If you live in an urban setting for any length of time, you will naturally develop habits related to how, where, and when you secure and consume good burritos. It is also only natural that you will develop strong opinions about the burrito-based businesses in and around the areas you live and work and, if you are anything like me, you will make important social and meal-planning decisions based on the geography of your preferred burrito spots. Continue reading “Loyalty”

Burritos, as we all know, serve an important function in a well-rounded individuals diet. A well-made large burrito can sustain a grown human for most of an entire day. The right burrito can make the perfect lunch before an important afternoon, or with some topping adjustments can become the precursor for an epic nap. In a pinch, when there’s no time to get home after work or sit down for a proper dinner, a burrito can lay the perfect foundation for a night out and, of course, a big, sloppy post-last-call burrito can be the ultimate way to cap off a night of drinking to soak up some of the beer in your belly.

If you live in an urban setting for any length of time, you will naturally develop habits related to how, where, and when you secure and consume good burritos. It is also only natural that you will develop strong opinions about the burrito-based businesses in and around the areas you live and work and, if you are anything like me, you will make important social and meal-planning decisions based on the geography of your preferred burrito spots. Continue reading “Loyalty”

The Uncanceled


The Kitchener-Waterloo Region is home to a plethora of great breweries — and almost none of them have founders who were charged with two counts of assault and one count of assault with a weapon.

Off the top of my head, the region boasts Barn Cat, Bitte Schön, Block Three, Jackass, Rural Roots, Stockyards, Together We’re Bitter Co-op, Wavemaker, and Willibald and — to my knowledge — none of these breweries were founded by a man who was captured on video striking his girlfriend with an object and who subsequently faced charges for the act.

It is unfortunate then that, when the City of Kitchener recently opened up their Requests for Proposals (RFP) process to find a “non-premier brewery partner” to serve beer at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex and Kitchener Golf Courses, they awarded the contract to Four Fathers Brewing Company in Cambridge. Unfortunate, of course, because in 2018 Four Fathers founder and University of Guelph Professor John Kissick actually was charged with two counts of assault and one count of assault with a weapon. Those charges were ultimately dropped in 2020 when Kissick entered into a peace bond with the party who brought forward the charges, but to craft beer drinkers and any feeling humans who watched video of the (alleged) assault (myself among them) the incident likely left a bad taste in their mouth.

Indeed, for many in the craft beer community, especially women and folks who have been marginalized, this relatively high-profile “partnership” will likely lend credence to a prevailing sentiment that I’ve developed lately about the industry’s desire and ability to police itself, namely the realization that no one actually gives a fuck. Continue reading “The Uncanceled”

The rise, fall, and sale of Side Launch Brewery

*UPDATED 11:40am October 20: Details provided by Equals*

Side Launch Brewery has been sold to Equals Brewing Company.

Nothing has been announced yet, but I have heard from enough sources with enough insight into the company that I feel comfortable posting this. I will of course update this post when it inevitably creates a need for a press release. *UPDATE: Equals brewing has confirmed the purchase of Side Launch. Full statement from Justin McEllar, the President of Equals, has been added to the end of this post.*

Equals, for the uninitiated, is a contract and co-packing business right here in London Ontario. They likely already brew a handful of your favourite contract beers, including Triple Bogey, and they have become a go-to spot for local breweries that need occasional help with capacity. They also offer private label brewing and have a couple of their own brands, including Shake Lager, and the downright excellent Bangarang hard seltzer (Seriously, it’s really good).

Side Launch, as most will know, is a once-great brewery in Collingwood that has continued to make head-scratching decision after head-scratching decision as the board that runs the company tries to maximize profits and, in recent years, clearly position the place for a sale.

The company came out of the gates strong with a winning formula. They built a state of the art brewery on 15 acres of land near Blue Mountain in Collingwood and launched it leveraging the recipes and expertise of veteran brewer, Michael Hancock. They introduced Side Launch Dark Lager (which was previously Denison’s Dunkel under Hancock’s former brewery), Side Launch Wheat (previously Denison’s Weissbier), and Side Launch Pale Ale, because in 2014 it was actually illegal in Ontario to open a brewery without a beer that “marries the best of traditional English and modern American pale ale styles.”

And they launched these beers using distinct and interesting branding: a bold sideways ship emblazoned on each can, with styles differentiated by the colour of said can. To run the place, they appointed Garnet Pratt Siddall as President and CEO. Pratt Sidall brought experience in corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions to Side Launch.

In a short time, Side Launch established itself as a winner.

In 2016 Robin LeBlanc and Jordan St. John, the co-authors of The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, named Side Launch Brewing Company the Top Brewery in Ontario in their first edition of that guide. Later that same year, the company was named Canadian Brewery of the Year at the Canadian Brewing Awards. In 2017, Pratt Siddall was was elected by her peers to serve as chair of the board of directors for the Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB) association, the first woman to hold that position, and she helped champion that organization’s Women in Craft Brewing Education Scholarship.

Not surprisingly, the beers brewed under Hancock’s direction were stellar and enjoyed not only commercial success but plenty of awards recognition and rabid acclaim among the province’s beer critics (i.e. bloggers and nerds loved that shit).

In a 2016 press release about being named 2016 Canadian Brewery of The Year, Chuck Galea, VP of Sales and Marketing for Side Launch, noted: “Winning all of this hardware and being recognized as the top brewery in our province has everything to do with the beer that our Head Brewer, Michael Hancock, makes. In addition, we have an amazing crew and are very proud of what we have accomplished.”

And then it all slowly started getting shitty.

Shortly after being named to the role of OCB president, Pratt Siddall was terminated by Side Launch, over what a source at that time told me were “fundamental disagreements over how to run the business.”

Variations and extensions to the core lineup started showing up with more and more frequency and, with each iteration, the company got a little further from what I always deemed a winning brand strategy. The core lineup and various new offshoots underwent so many brand makeovers that I assume someone on Side Launch’s board of directors had a nephew in graphic design school who needed a real-world case study for his final project.

(I hope nephew Kevin failed his course because now every can of beer from the company looks unrelated to both Side Launch and the other beers in the lineup.)

And then most notably, Michael Hancock, upon whose 40 years of brewing experience the company was arguably built, was unceremoniously squeezed out of the organization, first restructured as “brewer emeritus,” and then parting ways entirely. It is also rumoured that much of the talented brewing team Hancock assembled was shown the door, too. The Head Brewer and “amazing crew” to whom Galea attributed their success in 2016 were gone.

(Hancock talked a little about the situation on a 2020 episode of my podcast, but he stopped short of outright criticism of the company because a) he’s a classy dude, b) he still cares about the place he helped build, and c) I get the sense he has signed an NDA.)

On top of these head-scratching decisions, the company seems in recent years to have taken a rather ADHD approach to their go-to market efforts, chasing trends without seeming to invest in any kind of long-term strategy, presumably trying to find a niche that makes them attractive to some buyer. Any buyer. Please fucking buy us.

And so while this sale won’t come as a shock to even casual observers of Ontario’s craft beer scene, many of whom seem to have already written the company off, it is curious to me that a company that was built presumably to be as profitable as possible appears to have actually made decision after decision to weaken the value of the brand. They essentially dumped all the elements that endeared the brand to consumers, and then ultimately sold the company at a time when valuation for breweries is extremely low–there are many breweries publicly for sale in Ontario and a plethora more privately looking to cash out. This is far from a brewery sellers’ market.

If there’s any lessen to be learned here, it is perhaps that running a brewery with the main intention to maximize profits can have precisely the opposite effect. If the passion for beer ain’t there anymore, we can smell that shit a mile away.

This is of course not a great thing for people who work in beer. The long, shitty saga of Side Launch’s demise has meant many good and talented people have been marginalized, squeezed out, and/or lost their jobs in the pursuit of profit. Presumably this sale means more job losses.

*UPDATE from Justin McKellar, President of Equals Brewery 11:40am Oct 20: “There is no plan to close down the Collingwood location. We love the Collingwood community and look to re-establish the connection with the people here. We are already in discussion with the town to increase the capacity in the taproom from 56 to 150 to accommodate larger groups and events.”*

According to my sources, the brewery was sold “for parts” and I have heard there is a plan to bring tanks and brewing equipment here to London to reimagine Side Launch as a brew pub. One account has it there were already trucks on site yesterday dismantling the place.

I don’t yet know the validity of these claims (my email to Equals has thus far gone unanswered) but if any of this is true, the future of the rented space at 200 Mountain Road seems dubious and that is sad for brewery employees and for Collingwood.

But if there is a silver lining, this could ultimately be a good thing for consumers.

Whatever your feelings about contract brewing might be, Equals makes beer well. I know brewers that have used their services to handle volume challenges, and by all accounts the company is attentive to detail and dedicated to quality. If Equals recognizes what made the Side Launch brand work in the first place (read: Hancock’s recipes) and is committed to making them well, consumers will still get, at the very least, world class beer. One has to assume that Equals bought the company at least in part because it comes with five LCBO SKUs and it is not unreasonable to assume they might keep those SKUs by leveraging the world class recipes they also purchased. And hopefully they fire Kevin and get him back to reimagining classic movie posters in an art deco style for his Pinterest page.

Also, perhaps somewhat selfishly, I am excited about the potential for a well-run brew pub in London. Long known as Labatt’s town, this city has a honest-to-goodness craft beer scene now – we have Anderson Craft Ales, Beerlab!, Curley Brewing Company, Dundas and Sons, Forked River Brewing, London Brewing, Powerhouse Brewing, Storm Stayed Brewing, and Toboggan Brewery and we also have a legit contender for the best beer bar in Ontario in Pub Milos — but we don’t really have a brew pub (apologies to Toboggan, but with its massive size, macro beers on tap, and event-space business model, in my opinion, it just doesn’t feel like a proper brew pub).

Time will tell what Equals can do with this purchase, but at the very least, I hope Side Launch Wheat is kept alive and kept true to Hancock’s recipe. It would be an absolute travesty to buy the company and not continue the saga of that wheat beer. First poured at Growler’s Pub, Crazy Louie’s Brasserie, and Conchy Joe’s — the three bars that made up Denison’s Brew Pub, the beer has been around since 1990. It was actually one of the first beers brewed at Mill Street Brewery in the Distillery District when that company’s founders let Hancock use their facilities, then it was brewed at Etobicoke’s Black Oak Brewery. In 2008 Hancock commenced brewing his Weissbier at Cool Brewery, then in 2009 he took his operations for some time to the Amsterdam Brewery that used to be at the foot of Bathurst Street in Toronto.

The beer has staying power, and I hope it can survive this change, too.

If you’re from Equals and still reading this, please consider this personal request: Get Mountain Lager back in the LCBO. It’s an absolute travesty this beer is only available at the brewery now and Northbound Light Lager, the beer that took its place as a “core brand,” is hot garbage. Thank you.

UPDATE from Justin McKellar, President of Equals, 11:40am Oct 20:

I know they haven’t been highly regarded in your past musings, but we believe in the potential of the brand and the potential of the taproom. We had a team event (Equals senior leadership and full Side Launch team) in Collingwood yesterday and after tasting the portfolio again in that fantastic setting and seeing the energy of the team, it only solidified my belief in the value of this acquisition for our organization. 

I had a dinner and beers with Michael Hancock Tuesday night just as the deal was closing, to pay respect to the foundation he laid for the brand, and I can confirm there will be no plans to change the Wheat or Mountain recipes! A lot can be written about the story of Side Launch to now, but we are excited to focus on the next chapter. 

Image: Google street view

How I learned to stop worrying and love chicken wings

In my late teens and early 20s I worked in various service industry jobs, including a stint as a line cook at a mid-tier franchise restaurant; the sort that typically has a cheap wing night on Tuesdays. 

For much of my early tenure at this mid-tier restaurant I was relegated to “fryers,” which is exactly what it sounds like: I would stand at a deep fryer for hours and oversee the submersion of French fries, mozza sticks, battered haddock, and all manner of beige-brown, fatty shit to be cooked in dirty oil with my only respite being regular cigarette breaks. Fryers was an absolutely shit station and it was roughly one rank above Dish Pig, the entry-level back of the house role in the degenerate world of restaurants upon whom everyone heaped abuse and unpleasant tasks.

On Tuesdays though, the person working fryers would likely happily trade places with any dishwasher and swap out fry baskets for scalding water, clogged sinks, and coked-up, oversexed servers shouting for more clean cutlery. Because on Tuesdays the person working fryers would be tasked with overseeing obscene amounts of chicken wings through their grotesque restaurant life-cycle: From frozen brick of wings, to semi-flaccid and thawing in a big sink of running water, to cold and raw and stored in their own congealed juices in large plastic bins, to baked on forearm-singeing trays, to deep-fried and tossed in sauce.

Continue reading “How I learned to stop worrying and love chicken wings”

Why buy the cow?

I like Kurt Vonnegut’s work a lot.

I’m not unique in this regard, of course. Vonnegut, with his darkly humorous satire is arguably one of the most important and well-read contemporary American writers.

Still, as I was seeking out tattoo ideas to mark the occasion of turning 40, having a second child, and surviving a couple years of what now seems an infinite pandemic, I returned to the work of one of my favourite authors and had “So it goes,” a quote from his seminal 1969 anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five, inscribed on my forearm.

I am, again, not unique in this regard. Turns out this is kind of a popular tattoo.

So it goes.

The same year, knowing of my fondness for Vonnegut, my younger brother Tim sent me a first edition copy of Vonnegut’s 1982 book Deadeye Dick from Regina where he lives with his partner Marika and a couple dogs. Deadeye Dick was actually the first Vonnegut book I ever read and then I worked backward to consume essentially all his works.

Continue reading “Why buy the cow?”

We don’t talk about craft beer at the Rogers Centre

The first rule of selling your beer at the Rogers Centre is
that you don’t talk about selling your beer at the Rogers Centre

Historically, the fan experience at Blue Jays games has sucked.

If you look past your pre-pubescent / adolescent Joe Carter-soaked nostalgia for the Sky Dome, you know it’s true. The stadium is a Toronto monument to the last gasps of ugly, concrete, brutalist architecture and the marvel of — wow! — a moving roof has long since lost its lustre. It was always a little too dark and, when the dome was closed, a little too quiet.

It had all the charm of watching baseball in a shitty shopping mall.

Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it. The stadium formerly known as the Sky Dome and the in-game experience there consistently rank among the worst in all of baseball. A 2022 “voice of fan report” analyzed 130,000 fan reviews to rank Major League Baseball stadiums based on Food and Drink, fan experience, family experience, and the facility and found that, overall, the Rogers Centre was the third worst and, in terms, of food and drink it was dead last. Continue reading “We don’t talk about craft beer at the Rogers Centre”

Ask not what the Toronto Festival of Beer can do for you

“The unexamined beer event is not worth attending.”

From July 22-24, The Beer Store Presents The Toronto Festival of Beer (TFOB) returns to Toronto for the 24th time.

Touted as Canada’s largest beer festival, TFOB will once again go down at Bandshell Park in Exhibition Place. And apparently organizers need my help.

At least, that’s what the email asking about media accreditation said.

Noting: “Your application does not guarantee your approval, as space for each day at Toronto’s Festival of Beer is extremely limited,” the media accreditation process includes a request to “provide us with as much detail as possible in your application so we can understand who you are covering the event for, what you’re most interested in seeing and how you can support TFOB 2022 before the event weekend.”

Zuh? “Support?”

I understand that as an event organizer, you hope that providing free shit to “media” will translate to positive media attention for said event, but can you just…ask for it? That feels bold to me. I mean it’s one thing to wine and dine “journalists” in your socially awkward media VIP area while the Spin Doctors play, but to proactively vet candidates for media passes based on their planned activities to “support” your event seems pretty blatant.

So I clicked through from this email to the actual application for media accreditation to see that, because “the live event business has been hit hard over the past two years” (fair enough) TFOB asks would-be media types to “share [. . .] how you plan on pre-promoting TFOB 2022 [. . .] Please provide examples of how you can help drive awareness and potential ticket sales for our event, ahead of our event.”

This, to me, feels pretty darn greasy. Continue reading “Ask not what the Toronto Festival of Beer can do for you”

My neighbour brings me beer

After over a decade writing about beer, I have discovered an interesting and cost-effective way to try new beers and find out what “regular folks” are into these days: I drink my neighbours’ beers.  

It’s not an altogether scientific method, but, these days I find that I am more likely to discover something new by way of an unexpected beer delivery from a neighbour who puts something in my hand knowing that I’m a beer guy; ironically, sowing the fruits of my past efforts sharing my formerly-abundant “beer mail” with them*.

It’s of course an inexpensive way to try new things, but it’s also an interesting way to track trends in Ontario’s craft beer scene. My retired teacher neighbour heard about Black Bellows Brewery from a friend and stopped in on a trip to Collingwood and now there is a decent IPA in my mailbox I’ve never tried before. The family around the corner heard an ad for Cowbell Brewery on the radio and decided to try a mix pack from the LCBO and now I’m learning that Shindig Huron County Lager has been rebranded as I sip one on a late-evening walk by their porch. When I chat with our friends across the street who have twins roughly the same age as our youngest, we discuss drinking Collective Arts’ Sparking Hard Teas at an upcoming day by our pool that we probably won’t be able to coordinate until the kids are in high school. Continue reading “My neighbour brings me beer”

Just Fucking Bourbon

As this pandemic has evolved, so too has my relationship with alcohol.

When it started, as I wrote right here, I entered into the idea of locking down with a sort of resilience. Beer wasn’t going to matter for a little while, I suggested then; this was a time to think about circling the wagons and hunkering down with family.  As it turns out of course, during the pandemic beer really, really did matter. Boy, did it matter.

As with most folks, I found myself upping my intake and, as I wrote when I made my eventual return to this blog, I discovered that it has actually become easier, more enjoyable, and more acceptable to drink great local beer frequently during these weird times. A column I’ve written for a soon-to-be-released winter issue of The Growler explores similar themes.

But I find my consumption habits changing again. As all of us across Ontario (and Canada) watch COVID case numbers break records day after day and hospital ICUs begin to fill up once more, we are almost certainly on the precipice of “wave two” and with it the various rules and regulations related to another lockdown are sure to follow.

It is exhausting. Continue reading “Just Fucking Bourbon”