Spirits Untapped

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

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!”

A Recent Gathering of Beer Friends

We recently hosted a party for a couple of friends who are getting married later this year. It was a “Shower” with a “fill the bar” theme.

Given the couple’s love for craft beer, the party itself had a very pervasive “beer” theme to it. Various food and snack stations had flowers in growlers, beer bottles and wine bottles instead of in regular vases. And, of course, the bar was stocked with 19 different beers from local breweries.

Pretzel Station
Pretzel Station, one of the beer themed food stations using a Collective Arts flight set for the different mustard’s and dips

We gathered various sized growlers (and a few four and six packs of the ones we couldn’t get on tap) from several local breweries in Hamilton, Burlington, Kitchener and Waterloo for this gig, managing to have a little something for almost everyone’s tastes.

The Beer List from our recent gathering

From TWB (Kitchener) we had Wobbly Wheel (IPA), Oaty McOatface (Stout), Ale X: The Jupiter Rye Experience (ESB) and Coconut Stout (Stout)

From Innocente (Waterloo) we had Conscience (IPA), Dubbel Vision (Belgian Dubbel) and Gie it Laldy (Scotch Ale)

From Abe Erb (Waterloo) we had Men in Night (Stout), Abe’s Amber Ale (Red Ale), Das Spritzhaus (Hef) and Rockin’ Bonnet (Pale Ale)

From Collective Arts (Hamilton) we had Collective Project: Sour Pumpkin Saison (Saison) and Collective Project: Black IPA (IPA – Black)

From Nickel Brook (Burlington) we had Immodest Imperial IPA (Double IPA), Winter Porter (Porter), Raspberry Uber (Sour – Berliner), Pie-Eyed Pumpkin Ale (Pumpkin), Ceres Cucumber Lime Gose (Sour – Gose) and Ontario Wet Hop (Pale Ale)

The beer selection was fantastic and we had a blast (not just at the party, but even in the day of and the day before when we were out gathering the beers from the brewers — I mean, how does acquiring an interesting selection of craft beers NOT be a blast?)

But our friends all enjoyed themselves as well. There’s no questioning the fact that we’ll be doing this again.

899 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

I’m an avid “logger” on the social beer app UNTAPPD. And so, every year I like to take a quick review of my “past year in beer.”

Here’s a quick look at it.


Though I try NOT to check in the same beer twice, I will sometimes check in a beer again if I’d like to change my rating or if I’m wanting to connect a beer with a particular locale. So I will have some duplicates, as you see above.

In 2016 I tried 899 unique beers. Not a bad year, overall for beer adventuring, which means that I averaged trying about 2.45 new/different/unique beers per day. There are obviously some days (most likely when I’m at a beer fest or am visiting a brewery and end up trying lots of different samples, that skews the number up higher)

Taking a look at the map, you can see the blips where Liz and I were visiting San Diego (in July), on a camping/beering road trip (August), visiting Ottawa/Hull (in Sept) and hitting the mecca of craft beer in Portland hard in October. (And yet we STILL didn’t even manage to do more than put a small dent in the breweries in that city)

I enjoyed beers at 184 different venues this past year, 146 unique ones. The most visited places I tried beers were, The Winking Judge (Hamilton, ON), The Ship (Hamilton, ON) and Base Camp Brewing (Portland, OR)

The lowest rating I gave to any beer this past year was a 1.25 out of 5 rating that I gave to a Glutton-free beer. Sorry, but, even though I HAVE had a few glutton-free beers that tasted okay, they tend to, by default, be taste-free . . .

Of the beers that I gave either a 4.75 or a 5 to, they are listed in the chart below.

Old North Mocha Porter: 6.5% Version (Fall 2015-present) Lake of Bays Brewing Company Porter – Other
Death By Coconut Oskar Blues Brewery Porter – Other
Ultra Gnar Gnar Base Camp Brewing Company IPA – American
Coffee Stout Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Stout – Other
Bring Out Your Dead (2015) Bellwoods Brewery Stout – American Imperial / Double
Six Killer Stout (Coffee Stout) Ironfire Brewing Company Stout – Other
Peanut Butter Milk Stout Belching Beaver Brewery Stout – Milk / Sweet
Ain’t Got No Soul Hard Ginger Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment Ginger Beer
Hard Root Beer Mission Brewery Root Beer
Péché Mortel Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! Stout – American Imperial / Double
Boo Koo Mother Earth Brew Co. (California) IPA – American
Pumpkin Patch Ale Rogue Ales & Spirits Pumpkin / Yam Beer
Ultra Gnar Gnar Base Camp Brewing Company IPA – American
Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter Caldera Brewing Company Porter – American
Wobbly Wheel TWB Cooperative Brewing IPA – American

In 2016 I drank beers at venues in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and France and I had beers from 19 different nations.

I used Untappd and my love of beer to meet so many new people this past year and make many new friends — that’s one thing Liz and I adore – talking to bartenders, talking to other beer aficionados, enjoying the local ambiance and setting and people.

In all, 2016 was a great year for trying new beers, mostly because Liz and I took a good number of trips in which we planned out a strategy for ensuring we could enjoy a number of those locations together.

And, though we don’t always agree on our favourites from the different locations, (although there are a few we both adored – such as the “Death by Coconut” from Oskar), one thing that we are both in passionate agreement upon is the desire to continue to try new places and new beers.

Skulls and Passion for Beer

In our frequent visits to various breweries and great beer locales, Liz and I discovered 5 Paddles Brewing Company in img_9728Whitby. It was immediately apparent, almost from the moment we walked in, that we were stepping into a place where the passion for brewing and consuming great beers was strong.

Once we started talking to one of the 5 Paddles (the nickname the owners of the brewery have given themselves, since they all have a “mash paddle” in both the operation and the brewing of the beers), the pure raw passion came through loud and clear.

When you’re speaking with someone at that brewery, you’re not speaking with a part-time casual employee who might only be there to serve customers. You’re speaking with one of the owners who are all deeply ingrained in the brewing and operations of the business.


Throughout the mini-tour we were offered as part of our discussion, (including hearing intriguing and delightful stories about virtually every single piece of equipment that was cobbled together through hard-earned acquisitions via Mike, the brewery’s “Kijiji Whisperer”) as well as in the simple yet friendly and inviting decor of the place, it immediately felt like home to us.

We learned that these guys call themselves a Nano-brewery (smaller than a micro-brewery) and that, regardless of how many additional tanks and equipment they might eventually acquire, they’ll always be Nano in spirit and approach. They met through a local home-brewers network and their common passion for brewing and drinking great beers are what led to the start of this amazing business which continues to be a labour of love.


But, better than that all the great sentiment and passion, beyond their friendliness and enthusiasm for what they do, their beer itself was amazing. Would you expect anything less?

We tried a “canoe flight” of all the beers they had on tap and ended up taking a few home to enjoy later. In Your Face (IPA) and Home Sweet Home (Pale Wheat Ale) and Midnight Paddler (Stout) were three of my absolute favourites — although, admittedly, I can’t say I didn’t love all the ones I tried.


A fun side-perk of the trip for me was the affinity that one of the brewers had to skulls (much like my own). And the decor of the brewery reflected that in a fun and playful manner. (Not to mention the cool label on their core IPA)

Hmm, with Halloween coming up, I should get myself some more bottles of In Your Face that delightfully refreshing IPA.

A Beer with Norm

This past weekend, Liz and I worked at my Mark Leslie author table at Hamilton Comic Con. It’s always a fun time, meeting interesting people, engaging in fun conversations, checking out great Cosplay costumes and observing some of the celebrity guests.

One of the main celebrity guests for this year’s con was none other that the main bar fly from the classic television program, Cheers.


George Wendt, who played Norm Peterson for eleven years on the American television program about the bar where “everybody knows your name” was not only there both days of the Con, but also participated in a special “Beers with Norm” event late Saturday afternoon.

Having been a life-long fan of the television program, and with a perhaps odd fascination with the beer-loving character, I just had to get a ticket to the event. Every ticket holder received a beer, a special collector’s beer mug, had a photo taken with George at a makeshift bar, and then got to drink beer while listening to a private Q&A session conducted by Bob Cowan from CHCH.

George Wendt was quite personable and was rather hilarious when answering questions and sharing stories about being an actor and playing one of televisions most beloved bar flies. One of the things he talked about was the “fake beer” or “near beer” that he drank a lot of on the set of Cheers.


While it might have LOOKED appealing to us viewers, Wendt explained that what they drank was a non-alcoholic beer that was quite warm (sitting out for hours under the hot stage lights) and flat and loaded with salt (from the prop-man who kept sprinkling salt in to give the beer its head) and was basically unappealing and not at all refreshing.

I think it’s the sign of a good actor, because the beer he drank never looked unappealing in any way. Cheers to that, George!

When it was my turn to walk around the side of the bar and pose for my picture with “Norm” I was one of the last people after more than half an hour.

“I’m one of the last ones,” I muttered quietly to him as we began our pose for the camera. “So are you tired of this non-stop posing, George?”

“I just can’t wait to drink this beer before it gets warm,” he said with a big grin.


Wendt was drinking an Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale for the pictures. I was drinking a Rickard’s Red Irish Style Ale. During the Q&A he explained that among his favorite beers recently were West Coast IPAs.

A few other fun trivia facts about George Wendt & Norm Peterson:

  • George Wendt appeared as Norm Peterson in all 275 episodes of Cheers (between 1982 and 1993)
  • He earned six Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his role as Norm
  • Wendt was an alumnus of The Second City comedy and in the early 1990s made multiple appearances on Saturday Night Live playing the role of Bob Swerski, a Chicago Bears super-fan. Wendt was born and raised in Chicago
  • Norm’s full name is Hillary Norman Peterson
  • The role of Norm was created specifically with George Wendt in mind, because the producers were familiar with his work on an episode of Taxi. Also, in the original script, the name used for his character was “George”
  • John Ratzenberger who played Norm’s best friend, Cliff Clavin, the trivia-spouting mailman, also auditioned for the role of “Norm” and, upon realizing he wasn’t likely to get the role, asked the producers if they had a “know-it-all” bar character
  • Wendt never ad-libbed his “Normisms” and praised the writers of the show for their talent and skill
  • Norm’s never-seen wife Vera, whose voice was heard on the show, was played by George Wendt’s real-life wife, actress Bernadette Birkett
  • Norm Peterson’s character was based on a real guy that co-creator, Les Charles knew from a bar he worked at after college, who came into the bar every single night and regularly said he’d have “just one beer” or “just one more beer”

Chores Turned Into Beer Tours

I love it when you can turn a simple chore into something more.

A few weeks ago, Liz agreed to pick up a good friend near midnight at Pearson airport in Toronto. Since I work in Toronto, we thought it might be more fun for Liz and I to meet just a little bit west of Toronto shortly after work and do some exploring for a few hours before picking up her friend.

And that’s just one way that a simple chore or favour for a friend can turn into something fun.

We rendezvoused in Mississauga, having determined a few key locations we wanted to visit in the Streetsville area. And, as often happens in our touring, we found an additional spot to check out.

The night brought us first to The Franklin House, which is allegedly haunted by a young woman by the name of Jessie. We had a great time and enjoyed the rib special and a couple of beers while chatting with a wonderfully personable waitress who had been working there for thirty years. She shared many great stories about the ghostly legends surrounding the building, and we got a quick tour of the upstairs area which is where most of the supernatural activity has occurred. (I won’t get into the details of that here, as I’ll be saving those for a full future post about The Franklin House – so stay tuned).

If you look at this pic of the stairs at The Franklin House just right, you might be able to make out the spectral shape of Jessie standing at the top of the stairs, her head & shoulders visible above the picture on the wall. (Of course, it’s REALLY just the overhead pot light casting a beam onto the wall. But still neat, isn’t it?)

The Franklin House had a busy patio and main floor of people that night and was bustling in an interesting way for a Tuesday night. But we were most uplifted by the spirited and enthusiastic friendliness of the people who worked there. And, even though the beer selection there isn’t as broad as we would prefer (yes, we can be real beer snobs sometimes – so what can be a decent selection for most people might be something we see as “the usual” due to our quest to always be seeking out new beers to try), it’s definitely a place we’ll be returning to because of the ambiance, the delicious food and the great staff.

We next walked up the street to Cuchulainn’s Irish Pub (another haunted location we wanted to check out) where we enjoyed another beer and fun conversation, including hearing some eerie tales from our waitress about the time she knew she wasn’t alone in the basement when she was down there changing kegs, even though the rest of the staff were all upstairs.

Cuchulainn’s Irish Pub is also supposedly haunted. We know for sure that Zaddy haunts the place on Tuesdays with great live music.

This pub had a decent selection of the Irish beer classics as well as a couple on tap from some smaller Canadian breweries. And though it started off relatively quiet, it was Open Mic night and the host for the evening, Zaddy, was a talented musician. Despite the fun entertainment offering, we needed to move on and get ourselves closer to the airport.

The last stop that we made before heading up to the airport was Tracks Brewpub in Brampton. We didn’t visit there as part of our ghostly investigations; this one was more for the investigation of one of our favourite kinds of spirit: the real live people who hang out there. It was a quiet, mid-week night when we entered, but even though it was quiet you could certainly felt the spirit of a group of regulars hanging out at the bar and chatting with the bartender and with one another.

We tried a couple of their own unique and refreshing beers, their Tracks Light Lager and an Old Mill Dark Lager. Then we realized it was time to move along to the airport.

A Tracks Brew Pub Cool Light Lager

Again, it was a simple evening where we needed to be at a particular spot at a particular time and so we added on a mini little MLA (Mark & Liz Adventure) to turn the evening into something even more memorable.


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