Sunday, 15 May 2016

Spring, bro hugs and our brewers' best

It wasn't the worst bro hug ever attempted outside a brewery, but I'm thinking it was awfully close.

I hadn't been in Manantler's subterranean tasting room in weeks, owing mostly to being broke. For me and others who depend on Mother Nature to pay the bills, it's been a shitty winter with very little snow and really small pay cheques. Yeah, I know: cry me a river. But being broke meant I missed several beer-y events - including Manantler's One Year Anniversary Party in March - and my weekly visits (at least) were reduced to... let's just say it had been a while.

So when I popped in recently it was clear brewers Chris and James missed me terribly. Maybe it wasn't really that evident to the naked eye, but I knew the truth and I have witnesses who will swear they remembered my name. I saw Chris first, as he was outside loading the van with kegs for a kitchen party (an annual event, I'm told) and we greeted each other in the traditional manner with a handshake and a "hey, how ya doin'?"

Then James sauntered out, took my proffered hand and quickly turned it into a bro hug, which I just as quickly turned into an awkward moment that haunted me for days. For James, the awkwardness happened a week later when I returned - fresh from studying the proper Zen- dude way of the bro hug on the internet - to show my favourite brewmaster I could be hip and cool too.

Steo-by-step instructions for a Bro Hug
The re-enactment did not go as well as I had planned, though I certainly felt better about it afterwards. James, not so much.

In my defence, I should point out that a) I am old, b) I am far less hip or cool as you might think I am and c) read the first two points again. You, loyal reader, may have known these things already but James probably did not.

In any event, we all have to make sacrifices sometimes (James now knows what I speak of) in order to drink great beer. In my case that meant delaying a few bills (I'm pretty sure my landlord doesn't read this blog) and increasing the limits on a credit card or two in order to take advantage of the bounty that is springtime in Ontario.

In other words, careful planning - not usually my strong suit - was required because spring is always a great time for beer. Brewers and their fans have grown tired of the dark brews of the cold winter and are all too ready to bring back sunshine in a glass: IPAs and all their hoppy friends.

(A quick glance at this blog's title and you can get an idea of how much I love this time of year. "This much," I used to tell my kids, stretching my arms out as far as I can, "is how much I love you. Plus Infinity." Like that, except for the Infinity thing. You know, children.)

It's also awards time so many of the best seasonal IPAs (and other brews) are created because brewers like shiny awards to put over the bar (some do, anyway), as well as recognition from their peers. Think Immodest, that nine per cent hop monster from Nickel Brook that serves as a reminder to me why Ryan Morrow is a genius. Think Great Lakes and their Tank Ten Series, with Robohop and Octopus Wants to Fight reminding me why Mike Lackey is also a genius.

(GLB has also teased us about the return of the legendary Karma Citra, though no details have been released yet. My heart can hardly stand the wait.)

Octopus Wants to Fight IPA
But finding a way to get the silky smoothness of my favourite IPAs out of the sow's ear that is my bank account and into my glass would require strategy. My visits to Buster Rhino's would have to be limited, for example, to twice-weekly ninja strikes - sneak in, say hi to whatever beautiful bartender was on duty and enjoy a quick pint - and I would have to drastically reduce my other social engagements to ... well, never mind. I'm good there.

It was at Buster Rhino's where I found the first beer on the list, Octopus Wants to Fight from GLB. One of my favourite new releases of 2015 (probably number one on pal Don's list), this is a near-perfect IPA that simply makes me very happy.It smells divine, for starters, with mango and pineapple and pine tickling the nostrils and plenty of juicy citrus and delicious bitterness to excite the tongue. This Octopus doesn't really want to fight: it just wants to be loved and the feeling is mutual.

And if you're keeping track at home, the beautiful bartender on hand to serve me this 88 IBU pint of whoop-ass - and the early favourite for Beer of the Year - was Jessica, who didn't even ask me what I wanted. "Octopus, right?" was all she said. "Yes please," was my answer.

Next up on the list was Robohop, GLB's excellent Double IPA.

But first, some love is due here to my people at the Oshawa Centre LCBO. My contact at this store has always been Tim, who I have known for a while and has always been the dude who accommodates my special requests.

So I naturally told him a few weeks prior about Octopus Wants to Fight, Robohop and Immodest, which I knew were all about to enter the LCBO system.

The next thing I knew Robohop found its way onto the shelf and not for the first time (the first time in 2016 anyway) I was reminded how incredibly smooth this 8.5 per cent, 100 IBU hop monster is. Tons of grapefruit on the nose and so many big hops on the tongue. Grapefruit, some mango and pungent pine on the tongue and a whole lot of smoothness. Really, really drinkable.

I bought all I could carry, put it on the Mastercard and said the hell with the consequences.

Immodest IIPA
A few days after that I got a call from Mark, who shares 'Beer Guy' status (pretty sure it's a real title) with Tim, who told me to get the hell into the store because Immodest had arrived and I better buy them all because I ordered them. He didn't phrase it quite like that but he said when I wandered in later that day that he ordered Immodest on my say-so.

With almost obscene use of Citra and Simcoe hops delivering obscene amounts of flavour, that wasn't going to be a problem. Aromas of grapefruit and pineapple give way to creamy pine notes and a solid caramel malt backbone on the way down. A truly extraordinary beer and always one of my favourite double IPAs.

No worries Mark. I guarantee it will sell.

A few days later I check the LCBO website and discover Octopus Wants to Fight had arrived and I was finding it all over the GTA. But not at my local.

So I smashed open the piggy bank, set the GPS for an LCBO store in Whitby and headed west.

But my first stop was the Oshawa Centre where I found Tim, staring sadly at the spot on the shelf where Octopus was supposed to go. In its place was Limp Puppet, a session beer from GLB that, while popular, is not one of my favourites from the two-time Canadian Brewery of the Year.

"I have 12 cases of this," Mark said, seeing the "what happened?" look on my face. "The brewery mixed up the order."

"It happens," I said. "I'll see you in a few days." And off I went to Whitby to buy a 'few days' supply of Octopus Wants to Fight IPA.

With the warm weather returning, the hours at work improving and all this great beer in my fridge, it's turning out to be a great spring after all.

Now all I have to do is work on my bro hugs.

Boots Electric

The purpose of my first visit to Manantler mentioned earlier in this blog (besides establishing my un-hipness) was to enjoy a pint of Liquid Swords - the world's only known Wu Tang Clan-inspired IPA, and a reminder of the genius of James Gorry -  and to bring some home to my third floor aerie.

This is their go-to IPA and with plenty of lemony and orangey hops, a resiny texture on the tongue and decent bitterness, it's easy to see why.

The subsequent visit was to pick up a special beer that had just been released at the brewery: Boots Electric IPA.

The Cali-style beer was delicious, with a big aroma of tropical fruit, and flavours of mango, pineapple and stone fruit on the tongue. Syrupy, like peach juice, but without all the sweetness. But the reasons for the beer's existence were even more awesome.

Boots Electric IPA was named for the frontman for Eagles of Death Metal, the band that was performing at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris last November 13 when gunmen opened fire, killing 89 people.

It was one of three coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris that day, which left 130 people dead.

A musician himself and an avid concert-goer since he was 11, the tragedy hit Gorry hard. "It really fucked me up," he told Toronto Star music writer Ben Raynor. "For weeks I wouldn't stop talking about it and I couldn't stop emphasizing with the situation."

So after emailing the band's management and sending in a trio of label designs (from in-house artist Rachel Riordan), the brewery got the go-ahead to produce the beer, with $1 from every bottle going to the families of the victims of the attacks through the Sweet Stuff Foundation.

A worthy beer for a far more worthy cause. Well done.

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