Spirits Untapped

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

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!”

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.

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