Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Epic tale of Hop Zombies and heartbreak

"Well, we're fucked."

Nothing good ever happens after you hear those words.

When my beer bro Steve said this to me more than two months ago I knew it was especially bad because this time it involved beer. This time it involved the legendary Hop Zombie Double IPA from Epic Beer in New Zealand and it meant I wasn't going to get it.

It has taken me until now, months later, to even talk about this.

There's a scene on The Simspons (Season 4, Episode 15: I Love Lisa) where Lisa, after rejecting Ralph's appeal for love on live TV, is forced to watch the scene again on the VCR, courtesy of Bart. "Watch this Lis," says Bart. "You can actually pinpoint the second when his heart rips in half."

Poor Ralph. I knew exactly how he felt.

After a month of checking my mail box - each day more hopeful than the last - for news of the five hop bombs that were supposed to be coming my way from far away New Zealand, it became clear that my prize was not going to arrive in Oshawa.


The legendary hop bomb that is
Epic Hop Zombie
So close, too, as the beer (safely and strategically housed - we thought - in a box marked 'souvenirs') had left Wellington a month earlier and had already cleared customs at Vancouver. Having travelled more than 14,000 kilometres, the beer had a mere sixty clicks to go when a bored customs official deemed it worthy of a random search  at Pearson International Airport.

Busted. Double damn.

Now I don't want to seem I am soft on smuggling or other serious offences, but shipping beer by mail
is an everyday thing and perfectly legal, provided you have the required paperwork. But as soon as you go global (or, say, not be licensed to export beer across international borders) somebody starts looking for a tax to grab and the next thing you know your package is subject to two inspections by customs and your treasonous larceny is discovered.

Steve's treasonous larceny anyway. I was the innocent victim in this sordid tale.

I didn't want to put a curse on the success of the shipment, but I had a feeling something would go wrong after my experience sending beer to Steve in New Zealand the previous year. The poor guy was holed up in Wellington with no access to great Canadian craft beers, so I sent him some. Okay, I lost a bet. It took three-and-a-half months (Around the World in 108 Days) before the beer arrived.

It could have taken so long because I cheaped out on the shipping - Pony Express to the coast, then Sea Turtle the rest of the way - so my old college roommate decided to spare no expense sending me (and other former college roomie Don) care packages of New Zealand brews in return.

But I need to back up here, because before Canada Customs and Canada Post even had a chance to destroy my hopes and dreams, Don was already enjoying his over-hopped monsters in the comfort of his Burlington home.

Truth is, Don enjoyed Kiwi contraband TWICE before all this happened.

And not for the first time I felt those pangs of jealousy when it comes to my pal Don.

Back in June Steve landed at Pearson after many years away to perform the sombre duty of burying his father, John. Don, being the good and noble friend that he is, delivered Steve to his family and offered to host his pal after the funeral for a week of catching up.

My dreams of getting Epic beer from
New Zealand were, like this bottle cap, crushed
So naturally Don got first dibs on the treasures Steve brought with him from home. I knew this but I wasn't worried. I was meeting up with them and some other friends a few days later at Donny's Bar & Grill for a mini college reunion, so I was confident they would save some for me.

They didn't. The bastards.

"As soon as I get back home I will send you some," promised Steve, without even a shred of guilt in his voice.

"I will wait by my mail box until it arrives," I responded. If there was a beer fridge and a bathroom in my building lobby I might still be there.

The first sign of trouble happened August 20 when Steve told me my box of fun had been delayed but was finally en route. "Took me a bit longer to find you a Hop Zombie as the stuff is gold and keeps selling out. You should have it by the middle of next week."

You know where I'll be waiting Steve.

That same day, just five business days after mailing, Don was enjoying his treasures - again. All four beer were certified over-hopped monsters, led by Four Horsemen of the Hopocalypse, a collaborative IIPA that clocked in a 14 per cent alcohol. There was also Triple Eye, a 13 per cent Triple IPA from Panhead; Hellbender from Garage Project (11.2 per cent); and Louisiana Voodoo Queen (also from Garage Project), which was 'only' 9.5 per cent ABV.

Or, as Steve explained it, a "bit more sessionable," which in the New Zealand rating system, includes all beers under ten per cent. "We  set the bar high here in beer heaven," he added.

Sure, Don gets his smuggled beer. Me, not so much
I managed to keep my jealousy under wraps and said all the right things to Don, who also scored a cool Wellington Lions rugby shirt, a t-shirt from Behemoth Brewing and a few other trinkets.

"I am (*grits one teeth*) very happy for you Don," I said.

Trouble spot number two came ten days later when I got a message from Steve that my package had arrived back at his apartment. Seemed one of the bottles broke.

"It wasn't the Hop Zombie that broke; it was the Four Horsemen," Steve assured me, as I already had been told that finding more Hop Zombies on the streets of Wellington was becoming more difficult each day. "Also, the broken beer soaked down the t-shirts so I'm needing to wash and dry them. Re-packaging will ensue once that's done."

And then the wait began again.

Using the tracking number provided by the New Zealand postal service (I told you: Steve spared no expense) we were able to track down my shipment September 9 when we learned it cleared customs in Vancouver.

That was happy news because that was the hard part done. It's here! It's here! And unless somebody drops it again, my box of hoppy awesomeness should be arriving any day now.

I'll be waiting.

A week or so later I inquired as to its whereabouts and was told it would be arriving in one to three business days. When that deadline came and went I inquired again, with the news this time not as wonderful.

"The item had been declared undeliverable and has been returned."

Wait, what?

The only known photo of Canada Post's
Undeliverable Mail Office in Scarborough, Ontario
I contacted Canada Post looking for answers, only to fall down the bureaucratic rabbit hole. Only the sender (Steve) can be told anything about the delivery.

Uh, Steve? Ball's in your court man.

Within the hour Steve was on the case and he quickly learnt the bad news, prompting the reply that broke my heart.

"Well, we're fucked." That one.

We'll never know why Canada Customs opened my box of goodies at Pearson, but maybe, as Steve suggested, they were just bored. In any event, I wasn't going to get my beer.

A few days later I received the first letter from Canada Post, thanking me for my enquiry, expressing "regret" I had not received my package and offering assistance on "resolving this matter."

It was dated September 24 and at the bottom of the letter the 'Contents' were described as Alcohol & Tobacco. Which was odd, but it was partially explained by the letter I received the next day, dated September 23, which clearly spelled out the crime Steve and I had attempted to commit.

(Steve, anyway. I'm the victim  here.)

Dear Customer,

The purpose of this letter is to advise you that a mail item addressed to you contained intoxicating beverage(s)/liquor listed below and has been removed from the mail stream: 5 bottles of beer.

The importation of such item(s) by mail is prohibited under the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act. Consequently, Canada Post must dispose of the item(s).

The letter went on to say that the item(s) would be 'detained' (like, held prisoner?) at Canada Post's Undeliverable Mail Office in Scarborough for thirty days, just in case I decided to pay for the postage required to send it back to New Zealand.

Oh Bart.What would you do for a Hop Zombie?
That wasn't going to happen, but it did give me, ever the eternal optimist, hope. It hadn't been destroyed yet, dammit!

So I phoned the 1-866 number and I was told I could have the bottles - after they had been emptied, of course -  if I wanted. That proposal didn't interest me either, but it did spark an idea, one that would involve a little spy work, the small matter of theft of government property, and bin diving, among other late night skulduggery.

I was prepared to do almost anything to get my hands on a Hop Zombie, just like Bart in the same Simpson's episode (Season 4, Episode 15: I love Lisa) mentioned at the top of this tale.

Bart, a huge Krusty the Clown fan, was jealous Lisa was going to the Krusty special with Ralph, and offered to trade places with his sister.

Bart: It isn't fair. I'm ten times the Krusty fan you are. I even have the Krusty home pregnancy test!
Lisa: I'm not sure I should go. I don't even like him.
Bart: You're right, Lis, you shouldn't go. It wouldn't be honest. I'll go, disguised as you.
Lisa: What if he wants to hold hands?
Bart: I'm prepared to make that sacrifice.
Lisa: What if he wants a kiss?
Bart: I'm prepared to make that sacrifice.
Lisa: What if he...?
Bart: You don't want to know how far I'll go.

So here was my plan. It wasn't foolproof but it was better than nothing.

From my home in Oshawa I could be almost anywhere in Scarborough in 15 minutes - as long as it was three in the morning - so my first move was to find out where the hell Canada Post's Undeliverable Mail Office was located. No address was found during my preliminary inquiries, though I did receive a tip that it may be found in an underground bunker somewhere.

The rest of my plan would unfold in the dark of night after the thirty-day deadline was reached. I assumed 'disposal' would either involve a special ceremony involving sacrifices to the ancient border guards of legend, or they would just toss the bottles into the garbage bin out back.

I was betting on the latter and I was prepared to dive into the bin with a flash light and hope that at least one of the bottles - please, with apologies to the other hop bombs in the package, let it be Hop Zombie - survived the impact.

It would have worked, I am sure of it.

Shirts! I got shirts!
Except I never did find out where the Undeliverable Mail office was located and I promptly forgot about the whole matter until the thirty day deadline had expired.

And then, a day after I realized it was too late, I received a package from Canada Post. Inside were two t-shirts: a Hop Zombie shirt and another from Garage Project.

God Bless you, Canada Post. God Bless you, Canada Customs. I got t-shirts!

And God Bless you, Epic Brewing Company. Please send me beer.

I'll be waiting.


  1. Just flick me an email mate, we'll get some to you
    - Ellie @ Epic Beer, NZ

    1. That would be fantastic Ellie. You can reach me at