28 November 2018

Dive Bars at the end of the street

  When was the last time you ordered a pitcher of beer? Put salt in your glass? Dropped a shot of whisky into your pint and downed the whole thing in one go? Funnelled or shot-gunned a beer?
  The not so distant past of my life is filled with such things and while I appreciate the wonderful experiences craft beer has brought into my life, I sometimes miss the carefree way I used to enjoy a pint or seven at my local, not so shiny, pub.
  In my youth until my early 40's, I was an unabashed drunkard. I sought and found refuge in the bottom of many different intoxicants and while I am no longer on that particular track, I have a weird affinity for the smoky, dank dive bars of that era. There was an undercurrent of anger in some, jovial drunken happiness in others and a fine variety of either Canadian or Blue in both. The cheapness of the pitcher should have probably tipped me off to the quality of the beer, but who cared about that when you could get destroyed for $20 and stagger home, off track and blacked out. This was many of my nights in the late 90's and while I wrote about it last year in my post Frankie and Cat Stevens - When I was a Drunk in a Dive Bar, it still rolls around in my head to find a comfortable booth in a questionable local and just have at 'er.
  The days of old are usually romanticized to some degree by the nostalgia industry and we all yearn for "simpler" times while slow sipping a $15 Imperial Stout and bemoaning the complications of this modern life. Would I trade my new found love of great beer for those days still being my life? Not a chance, but I do miss them nonetheless. Karaoke, darts and the raucous laughter of my bar fly pals remain a memory that grows only fonder with the passing years as the characters of those long ago days begin to disappear from this planet and I feel like a little bit of me goes with them. There are old drunks and young punks, but for one glorious period of my life I was one in the same and it was wonderful.
  While I would love to go out and visit all the dive bars and beer soaked, out of the way, neighbourhood places that dot The Hammer, I know none of them will live up to the memory of what was. The feeling of closeness with a bunch of other down and out working folks who wanted nothing more than a respite from the drudgery of every day life. I'm sure it still exists but I have left behind those days and will let the hazy visions of my nights spent in that warm embrace of nihilism be just that, a piece of who I am and now long gone.
  Perhaps a brewery will open within walking distance of The Manor one day or even a half decent bar with a nice tap and bottle selection. That would allow me to return to the days when I sat down and felt like I belonged without having to go so far from home. My undying loyalty will go to the place that does just that and perhaps it will happen before I shuck this mortal coil for that old bar stool in the sky.
  A guy can dream, can't he?



The Crease and The Grotto - Where Polk finds peace

  I love my home. We've been here almost 12 years and I have no intention of going anywhere else until they take me to where I will spend eternity. I've flirted with the idea of selling and moving somewhere cheaper to take advantage of the ridiculous value increase we have seen in our neighbourhood but at the end of the day I couldn't imagine spending my precious time off anywhere but here. I have my spaces set up so perfectly to suit my needs and it is with great joy each season as I move from place to place and find comfort in the familiar and planned surroundings I have created. Two such places in particular are featured prominently in my social and real life and are where I go to recharge and reboot everyday and I take you with me as I look at them with a smile and a wink. 

The Crease (formerly Merle's - Getting Haggard)

  For most of my life, the basement of my family homes were the designated kid hang outs. We watched TV, played games and generally had the run of the place where we wouldn't wreck all of Mom's knick knacks and could enjoy a perceived freedom. As I got older, it was where we snuck a drink or a kiss and the dark environs seemed to suit my teenage angst oh so well. Moving on in life and living in apartments left me without that kind if subterranean hideout I loved so much and even when we were living in 2 bedroom apartments, that extra room never felt the same. I needed my space and that is a big part of why we bought The Manor a dozen years ago.
The very first beer wall
   It was a throwback to the early 80's in terms of decoration and for the first few years sat unused as I spent most of my time outside, even in winter, smoking in garage as I drank myself silly. We didn't use it much until a good pal needed a place to crash after a marital breakdown and we cleaned it up, redecorated and made it a home for him while he recovered.
  Fast forward a few months and he was ready to move on with his new girl and that left me with an empty but much improved space to hang out in. Slowly but surely I added furniture and electronics with a nod to my love of beer and hockey for decorations. I built some custom shelving and began to add touches to make it feel like a very personal place for me. Pictures and bottles that caught my eye joined and it was soon after that I added the pool table and dart board for those long winter nights.
Pool Time!
  It has indeed become a refuge from the world with a separate office for writing and making beer videos, a games area and of course the lounging area for drinking, socializing and watching TV. Many nights are spent down here either with Kat or by myself and I can feel the world slip away as I walk down the stairs. I dislike the term "Man Cave", it is not an apt description of what I have tried to create for myself. It has nothing to do with being a guy or needing to hide from my family, it has everything to do with giving me a place to feel like I belong and am comfortable with myself. I built it and maintain it to have at least a few hours each day where the worries I carry can be put down, even momentarily, and my mind can focus on the happy things in my day. I allow no work to come into this sacred space, it is for relaxing and enjoying. It's not lavish or extravagant but I feel like it reflects who I am and what makes me happy and at the end of the day, isn't that what we all want out of our homes?

The Grotto (Also known as Merle's Grotto - Getting Haggard Outside)
Early season pints
  While I love my basement hideaway, little in this world can match my unabashed love for The Grotto, my cottage country getaway in my backyard.
We live in Hamilton, a city off 500,000 people and growing. It's a busy place and our location in the suburb of Stoney Creek is close enough to all the amenities without being part of the noise. Our home is on a quiet street and backs onto a ravine with little in the way of neighbours or traffic. Trees ring us in on 3 sides and the garage combined with our first deck brings us closer to nature by shielding us from any commotion out on the street. Step down from the elevated dining area and you are in The Grotto proper, affectionately called Merle's - Getting Haggard outside after one of my favourite old time country stars...also his last name was how we felt most mornings after a few too many the night before.
I put up the canopy as early in May as possible and we fill it with our patio furniture and sometimes a propane heater so we can sit outside soon after. The pool goes up and then the summer begins.
  I spend every free moment out here as the weather warms and it is so quiet and serene that you hear every branch sway, every chitter of nature and not a word of the city teeming just outside our walls of trees. It is like being at a cottage in the middle of the city and for a few months, it gives me a spark to believe in anything. Days spent floating around the pool, nights on the deck with a drink in hand and good music in the background always mean every moment I can find out here is special and treasured. Another place that I refuse to allow the stress or worries of the day to come, The Grotto is a happy place where I look for the joy in the everyday and my glass is always full.
The party of 2018
  When I have to say good bye each fall, it is with a bit of sadness at seeing it go but also with a fond memory of the season that we had. I joke about moving to Phoenix so it will be outside weather all the time but the truth is I do love the seasons and changing my hangout place to suit it. The Grotto awaits me every spring and that gives me something to look forward to during the often seemingly endless winter. The sun shines down warmly in my mind as I prepare for another year poolside with my love.
drinks together
I'm attached to these two places because of the memories they have been part of and because they are where I can most be myself. I head downstairs or outside each time with a smile because I know the time I am about to use is my own and I will be able to use it solely for the purpose of bringing happiness into my life. I allot the time for work and social obligations accordingly but my hours spent in The Crease and The Grotto is sacrosanct and untouchable by almost anyone. I gather my thoughts, sing loudly and drink with gusto as I enjoy my life, my way. I hope you have a place or places like this in your life, it is important to find somewhere just for you. It's made all the difference in the world to me.



22 November 2018

The Drain Pour Day

It was bound to happen.

I mean, after all these years, how hadn't it already been something I would encounter?

I drain poured a beer I didn't like.

  I know, not revolutionary or uncommon for a lot of folks, but I am a combination of cheap and drunk that has always meant finishing my beer no matter what. I've had my share of awful beer but always managed to finish them quickly and efficiently like the German ancestors on my mothers side would have. The idea that you don't have to completely drink a beer you don't like was so foreign to me that I had a hard time wrapping my head around it, but after more than 3500 different beers and a desire to not waste my calories or beer life, I'm done with the ones that just can't hack it.
  It started a few months ago when we started to get a little more picky with what we would buy at the LCBO or when we stopped at a Brewery. We used to buy one of everything at any brewery and every new beer that hit our local liquor stores. Styles I didn't enjoy or particularly care for were given the same credence as much desired ones and often languished on the shelf or were drunk late at night when good decisions had ceased to be a characteristic of my drinking.  A common sense look at our budget and a bulging fridge of beer neither of us was really interested in was the next logical step to letting go of the need to buy everything. Why buy a lager when it doesn't interest me? Do we need 2 of this sour ale when only I will try it and Mrs. Polk has no care for that style? It was time to focus on what we liked and leave behind a notion that we should be omnivores of craft beer.
This seems excessive

  It's been a slow process but we have been making great progress with both our buying and drinking habits. Choosing to keep it to only 1 or 2 a day for the most part and even when we chill out and have a few, keeping a weekly run of less than 14 beers was strangely doable to me despite my inclination to drink all the beers. But wasting one of those precious slots on beer that just wasn't giving me anything was becoming harder and harder. When you are just going to have 1 beer, it becomes hyper important that it be enjoyable, to style and on point.
  The lack of proper fridge management can play a role in this problem as I still have a little too much beer (I know, I know, 1st world problems and all) and no desire to drink a portion of it. Giving away to friends has been a fine way to clean it up a bit and when I finally caved last week and organized most of it, I discovered about a dozen beers that were clearly well past their prime and on the way to that great circle recycler in the basement laundry tub. A little choked up at the prospect but I bit the bullet and got rid of them. Not the first time this has happened and it bothered me more that I had screwed up than in actually getting rid of the beer.
Yes, it is a macro now but they had a huge infection problem. Proper drain pour.

  This was but a prelude to a little later that day when I opened a beer and just went "Meh.". It wasn't bad, it wasn't good, it was just there. Cloying and artificial, it was supposed to elicit dreams of dessert and instead made me wonder why I was wasting my time. It wasn't an awful beer, in fact some people would love it, but I couldn't do it anymore. I have had several friends tell me this moment would happen and I always scoffed, but here it was. I stared at the glass for a few minutes, contemplating just slamming it back and moving on like I usually do but something was stopping me. I knew I only had room for 2 beers in me that day and why should I waste any of my allotment on something that just didn't do it for me. The time had come and without fanfare or a big show on the damn internet, I poured a beer out for the only reason that should really matter, I didn't like it.
  It felt freeing. It felt a little weird and it felt like I had finally learned to start letting go of beers I don't need.  To pour a beer out should never be a public spectacle and if there is truly something off about your pint, i.e. oxidation, sourness etc., then do your brewer a favour and reach out privately to let them know. I understand that it gets way more attention if you take a run at a beer in public but I think that says more about your need for likes and comments than it does for your commitment to great beer. As a caveat I will say this, if you reach out and are ignored or rebuffed, feel free to go public and demand accountability. While I am all for helping to promote and grow this wonderful community, that has to be a 2 way street and as consumers we must let our voices be heard when something is being done poorly as well as celebrating the best beer has to offer.
  I'm not going to say it was easy but life is indeed too short for bad beer or anything that doesn't bring you happiness. In beer, as in all things, seek joy and the very best that you can find.



13 November 2018

Beer Advent 2018!

Santa Polk, 2016
A few years ago (2015 to be exact), Mrs. Polk returne
d from a trip across the border with 25 American Craft beers and I was inspired to create my first Beer Advent calendar from her very generous gift. It helped to lift my spirits in the darkness of Winter to know I would get to unwrap a beer and surprise myself each night while we got ready for the big day and I continued this tradition as the years went on. The 2016 and 2017 editions were decidedly Ontario Craft beer focused as we began exploring all this province has to offer and this year will be much the same with the addition of some big, boozy bastards specifically saved for this time of year. With that in mind, I have some tips and ideas for you to help create your own calendar or one for someone you love.

1) Picking the Beer
Beer Advent 2017

  The planning should begin a few weeks before December 1st so you have time to get all 25 beers without breaking the bank. The collection should be in line with what you or your loved one likes to drink with some surprises thrown in for fun. Look to the LCBO for the single largest selection of favourites and new beers, but supplement that with a few trips to local (or not so local) craft breweries to really give them a treat. The whole idea is to craft an experience that will both delight and inspire joy when they open a beer each day. If they are adventurous, mix styles and formats with an eye to new and never before had beers. But if they don't like a particular style or brewery, it is best to avoid them as this is a gift meant to celebrate beer in the best possible way.
  Ask them or their friends for suggestions or visit your local brewery and pick the brain of the folks that work there, they love to help people out. Look for a few special brewery only releases to really add some zip to your gift.

2) Packaging
  Now that you have all 25 beers it is time to get them ready for December 1st. I individually wrap each beer and outside of a few that are traditional for certain days, I have Mrs. Polk randomly number them and into the fridge they go. Some folks put them into a 24 box with a label on top of each one with that days number written on them or perhaps repurpose Pringles cans decorated and numbered for the occasion. Whatever you want to do, the specialness of each day is in not being quite sure what beer will be coming next, giving a little bit of Christmas joy to every day. Have some fun, personalize the packaging if you are so inclined or just keep it simple. They will love it.
Mrs. Polk wrapping while I drink
3) Drinking
  The day will arrive and then the fun can begin. If you are making it a gift, try to space out the special beers or the big ABV ones for days when your loved one can enjoy them. A 13% Imperial stout may not work on a hectic Monday but maybe is better suited to their day off so they can slow sip and feel the love. This is about enjoying a single pint and celebrating rather than getting hammered or over consuming. Maybe they can't have a beer every day and you can share a few of them a couple of times a week or whenever you can safely and purposely relax and find the right time to experience the joy of beer.
December 24th is always Double Tempest day here!

4) Surprises
  Who doesn't like a surprise? While the gift of an Beer Advent calendar is fabulous in and of itself, why not take things to the next level with some twists and turns. Take a road trip one or two days to new or old favourite Craft breweries to give them a beer fresh from the source. Make a day of it and give them the gift of an experience, always a much more fun thing than just siting at home. You can add some glassware, hats, shirts or other branded stuff from their fave brewery to spice up any day and with all the choices out there, this would be a nice addition to random Tuesday in the middle of the calendar. Look for events at local breweries, i.e. Paint Nights, Trivia or Comedy and get them tickets to experience an evening of beer and fun. Try to take it to the next level by doing something out of the ordinary that you know will delight the person you love who loves beer.

  Good luck my friends in your pursuit of the ultimate month of beer. Whether it's for yourself or someone you love, the Beer Advent calendar is a wonderful way to celebrate Christmas every day.
  Life can be hectic as the holidays approach and I hope you can find time each day for a few moments to just sit back, pop the top and enjoy a little libation while the season swirls around us.