The Beer Guy: 365 bottles of beer on the wall

Walk the Camino.
Sail to the Galapagos.
Climb Machu Picchu.

by Peter Bailey

Folks my age have been making bucket lists recently, then heading off somewhere: touring the breweries of Belgium by bicycle. Running the Boston Marathon. Seeing Garth Brooks nine times. I may be the only person in Edmonton who hasn’t been to Iceland yet. No, I haven’t been to the Reykjavík Phallological Museum but I hear it is lovely. (Go ahead, google “penis museum”. Actually, maybe don’t.)

One friend joined a choir, another picked up the ukulele. I poured a beer— and then 364 more of them. My goal for 2016 was to drink a different beer every day of the year, take a pleasing photo of said beer and post the photo to the interwebs. It was a modest resolution compared to my fellow beer geeks who record every beer they drink on apps like Untapped. Calgary beer writer Don Tse has tried 16,479 beers as of February 2017.

I started on New Year’s Day with an IPA from London’s Meantime Brewing and continued on, more or less, every day until December 31, and an Alley Kat Olde Deuteronomy Barley Wine. In between I drank 92 IPAs, 46 pale ales, 33 stouts, 26 porters, 25 pilsners/lagers, 15 saisons, 14 session ales, 11 brown ales, 6 sours and a few dozen in assorted other styles, from bock to rauchbier to weisse. About half came from British Columbia or Alberta breweries, another quarter from Ontario, Oregon or California, the rest from Quebec and other provinces, the U.S. and all over the world. I had an Irish stout brewed by the Malka Brewery at Kibbutz Yechi’am, Galilee, Israel. A friend brought me a pale ale he had carried in his suitcase all the way from Valdivia in southern Chile. I drank an Icelandic imperial stout to celebrate Iceland’s victory over England at the Euro soccer tournament.

Here’s the beauty of this global beer buffet: most of these beers I bought and drank in Edmonton. Albertans are some of the luckiest beer drinkers in the world—a burgeoning local craft beer scene plus access to hundreds of great beers from around the globe. What a time to be alive.

My quest reminded me that beer is a social beverage, best enjoyed with a friend or two. The most memorable beers were less about the beer and more about the context—where I was and who I was with. Call them beer epiphanies—that perfect moment when you know that all is right in your world, you are where you are meant to be. I remember a Four Winds sour consumed with lunch at Koerner’s Pub at UBC, just before my son graduated from university. Or, discovering Golden Road Brewing at Grand Central Market in downtown LA and enjoying a breakfast beer with pals.

Sometimes the moment was better than the beer. I’ll call this the Azorean paradox. Through the first half of the year I was (mostly) successful in trying a different, unique beer each day. Then I travelled with my wife to the Azores, delightful Portuguese islands in the middle of the Atlantic, to celebrate the 50th birthday of a good friend and fellow beer geek. Great friends, wonderful weather, decent food, spectacular scenery and terrible beer. Actually, check that—just indifferent beer. Beer taps were everywhere, but always with the same bland lager— Sagres or Super Bock from mainland Portugal or Melo Abreul from São Miguel. An island entirely devoid of ale—no stouts, no pale ales, no IPAs. But did this stop us? No, we drank that Euro lager bravely, tulipa glasses held high. In fact my lager enthusiasm made my wife question my beer geek credentials: how can I complain about crappy beer back home when I had no problem with it in the Azores? Beer and me—it’s complicated, dear. This year, she’s just happy we can eat dinner without me primping my beer for photographs.

Beer-a-day six-pack

So many great beers enjoyed on my #beeraday tour, but here are six favourites, available at finer beer shops like Sherbrooke Liquor, Keg ’n Cork, deVine Wines or Color de Vino.

Beau’s Lug Tread Lagered Ale

Beau’s Lug Tread Lagered Ale, Vankleek Hill, Ontario

I’ve been enjoying this Kölsch-style beer for years in Ontario and I’m happy to see Beau’s finally make the trek to Alberta.Welcome! Lug Tread is top fermented like an ale and then cold aged, or lagered, so it has the characteristics of both; crisp and quaffable with a nice full maltiness.

Collective Arts Ransack the Universe IPA

Collective Arts Ransack the Universe IPA, Hamilton, Ontario

New hops were one of the stories of 2016 and this juicy IPA had a couple of the coolest hops, Mosaic and Galaxy, plus Citra, Centennial and Chinook. This salad of hops makes for an aromatic and flavourful IPA, with notes of tropical fruits, mango and citrus. Nice and punchy with 85 IBUs (International Bittering Units).

Troubled Monk Pesky Pig Pale Ale

Troubled Monk Pesky Pig Pale Ale, Red Deer, Alberta

One of my favourite new Alberta breweries, right outta Red Deer, an easy diversion from the QE2 highway. Stop in to their tap room, you deserve a break. I remember trying this pale ale in my kitchen one winter evening, no preconceptions, and I said out loud, “This is the real deal.” It was and it is.

Bench Creek Black Spruce Porter

Bench Creek Black Spruce Porter, Edson, Alberta

Another great Alberta story, quality brews produced—literally—in the backwoods in the middle of thick spruce forest off Highway 16 near Edson. I tried the porter in February at Beer Revolution in Edmonton, picked up a growler at the brewery in April and then kept coming back to it throughout the year. A hearty tasty black porter with a nice bitter edge.

Four Winds Pale Ale

Four Winds Pale Ale, Delta, British Columbia

Frequent trips to B.C. in 2016 meant getting better acquainted with the excellent brews of Four Winds. A memorable moment came at YVR, where the wine bar Vino Volo was serving this classic west coast-style pale ale, redolent of Cascade and Centennial hops. Crisp and snappy but not overly bitter at 38 IBUs.

Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA

Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA, Bend, Oregon

Deschutes goes from strength to strength. Pick any of their beers and you can do no wrong. Here Citra and Mosaic hops give a very juicy, citrusy (grapefruit) taste and aroma. Sweet, fruity and bitter, in perfect harmony. A refreshing and alarmingly drinkable beer.

Peter Bailey is still building his bucket list and biding his time until he’s old enough for a Viking River Cruise. He’s on Twitter and Instagram as @Libarbarian.

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