Life is never simple and each day I pour a beer and talk about for a little while to help me sort it all out. It has brought me much joy but also something to ponder about where I am headed next. With the rise in people doing the Dry January and now the Canadian Cancer Society's Dry Feb fundraiser (link here) that some of my beer friends are going to be starting today, I felt like I should take a moment and pose some questions to myself as I try to better understand what the last 3+ years of my life have been about. After more than 3500 beer reviews and almost 1000 videos, this blog and the countless tweets, am I ready to step back?
The American beer writer Norman Miller (The Beer Nut) posted his final column (link here) back in late November talking about having to quit writing about and even drinking beer because he knew his consumption was slowly killing him. A wickedly insightful and self aware post that has been sitting with me for almost 3 months as I take a serious look at what I do and why I continue to do so.
Should I take a break? From craft beer? From social media? From it all...?
In his column, Norman talks of drinking 5 or 6 pints every weekend day and then that even became most Thursdays. Like me, he struggled with his weight and although I have yet to end up in the hospital with stomach issues, I feel what he was saying deeply in my heart. While my own largeness has been with me my whole life, the last year and a half saw me go to a number that really scared me...but still I go on and I wonder why.
Because he is not me. I don't go out and drink with people, it is a by product of anxiety and just plain work that gets in my way. But that "Guy's Night" mentality is done for me and that has removed some of what would cause me to pound beer after beer. I don't drink more than two or three beers most nights and to be honest, even that has dropped to one after I switched jobs and felt a little more like myself after walking away from a toxic environment.
But even a beer or 2 every day may be too much and after over 1100 days straight of being the daily beer guy, is it time to stop?
I considered a Dry January, or even the Dry Feb with it's charity aspect to end my important only to me streak but I held back...because it isn't the beer at all that I fear. It is who I was before all this began. That guy was not ending up anywhere but in rehab or dead and I still believe to this day that finding craft beer saved my life.
I used to drink a lot. 12 to 16 beers a day was not uncommon. usually late at night when I got home from work and alone. I will not mince words and say I was after anything more than a good, blackout drunk and to be quick about it. After years of chasing that particular ghost, I found craft beer and before I knew it, everything had changed. I found a voice, I rediscovered my love of writing and I began to feel the dynamic shift in my relationship to alcohol. To be sure I still felt the siren call of the blackness, but I was no longer held captive by it.
As the last 3 years will attest, I have had slip ups and bad weeks where I definitely drank too much, like almost anyone who drinks does. The difference now was that I knew it and was active in trying to stop, each time a lasting less than the one before it. Now if I have four beers in one sitting, I'm falling asleep in my chair. I would rather have one beer and talk about it, what's happening in the world or my life than get hammered and that is why I won't be stopping any time soon. It isn't a problem for me, despite my often misplaced jokes about getting drunk or wanting to be wasted all the time. It is a satire on my original persona that inspired the entire Drunk Polkaroo universe that I riff on and enjoy with gusto as my life continues to be redefined every time I write or film a video.
I feel no pressure to review a beer or post every day. I didn't start any of this to just be about beer, it merely grew organically over time into that. I have given some thought to just stopping with social media altogether when I'm having a rough day or getting bombarded with negative comments or sideways slams from people in the digital world. But as an advocate for not just better beer, but mental health, body positivity, inclusivity and just plain being kind to each other, I feel like I am in a good place to keep on keeping on. I recognise not all people are this aware about what they are drinking and there are most assuredly many of us who drink far too much, far too often. I see it and know that many people view me the same way. I get it and do not want to encourage anyone to ignore the signs of trouble in their own lives. It's just beer and if it is causing you to miss work, abuse yourself or those around you or it has stopped being a positive force in your life, then I beg you to seek help. Life should be enhanced by the drinking of beer, not hidden from inside the glass. I am trying to reign in my snarky comments about macro beer and will try to be a more positive force in the world I inhabit by supporting people and initiatives I align with better. I will continue to use these platforms to advocate for the things that matter to me and I will work with those who want to make the world a little better each day. As for Dry February, I love the initiative and it touches all of us as we have all had brushes with Cancer in our lives or those of the people we love. So I will be donating, dollar for dollar, every time I spend money on beer in February to one of my friends campaigns. Check out Mike Burton (link here) or his team Beer Snobs United (link here) and perhaps you too can help out by donating yourself, like me or in your own way. Maybe you're thinking of giving Dry Feb a shot yourself, do what makes you happy I say! Every dollar counts and I know that at least even more good will come from having a beer besides the liquid gold in my glass. Having struggled for years to find my place in this world, I am not going to go gently into that good night but rather I shall continue to try and be a positive beacon of hope and love...and beer! Cheers! Polk
Why poetry? Long ago, I was a rather capable wordsmith. My younger years were filled with awards and citations for my ability to communicate with both the written and spoken word. I was a voracious reader and I enjoyed distilling that information while I was at school to no end. I actually found peace in the pursuit of knowledge until I didn't and then things changed. Part of that life was poems, short stories and other musings but I had long since given up hope of ever rekindling that love of words as the darkness enveloped me and I lost direction with abandon. But of course, you know I found my way back and here we are. The original question remains though, why poetry? It isn't particularly clever and often isn't good, but it is a very large part of how I deal with and process events in my life on a daily basis. I like the way the words make me feel when I can fit them into a pattern and craft a narrative in 280 characters or less, although I often do have to start a three or four tweet thread to accommodate a larger one. The tenor and voice of each poem reflects what is happening to me at that very moment, they do not sit waiting for a particular special time to be published. I don't hoard them and to be honest, they seem to come in bunches and despite the fact that I know they get lost in the void, I would rather they exist that way than in what would feel like a false time to me.
The muse is often beer
Of this I am quite certain
The drunker that I get
The more open the curtain
A world where I can express my inner thoughts with poetry is one where I seem to not be so anxious, so tired and so down. It lifts me in a way that getting drunk used to and when I have gone to long without finding a way to create something from this ordinary life. I sometimes can be crude and other times reflective, but always I seek words that will bring the ravenous beast in my head to heel. It lunges from under my happiness and snaps at my heels as I work to stay one step ahead and above ground. These are not just words and rhyming, they are stanzas that shield me from the worst I have inside me, trying to get out. The flow from line to line and seeking words that work is part of the purity I find when inspired to create. It is never just about what is written, it is the fact that I can write at all that means the most to me.
There are three of us living here. Polk, who lives life through beer. Robert, who works 50+ hours a week to provide for this family and Rob, who is rarely seen and never heard from outside of this house.
I am not suffering a break down or losing my mind, as it were, but rather looking at how compartmentalized my life has become in the last few years. I spent the majority of my adult years wandering through life with little direction, lurching from disaster to disaster and drowning my sorrows nightly in copious amounts of terrible beer and liquor. Things have changed for the better in the last few years but my struggle with alcohol, depression and life in general have only morphed and become more confusing. For most of my life I have been the good time guy, the party dude. I was the one planning and hosting bashes and family events, bringing people together and generally floating through life without much self reflection. My ability to close of parts of my life from others was reflected in my not caring if I was on the slow road to self destruction even as the walls came down around me. I fiddled while my personal Rome burned and it almost consumed me along with it. It wasn't that I didn't care, I am a reasonably intelligent guy and I watched, almost detached, as I careened down a path I didn't want to choose but was drawn to nonetheless. Catching a branch on that hill, craft beer became my hand up, my way out and I scrambled to find my footing as it slowly became more and more who I was. In a positive way, it changed the way I looked at my beer and after a little over 2 years, I have left the darkness behind...I hope. Getting back to the original inspiration for this post, my life has begun to feel even more and more like I am living 3 different lives in 1. When we go to work, we try to put our best self forward. For me it is working with the public and having people I am responsible for that has me putting on that mask every morning and bing the most positive and cheerful fellow you know. I emphasize the bright side in all things and work very hard to make sure that I help bring that kind of energy to my interactions with everyone I meet. I do not allow myself to have a bad day and any negativity must be swept away with humour and a smile. Always the good guy, the day can weigh heavy but when someone is paying you to do a job, that shouldn't matter. Working in an ultra competitive industry with constant pressure to be better, sell more and keep the standards high has it`s pressures but that is Robert`s problem and where we leave them when closing time hits. Coming home leaves me only a few minutes to put everything away in my mind and move into my self for a while. I worry, I vent, I get angry and I let it go. As with the early morning hours before a shift, Rob spends that brief time trying to convince himself that life will be okay, that he can go to work, that the world will not collapse about his ears every single day. He is naturally pessimistic and this is why I spend as little time as possible in this state. It isn't like I switch them on and off but by focusing my energy in a specific direction, I can make that doubting, sad man disappear for a while. Polk is an easy going guy, most of the time. Occasional Twitter rants aside, I maintain a very happy go lucky attitude that looks for the best in people and does it genuinely. I always feel like this is me at my best and strive to put that me out there. Different from work me because there it can be forced and strained to keep my cool, while inside my little world of Polk, I`m actually happy. Craft beer helped me find something inside myself I didn't know existed and while I try to keep that kind of attitude all the time, being that guy can be just as draining as work Robert. Balance in all things is what I seek and while this may be a little tongue in cheek, it feels very real sometimes. But as a way to deal with what life can throw at me and still find some joy after a lifetime of making mistakes, it works and that is what really matters.
10% By itself, not a terrible number. Well, maybe if it was your chances of surviving the year or something like that but saying you spent 10% of your money on something over a full year doesn't sound so bad. Groceries maybe? Sure, that would be a pretty good guess but if you know me you know where all that money went... Craft beer. Yep. I know, right? Wait, you heard I got everything for free and was basically a paid spokesperson or (according to some) a shill? Oh, don't I wish... Numbers Don't Lie Why I thought I should go back through 2018 and see exactly where we spent all of our hard earned cash is beyond me but with the dawn of the new year I guess I hoped it would be beneficial for us to look what we bought and how we could do better when it comes to our finances. But still, the total even shocked me. At that level, we could have enjoyed a vacation somewhere warm a couple times over and still spent less than most people do on beer, with money for Starbuck's coffee every damn day left. How did this happen? To be honest, it kind of crept up on me without me even knowing. We visit a lot of breweries in a month, some for the first time, others because we love returning for the beer and the people but even I was not prepared for just how much money we laid out. So let's break it down and see where we went and how we spent.
we do this often
In 2018 we visited 91 Ontario Craft Breweries, primarily in the first half of the year as the last 6 months were a trying time personally with 2 job changes and some anxiety issues. Of those, their were 22 we went to more than once and 7 we visited more than 10 times. A part of why our number of individual breweries visited was lower last year than the previous one was the 5 Hamilton breweries that I could hit up easily whenever they had a new release available or just wanted some fresh beer made longer trips unnecessary. Collective Arts (25 times), Clifford (23), Fairweather (19), Merit (12) and Grain and Grit (11) make up 90 of the over 220 times we visited a brewery in 2018 or around 40%. Having great beer so close to home made it easy to not go exploring when I wasn't feeling quite like myself.
Collective Arts Ransack the Universe Our most visited brewery in 2018
A lot of numbers and I have no doubt that many people visited more breweries or hit up their locals more than 25 times but it is what it is. To get into what we spent is a little too much but I will use the most extreme example of what this hobby costs us, also taking into account the cost of lodging, food or gas when we travel around Ontario in search of stories to tell and beer to drink.
one of our favourites, Muddy York Brewing on Toronto's East side 10 visits in 2018
Polkapolooza 3 : Rise of Polk 2018
Most of you know we take a week every year, for the last 3 years, to celebrate Ontario Craft Beer with the Polkapolooza tour. This year was the largest and most ambitious as we hit 61 breweries in 7 days from Windsor to Muskoka and all points in between for a total of over 2400 kilometres. We did day trips for most with one overnighter in Windsor mid week. Lodging, food and gas ran us a fairly reasonable $850, not bad when you are travelling from early morning to late at night and need that Timmies to fuel your passion. It was what we spent on beer that caught my eye as I examined our purchases month to month. At just a little over $1060, we perhaps were a little too generous in our support and despite some freebies along the way, we wanted to spread the love and make sure we bought something at each stop. It only averages out to $17 a brewery, but when you're visiting 61 of them, it adds up fast.
a good chunk of Polkapolooza
Now I know a lot of people will be taken aback by spending two grand on a week of driving around visiting breweries but for us it is a passion we have and we enjoy each others company as we travel the long stretches of Ontario's highways. It was a most wonderful vacation filled with new friends, old friends and memories to last a lifetime.
meeting Sam for the first time was amazing
LCBO and Asking my Pals
That one month was a big chunk of what we spent and the 100 plus LCBO visits were perhaps the other. Hitting different ones in the city a couple times a week wasn't uncommon as I sought out new releases and old favourites alike and while I should perhaps stop going in so much, it is still the most convenient way to get beer from further a field and of course a few international gems. My overall average spend was much lower, under $10 for the most part as I usually only bought one or two things.
As I compiled all this data I got curious as to what the beer people around me were spending and I did a Twitter poll and another one on Facebook. The vast majority of beer drinkers who I know tend to fall (they think) into the $100 to $200 dollar a month average when it comes to their beer. Even a decent macro lager consumer is probably at say 2 or 3 cases month and hitting the hundred easily so I am pretty comfortable with that being the average. While I am not comfortable posting the actual total of what we spent because at that point I am pretty sure I would have way too much explaining to do to concerned family members, let's just say I was way above average when it came to monthly expenditures in beer...
Perhaps the only time in my life that I am in the 1%. But what fuelled this mad spending? I have a few thoughts and I know that most of them are about my love of sharing my day with the world. I enjoy the posts I get to make everyday on Instagram and the short videos on YouTube. It is like leaving a part of me that will last long after I have left this earth to say that I was here and I existed. It is my legacy and my way of communicating with a world I often have trouble being a part of. Outside of work and home, I sometimes struggle to go anywhere. Visiting a taproom makes me feel like I am part of something special and it brings me peace to hang out or even stop in for a little bit to just get a few beers for home. I enjoy trying new and unusual beers and while I have gotten better at not buying one of everything when we are at a brewery, I think that is where I could learn a little self control. What I learned and what I hope to do
It would be a lie if I told you I will now totally cut back my beer purchases and pledge to cut back on our trips to breweries. I know myself well enough to know that it doesn't work that way but this exploration of where our money went in 2018 has given me enough pause to see that as part of a new way to approach beer in 2019, I need to add this delectable beverage to the budget and try to stick to it as best I can. I need to learn to just buy the beer that truly interests me and not think I have to one of everything or multiples so I look cool or some other nonsense that pops into my head. I need to drink what's in my fridge and maybe make a little room for new beer. And finally I need to find a way to accept that I am so very lucky to have a good job, an active partner in this and a community that is so much fun to be a part of that I don't have to buy all of the damn beer I come into contact with.
I promise I am looking at myself with a jaded eye after all of my past forays into trying to be moderate but I do have an end game in mind when it comes to saving some beer money for something a little more grand and I hope that goal will help me along the way. Spending a week somewhere with some cold cervezas, warm sun and white sand would be a right proper thing to aspire to and it is just what I am going to do.
The empties most certainly won't pay for that...well, not all of it anyway.
2019 begins and once again we start our year in beer with a look at what we drink while we think. The last 4 years have personally been a tremendous period of exploring and finding exciting, unique craft beers from new and favourite brewers alike, but I was reminded last week of the other part of what we do. Drink those beers that got us here and those we have around almost all the time, or used to. Should we be going back more often to those original and introductory beers? Indeed and we should do it with an eye to seeing just how far we've come as consumers of this wonderful, happy elixir.
Enjoy the Core.
My first craft beer love
We will always persue the new and different, the returning favourites and the one-off collaboration brews but it is the ones we pour week in and week out that we have come to talk about today. While the sheer number of breweries in this province means we are never short of the novel and shiny bright, new beer feel, we have favourites and that is okay too.
1st mad tom, 2014
For me, the word core or flagship can mean a couple of things, especially given that not every beer hits the LCBO and your local craft brewery may have a beer that sticks around most of the time, enough that you have it pretty regularly anyway, and so it is core to you. When talking returning or seasonal beers, these factor into the conversation for the sake of their constantly appearing at a certain time each year to fill in a void in the beer calendar, but For today, let's stick to the beers you can usually count on getting when you want them. The Flagship journey begins with my first favourite beers...
my beer fridge circa 2014
For as long as I can remember I was a Molson guy. My go to beers were almost always a Canadian or (blech) Molson Dry and I was content to sit around, day after day, just pounding back this tasteless, albeit well made and unchanging, macro beer. The odd foray into MGD or Stella when I wanted something fancy was not uncommon, although when a 24 of anything went on sale or had some cool swag, I would have no problem switching allegiance to save a couple bucks or get a new shirt. The market is filled with people like I was, like maybe you were too, buying case after case, unending and uninterested in Craft beer or any other such nonsense. As I started to drink heavily, I drifted to the discount brands to save even more money and increase the stretch of my beer money. Lakeport led to Brava led to Brava Light and that was rock bottom as 6 packs of BL would disappear within minutes and the beer barely registered on it's way down.
Brava Light birthday cake
An actual thing that I used to do
Moving on and up, my trips into craft beer were slow and steady, pushing out the room I once made for the super light and crushable barley pops and I turned to PBR and Old Milwaukee as my own personal core and "cleanser" (what we called the cans we would drink between sharing a new beer) drinks, still loyal to the idea of drinking one thing all the time with little sparks of genius lighting the path far down the line. Slowly the tide turned and despite the Untappd check-ins and badge whoredom, eventually even certain craft beers became regulars amidst the pursuit of the new.
My first loves and pints of much return were toasty and a little bitter as Great Lakes Brewery Pompous Ass and Grand River Curmudgeon gained a foothold in my heart.
I miss this
These were followed by Mill Street vanilla Porter and finally the big and piney Nickel Brook Headstock and Amsterdam Boneshaker before my much beloved Collective Arts Ransack the Universe gave me a hometown option I am still in love with to this day. I am an unabashed west coast loving IPA guy and it all stems from my core fridge beers moving in a slow but steady rise in bitterness. I buy the 1st one and the latter 3 fairly often and indeed in 2018 I talked about core beers over 180 times (out of 976 posts on Instagram) just because they still make me smile when I pour them in my glass. While they are decidedly hoppy in their nature, I love to look at the beers that helped bring to where I am now so I can see how much I've learned and if it is me or they who have changed.
vintage can, beauty beer
Having said all that about my personal trip round the beer world, I was reminded of the core beer and their perceived decline in pursuit of the new when Stephen Beaumont (link here) tweeted about the drop in sales of certain classic American Craft beers like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada Pale ale and had the idea of doing a Flagship February, sort of a look back at where we came from and what they meant to us then and now. A fine idea and one I am fully intending to get down with, as it is one I already do on occasion now. But more on that when February gets closer.
all time fave that is always on hand
While I have no doubt market saturation fuels some of that and the sheer rise in options available to beer drinkers at a local level must come into play, I wonder if it is the same here in Canada, specifically Ontario. While I lack the data to say for sure, based on what I see in my extensive feed and the response I get to my own writing about those beers we get all the time, I don't think it is as bad as all that. A world that saw little in the way of choice at the LCBO and no local options would obviously have kept sales of personal staples like Muskoka Mad Tom or GLB's Canuck higher than they are now but that is not only the result of those who pursue what we like to call "Ticking" or checking in on Untappd or any other app for tracking your beer. There are simply more choices and that is excellent for beer drinkers. But still the question remains... Is it a bad thing to want to try and experience new and different beers? Isn't that what attracted us to craft beer in the first place? Innovation and the rise in the number of available options has had to have some impact on core sales but that doesn't mean we don't love them just the same. I seek them out fairly regularly and write about how much I have changed since I first tried them. Often I come to appreciate them far more now that I understand myself and my palate much better after exploring all that has passed through my glass. A look through the many good beer folk I know on social media shows a near constant thread of new beers but an equal number of them enjoying their local or first favourites. We love to share what we enjoy regularly and that is part of what we do on social media. Especially if it is your local craft brewery where you have come to know the people who work there and become a regular at the tap room.
Refilled many times with my favourite beers
So while I will admit I feel like there is a decline in the long standing flagship beers of yore, it is not necessarily that we have turned away from them but rather that we now have close by and local options that have become our new regular beers. The changing landscape of craft beer in Ontario has been ramped up in the last 3 years and with the continued expansion into more towns and even neighbourhoods, we will see new favourite core beers emerge for those who live close by.
constantly one of the best
Life is all about exploring and learning, keep looking for new and wonderful creations but don't forget where you came from and who helped get you here.
With 2018 starting it's fade to black, I return to my tradition and look forward to what the coming year may bring for Ontario Craft beer. I have no inside knowledge, nor am I by any means an expert on anything but my own palate and observations, I am just a guy who really loves the community and of course, the beer. The following thoughts are perhaps best described as hopes, dreams and a little reality as the calendar surges forward and craft beer grows and matures along with us as consumers. Predictions, thoughts and a little look into the mirror as we begin 2019. 1. All beer is Local Well of course it is Polk, everything is local somewhere. While this is facetious but factual, the point I have come to make is that it will become even more hyper localised as we go forward. with the exception of the strong regional breweries (Great Lakes, Muskoka, Amsterdam, et all), the future of the smaller, nano and micro breweries will be in serving their communities and the surrounding environs with both liquid and social refreshment. Not a large economic concern but rather a smaller, more sensitive to the seasons and the ebb and flow of the population around them, these breweries will do well to serve as both touristy beer destinations and hubs of local activity. From hosting their own events to bringing in civic organizations for fundraising nights, these breweries will do well serving the immediate area around them, encompassing small town bars and restaurants with an eye to the bottom line as many will have to stay small to maximize profit but perhaps also provide a nice life for the owners/brewers and a dedicated staff.
2. It's in the Mail While a nice chunk, about 20%, of Ontario Craft brewers offer online sales and home delivery through Canada Post, the majority have yet to seize on this excellent resource for getting their beer into the hands of consumers far away. Part of the problem is the need to build the website to handle the ordering, which without an in-house option could be an expense not worth its creation. packaging and what to offer online are core questions as well as what the market will bear when it comes to the dreaded shipping charges. Minimum orders or even a lack of interest in the product outside of the immediate environs will also be deal breakers for many small brewers. As with the LCBO or Beer Store, the online sales provide a secondary revenue stream which can provide much needed income to an out of the way stop. The larger brewers who have extensive listings at the provincial level stay away from this, with a few exceptions like Sawdust City and my own hometown Collective Arts, simply because I imagine they just can't justify the need to add to an already heavy sales schedule. Perhaps I am reaching but I see a continuing rise of online sales with the most sought after and unique offerings driving those brewers profits higher and leading to an even larger footprint without the traditional sales plan.
3. Your Unique and I want You The rise of the Whale is always part of any expansion of great craft beer. Some magical genius with hops and barley hits the jackpot with their ability to create the next big thing and people all over are clamouring for it. Be it a far away location from the big urban centres, a small production or just the sheer purchasing of a brewery's fans who scoop up every release in copious amounts whenever a new or returning favourite hits the fridge. While the envy will always be there for some, the larger population of craft beer drinkers nod their heads and then go to their local favourite for what they would tell you is great beer no one knows about. These highly regarded and much sought after beers come from all sizes of brewer and will make for special road trips and beer mail but at some point, if people can't get your beer, they will move on to what they can.
4. Craft Beer Stores The holy grail and be all, end all for enthusiasts is the belief that someday we will get "our own" beer stores filled with every imaginable release from all the best Ontario craft brewers. While someday this may be true and we can all rejoice at the prospect of knowledgeable staff selling beer at the proper temps with glassware and pairing advice, I wouldn't hold my breath. The best bet is a consortium, like the Ontario Craft Brewers association and their members getting a few licences to open boutique stores. These would most likely be located in already busy urban markets and despite a wish from some, the LCBO will continue to administer the sale of beer within the province. Cross selling or regional stores would be a little easier to fathom as most brewers have fairly friendly and close relationships with their close by neighbouring breweries and this could be a much more doable option. But for the near future, it is the Grocery store and LCBO which will continue to be the only outlets outside of the brewers walls where people can physically pick up the product. But still we dream and hope...soon. 5. The Haze Craze Continues or The Chronicles of Dank Every year I say it is going to be a resurgence of lagers and pilsners with low ABV beers coming in hard...and every year I am still surrounded by the love and search for big old juicy, hazy and tropical dank hop bombs. While the mass market still is dominated by Bud Lights and the like, most of the people I know who drink craft beer are either in search of the latest New England style IPA or something of the like. Hazy is a descriptor but it is the soft citrus pithy bitterness to go with that dank pine that brings the most joy to those who love them. The other side of that coin is my dark and slow sipping friends who pursue barley wines, bourbon, rum or cognac barrelled beauties to enjoy and warm the sub cockles of their hearts with. No doubt the market exists for crispy bois and clean pils but make no mistake that the ever growing craft beer world is still deep in the grips of all the hops. The Haze remains the same. 6. How deep is our love? With around 300 brick and mortar breweries operating in Ontario and even more in various stages of planning, this province of 10 million plus people is either under or over saturated depending on who you listen too. Peak Craft beer, to steal a phrase, is perhaps the biggest fear for anyone thinking of getting into the game and wondering if there is room at the tap handle. While I have already talked about the hyper-local focus of a lot of new brewers in Point 1 today, I see trouble for some places as the knowledge and sheer number of consumers rise. We have begun to see people turn from beer that isn't good, not well thought out or rushed to market. There will always be a segment that will never be critical of anything for fear of upsetting their local brewer, but if we are to continue to see expansion on par with what the last 3 years have seen we need to begin thinking and buying with an eye to supporting those who are making it worth our dollars. 7. A Larger Tent While this one probably needs a deeper look and is something I promise to do as the year moves on, I would be remiss if I didn't talk about why it is important for us to make a bigger door and be far more sensitive and inclusive when it comes to craft beer. Just as we wish to be part of drinking something that is different and better than when we drank Coors or Molson Canadian, we must also look at how we welcome those who seek to make the world itself better. While I am not really qualified to talk about diversity or inclusivity, I feel like I have to continue to push the envelope and help or encourage those whose voices are being raised and need to be heard. We want craft beer to be a place where everyone feels like they belong and that begins with standing up for what is right and being an ally to those who seek that truth. I think 2019 will continue to see people try to open doors and make craft beer the truly special place we see it can be. But the work remains and vigilance will be needed to keep those who seek to muffle or silence criticism and serious conversation about change. Arm in arm we go forward and that will be our strength. A good place to start is with my friend Ren over at Beer.Diversity., the good ladies at The Society of Beer Drinking Ladies or even Hamilton's own Iron Beer Maidens. Look for local groups and breweries who are doing things right and support them with your dollars and your voice. 8. Buy-Outs, Sell-Outs For the most part, since Mill Street sold to Ab-Inbev in 2015, the Ontario Craft beer scene has been relatively quiet when it comes to "selling out". Whether it is a lack of options or just people standing firm on sub par offers, it has been a peaceful period when it comes to the mergers and acquisitions of our favourite breweries. With the exception of a few contract LCBO SKU buys made by Lost Craft, the odd purchase of Grand River by Magnotta and All or Nothing taking on Trafalgar, there has been little action. I am sure some sniffing around has been done and who knows, this year may see a shocking purchase but in my heart, I can't see it being anyone but the few "lifestyle" brands who always seem to be looking for a big payday anyway. Ace Hill continues to defy my predictions of being a perfect fit for Molson/Coors and perhaps it is the coming attempts at cannabis related beer that has the big boys focus. The craft beer portion of the market approaches somewhat of 10% and that has to have someone's attention but perhaps I'm still tilting at windmills here... 9. Do you like my #beerselfie? While I know I am often a social media tidal wave and live very much every day out in the open, there is a rising tide of new and more talented photographers, writers and video lovers out there who just need a little encouragement to join our cause. I continue to help push them forward and despite the fact that there are a few who wish they alone could be the "voice" of craft beer, the truth is many voices are needed to help raise the chorus and that in numbers we truly have strength. Every picture or story about craft beer helps to widen our reach and as more people join us, we can help craft the narrative. We can start to control the future and ensure that the vision of a better world with craft beer leading the way happens. Not everything of course is hunky-dory when it somes to social media and craft beer. Some still use sex to sell and achieve followers/likes, some try to court controversy for the sake of controversy and we all need to be aware of beer shaming our friends and family online and in real life. The boobs, butts and muscle crowd will always exist in any form of media, so it is up to each person to decide what they feel is right for them. Being an asshole about beer or anything only goes so far and while I too can fall into the trap of negative vibes, I will do my best to try to be more Beer Positive myself in 2019. And finally, let us do what we can to help reduce beer shaming as the year goes on. Sure we want more of those around us to join us in enjoying the amazing things we are getting, but making fun of or calling them out for making poor choices when it comes to their beer only reduces the likelihood that they will ever feel comfortable trying something new. We all started somewhere and maybe we would do good to remember that. Be a guide and a friend, not a gatekeeper who sneers at those they feel are beneath them. Expand the love and make it easy for folks to feel comfortable joining the community and you will see us grow.
There you go my friends, 9 things I think could happen or that we can work at to make better in the coming 365 days. I'll be doing my best to help spread the Gospel according to Craft and hope you will join me as we delve headlong into what is sure to another year of beautiful beer, new friends and experiences that will help shape the stories we tell when once again we gather to look back.
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 in early 2018 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 theauthentic 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 GLBwas 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..
In the course of trying more than 700 different beers, there are bound to be a few clunkers. To be honest, when I finally was able to sort all of them and looked at my ratings, less than 40 (37 actually) were below my 3.5/5 rating, which generally is where I place an average but decent beer. These were not that...
Finding a beer that isn't hitting the mark is not fun, I try to give it the benefit of the doubt and will even buy another one to try and see if I missed something. I don't enjoy not liking a beer but as I learn and grow, I am finding I have less time for poorly conceived or just plain "meh" beers. The first four on this list would be best described as off the charts poor with little to redeem them save the ABV and no one needs to get drunk so badly they should subject themselves to these liquid mistakes. The final two fall under the new category of "I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed", a look at two good ideas that just fell flat and left me feeling out of sorts because the breweries they come from have really good track records overall.
So here we go, I drank them so you don't have to and now I get to relive it all over again. I'll share my review from Instagram and leave a link to the YouTube video review if there was one before having a few final words (in Italics) after looking back . Thank goodness I get to talk about my 10 Most Memorable Beers later today because these 6 are enough to drive a man to drink...better.
1. Green Bastard IPA
Then (May 25th) - Not sure what I was expecting but back to the well a third time we go with NAC Importers and another Trailer Park Boys branded beer. This time it's Bubbles and his 6.5% Green Bastard IPA, brewed with Citra, Amarillo and cascade hops, so there's some hope. Pours a clean and deep golden colour with a thick white head that lingers on the surface with some lacing. The first sign of trouble is when you take a sniff and get some caramel and a muted orange note but it's just not right. On the sip, toasted malt backbone with a caramel sweetness, bitter pine with hints of orange and grapefruit, a bit soapy with a spicy finish that has a sharp bitterness but somehow is sticky. It lingers with a warm spice, rye in the malt bill for some reason, orange and pine with a grainy malted aftertaste that won't let go. Meh is too much, just give it a pass unless you're a fan of the show and want to get the can for the art. Not decent, a shitstorm of competing flavours that work about as well as the boys plans to retire early after one more Big Dirty...that's probably the next release, some kind of turbid sour...just stop.
Now - It cost me $3.25 and that seems like far too much for this kind of effort. Not cool man. The Boys need a better beer so their fans can stop wasting their money on this kind of swill. Fandom only goes so far before even diehards will start to see through blatant cash grabs like this.
Then (January 24th) - I'm not much for light lagers much anymore and sometimes that reason is made clear to me. A clever marketing scheme and a low ABV cannot overcome a beer I'd rather not see in The Crease again. Found at the LCBO, Locker Room Lager by Post Game Brew Co. is a 4.2 % Game day crusher that pours clean and straw gold with a white head that fades. Smells of toasty malt with light lemon notes. On the sip, light is indeed the watchword here with a thin body that has little in the way of composition or favour. Slight lemon, biscuit and grass with some corn and a dry finish that resembles a similar beer that any macro brewer could put out. Aimed at the post game crowd or a sports bar, it leaves little to the memory and is best served ice cold, calling it suds on the can reminds me that we have a long way to go sometimes in our journey. Not a crossover beer in any sense, it's Coors light writ craft and for me, that's not a compliment or an endorsement. Save the $2.35 and grab a great Ontario Craft Lager instead. Maybe I'm getting cynical but this doesn't sit right in my wheelhouse or ethos.
Now - This one should be relegated to the broken stick pail and left out of any conversation about craft. So many low ABV options that have great flavour and body out there. Double minor for being low brow and pandering. A game misconduct for the entire concept. Hockey deserves better.
Then (February 5th) - I'm sensing a trend in 2018 and I'm not feeling it. From the 2006 Brewery of the year at the Canadian Brewing awards...because that is something they can still market, albeit without the 2006 on the can...comes Magnotta Brewery's 6.5%, 38 IBU True North Inukshuk IPA. Should be better labelled as an English style IPA but capturing aspiring hop heads off guard has it's moments I suppose as well. Pours a clear golden copper colour with a white ahead that fades to nothing and leave a no trace. Smells like a caramel with nuts. On the sip, bready malt body with a lot of sweetness and some nuttiness. A loaded malt bomb with a slight herbal and earthy hop bitterness on the backend. It finished sticky with more of the same, not really in my wheelhouse and I am a huge fan of a well done English style IPA. Guess I'll be the guy who keeps drinking 'em so you don't have to, LCBO available but that really shouldn't be something you should concern yourself with. Move along, nothing to see here.
Now - The marketing of this still bothers me, an award won 12 years ago and a beer that is not what it says it is. Hard pass.
Then (February 1st) - Okay...yup. From Hop City Brewing comes their 5.7% cake in a glass Cheat Day Black Forest Porter. It pours dark with light bleeding through and a tan head that fades to the side and smells of dark chocolate and light cherry. On the sip, this is where it all goes off the rails for me. Up front sweet chocolate and tart cherry is almost blunted by the metallic copper penny flavour that seems to permeate the entire way through. Letting it warm up a bit, there isn't a lot of roastiness and the cherry fights with the copper but the finish is cloying and metallic once again. Not really my style but that's what the world is all about, to each their own. Meh.
Now - Cherry is a beautiful flavour for a porter...if it tastes real...this did not. Cake in a glass is out there but needs a delicate hand and not just a fancy can.
Then - (January 6th) - It's not that I am cheap but I still can't pour a beer down the drain... although right now I'm damn close. Brewed in Toronto from the Swedish minds of wandering brewers Omnipollo comes the 10.5% Prodromus Graham Cracker Chocolate Chunk Caramel Bar Stout. It pours a thick, slick oil spill consistency with a tan head that lingers a bit before heading to the sides of the glass. Scents of Graham cracker, chocolate, caramel waft up as soon as that top is popped, almost overwhelming. On the sip, cloying and artificial with a boozy end. Lots of sweet caramel, chocolate, vanilla, Graham cracker and a warming canned heat kicker. It's sharp and dry with an alcohol and chocolate, caramel and vanilla finish that has more of that fake Graham cracker lingering. I think it tried to do too much and in over reaching just became a bit of a dark roasted mess. A beer that will no doubt be for some folks, but after all the really amazing Imperial stouts and even the plain old regular ones I've had from Ontario this week, it is a real letdown. I can't recommend it, don't want to finish it but will not give up any time soon. No beer shall defeat me, even this dark grog. Disappointing after that most excellent IPA we had not so long ago from this very same brewery.
Now - Just poorly conceived and executed, best left in Sweden and at $6.00 a can, one of the worst deals in Ontario.To this day we still cringe at the thought of this diabetic coma in a can.
2/5 No Video...darn it.
2. Collective Arts IPA No.6
Then (August 27th) - The much anticipated Collective Arts Brewing IPA No. 6 lands in The Grotto about as fresh as can be. Canned August 24th, this 6.7% Collective Project was brewed with Peaches as well as Amarillo and Wai-Iti hops and pours a hazy orange with a fluffy white head that lingers a while. Smelling peaches with some melon. On the sip, it has a whole lot of over ripe peach notes with melon and some citrus on the backend. Slightly bitter with an almost funky peach on the finish. It doesn't work for me at all, the peach feels off somehow and doesn't blend well with the other notes. Such is life, I can't love everything and that is okay. Always honest, always true.
Now - I did go back and revisit this in another batch and still found it to be a little off putting. It wasn't the worst beer, it just missed the mark of great that so many Collective Arts beers did. Tough to maintain that level beer after beer but sometimes you might want to just let one go and move on. This is that one.
No doubt someone loved each and every one of these beers. Palates are very personal and I encourage you to explore beer with an open mind, be honest and help us keep the Craft Beer community moving forward. Sharing our thoughts helps encourage conversation and that makes everyone a better, more informed consumer. Hold accountable those responsible for poorly thought out marketing or misleading labels, off flavours or just plain lazy beer. Give praise and help drive the sales of those who contribute to the greater good and make beer that is on point and made to be enjoyed with friends and family. You don't have to be an asshole about it but it is better to get mad than just blindly like everything you try to curry favour or try and get free stuff. Love is all about never losing sight of truth, honour and beauty.
Time to switch gears and later today I hope you'll come back as I talk of the Ten Most Memorable Ontario Craft Beers of 2018!
(If you want to know more about my personal system, which I try to use based on how close a beer comes to being on point, stylistically at least, you can check out Rating and Reviewing from my post about it last year here.)
While we love to dabble in other styles and many of us are fans of this dark or that sour, the overwhelming majority of craft beer drinkers I know are unabashed and loudly self proclaimed Hop Heads. Hazy, juicy, tropical, piney, dry, resinous and citrusy describe in one degree or another what we love and with that in mind I head into today's post still torn about the amazing and world class beers that didn't make the cut of my Top 5 in the following 8 categories. It is almost like when we talk about the Canadian Olympic Hockey team being able to field two world class teams, the top 15 in almost all of these categories are really damn great beers and no doubt would top anyone's list. I'll spare you the rehash of "notes of grapefruit, orange and pine, etc." in describing them as best I can and instead try to evoke just what made them so memorable and why they stood out. Hold onto your Spiegelaus, it's about to get Hoppy in here!
Pale Ales 1. MeritBrewing Step to the Right
While the line between Pale ale and IPA is a bit of finessing no matter who you are, this dank and tropical one from Merit blew me away late one night in August. It was a big and juicy with an attention grabbing texture. I may be biased but damn if Hamilton isn't home to some of the finest breweries in the province. Merit brings so much to the table when it comes to the community as well and that makes them one of the best as far as I'm concerned. If this comes back, I'm buying a 12 pack because I missed it moments after I had my last sip and I don't feel that often. 2. Bellwoods Brewery Jutsu
Last years top pale Ale slips a spot but that has little to do with the revamped Jutsu and a little more with Merit's ascendance. Still a big and bitter citrusy treat, it has become a little more dank and juicy and I am all kinds of okay with that. I imagine this will be a big seller online as the more people in Ontario can now experience the genius of Bellwoods through their home delivery option. 3. Great Lakes Brewery Canuck 4. Amsterdam Brewing Cruiser 5. Blood Brothers Brewing Blood Light
1. Fairweather Brewing foreva eva
Little can be said that hasn't already been about the year Hamilton's own Fairweather Brewing had. This September release was bang on what a session IPA should be. Loads of pithy citrus, dank pine and body made this easily feel like a 9% Double IPA and it came in at half that ABV. Outstanding is not enough praise but damn it really was. 2. Grain and Grit Beer Co. Light Ray
From way back in February comes a beer that caught my eye and my heart. A 4.5 %, 80 IBU session beer that drank like the big boys with a loaded citrus and stone fruit body. It was the best beer I had found from G and G, starting a trend that saw them hit high water marks throughout the year. Hope to see it again and this time I will be loading up! 3. Great Lakes Brewery Sunnyside 4. Nickel Brook Brewing Lost in Orbit 5. Collective Arts Brewing State of Mind
IPAs 1. Great Lakes Brewery Octopus Wants to Fight
Like a message from the heavens came the announcement that GLB would be making the 6.2%, 88 IBU Octo available year round and the ground shook as Ontario Hop Heads applauded and cheered! Given GLB's penchant for fanatical freshness and of course, the hop forward mind of Mike Lackey, we knew this would be a fantastic new everyday option for our homes. The big and juicy tropical notes meet a touch of the dank and to the skies we go with joy. I only wish I was an octopus so I could have 8 pints on the go at once! 2. Fairweather Brewing High Grade
A slight tweak to the recipe made this Fairweather core IPA a damn near perfect beer as 2018 rode along. Touching up the dank, juicy beauty with a deft hand meant multiple trips required back for more as this beer kept needing to be in my glass. Taking a detour from the grapefruit and pine to add mango and melon made this one a must have for anyone who loves 'em bold and bitter. 3. Left Field Brewery Prospect Simcoe 4. Merit Brewing Young Rival 5. Clifford Brewing Artificial Paradise
Imperial IPAs 1. Fairweather Brewing Fortune and Glory
Prestige. Pride. Power. This 8.5% juicy, tropical and dank hop juggernaut was a revelation when it hit my glass in the latter half of the year. So much citrus, pithy and dank with light pepper notes, it went down quickly and I bought more everytime I returned to Fairweather. They have found the key to true happiness and it resides in this bottle, one glorious sip at a damn time. In the category I love the most, it was a close race and this beer made the case for all the honour it receives. 2. Barncat Artisan Ales Double the Juice
I don't know if you're supposed to drink the whole 2 litre growler of Barncat Double the Juice when you get home from work but I did it. I couldn't resist its juicy, tropical citrus and dankness...it is second but by the slimmest of margins. If I lived closer I would be there every weekend and as it is, 2019 will find me making more trips to this amazing nano brewery that has everyone who tries their creations stunned and awed. 3. Bellwoods Brewery Mylarshark 4. Rainhard Brewing Revolution No. 8 5. Rouge River Brewing The Dankster King
Black IPAs 1. Great Lakes Brewery Apocalypse Later
Like a king returning from battle, this big and boozy 10.5%, 100+IBU strides into Polk Manor with a swagger that is very well deserved. Roasty, bitter citrus pith and pine make this a damn slow sipper of the highest order and the one beer I cannot see dropping from top spot year after year. Perhaps it was my expanding palate but in 2018, Apocalypse was even better, bigger and bolder than before! I patiently wait it's return. 2. Muddy York BrewingFrogman
The early months of the year are always filled with dark and roasty treats and with the release of the 8.0%, 60 IBU Frogman, legendary brewer Jeff Manol of Muddy York crafted something wonderful. Bright and tropical with a solid dark chocolate backbone, it warmed me to the core on a chilly March day and resonates to this day. Look for it to return and if it does, you'll be able to order it online and join the hop madness! 3. Shillow Brewing Bitter Waitress 4. Great Lakes Brewery Black Hole of Eden 5. Manantler Brewing Death's Tar
New England Style IPAs 1. Sawdust City Brewing Juicin'
Putting aside the fact that the Team from Sawdust showed up here at The Grotto for an amazing evening in August, I have been in love with Juicin' since the moment I first tried it a year and a half ago. It topped my list last year as favourite IPA and now takes the crown in the first ever NEIPA category. So many great beers, but this peach, citrus and smooth bodied, softly bitter beauty remains at the top of my list and will be once again returning to my glass when it hits the shop in Gravenhurst in 2019. Hard to knock of the beast when it's this damn good. A must order online when you see it! 2. Dominion City Sunsplit
I have the feeling that I need to go visit the capital region of Canada soon as Dominion continues to impress with both their amazing beers like this legendary and on point Sunsplit and their community works. More on the latter tomorrow but for now suffice it to say this tangerine, peach and mango slow sipper was enjoyed many times thanks to friends and my own mail order and if you see it out again in 2019, make that bet and get your own, sent direct and fresh! 3. Left Field Brewery Greenwood 4. Collective Arts Brewing IPA No. 5 5. Nickel Brook Brewing Wicked Awesome
Belgian IPAs 1. Fairweather Brewing Ipso Facto
Sensing a pattern? Fairweather released hit after hit in 2018 and it came as a shock when this 7.5% Belgian style beauty dropped in September. All the fruity spice of that Belgian yeast with the citrus shining bright. It was a peppery, fruity gem that takes the top spot in one of the toughest categories for me to decide. 2. Elora Brewing Wandering Monk
A literal unexpected find in early January when I stopped in at a different LCBO, this 8.0% slow sipper of a Belgian from Elora Brewing was just what I wanted and didn't know existed. Pithy, spicy and full of zest, it made the choice for top spot hard and it did it from almost a year ago. I need to try this again. 3. Great Lakes Brewery Audrey Hopburn 4. New Limburg Brewing Belgian IPA 5. Brimstone Brewing A Mountie and a Buffalo walk into a Bar
Milkshake IPAs 1. Left Field Brewery WHIP Pina Colada
I don't know if it is properly classified but I'm calling 'em as I see 'em. Lactose, pineapple, coconut and a smooth bodied 6.0% gave me joy in late July and I was sold all the way. I've never seen coconut done quite so right in a beer and damn if Left Field doesn't keep making me smile anytime I get something new from them. It was most amazing! 2. Great Lakes Brewery Grimace's Tears
When I first had this late last year, it didn't grab my attention. The release later in the summer of 2018 was a damn sight to behold as they really nailed the recipe and the balance between the strawberry, vanilla and lactose sweetness was near perfect. Both of my cans disappeared in a single sitting and I look forward to it returning in 2019...I hope. 3. Merit Brewing Breakfast? 4. Collective Arts Brewing Liquid Arts Fest 5. Merit Brewing Till Then
There you have it my friends, all my hoppy dreams came true and more in 2018 and I wasn't joking when I said I could produce 2 separate lists and be happy with the second picks just as much as these. There is no shortage to the creativity and sheer genius in many of these beers and I am stoked to see where we go in 2019! Come back tomorrow morning for My Least Favourite beers of the year and then later in the day for My Top 10 Most Memorable Beers of the year!
As always, I thank you for your support and look forward to seeing which Pale Ales and IPAs you felt were Top of the Hops for you in 2018! Cheers! Polk
The first two days of my annual look back on the past year is a sprint through over 30 different styles of beer and while I don't give short shift to anything I drink, as the 4th Annual Polkie Awards go Into the Darkness Again, we are approaching some of my very favourite things. Dark and roasty, I have long been a fan of porters and stouts, heavy and beautiful. The balance of coffee, dark chocolate and a host of other, smaller notes bring me joy and I have finally started to really appreciate a lot of the subtle nuances that can and do occur between batches and years. This year brings a new category because I finally was able to try enough really good Barrel Aged porters to justify splitting that category in half. Work has me frazzled, but talking about the best of 2018 in Ontario Craft beer brings me nothing but pure happiness!
Here. We. Go!
1. Great Lakes Brewing Harry Porter
My love for GLB is well known and while their hoppy gems are always around my glass, it is this 6.5% American style Porter that captured my heart early in 2017 and never left. Harry Porter is all the rich and dark roasted chocolate and coffee with a nice hop presence that gives it a little something extra. It's popped up from time to time and the variants (cherry, bourbon soaked vanilla bean, etc.) are a beautiful way to explore this amazing porter. Excelsior!
2. Clifford Brewing Porter
I'm not sure if it's that Brad Clifford has his own brewery now as opposed to contract brewing this award winning Porter but it was a staple in our house all year round! More on the dark chocolate side with some espresso and bitter coffee, it lives here fresh on a weekly basis. Bravo!
3. Muddy York Porter 4. Collective Arts Brewing Swedish Baltic Porter 5. Collective Arts Brewing Stranger than Fiction Imperial/Barrel Aged Porters 1. Shacklands Brewing 2017 Bourbon Barrel Porter
A cellar shining star as this 2nd place finisher from last year aged beautifully and grew into an even more impressive finisher. Smooth and balanced with a warming but not overly boozy finish, loaded dark roasted notes of chocolate and coffee were met with a fine vanilla and oak touch. Sad to see it go but happy to have been able to share it with Lady Polk, who loved it just as much as I. Wow! 2. Muddy York Tawny Port Barrel Aged Plank Road Baltic Porter
The aging of a few months brought a more balanced dark malt and sweet port to an already fantastic beer. Loads of cherry, wine tannins, a touch of coffee and some warming booziness made this a beer I would love to see again. I'm always a fan of what MY does but these special releases are not to be missed and with their online ordering, you never have to again. Salud!
Stouts 1. Blood Brothers Black Hand
A late in the year find in the back of Polk Manor's cellar, this Toronto brewery is known more for their funk and hops but this straight up stout was not to be missed. Rich an dreamy with bittersweet dark chocolate and a smokiness that was balanced within the entire slow sipping evening. My only regret was that I bought just one bottle. A dream, perchance to love! Prost!
2. Left Field Brewery Mocha Marshmallow
The 2017 champ drops a spot but still remains one of the finest stouts I had all year. The thick lactose addition and vanilla note balanced into the rich and dark roasted coffee and chocolate make it a memorable sip every time. A beer I would love to see again and again as the years go by. Gorgeous!
3. Anderson Brewing Stout
4. Henderson Brewing Studio Two
5. Sawdust City Brewing Skinny Dippin' Stout Imperial Stouts 1. Sawdust City Long Dark Voyage to Uranus
A 3 time winner in this category, this year was perhaps the closest decision I've ever had to make. The game is changing and more and more Ontario Craft brewers are bringing great things to this slow sipping, long time thinking category. One of the earliest loves of my craft beer life, this rich and dark roasted gem has a balance that has me laying down the cash to keep it in stock here all winter long. The variants from Sawdust (available online for ordering) such as Titania and the Vanilla Coffee one blew me away as well. Champion!
2. Amsterdam Brewing Tempest
Returning to the world as part of the Flight pack from Amsterdam Brewing, this legendary Imperial stout was neck and neck for the top spot with LDV. My only complaint, and believe me it's a small one, is that you couldn't purchase it on it's own. From what this Old Polk hears, that will not be the case next year and with a better availability, this rich and smooth dark roasted chocolate and coffee Imperial could scale to the top of the charts! Ascension!
3.Sawdust City Brewing Blood of Cthuhlu 4. Wellington Brewery Imperial Russian Stout 5. Collective Arts Brewing/Kex Imperial Stout
Barrel Aged Imperial Stouts
1. Nickel Brook Brewing 2016 Kentucky Bastard
I know, I know. How does an almost 3 year old beer keep popping up on my best of lists? It's simple really....it's that damn good. One of the few BA stouts I've managed to save for this long, the smoothing out of the heat and growth of balance between the boozy bourbon and rich dark malts is perhaps the finest I've seen in my 4 years of drinking and writing about beer. While we consumed our final bottle during the August heatwave, it changed nothing. This Bastard gives you everything a champion should and drinks almost like perfection from start to finish. There are a few bottles left at the Brewery and at $26.50 for a 750ml bottle, it's something you need to add to that Beer Bucket list. Love!!
2. Bellwoods Brewery 2017 Bring out Your Dead
The first time I tried this beer, it caught my attention. When I was finally able to sit down and enjoy every last drop, it had my heart. Aged in cognac barrels, it is smooth and boozy but not in a hot way. Warming the sub cockles of this old fella's heart, the coffee, chocolate and vanilla with that cognac note was simply beautiful. Sublime!! 3. Sawdust City Brewing 2017 Titania 4. Merit Brewing Nowhere 5. Nickel Brook Brewing 2016 Café del Bastardo That wraps up today's look back and I'm feeling all roasty and warm just thinking about all the amazing porters and stouts to pass through my glass in 2018. I am sure the next 12 months will bring some surprises and perhaps something I have never seen before... Check back tomorrow for All the Hops, my favourite Pale Ales, IPAs and more. Followed on New Year's Eve by My Least Favourite Beers of 2018 and then by The Ten, my most memorable ones.