Good Robot Brewing Co.

Author: Josh Counsil

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Harassment & Hospitality – An Owner’s Perspective

I’ve had a couple of run-ins with what you might call harassment – two weeks ago, a patron told me he wanted to have my, uh, manhood in his mouth, and then went into other details I’d rather not elaborate on without a few beers. But by and large, I’m rarely subjected to it even though I spend a lot of time in my own bar. Why? Well, for one, I identify as a straight, white male. For another, I’m one of the owners, and harassment often seems to occur when patrons expect servitude from their servers. Most of my familiarity with harassment comes from incidents the staff report to me, and typically those incidents only get reported when I extract them.

Dan Hendricken Good Robot Brewing Halifax Nova Scotia

It hurts to think that a business I helped to open could foster an environment conducive to harassment. It hurts to think that our staff – our family – deal with harassment on a regular basis. I am dating one of our staff, and it makes me furious to hear what they occasionally have to deal with as a server. And yet, in the hospitality industry, this seems to be the norm. Workplace BC indicates hospitality is the industry with the highest proportion of bullying and harassment complaints, with most of the complaints being against management. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United confirms these findings with at least 90% of women working in tipped restaurant positions dealing with harassment in some form, and at least two-thirds of female workers and over half of male workers experiencing some form of sexual harassment from management. The latter part of both studies is troubling: the root of the problem stems from the top down.

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Dani, who is a bartender here on the weekends and a psychologist during the week, elaborated on the “bartender effect” from the popular show How I Met Your Mother: people (mainly women) in service industry professions such as bartending are perceived as more attractive because they are in that profession. The reality is not far off – it is symptomatic of how highly sexualized the service industry is. This is clearly evidenced in many restaurants and bars which encourage or insist their staff look or present themselves a certain way for the benefit and pleasure of the patrons. Likewise, the ‘customer is always right’ motto being prevalent in the industry produces a feeling of having to tolerate sexual harassment and unwanted advances because it is “just part of the job.” It also reinforces a clear power imbalance between patron and server that already exists since the server cannot remove themselves from the reality of job security, tips, management, etc. This has a cyclical impact on the sexualization of the service industry.

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Dani also noted that the sexualization of the service industry fosters social distancing, or an ‘othering’ of service industry professionals, meaning bartenders, servers, etc., are perceived as somehow different from everyone else. This produces a feeling of distance between the harasser and their harassee, almost as though the harassee is not a regular person you met through friends, or at work, etc. This results in frequently heard comments like “she can take it”, or “she’s used to it”, or ‘I didn’t mean anything by it’, thereby excusing culpability or responsibility with the justification that a service interaction is not the same as any other, and therefore doesn’t have to follow conventional social rules. This is how an otherwise nice person can act like a shithead towards their server.

Kelly Costello Good Robot Brewing Halifax

About a year ago, I remember hearing about harassment at our workplace for the first time. Our bartender Jill, who enjoys wearing crop-tops, received frequent unwanted feedback from patrons of all genders who either accosted her for promoting patriarchy, belittled her for dressing scantily, took her choice of clothing as an opportunity to hit on her aggressively, or attempted to defend her against Good Robot’s sexist dress codes. I had a hard time believing that someone as kind and giving as Jill could be treated so poorly, especially by patrons of my business. Since then, I’ve realized two things:

  1. Staff will rarely voluntarily tell me about incidents of harassment; rather, I have to inquire about them; and
  2. Harassment is prevalent in my establishment, regardless of how hard we’ve tried to make our place open, welcoming and comfortable.

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Here are a few incidents – some recurring – over the past couple of months that staff have dealt with:

  • patrons expressing their undying love for staff members (recurring);
  • patrons waiting around for a certain staff member’s shift to start in order to ask them on a date, and/or inquiring with other staff and patrons as to the relationship availability of said staff member (recurring);
  • a patron telling a staff member to “sit on their face”;
  • patrons grabbing our staff’s exposed skin to get their attention (recurring);
  • patrons groping staff (recurring);
  • a patron called a staff member a “bitch” after being cut off;
  • a patron telling a queer patron he would “fuck her straight”;
  • patrons adding their servers on social media platforms and sending them inappropriate messages after hours (recurring);
  • etc. And these are just over the last couple months.

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We recently held a staff meeting to discuss how we could change this culture. Our staff chimed in with specific incidents and how they were dealt with effectively. Ultimately, each incident and its consequence were unique, so it’s difficult to address a complex problem with a simple solution. We thought it might help to share some incidents and how they were dealt with effectively for all those in the industry who deal with this bullshit on the regular:

  • Inform the manager immediately. It’s good to have two sets of eyes on anyone disrupting the workplace.
  • Take note of the incident in the communications book or equivalent, including a descriptor of the harasser.
  • Sass back. Sometimes, an effective way to put a patron in their place is to be sassier or more clever than them.
    • Example: After a server was touched on the leg by a patron trying to get their attention, the server replied, “Order with your mouth, not with your hands.”
  • Be direct. Be firm. Tell the harasser you don’t appreciate the way they interacted with you and explain why.
    • Example: “I enjoyed serving you up until you said those things to me. I am a server, not a servant, and the way you treated me was grossly inappropriate.”
  • Talk to them in private. This has been effectively used with the above tactic in many instances at our establishment.
  • Talk to the most reasonable person in their party, if there is one. Mention you don’t want to embarrass their friend in front of everyone but that their friend is being inappropriate. Sometimes, hearing from a friend that you are acting inappropriately is more significant than hearing it from a stranger.
  • If the above items have not worked, it’s time to cut people off and/or kick people out. Be direct. Be firm. Point to the door. Repeat.

Harassment Meeting at Good Robot Brewing Halifax

Going back to a stat from earlier in this article, most harassment occurs from top-down. Most hospitality business owners – hell, most hospitality business management – I know are great people. I like to think that they would be disappointed to know what happens to their staff in a day. So, here are three things owners and managers can do to help eliminate systematic harassment in hospitality:

  1. Encourage the discussion. Staff often feel uncomfortable coming forward out of fear of retribution from the accused or those who take the side of the accused, demotion, or even losing their job. And calling out a patron (or employee) for sexual harassment when that patron (or employee) believes they were “just fooling around” is difficult. In my experience, the accused get very defensive and try to justify their behaviour or otherwise seek instant forgiveness. It’s important to let them know exactly what they did and why it was wrong.
  2. Implement a harassment policy. Up until last month, our Good Robot “Manifesto” did not include a section on discrimination and harassment. It’s important to put it in writing and impress it upon every staff member upon hiring. Within this policy, be sure to include the path of action a harassee should take upon incident, especially who they should go to.
  3. Confront it. Change is uncomfortable. I can tell you that it sucks to tell your own patrons they’ve behaved inappropriately. It sucks to give your own patrons, many of whom may be long-time customers or really love your spot, a formal warning about inappropriate behaviour. I want my customers to feel good and welcome. However, if you believe in your staff and want the best for them and your patrons, it is important to confront the perpetrator. I, myself, tend to learn lessons best when I suffer with guilt. And chances are the perpetrator will never act in such a manner again. Remember Dani’s point: sexualization of the industry and social “othering” can lead an otherwise good person to act shitty. It happens.

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Harassment is a topic that cannot be resolved in one article. Likewise, I largely focused herein on sexual harassment as applied to non-male staff. Harassment and discrimination take many forms against many people. The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission has an excellent write-up on the matter. This is just a starting point to hopefully encourage some discussion. Or it might go completely unnoticed. Either way, I want my family to know they don’t have to tolerate harassment.

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By in Uncategorized 0

Events – June

We’ve got some sexy events lined up to kick off the summer. And what could be sexier than a Burlap-sque show?

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Yes, from the demented mind of Nick Greeno (Backstage Printing) comes an event so good, you’ll burlap it up. Turns out Nick traded printing services for a whole pile of burlap sacks and this was his answer to it. Burlap Fashion Show. Burlap-sque Variety Show. Burlap Sack Races. Slated for June 20.

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Proud to announce we are one of the sponsors of OUTEast Queer Film Fest from June 15 to 18. Several films are slated to screen at the Halifax Central Library and Museum of Natural History. Plus, we’ll be here every night for the aftermath, including an ear-tingling Saturday showcase of silent disco: don your pair of headphones and tune in to the DJs in the quietest rager you’ve ever attended. Plus, Sunday will feature brunch here and a read-along screening of the “classic” film, Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion.

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In fact, as part of our Robie Scope Spring Movie Series, we’ll be screening films outdoors every Sunday through June. This month, we’ll be featuring The Muppet Movie (1979) (June 4), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (June 11), and The Blues Brothers (June 25).

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The summer will also see the return of a Robot classic, Just Vorlaufs! Live from the GastroTurf. Join comedian Dan Hendricken and a slew of rotating talent for this outdoor comedy show. A live, outdoor broadcasting of unfiltered comedians on microphones through a quiet neighbourhood. What could go wrong?

As always, stay up to date with more of our events by following our Events Page.

By in Uncategorized 0

Beer Releases – June

We only have 5 fermenters, which means our rotating beer selection will constantly let you down. Here’s a list of everything we have coming up so you can pre-plan your disappointment.

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Doug got adventurous and ordered $25k worth of oceanian hops. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any recipes to use them in, so we’re happy to present a series of single malt and single hop, also known as SMaSH, beers that we call, SMaSH Hits! – a tribute to misfits who made it to primetime. Bob Saget. Roseanne Barr. Drew Carey. Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. Each tribute will feature a basic barley and yeast that will allow the hop character to shine through. First up: How Wude! Saget Ale featuring the father of tropical hops with a west coast flavour, Dr. Rudi. Later this month, watch out for the SMaSH Hit! featuring Pacifica, which packs an orange marmalade character.

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June also marks the return of an old favourite from last year, The Shocking Pink!, a variation on our gose with pink lemonade and hibiscus tea. The beer will be released in time for OUTEast Queer Film Festival, with whom we are again pumped to be partnering with.

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Forget mimosas and caesars. Version 3.0 of our Dave & Morley – Coffee Brown (collaboration w/ Low Point Coffee) returns this month. Featuring our favourite coffee yet – Burundi Gacokwe – this version will be rich and chock-full of caramel and chocolate.

If you haven’t been here in a while, our Koji Kondo – Sake Beer is selling like rice cakes and the newest version of our Damn Fine Coffee & Cherry Pie (pale ale), featuring Low Point Coffee Kenya Mahiga, is also on tap. Also look for a variety of our other classic beers on tap in the next little while, including our Burban Legend (American pale ale) and Goseface Killah (gose). As always, our beer page is updated daily with the current tap list.

By in Uncategorized 0

Brews News – June

As we segue into our busy season, we’re panicking to make everything work. But it’s fine. Probably.

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Everyone wants to know how things are with the neighbours at the Centre for Islamic Development since our media blow-up in October. During our meeting in October, we made a list of propositions to improve relations – including better premises and block control, recalibrating speaker volumes and music selections, mounting signs, scheduling events around prayer times, increasing block patrols from our north alley through to St. Albans for litter, loitering and the like – to name a few. We’re happy to report that we met with some reps of the Centre in May and things are great. We’ve had amicable relations since the autumn.

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Giovanni. In his resume, he said he had experience with photography. When we inquired about this in his interview, he said, “I’m very photogenic.”

Man, look at that beauty! We hired a slew of new Robots in the past couple months. Give it up for Alley, Chris, Pat, Gio, Harry, Aaron, Kyle, Bridgette, Jennifer and Taylor! Kyle and Bridgette round out our DesignBot team. Jenn & Taylor, a mean mother-daughter combo, have been tackling our markets at Alderney Landing and Wolfville while the other Bots are hospitality. In addition to their day-to-day, Alley is spearheading our Brewsletter and marketing initiatives, Gio (pictured above) is moving into brewery work, Aaron is our Business Administrator, and I’m sure we’ll find ways to exploit the rest.

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Our resident yeast expert and BrewBot Erica recently returned from Montreal where we sent her to further her knowledge on yeast cultures and beer culture via the Brewing Microbiology course at Siebel Institute. We’re looking forward to the results. On a related note, Gio studied the same program as Erica and once extracted a wild yeast culture from birch trees in the Bahamas to create an apple cider. Curious what this duo can come up with.

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Our DesignBot team is now 6 people in size: Brent, Kyle, Bridgette, Sara, Brittany (from afar) and Sam. The work they produce is nothing short of incredible. Just check out Mobie, our new company vehicle. I feel like a proud father at a baseball tournament where all 6 of my children brought home medals. And not for participation.

By in Beer News 0

Beer Releases – May

It’s raining outside, which means summer is on it’s way. And with these scorching 13°C days come some crushable beers to sweat out as quick as you drink ’em.

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Our Koji Kondo – Sake Beer was a fun little experiment. See, we love sake. For a long time it was our go-to on nights where we just couldn’t fit any more beer in. Something about the crisp rice and fruity character just screamed, “$14 at the NSLC.” And typically, we’d play a lot of Super Smash Brothers while drinking it. So it’s only appropriate that we paid tribute to the composer of so many classic Nintendo themes with a beer brewed with flaked rice, pale and pilsner malts, Sorachi Ace hops and sake yeast. Available May 12 as part of Nova Scotia Craft Beer Week.

Speaking of Super Smash Bros., Doug bought a boatload of Oceanian hops and is doing a series of SMaSH (single malt and single hop) beers in order to empty out our freezer. First up: a beer brewed with pale malt, Dr. Rudi hops and Californa Ale yeast (name TBD). Look for it sometime in late May.

May also marks the return of the David Lynch classic Twin Peaks. Naturally, we had to capitalize on this and are releasing the Damn Fine Coffee & Cherry Pie – Pale Ale just in time for the show’s debut on May 21.

Also look for a variety of our other classic beers on tap in the next little while, including the Leave Me Blue – Corn. As always, our beer page is updated daily with the current tap list.

By in Beer News, Brewing 0

Insane in the Spent Grain: Barley Shortage

Beer, as we know it, may be in danger.

We frequently hear of hops shortages, though rarely does one hear of an equally important problem: malted (roasted) barley shortage. While demand currently fits supply, within a decade, supply could be problematic.

How did this happen?

CLIMATE


In the past 135 years of global temperature data, 4 of the 5 hottest months on record all happened in 2015. Near-droughts, excessive rain and weather fluctuations yielded poorer quality crops in 2013 and 2014.

AMERICAN BREWERIES

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As poor as the Canadian crops were, the American crops suffered even worse. By virtue of NAFTA, tariffs on Canadian malt were eliminated and American breweries began purchasing Canadian crops without restraint.

BEEF

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Most barley is produced to feed cattle. Canadian beef production is down. Mad cow disease continues to hurt Canadian beef export. In addition, an increasing number of citizens are eating healthier and sustainably by reducing or eliminating red meat from their diets.

GMOs

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Barley for beef feed is competing with soybeans, canola and corn, all genetically modified crops with better resilience, production and pricing than barley. Monsanto Company invested $10M over 10 years for short-season corn in Alberta, destroying barley competition in Canada’s biggest barley province.

CRAFT BEER

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Macrobreweries tend to use alternatives to malt, such as corn and rice, to cheapen production. Popular macro beers also tend to be lighter and lower in alcohol. Therefore, craft breweries use, on average, 4x the amount of malt per unit volume than macrobreweries, creating a higher demand on barley.

THE FUTURE OF BEER

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In the next 10 years, we have 180k metric tonnes of malting capacity under build. Projections show we’ll need 1M metric tonnes (Canada Malting Group Annual Presentation, Halifax, 2015). Canada will begin importing European and Australian malt sooner than later, though the incoming El Niño cycle will likely yield a very harsh winter in Europe and hotter and drier conditions in Australia. Expect wheat beers to gain prominence since wheat is more resilient than barley and GMO wheat will likely enter the commercial market soon. Brewers may also begin experimenting more with sugary alternatives to barley, like sorghum, millet, rice, corn, quinoa, spelt, oats, and rye.

But, you know, the picture isn’t that bleak. We adapt. We’ll always find a way to get buzzed. Ever had prison hooch with rotted fruits fermented in a sock?

By in Uncategorized 7

Misogyny and Brewing

If you’re reading this, you’re likely familiar with the current situation. If not, let me get you up to speed. A yoga event we were hosting was shared on our Facebook page. The description of the event was misogynistic and deeply offended many people. Here is the screenshot taken of the event details, which then spread to social media:

It is a fact that the way the event is written is offensive. Connie, the owner of RIO Pilates approached me a few weeks ago about hosting a yoga event on our lawn. She hosts a weekly yoga class called “Broga”, an all-male yoga class followed by beers. She wanted to start serving our beer at her studio and proposed a collaborative yoga and beer event. Being a fan of yoga myself, I jumped at the opportunity. RIO was to take care of everything: ticketing, promo, setup, clean up, etc. My only task was to obtain the liquor permit. We agreed that I would not promote the event on our social media because we wanted to attract mostly RIO’s existing customers and friends, and only 20-30 people could attend.

I did not properly proofread the event description and, for that, I sincerely apologize. I did not perform my duty as Marketing Director.

I’d like to iterate three points.

1) Myself, my two co-founders, Angus and Doug, as well as our 15 employees do not share the sentiment communicated in the event description.

2) Neither I, nor anyone from our company, proofread the event description even after my girlfriend warned me about it. For that, I sincerely apologize. We will screen all content and events associated with our brand in the future to ensure nothing like this happens again.

3) Due to a death in Connie’s family, RIO has postponed the event until further notice. RIO will address the situation when Connie returns.

If you have anything to add to the conversation, please do in the comments, our social media, via email, or a phone call. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

By in Brewing, History 4

Why Your Dad Doesn’t Like Craft Beer

“What’s your lightest beer?”
“What do you have that tastes like beer?”
“What do you have that’s like [Labatt/Keith’s/Bud Light/Oland’s/Corona]?”

These are the most common questions we get when we sample our beer in an area outside of our usual patronage, as we did at Moo Nay Farms​ this weekend. (As an aside, when these new subjects try our beer, the most common feedback we get is eyes wincing, tongue sticking out, head shaking, and a general look of disgust.)

Ironically, these same patrons happily crowded the grill next to us to try a locally made, farm-fresh, preservative-free sausage. They care about their food quality. So why is beer any different?

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Moo Nay Farms collects our used beer grains to feed their stock.

A little Canadian beer history…

Much like the US, Canada was ripe with beer at the turn of the 20th century – about 118 breweries with a population less than 7M. After Prohibition ended in 1930, the brewery total declined to about 69 breweries, which survived by brewing beer for consumption outside Canada. (Prohibition was even more devastating for the US, with over 4k breweries dwindling to about 500, which further declined to about 40 through to the 1970s.)

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Liquor barrels emptied into Elk Lake, Ontario.

After Prohibition, beer control fell in the hands of publicly owned stores and liquor boards, who imposed heavy, often ridiculous restrictions on alcohol. Many breweries consolidated, the most famous of which was E.P. Taylor’s merger of 30 Canadian breweries into one conglomerate later known as Carling O’Keefe. By 1980, Molson, Labatt, and Carling O’Keefe controlled well over 90% of the beer market.

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Vancouver Breweries in 1926, one of the breweries to form the Carling O’Keefe conglomerate.

Then, a series of fortunate events unfurled. In 1971, a group of passionate British drinkers formed the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), which sought to educate the public about traditional, flavourful beers fermented in casks. Michael Jackson (no, not him) published The World Guide to Beer in 1977, which sparked international interest in beer. One year later, the United States legalized homebrewing, sparking a sudden resurgence of small breweries and brewpubs, while a disgruntled Carling O’Keefe employee decried the state of Canadian beer in a popular magazine article. British Columbia minister Peter Hyndman deregulated beer pricing in 1981 to increase competition between breweries, but the Big 3 all increased their price to the same amount. Hyndman then began handing licences to “cottage breweries” to aid in the competition. Craft brewing in Canada was born.

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Halifax’s own Granite Brewery, Canada’s 4th craft brewery.

So, there you have it. The “lightest beer” – the beer that “tastes like beer”, like a Blue or an Oland’s or a Schooner, is a pale lager, a style ubiquitous in our nation since 1930, a style the big conglomerates brewed solely because they knew it sold. Your parents drank it. Their parents drank it. And chances are, you’ve drank it. Craft beer isn’t a new style of beer. It’s mostly a reemergence of old styles that were prominent before conglomerates took the stage. Craft beer is what your great-great-grandfather may have drank. It’s in your blood. Though hopefully below 0.08.

By in Construction 0

Taproom Construction Update 3: Seasons Change

The major problem with our brewery is that you guys come here, buy the beer, and leave. Some of you send us pictures of yourselves enjoying the beer. Then, while we’re taking a leak at The Stubborn Goat, we check our phones and see that fabulous picture of our beer on your backyard porch. Or your office desk. Or a mountain top. Campsite. Living room. Schoolyard.

See the problem?

We don’t get to drink our beer with you.

Let’s remedy that.

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Our driveway has come a long way, from Denzel Washington movie set to 10,000 pounds of transplanted soccer field. And although John MacNeil Elementary may not get the practice they need to make the finals this year, I’m sure even they’d appreciate the complementary colour coordination we pulled off. Go Dolphins!

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Demolition, structural, plumbing and some electrical are finished. The second-most interesting phase involved turning a living room into a mezzanine overlooking the bar. The most interesting phase will be explaining to our landlord what happened to the residence upstairs.

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You may notice that, as compared to our brewery construction blog posts, our taproom construction blog posts contain few nightmares. Andrew Flood and his amazing team at Five by Five Renovations are to thank for that. While they’ve been hammering through taproom construction, which should be complete in about 6 weeks, we’re catching up on brewery operations, which are difficult. Brewing is demanding. Cash is tight. It’s horrifying to watch your sales increase as your bank account dwindles, but it’s the reality of owning a business. We feel similar to how we did just before the brewery opened. By the time the graffiti mural below hits our wall, we’ll be days away from opening our taproom, which we want as much as you do. Just forgive us if we pass out after one pint.

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Taproom Event 2: Stand-up Comedy Night – Just Vorlaufs

We told you about Silent Reading Nights. And now for something completely different.

Stand-up comedy is a huge part of our lives. In Seattle, I took weekly trips to the comedy clubs just to hear someone say something meaningful. In fact, Doug Stanhope’s Steal Shit and Quit routine helped push me to quit my job and pursue the brewery. On a road trip we took, Doug had to pull the Chevy Suburban over while listening to Patton Oswalt’s Tom Carvel bit since he was laughing too hard to drive. Angus, Doug and I still attend comedy nights at Gus’ Pub on Mondays and Dal Grad House on Wednesdays. Comedy and beer go hand in hand as catalysts of free speech and, of course, good times.

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Josh and his idol, Doug Stanhope, sharing a moment.

Introducing Just Vorlaufs, a weekly stand-up event showcasing the best comedians Halifax has to offer. No TVs. No pool tables. No smartphones. Just you and whatever unfiltered thoughts come to the comics’ minds. We also envision a series of beers to pair with the comics, like Doug Stanhop, Lewis Black IPA or Patton Osmalt.

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Josh and his favourite Canadian comic, Jon Dore.

So join us once a week at Halifax’s second-best comedy venue and eighth-best brewery. We need comedy. Here’s why:

“Comedy and tragedy are two halves of the same coin. Comedy unites us—the moment the laugh spreads through the room we come together, it unites. Tragedy is its opposite—it always divides. We like to believe otherwise, in “a country united by tragedy” and shit like that, but it’s not true. Every person’s tragedy is theirs alone, and it divides us off, even as we are sitting together in a room. These two great forces, pushing and pulling, are the axioms that underlie all storytelling. Anyone who counts comedy as a lesser force isn’t seeing clearly how integral they are to each other—subtract either one and the world just doesn’t exist any more.

— Mike Daisey