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.

Beer festivals, siphoning gas, and pizza the size of bagels

The craft beer industry is a gold rush.

Or at least, that’s the way it surely looks to an outsider looking in.

In the past dozen years or so, as news coverage of craft brewery openings has leaked into even the shittiest newspapers in Ontario, and as local IPAs have sneaked their way onto menus among the jalapeño poppers and zesty chicken zingers of even our lamest franchise restaurants, there has surely been no shortage of opportunist who has seen the growth and noted, “Hmm, this craft beer thing is really taking off.”

The result is that there has been all manner of “unique and interesting” craft-beer-adjacent businesses that have sprung up as these opportunists channel their inner Bill Paxtons and Helen Hunts to chase the mythical tornadoes of cash they think are swirling around craft beer.

And so the beer industry has become a charlatans’ playground with all manner of snake oil salesman and huckster trying to make a quick buck. There are shady beer delivery services, over-priced beer tours, passports that apparently you must have in order to learn how to walk to various bars and pour liquid into your mouth; even, memorably, that guy who wanted to sell UV protected shaker pint glasses so that your beer wouldn’t get skunky during the precious minutes it spent in the sun on the patio.

But even with all these greasy characters lurking around your local tap room talking about their gofundme pages, to my mind there is little competition for the title of Greasiest; because that honour easily goes to organizers of craft beer festivals. In my near decade of experience as a semi-professional drinks writer, I can confirm that I’ve seen no subsection of craft beer that is more prone to fuckery than the part of the business that revolves around the organization and execution of festivals. Continue reading “Beer festivals, siphoning gas, and pizza the size of bagels”

Vegandale, hard seltzer, and the swing of the pendulum

“I kept asking Clarence why our world seemed to be collapsing and things seemed to be getting so shitty. And he’d say, “That’s the way it goes, but don’t forget,
it goes the other way too”.”
                                                                                                   ~ Alabama Worley 

It was yet another weird and worrisome week in the world of craft beer.

And yet, much as the news can sometimes be troubling, it all seems to point to the idea that there is a certain balance to this industry, for better or worse. Clintons, the storied Bloor West venue, for example, announced its closure after 83 years in business, but certainly another bar or two opened in Toronto this week to help fill the void.

Breweries continue to open in the province and, as we have for about five years, we can’t help but wonder how many more this province can actually hold. Well, wonder no more. Or at least not much longer, I think. Rumours continue to swirl that there are roughy a half dozen well-known breweries in this province actively looking for buyers or some kind of exit strategy as the craft beer market share seems to finally level off and even established brewers admit privately to me they are hemorrhaging cash. Stay tuned.

It’s at once sad and vaguely reassuring. Continue reading “Vegandale, hard seltzer, and the swing of the pendulum”

The premature demise of the Ontario Beer Summit

Well, I could be wrong, but I believe diversity
is an old, old wooden ship that was used during the Civil War era.
                                                        ~Anonymous Ontario brewery owner

I’m not a hugger.

Whether it be my germaphobia or a personal space issue, my impulse has never been to wrap my arms around another human when greeting them or when saying goodbye. No need to pass the flesh here, bud. I’ll probably see you again soon. A handshake is great. Even a fist bump.

Some people, though, really are huggers. There is no doubt, when they open that front door to greet you or they bump into you at an event, that they are going to hug you. It’s a weird and foreign instinct to me: They are genuinely happy to see other people and they simply must embrace. Not only that, but they do it in such a way that it’s infectious. I only know five or six of these kinds of huggers, but when they wrap their arms around even hug-skeptical folk like me, they make the huggee feel good and welcome. They are Good Huggers.

Ren Navarro is a Good Hugger.

Ren, for those who don’t know, has been working in Ontario’s craft beer scene in a variety of sales and customer-facing roles for years and, as a queer, black woman, will tell you she has always felt something like “craft beer’s unicorn” among the sea of mostly white, mostly straight, and mostly male faces that comprise the brewing industry. In recent years, Ren has taken to advancing the conversation about diversity in beer to a semi-full-time gig, launching Beer.Diversity, taking part in panel discussions on diversity at craft beer conferences and offering consultation services to breweries who want to embrace diversity in their businesses. Ren and I have been in pretty regular contact over the years mainly via the internet but have met in real life a few times and, upon each occasion, predictably, she has greeted me with a great hug.

Right now though, I get the sense Ren doesn’t feel much like hugging. The reason for that is Ren’s latest project, the Ontario Beer Summit, which she launched with partner Jake Clark, was officially cancelled last week. The summit was a two day conference that focused on beer education, with a mandate to celebrate “the strength that equality and diversity brings to craft beer and our communities.”

It was cancelled due to a lack of registrations. Continue reading “The premature demise of the Ontario Beer Summit”

Flagship February

In case you weren’t aware, we are currently in the final throes of “Flagship February.”

Flagship February is an idea that sprang forth last year from the mind of professional drinks writer Stephen Beaumont to give some love to the flagship beers that we often overlook. Beaumont has written a baker’s dozen worth of books on beer and understands the beverage’s history and tradition.

I’ve seen him backhand a bartender for serving him a Kolsch that wasn’t in a stange. He once called in a bomb threat to a bar on St Patrick’s day because he knew they consistently poured pints with the tap nozzle touching the beer. It’s rumoured he once hobbled a server who had never heard of ESB. “You cut the achilles,” he told me once with fire in his eyes. “The limp will ensure he never forgets again.” He’s a man who takes beer seriously.

This February, as with last, Beaumont and a team are preaching the merits of mainstay beers with a series of essays. As Beaumont’s site explains,

a Flagship is the beer that defines a brewery. It’s the one that you immediately think of when you hear the brewery’s name, the one that most people associate with the business. In most cases, it is their best-selling beer and often the one that outsells all their other offerings by a wide margin. A good flagship also allows a brewery to be able to afford the seasonals, specialty beers and the other one-off beers in their lineup.

Continue reading “Flagship February”

When your pint isn’t a pint

I recently read an item about pint sizes that got me thinking.

Adam McDowell, writing in August for the “booze newsletter” Moose Milk, which he cofounded with drinks writer Christine Sismondo, opined on the strict and seemingly seldom-observed definition of the word “pint.” As he noted in the article, the term “pint” has essentially been bastardized to the point where it now basically just means “a large glass.” In reality, of course, the pint has an actual exact measurement. In Canada, it’s 20oz.

McDowell’s premise was that bars advertising a pint are all too often not serving actual pints. You’re more likely, he posits, to get 18oz or 16oz. He also noted that bars and restaurants are actually legally required to serve correctly-sized pints. In a conversation on twitter that followed after I shared his article, McDowell also informed me that the Government of Canada has an official complaint mechanism to report measurement-related complaints like improper pints — which might be the most Government of Canada thing I’ve ever heard.

At first blush, this seems like the kind of thing I’d get my manties in a knot about, so I happily shared the item on social media: Getting shafted on beer? Shady advertising? Where’s my torch and pitchfork?!

But then recently I thought…is this actually an issue? How many bars actually advertise “pints?” Continue reading “When your pint isn’t a pint”

How to drink at kids’ parties

A version of this post first appeared in the pages of the December 2018 edition of Original Gravity magazine.

It’s a conundrum as old as breeding: The weekend arrives and all you want to do is drink beer, but you’re a parent, so you have responsibilities.

If, like me, you too have procreated, intentionally or otherwise, you will know the debate well. Saturday rolls around and you have to weigh the benefits of your child having an active and healthy social life against your own perfectly reasonably desire to do nothing more than spend the day casually sipping beer in your backyard.

I would argue, however, that the two options are not mutually exclusive: You can and should drink at functions geared to children.

I would even argue that one demands the other. Anyone having spent an afternoon in close proximity to a dozen children re-enacting Lord of the Flies can attest to not only the propriety but, indeed, the necessity of having alcohol on hand.

In fact, I feel fairly confident that drinking alcohol was likely invented by a parent facing a birthday party. I can picture the first Aztec, about to watch kids play pin-the-tail-on-the-sun-god and jumping around an inflatable bouncy pyramid, compelled to drink something he or she had let ferment in hopes it might take the edge off.

Of course, not everyone feels this way. Continue reading “How to drink at kids’ parties”