So I’ve been busy (Ontario Craft Beer Guide Announcement)


Hey folks, a lot of you might have noticed that I haven’t posted much on here this summer. My deepest apologies. Work has been absolutely crazy, with things just getting incredibly busy leading up to a string of business trips last month. Rest assured that posts are on the way. I have at least three posts in my drafts folder waiting to be tweaked on.

But before we get to that, I wanted to let you all in on some news. This will excite many people, but in particular long time readers and loved ones, who have seen this site grow since 2011.

As of today, fellow beer writer Jordan St. John and myself have signed a book contract with Dundurn Press to write The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, a comprehensive guide of Ontario’s breweries, brewpubs, and contract breweries.

Details will come soon. We’ve only just signed the thing and put it in the publisher’s hands. But I can say that we’re looking at a 2016 release, it will feature pictures, and that it’s the first book of it’s kind since 1993’s “Ontario Beer Guide” by Jamie Mackinnon. Safe to say that a lot has freakin’ changed since that time.

Right, I should get back to work. I just wanted to let you folks know. While this has been a Thing In The Works for a little while, now that it’s out there in the big world, it’s…it’s emotional, to be honest. Just going through this whole journey from blogger to contributor to columnist, to author. Freakin’ author.


Anyways, for some more official news, check out Canadian Beer News and Ontario Beer Network’s articles. Stay tuned for more details.


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Reading with The Wench: The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer Review


Imagine my face when I saw, several months after I had set up this site, that there was a Beer Wench in America?

To say that Ashley Routson (aka The Beer Wench) is a social media savvy beer educator is almost a disservice. She’s one of the original beer bloggers and probably the most savvy personal brand in beer around, with over 33,000 twitter followers clocked and constantly posting on most platforms. She has contributed to the Brewer’s Association’s site, is the founder of the social media holiday #IPADay, and has been featured in DRAFT Magazine, BeerAdvocate and

So when news spread that she was authoring a beer guide, titled “The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer: An Unpretentious Guide in Craft Beer”, the main response from those following her career with interest was “about damn time”.

One of the things I kind of like about Ashley is just how much of a polarizing effect she has on people. I’ve known very few people in the middle of the love/hate sections when it comes to her. Her article on Thrillst titled “6 DIRTY LIES MEN SPREAD ABOUT WOMEN AND BEER” brought forth a MASSIVE wave of reactions. Long, thought-out articles have been devoted to tearing apart or lifting up her opinions. Hell, there are long articles and discussions devoted to her relevance, which in turn makes her relevant. It is with all this and more in mind that, with some trepidation, I go ahead with a review of her book.

A lot of beer guides for the uninitiated (and there ARE a lot of them) tend to follow a pretty standard formula. Basics of beer (ingredients, how to brew), beer style descriptions, beer tips (how to pour, how to cellar, glassware guide, how to taste), pairing beer with food, recipes to make with beer, and sometimes beer cocktail recipes. It’s standard, and something that is found in nearly all beer guide books, but they really are the foundations to understanding things. At least to start with. What makes the books unique from one another is the way this knowledge is written. Some fantastic notable examples for me are Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer, Christina Perozzi & Hallie Beaune’s Naked Pint, and most recently Mirella Amato’s Beerology. Each author brings in their own unique style and experiences to their book and, to me anyways, I like having more than one guide around because I can consult the book that I feel has a particular strength in the specific subject that I’m looking up.

514347qrvyL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_For me the most notable strengths in The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer is clearly the food recipe and beer cocktail recipe sections. Food recipes have oftentimes been a bit of an afterthought, but Routson has used selected recipes of her own, from breweries, and from friends which look tantalizing. Notably there are recipes for tacos, cerveza carnitas, and beer mole, which suggest a bit more of an upped game from the standard recipes on offer in other guides.

Where Routson’s creativity really shines through though, is the cocktail sections. With most of the recipes formulated by herself, we see such cocktails made with bourbon, gin, rum, tequila, mezcal, vodka…and all with beer as an ingredient. While cocktails personally aren’t my bag, some of these look and sound quite delicious and have me looking at my cocktail shaker with a bit of longing.

When we get more into the guts of the BEER section of this beer book, things start to feel a bit disjointed. The glass section has no pictures of the four types of  glasses it’s describing, which can be confusing to a newcomer. Additionally her beer style guide, while good for someone unfamiliar with the styles, doesn’t quite stand up well when stacked up against Mosher, Amato, and Perozzi/Beaune’s books.

In the end I think the biggest problem with this book is one of tone and pace. Routson does her damndest to use all these incredible raw facts about beer and work them in to her own unique tone, but the end result is something that ventures into way too internet-focused casual territory, seems slightly jammed in to make it fit, and is more rushed than leisurely in pace. For much of this book I think the knowledge would have clicked with me more if Routson and I were in a bar together and she was talking about this stuff in person, but that voice being separated from it’s source and into a book makes it somewhat jarring. Unfortunately, that’s one of the hardships of writing a book of this type. Making it all fit, working it out in a way that makes it easy to read and understand, while also setting itself apart as an individual among many books touching on the same topic. While there are several moments in this book where Routson succeeds admirably in this, there are other points where those challenges become more evident.

One of the things I admire about Routson is her ability to put herself out there, and say to hell with the haters (they are just gonna hate, after all). The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer is very much an extension of her being and so intrinsically HER that you almost have to respect it for unapologetically being there.

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The Long War: Big vs. Small Beer


I think for about as long as I’ve been writing on this site, and definitely many years longer than that, there’s always been this epic war going on between smaller breweries and the big breweries. I know I definitely took part in fighting for the side of Small Craft Beer, especially when the lines were divided so distinctly between “unique, flavourful beers” and for the most part “tinted water painted up to look sexy”. It was, and still is, a thrill to see small businesses pull one over on the big corporations. It’s a sign that quality DOES matter to consumers and that each battle won, be it in the form of a growing selection at bars or stores, or in the rise of beer events, the small will always win. It’s always an aspiration and a joy to feel like Anya Major in the 1984 Apple commercial, throwing a sledgehammer at the screen broadcasting Big Brother’s word and showing the drones of people that there are other options out there and they can think for themselves.

The problem is, though, that at some point it became a war over ideals than actual quality of the product. This wasn’t helped by the fact that no one really managed to get a firm definition of exactly what “Craft Beer” is. The Brewer’s Association have one, but considering they’ve changed it so they can keep certain famed breweries under the “craft” label, it’s safe to say that their definition isn’t too great. With that, everyone has a personal ideal of what “Craft” represents. I often joke by saying that Craft Beer is the sun rising in Spring and is the warmth you feel when a loved one holds your hand. Frankly, I feel that “Craft Beer” should either be trademarked (similar to “Trappist Beer”), or left be. The definition is so broad.

workersAdditionally, the distinct line between flavours blurred as more and more the big brewing companies were purchasing smaller ones and had them continue to make the beers that made them famous, only with MUCH bigger distribution and budget behind it. Similar to when a favourite indie band signs with a big label, many fans forget that there is a business side to every art and that “selling out” is very different from “changing who signs the cheques”. Boycotts and expressions of outrage over a betrayal usually follow the news of a smaller brewery getting bought. It’s weird to see that, even though smaller breweries have won so much, many of its fans still fight as if they have everything to lose, as if everything they’ve fought for could all slip away without a moment’s notice and we’d immediately go back to The Way Things Were. For many, when we think of small breweries we think of the lone brewer skillfully working on their craft, but when we think of big breweries or breweries owned by a bigger one, our mind leaves the brewing floor and focuses on people in suits having a meeting about marketing strategies. And that IS terrifying. Our minds go back to the quality distinction and there’s this small, gripping fear that anyone picked up by a company that historically was on the wrong side of that distinction will be lost to us, drowned in watered-down piss, and emerge as one of the nameless machines that churns out mediocre brews.

Not to suggest that big brewing is blameless and doesn’t warrant that distrust. Like how Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty is run by the same folks that sign off on AXE Body Spray ads with bikini-clad women, it’s hard to trust a company that is so big that they have sections that cater to things you’re both for and against. I love sitting down at a patio with a nicely made beer, but I hate being at an event where nightclub partiers scream and fall down with a beer-case cardboard hat on their heads. And yet big breweries are in this position where they are able to comfortably sell to both sides of that market. Along with that and actively engaging in offence and deceit tactics, as a consumer I totally get how someone could look at that and not want to support it.

For myself and many others, there’s been a few things we’ve had to do. Firstly is to acknowledge that everyone has different tastes (duh). Secondly is to put the politics aside and see how the beers stand up along with the others we’ve enjoyed. While Miller Light, Coors, Bud, and Molson Canadian will always be passed on for me, Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout and IPA, Rickard’s Lederhosen Oktoberfest, and Pilsner Urquell will always be considered damn good beer. Just like a beer being “craft” doesn’t mean it’s a good beer, the same goes the other way for big beer. It’s not all yellow water with a flavour note of “cold”.

But hey, you’re all adults capable of making informed choices. I certainly don’t want you to choose sides, though as a personal rule that doubles as a compromise, I’m more prone to give local smaller breweries my money and attention while knowing that if I find myself in a spot, a good quality big beer is handy if I need it and they can work great as “old reliables”. From a variety within the brewery perspective, I’ll get some amazing limited one-offs from local breweries. Big breweries? Not as much.

There are many wars being fought in regards to beer. But I do feel that with the way things have been going, with big brewing companies courting smaller breweries and trying their best to embrace some of the adventurous spirit in those brewers, small beer has won the war on flavour. How that victory will continue to take shape is something we’ll discover as time goes on.


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Dark Lord Day, Big Freedia, and Giving the Finger to LGBT Discrimination


As many readers who have been following this site for a while have known, LGBT representation in the craft beer world is something that is on my mind quite a bit. I adore the conversation that is currently happening surrounding women in the craft beer scene, but one of the least talked about topics has been making the sign welcoming LGBT folks a bit bigger. A select few people who read last year’s post (mainly, surprise surprise, straight white dudes) not only saw no issue with how things currently were, they didn’t seem to get that when talking about an interest group, there’s still social obstacles to get through (So the argument of “it’s just beer” is invalid. I’m not talking about the beer, I’m talking about the group of people that drink and enjoy it). An example I gave on what would be great to see more of are the amazing gestures of inclusivity by breweries that not only show acceptance, but also support for LGBT folks. Two examples that sprung to mind in the post were Sam Adams backing out of the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade after the parade announced the exclusion of LGBT marchers, and BrewDog creating a special beer to protest Russia’s anti-LGBT laws.

Well, I’m happy to find that I can now put Munster, Indiana brewery 3 Floyds on that list of breweries who are Doing It Right.

For those who are unfamiliar with Dark Lord Day, it is arguably one of the biggest brewery events in the U.S. An entire festival, with music, beer, and fantastic food that is the only day you can acquire 3 Floyds’ Dark Lord Imperial Stout. Tickets sell out almost instantly and for weeks until the event they are regarded by some as a kind of currency. Despite how good the beer is, it’s safe to say Dark Lord Day is a pretty big deal. Additionally, if you follow the news, you’ll know that 3 Floyds’ home state of Indiana is currently under some controversy with the recently put in Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act which, among many things, will allow Indiana businesses to refuse service to LGBT folks on the grounds that it would be against their faith (I know, I know).

So with that in mind, 3 Floyds, who adore the many wonderful people in their home state and hate seeing what is essentially a bullshit law tarnish the state in the eyes of the world, decided to give the finger to Indiana politics in the only way that made sense to them.

They called up the infamous and openly gay New Orleans “Queen of Bounce” Big Freedia to be a special musical guest for Dark Lord Day.

When news of the Fuse television star’s performance being part of Dark Lord Day’s protest against Indiana’s discrimination laws got out, the response from the beer community was overwhelmingly positive. “It’s been awesome!” Big Freedia says to me in a phone interview. Lots of energy, lots of love, and lots of supporters.” Not surprising, as the idea of the event becoming a sort of protest came about through 3 Floyds’ many fans, who wanted the brewery to make a stand.

Along with the performance at tomorrow’s event (accompanied by Freedia’s Divas), the folks at 3 Floyds worked to craft Big Freedia Ale, a Pink Daiquiri Belgian Ale. “They called me and wanted to know a few things like what flavour I wanted, and I think I picked Strawberry.” Freedia said. “Its just exciting to be on the beer and have something named after you. I’m excited to try it!”

This kind of gesture on 3 Floyds’ part is pretty amazing. In the small picture, it will show the many visitors that come by for Dark Lord Day that not all of Indiana’s fine citizens are for Gov. Mike Pence bringing in this “religious freedom” law. In the bigger picture, the publicity and overwhelmingly overt public advocacy for the rights of the LGBT community may inspire other breweries (and companies) to lift up their welcome sign a bit higher as well.

“Everything has a reason and a purpose.” Big Freedia says. “And I think that it definitely will help open some doors in different ways. I definitely think good will come out of it all.

Big Freedia’s show “Queen of Bounce” can be seen on the Fuse channel Wednesdays at 11/10 Central. Her memoirs, titled “God Save the Queen Diva” will hit shelves on July 15th and is available for pre-order. While a new album is slated for release in the Fall, Big Freedia has recently collaborated with LA-based Lazerdisk on a remix of “‘Ol Lady”.

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The Montréal Notes


Recently Sawdust City sent some beers my way, some of their current fantastic offerings. But there is one in particular that I didn’t read the can of until now, and that’s of the “There’s No Way of Knowing” Can-Conditioned Saison. It reads like this:

As ‘Ol Man Winter begrudgingly releases us from his icy grip, Sweet Lady Spring swoops in and softly serenades us with her song. The snow slowly recedes, the days grow longer and we once again head outside to feel the warmth of the new vibrant season. What does the new season bring us? What does the future hold? Really, there’s no way of knowing. With the bright effervescence of a spring day and flowery aromas of fresh citrus, There’s No Way of Knowing Saison brings us all we love about this season. Light and breezy, it’s the perfect accompaniment to new beginnings.

1512299_905676996160008_7806778772935007977_nAnd I gotta say, this is the first time the copy on a beer can has distinctly given me the feels. The main reason being that I’m currently going through a new beginning myself at the moment. You see, I’ve left Toronto to stay in Montréal for two months. Not for any beer-related reason, it was just one of those times where I was looking at my surroundings, my outlook on things, and my level of contentment and decided that I really, really needed a change of scenery. So I found some places on AirBnB, packed up my things, and hopped on a train. As for work, I’m fortunate enough to be able to fit all of my careers in to a single messenger bag (thank the gods for tiny external 1TB drives, dropbox), so I can work pretty much from anywhere. I’m currently typing this post from my April home, a wonderful 1930s three floor walk-up in Westmount, a pretty English-speaking neighbourhood with more parks than I can count and with no shortage of markets, bakeries, and cheese shops. Some 1920s jazz is playing on my little Bose speaker, the sun is shining brightly through the windows, and after two weeks I’m starting to think that this sort of new beginning was a fantastic decision. All that is to say that, while unpacking the luggage in my home for the next two months, reading this can kind of hit me in a spot that had me feeling a bit emotional.

But anyways, back to the beer stuff. Because of COURSE I’m going to do some beer exploring while I’m here.

So far my first impression of the beer scene here in Montréal has been incredible. There are many breweries here doing some amazing things and many of them, as well as the local drinkers, seemed to have fully embraced the concept of “simple DSC_0700_1done well” while also having a deep appreciation for the experimental and out there. Here the concept of going to a bar with a book to unwind is very strong and as a result, I’ve been happy to find that some of the more trendy beer spots have been incredibly spacious, many of which still have tables available on a busy night. The combination of not being claustrophobic and not having my thoughts drowned out by too-loud music or people yelling was refreshing to say the least.

I haven’t been to too many spots, but the ones I’ve been to have been winners. Dieu du Ciel, often on the top of the list of places to visit when in the city, was understandably packed and filled with many of their incredible beers on tap, including a one year-old version of their famous Imperial Stout Péché Mortel, a selection of refreshing and complex wheat beers, and Gospel, which may be one of the best nitro Stouts I’ve ever had, featuring a creamy mouthfeel that is expected with nitro stouts, but a very dry finish that just makes me want more.

Second up was Vices & Versa, which so far has become my favourite pub to visit. A startling 35 taps on rotation featuring some of the best beers and ciders that the province has to offer. With two huge rooms and a backyard patio that locals flocked to once the weather went above 0°, I have never had a problem finding a table to sit at, and the ability to order a half pint has made for a really nice budget-conscious evening of experimentation. Some highlighted beers I’ve ordered from that have been the Dunham Saison Rustique, a beautiful saison with a taste that matches the aroma of citrus, flowers, and pepper, and the Transylvania Pale Ale by Kruhnen, a unique IPA blended with spices that was so well put together I ended up having a few pints of it.

The other three places I didn’t spend much time in, but Broue Pub Brouhaha, which will be a ten minute walk from my place in May, has an incredible selection, constant events going on, wonderful ambiance (Think David Lynch’s America designed by Punk Hellbillies), and every Tuesday has a “Randall Night”, where a selected beer is mixed with different ingredients for a whole new beer experience and left to go on for a week. Now it’s on to the places of note I went to with local beer writer David Atman and visiting Manitoba blogger Cody LobreauIsle de Garde has an ambiance that I would normally expect in Toronto bars. Dimly lit, clean, minimal furnishings, jam-packed with people (Apparently there is often people waiting at the door for a spot to open up), but once in there, you’re in for a relaxing time and the house’s own Bitter is mind-blowing. And finally, Le Cheval Blanc is a fantastic microbrewery that I’ll be visiting again soon for a full flight of heir selections. I ended up having the Framboise when I was there and it was wonderfully subtle and refreshing.

So that’s all I have so far, but stay tuned to the site, folks. There will be a LOT more activity on here than there has been recently. I’m exploring new things in a province that I’ve never spent more than a weekend in before, so I’ll have a lot to report back on and a lot of people to talk to, and a lot of fantastic beers to sample.

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Passing The Bar – Tips For Ordering Beer


In the years I’ve been writing about beer the biggest question I still get asked is quite simply “What do I order?”. As amazing as it is that beer selection is growing in places, for the beginner in to that world (Hell, at times even to a seasoned veteran of the scene), the Beer Menu can be a source of indecision and even intimidation.

So here are a couple of tips that, in my experience, help me in figuring out just what the hell I want when I go to a good bar. KEEP IN MIND: This is in no way a definitive list of rules that will have you going down a specific path of tastes. I’m trying my best to steer away from beer suggestions because, like in all things from food to comic tastes, you need to work out which beers you enjoy and take note of what you’re in the mood for. The following will definitely help you figure things out though, and are designed to be the first steps in to what will be your own process in figuring it out.


Don’t Be a Jerk

Before we get in to the fun bit about ordering a drink, something should be said about the unspoken code of conduct. There are a number of dos and don’ts but they all go under the one unifying rule of “don’t be a jerk”. Don’t be too rowdy, be polite to your server, and be respectful of the other patrons of the establishment. You’re in a building being run by people who are earning a wage and filled with other people trying to relax. Don’t be a jerk. Remember that and you’ll be fine. Plus it’s always great being a favourite customer.


DSC_0125Depending on the place you’ve picked, you’ll be faced with the same problem that many people before you over the course of centuries has faced; what to order. Sometimes the beer menu of a place can be so large and intimidating you wouldn’t know where to start and the chance of ordering something you weren’t really looking for is there.

Ordering the right beer for you is very much like taking a multiple choice quiz. Eliminate as many of the options as you can to narrow it down to something that is probably the right one (for you). The first thing to do is ask what exactly you feel like. As your starting on figuring things out in terms of flavours, it can be as simple as “crisp and light” and “dark and malty”, then as you get more in to things you’ll be able to figure out the specific cravings, such as hoppy beer, sour beers, something aged in bourbon barrels, etc. If there is anything on the menu that looks like it may match with what you’re after, give it a try. Other things to keep in mind are price range, ABV and how long you’re planning on being out. If you’d like a nice evening out without getting blasted and you’re on a limited budget, the $40 bottle of 15% abv beer might not be for you.

While that’s always the first move, the following are other routes you can go in making a decision.


Chances are good, especially if you’re at a craft beer place, that your server will know a good deal about the selection. Tell them what kind of tastes you’re in the mood for and they will do their absolute best to find a beer for you. If the beer they pick is on tap, they will give you a small sample to try it out.


If you’ve narrowed the menu down to two choices, ask your server for a sample and they will send over a shot glass full of the beer to help you decide. While these are free, there is an unspoken etiquette that demands you not go past two samples. By that point you’re wasting everyone’s time and you should get to ordering.


IMG_8350This is one of my favourite options when faced with an overwhelming beer menu. Some places offer the option to order a flight of beers. Usually a flight is about 4-5 5oz glasses filled with whatever beers they have on the menu. Flights are an amazing way to get to try a wide range of beers without spending too much money and, in the case of indecision, will help you find a beer that may well be your favourite of the night. If the place you’re in offers flights, I strongly suggest getting a few.


Another fun thing about going to places that have a wide range of beers available is to experiment. This is a fun thing to do both alone or with a group of friends (the latter however is better to sample if cost is an issue). The key to this is to pick whatever sounds interesting to you! A porter made with coconut? An IPA with Watermelon? Why not? Give it a try! As expected, your experience for this will be very hit and miss, but you at least have tried several beers that are new to you and can log away which ones do and don’t work for you. Additionally, if you’re out with a group of friends and there’s an expensive bottle you all want to try? Order it, and split the beer and the costs.

And there you go. No doubt there are other folks who have their own tips (feel free to comment), but for some outright basics, I tend to go with those. The important thing to remember as well is to have fun and don’t stress out too much about it. If you can’t nail down a specific beer, just go with the flight. Either way, the ordering process should be quick, painless, and getting you going on enjoying the rest of your night.



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International Women’s Day


So today is International Women’s Day. Although it’s something we should be doing all year-round anyways, this day in particular allows us to look at and honour all of the females that are extremely important to us and have been, in their own amazing ways, making a hell of a dent in things.

For the beer world…there’s still some work to do. But we know that. We’re getting better. We’re getting so significantly, amazingly better, but we still have some work to do. And not just on women. People of colour, LGBT folk…quite a lot of groups that are feeling pretty marginalized. These are all pretty damn key demographics. I recognize that there’s no outright way to advertise to each of these groups without coming off as a MASSIVE generalizing asshat, but in the meantime little things, sponsoring marches, pouring beer at events held by a female game developer groups (tip of the hat to Liberty Village Brewing Company, who I just discovered is doing this​), and just being there with the welcome sign and refusing to support the people on the wrong side of history…these seemingly small differences matter.

For women in beer, I feel that we seem to pull out the usual historical facts. Beer brewing was women’s work. It was primarily a woman’s job (part of cooking). The Sumerians worshipped a GODDESS of beer, Ninkasi, with which a prayer to her is the first recorded recipe in human civilization. This history is amazing to note. It’s a wonderful look back on how much of a dent women made in the world’s existence.

But just like any other industry or interest group, we don’t need to justify our love of something, or our very presence, with historical tidbits. Never did. We love it, and that’s that. A woman wanting to get involved in anything she loves should be celebrated as someone following their dreams and making it work, not be made big news with headlines of confusion because only men love this thing. The latter is absolute nonsense and the sooner we’re away from that line of thinking the better.

So I for one am going to raise a glass to all of the important women in my life. All the brewers, reps, writers, game devs, game players, comic creators, office workers, chefs, racers, fighters…all of you, who are perfectly comfortable with standing up and saying “I don’t care what you think, I like it”.



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