything else that you think of. People want to share what makes their town special and you just might make a friend you didn't know you had.

See you out there, one day our glasses shall be raised together!



23 October 2017

The Road Home - Polkapolooza 2.1 Day Four

The road home on the last day of Polkapolooza is usually a straight shot with no stops but since this was a truncated tour to start with, I wanted to keep the good vibes going with a few more Ontario Craft breweries that just happened to be en route. The first stop was bang on at 11 a.m. in Stratford at Black Swan, where a half dozen ladies of the senior persuasion were waiting out front for their porters as part of a chocolate tour that was happening that very morning. The best part was they all tasted the beer and then proceeded to purchase a litre bottle each to take home. It was pretty awesome to see to be honest.
We gathered ourselves to the bar and ordered a pint of said porter for breakfast and stayed for a little under an hour for some conversation with the guy keeping things moving. A hopping place that had people wandering in for refills, pints and more refills, we grabbed an Elixr (1 litre) of the IPA and made our way out to take a photo of the street sign, which was most appropriate for the soundtrack of our week after the death of Canadian icon Gord Downie.

  A little up the way was a fairly new to the scene brewery in Shakespeare Brewing Company. Founded by husband and wife team and still in its' infancy, it nonetheless has some legs and is perfectly situated on a busy stretch between KW and Stratford.
Grabbing a flight of their three available beers, we chatted with Ayden about how they got started on a farm in England and took that six month unexpected apprenticeship and are trying to grab hold of a piece of this crazy craft beer dream we see exploding all over the place.
We took our leave after filling up with one of each from the fridge and Mrs. Polk eyeing the Merlot barrel holding their Farmhouse Ale with a promise to return as the weather turned colder and the stouts appeared.

  New Hamburg was just a short hop up the road and is home to Descendant's off shoot Bitte Schon Brauhaus, a salute to the area's German population and an homage to the culture of tiny brewhouses that dot the landscape there. Greeted warmly and taking a short tour, we marvelled at the equipment and heard about their experimental but leaning traditional brews. Of course we grabbed a flight in the cool Bauhaus looking tap room and were happy to find a very good Hefe and an show stopping Doppelbock that left me wanting more. We kept our heads about us and after a quick stop at the bakery next door, because of course we did, it was on to Cambridge and two more stops.

  By nature of their operating hours, I had yet to get myself to Barncat Artisan Ales. Open only 4 to 7 on Friday and 12 to 4 on Sunday, I was happy to finally have a weekend off to see what all the fuss was about. Easily surpassing what I had heard, a small sample of both the Grapefruit IPA and Rye Porter were enough to convince me to purchase a litre of each with the nagging suspicion that I should have bought three times that much. While they currently aren't as accessible as I'd like, given the high quality of their beer, I'd say that dream of long term success is almost guaranteed.

  A hop and a skip away was another in and out stop as time had become pressing. Northworks Brewing was host to a few thirsty travellers as we sampled the Jamaican Pumpkin Ale and I couldn't help but grabbed a couple of those Crowlers they sell their beer in. A SMASH IPA with mosaic and my ever favourite style, a Black IPA found their way into the trunk as the old Fiesta turned its shiny Ford nose toward home and our final stop.

  Hamilton's latest craft brewery to open was jumping as we pulled up to the open garage doors and full as could be patio at Grain & Grit Beer. Finding a pair of chairs at the bar, we ordered a flight and spent a little time chatting with the good folks who were living the dream they had worked so hard for. Pride, joy and love could be felt as we talked about the process of transforming this former garage into a gleaming but down home kitchen party feel of a space. The laughter and conversation came easy all around us and we once again grabbed one of everything and left to finally get home to Jinx and some sense of normalcy...Polkaroo style.

  The final moments of any road trip fill me with a poignant sadness because I always think I could have done more, visited this brewery or that and I of course don't want that feeling of what the Craft Beer community has come to mean to me to ever end. Getting to share that with Kathryn makes it even better as we can now talk about our favourite and not so favourite moments, beer and breweries. She helps me flesh out my ideas for what we experienced and gives me the support to keep going no matter what. So this 1400+ kilometre, 24 brewery tour comes to and end and I am left with some great memories, more new friends and a fridge full of Ontario Craft Beer that will help me remember all of that every time I pop one open.
  I hope this has inspired you to step outside your normal routine of visiting the same breweries over and over again. While I too have my own personal faves that I go to often, after making it to over 100 different Ontario Craft Breweries this year, I can attest to the reward of hitting the open road with an open mind, an empty cooler and a song in your heart.


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


22 October 2017

That Night in Blyth - Polkapolooza 2.1 Day 3 in Huron County

  Day 3 found us packing our suitcase for the traditional over night stay during Polkapolooza. We try to support as many local businesses on our trip as we can and decided our trip to Huron county, while only a few hours away, would be perfect for this edition. After some consultations and advice from friends, we found the most interesting place to stay and booked the room at The Queen's Bakery and Accommodations in Blyth, just down the road from our final stop of the day at Cowbell. After checking in, we took off to visit a couple of craft brewers before our evening in this small town with the big brewery. 

Stone House Brewing

Up first was the aptly named Stone House Brewing in nearby Varna. Located on a farm with an impressive building housing another single beer brewer. The Pilsner is crisp and clean with a nice floral note that has a grassy dry finish. We looked around and chatted with the owner for a while about his move from a U Brew proprietor to salesman to farm/brewery purveyor. They cannot keep up with demand and were proud of their place in the Huron county landscape. We took 4 pilly's home with us because it was so easy drinking and a sure fire BBQing beer.
 Half Hours on Earth Brewery 

Next was one of the most sought after and highly acclaimed brewers since the moment they opened last year. Half Hours on Earth is located under an old Creamery and at first glance a novice to craft beer would question your choice of visiting here. It's down in the basement and filled with brewing equipment and an industrial look that belies the genius going on inside the tanks. Makers of some of the finest mixed fermentation/sour/farmhouse ales in the country, their online store booms with traffic and they acknowledge the need for a taproom as business increases and more people make the pilgrimage out to Seaforth. We sampled everything they had and then bought the same, I cant get enough of their stuff and even broke my own strict no new glassware policy because I just had to have a new HHOE tumbler. We didn't have much time before our evening plans began, so we reluctantly bid farewell with a view to making this trip again soon with some of our craft beer friends to show them this mighty engine in a small town. 
Cowbell Brewing

  We returned to our suite and got ready for an evening we won't soon forget. I have been following the building and growth of Cowbell Brewing since they first launched Absent Landlord in the LCBO as a contract brewer. Two more excellent releases in Doc Perdue's Bobcat and Kelly's Contraption hooked me as did the interactions I had with their staff at festivals and online. Pictures do not do justice to the scope and size of this Cathedral of Beer that springs up seemingly out of nowhere and dominates the landscape while being part of it at the same time. We were greeted warmly at the door and thus began one of the most unique experiences we have ever had in craft beer.

  Steven and Grant Sparling, father and son, owners and very proud members of this farm country were just inside the door and after the hellos were said, a pint of their Shindig, an approachable 4.2% lager was in each of our hands as Kat and I marvelled at the unreal dimensions inside of this brewery. The beer was perfectly approachable to a macro drinker and with both them and the craft beer lover in mind, it has a crisp malt body that gives just enough oomph to keep everyone happy. A gateway to their more adventurous fare, I saw many folks with a mug of it and a sampler of something a little different at the same time.

  We made our way up to the upper level, which is accessible to anyone to take a self guided or booked tour of the entire facility. They have taken great steps to ensure everyone, regardless of physical ability can enjoy all they have built and if it was just that I would be so happy to support this 10 week old brewery but it goes further. Since the very first pint and can sold, they have donated 5 cents from every single one to local charities and when you take that into account, it is indeed a beautiful thing.

  Cowbell have built the first carbon neutral brewery in Canada, taking time to ensure not only the finest ingredients for their beer but that they do no harm and ensure the vital nature of this pristine part of the world isn't impacted by their business. They have so many environmental controls in place from water reclamation to green roofs to the equipment that is both efficient and beautiful. They have found a way to run both a busy (100,000 customers and over a million pints poured since opening) and focused on the long term health of the place it inhabits. Amazing architecture that is also practical, accessible and beautiful makes for quite the experience.
  But the question I heard as I gushed about it on Twitter was all about the beer. Did it match the hype? Could Brewmaster Stephen Rich make beer that would be able to compete with the best this province has to offer? As we walked around with him and my Instagram pal and fellow Cowbell brewer Jeremy, we were witness firsthand to the passion and vision they have when it comes to their beer. Knowing how much I love a good IPA, Jeremy grabbed a pint of Boxing Bruin and I was floored by this hazy, juicy citrus hop bomb. Slightly sweet with a big bitter grapefruit and orange kick, it will be the game changer for many of my hop head friends when it comes to Cowbell. While I have been a huge fan of both their West Coast red Ale and Hefeweizen, this one was an eye opener to what they could do now that they had their own facility and the time to really go deep into Stephen's bag of tricks. I am found without proper words to describe how every inch of the brewhouse was built with not only functionality but inadvertent or overt art in everything, including the pipes and walls.
  As we said good bye to our new friends and went down to have dinner in their spacious but cozy dining room, we saw a lot of people enjoying not just the beer, but the amazing and well thought out menu. With price points offering something for everyone ($2 Hot dogs!), they have built it with being in line with their policies of supporting local and having only the best ingredients in their food. Almost 75% of what comes out of the kitchen is from Huron county and combining that with the 150 jobs in this small rural community, you have a decidedly positive economic impact to go with the environmental one.

  Ordering a flight each, we wanted to experience as many of their impressive 13 beers on tap as possible. From the Founder brews to the Rengade series, they have a lot of styles to choose from. Highlights for Kat were the hefeweizen and the Molasses Vanilla Porter, both regular and on nitro. For myself it was the aforementioned Boxing Bruin and my surprise of the night, the Holiday Spiced Belgian Ale. Loaded with a huge scent of spices and dark malts, it proved to be a full on slow sipper. Nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, dark fruits and sweet malts combined for Christmas in a glass. So good, I got another snifter as the night went on. They ensure the proper serving temp for every beer that comes out of taps, from 3 to 12 degrees depending on style and with various types of glassware, you are sure of a grand experience each pint.

  We had the burgers, with fries for Kat and a Caesar for myself, delicious and cooked just right. We looked longingly at the wood fired pizza and other fare but wanted to enjoy the simplest of fare this time before we called it a night. No doubt multiple trips will be required to try everything we wanted and that is a good thing for any place looking to build a rep as a destination for food and beer. The cost was in line with what we spend when we go out to dinner at our local Hamilton spots for dinner, check out their menu here. A solid lineup of spirits and local wine round out a dining experience with something for everyone.
  As a nightcap, Kathryn decided to try one of their Renegade series of beer cocktails, created in house with the beers and ingredients on hand. Hers was a deliciously spicy Molasses Vanilla porter in a tulip glass with ice, rumchata, kahluha, a maple/pumpkin simple syrup and a cinnamon stick. Warming, delightful and a worthy finish to a wonderful meal.
The service was friendly and quick and despite a full house and a big crowd, we never felt hurried. I watched as every guest was greeted warmly, people marvelled at the size and wandered about the catwalks as they waited for a table. They have many rooms available for private parties at no extra charge (reservations obviously required), including a wonderfully appointed, full of natural light space that was host to a wedding the very next day, their 3rd, including Brewmaster Stephan Rich's a few weeks earlier.

   We took our leave to the large outdoor patio space and slowly let the day sink in. I may have underestimated what this trip meant when I first envisioned it but with the sheer number and diversity of places we had visited, I was seeing that it all was coming together under the vaulted ceilings at Cowbell. The Sparling family has built a destination not to be missed but more than that they care about the larger community they are part of. From the environmental controls, to the care of the guest, the beer and every nook and cranny of the building it is indeed a place you need to go. 
  I suppose I do look at things in a positive light most of the time but after spending 5 hours at this Blyth, Ontario Craft brewery, I know my optimism isn't misplaced. The future of Cowbell Brewing is very bright and to answer the question my friends asked about whether the beer could possibly match the hype I will leave you with this; It exceeded what I was hoping for but you need to make the trip yourself to really understand what is happening here in Huron County. A big thank you to everyone who took the time to answer our questions, talk about beer and make our visit a memorable one. We will return.

  We walked back to our hotel above a bakery and enjoyed a pint while we talked about what a day we had. Our dreams were filled with visions of pints, friends and the open road that beckoned us tomorrow when we would head home with even more new stops along the way. The success of any road trip is the happiness it generates for those who undertake it and we were winning since the moment we first stepped foot out the door this week.

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

The Big Smoke Redux - Polkapolooza 2.1 Day 2 in Toronto

   Day 2 of Polkapolooza 2.1 dawned and we slept in a little after the epic 800 plus km. journey of the day before. How could we sleep in with another 8 breweries lined up on this trip? Simple, the huge amount of new craft brewers that had opened in one of my favourite cities made it easy to take our time and still hit all of them with a good chance of being home for dinner. Toronto day is a staple of any tour, but much to the dismay of many of my crafty friends, their would be no Bellwoods, as we tried to give another perspective on the trip to the Big Smoke.
  We each choose one old favourite to visit that had something for both of us and we started at a brewery we go to almost every time we hit Toronto, Muddy York Brewing. We met up with beer pal Dave Lee and had a good chat with Jeff and Susan as always. We related stories of the previous day up north and heard a few suggestions for the stops to come, it's always good to ask the folks who live in a city for tips on where to go, park and eat. Securing a resupply of great MY beer, we hit the road for a quick trip down to Godspeed, opened by Dieu du Ciel alumni Bim Fontaine.
  While we had hoped to partake in their Japanese inspired menu to pair with our beer, the kitchen didn't open until 4, so it was a quick "pickup some beer" stop and a pin was put into the dinner plans for another day. It's an open and airy setup that we promise to explore more.

  The next stop was just minutes away and once again we were faced with a beautiful space and decided to stop for a few samples before continuing on. Rorschach Brewing is a relative newcomer but their tap/bottle list is already very impressive. Kat was immediately drawn to their Systematic Desensitization, a horchata dessert lager. Bursting with notes of vanilla and cinnamon, it did taste like rice pudding and was a hit. I tried the Absolute Truth Double IPA and came away impressed at what was being done here. Balanced with a juicy and bold bitter grapefruit, orange citrus, the oats added to the smooth texture. Grabbing 4 pack to take home of a few we hadn't tried, we scooted across the city for a bit to find the most unusual stop of the day.

  Saulter Street Brewing is located down a narrow street and tucked in behind a row of townhouses in an alley. Its' bright and open doors invited us in and I was struck by how much it resembled a neighbourhood bar, perfect for the place it was situated. They have one core beer, a Pilsner brewed with some dark malts and I was pretty impressed with the pint we decided we needed to have.
They also have one rotating tap and on this day it held a Common style brew that Kat enjoyed as we talked and rested before the final sprint. As the conversation went on, we came to find that our old pal Tanner, of Brock Street brewing, had moved on and landed here at Saulter Street. A pleasant surprise and a reminder that as the business of craft beer grows, we will see such movement while the people in it find new and exciting opportunities for change and growth. Informed that our next stop was only a few blocks away, we decided to enjoy the beautiful October day and walked on down to Eastbound Brewing to see what was our 5th stop in only three and a half hours.
  A big and open space, they were busy preparing for the evenings food service when we arrived but took the time to stop and talk about not only their beer but the scene in Toronto in general. We lingered for a while sampling and chatting before making some purchases and heading back into the sunshine for the walk back to the car. It's never long enough when we are doing these trips and we can't wait to come back here to try some of their food inspired and made with their beer.
  The day was more than half over and we were moving at a good clip...for Toronto. Although this day's trip was about a quarter of the kilometres of the previous one, it was a little more draining as the traffic was intense and packed. But we kept our spirits up and enjoyed the sights of a busy city while we turned to a spot located in the middle of a bustling and proudly multi cultural market.
  Kensington Brewery has molded itself into a very unique neighbourhood and added to the community with their take on the industrial chic that other Toronto brewers have embraced. It feels airy and open and while we only had a few moments to peruse the site, the folks working there were happy and informative. Another day to spend just hanging at the shops along the way is in order, post haste. Our time in the city was at an end but there were two more stops as we turned the Fiesta toward the Hammer and Casa de Polk.
  I'm an unabashed fan of what Great Lakes Beer does and with 3 new beers in the fridge on this day, it was an easy choice as my old fave stop of the day. We made our way out of Toronto to Etobicoke and the familiar GLB tap room. We grabbed the beers we came for and while I looked longingly at a few more Audrey hopburns, we had to stick to the budget... A quick hello/goodbye sent us on our way to the final stop of the day, western legend now open in 2 different spots in the GTA, Big Rock Brewing.
  Located down The Queensway from Great lakes, it can be found at the back of a full industrial plaza featuring many different importer and exporter wholesale distributors. A massive facility made for large scale production, it was not exactly the most inviting of space and had an almost corporate feel to it. The taps were decent, but the bottle list was almost devoid of anything that sparked our interest. We bought a few we haven't had because I am always willing to explore deeper, we left with a tired but happy outlook on the overall scope of the day.
  As hard as it was to pass buy so many amazing craft breweries in Toronto, Left Field, Bellwoods and the like, it was important to us to be able to see what was going on in different corners of the city and help break the routine we find ourselves in when it comes to this city. There are so many places we didn't get to and I am making a promise to myself that we will continue to make it our mission to go to each and every one as this journey continues.
  For the record, day 2 was 7 hours on the road, 195 kilometres, 8 breweries and over 30 new beers. It was a whirlwind, as this day always is and we went to bed knowing the next day was a longer drive but to quite a different setting and environment.
  Get out of your rut and try adding a new to you brewery on your next run to Toronto, you'll be glad to you did.

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


20 October 2017

Head North Old Polk - Polkapolooza Day 1

Go North, Old Polk

  We kicked off this shortened version of Polkapolooza with a goal of visiting and highlighting craft breweries that people may not know much about and are off the radar a bit when it comes to our usual beer runs. Taking to the road in pursuit of adventure (and beer) is always a fun way to spend a few hours and Kat and I were very excited to add to our list of Ontario Craft brewers we have visited.

Heading north because who could resist the changing colours and bucolic scenery as we pursue some tasty pints, we first stopped at South River's Highlander Brewing Company and kicked our day off in style. Greeted warmly by the team out front, we were soon joined by Brian, chief of all things in the brewery as the owner and head bottle washer. He was an enthusiastic host and took us on a walk to proudly show off their new facility.
You could feel the energy as we talked about his beer, the state of craft beer in the north and our mission to get people outside their comfort zones when it comes to travelling around visiting breweries. He surprised Kat with a bottle of last years' Winter stout from his personal stash and upped the cool quotient when he let us pour some samples right off the fermenters. Unfiltered and delicious, we were so happy to experience such a treat.

As we chatted about market share, the local economy and trying to change people's perceptions about what is happening north of the GTA, Mike from New Ontario Brewing happened to show up and joined the conversation. The comradeship between these northern brewers rivals anything I have seen in the south and they took some well aimed jabs at each other that resonated with respect and love. Hearing about both Brian and Mike's decisions to pursue this dream of making beer and helping their respective small northern towns by creating decent jobs was another reason that I was glad to have made the trip.
It gets lost a lot of times for those of us in the south but these small towns are often devoid of good jobs and that forces people to move or spend long hours commuting for work. The small town Canadian friendliness was in full effect as we tried to say our goodbyes and even that took another half an hour.

  Earlier that morning, we heard the news that stopped so many Canadian music fans in their tracks that Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip had passed away Tuesday evening after a battle with brain cancer. Tears flowed and the soundtrack of our lives was with us for the entire 13 hour round trip as we passed through the Canadian shield, huge towering rock formations that we cut through and made part of our drive. The fall colours were in bloom as the Hip's music played on every radio station and we sang with sad hearts at the loss of such an icon. I have been a fan of Gord's since the beginning and have a Hip song for almost every major moment in my life, I wrote about it last year with The Tragically Hip - Their Music, My memories and it holds true today. I would like to think that taking a road trip through Northern Ontario was a good way to honour the man who loved this country so much and wanted it to be better than it is right now.
  Back on the road, we headed for a plethora of quick stops and hellos as the day wound on. The distance between some of the breweries provided a time to reflect on the days events and talk about our own lives. It was a happy sight to finally make it to Lake of Bays and Kat was super excited to see that they had just released their soon to be LCBO bound Oatmeal stout. We had a wee taste but couldn't stick around as time was pressing and the road long.
   We turned a little more north to go round the beautiful forests and lakes that populate this cottagers dream to stop in at the tiny but mighty Boshkung Brewing in Minden. Located underneath the Rhubarb Restaurant, it has a small town feel to it as you look out the front door to a scene right out of a travel book, The lake sits feet from the brewhouse and there are some spaces for you to enjoy a pint as nature just happens right in front of you. Picking up the two beers I've never had before, we made our way back towards the route home and a few old friends we haven't seen in a while.

  Heading home down Highway 11 means stops at Muskoka Brewing, a happy place for us and one that has had a significant facelift since our last visit. The patio was hopping and the new taproom was beautiful as we picked up some old faves and new brews. We even ran into Mike, another friend we just hadn't met yet and made plans to meet up later that night when we stopped in Barrie for some dinner. I love this community so much!

 Next up was a short drive down the road to Gravenhurst and the legendary Sawdust City. I could have spent all day in their tap room but again we were just in this time for a quick hello and to fill up a couple of mix sixes with some new to us beers and a returning favourite or two. Princess Wears Girl pants and last year's 11.05 collab with Nickel Brook were the two must haves for me so this was a happy, albeit short, stop.
We next turned our attention to Barrie, a favourite stop of ours anytime not just because of all the great stuff coming out of this entrance to the North. We have a lot of friends we've met through beer up here and joined a few of them for a pint at Barnstormers Brewing. Verena and Rich were joined by new pal Mike as we talked about the scene in town as well as the province at large. The pizza was outstanding and we left with full bellies and even more beer as our friends gave us some of their stash just because they are awesome!
  This left us with one stop on this 13 hour, 800 plus kilometre day trip to the north. Redline Brewhouse yielded a few more new to us beers and as we looked longingly at the tap room, we knew it was time to turn home. A return trip and multiple pints and flights is indeed in order as Redline has been killing it with their releases this year.
 So there you have it, a big old road trip tinged with sadness at the loss of a Canadian legend, the most beautiful scenery in the country and a whole lot of great beer. We made new friends, discovered places that we can't wait to come back to and visited some we missed a whole lot. Do yourself a favour and head up past Toronto when the day gives you an open road, there is a whole lot going on that will delight and surprise you!

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