31 December 2018

2018 Polkies - The Ten

To You. Love Polk

What makes a beer memorable?
  Is it the contents contained within?
  The texture, taste and overall balance or sticking to it's style?
  Is it the experience of where, when and with whom you drink it?
  Is it indeed a combination of all of that and a little more, the genuine love and appreciation for the ever changing world of craft beer around us and what it has brought to our lives.
  For the last 3 plus years I have written about what I am drinking and feeling every day on Instagram and with the addition of this blog, Pints with Polk on YouTube and my very active Twitter feed, there isn't much you don't know about me and who I am. I bring my life to you with the scars and experience of a man who went down the rabbit hole of mindlessly drinking macro beers in pursuit of something better. I did that for most of my adult life and when I finally discovered Craft Beer, everything changed. I regained my voice, my life and my love of the art simply writing about things. As we gather today on the final day of 2018, I want to look back at the 10 Most Memorable Beers of the year with an eye to finding the joy and love those great beers brought to me. They may not be the top rated beers or the whales we all seek out in our journeys, but they are the ones that stand out in my mind, that make smile and bring me back to that first sip and what they gave me since then. It is an exploration of more than just beer, it is a look at how each one of them changed the narrative or enhanced it in the last 12 months. I love them all for different reasons and I will try to convey that to you. It isn't just about how they taste, it has become much more than that.
10. Clifford Brewing Artificial Paradise IPA

  When Brad Clifford told me in 2017 that he would be finally opening a brick and mortar brewery in Hamilton's East End, I was overjoyed. When he finally opened the doors later that year and it was only 10 minutes from my house, I was in love. Making some of the best beer in the province already with the contract brewed Porter and Pinball Wizard APA, having a place to call his own and control every aspect of the process brought even more fine things to my Clifford Tulip as the year went on.
  But it isn't just that his first IPA, the 7.1% Artificial Paradise, was a beautifully crafted beer; it was the people at the brewery who made it and each stop we made in 2018 so much fun. It is very much a home away from home for so many of us and it is due to the friendly and joyful nature of the entire team at Clifford Brewing.
  So while I definitely hope you can come to Hamilton and get some of this and the other fine Ontario Craft beer being made here, I want you to be also able to experience the authentic and lovely place Clifford has become. This beer represents that commitment to creating new and amazing things for us to try and that is worthy of a spot in any Top Ten List.
YouTube Video Review
9. Grain and Grit Beer Co. In the Palms IPA

  It has become a common theme for me to associate not just the beer to the brewer's personal style but to also attribute the personality of the brewery to the experience of drinking it. Having a good time when you stop in at a brewery enhances not only your perception of their beer but gives you an insight into their philosophy and often their views on the wider world around us. Being a guy who talks about beer a lot, it is always a pleasure when I find something from a place filled with people I love that I can share with the highest of regard. Grain and Grit have been making decent beer with some forays into good from the beginning but the release of their In the Palms IPA, they finally found their footing and took off from there. A beautiful beer that I returned to buy anytime they released a new batch, it rounded out a portfolio of easy drinking and lower ABV beers that had been their hallmark from the beginning. As a guy who loves a hoppy beer, this combined with their outstanding Light Ray Session IPA had me giddy. All that put together with their work at making the Hamilton community as a whole a better place through various initiatives and an honest to goodness happy and joy filled brewery where the folks who work their give a damn, makes this beer an easy addition to my list.
  Grain and Grit continues to grow and impress every time I stop by but it is more than just beer, it is the people who make every sip a little better than the last.
YouTube Video review
8. Collective Arts Brewing IPA No. 5

  Sticking close to home early in the countdown and we turn now to the OG Hamilton Craft Brewer who had a year filled with a lot of ups, some downs and a whole lot of excitement. The early 2018 January release of Collective Arts Brewing IPA No. 5 set a high bar for the coming 12 months with it's big and juicy NEIPA body and tropical Citra and Simcoe Hops. A massive hit that inspired the #Keep5Alive hashtag on Twitter when it went away, it has returned in a different form with the late in the year release of Surround Sound DIPA. This was but a preview of a year that saw them throw a great beer festival (Liquid Arts), release a juicy milkshake IPA that pushed the boundaries of juice and beer and the unfortunate follow up to No. 5, the much maligned IPA No. 6. Redemption came with the aforementioned Surround sound and the next two IPA numbered releases and as the year closed, we could look back on an abundance of collaboration beers with brewers from around the globe, a plethora of world class releases and some of the finest folks a Polk can know.
  They may not always hit the mark but IPA No. 5 was the kind of beer that inspired a fanatical following and gave us a glimpse into what Collective was up to right off the bat. I have no doubt that 2019 will bring us some very interesting times as they begin to solidify and continue to be leaders when it comes to pushing the boundaries of what we love when it comes to this now legendary Hamilton institution.
 YouTube Video Review

7. Great Lakes Brewery Octopus Wants to Fight

  Long a favourite of Hop Heads everywhere, the news that GLB was making this 6,2% hoppy beauty available year round was a shot of lightening in the dark. As the best IPA, in my opinion, in 2018, it isn't just the tropical, dank and citrusy pithiness of this always fine IPA that meant the most to me. Although it sure as hell didn't hurt. It is a combination of the genius of Mike Lackey and the almost fanatical way they guard their Fresh GLB promise. Always on the lookout to make sure no beer is left too long, they are making it very difficult to not have this one in the fridge constantly. 
  As a long time friend of Polk, I adore the team at GLB for their commitment to not just beer, but the bigger community around them. Constantly doing good work for charity and craft beer at large with collabs helping to bring together folks who love great beer and company, they remain not only a leader in the Ontario Craft beer world but make a huge difference in the lives of those around them. Always and forever a part of what makes this fun for me and you, a salute and thank you to GLB.
YouTube Video Review

6. Barncat Artisan Ales Double the Juice DIPA

  It took me far too long to get out and visit the hottest nano brewery in Ontario but to be honest, their hours of operation are always a little bit problematic for a guy who works most weekends. Barncat is located in the growing hot craft beer spot out in Cambridge and are open just 9 hours a week. 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and Noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Hard to get to but I'll be damned if they aren't making some of the most sought after IPAs, stouts and barrel aged stuff in the country, let alone Ontario.
  Small batch is what they are and with the exception of one canning run of Triple Simcoe, they only sell their hoppy gems like Double the Juice by the growler, hoping to get you to drink fresh and enjoy the hazy, tropical and dank juicy contents as they intended it. I enjoyed 2 litres of this 8.3% beauty in mid November but I can still taste it now. Subsequent but sporadic visits have yielded even more top notch beer and while I do so wish they would ramp up production and grow to be able to be open a little more, I also know that part of what makes them so special is exactly what makes it hard to get them. Always a pleasure to hang out for a little bit and talk about the state of beer around Ontario with the guys, I am always going to sing the praises of good beer made by good folks and this is just that. I wish for even more trips in 2019 to Barncat and know that I am making that a priority from the start. They have captured something special and I need more of that kind of joy in my life.
YouTube Video review

5. Merit Brewing One for Us Brut IPA

  If you are a fan of exploring beer and having fun while doing it, then you need to come to Hamilton and make Merit Brewing on James street a stop. From funky and unique barrel beers to dank IPAs and everything in between, Spinney has been creating a larger and larger portfolio of amazing creations and with Tej and the rest of the team crafting a taproom experience on par with anything we've had, you are in for a treat.
  Often on the forefront of trying new things, like back in May when Merit was the first to bring the dry and effervescent Brut IPA to Canada with the release of the 5.9% One for Us. A soft body with lots of tropical citrus, the dry and lingering dank finish, this first foray was followed by others as they experimented with just how to use this unique beer style and create something new and better each time. While we enjoy going to Merit for a bite to eat from their excellent kitchen and perhaps a pint or two, it is their willingness to try new things, work with local producers of wine and other things and the various community events that they plan to help out their neighbourhood that makes me smile anytime I hear people are coming to town to visit them.
  Where will this style of beer evolve to? It has seen many other breweries already take a shot and with mixed results to be sure. But the fact that Merit was first and continued to tweak and pursue something no one else doing speaks volumes for their love of beer. Bravo to all of this!
YouTube Video Review

4. Dominion City Brewing Buck a Beer Blonde Ale

  When the Ontario PC party won the provincial election and made their promise of reducing the floor price on beer to $1 (from $1.25) and then proceeded to gut many of the social and educational programs to help those less fortunate or different than them under the guise of saving money, I was not quiet. I wrote about why Buck a Beer wasn't about beer (read it here) and I did what I could to call out the 2(!) Ontario breweries that decided to participate in this bread and circuses stunt. Dominion City Brewing from Ottawa went even further and that is why their Buck-a-Beer Blonde Ale makes The Ten this year.
  Home to so many beautifully crafted IPAs and others, Sunsplit NEIPA is quite amazing, Dominion has reached out to the province by offering home delivery and believe me they have fans everywhere, including here at The Manor. This beer in particular is a solid performing Blonde but it is the fact that they thumbed their nose at the often racist comments made by premier ford and his minions about refugees that makes this outstanding. A dollar from every pint sold went to a charity in the Capital region that helped resettle Syrian refugees and to the credit of Ontario craft beer drinkers, it was gone almost as fast as it hit the fridge and taps at Dominion. To take such a negative thing and spin it into a helpful and most Canadian way of welcoming the world to join us made me happy to support the cause. They recognized the need for someone to step up and say "No" to racism, bullying and xenophobia of all sorts and while I haven't been back to Ottawa in a long time, we have made a return trip a priority for the new year.
  For being right and standing up for those who need help, Dominion City not only belongs in The Ten, they earned it with their hearts.
YouTube Video Review

3. Oast House Brewers Grandma's Strawberry Rhubarb Ale

  A beer I had 2 years ago and missed last year came roaring back into my life and my only problem was that I didn't buy more when I had the chance. Oast House Brewers in Niagara on the Lake releases this 4.8% seasonal ale once a year and only in Growler fills. When I saw it had come out, I feared I would once again miss it as I was working all weekend and wouldn't be able to get there until the following Tuesday. Watching one of my friends pick up almost a dozen growler fills had that fear go up even more but he reassured me that it should last through the week. A hurried message later that weekend told me to make it my first stop on my day off as it was going faster than anticipated and when I awoke on that July day, I was off and running, ice and cooler ready to go. Why I only bought 1 growler still haunts me to this day as this fruit beer takes the cake for hitting the mark on unique and delightful flavours. It was literally like drinking a piece of pie as the rhubarb and strawberry melded into a biscuity graham cracker note on the finish. We emptied the contents as we floated around the pool and it was an extraordinary day because of it.
  For being such a short lived beer and perhaps that is part of its appeal, I could not imagine remembering the very best and most memorable moments of 2018 without this beer. Next year I will be bringing far. far more home with me and maybe I can share it with more people to help spread the love.
YouTube Video Review

2. Fairweather Brewing Fortune and Glory DIPA

  When Fairweather brewing opened their doors in 2017, I was impressed from the get go with the high quality and sheer genius of what was coming out of this west end Hamilton brewery. That continued into 2018 as I was able to get my hands on 29 different releases from them and not one was rated below a 4/5 with 8 hitting the high water mark of 4.5/5. This was one of those and without a doubt the highest praise is deserved for this dank, juicy and tropical gem of an Imperial IPA. At 8.5%, it is no crusher and every time I bought a bottle it got better and better...which is hard to do considering it was so damn amazing to start with. It was softly bitter with such citrus you'd think you were on an island somewhere with nothing to do but enjoy your life. It took me away from my troubles every single time and for that and all of the other amazing beers, I salute Fairweather with this spot in The Ten.
  As an aside, a stop into the brewery is a must for anyone who comes to Hamilton. They are my number one recommendation and believe me when I say you'll want to stick around and enjoy the fine folks who work there, their passion and joy make it even better. I am a fan of everything from the surprise Pilsner of the year (Donna) to the bright and shiny Beki, a sour lemonade ale that was simply divine. Next year is almost here and with it I am sure we will see even more out of Fairweather.
YouTube Video Review
1. Sawdust City Brewing Juicin'

  While I may put Sawdust City Brewing's Juicin' NEIPA at the top of my list this year, it could honestly be a dozen different beers from this Gravenhurst, Ontario brewery. They have long been a favourite of mine with the big old slow sipping Stouts (LDV, Blood of Chtuhlu and Titania), bitter and Piney IPAs (Lone and Twin Pine) and straight up classic Ontario craft beers (Golden Beach and Little Norway). Toss in a barrel aged and funky bunch (ODB or Limberlost, anyone) and a Sour Beer fest on Canada Day that is a must stop and you have a complete and authentic legend. While this softly bitter, multiple award winning NEIPA is full of tropical citrus and peach, dank pine and a finish that leaves you wanting just one more sip, it is from their visit to The Grotto on August 20th that I must make Sawdust City my Most Memorable Beer and Moment of 2018.
A real group of beauties right here!

  Unknown to me, Sam and his team had been in contact with Lady Polk for a while about coming down for a visit and as the day got closer, all I knew is that we had to clean up the house because we were having company. I had no clue that it would be two carloads of some of the best people in Ontario Craft beer, all the food for a BBQ and two coolers full of Sawdust City Beer. When they pulled into the driveway and I saw all these people spill out into the driveway I was stunned to say the least. When the Man himself hauled a cooler of beer out of the Sawdust van, I was done. It was an emotionally uplifting experience to spend a few hours trading beer stories, hanging out in The Grotto and even going live on Instagram drinking the 2016 ODB in The Crease. Floating in a pool with one of my favourite brewmasters drinking beer and talking about life is by far and away the best moment of 2018 and I will treasure the memory always.
I still can't believe this happened

  So for that day and so many other great things that Sawdust does for the larger community of craft beer drinkers and their various charitable brews and events, I am proud and happy to place them atop The Ten for 2018. The beer is on par with the excellent people who make it and if you can't find it close to you, order online or even better, head out on the road and drop in at the Brewery, you will be glad you did.
Sawdust for days

  That is a wrap my friends except for one more thing...
Thank You.
  Thank you for all of your support in the last 3 years, especially for everyone who voted for me when I won the 2018 Best Beer Writer in Ontario at the Golden Tap Awards in September. I love to hear your stories and share in your highs and lows as we navigate this life. I write like no one will read it, but I am grateful and humbled when you do. I couldn't imagine not doing this and I truly wouldn't have grown and changed without you. My eternal thanks to the breweries and the people that work at them for their kindness and passion and of course, to Kathryn (Lady Polk), who is by my side for all of this and slow sipping the best life we could live.
My pal Sam!
Happy New Year and let's bring on 2019!!

Stay sexy, My Friends!


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