Monday, 27 July 2015

Burlington Beer Fest, Part 2

Burlington Chamber of Commerce president
Keith Hoey, left, shares a laugh with John
Romano, owner of Nickel Brook Brewery,
which is in my mind, the BEST business in
that umbrella group. But again, I'm bias...
Now before I begin the Burlington Summer Beer Festival, Part 2 blog, I have to veer off course a little here and talk about the first word in that title, my city of Burlington.

Beer Bro Glenn and I drive down to the Burlington Beer Fest on Sunday and I have, of course, zero intention of bringing my car home. It's dry-docked in downtown Burlington for the night in a municipal parking lot very close to the backdoor of Burlington City Hall, well within walking distance to the Beer Fest. But when we got into the car to go, it was as hot as blazes! Pointless to turn on the air-conditioning as it's less than a 15-minute drive. No way to generate any cold air in that short a run. What do you do? Well, you roll down all the windows and at least get some fresh air circulating for the quick run.

Which is what I did. Found a parking spot and rolled up the windows. Off we went. Except this one thing. While we dutifully rolled up the front windows, I never thought to roll the back windows up because they aren't usually open. So all night in a public parking lot, my back windows were wide-open.

Now normally that's not a biggie (unless it rains) except for this one small thing. I had a brand-new leather Callaway golf bag in my back seat, still in the box. Completely unprotected. Just sitting there.
This guy at the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale booth was not
only fun to talk to, he also had the most awesome ginger
fro ever! It was like one of Ron Weasley's big brothers
served me that beer! Probably the one who lived...

When I got back to the car in the morning and saw the back windows wide open, I thought, "Well, the golf bag's pretty much on Kijiji at this point. Oh well." And when I approached the car and looked in, the golf bag was, of course... still there! How is that even possible? Probably because this is Burlington, Ontario, Canada. I met the Burlington Chamber of Commerce president Keith Hoey on the weekend and I would just say this to him. I have no doubt there are many elements of your job that are quite challenging. But selling this beautiful (and relentlessly honest) city to the world? That's not one of them.

That said, this blog is about beer, not civic pride although this event ties the pair together nicely. Now before I get to Saturday (I, more of less, covered Friday in the previous blog), there was one recommendation from Nickel Brook's Rob on the Friday and it wasn't for his own brewery. As the guy who fills my growlers with Headstock IPA more often than not, he knows I've had everything they had on hand. No,he steered me towards the neighbouring Sawdust City Brewing out of Gravenhurst and their Golden Beach Pale Ale. Man, good call. According to my voice recorder, this was, "Lessee, really nice citrus on the nose and, whoa, really nice citrus, grapefruit and pine on the tongue. Definite winner."
The boys at the Sawdust City Brewing booth. The
one who served me the most was the bandana guy
on the right who I happily just called Biker Bob... 
There's a few of their beers that have pine on the tongue, most notably their outstanding Lone Pine IPA. Now all their servers were great but the best was a grizzled-looking, friendly-as-hell dude I just called Biker Bob. When I was sweltering on the steamy, unbearable heat on Sunday, Biker Bob pointed to some taps across the way and suggested that I not only wet down my hair but also my outback drinking hat. "I did that with my bandana and it really works. Cools you down, like, 10 degrees." As I felt the cool water dripping down my front and back, I can say, yeah, he knows his body temperature stuff. And that Golden Beach Pale, turns out it's a wheat beer. I had no idea until I checked out RateBeer afterwards. Yeah, it was cloudy like all wheats but many beers are. Nearly all of Muskoka Brewing's line is unfiltered, giving them that same cloudiness. But as you'll see, much like Rob did for me, I turned a few of my friends onto the Golden Beach Pale Wheat Ale.

Saturday was a great day. I landed there at about 2 pm, a few hours before my Beer Store cohorts, Jay and Gordo, as well as buddy Steve, were slated to arrive. Event co-organizer Wayne Brown had told me that one of my favourite breweries, Highlander Brewing out of tiny South River, had suffered a mishap during a huge storm in the middle of the night.
The Highlander Brew Co's canopy, shown here on
Friday night, was looking like mangled metal on
Saturday as high winds during an early morning
storm tossed it around like a rag-doll in a hurricane
"I guess the wind during the storm just picked up their front canopy and completely trashed it," Wayne noted. When the brewery returned early Saturday morning, they put out an emergency call and had a new metal canopy frame there within hours, just in time for the noon opening.

So, of course, they deserved some of my business. "Fill this up with your finest Smoked Porter, good sirs," I happily said. (The Highlander Smoked Porter was one of the highlights for Beer Bro Stevil St Evil during his stay here at the beginning of June.) The young fellow at the counter, clearly knowing I was familiar with their products, looked me up and down and said, "No, you look like the kind of discerning beer drinker that would enjoy our Wee Heavy even more" and poured me that, instead. Well, I'm not actually a discerning anything but okay then, Wee Heavy it was. I instantly knew with one quick sniff that I was drinking a Scotch Ale (as it turns out an 8% one), the second one from brewmaster Brian Wilson (yes, that Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys - oh wait, no, hold on - it's a different guy altogether) after their 5% Scottish Ale. They like their beers heavy up north. Well, when I checked RateBeer, it became readily apparent why Young Server wanted me to try this beer. It's brand new. It has only two reviews on RateBeer and I'm one of them. Giving it a 4.5 out of 5, I noted that it was "rich in caramel and Scotch notes on the nose, smooth, thick and tasty on the tongue."
Bayside Brewing Co., out of Erieau, Ontario,
saw some good crowds at the Burlington Beer
Festival on the weekend of July 17-19, held at
the city's often-muddy Spencer Smith Park.

While I was wandering around solo (always dangerous - until my friends show up, at which point, it becomes very dangerous!), I popped into Bayside Brewing booth, a brewery I first met at the Burlington Winter Beer Festival back in January. One of their servers actually recognized me from that and in that happy, friendly "how ya doing, man?" way. Beats the alternative, which is, "Oh crap, you again?" which I've gotten a few times. So I bellied up to the Bayside bar and asked, "What have you got for me that's new?" My phone's voice recorder caught the following exchange with their answers in brackets.

"Sorry, what's it called? (Equinox Wheat.) What's the percentage? (4.5%) Okay, what do we have here? Banana on the nose... *tastes* oh, that's really nice. Really good, refreshing, wheat on the tongue, great summer beer! (*not realizing how sensitive the mic on my phone is* You have to say that into the phone!) What I just said." My phone was also picking up the music from The Dirty Pioneers in the background on a stage maybe a football field-length away so catching what I and the Bayside boys were saying? Not an issue. Great little brewery owned by two couples in Erieau, Ontario, right on the shores of Lake Ontario. The Equinox isn't even on RateBeer (the brewery has to do that) but will be duly praised when it is.
I got a thumbs-up from the singer in The Brett
Kocsis Band during their performance on
Saturday. All the bands, whether they played
originals or cover tunes, were really good.

Before my Beer Store thugs even made the scene, it turned out I had tons of home-boys already there of the non-brewery kind. My old Bloor West Village (Toronto) friend, Craig, was there with his lady and her sister and my Burlington buddy Bill.I.Am (you may remember him from his brief, unlauded stint as the couldn't-sing-or-dance pasty-white dude with The Black Eyed Peas, who was eventually replaced by the blacker, much hipper Will.I.Am) was there with his brother-in-law, Ross, and American pal Tony. Now because they're from two different circles of friends, their placement was perfect. Bill was set up in a tent at the east end of the park while Craig was parking it at a west-end tent. So I wandered back-and-forth to hang with my buddies, wandering through three separate beer alleys between the two. Many valiant beers died a noble death on my sojourns between the two camps because, y'know, walking is thirsty work.

Bill had actually seen the 'Brampton' Batman (complete with sick Batmobile) during his time there earlier. "Did you see that guy?" he asked, knowing my love of all things Dark Knight. No, I had just missed him by a Bat-hair. He was literally pulling out the Batmobile out of the park as I wandered over so I got some great shots of the car... but not him.
Batman sets up shop with the guys from Old Tomorrow
Brewing and their tasty Canadian Pale Ale at the Festival
"That poor bastard," Bill chuckled. "That Batman costume was made from some form of PVC (durable outdoor plastic, used mostly for piping) and it must have been 1,000 degrees for him wearing that. Donner, he was just dripping sweat - like it was pouring down his face - in that costume." Clearly, criminals in Gotham City (or Brampton - same thing) would catch a break on that night while the Dark Knight rehydrated. (Batman: "Robin, I am in desperate need of rehydration! Quickly, get me some Bat Fluids!" Robin: "Uhhh, dude, could you be a bit more specific? This is kinda creepy.") Quick aside on Bill, whose last name is Jackman. He is one of just two non-related friends my son, David, refers to as his uncle. One day, David asked him if he knew Hugh Jackman, the actor famous for portraying Wolverine in the X-Men movie. "Sure," Bill told him. "Hugh is my brother." To this day, David still refers to the actor as Uncle Hugh.

When I caught up with Craig, aka Foggy (because he looks and sounds like the cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn), after some initial chatter, he asked, "So you wanna feel old?" Not particularly, I told him but continue on anyway. "Bianca is getting married next weekend." Holy crap, back in the days that Craig and I hung together, Bianca and David were little more than infants. In shock, I said, "I can't believe you're letting your 12-year-old daughter get married!  That's just sick, man!"
See that petite blonde on the right? She's my buddy
Craig's girlfriend's sister's daughter! You follow all of
that? Doesn't matter. She and her friend were manning
the Beau's All-Natural booth at the Burlington Beer Fest
Well, now, as it turned out, Bianca aged at precisely the same speed as David and she, too, is in her mid-20s. And by gawd, just this past weekend, I saw a Facebook picture of Foggy walking his beautiful daughter down the aisle of what appeared to be a very rustic farm setting.

Now I thought I'd be able to wrap up the Burlington Beer Festival blogs with this one, the second of two. I'm not even close. So Part 3 tomorrow. And while I promised this one last week, I was interrupted by two things. First was a visit from my brother Gary and his girlfriend Phe who traveled across the Atlantic Pond from Valencia, Spain for the visit. Naturally, I put them at work, reviewing beer with me. The second thing is a nasty and ongoing infection, serious enough that I did some time for it at Burlington's Joseph Brant Hospital. I'm trying to think of a discreet way of putting it. Hmmm, okay, in terms of how the fellows at Sawdust City Brewing might put it, guys, let's just say below your belt, you have a branch and two pinecones. One of my pinecones is infected and is, in fact, three times the pinecone it was - feel free to wince. And boys, it hurts way more than dropping a fresh beer (that's nasty physical pain versus emotional pain, not to underscore the dropped beer.)
Any port in a monsoon storm? Looks like it as these two
guys park it under the Goose Island tent during the
heavy but short-lived torrential downpour on Sunday.

So how can I guarantee I'll be back tomorrow? Well, I'm in Sick Bay all week after the doctor insisted I stay home and I'm in no physical shape to clean this place up (which I wouldn't do anyway but now I have an out) so why not knock off a few blogs? I'm taking a steady regiment of anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and some really sweet pain killers. I was hoping to hang onto the pain-killers until I felt better but no, turns out I very much need them. Now of course, the pharmacist was explaining all these meds to me because I've never used any of them. One you have to take on a empty stomach, another on a full stomach only and of course, it was suggested I avoid the beers with the pain-killers. Why is that, I asked, will the alcohol negate the effect of the pain killers? No, she said, "you'll just be groggier." I'm in enforced sick bed at Donny's Bar and Grill - groggy has never been an issue there. Naturally, I just take all three at once on an empty stomach, washing them all down with cranberry juice, which is also good for infections in the branch-and-pinecone Zone. And of course, I had to ask the doctor, "How the hell does a (pinecone) get infected?" Turns out nearly anything in that whole urinary tract area is prone to infection. So we're right back to the Burlington Beer Festival tomorrow to wrap this bad-ass beer fest up and probably a few other things, answering questions to such deep thoughts as why does your smoke detector warn you that its battery is dangerously low by beeping 4,000 times? Why doesn't it just save some of that juice for fire detecting? But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here!!! Until tomorrow, I remain...