Spirits Untapped

Investigating the spirits of both the living & the non-living that inhabit bars and breweries

A Midwinter Night’s Drink: Eat, Drink and be Faerie

In much of Canada, there’s a long dark period between Christmas and the spring thaw when it can be a “dark and depressing” monotony of short days, cold, snow and erratic weather.

That’s why we thought it might be fun to host a beer nerd gathering in the middle of February and entitle it “A Midwinter Night’s Drink.”

The theme, yes, inspired by the Shakespeare play that we were riffing on, was for people to gather together and to share unique beers with one another. But the mandate, this time, wasn’t just an interesting beer to get others to try. The idea was to bring a unique beer or perhaps a unique personal story associated with that beer.

One of our guests, for example, brought the relatively common mass produced Labatt 50. From where we grew up, that was a beer sterotypically associated with “old French men” – but the story with it was how the woman, originally from Quebec, where this was a beer popular with middle-aged men, brought the beer to a college party, knowing that nobody would be likely to steal her beer; and if they did, she’d immediately know it, because it was different than the more popular and common beers that college students drank. Others at the story said that beer was unique because it was the first beer they had “nicked” from their father’s supply.

And so, the one story kicked off other stories in an interesting round-table discussion of sharing and friendship.

All of the beer came with interesting and unique or amusing stories; even just the story of trying to find a beer with a good story became an interesting story in and of itself.

The story, the friendship and the sharing were what the evening was about. A delightful evening that perhaps even the Bard himself might have been proud of.

Living Wine Labels Augmented Reality APP

Yes, this is a blog about the spirit and spirits of beer culture. But we can’t help shine the light on one of the most awesome augmented reality apps found on wine bottles.

Originally known as 19 Crimes, the Living Wine Labels app, which brings animation, voice and sound effects to wine labels when you have the app open and aim your smart phone’s camera at the wine label.

We recorded two quick examples of this. The first at our home bar (where, yes, we couldn’t help but put the wine bottle in a setting with fun eerie books, skulls and other fun beer bottles), and the second is how great it works even when looking at a label on a computer screen.

Yesterday we bought one of the 19 Crimes bottles which we’ll be having with dinner tonight. Later today we’ll be rushing to the LCBO to see if we can get The Walking Dead wine as well.)

Check out 19 Crimes (Living Wine Labels) on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube

Last Year in Beer: Mark’s Experience – 2017

Because of the handy nature of my Untappd account, I’m able to either look up or export a report on all of the beers that I have recorded. I typically report about 99% of the new beers that I have.

I usually don’t record a beer I have already had unless there’s an interesting setting I want to record and remember, a fancy new label design change I want to capture, or perhaps to tag a friend I am with in the beer check-in. And, admittedly, there are the rare times (perhaps 1 or 2% of the time) when I don’t record a new beer, either because I’m in a spot where I don’t have WiFi or an internet connection without exorbitant charges on my mobile device, I’m in a particular setting where pulling out my phone would be considered rude (although when I do pick up the phone at other times, I pause to explain to the people I am with that I am recording and rating my beer so they don’t think that I’m choosing the mobile device over their company), or in some of those moments where pausing to record the beer selection just doesn’t happen to work out.

So here is a look at the last year (2017) in beers that I have had. Admittedly, the visible charts were run a few days into January, so the timeline might be slightly off, and some of the figures I pulled from the exported full beer info that I exported and can extrapolate info from. But it’s a relatively accurate representative.

Unique Check-ins: 829

Unique Beers: 776

New Beer Ratio: 94% (again, this is because I will check in a beer I have already had if I want to record other factors, such as unique locale, unique company, setting, circumstances, etc)

Unique Breweries: 407

Unique Countries: 7

Total Venues: 157

Unique Venues: 118

The day with the highest number of beer check-ins was on my birthday when Liz and I were in Atlanta. We visited 5 different breweries that day and I ended up checking in 22 different beers. Hmm, it’s no wonder that we were in bed and fast asleep by 9 PM that evening. The second highest day was 21 beers at the annual Because Beer festival in Hamilton. (I should note that the serving sizes we had those days were mostly not full pints, but usually four ounce pours)

As you can see on the maps below, we covered a lot of territory across North America. I had also visited Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, where I enjoyed a few beers during my brief visits (the Netherlands was merely a quick layover, but a traveling beer advocate must make time for exploring as many unique local beers as he can on his journeys)

The top beers include ones that I ended up checking in more than once. Not surprising, since I lived in Hamilton, that Collective Arts would be among the most popularly enjoyed beers. And, given the unique labels on their various beer projects, I tend to check in more of their beers in order to capture the funky unique artwork they use.

Given the overwhelming popularity of IPA and Pale Ale style beers, it’s no wonder they account for more than 200 check-ins. However, this past year, sours became quite a bit more popular; and with Liz passionately pursing sour style beers, I ended up trying quite a few more of those.

It’s not surprising that the top venues would include The Winking Judge from Hamilton or Arabella Park Beer Bar in Kitchener, since those are two of our favourite places to enjoy beers. (From 2014 to the end of 2017 I lived in a condo in a building called The Chateau Royale that was basically next door to The Winking Judge so I actually visited The Judge a couple of times a week) When I was working in Toronto’s Liberty Village I also used The Craft just down the street from our office as a place for business meetings with authors and publishers. And Bayview Park gets a huge number of check-ins for the summer-time Because Beer festival.

I do not check in from our home in Waterloo, Ontario since it is a personal residence and I don’t like putting that on the map (it was one thing when the residence is a large condo building with a security entrance – quite another when it is a personal home)

Untappd allows ratings between 0 and 5. I actually neglected to rate 8 of the beers I had last year. (Which means I’ll need to make sure that I have them again so I can update those ratings) This was likely either the equivalent of a typo or due to a quick check-in in the midst of a fast-moving moment in time. For example, when I checked in the Road 2 Ruin Double IPA from Two Roads Brewing Company last summer, I wrote the comment “Amazing” but somehow neglected to give it a rating.. That likely means it would be between a 4.5 and 5 (Let’s blame the heat or the high number of beers consumed that day, shall we?)

I have always said that I have yet to meet a beer I didn’t like in some way, so my ratings tend to be more on the positive side. I only rated one beer a 2. Two rec’d a 2.25 and five rec’d a 2.75. The overall average rating I gave was 3.75 (or, more accurately, 3.73629 – I just rounded up to the nearest actual rating score on Untappd)

The two beers I rated at 5 were the Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter from Caldera Brewing Company and the Peanut Butter Jelly Time from Catawba Brewing Company.

Interestingly, the night I had enjoyed the delicious Peanut Butter Jelly Time at The Casual Pint Vista in Columbia, SC, was the same night I got food poisoning from a stop in earlier that evening at a brewery where we had raw oysters. It didn’t hit me until about 3 in the morning, but that morning and for the next several days, the combined food poisoning, travel and heat (we were driving south towards Orlando where I was attending a writer’s conference) was a significant challenge. Yet, despite the intense heat and the feverish haze I was under the next morning, Liz and I pushed ourselves onward and made sure to return to The Casual Pint (Vista) to take a selfie under the “Where Beer Lovers Meet” sign on the front window. We are, after all, professionals. (Of course, despite my long arm, we could barely get the “Beer Lovers” part in – but that was appropriate enough)

In 2017, I rated 274 beers at 4 or higher, and the top 37 beers I had (arbitrarily cutting off at the rating of 4.5) are listed below.

In all, 2017 was a year with some great beers. And, as I look back on the year, I realize all of the amazing beers and restaurants and breweries that we visited that I haven’t had a chance to write about yet. I’ll work to rectify that over the next couple of months, pulling out the many photos and stories from those visits. Because, just like a beer you haven’t had before is a NEW beer, a beer related story you haven’t heard before is a NEW story.

Cheers to your own 2017 and to the year ahead!

Pizza Heaven And Beer Magic

Earlier this week, Liz took me to a “new” pizza place she had recently discovered. (I say “new” because it has been there for a while now, but it is still new to us). I’ve already returned there a second time earlier today and it took almost everything in me not to eat lunch there every day this week.

It’s called Urban Bricks Pizza Co. and it’s at University Plaza at 160 University Avenue in Waterloo (pretty much adjacent to the University of Waterloo campus.

Liz originally described their “one price, unlimited toppings” pizza assembly process by saying “it’s like Subway for pizza” – and that is pretty much what it is. You choose your crust, your sauce, your cheeses and then you get to add as many of the meat, veggie, and spice toppings as you want before they slide the pizza into an oven. After it comes out there’s an additional option to add a “dressings and drizzles” topping.

Tweet from Mark Whaley (@WhaleyWaterloo), Waterloo City Councillor showing the front of Urban Bricks Pizza Co.

Of course, on top of the absolutely delicious custom and quick made pizzas, the Urban Bricks Pizza in Waterloo is licensed to serve beer and has half a dozen taps, including a selection from local brewery Abe Erb.

And, in the same quick & efficient style that they create delicious and unforgettable pizza, they have a Bottoms Up Draft Beer System.

If you’ve never seen one in action, prepare to be amazed.

I often shed a small tear for every single drop of beer that is wasted, and, over the years, I have certainly seen more than a fair share of that happening. But the ingenious draft beer system that Bottoms Up is likely one that saves bar owners countless dollars in spillage, not to mention the hands-free operation that allows for staff multi-tasking.

Is there a Nobel Prize for beer? And if so, shouldn’t the people behind Bottoms Up be nominated for it?

It also, of course, inspires one to think about the special magic of a self-filling beer glass, perhaps not unlike that hilarious scene in Thor: Ragnarok where Thor, sitting down with Dr. Strange, quickly downs a large mug of beer in a single gulp, only to have it magically re-fill itself.

It’s the type of thing that might bring tears to the eye of an avid beer lover.

So, for this perfect marriage of awesomeness with pizza and awesomeness in beer, if you happen to get yourself near Waterloo this is a MUST-VISIT location.

Chances are, I might just be there, ordering yet another custom-built delicious pizza or giggling madly while watching the Bottoms Up Draft Beer System in action.

And A Buck And A Half A Beer

This year Canada and the world lost a musical legend when Gord Downie, the lead singer and lyricist for The Tragically Hip passed away. A little more than a year earlier, CBC, which broadcast the final stop in Kingston, the band’s home-town, on the Hip’s Man Machine tour, on television, via a live web-feed, Facebook, apps and YouTube sources, stated that 11.7 Million people were watching the live event.

The Tragically Hip definitely made their mark on the musical scene.

But the poetry that Downie wrote also made a huge impact on the Canadian psyche.

One of my own favourite Hip songs is the lead single from their 2nd studio album, Road Apples, which was released in 1991.

Apart from the scattering of delightful references to Canadiana in the song, there’s a cheeky little “story arc” in slightly altered lyrics that plays on the concept of Happy Hour. Although the concept of “happy hour” is extremely limited in most of Canada, we have delighted in the manner by which this time is spotlight throughout the United States, resulting in discounted drinks, free appetizers and more.

The opening set of lyrics, which begins painting the scene with what feels like a bar or a pool hall down in New Orleans (where the album was recorded), ie, the “it gets so sticky down here” referring to the humidity, ends with the words:

Two-fifty for a hi-ball and a buck and a half
For a beer, happy hour
Happy hour, happy hour is here

This is a nice nod to the pricing (of the time when the song was written, of course) for a typical happy hour.

But then, in the next block of text, the lyrics make reference to some significant historical moments in time, and then twists the happy hour menu to state:

Two-fifty for a decade
And a buck and half for a year happy hour
Happy hour, happy hour is here

It’s a wonderful twist on the menu items by introducing timelines that might parallel the alcohol percent of a highball compared to a standard light draft beer.

A little further along in the song, after the humorous reference to the consumption of chicken wings with “baby eat this chicken slow, it’s full of all them little bones” there’s a return reference to some of the rituals more familiar back in New Orleans. (“coffin cheaters” dancing on their graves might just be a cheeky reference to the voodoo and zombies from New Orleans/Haiti culture). And, of course, with that comes the additional menu item twist.

Two-fifty for an eyeball
And a buck and a half for an ear happy hour
Happy hour happy hour is here

This last set, of course, works fittingly well with the original setting laid out in the first block of lyrics because one can see how they might even refer to body parts that might get injured in a bar fight.

So you get a circular reference within the pattern repeated in the lyrics and a constant drum-beat return to the concept of happy hour, all in a catchy song that is one of the band’s most beloved hits.

I suppose the only real beer in this song (other than the inferred beer in the concept of happy hour, and the great 1.50 price mentioned in the opening lyrical set), might be the delicious Sergeant Stripes export stout from Beau‘s that I am enjoying while writing this. Yes, more delightful Canadiana from a brewery that, like The Tragically Hip, has amazing heart.

Cheers to the music of The Hip, cheers to a great brewery like Beau’s, and cheers to Gord Downie!

Welly Cask Fest 2017

Founded in 1985, Wellington Brewery is one of Canada’s oldest independent craft microbrewery and  was one of the first North American breweries to revive the ancient technique of brewing cask-conditioned beer (also known as English style “Real Ales”).

We first discovered the amazing Welly Cask Fest back in 2015 when Wellington Brewery was celebrating their 30th anniversary. And we were delighted to be able to return again this year to enjoy the beers from Wellington, but also the special collaboration and guest casks that were available.

There is a special thrill in being able to enjoy some very special one-off casks made especially for such an event.

Admittedly, I tend to enjoy carbonation in most of my beers. And that’s the one thing that I find myself reflecting on when I’m tasting a beer and enjoying it but wondering what that little something just might be. Often, it’s the carbonation that makes the subtle difference for me.

A few of the highlights, for me, were The Big DIPA, a delicious and hoppy 9.2% Double IPA; 3 Weeks Notice, a delightful Witbier with just the right addition of pomegranate flavour; and the Sharknado IPA, which was a marvelously complex and wonderful combination of vanilla and hops.

I suppose it goes without saying that the beer was the main reason we were there. But the “supporting cast” (or should I say, the “supporting cask”?) of the food trucks and the live entertainment were also top notch.

We enjoyed the music of Chesterfield & The Sofa Kings, laughed ourselves silly with the wonderful improv of The Making Box Brigade and had a chance to enjoy some vintage pinball machines and video games courtesy of Pablo’s Bar.

Below is a professional video that gives a real sense of what it’s like at the Wellington Brewery Welly Cask Fest . . . .

. . . however, if you want to see me stumble through my personal explanation of what the cask fest is (after having enjoyed many fine brews all afternoon), you can watch the Facebook Live video recorded yesterday on the Spirits Untapped Facebook page.

Click this image to see the Facebook Live video


The Cross Brewery House

The building that is now known as the Rouge Restaurant and was designated as a Municipal and Provincial Heritage Site in 1973 was originally built in 1891 by A.E. Cross in a Calgary neighborhood now known as Inglewood.

Originally from Montreal, Cross who became one of the West’s most prominent cattlemen, founded the Calgary Brewing and Malting Co. (the first brewing company in western Canada) in 1892.

Legend has it that two of Cross’s children died of diphtheria in 1904 just minutes before Cross had received the critical medicine required to bring them back to health. Paranormal investigators and psychics have visited the home, with several of them reporting the presence of at least two spirits. One, the spirit of a little girl, believed to be Nellie, one of the children who died so tragically. The other is believed to be an adult, and there are conflicting reports of whether it might be the ghost of A.E. Cross, who was a dedicated father, or of his wife Helen Cross, a similarly dedicated mother.

One of the stories, as reported on Creepy Canada, involved a waiter who was working upstairs and heard what he thought was the sound of a child’s laughter from one of the upstairs rooms. He went to peer in, finding the room empty, when the sound of laughter seemed to be coming from down the hall. He continued to follow the elusive laughter down the stairs to the main floor and then, further, to the basement.

When he arrived in the basement, he spotted, standing in the open doorway of a walk-in freezer a young girl, who immediately moved into the freezer. He walked across the room and stepped into the freezer to find that she had vanished. That was when the freezer door sung closed on its own.

Paul Rogalski, Chef and restaurant co-owner, says that when he first came to the house he would have described himself as “agnostic” towards the belief of ghost, but that after two years there, he found himself believing in ghosts, having seen and heard about enough strange and in-explainable incidents, such as frying pans traveling on their own across a set of burners in the kitchen and the ghostly image of a man seen sitting quietly at a table and then getting up and walking towards the door while flickering in and out of the visible spectrum.

When Liz and I arrived at the restaurant one summer afternoon, we were dressed in our typical “long walking day” attire. Running shoes, shorts and t-shirts; well below the standard dress for such a beautiful and elegant establishment. However, the hostess, learning of the reason for our visit, was gracious enough to give us a tour and point out the various locations where eerie and odd sightings had occurred, such as the mantle in the main dining room . . .

. . . the upstairs closet at the back of the hallway near the restrooms . . . (where staff have to reach into, behind the curtain, which was pulled back for this photo, to turn the lights on for this area of the second floor) . . .

. . . and the second floor front window where there have been reports of people seeing the spectral image of a woman looking forlornly out, who some believe is the ghost of Cross’s wife, Helen, as she might have been while waiting in pained silence for the medicine, which didn’t arrive in time.

We didn’t get a chance to enjoy the fine dining, nor the wonderfully extensive wine list of this elegant restaurant in a beautiful historic building, but we did get to sample the friendly, kind and generous spirit of the staff who work there.

Because Beer 2017

Because Beer is an annual summertime beer festival that takes place in Hamilton at Pier 4 Park (64 Leander Drive). It is a wonderful opportunity for people to discover beers from a selection of hundreds of different taps and dozens of breweries. Not to mention an opportunity to mingle with other beer aficionados, listen to some great live music and grab food from a dozen or more delicious food trucks.

This is our third Because Beer festival and it’s one of those beer fests that is always a priority to attend (and not just because it’s only a 3 KM walk from my place – NO DRIVING INVOLVED! Bonus!)

There were a good number of delightful new beers to enjoy as well as a number of classic favorites to consume as well.

While I enjoyed many of the beers, some of my personal highlights from this year included Space Invader (Single Hop Pale Ale) from Amsterdam Brewing Company . . . .

. . . Upper Reaches (Pale Ale) from Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company . . .

. . . Juicy Ass (IPA) by Flying Monkeys . . .

. . . Collective Project: IPA No 3 (IPA) from Collective Arts Brewing  . . .

. . . and Bongo (Shandy/Radler) from Big Rig Brewery.

Of course, those are based on my ratings on Untappd from the afternoon and night. I was so busy enjoying the taste (it was a delightfully hot day after all) to pause to make any notes. I just sipped the beer, took a quick pic and gave a rating, likely verbalizing what I liked, but any notes I might have made have escaped me.

Liz and I realized we were wearing the same shirts we’d worn at our first Because Beer festival so tried to re-create the “selfie booth” picture that’s still one of my favorite pictures of the two of us.

But it was much funnier when our buddy Pierre borrowed her shirt and tried to re-create it with me . . . .

(Pierre is pretty and all, but I’m a bit partial to Liz). Liz and I settled on going for a NEW pose instead . . .

The only one thing we perhaps did wrong this year (a mistake we did NOT make last year), is we neglected to hydrate with water on a regular basis throughout the afternoon and evening. (Technically, we didn’t hydrate with water at ALL). Meaning that Sunday morning was nowhere near as enjoyable as Saturday afternoon and night.

But, in all, Because Beer pulled off another spectacular weekend event that was enjoyed thoroughly.

Already looking forward to Because Beer 2018!

Nique: A Unique Hamilton Spot

Their website says that NIQUE is not just a restaurant.

We’d agree with that. It’s far more.

They also talk about their delicious food in a comfortable environment with a strong sense of community.

Image from an I Heart Hamilton website review of NIQUE

We’re also 100% behind that.

There’s a delightful sense of open and welcome to the space, powerfully enhanced by the intriguing murals that reflect Hamilton’s culture, sports and people.

But one thing their website and marketing doesn’t give them proper credit for is their knowledge and passion for great beer.

Liz and I popped in to check NIQUE out the other night and were delighted not only with the incredible selection of delicious craft beers from many different Hamilton and Southern Ontario area breweries (Collective Arts, The Hamilton Brewery, Nickle Brook, Bellwoods, Half Hours on Earth, just to name a few of our favourites), but we were also extremely impressed with our server. He not only could speak comprehensively about the beers on their menu but was also, quite obviously, a craft beer fan himself.

Liz went for a couple of beers by Half Hours on Earth, one of her new favourite breweries for incredible sour beer (we’re really looking forward to getting out there for a visit this summer) as well as Nickel Brook‘s Ceres Cucumber Lime Gose (one of her overall faves lately) while I enjoyed a Ghost Orchid and a Monogamy Double Dry Hop from Bellwoods. (And, admittedly, I kept dipping into the delicious sour Control Bored from Half Hours on Earth every time Liz was distracted looking at the interesting artwork murals)

We look forward to returning and enjoying the atmosphere, the great food and the wonderful selection of craft beer at NIQUE.

Photo by John Rennison from a Hamilton Spectator review of NIQUE

And, while our forte tends to be beer rather than food, I have to make a point that you HAVE to try their Sushi Nachos. They were absolutely delicious and weren’t long for the world once they arrived at our table. Again, we’re not food critiques, so about the best we can say is that they tasted a little bit like “More Please!” with a bit of a side of “Got to have these again!”

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