Spirits Untapped

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Canadian Beer Day 2020

Happy Canadian Beer Day, from all of us (all 3 of me?) at Mark’s Tavern, Eh!

October 7th is Canadian Beer Day. A day to celebrate the awesome folks who brew, sell, deliver, serve, and drink beer.

We typically have beers from no less than a half dozen different craft breweries in the fridge at any time. And on this special day, the fridge is filled to capacity, with plenty more great beers than could be shown in this triple exposure pic at our home bar.

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But beer isn’t just a thing in our household. Beer plays a big role in the lives of many Canadians.

  • 15,000 Canadians work in breweries
  • 149,000 Canadian jobs connected to beer in the restaurant, hospitality, tourism, agriculture and transportation sectors
  • 85% of the beer consumed in Canada was brewed in Canada

[For the curious, here are the Ontario craft beers hoisted from left to right in the picture of me hoisting a beer in cheers: They are Jutsu from Bellwoods Brewery (Toronto) – The Mutants Are Revolting from Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery (Barrie) and Invisible Friend from Grain & Grit Beer Co (Hamilton).

The hoodie I’m wearing is from Augusta’s Winking Judge (Hamilton), one of my favourite haunts that has been about local and craft beer for years and years before the craft beer growth took off, and the hilarious and stylish t-shirt is from Rural Routes Brewing (Elmira).

So many amazing beers. I suppose that’s why EVERY day is Canadian Beer Day at Mark’s Tavern.

#CDNBeerDay #BeerProud

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I started watching Cheers when I was a kid, and marveled at the idea of a place where everybody knows your name. As I got older (the show ran from 1982 until 1993 so I had already graduated from University when it ended), I continued to long to have a place like that in my life.

I didn’t find my own personal “Cheers” one until I was in my mid-forties and became a regular at The Winking Judge in Hamilton.

Of course, since the global pandemic, we’ve mostly been stuck in our home.

Not a bad place to be stuck, as Liz and I discovered (and even wrote a parody song about) . . .

That kicked off us doing another music video parody as well as me doing a series of silly dad joke short films, including one where I was sitting at the bar with two other versions of myself drinking and talking about the things we miss most.

Which led to me thinking about our home bar and that we hadn’t had anyone except Liz and I at it in months.

I started to play with image and video manipulation and wanted to experiment with creating two or more versions of me in an image or a video, sitting at the bar together.


And in one concept for a dad joke short, I thought it’d be cute if I had the video start with me walking by a house, seeing a sign that says Mark’s Tavern: Serving Marks Since 2020, and then walking in and using that as a setting for a place to tell myself stupid dad jokes.

Then my favorite television program came to mind.

And that’s how Mark’s Tavern was born.


Playing with a bit of video manipulation, using a technique that I learned from Canadian musician Ashley Joanisse, who used this in her music video, Hey Bartender, I set about creating a script.

I only ended up shooting was was supposed to be the cold opener for the show. That was enough work. So I figured I’d put it out there and see what people thought.

Mark’s Tavern: Where Everybody Shares Your Name

The joke is that it’s just me in my house pretending to be able to go out into the world and hang around in a bar where everyone knows my name.

Of course, since there’s only Marks at this bar, everyone knows your name, because everyone has the same name.

At least I’m spending the time amusing myself. Perhaps I’m also succeeding at amusing a few others as well.

Last Year in Beer: Mark’s Experience – 2018

Though it’s late in January, on Jan 1st I took some snapshots of my previous 365 days in beer via Untappd. I check in all unique (or, I should say, perhaps about 98% of all unique beers I try. Occasionally I either don’t add a beer because of one of a few reasons:

  1. It’s not listed on Untappd (ie, a unique one-off or new beer) and I don’t have the info handy to add it. (I’m a bit anal about data and if I’m at the brewery and the staff or brewmaster can tell me the ABU etc, then I usually add it)
  2. I only quickly sampled it. I don’t add in beer that I merely taste (for example, I try a sip of Liz’s beer, unless it’s spectactular and I have to make a note so I can try it again, I don’t bother checking it in) I WILL check in tasters, though. And I love that Untappd has a feature now that allows you to identify the way you drank it:  Draft, Bottle, Can, Growler, Taster, etc
  3. I am away from a proper WifI or cell signal (or it’s cost prohibitive to attempt it) at the time and I neglect to make notes of the beer to add in later
  4. I have simple had way too much and am incapable of properly entering the info accurately. (Yeah, okay, I’m human and this does happen – apparently, the more alcohol one consumes, the more reduced ones capacities things like keeping accurate notes becomes – who knew? LOL)

So, with that in mind, here are some of the more interesting beer stats from my 2018.

That spike you see on Feburary 4th was when Liz and I had returned to Portland and enjoyed a number of unique brews at some of our favourite breweries as well as some new ones. I actually wrote a post about that particular trip (where I shot a live video where you might see me having had a few too many while trying to relay a ghost story), as well as our previous Portland trip – both were about haunted places.

The next highest spike, in September would be the unofficial books and beers tour that I organized when attending NINC (Novelists Inc) writer’s conference in St Pete, Florida. (That day is something that I MUST write about – I’m actually surprised I didn’t write that up – I certainly have a ton of great pictures from that day). And, just ten days prior to that, Sept 15th, was a beer fest we had attended in Kitchener. That day, which included a pretty hearty walk for us, included a trip to the beer fest itself as well as a number of bars and breweries we stopped in at on our long walk home.

Unique Check-Ins: 760 (This is down from 827 in 2017)

Unique Beers: 714  (This is down from the 776 unique beers from 2017)

New Beer Ratio: 94% (I will check in a beer I have already had if I want to record other factors, such as unique locale, unique company, setting, or perhaps to change my previous rating – tastes change over time)

Beers Per Day: 2 (Same ratio as in 2017)


2018 saw me trying beers in a pretty decent spread across North America.

Total Venues: 149 (Exact same as 2017 – going to have to see if I can break that and hit 150 in 2019)

Unique Venues: 117  (In 2017 it was 118 – should I try for 120 this year?)

New Venue Ratio: 79%  (In 2017 it was 75%)


Looking at the Top Styles of beers I drink, it’s obvious I’m still a fan of IPA and Pale Ale beers. But you can also see Liz’s influence on my trying of different beers (that and a bit of a recent trend in the craft beern industry), with a significant rise in the Sour style beers.

Though I moved away from Hamilton at the end of 2017, my favourite haunt (which, between 2014 and 2017 was my neighbourhood local bar) The Winking Judge, remained the top venue for check-ins. That’s because the place still feels like home to me. The owners, the staff, the regulars, are, in many ways, like an extended family. So I continue to haunt the place as often as I can.

And, of course, Arabella Beer Park in Kitchener, which is my favourite local haunt since moving to Waterloo, came in second place. Perhaps The Judge only out-performed Arabella was because of the number of beers Liz and I enjoyed at the annual Winking Judge beer fest.

The top 4 beers I had in 2018, based on ratings, were:

Haunted Home Sweet Home – Pumpkin/Yam Beer (5 Paddles Brewing Company – Whitby, Ontario) – Enjoyed at home

I love most of the beers 5 Paddles makes, and their regular Home Sweet Home is a regular favourite that I usually buy when I stop in on my way through Whitby. But the “Halloween” version of it is uniquly delicious too!

Chai Porter – Porter (Cage Brewing – St. Pete, Florida) – Enjoyed at the brewery

(It’s too bad you can’t edit your checkins on Untappd – I meant to type “heaven in a glass” but it came out “heaven on a glass”) – I was MOST disappointed, because when I brought some friends back to Cage Brewing a couple of days later, they had RUN OUT – after I had talked the beer up. Can’t wait to see if they have it when I return to St Pete this coming fall)

Cocobutter – Schwarzbier (Pinellas Ale Works – St, Pete, Florida) – Enjoyed at the brewery

Pinalleas Ale Works (PAW for short), is a cute dog-friendly brewery with a lot of dog themed beers. Most of them are delicious, although I didn’t get a chance to try them all, despite visiting twice. Interestingly, they are across a four way stop from Cage Brewery. What a phenomenal neighborhood!!!!

Death by Coconut – Porter (Oskar Blues Brewery) – Enjoyed at TapWerks in Oklahoma City, OK

This is one of those exceptions where I’ll check in a beer that I’ve already had in order to change the rating. On my first check in of this beer, in 2016 in Colorado Springs, I gave it a 4.75. I had it a few more times on that trip, because it was a spectacular beer. When I had it again in December 2018, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t given it a 5 before. So I checked in to fix that. (Speaking of that checkin, there were so many great breweries we visited in Oklahoma City that I will have to write about in a future post)


As I am writing this post up, I realize, as I just mentioned, that there are so many great beer experiences had in the past year that I neglected to write about. I know it’s the end of Janurary and not a time of resolution. (For most, it’s usually the time of breaking any new resolutions) – But I am resolving to go into the archives and share some of the great spirited places and beer adventures I’ve been on.

Canadian American Beer Festival

Canada and the United States aren’t just good neighbors (ie, the world’s longest unprotected border); but when we collaborate, we can do some tremendously good things together.

And when breweries collaborate, they can also bring some truly stunning things to our world.

In a celebration of Canadian and American brewery collaborations, the good folks from The Buffalo Niagara Brewers Association are hosting a first of its kind cross-border collaboration beer fest.

Sadly, due to an issue related to moving beer related products across the border, the originally scheduled event in the United States had to be postponed to April 13, 2019.

However, a delightful teaser to the event took place as a tap takeover in Buffalo at Pizza Plant, and, in Canada, a special beta event is scheduled to take place Saturday, May 5 (2-6pm) at Augusta’s Winking Judge craft beer bar at 25 Augusta St in Hamilton Ontario (1-905-524-5626).

An image from the April 8th event in Buffalo – Photo by Don Nieman via The Buffalo News – See all 46 Photos from the event

Tickets ($50 Canadian), can be purchased directly at the Winking Judge and include exclusive samplings of all Ontario-made CanAm collabs, food, a commemorative beer stein and the chance to interact with the brewers who made the beers.

As of the writing of this post, the following brews are scheduled to be available at the Canadian site in Hamilton, ON at Augusta’s The Winking Judge. (Check here for updates)

  • Brimstone & Rusty Nickel –  Mountie & Buffalo Walk into Bar, Belgian IPA 6.3%
  • Beau’s & Flying Bison – Great Planes – Biere de Garde, 7%
  • Block 3 & Resurgence – Angels & Apricots – Oak Aged Gose – 4%
  • Cowbell & New York Beer Project – Crazy Hazy IPA – NEIPA 7.5%
  • Grand River & 12 Gates – Life on Marzen, Märzen, 5.7%
  • Collective Arts & Hamburg – Maybe Next Year, Citra Denali DDH Kettle Sour 5%
  • Flying Monkeys & Woodcock Brothers – Slam Dunkel, Dunkelweizen 4.75%
  • Niagara Teaching Brewery & Buffalo Brewing Co – Salt & Pepper Gose, 4.4%
  • Oast House & Southern Tier – Mixed-Ferment Farmhouse Mosaic IPA 6%
  • Nickel Brook & Ellicottville Brewing Company – Only Nerds Will Know, Kettle Soured Hopfenweise, 4.9%
  • Shawn & Ed Brewing Co & Community Beer Works – O.P. Imperial Pilsner, 8.4%
  • Railway City & Westshore Brewing Company –  Border Crossing, Galaxy Kolsch, 5.5%
  • Redline Brewhouse & Thin Man Brewing – Squeeze Across the Border, NEIPA, 6.4%
  • Royal City & 42 North –  New World Saison
  • Wellington & 4 Mile – Walk 4 Miles, Dry Hopped Kellerbier, 5%
  • Lock Street &  Five & 20 –  Belgian Waffles w/ Blueberries, Golden Strong Ale, 9.5%

Liz and I have been to The Judge’s similar events that take place each spring and feature local brews, local brew masters and great conversation all afternoon with fellow beer nerds; but we’re even more excited about this dynamic new collaboration event.

We will, of course, be there enjoying the fine brews, the wonderful company and the fun atmosphere, and I’ll be doing at least one live video of some of the tasting and fun – maybe, if I’m able to convince a brew-master or two to come onto a live video with me I can have them share a little bit about the exciting new beers they are offering. That video will be posted to the Spirits Untapped Facebook page.

If you’re interested, it’s still not too late. As of this weekend, I’ve learned that there are still a handful of tickets available.

Perhaps we’ll see you there and share a friendly and hearty toast to the amazing brewers who came together to make these fun new brews, and this great event possible.

Read More About these events:

Some of Mark’s Previous Beer and Bar Videos:


Ghostly Tales From A Hamilton Bar

It’s no secret that one of my favorite haunts in Hamilton is a bar called The Winking Judge (it is also often listed or referred to as Augusta’s Winking Judge). I discovered it while researching for my 2012 book Haunted Hamilton, began to visit the bar regularly shortly after that, and then, in 2014, when I moved to an apartment adjacent to the old English style pub, I became one of the semi-regulars at the bar.

Last Friday I was back in Hamilton enjoying a few pints and recorded an on-the-spot Facebook Live video in which I shared a few of the tales I had picked up from my research as well as just hanging out at the bar and listening to stories that the regulars would share about the place.

I thought it would be interesting to update that live video with ambient eerie music as well as accompanying images to go along with the stories.

The tales include an elderly man in an old Lincoln-styled top hat. He is affectionately nick-named “The Judge.” Multiple patrons have also told tales of feeling the distinct sensation of a feline rubbing up against their legs. And when they reach down the pet the amorous cat, they realize that nothing was there. There have also been stories of the spectral image of a figure hovering outside the frosted window of the men’s room on the building’s second floor.

For those interested, the beer I had been drinking in this video was the Unnamed Pale Ale from Mash Paddle Brewing in nearby Brantford, Ontario. This is a crisp and refreshing beer with a light yet solidly present hoppy taste to it.

Because I’m more like a ghost that can’t be exorcised from the location, I’ll be back again this Friday and broadcasting a live fiction ghost story from the second floor (where I had been wandering in the video above) as part of my Free Friday Frights series.

Friday’s Broadcast will include a fictional ghost story (“Phantom Mitch”) and will be simultaneously broadcast to my Author Page, my Haunted Hamilton book page and the Spirits Untapped page on Facebook.

And, yes, craft beer will also play a role in the video as well as in any of the folks there as part of the live audience.

Who knows, apart from the live audience, perhaps there might also be a few unseen presences there lurking in the shadows.


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!

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.

One of Our Favourite Haunts

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One of our favourite haunts @winkingjudge

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The Winking Judge in Hamilton, Ontario is one of our favourite haunts. I first learned about this bar when I was researching for Haunted Hamilton (2012). Ever since I discovered their rotating 22 Ontario craft beer taps, I have haunted the place ever since.

This picture was taking during the Judge’s annual spring beer fest.

Here’s a short video with a few more images and a bit about “The Judge,” the bar’s resident ghostly bar fly . . .

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