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A Brew to Celebrate Beer and Hockey

10/11/2013 11:30 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

From the owner's box at the Bell Centre to the change room at the local rink after a pick-up game in Whitehorse, there is one thing that is clear: beer and hockey go together. So it is no surprise that the NHL Alumni Association reached out to partner with a brewery to produce a beer to celebrate that reality. The great news is they reached out to a rock-solid craft brewer, in Lake of Bays Brewing in Ontario.

They have formed a partnership, and created an easy-drinking beer, Top Shelf Lager, which will have wide distribution in both Canada and parts of the USA. Proceeds from the beer will go to supporting the NHL Alumni and their families, as well as the work they do with children's charities.

What I love most about this, is it would have been easy for a group like the Alumni to go after a partnership with a major brewery. The brewery probably would have stuck the Alumni logo on the label of one of their products, and kicked a bit of money towards the cause. But instead, they chose to reach out to a smaller brewery. One who they could have a true partnership with, creating a special beer just for them (and apparently more to come, connecting former NHL'ers to the line. I am hearing rumours about something with Johnny Bauer).

So now when people reach out for a hockey-themed beer, not only will they be supporting a group who does awesome work, but they will be getting a really great, hand-crafted beer.

I had the opportunity to drink the beer at the launch party this past Tuesday in Toronto, at Wayne Gretzky's (of course). It's a snappy lager, not overly sweet, but with a nice touch of grains. The hops are crisp, and a little herbal and grassy. It has a clean dry finish. A perfect lager to have, whether you have just played in your league game or are settling in for a Saturday night with the CBC. At the party everybody was enjoying the beer, from ex-NHL warriors who towered over me, to the snazzy-dressed PR folks. Even the few beer geeks I found agreed that it was a decent beer, perfect for the market.

As more and more craft brewers enter the industry, we see bigger and more exciting brews becoming available. And I love this, getting big spicy hoppy RPA's and boozy sweet Imperial Stouts. But we are also now getting to a place where there is bigger demand for tasty, great quality, simpler beers, like lagers and cream ales. I was going to say Lake of Bays has hit a home-run on this one, but perhaps it would be better to say they scored a hat-trick. They have produced an excellent beer that will doubtlessly have wide appeal; they have partnered with a group known for supporting former NHL players and doing excellent charitable work; they have created a brand that will engage the public in a way that is new and fresh, and will probably help many people make the jump to excellent craft beer.

So cheers to Lake of Bays and the NHL Alumni Association. Watch for Top Shelf Lager where you buy beer. Distribution is currently rolling out in Ontario, and will be spreading out to other provinces through the fall. Check the Beer Finder app/BeerFinder.ca on your mobile to find the beer near you.