In March, 2011 I met Carley Fortune at a café on Yonge Street. Fortune had edited some of my real estate writing for Toronto Life and had just been poached from that magazine to edit the Lifestyle section of a new weekly magazine, which would replace Eye Weekly. The meeting felt covert—the new magazine didn’t even have a name, and only a few people knew that Eye was going down.
“We like your writing, and we’d love for you to come on as a regular contributor—maybe real estate?” she asked.
I was flattered. Having shifted careers to journalism at 30-years-old, I’d been working as general freelancer, and part-time magazine editor, for three years—chronicling everything from renewable energy, to young lawyers, to fur trappers, to shoplifting addicts—and I was getting tired of dreaming up new ideas from my kitchen table.
But real estate? My gut screamed no… but maybe I should take it—you don’t get offered a regular section in a major city magazine everyday.
“If you could write about anything, what would it be?” my husband, Conor, asked me when I got home.
“I can’t! They want me to write about real estate.”
“Just humour me for a minute, seriously what would it be?” he asked.
“Fine. Beer. I’d write about beer,” I said. “But it doesn’t matter, I don’t know anything about beer.”
A beer-drinker since my (way-too-early) teens, I’d had an awakening of sorts on a recent trip to Sydney, Australia. I was visiting my sister and my best friend, and to claim some of the expenses on my taxes, I needed to write a story. And so, on the suggestion of my sister’s beer-nerd pal, my best friend and I covered the nascent craft brewing scene in Sydney, visiting eight microbreweries in two days. We got the VIP treatment—throwing hops into the fermenter, sniffing and sipping the ales with their brewmasters, and being served beer paddles paired up with cheese, fish and chocolate.
By the time we got to the last bar, my best friend turned to me and said, “Crystal, if you don’t become a fucking beer writer when you get home, I’ll kill you.”
I didn’t need convincing. I was newly enamoured with my go-to beverage, its makers and the changing relationship to beer that the blossoming craft beer scene was offering to drinkers like us, who as high-schoolers, thought Sleeman Honey Brown and Moosehead lager were bold. But landing a beer column? As if.
And so, my wonderfully pain-in-the-ass husband strong-armed me into writing this email to Fortune:
Not sure if there’s room for a beer / microbrew section in the Eye relaunch—but if there is I would LOVE to write on this subject. I’m not an expert, but I am obsessed with learning all I can on brewing, craft beers and all the rest. I’m convinced that beer is reaching a critical juncture in its maturation—pairing it with cheese, meats, and even desserts is becoming more common; as are beer tastings—as brewing processes mature, the complexity of beer does too. Plus, there are a lot of great Southern Ontario brews available to Torontonians. This column would be one where I learn along with the reader, a fun, expertly researched and informative read that makes the reader want to try the brews I recommend immediately.
Anyway, if there might be interest in this (maybe as a biweekly or monthly section?) let me know. I’d be happy to put together a list of different ideas of the approach I could take, a list of ideas, and a sample column or two.
I got the green light to do a two sample columns—but I had a lot to learn. My editors didn’t want me to reveal my newbie-ism to readers, but to become an authority on the subject, and quick.
So my husband and I sidled up to the bar at The Only on a slow Tuesday in the middle of winter, and got an impromptu Beer 101 lesson with owner Fabian Skidmore, who said I should speak to Michael Hancock, one of Toronto’s most-venerated brewmasters. Hancock spent two hours on the phone with me, and then I visited him at the brewery. The profile I wrote on him turned out to be my first column, appearing in The Grid’s first issue.
Most writers chronicle a topic for awhile—years maybe—and then, if they’re lucky, they land a column. The Grid took a big chance on me. And that lucky break changed my life.
In the last three years, I’ve written 75 beer columns, a dozen blog posts, and selected seven “Ultimate 24’s.” I’ve reviewed over 200 beers and chronicled the rise of Toronto’s craft brewing scene. The Grid paid for me to learn on the job—funding half of my classes to become a Prud’homme Beer Sommelier, which helped me to pass Certified Cicerone exam (a U.S. beer sommelier credential). As a contributor, I’ve worked with eight different editors—each of whom have taught me valuable lessons on style and story.
Moreover I’ve gotten a passport into the heart of the craft beer scene in Ontario—I’ve learned the most about beer from the brewery owners and employees, bartenders, fellow writers, teachers, and hardcore beer drinkers in Toronto—thank you for the countless hours, access and trust you’ve placed in me to tell your stories. It’s been a trip.
While it is terrible to see The Grid fold and especially the loss of a talented editorial and art team, I’m partly relieved to have a break from a bi-weekly city column. But when it comes to beer, I have no plans to quit. I’m hoping to use the time to write more about beer nationally and internationally, teach and speak about beer across the province, and spend more time online, and a little less in print.
A few months ago I launched Luxy’s Beer News, a free, biweekly e-newsletter to share my beer picks, stories and events, so if you dig delicious beer and hot tips on where to drink it, I’d be honoured if you would subscribe.