Sunday, 18 June 2017

Nickel Brook... for the love of family

Nickel Brook Brewing owner John Romano did his
part for charity on Saturday when the brewery
hosted a Charity BBQ with ALL funds going to
Ronald McDonald House Canada, a hospice
where sick children from out-of-town can reside
with their families while getting needed medical
treatment from a nearby hospital. The houses
are funded by McDonald's with the large aid of
fundraisers like this one. John and his brother
Peter have a personal connection to this cause.
My hometown homeys, Nickel Brook, has been located at 865 Drury Lane for 25 years now. First they were Better Bitters, a brew-your-own-beer joint with a wine-making component (that still remains) until they evolved into Nickel Brook Brewing back in 2005.

To say they are family-oriented is to understate the case a little. The brewery is named after John Romano's children, Nicholas and Brooke (both of whom I have met working in the brewery during the Summer) and is owned by John and his brother Peter.

So when I started drinking craft beer in the Summer of 2013, the little brewery down the street and around the corner from me has been my go-to craftie as I dare say I might live closer to it than any of the actual employees.

And John is number one on my list of people to discuss the state of craft beer in Ontario. He is a man full of passion about what he, the brewery and the industry itself does and is, frankly, a walking, talking No Bullshit Zone kind of dude. I first met him in November 2013 when I stopped into the brewery to buy some Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout. You see, it had been included in an Ontario Craft Brewers' Mix-Six and since I had tried the other five beers, I figured I'd go straight to the source for the sixth brew.
This photo is less notable for the presence of myself and "Ontario's
Sexiest Cellarman" Tony Cox, right, as it is for the dude who happily
photobombed us in the middle. Frankly, this man made the photo great.

Finding out I worked for the Beer Store (the subject of considerable but always good-natured teasing on his part), he asked how I landed in the brewery. Well, aside from my love for their Headstock IPA (which, to me, will always be brewmaster Ryan Morrow's greatest creation despite countless other outstanding beers), I said simply, "I guess I just think people should shop locally."

That earned me a grateful handshake on the spot, as well as a free growler of Bolshevik Bastard and two-year-aged bottle of Kentucky Bastard bourbon-barrel aged Imperial Stout.
Kayla gives us a million dollar smile as she pours
my pint at the Nickel Brook Fundraising BBQ
on Saturday. Many happy faces filled the day.

Since that day, I have created countless friendships there from Rob Nagy, the man who has filled countless growlers for me as the Bottle Shop manager to the always-smiling Amiee Bellanger, the lovely lady who used to fill my growlers so close to the top that I would have to pour my first glass over the sink. Now happily settled into her new position of their Western Ontario Sales Rep, Aimee is loving the challenges of her job, as well as the people she meets because of it. "We have so much support out there and here today," she happily told me on Saturday. "I love being part of this."

And then there's Tony Cox, voted Ontario's "sexiest cellarman," in an exclusive poll taken by his wife, Charis, and their cats. There's nothing that will create a friendship quite as quickly as a mutual love for Batman and we both have that in spades. But there's more. As Tony reminded me recently, "Do you remember when you and (my son) David came in on March 23rd, 2014 and because it was David's birthday, we had a brewery tour?" To this day, Tony remembers the exact date of my son's birthday! It was David's first craft brewery tour and he loved the shiny equipment so much that he has come with me on countless more brewery tours. Man, he sure loved that canning machine. But then, all chrome and a cool conveyor belt, what's not for a young lad to love?
Tory Lewin, Nickel Brook's trusty Events and
Communication Manager, didn't ask me if I
would be attending their Fundraising BBQ
so much as tell me I would be attending it. Hey,
I was thrilled to take a day off work and join in!

So why did I and countless others descend on the brewery's parking lot on June 17? Well, I, for one, was told explicitly by Tory Lewin, Nickel Brook's Events and Communications Manager, about a month and a half ago that I would be there when they held their Charity Fundraising BBQ. "Are you coming to our fundraiser next month?" she asked me back in early May. Then she proceeded to answer her own question with a big smile. "Yes, you are coming." (Hey, you don't get to be a communication manager until you have honed the fine art of "subtle" persuasion!)

So when I landed at the Charity BBQ, I quickly sat down with Tory to ask her how it all came about. "We've partnered up with the Ronald McDonald Foundation with the whole Cause for a Cause so the whole month of June, 10 cents from every can of Cause and Effect (Blonde Ale) is going to the foundation." So when I asked her how many of the beer I should buy on my way out, she smiled, "Probably at least two cases."

Looking around at the happy crowd, she added, "It's going really well. It's a really great turnout and people are keen on donating to and supporting such a good cause. Look at that nice long line-up at the BBQ and the beer tent. This is just great!"
Chris Biggs and Jason Barr from the popular Biggs
and Barr morning show on 97.7 HTZ-FM out of St.
Catharines were on hand to do live remotes from the
event, as well as help us enjoy some kick-ass tunes. 

But while she was the big "day of event" contributor, setting up the tents, getting the licensing and getting people settled in, she threw the credit for the whole event towards the brewery's Manager of Corporate Sales and Marketing Matt Gibson. "Matt took this project under his wing and really ran with it. I'm here today hopefully helping it go smoothly but Matt was the one who put all the brains behind it."

While most people know this, Ronald McDonald Houses were created so that out-of-town children being treated in the hospital had a comfortable place to stay during treatment. Quite often, the families of the sick children are also put up there. However, what you may not know - because I certainly didn't - is why this charity is so near and dear to the hearts of brewery owners John and Peter Romano.

"Well, it's a sad story," John told me, taking a break from his sweaty BBQ duties. "Peter and I lost a sister to Leukemia many many years ago. We grew up north of Toronto (in Bolton) so Mom and Dad lived at Ronald McDonald House for years. So this is not just a charity we picked. It's a charity that's close to our hearts."
As much as I love my Headstock IPA, I definitely
made room for some Cause & Effect Blonde Ale
this month. Great beer for a greater cause in June.
"At the time, you didn't have to pay (to stay in the hospice) and my parents didn't have any money because they had spent it on other care for my sister." He added that even as a U-Brew 25 years ago, they had a charity box earmarked for the RMHC (Ronald McDonald House Charity) "so for about 10, 12 years (back in those days), we had a BBQ here every year until we got busy with the brewery."

Celebrating their 25th year in the same locale, the Romano brothers decided it was high time to get back into supporting the great work done by RMHC and celebrate it with this event. Every single dollar from the day went directly to the charity.

So was he happy with the turn-out? "Unbelievable! I've been sweating my you-know-what off behind the barbeque and I'm gonna have to go buy more burgers soon! We had a couple of hundred burgers and they're gonna be gone shortly." (For the record, they were delicious.)

But it actually ended up for me being an afternoon of hits and even close misses with some of my social media friends.
That's my Twitter and Instagram pal, Big
Canuck, aka Glen (a close friend of Drunk
Polkaroo) and his lovely wife, Angela. Now
Angela wanted to be sure I got a shot of their
matching sandals. Like me, they were both
big fans of Nickel Brook and this very event.
While I was off to the side, having a cigarette, this mountain of a man came lumbering over. "You're Don Redmond, right?" he asked. Turns out it was my Twitter and Instagram buddy, BigCanuck75, known better in his civilian identity, Glen, and a good friend of Drunk Polkaroo. He was there, enjoying the festivities with his wife, Angela. Now, so you know, Angela went to great lengths to point out that she had bought them identical sandals and while Glen was slow to warm up to the idea, eventually he relented and began wearing his in tandem with her. Because that's what smart husbands do. It's a game called "Yes, Dear!" and we learn to play it quickly for our own safety.

As well as BigCanuck75, another man I often tag on my many Instagram beer photos is Hoppy_Dad, aka Preston Richards in civilian life. Turns out he and I talked and didn't even realize it. While his kids played the bean-bag toss off to the side, I noted to him, "Yeah, they're gonna need more arch on their throws." Because, you know, pro league bean bag toss is all in the wrists. And we watched them play (somewhat successfully) for a few minutes. Not even knowing we knew each other. When BigCanuck75 posted our picture on Instagram (which got 44 likes because of Glen, not me), Preston piped up, "Oh f**k! Noticed you both and it didn't even register!" Next time, my friend, next time...

But someone has to get the final word and I'm leaving that to my buddy, Tony Cox.
Nickel Brook's own Funk Lab, under the watchful eye of
head brewer and "Funkmaster" Patrick Howell has made
a special brew for the LGBTQ community called Proud
As Funk! With Pride Week coming up in Toronto, I made
sure to grab one for me and two for my coworker Trey, a
member of the Pride community. It's a barrel-aged Brown
Flanders which is certain to be as sour as, well, Funk!
Before I left, he made sure that I stopped into the retail to grab some Funk Labs' Proud as Funk!, a barrel-aged Flanders Brown (so as sour as shit!) The brewery created it "to celebrate our friends, family and loved ones and everyone who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community. Love is Love is Love and we hope you'll love this beer as much as we all love you."

That's a pretty nice socially-aware sentiment, I thought and Tony has a big hand in naming it so kudos, brother! That's as clever as... Funk! But let's get back to Tony at the fund-raiser. "It's a good turn-out. Lots of local support here. The BBQ has been doing very good and I understand donations are as well. It's a good day for Nickel Brook and it's a good day for Ronald McDonald House."

And I understood he had a favourite writer there? "Oh yeah, my buddy, Don Redmond..." Really? Get the Funk out!!! But that's Nickel Brook. Even when you're not family, they always make you feel like you are the biggest part of it. I know I feel that way. You don't need to share a last name to be family. Sometimes you just are. As they say, "It takes a village to raise a craft beer lover." But guys and dolls, that's it, that all and I am outta here. Until next time (in a few days), I remain...

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Holy Punch To The Gut, Batman...

Yes, the TV show, Batman, was cheesy, silly, campy and ridiculous but we sure
loved it anyway. Running from 1966-1968, the ABC show collected ridiculously
high ratings as it captivated audience from young children (that would be me)
right up to college students. It was an abrupt turn-about from the DC Batman
comics which portrayed a darker vigilante fighting crime in Gotham City...
I had a quick visit from Mrs Polkaroo, aka Kat, at my Beer Store last weekend. And I feel somewhat badly about it.

You see, she works at nearby Sheridan College and had come over to pick up a few goodies I had rounded up for her hubby, Drunk Polkaroo.

But I was not in the best of moods. When we met, I groused about work, the weather, everything under the sun... everything except what was really bothering me. You see, I quite like my job so it wasn't that. And I love Summer temperatures so it certainly wasn't that.

It was about Adam West and his death at the age of 88 at his California home after a short-lived fight against Leukemia. You see, I learned of his death mere seconds before I hopped into my car for work and I think my mood just got progressively sadder (and a little bit pissier) with each passing mile.

So Kat, I am sorry. I know I wasn't myself but at that precise moment, I didn't know why. I was still trying to come to terms with the sudden death of an icon from my youth. I think at some point later in my shift, I finally clued in. It was just a one day funk but *POW* it kinda hit me hard.
My Nickel Brook homey, Tony Cox, texted me that Julie
Newmar, who portrayed Catwoman on the TV show was
his first love "at the age of six" the day of West's death.
Tony, my man, you aren't alone. This beautiful actress
fanned the interest of many young men during the run.

Adam West was a bit Hollywood player until landing the TV gig for ABC TV's Batman from 1966 to 1968. He has remained a pop cultural touchstone since that day, playing himself as the lunatic Mayor of Quohog, Rhode Island on the raucous and raunchy TV cartoon, Family Guy, and most recently, again, hilariously as himself on TV's hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory. (I'll include a link to that at the end.)

But West's portrayal of the comic book's Dark Knight was not exactly grim and gritty like the subsequent movies were (to excellent effect, I should add.) No, the TV show Batman was as funny and cheesy as hell. The lead actors, West and Burt Ward as Robin delivered the clearly ridiculous, funniest and most groan-worthy lines with perfectly straight faces. I mean, it was the level of "... and that's why every growing boy and girl should eat their vegetables... should buckle up in a car... should do their homework every night." Even as a young kid who was a comic geek at the time, I knew they were playing this for laughs. West himself said the TV show delivered the "Bright Knight" rather than the dark one.
We feel ya, Boy Wonder, we feel ya. The death of
Adam West came as a blow to his legends of fans...

And man, it was a fun ride. By the third and final season, celebrities were literally flocking to the campy series to do guest cameos. It was considered the TV show to be seen on in Hollywood and a real feather in your acting cap if you could get onto it, even briefly. The graphics were bright and cheerful. The tongue-in-cheek humour ran as rampant as the wacky villains through the streets of Gotham City.

The show ran two nights a week with a cliff-hanger ending on Tuesday nights that was quickly resolved at the beginning of Thursday night's episode. The criminals were funny and wayyy over-the-top. In fact, big-time Hollywood actor, Cesar Romero, who played arch-enemy, The Joker, actually refused to shave his trademark moustache for the role so if you look carefully, you can see the make-up people simply put white face paint over top of it, rendering it nearly (but not quite) invisible.
Whenever you saw Batman and Robin climbing a wall on
the show, it was, of course, just the camera turned to a
90 degree angle. But this is how they used to slip big name
celebrities into the TV show - by having them pop out of an
apartment window to happily greet the Caped Crusaders.
Here, the late Edward G Robinson comes out to say hey.

The easiest way for a big Hollywood celebrity to find themselves on the show was the reoccurring scenes of Batman and Robin climbing the wall of a building using their patented Bat-Rope. As they climbed, celebrities would often open up their apartment windows to greet the Dynamic Duo. And hilariously, since the celebrity was not meant to be recognized by the crime fighters, Batman would just refer to them as "Citizen." The celebrities could be funny as hell but Ward and West would continue to play the scene as straight-laced as possible. It made for some wickedly funny moments. As a kid, I was always wondering which celebrity would pop out a window next during the show. The second the scene showed them climbing or descending on the Bat-Rope, you knew it was gonna happen. I didn't always know the celebrity but man, I sure loved the bit.

So yeah, I was a little off my game when I learned of West's passing on Saturday. Some blows land a lot harder than the ones Batman use to lay on the chins of the Riddler's henchmen (*BAM*) and the loss of a childhood hero tops that list.

Muskoka, you were SO close to the perfect
name for your latest Moonlight Kettle beer.
Come on, Cool Hand Cuke would have been
perfect! Have your people call my people and
we'll start hashing out names for the next ones.
And hey, here's a Little Known Bat-Fact: chisel-jawed Hollywood hunk Lyle Waggoner (The Carol Burnett Show) screen-tested for the role but lost out to the more, well, doughy-in-the-middle West because of all the actors who auditioned, West was the only one who could deliver the ridiculous lines with a straight face.

But you know, when you get bummer news like this, you need something to perk you up a little. And Holy Hops, Barley, Water and Yeast, Batman, who better to do that than the Merry Masters of Mayhem at Muskoka Brewery in Bracebridge?

As you probably know, the brewery has been busy all year with its Moonlight Kettle Series. Each month, there's a new offering. But they went off-script for their Summer Survival Pack, created a specialty beer just for that - no month assigned, just a season, the Summer. Into the Summer mixer was Cool As Cuke Pale Ale. Out was Mad Tom IPA. Wait... WHAT??? Holy betrayal of the unholiest kind, Batman! It's like they swapped out Sidney Crosby for some untested rookie! When the 12-packs landed at my Beer Store, I texted Drunk Polkaroo, who was at the official launch of the new seasonal mixer with Kat in Toronto at the end of March and asked him, "What up wit' dat, Polk?"

"When we were at the release party last week, I asked them about that particular beer. I understand their thinking, they're going for a more summer patio vibe," he explained.
Madman Across The Water? And is Mad
Tom like angry-mad or insane-mad? That's
never really been explained although after
dealing with him personally on Twitter, I
strongly suspect it's a bit of both worlds.
Without... Mad... Tom? Holy Hangin' Offence... in some countries. So I told Polk that hey, I might create my own Muskoka Summer Survival Pack and put in such stalwarts as Mad Tom, Twice As Mad Tom Double IPA, the spicy delight Legendary Oddity, the Hazed and Confused Vermont Style IPA (May's Moonlight Kettle offering) and "two players to be named later."

And when that happens, well, Muskoka's marketing monkeys "would rue the day they messed with Mad Tom!" (Yeah, I said "rue." I went there. Meant it too.) Polk said I should consider calling my mixer, "Don's Survive With Tom and Friends Pack." I like that. It sings to me. Expect that blog soon enough.

So let's look at this interloper, Cool as Cuke Pale Ale, shall we? Okay, Houston, we have a problem. This is actually a pretty tasty Summer beer. (Dammit! This would be much easier if it sucked.) And actually, "untested rookie" isn't accurate as they brought the Cuke out of retirement for this mixer. Turns out the brewery dumped 350 litres (92 gallons) of fresh cucumber juice into every batch of Cool as Cuke, making roughly 4% of the batch actual cucumber juice. Wanna guess what it tastes like? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?
When I posted a Muskoka Winterweiss versus a Muskoka
Summerweiss in a Weiss Guy Showdown, an additional
poll by my Beer Buddy Hago certainly had an interesting
result as two people voted for a style that doesn't exist...
Also in the mix is Lemongrass but frankly, I'm not sure what that actually tastes like. Lemony? Grassy? A lemon-grass attack? Don't laugh. It happened to my neighbour.

The 4.7%, 30 IBU (international bitterness units) tastes a lot like cucumber (you probably saw that coming, eh?) with a bit of citrus and was definitely a refreshing, light Summer brew. But dammit, it's no Mad Tom. I was in the Vietcong trenches with Mad Tom and there was no man named Cuke in our unit. (Might have been just a bizarre dream. Who knows?)

So I went directly to the man, Mad Tom himself, the only IPA in Ontario with his own Twitter account (@MuskokaMadTom) and asked about his exclusion.
Why does Captain America look pissed? Because Mad
Tom IPA isn't in the Muskoka Summer Survival Pack.
But, well, that's their outstanding Legendary Oddity
in the glass so maybe it's just a bad rash or something.
Now the thing about Mad Tom on Twitter, as both Beer Buddy Hago and I have learned is that he likes to yell at you. He answers everything in ALL CAPS. So if you ask him something, don't expect pleasantries. After all, his account says, "My name isn't Nice Tom. You've been warned." Naturally, Hago and I ask him the stupidest things we can imagine so that he'll yell at us.

So I asked him flat-out on Twitter: "Why aren't you in the Summer Survival Pack?" His response: "THEY COULDN'T AFFORD MY PRICE!" Fair enough. He probably has a manager to pay, as well as a publicist, four ex-wives and a 20-something Swedish masseuse named Helga.

But Hago and I have run afoul of the man many times, including recently when Hago gifted me with a kick-ass Muskoka giant goblet glass and I excitedly posted a picture of my new glass filled with a tallboy of Mad Tom on Twitter. Mad Tom took one look and barked: "WHAT, DRINKING OUT OF THE CAN SUDDENLY ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU?"
How many 341-ml (11.5 ounces) bottles of Mad Tom IPA
does it take to fill my bitchin' new Muskoka glass? Glad
you asked. It takes one and about five-sixths bottles. So
okay, that is one big-ass glass. Also my new favourite...

Granted, Hago didn't fare any better. When Muskoka asked how they were going to give me a hard time about now since I owned their glassware, one of Hago's "helpful" answers was that "Don's loud and old like Muskoka Mad Tom." That earned him a "BETTER THAN YOUNG AND DUMB!" from Mad Tom. Naturally, Hago chose to see the positive side in this response (because I'm pretty positive that Hago is a pretty positive dude) and excitedly posted, "Hey, Don, Mad Tom thinks I'm young!"

But perhaps the funniest moment regarding Muskoka recently came without input from either the brewery or the man himself. About a week or so ago, I posted a picture of Muskoka's Winterweiss and their Summerweiss side-by-side and asked simply, "Which is better?"

Hago decided to take it a small step further by jokingly attaching a poll and saying, "I'm making it a poll with additional suggested weisseses! Cheers!"
Not this time, Mr West/Wayne. It seems 2016
was your last. Sorry to see you go, old chum...
Now I'm glad Hago added the poll. I don't know how to do that poll thing on Twitter because I'm... what's that word?... oh yeah, stupid. But he offered up the choices of: Summerweiss, Winterweiss, Springweiss and Fallweiss. The problem? There's no such thing as Springweiss and Fallweiss. Hago made them up. The other problem? Out of 13 votes, Fallweiss got two for 15% of the vote. Summerweiss swept the other 11. Deservedly so in this case but I'm a little disheartened that their Winterweiss, a damn solid beer, couldn't beat an imaginary one. "C'est la guerre" ("That's war") as Mad Tom and I said in those Vietcong trenches.

Anyway, add Muskoka Mad Tom to your Twitter if you wanna have some grouchy old good fun. And if he embarrasses you, just remember that it's not as bad as that time you offered the pregnant lady your seat on the bus. Except she wasn't pregnant. And you weren't on the bus. She was your boss and you were, like, super-high at work, wheeling around on your chair. And she is actually not a woman but a guy. (Don't do this! I was in HR for over a week.) But guys and dolls, I will be back in a couple of days so stay cool in this blessed heat. Finally. And Adam West? You were the best, old chum! Check him out on The Big Bang Theory in a link I can only call: What's An Affleck? Until then, I remain...

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Sgt Pepper was a Canadian cop...

The actual Beatles, front and centre, with a bunch of old-timey celebrity
cardboard cut-outs surrounding them. At the time, I only recognized a
few of them - Marilyn Monroe, WC Fields, Tony Curtis, Marlon Brando
 and that was about it. Later, of course, they would all be identified in
 in great length but we also learned that just above the word Beatles in
flowers were marijuana sprouts. Those boys liked to get their buzz on!
It was fifty years ago today... Sgt Pepper taught the band to play... 

June 1st marked something of a big anniversary in the music industry as it was the 50th year to the day that The Beatles released their seminal, ground-breaking Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album on June 1, 1967.

I was just a little kid at the time and didn't realize the significant of the album. I probably wasn't all that into music just yet. I knew The Beatles were a pretty big deal but frankly, at that age, I was far more concerned about how Spider-Man was going to beat Doctor Octopus. I mean, with those killer metal arms and shit? How do you beat that? (For those keeping score, yeah, Spider-Man did beat him. He always beat him.) Hell, at that age, I probably still thought girls had "kooties." It would take decades for me to learn that kooties are actually called STD's.
On the inside sleeve of the album, that OPP badge on
Paul McCartney's shoulder, given to him by OPP
officer, Sgt Randall Pepper, couldn't be clearly made
out and many thought it said OPD. That all became
part of the whole "Paul is dead" conspiracy theory
because that could only mean "Officially pronounced
dead," right? Like I said, lots of drugs back there in
the 1960s. Fortunately, they stuck around for the 70s.

But despite being a big Beatles fan for decades now and knowing this album front to back, there was something I didn't know. Sgt Pepper was an actual guy. An OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) sergeant from Aurora named Randall Pepper who headed up the unit that was assigned to protect The Beatles for their 24 hours in Toronto during their 1966 tour.

Now as it turned out, this Sgt Pepper was a pretty straight-laced, no-nonsense kind of guy who, frankly, thought The Beatles looked like a bunch of girls with their long hair. However, noted Canadian rock historian Alan Cross told CTV News on June 1 that "for whatever reason, he was charmed by The Beatles and The Beatles were also charmed by him."

So that OPP patch on the shoulder of McCartney's jacket for the outfits they wore on the album cover? Well, he and the other three Beatles were given them by Pepper and his comrades. So there you go. A Canadian police officer played a pivotal role in what many historians considered to be one of, if not the greatest rock albums ever produced in the last century.

But it's interesting. While this all seems very dated, perhaps it's a little more timeless than we thought. At the Tim Horton's I go to, there is always this easel with a framed photo or painting on it. People bid on it, starting at $200, with the eventual winning bid going directly to the new Oakville Hospital.
As the sun sets at the cottage during Boys Weekend, I got
this shot of Redline Brewhouse's Aggressive Jazz Hands
in the Official Boys Weekend tribute glass from South
River's own, Highlander Brew Co. What a bomb-blast!
Those framed photos are almost always of big-name hockey players. But one time a few weeks back, it was a great picture of The Beatles performing live. A boy, around 10 or so, and his two younger siblings were examining the picture as their Mom lined up for treats. "Do you know who they are?" I asked him. "Yeah," he smiled, "they're called The Beatles." Good job, I told him but "can you name any of them?" He named all four - first names only, mind you but all four correctly. One smart kid.

Okay, this is a beer blog and thus, I should do that transition. But before I get to my first beer, Redline Brewhouse's blend of a Belgian strong ale and Imperial IPA called Aggressive Jazz Hands, a quick word about Buzzed-Out Gorilla Hands. You see, The Beatles called in an orchestra to create the final crescendo for a song called "A Day in the Life." But they really didn't know what they were looking for. So they asked all these respected orchestra members to wear gorilla hands or clown noses and other weird-ass stuff like that. Then the late John Lennon addressed his distinguished guests by saying, "What I'd like to hear is a tremendous build-up from nothing up to something absolutely like the end of the world."
"Hulk... Get Smashed!!" Once again, Stone
Brewing out of Escondido, California, proves
they can brew no wrong. Their Vertical Epic,
a Belgian-style Strong Ale and a yearly release
offers up a glass full of spicy, tangy goodness.
At that exact point, I have absolutely no doubt that the bassoonist leaned over to the cellist and whispered, "I don't know what drug this Liverpool scouser is on but I would like to try some..."

Okay, beer time and as mentioned, we're starting with another beauty out of Redline Brewhouse in Barrie. Their brewmaster, Sebastian MacIntosh, clearly loves to tinker, blended different styles in barrels, vats, the kitchen sink... just another Brewing Mad Scientist. So he created a house ale using a Belgian Abbey yeast strain before mixing it with a proper West Coast Imperial IPA. It could have been a train-wreck as styles don't always mesh... but it wasn't. Quite the opposite, in fact. At 8.3% but just 43 IBUs (international bitterness units), they has that huge whiff of spiciness coupled with pineapple but is all IPA on the citrus and pine finish. Of the three beers I gave former coworker and hop-lovin' Jay-Dawg in a Redline Mix-Six, this was his hands-down favourite over Air Ride IPA and Going Going Back Back to Cali Cali IPA. All three are excellent but he liked that this one just had that extra little bit of juicy creativity.

Okay, we were talking about a Belgian Strong Ales so let's continue to stomping down that familiar path... unless it involves hiking because screw that. Sounds like physical fitness which has nothing to do with me fittin' dis big-ass beer down my massive pie-hole.
The reflection of the sun on the top of this bottles of Sunlight
Park Grapefruit Saison from Left Field Brewery based in
Toronto makes a very powerful statement. And this Spring, that
statement would be, "Holy shit, the sun is out! No rain today?"
Well, what can I tell you about Stone Brewing that you don't already know? They're based in Escondido, California. They make craft beer. And those beers are always excellent. See? I told you I had nothing new.

Except maybe this. Way back on February 2nd, 2002 (hence the 02-02-02 on the label), they created this big boozy Belgian Strong Ale called Vertical Epic and it was such a hit with the craft-lovin' guzzlers that they keep going back to that vat every year. This one was released to celebrate the 20th anniversary late in 2016 and it was certainly cause for celebration. Meant to be an Imperial Belgian Wit of sorts, I'll confess I got no bubble-gum or banana (traditional wheat aromas) on the nose of this 7.5%, 40 IBU ale but man, there was some fresh-ground pepper in there, citrus and a flowery scent. On the tongue, the pepper disappeared but there was a complex mix of melon, orange, more citrus, a bit of wine and a very dry finish. It wasn't barrel-aged (to my knowledge) but had some of those elements to it. A big ol' beer from a long-trusted and respected source.
As my first ever offering from Hamilton's Clifford
Brewing, I made sure I put this Pinball Wizard into
the glass of their city-mates, Collective Arts Brewing.
The Pale Ale won a bronze at the 2014 Canadian
Brewing Awards and is a pretty solid little brew.

Well, here in Southern Ontario, it looks like we are finally turning the seasonal corner. This year, April Showers did not turn into May Flowers. Instead, it turned into Twice As Much Damn Rain As April followed by Flooding Everywhere. When hard-right politicians tell us climate change is a hoax and that God will protect the Earth, I think God's answer in May was, "Better build an ark then." And also, "Don't hang that climate change crap on Me! For the love of Me, I sent you scientists!"

But with the change in the season to Summer, that means it's time for a Saison, which is, of course, French for season. So let's go to our friends at the baseball-obsessed Left Field Brewing in Toronto and their Sunlight Park Grapefruit Saison. To quote Crocodile Dundee, "Noice!" Also to quote him further, "You call that a knife? This is a Saison!" (I may have that one wrong.) Turns out Sunlight Park was an actual baseball diamond built in Toronto way back in 1886. The stands, everything - all made of wood. The bats? Wood. The urinals? Wood. The Ark? Wood. It's not coincidence. But this was a beauty of a light Summer beer. I find saisons are just that much nicer with a fruit twist and, well, grapefruit, you can't go wrong there. At 5.3% and 22 IBUs, you smell both the wheat on the malt and the grapefruit zing on the tongue. A home run.
I have had exactly one blueberry ale in the past and it
pretty much put me off the fruit beer style for a long while.
But then along comes Ottawa's Broadhead Brewing with
their Bodacious Blueberry Blonde and I was back in there.

I finally had a beer out of Clifford Brewing in Hamilton and where better to start than their award-winning Pinball Wizard American Pale Ale? This was strong out of the gate, despite being a little on the high side for a pale ale at 5.7% and 55 IBUs. That said, you'll never hear me complain about big numbers. If I can count them on my hands and if necessary, my toes, you're well within reason as far as I'm concerned. Okay, my favourite pale ale of the year thus far is Redline's Clutch Pale Ale. Did this knock it off the throne? No, it did not. Did this throw up some stiff competition? Yes, I will say that. It's got citrus, pine and juicy fruits on the nose, a little heavy-handed on the back end's breadiness but all in all, a damn fine beer. My beer writing buddy, Drunk Polkaroo, swears by their porter so that's up next. But this was pretty solid. Nice job.
I posted this picture on Facebook with a one-word caption
that said simply: "BEERD". This brewer with Verboten
Brewing in Loveland, Colorado got pretty damn creative
with his beard, I thought. While most women chirped in
with "Ew!" my old high school buddy, Brian, who now
lives in that state, chipped in with "Verboten is just up
the road from me! Great beer! Gotta love the beerd!
Very Colorado beer!" Ladies, much better than "Ew!"

Okay, I don't write much about fruit beers and there's a reason. The style is usually gross and sickly sweet. Truth to tell, I avoid pumpkin beers altogether and I'm not even sure pumpkins are a fruit. They're just scary, hallowed-out conduits that channel the spirit of the anguished lost souls.... and frankly, I wish my grandfather had never told me that at the age of five. I think he was trying to see which of us would die of a heart attack first. I mean, he did but still... geez.

So let's turn to our Ottawa friends at Broadhead Brewing and their Bodacious Blueberry Blonde Ale. The only other time I had a blueberry ale (I think Waterloo made it), I poured that crap down the drain after two sips. The toilet might have been a more appropriate receptacle but I was hoping it would clean the pipes. So I was pretty damn impressed when this not only made the grade but set the bar for fruit beers. Yeah, the blueberry was strong enough on the nose that I was concerned but the second I cautiously sipped the 5%, 12 IBU ale, I felt vindicated. The blueberry was still there, backed up some nice carbonation, but not overpoweringly so. It was tart and tangy and damn tasty! Excellent work, Broadhead! And hey, a little bit of every style in this one.

Okay, if 2016 prepared us for anything, it was celebrity deaths. I'll be back in a couple of days to deal with the loss of TV's Batman Adam West. And talk about beer. But man, this one hurts. Bad! But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...

Friday, 9 June 2017

Beau's knows... customer service!

Bo knows baseball. Bo also knows football. But what doe Bo NOT know?
Well, when it came to playing the guitar, seems Bo "don't know Diddly"
Back in the 1980s, there was a remarkable American athlete named Bo Jackson that some of you may or may not remember.

So athletically-gifted was this fellow that he played major league baseball with the Kansas City Royals and football with the NFL's Los Angeles Raiders. At the same time. It was an astonishing feat.

So Nike decided to capitalize on his notoriety with a funny series of "Bo Knows" commercials. In the commercials, different athletes confirmed that Bo knows their sport.
Does Bo know Beau's? No, Bo don't know
Beau's. We don't even know what the hell
Bo don't know. But does Beau's know Bo?
We don't know! It's all very confusing...
The first and best-known one had LA Dodger Kirk Gibson saying, "Bo knows baseball." Then quarterback Jim Everett saying, "Bo knows football." Then it was Michael Jordan saying, "Bo knows basketball." By the time, they got to John McEnroe, he looked at the camera and asked, "Bo knows tennis?" Showing footage of Jackson struggling on skates, Wayne Gretzky just shook his head and said, "No." And then various other athletes chimed in about how "Bo knows" their sports. But the big closer was footage of Jackson on stage, just mangling a guitar solo with the legendary Bo Diddly looking on. So Diddly closed the training shoe commercial with his classic line. "Bo... you don't know diddly." I'll include a link to it at the end because it was a brilliant and humourous bit of advertising. They packed a lot into one minute.

But the one thing Bo didn't know? Customer service. You see, while he was in the business of selling shoes, he was not in the shoe selling business, if you follow. Because in retail and manufacturing, you have to know customer service and if there's one craft brewery that knows that, it's Beau's All Natural Brewery in tiny Vankleek Hills, Ontario. That's right, gang, Beau's knows.
Beau's had a couple of questions for me after I posted this
picture of their new Full Time IPA with my son's Ant-Man
bobblehead. Oddly, their question wasn't "What does an
Ant-Man bobblehead have to do with our beer?" Strange.
You see, as I have previously mentioned on here, Beau's released their Full Time IPA just last month. It has been a huge hit with every craft beer lover I know. My Beer Store initially received 24 of them. However, coworker Jonny and I loved the beer so much, we drank a combined 20 of them. We stopped so that customers could have some, too, but frankly, it was with reluctance. So I got on the horn to Beau's last week and ordered another 48. They landed in the store this Monday. There, I've done my part. As far as I'm concerned, it's Open Season again on Full Time IPA.

But after one of my multiple postings of the beer on Twitter, they politely asked me to email their customer service address. I had no idea why but I'm a very compliant sort of fellow so, of course, I did.
When Paul The Beer Guy and Hago both landed at 5
Paddles Brewing in Whitby on the same day, it was
selfie time! I told Hago if this was one of his Marvel
comics, the title would be "When Titans Collide!"
Quite quickly, a very nice lady named Emilie got back to me and said, "Thanks for reaching out. I am SO glad to hear you love the Full Time IPA as much as we do! I noticed in the photo you posted (that) it looked like there may have been some sediment in the glass. Is this the camera tricking us? Dry-hopped, unfiltered beers such as this tend to have more sediment than a lagered-ale, such as Lug-Tread. If there was indeed sediment in the beer, could you provide us with the batch number and the production date for our Quality Assurance Team?" She signed off by saying, "Thank you for being such a supportive fan!"

I had posted a couple of pictures so I kinda had to figure out which one. In the end, I guessed Emilie must have been talking about the above one with the bobblehead Ant-Man in the scene because, hey, who doesn't love Ant-Man? Especially ants. They really dig the guy. But the photo was taken indoors on my stove during one of those many rain-soaked days in May. I got quickly back to her and assured her, no, it was just a really crappy photo. When it comes to beer pictures, I'm not even half as good as Drunk Polkaroo. At my very best, I'm maybe a Drunk Po. (That's Po, not Ho! Geez, people!)
At long last, courtesy of Beer Buddy Hago, I can
enjoy my Mad Tom IPAs in a proper Muskoka
Brewery glass! Actually, this bad boy is huge!

But I was hugely impressed that they monitor not only their beer but even pictures of their beer with that kind of diligence. This is why we love our Ontario craft beer breweries because like I said, Beau's Knows... customer service! Well done, gang.

Okay, this outing is gonna be a catch-up one because I am so far behind on my beers that if I was actually capable of feeling a sense of shame, I would. But, meh, no, not really. But before I get to the beers, I had a great meeting with my Beer Buddy Hago in Barrie on Sunday afternoon. You see, I had a Collective Arts Brewing Spiegelau IPA glass for him and he has a big, beautiful Muskoka Brewing goblet for me. It was like a World War Two prisoner exchange. Except, you know, with glasses. And frankly, I could not wait to get home and pour a Mad Tom IPA into it.

When I posted that picture on Twitter, Muskoka was at a bit of a loss. They responded, "What are we going to give you a hard time about now?"  Fortunately, Hago was there to help them out, responding instantly. "He hasn't been to the brewery yet... he's got grey hair... he's old and loud like Mad Tom... and he'll break the glass soon enough."  Well, you can tell Hago is a military man.
You see this beautiful glass? Hago now has one just
like it. And since the Spiegelau is made from very
thin, delicate glass, I suspect I'll be replacing his
Collective Arts glass before he has to replace my

Muskoka beauty, which is built like a tank. Solid!
Why, just look at all the ammo he had readily available. However, lemme tell you something else Bo Knows. You have two pretty, outgoing and very sweet teenage daughters. Lovely girls. So Bo Knows... you gonna have your own damn grey hair very soon!!

Another part of the Prisoner Glass Exchange involved us swapping beers. Right now, I has his gifts chilling in my fridge. That said, I have enjoyed but not yet reviewed some of the beers I passed his way. So let's start there. And that lands us squarely on the doorstep of Hamilton's own Collective Arts Brewing.

Because Hago is a huge sour fan, I snagged him a deuce of their new Prophets and Nomads Gose, the latest sour offering from the gang. He recently gave it the big thumbs-up on Twitter and it's not hard to see why. I got some really nice spice and orange on the nose of it and the 4.5% brew slid down like a light, salty Summer Sipper. A light touch of lemon on the tongue. Very tasty. When all those brewers were saying a few years back that sours would be the style that knocked IPAs off the throne, I think they were talking about mostly about Goses. This seems to be the sour style that is getting the most experimentation.
If you are at a cottage and you don't use the lake
as a background for your photos, well, then, you
are wasting everyone's time and should just
drive straight home. That said, using my new
Highlander glass for all my pictures on Boys
Weekend as a tribute to South River, just look
at the colour on Four Fathers Brewing's The
Starter Session IPA. Man, this is a deep hue!

That said, let's take a drive to IPA Town now where things are always... *looks around to make sure no one's paying attention*... hopping. (Sorry.)

Okay, Four Fathers Brewing out of Rockwood, Ontario (near Guelph) was created by, quite literally, four hockey fathers who joined forces while watching their sons play the game together. (Believe it or not, there is another Four Fathers Brewing, operating out of Valparaiso, Indiana - no hockey involved there.) The Dads bonded because when you are up at 5 am for a damn hockey game (been there, done that), what the hell else are you going to do at that ungodly hour? It's not like the bars are open.

Opening back in 2015, the brewery has three core beers - The Starter Session IPA, Wee Gobshite Red Rye Pale Ale (yes, please!!) and the Shevchenko Ukrainian Dunkel with another 10 or so seasonals. After luring brewer Kevin Freer away from Wellington Brewing, the group first concentrated on local distribution before eventually canning some product and getting it into the LCBO.  The first such offering was their The Starter Session IPA. I grabbed one for both myself and Hago because, hey, untested beer! First of all, look at the deep colour of this brew! It looks more like an amber ale. Clocking in at a reasonable 4.8% and 40 IBUs (international bitterness units), you do get a fair whack of citrus on the nose but the colour does not lie as you get some hefty caramel on the back end.
I stole this picture from Hago and I don't
even feel bad about it. I mean, yeah, he
could sue me but hey, I've been divorced
twice so my sole possessions are pretty
meager. I mean, beside a massive comic
book collection that dates back to the
mid-1970s, I don't have mu... OH SHIT,
that's exactly what Hago would want!
As their beers go, this was a very solid... uh... starter. I quite enjoyed it but I have my eyes on that Wee Gobshite (great name) Red Rye Pale Ale. That is my sought-after religious artifact for the upcoming Summer! "My name is King Donald and I seek the Holy Grail..."

Okay, let's move down the highway to Barrie's Redline Brewhouse where Hago and I caught up. It is also home to our friend, the lovely and talented Kaitlyn K, who is a far superior hockey player to Bo Jackson though not quite at Wayne Gretzky level. Maybe the white chick version of PK Subban. I bet she's just as chirpy and free with the stickwork along the boards. Also like PK, I hope KK wins the Stanley Cup.

Beers, dammit, Don, get back to the frikkin' beers! Oh, right. Okay, I had three Redline IPAs in my sights on the way up to the cottage last weekend because I have been lusting over them. Their Going Going Back Back to Cali Cali IPA, their Air Ride IPA and their Aggressive Jazz Hands, a hybrid of an Imperial IPA and a strong ale. I'll deal with two of them today because I don't want anyone suffering from IPA Overload like I did on the Boys Weekend. (It was touch-and-go but I pulled through... I'm such a trooper.)

Hago contacted me before I left Burlington and told me I had to grab some Air Ride on the way up as it's not often available. So I did. Sometimes life is exactly that simple. And Good Golly Miss Molly, I am sure as hell glad I did. This 6.1%, 67 IBU brew is beautifully balanced with huge orange rind and melon on the nose, followed by the same with a tweak of lemon-lime on the tongue. A velvety slide down the throat. Two thumbs up!
A beer so nice, I poured it twice!! The Going Going Back Back To Cali
Cali was a collaboration between Cameron's Brewing in Oakville and
Redline. But because it was brewed in Barrie, it was only available up
there because of Ontario's laws. But the story behind the beers is almost
as interesting as the beer itself. It involves the rapper Notorious B.I.G.

Okay, time to talk about this collaboration on Going Going Back Back To Cali Cali IPA, created by Redline brewer Seb MacIntosh and Cameron's brewer Curtis Jeffrey. You see, the young guns were roommates while attending brewers college and as such, shared an affinity for rap, particularly the late Notorious B.I.G. who penned a hit song called exactly that. Obviously the lyrics stuck in the guys' heads because here we are several years later with this beer.

Noted Jeffrey in a press release, "For Seb and I, this beer has been years in the making. (In college), BIGGIE was a big part of the soundtrack of the time we spent dreaming of brewing beer together."
The Netflix series about the Marvel superhero, Luke Cage, used the photo
of Notorious B.I.G, aka Biggie, aka Biggie Smalls, wearing a crown to
great visual effect in the office of Harlem crimelord Cottonmouth (actor
Mahershala Ali). To show his importance in the crime community, the
actor often stood in front of the picture with the crown haloing his head.

Added MacIntosh, "We used a blend of classic west coast hops like Simcoe and Columbus, along with newer varietals like Azacca ad Idaho #7 for big notes of mango, peach and resinous pine. In true BIGGIE fashion, we went a bit over the top and added in some pungent Chinook HopHash to bring a very powerful pine and citrus character to this beer."

So did they succeed? Oh yeah, Cali Cali is hella hella tasty tasty. Using Cali Ale yeast, there was a lot of fresh mango on the nose of this 6.1%, 82 IBU brew with the kick-ass amount of citrus and pine on the tongue.

Said brewer Jeffrey, "This beer was inspired by the common link between a song we love and a style of beer we both enjoy."
Hey, isn't that Bill Coleman, president and co-owner of Cameron's
Brewing, tooling around Oakville in his Cameron's-Mobile? Why, yes,
it is!! Bill popped into my Beer Store this week and while there, he and
I had a great talk about the successful rebranding of his core beers last
year. If you have tried them yet, you are missing out on something great.
Can't argue with that because both Hago and I have enjoyed the hell outta this one, too.

Okay, that Aggressive Jazz Hands is such a big beer that it has to wait until next time which will be very soon because it's either that or clean my place. The choice is pretty easy.

But before I go, I would like to take a moment and show that I am more than capable of taking the high road with my friends. As you may remember Muskoka Brewing asked how they were gonna make fun of me now that I had one of their glasses, Hago jumped in with lots of suggestions. Further into that conversation, Hago said about the large goblet, "I love that glass, It has ample room for my giant schnoze." Please note that I simply liked his comment, rather than respond, "No way, man. It's a beer glass, not a grain silo on a Saskatchewan wheat farm!" I didn't say that because I'm ever-so-classy. (Hago, see you in a few weeks with some Nickel Brook treats.) And yeah, I promised that Bo Knows commercial so here it is: Bo Knows Everything... Except Hockey But, guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Unless next time, I remain...

Monday, 5 June 2017

Boys Weekend boosted by Highlander

I have arrived at the Promised Land - Highlander
Brew Co. in South River, Ontario. After a haitus,
Boys Weekend resumed this past weekend and I
finally got the chance to meet my brewmaster
buddy, Brian Wilson. This new brewery is a
huge step-up up from the old set-up, being about
four times the size. Never saw the original one.
Sometimes those Facebook "On This Day" notices can be tough to swallow. I mean, 95% of the time, they're genuinely fond memories. But the other 5% of the time, it's like Facebook is deliberately trying to crack you.

"Hey, remember that girlfriend from 10 years ago that you were madly in love with before she broke your heart? Well, here's a picture from that time you two vacationed in Mexico. Man, she was pretty hot, eh?"

"Remember that beautiful dog you worshipped with all your heart? Yeah, he's dead but here's his picture. You have no dog now."

Facebook can be a real bitch at times. But there was one particular set of photos that kept popping up in May and then resurfacing in October. Pictures from Boys Weekend in tiny South River, Ontario at the cottage of my buddy, Bill, on picturesque Eagle Lake. You see, for about a decade, a group of guys, usually about eight of us, went up to put the docks in every Spring and remove them in the late Fall. It was, as you can well imagine, a weekend rife with Poker, beer, Euchre tournaments, Scotch, nudie magazines and general guys-being-slobs-because-the-wives-weren't-around behaviour.

For two weekends a year, our inner Al Bundys came out to belch. Oh sure, there were Couples Weekends there, too, but nothing could match the sheer stupidity invoked on the Boys Weekend.

But Boys Weekend kinda fell to the wayside about six years ago. I'm not 100% certain why. Maybe some of the guys had a falling out. Maybe there was a spat between some wives. Maybe there were health issues. Or maybe some guys just had other things to do.

But those constant "On This Day" reminders of wild weekends on Eagle Lake were irksome for two of us - myself and our Barrie buddy, Kevin. Whatever the issues were, Kevin and I knew we had nothing to do with it. So we started poking Bill to reinstate Boys Weekend.
A reflection in time. That's Kevin lounging in the chair, me on
the back left, taking the picture and looking quite resplendent
in my Batman T-Shirt, flannel overshirt and Toronto Maple
Leaf pajama pants and in a nifty bit of foreshadowing, Bill, on
the right with a lampshade from indoors haloing his outdoor
head. An eagle-eyed friend, other Bill, noticed the lampshade.
And it worked. This past weekend, four of us - myself, Kevin, Bill and Brett - all splashed down on Eagle Lake for the first Boys Weekend in many years. About half the crew of former years but frankly, who gives a shit? Boys Weekend was always larger than the sum of its parts.

My secondary reason wanting Boys Weekend back is that South River is home to Highlander Brew Co. You see, several years back, brewmaster Brian Wilson and I struck up a friendship over private messages on Twitter as he mans the account. We talked about everything craft-beer-related under the sun and he seemed like a cool dude. Now before I go any further, I would like to point out Brian has no association with the pop group, The Beach Boys. Our Brian is Canadian of Scottish descent while the other Brian is American of Emotional Meltdown descent. Different dudes.

While Kevin and Bill had both landed at Eagle Lake on Thursday night, I arrived Friday early afternoon. Kevin had taken off to North Bay for some sales calls for the dental implant company which employs him, leaving Bill to meet me in South River. But the boys had enjoyed a bit of libations the night before, splitting somewhere between five and seven bottles of wine just between themselves. (The estimation of how many bottles fluctuated with each telling of the story.) So when I caught up with Bill on Saturday, one look at his weary eyes told me I was dealing with a hurtin' unit. That would soon change at Highlander.

In actual fact, the first person I saw as I came through the door was none other than Brian Wilson. He wasn't expecting me until Saturday, his day off, and was expecting to return.
Having heard that we have never had a
Beer Mimosa, the wonderful Leah set us
each up with one, using orange juice and
the ultra-carbonated Pipers Loch Pale Ale
So my Friday arrival worked perfectly for him. And he was eager to give us a tour of his brewery's new digs.

You see, Highlander opened back in 2009 in a smaller building somewhere around Eagle Lake. Having gone to his cottage since the age of five, Bill knew the exact location of the former brewery. I didn't have a clue. But last year, they started to build a new brewery right on Hwy 124, the two-lane road that runs down the main street in first Sundridge and then South River. It opened last October. The difference between the two, Brian told me as we toured, was the old one sat at about 2,400-square-feet. The new one? Over 10,000-square-feet. "We just couldn't keep up with the demand our brewery capacity allowed at the old place," Brian said. The new fermenting vats increased by the same volume and countless new ones were added. Now we're talkin'...

While Bill, a Scotch and wine drinker, marveled at the inner workings of a brewery, he told Brian that he and his wife, Sharon, were in on the May 24th weekend and while they roamed the front area of the brewery at will, they weren't offered a brewery tour. "Yeah, that's because you didn't come with this guy," laughed Brian, nodding towards me. That's me - I'm This Guy! Or That Guy. Just call me Guy.

Initially, finding the new brewery was easy enough. It is now the most physically-imposing structure on that little strip of Hwy 124. "You can't miss it," Bill told me. "It's huge, black and the only new building on the street for 50 years."
That's why I'm... guarding the vat... just like Brian Wilson does... 
It took us a few years but I finally connected with Highlander brewer
extraordinaire Brian Wilson. He gave Bill and myself the full VIP
tour and we got to sample some pretty special beers! Great time...
But when the tour was over, Brian had a special treat for us. You see, the brewery just created a specialty line named after the four seasons - Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn. Each is its own unique style and while they are pricey at $20 per 750-ml (25 ounce) bottles, they are extremely limited runs - under 500 bottles made of each.

And right now in their fridge, among other treats, are the Winter and Spring ones. So out came the corkscrew and Brian popped a Spring ale for us. Pouring the entire bottle into two beer mugs, he passed them along to us. "Now, I know you're a hophead," he said to me of the beer which he's classified as an English IPA, "so this won't be your usual style." However, that said, the 8%, probably 40-45 IBU (international bitterness units) ale certainly had a distinct taste. It was more of a Belgian ale style to me, despite the inclusion of Chinook, Centennial and Cascade hops. But beyond the hops is where he tricked this one out. Using Labrador tea and Wintergreen, this had a back-end mintiness to it. And the aroma was so floral, you knew instantly what he was after - the smells of Spring.

As he and Bill discussed the beer ingredients that can be found in the bushes around South River, I noticed another side-effect. I could tell it wiped out Bill's hangover almost instantly. Funny what a full mug of 8% beer will do, eh?
There was no way I was coming home without these
two bad boys. I suspect when I go back up in the
fall, their Summer and Autumn beers will be there
waiting for me. Loving Boys Weekend even more.
But the brewmaster wasn't done with us just yet as he uncorked their 10% Winter Imperial Stout. Holy Godiva, this was a beast. A big black bear of a beer which is probably not coincidental as bears and moose are known to freely wander the backwoods and country roads of South River.

Rich and thick with the usual aromas of chocolate and toasted malts, there was some definite orange rind and cinnamon in the mix. Not too surprisingly, Bill really liked this one as I have noticed wine and liquor drinkers seem to love the deep flavours in Imperial Stouts. And, of course, I was onboard because while I usually save the big stouts for the frigid Winter months, it's nice to have an outstanding one, such as this, every once in a while when the weather warms up. It's like a hearty meal.

Eventually, we had to clear out (while we could still drive) but in the end, we weren't done with Highlander just yet. We would be back on the Saturday. You see, we lost Kevin shortly after a very late breakfast (he was having a new fridge delivered to his Barrie home) but we gained Burlington buddy Brett. Our meeting point once again - Highlander. Hey, you gotta have that touchstone. Highlander was definitely ours. A safe haven as it were. A secure locale. This one worked pretty damn well for me.
As Bill, centre, has been coming to the family cottage for
decades and Brewmaster Brian is a local, it seemed the pair
of them had common acquaintances with nearly everyone
who walked into the retail area on Friday. Here. they chat
with an older couple who came in while we were hanging out.
It's not a big community - that happens a lot in South River.

Meeting Brett at Highlander in the early afternoon, Brian, of course, wasn't there but we were in the capable, sunny hands of retail ladies, Leah and Marissa. As Brett is a big craftie (though also fond of his Scotch), we ran the gamut of the samplers, pretty much trying everything. And if it wasn't on tap, they had no problem cracking open a 650-ml (22 ounce) bottle from the fridge for us.

One such beer was their 5.2% mildly-hopped, citrus-infused Pipers Loch Pale Ale. I'm not sure if it's always this heavily-carbonated but it was enough that Bill, who has some gastro issues, had to quickly leave the room briefly. Let's not even hazard a guess at which end that gas was released. Once we finished our samplers and Bill returned, Leah piped up, "Have you guys ever had a Beer Mimosa?" Well, no, a regular one with champagne and orange juice, sure, but OJ and beer? Not a combo I'd normally investigate. But Leah and Marissa told us they had discovered it quite by accident one day and now swear by it. So Beer Mimosas it was!

Well, geezuz, if the ladies weren't onto something. That was pretty damn tasty! Who would have guessed?
The June 4th sunrise on Eagle Lake at 5:30 am. Not sure why I was
even up but I went back to my bed not long after taking this photo.
But man, it does not get more picturesque than a sunrise on a lake.
Both Brett and I grabbed a Pipers Loch (among others - their Blacksmith Smoked Porter is one of the best of its style in Ontario - it was my Porter of the Year in 2015) with the intention of repeating that Mimosa Experiment at home. Drink half and make a Beer Mimosa with the other half. Great discovery, ladies!

So thank you, Brian, Leah and Marissa for being outstanding and gracious hosts. We will all be back in the Autumn. But before we're done today, one final Eagle Lake story. The first time I visited the cottage back in probably 2000, as we were driving in, I noticed a life-guard tower on a small sandy strip of the shore along the lake across the street from the Narrows Grocery Store. The life-guard tower was named "The Eagle's Nest." So I turned to Bill and asked, "Does South River know that was the name of Hitler's bunker at the end of World War Two?" Apparently, they did not. We have posed at that tower many times over the years, though probably never sober. But the thing is Boys Weekends are back on and we couldn't be happier. Local law enforcement, likely less so but we happily tell them how we pay their salaries every time. Cops love that reminder from rowdy citizens. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...