Sunday, 2 August 2015

When Gary came to town...

The family that drinks together, sinks together. I had a great night on July
25th when my younger brother, Gary, and his British girlfriend, Phe,
came to play at Donny's Bar and Grill. Suffice it to say, beers were drank.
My younger brother, Gary, left Canada in 1985 and has never looked back. He has lived abroad ever since. His first stop was Barcelona, Spain, followed by Bern, Switzerland, then Vietnam and now finally Valencia, Spain.

Now even though Gary graduated Industrial Design at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario at exactly the same time I was graduating Journalism in Toronto, it was a career he never pursued. The reason? By the time he was done with the three-year program, he was also done with Industrial Design. Not his flagon of ale, so to speak. Not to mention being more or less done with North America lifestyle of rat-race work-til-you-die mentality. He prefers the leisurely pace of Europe and has for 30 years. I get that. I think we all do... many days... with Monday being the lead offender.
You like wheats now, do you, bro? Well,
then let's see what I can find. Okay, here's a
little hoppy wheaty one from Mad & Noisy

So what does he do in Europe? He teaches English. But he doesn't have a Teacher's Degree, you may have noticed. Well, here's where things get fun. You know what you need to teach English in Europe? The ability to speak it, write it and talk to a classroom (usually adults) about it. You have to keep at it, build up your rep and know the native language of the class you're teaching (he is multi-lingual at this point) but that's pretty much it. Now I am not looking to give away any of his monkey-shines in this space (the hell I'm not) but there are a large number of people in Spain who now honestly believe a 'preposition' is a small furry animal with a bushy tail that thrives on acorns and peanuts. We call them squirrels, some Spaniards call them prepositions.

But he comes back to Canada every couple of years to catch up with old friends, his family and you know, renew his Health Card and driver's licence if needed, remember what seasons are like (he only has two seasons in Valencia - crazy-hot Summer and much-more-temperate Summer). Basically, just take care of whatever Canuck business that needs to be done. But this time, he came with a companion, his girlfriend Phe, also an English teacher without a teaching degree.
Another winner for our wheat-drinking beer
travelers was Oshawa's Underdog Brewing
All or Nothing Hopfenweisse. That's tasty!
But Phe also brought something to the table - that kind of lilting British accent that makes men weak in the knees. Originally identifying herself as from Manchester, it turns out she actually hails from a tiny town called Oldham, not far from the larger city. It's pretty much what we all do when we're abroad and something asks us from whence we hail. We link ourselves to the nearest big city. If I'm out of the country, I always say I'm from Toronto, not Burlington, simply because Toronto is internationally-known. Just as if you were from, say, Tonawanda, New York, you would say you were from Buffalo. Or if you were from Boise, Idaho, you'd say you were from Miami because, y'know, Boise. So see, like that?

Okay, as much fun as this get-together was, let's shift to the beer-drinking portion of the evening. Because when my brother visits after a two year absence, baby, it's Beer O'Clock at Donny's Bar and Grill. Now Gary has always leaned towards the dark beers since his European sojourn began - Guinness, Newcastle Brown Ale and the like. So when I asked him what his preference was for the evening, he surprised me with his choice. "Actually, since we've been here," he noted, "what we've really enjoyed is the Rickard's White." Okay, Molson's best-selling wheat is quite a style shift from stouts and dark ales but hey, it's a pretty solid brew and wheats are certainly Summer beers.
My Guinness-loving brother surprised me by choosing
Rickard's White as his beer of choice during his stay in
Canada but it was a hot Summer night and the timing
was perfect for some wheat beers! So we dove right in!
Of course, I grabbed the happy couple their Rickard's White - and lots of it - but decided since they were onto the wheat beers, I should add a couple more to the mix. And like I always do against the big guns, oh yeah, I brought in the ringers. So let's get ♫ wheaty with it, nyah, nyah, nyah.. get wheaty with it... ♫ (Apologies to Will Smith who is west Philadelphia, born and raised.)

Okay, when Stevil St Evil was here at the beginning of June, a new tradition kinda got started at Donny's Bar and Grill - that of joint beer reviews. So since they got my king-sized bed and I had to sleep in my son's Spider-Man bed, brother Gary and girlfriend Phe were enlisted in the long-standing, okay, roughly two month old tradition of Brew Ha Ha Joint Beer Reviews. Were they up for the challenge? Well, let's see. While they enjoyed their Rickard's White all night, the first challenger was Mad & Noisy Brewing's Hop Weizen. Now, a disclaimer first: Mad & Noisy is actually Creemore Springs, which, in turn, is owned by Molson's (though Creemore does their own thing.) It's all very incestuous here in Canada.
The Hacker-Pschorr Weisse is about as
pure an example of a German wheat that
you can find. So how did it fare with us?
That said, who gives a rat's butt? If it's good, I don't care who brews it or owns the rights (and if it's a big gun, hey, good on them!) So is the Mad & Noisy Hop Weizen any good? Uh yeah, turns out it's damn good.
Don: "Okay, got nice banana on the nose. And it does have some hop on the tongue, a bit of grapefruit. What they've done is mix a German weissebier with an American pale ale. On the tongue, this is exactly what Gary said when he sampled my (Collective Arts Brewing) Rhyme and Reason Pale Ale. Very grapefruity but this is nicely wheaty, too."

Before we started, I got Gary to smell and taste my Muskoka Brewery Mad Tom IPA. I knew it wouldn't be to his taste but I was curious.
Gary: "This smells like an Amsterdam coffee shop. Marijuana." Well, scientific fact, many hops are botanical cousins to the ganja so fair call. Small wonder I drink so much of this beer.

Next up was a cheat - the Underdogs Brewing (Oshawa) All or Nothing Hopfenweisse, the one that was my Wheat Beer of the Year for 2014. So Phe tasted it.
Phe: "Oh, bubble gum!"
Me: "Is it still there?
Phe: "No, where did it go? (That's always a one-second initial note with this beer.) Okay, a little banana, I think. This is really good, very smooth! This is the best one so far."
Okay, a curve-ball here. I tossed the Erdinger
Weisbier Dunkel into the mix just to give my
brother an idea of what a dark beer and wheat
beer combined tastes like. It was thumbs up!

Okay, time to slap some German wheats on the table since, you know, they invented them like 400 years ago so on deck was the Hacker-Pschorr (Munich) Weisse as German wheats are the gold standard.
Me: Okay, soft very little banana on the nose. Yeah, that's the ticket. This is what wheats are all about.
Gary: *speaking German*
Me: My brother is speaking in tongues, the multi-lingual bastard. Call an exorcist.

At some point, the party shifted upstairs to Amy and Simon's (a.k.a Hathaway's British Pub) where the taste-testing continued. Amy had met Gary once before at my second wedding. That would be the event where he started in his formal jeans for the service and changed (no joke) into his less-formal hole-in-the-knee jeans for the reception. The rest of us just took off our jackets and ties but hey, everything I know about fashion, I learned from Gary. There was no dress code for our beer sampling unless back-alley bum is now a style. Okay, time for the atomic bomb - the Erdinger (Erding, Germany) Weisbier Dunkel, a dark wheat that combines my brother's two favourite styles. This one was a grand-slam home run - hands down, the winner of the evening.

It took a Wells (Bedford) Banana Bread
Beer but Gary finally got banana on the
nose. And then very much banana bread
Phe: This one's nice! What is this one? I'm getting coffee.
Don: Licorice on the nose for me. But I'm getting coffee in the taste.
Amy: Starbuck's dark-roasted coffee. It's the dark roast that makes the point. (I'm not certain we ever heard what that point was but dark-roast coffee is certainly a definitive taste.)

Okay, since Gary was the only one not getting banana off the nose of the many wheat beers, in the back of my fridge was a ringer - Well's (Bedford, England) Banana Bread Beer.
Gary: Banana! I'm first out the gate with banana! But the taste is actual banana bread.
Phe: Definitely banana bread in the after-taste.

Now, before I sign off, Gary brought me a little gift - Appleby College Alumni Directory 1998. I attended the Oakville private school for just Grades 7 and 8 while Gary was there from Grade 6 through to Grade 13. As it was based on the stricter British style of school (we actually played cricket), we were known as Redmond 1 and Redmond 2. Until I left, then Gary was just Redmond. No more numerical sequencing for him.
When my buddy Steve and his wife travelled to England and
Scotland this summer, he spotted this sign in The Albion in
Chester, England. Trust me, guys, it'll be piss soon enough...
Now I'm not sure who compiled this or where they got the data but a couple of factual errors for my entry. They were correct in where I went to school (Queen's University and Humber College) and the newspaper I was working at as Editor when they published this (the defunct Flamborough Post) but when it came to my family, they listed my wife Sylvia and sons David and Michael. Oooooh, so sorry, Alumni Directory, you only got one out of three. David is correct. But the other two? I never married a Sylvia, never dated a Sylvia and am 99.9% sure I've never even met a Sylvia. But I tell you this. That bitch Sylvia took half my stuff in the divorce. You're a jerk, Sylvia. Burn in Hell. And Michael? Daddy's going to the corner store for a pack of smokes. I'll be right back. I love you, imaginary son!

And Gary's entry? He didn't have one. Eight years there - no entry. Like my son Michael, it's as if Gary didn't even exist. I asked him how he felt about that snub. His heart-rending response: "What are we trying next?" Okay, so he's coping... such a brave soldier.

"Someone wake up Uncle Bob. He's asleep in the boat
again..." "No, wait! Lemme try something first. And
the can is on his forehead!" Uncle Bob! Is! Canadian!
Okay, that's a wrap for this edition but I have some good stuff coming up for you. I met Ian Macdonald, the co-founder of Old Tomorrow Brewing out of Toronto at the recent Burlington Beer Festival and chatted at length with him about their Canadian Pale Ale. Ian started with the brewery with his Mom, Pat, an Ontario government employee and brewmaster Jamie Mistry. He also let it slip that the year-old brewery had something new coming down the pipe-line.

As well, John Peat, the vice-president of Longslice Brewing, recalled the days that he, his brother Jimmy (president) and high school pal Sebastian Lesch (The Other Guy) were under-age brewers working out of their garage with beers exploding all around them. From their hilariously humble, mistake-prone beginnings, a damn solid craft brewery was born... from the ashes of exploding beers.

And finally, a chat with Brian Wilson (no, not the Beach Boy one, the other one), brewmaster at South River, Ontario's excellent Highlander Brewing Co. But remember, if you ever see me drinking a Bud Light Lime, it's a signal that I have been kidnapped and need immediate help. Preferably before I have to swallow some. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain as always...