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”

How COVID has improved beer drinking in Ontario

Trying to find a silver lining to 2020 feels a bit like trying to stay positive about being trapped in the trunk of a stolen Sonata speeding down the 427.

We’ve all spent the last few weird and awful months wondering how we got here and where we’re going, and, just like you might if you were confined to the storage compartment of a Hyundai for a length of time, you probably feel like you could use a fucking drink.

But there is an upside to this — if you’re the kind of person who can find the upside to a viral pandemic increasing our substance use – and it’s that the vigour with which we’ve all embraced the drink has actually had an affect on the availability, politics, and culture related to beer. Yes, this pandemic is a lot of things, most of them terrible, but it also might just be the best time to drink beer in Ontario.

Ever.

Here’s why.

Continue reading “How COVID has improved beer drinking in Ontario”

New podcast: Beer and Bullshit

Warning: This post is 100% shameless self promotion and even features a solicitation for advertisers. I’m sorry.

About a month ago, it came to my attention that I might actually be the only remaining asshole in the country without his own podcast.

And so, in an effort to prevent my membership in the Self-Important Internet Asshole Association (SIIAA) from lapsing, in mid-July I launched the Beer and Bullshit podcast. In accordance with SIIAA policy (we have amazing meetings in trendy new cafes you’ve never heard of), I am now also obligated to shamelessly promote my podcast on all of my various social media channels and my pandemic-dormant blog.

As noted, the show is called Beer and Bullshit and it will feature a healthy dose of both. If you’ve come to know me from this blog, you obviously know that I am a beer writer and so I will most definitely be taking the conversation that has typically lived on this space to the audio medium to expand on those topics with the people I’ve come to know writing about the beer industry in Ontario for almost a decade. I’ve recorded a handful of shows already and these conversations include a chat with returning co-founder and CEO of Steam Whistle Brewery, Greg Taylor, and an in-depth conversation about contract brewing with Lost Craft Brewing Company owner, Shehan De Silva. I’ve also already recorded a chat with two small brewery-owners that will basically frighten anyone who listens out of any aspirations they might have to become small brewery-owners. Stay tuned! Continue reading “New podcast: Beer and Bullshit”

A toast

My dog is lying on the carpet in a sunbeam near my feet.

Occasionally he looks up when I shuffle or reach for something. He’s got anxiety so he’s not usually the most restful dude, but he’s trying to relax. He also suspects there’s food around as we get closer to dinner time so he’s vigilante about the potential for dropped scraps.

The music of Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, and Bill Evans is currently playing quietly throughout my house.

My son is watching TV in the basement and my wife is napping.

It’s one of those rare moments over the last couple weeks where things almost feel normal.

But then, of course, I remember that things are very far from normal.

And it seems pretty clear that, whatever happens on the other side of this, we’ll almost certainly have a different definition of “normal.”

So while most people who are reading this probably know me as a “beer blogger,” that’s not why I fired up the laptop today and, realistically, I’m not sure I’ll have much motivation to jot down any thoughts about drinking beer for the foreseeable future.

It seems like kind of a weird time to think about beer, other than my immediate needs to find it around 5pm and to put it in my mouth, or a time to think about maintaining a fucking blog, of all things. Indeed, it’s a weird time to think about much more than the safety of our loved ones.

My wife and I are are both still working, but she is shouldering the majority of the work trying to create some structure for an active, bitingly funny, scarily smart, curious, loud, and energetic grade one student as the demands of my work often mean I’m still tethered to my desk for large parts of my day. It is an insane, hectic, often frustrating situation. Sometimes there is yelling. Sometimes there are tears. But we remind each other that we are both extremely fortunate to have jobs we are able to do remotely and for which we are both still being paid. Many people have lost or will lose their jobs before this is over. We are also fortunate to have space to let that energetic kid burn off some energy from time to time. I can’t imagine how we would cope if we were still in the condo we left behind in Toronto five years ago.

It hits me more and more each day of this pandemic what a luxury it is for us to be able to handle this situation the way we are, and, while we are frequently at our wits’ end, I am thankful.

So maybe I will make this about beer, for just one second.

Because the reason I’m writing this is that I’d actually like to take a minute to raise a virtual glass. A toast to those who are still going to work today, and tomorrow, and until someone says not to anymore. I don’t just mean healthcare providers, who are willing to go to work and care for the sick and put themselves in harm’s way and whose selflessness will literally be the thing that saves many and many of our lives.

I am of course more thankful than ever for healthcare providers and our country’s healthcare system. But I’m also extremely thankful for the people who are still stocking store shelves and who are still bagging groceries, who are manning assembly lines and driving trucks full of the things we need, who are still making sure the lights are on, the phones are working, and the fucking internet is still working so we can all stay connected to talk about Tiger King like the world is somehow still a little bit normal.

Most of us aren’t leaving our homes unless it’s utterly necessary—and yet we find ourselves totally reliant on the resiliency and bravery of the people whose jobs leave them no choice but to leave their homes.

So it doesn’t feel like a time for silly little websites about beer, but I wanted to take a minute, sitting here with my dog at my feet and my family safely snug in the Sunday stillness of our home before the madness of working remotely and home schooling and calming a rescue dog who barks at every delivery, to say thank you, to raise a toast, and to wish all of you well.

I hope all of you are finding some semblance of normalcy and comfort in these weird times and I hope to raise a glass with all of you in real life soon.

Hang in there.