Monday, 22 February 2016

An Epic love affair year(s) in the making

"Flick me an email, mate, and I'll send you some."

So said the Divine Miss Ellie, Operations Manager (and occasional super hero) for Epic Brewing of Aukland, New Zealand, in response to a desperate plea for Hop Zombies (from me) in a previous IPA Tales blog.

Forty-seven days later - it was a Tuesday afternoon at 4:25 to be precise - that email turned into a 26 pound box of fun with a slightly soggy bottom that showed up at my door, courtesy of my friendly neighbourhood FedEx man.

Inside the box were nine bubble wrapped and intact bottles of beer, including two 500 ml bombers of an 8.5 per cent alcohol Double IPA that started this entire adventure nearly two years before.

My Hop Zombies, courtesy of Ellie and her boss, Epic Brewery founder Luke Nicholas, had finally arrived.

In a moment of philanthropic madness, Luke and Ellie had taken pity on me upon hearing my tragic tales of woe about smuggling Hop Zombie from the land Down Under to my humble apartment (Hop Zombies and Heartbreak) and decided unasked to send me some.

(I have subsequently been informed that at the end of that earlier blog I said "God Bless you, Epic Brewing Company. Please send me beer" and that could be interpreted as 'asking,' but I insisted that it was merely a 'suggestion.' As I was arguing with myself at the time we both considered the matter resolved.)

I was obviously excited with the news that my Hop Zombies were soon to be on their way and I had no reason to doubt the smuggling shipping skills of arguably New Zealand's best known brewery, but I would be forgiven if I still harboured some doubts.

Hop freakin' Zombie. At last.
Once bitten twice shy they say, and I had already been bitten in the ass twice...

It all started with a bet...

I believe my pal Steve, an old college roommate, craft beer lover and notorious Toronto Maple Leaf hater who now lives in Wellington, New Zealand, threw out the gauntlet first by declaring that the Leafs would not make the 2014 NHL playoffs.

A safe bet to be sure, as the team had qualified for the post-season just once in the nine years leading into those playoffs. But that 'once' was the previous season and in a moment of passion and foolishness, I took Steve up on the bet.

Winner gets beer. If I won, Steve was to package up some Epic Hop Zombies, a Double IPA that had already achieved legendary Pliny-like status in my mind, and send 'em my way. If Steve won the bet, he would get a few choice Ontario IPAs, as well as Red Racer IPA, an excellent B.C. ale brewed by a former bartending buddy from Vancouver who got into the beer business after Steve had left for New Zealand.

It was win-win for me by my math, as Steve would eventually get around to sending me Hop Zombies whether there was a bet or not because, well, Steve is awesome that way.

Sometimes, anyway.

So I sent him some beer (Red Racer on its way!) and then we waited for Canada Post and its partners to deliver it.

One-hundred and eight days later, long after I given up all hope, the beers finally arrived in New Zealand.

That's right. A hundred and eight days. Three-and-a-half months.

But at least he got it. I wrote about it (Around the World in 108 days) so he must have received it.

It was many months later before I thought I was going to get my first opportunity to drink a Hop Zombie, when Steve made the long journey back home to Ontario to bury his father John this past June. It was nice to see him again and we got together (along with some other college chums) for a bit of a reunion, but there was not a Hop Zombie to be found.

Why? Did my pal Steve not bring any with him? That seemed highly unlikely. No, there were plenty of Epic beers but it seemed Steve and my other Beer Bro and college pal Don got thirsty and DRANK THEM ALL!

Was I upset? Oh no, not me (A week full of memories), but only because there were a shit-ton of other great beers to enjoy.

But no Hop Zombies.

The Divine Miss Ellie
Perhaps for the first time in his life Steve felt guilt over his transgression and decided that when he returned he would package up some Kiwi hop monsters (including Hop Zombies, of course) and send them my way.

More for Don too, the greedy bastard.

This turned out to be the heartbreak part of the story I mentioned earlier as Don received his beer, t-shirts and other goodies 'round about the time my beers were being sent back to Steve's flat (they hadn't left New Zealand yet!) because of a breakage. Don, of course howled to the moon about it, while I waited for Steve to repackage the goodies (and wash all the beer-soaked tees) ...and waited...and waited some more until I eventually got the tragic news that Canada Customs had confiscated my beer (after it had already cleared in Vancouver) at the Toronto airport.


I have to admit I shed tears at this bit of news and the consolation prize of my Hop Zombie t-shirt arriving a week or so later was not enough to console me.

The email from the Divine Miss Ellie helped, however, as did the follow-up message the next day:

Hey Glenn,

Hope you're having a good week and settling in for an even better weekend.

Luke - The Epic Guy - linked me your blog this morning and said we must get in touch with you and send you some beers! 

So, let me know your address and I'll get them underway on Monday for you :)

Awesome blog by the way- very entertaining haha. Glad you got the tees in the end at least! 


(The Divine Miss) Ellie Tocker

For most people the story would happily end there, or at least it would end ten or 14 days or so later with the arrival of the beer and I would jump for joy, thank Ellie and Luke The Epic Guy from the bottom of my heart and then drink said beer. This being the story of my life, it wasn't quite so simple.

Luke the Epic guy
My next correspondence from Ellie came a month later when she said there were some delays around the holidays (understood) and the package was just going out that week. 

"You should receive it within 14 working days so please let us know if it doesn't arrive."

This did not concern me in the least. After everything that had happened thus far the fact the beer was being sent at all was good news enough for me. Besides, this was a brewery sending me beer. Surely there wouldn't be any problems.


As long as the package wasn't violently dropped - a real problem in the mail business, as  you can imagine - I would be enjoying Hop Zombies soon enough.

Eight days later Ellie sent me the tracking number - 7754124898XX - and I started following my package on its trip 'round the world. 

I had the utmost confidence in FedEx's delivery system and I was 99 per cent confident their employees possessed GPS software and would be able to find Oshawa, Ontario (just east of Toronto) without any trouble.

So when my package started heading the wrong way around the globe I wasn't worried. Uh uh. Not me. It would just mean the beer would taste that much better when it finally arrived.

So I cheered on my beer as it travelled to Mascot, Australia (I looked it up - it's the suburb of Sydney which contains the airport); Pasay City, The Philipines; Guangzhou, China (a slightly worrisome three-day stop); Koeln, Denmark; Stanstead, England; and a final European stop in Edinburgh, Scotland as FedEx prepared to brave the winter storm wreaking havoc on the Eastern Seaboard of North American at that time.

No worries, mate.

It was a couple of days later when I got the "oopsie" email from Ellie. Actually, she said "So sorry, I just realised I gave you  the wrong waybill #. Yours is 7754126027XX."
Epic Armageddon

Now I could follow my package all over the world all over again. On the bright side, my beer (or 'yeast samples,' as the shipping documents declared) had already arrived in Canada (according to my new, much improved tracking number) and was now resting somewhere near the Toronto Airport, perhaps already with that uncomfortable soggy bottom.

This time the beer went the right direction, having made familiar stops in Australia and China before visiting Narita and Sennan, Japan and then crossing the Pacific en route to Memphis, Tennessee and eventually, Canada.

The next day my beer headed to Markham - just 20 miles from home - for the final delivery in what had become a truly epic journey that began more than 18 months before and would eventually cover more than 42,000 kilometres.

There were (way) more than a few heartaches along the way, but as I sat staring at my box of fun all the anguish and sorrow seemed worthwhile.

As I said at the  top, there were nine intact half-litre bottles in the box. Broken but still bubble wrapped as if it were fixable was a bottle of Epic Imp, a session IPA named as a tribute to Luke himself, who was nicknamed the "Impish Brewer" by pal Neil Miller, the 2014 New Zealand Beer Writer of the Year and the only man more well known in the nation's beer scene than Luke - for now, anyway - thanks to his recent Twitter war with Australian cricketer David Warner. (That story, by the way, was captured perfectly here David Warner likes Nickelback and here David Warner doesn't know who Nickelback is. Do yourself a favour and read these. There's a reason why Neil is the funniest man between Thorndon and Palmerston North. But I digress.)

The nine Epic beers that did survive the voyage included just one other beer that could be called 'sessionable' - the excellent Awakening Pilsner at 5.2 per cent ABV - while the rest were considerably more powerful and dangerously delicious.
My Epic haul of wonder

As Steve warned me that evening as I was sitting down to start enjoying my treasures, I would need to strap in and put on my drinking helmet if I wanted to complete the job.

There was the award-winning Armageddon IPA (so named by our aforementioned pal Mr. Miller in 2008) at an easy-drinking 6.6 per cent; an excellent Brown Ale called No Agenda (7.5 per cent); a big bottle of Imperial Stout deliciousness with the wordy name of Epicurean Coffee Fig Oatmeal Stout (8 per cent); another Imperial Stout - Imperium - coming in at nine per cent - The Observer Old Ale (9.7 per cent); and a Triple IPA clocking in at a massive 14 per cent. The Four Horsemen of the Hopocalypse, they call it. I called it awesome.

And not to be forgotten, two beautiful, beautiful bottles of Hop Zombie.

To those who tried (Steve) and were beaten down in their efforts by The Man, and those who tried and succeeded (The Glorious Imp and the Divine Miss Ellie, take a bow), thank you, thank you, thank you. And thank you once again.

I am truly blessed.


R.I.P. Derek Harrington

Juno winning Irish singer-songwriter-producer Derek Harrington was taken from us today.

Derek was my good friend Rob's brother-in-law and I got to know him a bit and even watched his band play a few times in Toronto in the 1980s. But to those who knew him well, he was a legend in Dublin, in Toronto and in St. John's, Newfoundland, where he eventually took his guitar, his voice and his heart some years ago.

Godspeed Derek.

You rate a mansion in heaven.

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