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Pretty Good Year

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I’m currently at my family’s cottage in beautiful Muskoka, sipping on some coffee, watching the beautiful day out there, and starting to come to terms with the fact that I’m no longer in that beautiful state between Christmas and New Year’s Eve where time doesn’t matter and all that exists is sleep, media, and chocolate.

So. 2017, then.

Firstly I’m going to get it out of the way. In a lot of ways 2017 was a garbage fire of a year. It was like the shitty, more gory sequel to 2016 and I’m glad that this milestone is done. Politically, if there’s something that can be taken from the year, it’s that we no longer should be HOPING for a better year, but picking up our axes and actively working to make it better.

Personally it was a hell of a mixed bag for me. I moved out of Scarborough and into a wonderful house in Cabbagetown with my new roommate Candace Shaw (who has done some amazing work in creating a report card for female representation in Canadian music festivals) and have been thriving pretty well, making new friends with the folks in my excellent building and community. Unfortunately, my neighbour and super, Andrew Kinsman, went missing in June 26th and still hasn’t been found. I’ll spare you all the details on it, suffice to say it’s been a messed up experience. But also, I started getting out of a pretty bad depression and have been feeling more able to breathe creatively and able to make friends. Huzaah for that!

RIGHT, 2017 IN BEER

IMG_20171007_171659_1-01.jpegBeer-wise things have been a hell of a ride. At this time last year I had about four entries left to do on the Second Edition of the Ontario Craft Beer Guide, released in May. Jordan and I remain incredibly proud of this book, and still feel that it’s the best representation of what we wanted for the first book. We figured out a formula for working, raised the number of suggested pubs to over 100, and included colour photos mostly taken by me throughout the book. The book launch, and its resulting tour of speaking gigs and media interviews, made for a busy and wonderful time. I’m so glad that so many people have been realizing how wonderful Ontario is by exploring the province through its beer.

1201.jpegI also finally got to make some collaboration beers with brewers! I’ll talk more about them in a more detailed post later on, but the first was made with Sawdust City Brewing for the book launch and called 12:01 Northland, a Vermont-style IPA named after the first Ontario Northland bus out of Toronto that I took often while writing the book (and that makes stops in the brewery’s home of Gravenhurst). I’m really pleased with how it turned out! Was bright and cloudy as hell, but proved to be a very accessible beer, with lovely citrus notes in smooth body. I actually miss the hell out of this beer. The second collaboration was a hell of a fun one and made at Sawdust City with brewer Duncan Crone and former brewer-turned-ingredient wizard Dan Beaudoin from David Carriere & Associates. Basically, the three of us got together for our mutual love of the McElroy Brothers, who put together a well-known podcast called My Brother, My Brother & Me among MANY other things. So we decided to go a bit goofy with it and make a Black Milkshake IPA with Haskap Berries, all while listening to the podcast and making ihateyouron.jpegconstant jokes about it. The results of our efforts, poured at the Sawdust City Saloon, were a huge hit and the beer, called I Hate You, Ron (Made in reference to a MBMBaM bit) turned out super nice, with very little roasted notes and the blueberry-like haskap berry balancing things out beautifully. Like I said, I’ll write more on my experiences collabing later on, but I’ll say that I learned a lot in terms of figuring out what flavours would work, had a ball brewing at one of my favourite breweries, and made some awesome friends in Dan and Duncan, who I now play Stafinder with.

Besides from that, there’s been some great work developments. I left working as Torontoist’s beer columnist, but am now writing columns for Quench Magazine and contributing to the newly created MASH Magazine along with my regular On Tap column at Muskoka Life/Metroland North Media, which…cripes, it’ll be two years I’ve had that column soon. Wow.

I’ve also been very fortunate to be a returning Judge for the Canadian contribution of the World Beer Awards, as well as a new judge for the World Cider Awards and the new New York State Craft Beer Competition & Governor’s Excelsior Cup. As always, I’m honoured to be considered a colleague among a prestigious many people judging these competitions.

In terms of beers consumed and new breweries opened…man, that’s a bit of a big answer. I will say that it’s been amazing seeing the ever-rapid growth of new breweries opening up this year. Hamilton in particular has come up with some good ones with Fairweather Brewing and  MERIT Brewing both opening up and creating some fantastic beers. It’s also done my heart good to see some kind of organization starting up between Northern Ontario breweries to the point where they made a mix pack for LCBO distribution. Here’s hoping more breweries up there get in on that and more people south of them try some of the amazing talent coming out of that region.

Miracle_BrewAnd finally, I’ve been reading a lot, but two beer books released this year (aside from my own haha) have stood out for me. The first is Pete Brown’s Miracle Brew, which goes into detail of the fascinating stories behind the four main ingredients that make countless different beers: malted barley, hops, yeast, and water. What makes this book stand out to me is Brown’s iconic and influential writing style, which dances between casual, funny, and informative with an ease that only he knows how to pull off and has no doubt honed with his many books and columns over the years. Miracle Brew stands out as perfect book for hardcore beer lovers and beer newbs alike.

bestbeersThe other has been Stephen Beaumont and Tim Webb’s Best Beers, a guide to the world’s…well…best beers. Good gods, it’s right there in the title. After writing my own, I’ve found a deep appreciation in the amount of work and information that goes into beer guides and Beaumont and Webb really went all out for this one, helping the reader solve the constant problem that arises in travel regarding beer selection. Best Beers cuts through the chaff and highlights beers and breweries all over the world that simply can’t be missed. Wherever I’ve gone in the world I’ve always had my copy of Beaumont and Webb’s Pocket Beer Guide handy, and Best Beers will definitely be a book that I pack in my travel bag from now on.  

Well, now we’re on to what I hope for 2018.

This year the craft beer community did a lot of naval-gazing, but what set it apart from the normal one was that we’ve been having a lot more productive discussions on where craft beer fits in the ever changing landscape and what it could be doing to grow in a healthy way.

For one, folks have been slowly waking up to the fact that the amount of people who demand bold, adventurous beers are no longer calling the shots and demand feels like it’s been shifting more and more to simple done well, with styles like dry-hopped pilsners being a kind of compromise that both like. Either way, there feels like a demographic shift, but I’m happy to say that breweries are realizing they don’t have to choose one or the other and can cater to both. I’m interested to see where that will go. Hopefully for the better.

Along with that, we’re seeing a lot more breweries in small towns pop up and no longer seeing any need to market to big cities for validation. Where a city like Toronto that burns through trends on anything at an alarming rate may go through a flagship beer in a month or two, there’s a better chance of making a flagship a bar staple two towns over. More and more folks in the towns are being turned towards well made local beer and by gods, I say let them have it.

Holy crap, we’re finally talking about racism and sexism in the scene in a way that isn’t totally cringeworthy. Let’s keep that going, and let’s keep shutting up the dudes who don’t see what the big deal is.

And this is all leading up to what my hope is every year, that as customers we take a look in our glass and, like we’ve done with our food, wine, spirits, clothes etc, we really appreciate how important it is to not skimp on the quality of our experience. In 2018 I hope you settle for nothing less than perfect in choosing the right beer for the right occasion.

And with that, I think it’s time to close my chromebook, blink for a bit in quiet contemplation, join my family for New Year’s Eve festivities, and pour myself a damn fine beer.

Have a wonderful 2018, friends.

 

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The Blood of Cthulhu – A Lovecraftian Beer Review

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So before I go in to it here, I should offer some explanation. I was offered to sample a beer for consideration of a review and, based on the name and label design, I immediately said yes. The beer is called The Blood of Cthulhu. It’s put out by Sawdust City Brewing Co. from Gravenhurst, Ontario and is in collaboration with Bar Hop from right here in Toronto. It’s a 9.5% ABV Imperial Stout with raspberries, cranberries, and tart cherries. It will officially be launching at Sawdust City’s brewery location (with limited availability in bottles) and at Bar Hop’s annual Black & Orange Halloween celebration on October 31st at 5pm. Should be said too that Bar Hop’s Black & Orange will have a series of multiple collaborations with other breweries and it’ll be a hellishly good time.

IMG_0456So as for this beer specifically…you know, when I approach this time of year I find I start reading a good bit of horror fiction. Of course one can’t really go in to that genre without catching references to the famous H.P. Lovecraft, creator of the Cthulhu mythos among other incredible stories that leave the imagination reeling. Upon hearing of this beer, I thought it would be a fitting tribute (not to mention fun as hell) to write a review in the style of a short H.P. Lovecraft story. I should note as well that while much of this story is original, I did in some cases directly pull from Lovecraft’s famous story The Call of Cthulhu.

Here it is.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014
I have just been notified by Samuel Corbeil, noted brewer of Sawdust City Brewing Company and former Professor of Brewmaster and Brewery Relations at the Niagara College of Applied Arts and Technology in Niagara, Ontario that there is a certain item he wishes me to appraise. A dark liquid of strange and dark origins encased in a receptacle with sharp engravings that surpasses the knowledge of noted historians and archeologists of his acquaintance. Normally in cases with such profound mystery as this, Prof. Corbeil would not hesitate to defer to his associate, head brewer and creative liaison Aaron Spinney whose experiences in his search for the more esoteric pleasures of the world have, despite his reputation in polite society, required him to associate with the strange and arcane. However, recent events have found Mr. Spinney to be missing without a trace, the last Corbeil seeing him being before he departed on an expedition to the South Pacific some six months ago. There was, however, a recent correspondence in the form of a telegram, which was delivered to Corbeil in September. It has been speculated that this strange item may have been indeed sent by Mr. Spinney, though Prof. Corbeil is unsure of how it came to be in his study or who in fact delivered it.

On seeing my old friend nearing the end of his wits, I have agreed to appraise the item and have arranged for it to be sent to me at my home address. Included with it will be Mr. Spinney’s final communication and notes that precluded his mysterious disappearance, which I hope will provide some insight in to the location of his whereabouts.

I look forward to discovering what secrets this strange item may hold and will, of course, be writing my findings with the intent to publish.

October 29, 2014
After a rather tiring day of running errands throughout the city, I arrived at home to find the parcel from Prof. Corbeil along with the accompanying notes of the missing Aaron Spinney as well as his letters of correspondence. The item which has been the source of mystery for my colleagues is a strange, dark, receptacle. While obviously a bottle of dark glass, the etchings all around it seem to be that of a language with the cryptic regularity which lurks in prehistoric writings. Equally curious is a figure in the glass that can only be described as a monster or symbol only a diseased fancy could conceive. At a cursory glance, this appears to be a container for a divine drink used for particular rituals. But as for what god this is in reference to, I can not even speculate at this moment.

The accompanying notes included comments on secret societies and hidden cults, accounts of queer dreams, and cuttings alluding to outbreaks of group mania in the spring of 2013. They also tell the tale of a Mr. Robert Pingitore, A man of known genius but great eccentricity and the owner of the now-famous Bar Hop on King Street West. He arrived at the office of Mr. Spinney one night troubled and requesting insight from his trusted friend. Mr. Spinney’s response was curt, as he was deep in to his research on a current project. Pingitore’s rejoinder, though, impressed him enough to record their fantastical conversation. It transpired that the night before there had been a slight earth tremor and Pingitore’s imagination had been keenly affected. Upon retiring, he had an unprecedented dream of great Cyclopean cities of titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with ooze as red as cranberries and sinister with latent horror under a sky that was as black as the darkest of chocolates. Hieroglyphics had covered the walls and pillars, and from some undetermined point below had come a voice that was not a voice; a chaotic sensation which only fancy could transmute into sound, but which he attempted to render by the almost unpronounceable jumble of letters, “Cthulhu fhtagn”.

Photo 2014-10-29, 6 12 10 PMIt is in this moment that I pause to note the striking coincidence in the jumble of letters that Mr. Pingitore dreamed of that Mr. Spinney recalls in his last telegram. It reads: “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”. These words only appear one other time throughout his notes, alongside an image not unlike the bizarre creature etched in the mysterious bottle. Underneath this crude sketch are what I can only conclude is the translation of the words. “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming”.

With this new information, I turned once more to the mysterious bottle, now seeming to be the center of this particular chain of events. I decided to take a chance by opening the bottle so that I may study its contents.

what poured out was a liquid as dark and black as obsidian. Despite the dark colour leading to the expectancy of a rather potent, syrupy smell, all that is on the aroma of the liquid is rather light, with hints of raspberries and an ever slight presence of chocolate. What possessed me, I know not, but I took a sip of this libation and found that the expectations that the aroma presented me with were not only met, but exceeded upon. My senses came alive with the swirling chaos of flavours. The prominent essence of raspberry, followed by the mild bitterness of cranberries, and the subtle note of tart cherries, all bound together by the warm, calming notes of high quality cocoa and the overall texture of rich cream.

As I snapped out of this transcendental state of flavour and pleasure, I noticed that I had lost several hours and that the contents of the bottle were diminished to mere drops. With a light head and the memories of the pleasant gratification of the senses, I will retire to my chambers for the night.

October 30, 2014
Whether it was a result of my imagination being affected by my findings the day before or some other cause, upon retiring last night I was constantly in a state of unrest due to the most bizarre dreams that haunt me still in my waking hours.

I was aboard the Intrepid, the ship that Mr. Spinney and his expedition sailed on with intentions of heading towards the South Pacific. The sky was a deep blood red and the wind harsh. As I looked around, the ship appeared to be in a state of long abandon, with mould, barnacles, and rust prominently covering the area. What can be described as a rushing sound came from beyond the hull and I made my way towards the area to investigate the cause of such a noise. I found that something was arising from the depths of the ocean and there was very little water separating it from the world above. What rose were structures of weed and ooze-covered Cyclopean masonry which can be nothing less than the tangible substance of earth’s supreme terror. The construct that Spinney’s scripture alluded to in his notes and what I now know to be the nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh, that was built in measureless aeons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars.

And through the depths of that poison city it arose. The Thing of the idols, the green, sticky spawn of the stars, had awaked to claim his own. Once again the stars were right and the dreaded high priest, the monstrous creature governed by laws that are not of this earth and whose description defies sanity, Cthulhu, was on the loose once more!

I awoke screaming, and it took a not insignificant amount of time to console myself that what I saw was the result of an overactive imagination and not a vision of the horrors to come brought on by the divine elixir, what I now refer to as the Blood of Cthulhu, which was used in practices relating to this horrific being. I must confess though, a hesitancy to accept this comforting thought.

I have been left shaken and, satisfied that I have solved some portion of the mystery of the object that has confounded Prof. Corbeil, return the items he provided me with. With them shall go this record of mine – this test of my own sanity, wherein is pieced together that which I hope may never be pieced together again. I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me.

I must conclude that it was a harsh storm that overtook The Intrepid and with it Mr. Spinney, or else the world would by now be screaming with fright and frenzy. But who knows the end? Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men. What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise again.

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