Thursday, 3 September 2015

The Summer of Music and Beer and Friends...

♫ Sittin' in the morning sun, I'll be sittin' when the
evening comes... ♫ Johnny chillin' on the dock of the
bay while my Mad Tom IPA gets some sun by my chair.
Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dreams 

You may or may not recognize the opening lyrics of the 1975 classic Kashmir by Led Zeppelin. If you don't, turn off your dance music radio station immediately and head directly to You-Tube. While the song itself has nothing to a long-standing border dispute of the Kashmir region near India and Pakistan (they've fought three wars over it), the words that kick it off have always just made me think of Summer. (Zep singer Robert Plant wrote the lyrics while being shuttled through a nasty stretch of the Sahara Desert in south Morocco - pretty damn far from Kashmir.) And with the arrival of September, it seems we all have to bid adieu to the season.

This Summer, I got everything I wanted or needed from beer but even moreso from friends. My Summer started back in May when my high school friends got together for a reunion at Sixth Line Pub and Sports Bar in Oakville, where old friendships were renewed, relived and refreshed... and a copious amount of alcohol was consumed.

Soldiers, I'll be frank. Some of you will not get out
alive. But know that you are fighting the most noble
battle a beer can - the war against Donny's liver...
Then came June and the arrival of Stevil St Evil from Wellington, New Zealand to Donny's Bar and Grill where an obscene amount of beer was consumed over a five-day span. How obscene? If we sent the footage of our 120 hours of beer consumption to Porn-Hub, they would refuse to post it on the grounds of common decency. Also they don't have a category called "Two daft wankers drinking a stupid amount of beer." (Don't bother looking - I checked.)

The month of July saw my brother, Gary, and his girlfriend Phe land here from Valencia, Spain one night where only quasi-ridiculous amounts of beer were consumed. I felt like I was growing as a person with a more subtle level of ridiculous consumption. But August? Baby, that month was the bomb, mixing both tranquility and mayhem, courtesy of my two oldest friends, Johnny and Dave. Now Dave, Johnny and I have all known each other since the age of five, all moving into a just-being-built neighbourhood in Oakville at the same time several decades back. We ate at each other's house, went to the same public and high school, played road hockey together, were in the Cub Scouts together. But years pass and at some point, we all turned legal drinking age... and then things pretty much went to hell...
"Hey, Vince Neil of Motley Crue, I'm Dave! Pleasure to
meet you! You want me to sign some stuff for you guys?
Name it, man. I brought a Sharpie! I'm good to go here!"
So let's start with Johnny since he's first on-deck, August-wise. As the operations manager of the large St Louis Wings franchises in Canada, he got a shot at his boss' cottage for a few days and of course, he took him up on it. I got an invite text from him for me and my boy, David (actually named after Dave), checked my schedule and hey, we were cleared for take-off. So off my boy and I motored to Ono-Medonte County just north of Barrie one fine morning to a cottage on Lake Simcoe. And those "Speed enforced by aircraft" signs on Highway 11? Yeah, they have no idea how much I wanna be pulled over by an F-16.

Now outside of North America, I'm not sure if cottages are a big deal. I suspect they're not. But in Canada and the United States, going to the cottage in the Summer is a sacred institution. We landed on Wednesday with a birthday gift for Johnny - 24 cans of beer - which David presented to him as we sang (at my son's insistence) Happy Birthday.
♫ Oh let the beer drip down upon my face,
hops to fill my dreams ♫ Led Zeppelin
lead singer Robert Plant does a delicate
balancing act with a beer on his forehead
Johnny was clearly pleased but asked David, "When's my birthday?" My boy was ready for his Uncle Johnny. "Friday!" An easy smile crossed his face as Johnny barked happily, "Well, I'm glad one of us knows!" Like me, he pretty much stopped counting at 21. Once you're legal world-wide, who cares? Every birthday after that is gravy, man. And we've had more than our fair share of gravy. Johnny was there with his daughter, Julia (my god-daughter) and three of her dance troupe friends, At some point in the past, my very attentive Julia had pointed out to her Dad that Journey's Don't Stop Believing was David's favourite song. So Johnny programmed it (with many other classic hits) into his iPod, hooked it up to a stereo and played it. David and the four girls all stopped cold when it came on and, well, started singing their hearts out. It was quite something to hear and pretty much one of my favourite musical moments from the Summer of '15. (Oh, there's more music coming.)

However, at the cottage, I had a logistics issue. I knew, of course, that there would be continuous beer drinking because, well, me and Johnny got together. But at the same time, our kids and other people's kids were with us so there had to be a modicum of restraint shown. Now, of course, I knew Johnny would be happy with his beloved Budweiser, which weighs in at the Canadian lager norm of 5%. But I'm in cottage country so hell, yeah, I gotta drink Muskoka Brewing's Mad Tom IPA. Muskoka is cottage country in Ontario. At 6.4%, it's not overtly strong but I know we're gonna be lazing on the dock, pretending to fish and well, 6.4% can wreck a little havoc on your senses in the hot Summer sun. So I figured, hey, we're just north of Barrie - why not throw local Flying Monkeys Brewing's Genius of Suburbia into the mix? At 3.8%, this full-bodied, nicely-hopped India Session Ale would provide the perfect counter-balance. And that's what I did, going back-and-forth between the two, averaging out at 5.1%.
Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, right
above us, totally playing upside-down on his
wicked drum roller coaster at the ACC...

When I explained this all to co-worker Jay upon my return, he listened attentively and noted simply, "I like the way you do Math." Anyway, it was everything a cottage should be and more - the kids swam in Lake Simcoe and later made S'Mores over the campfire, many ghost stories were told and Johnny and me? Well, we tucked happily into our respective suds, enjoying tranquility with our young'uns. Great to be with a best bud in that setting. But he pointed our something interesting to me. The cottage had Wifi and at one point during the day, he motioned over to the girls and said, "Check that out." All four were staring at their Smartphones. "Welcome to Cottaging 2015," he grinned.

Two weekends later, I got together with Dave and his lady, Joann (my favourite 'Murican), for a nasty little bit of mayhem - Motley Crue's last gig at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto as the band is packing it in for good on December 31. That's when August got loud. Really frikkin' loud. Once my concert companion, Leslie, arrived from Barrie, we jetted into Toronto the only way you go to see the Crue - in a big-ass limousine.
This beautiful bull terrier is Paul From
Shipping, the wonder-dog of Vince, our
Steam Whistle driver. He comes along
for the ride every once in a while. Paul
is one of the sweetest dogs I've ever met
and often uses our backyard as a pee stop

As a financial adviser/investor, Dave has always been particular about his modes of transportation. And me? Hey, I'm just along for the sick ride. We went in four hours before the show even started because Dave and Jo had paid extra to do the meet-and-greet with the band. That meant the long haul for me so once again, the awesome Genius of Suburbia ISA was called into active beer duty to keep me on an even keel. (That beer saved my ass twice this Summer. Thank you, Flying Monkeys - you rock like the Crue!) The nearby bar that Leslie and I chilled at near the ACC while the rowdy limo kids did their meet-and-greet had Goose Island Honker Ale on tap so my beer needs for the day were nicely met.

After Alice Cooper opened (seriously the same show since 1983 but still awesome), the Crue came out and destroyed the ACC. Unbelievable! It's funny because all my co-workers are too young to remember Motley Crue during their 1980s heyday (though there were stacks of 20 to 30 year olds in the crowd) but to a person, they all know one member of the band - drummer Tommy Lee. "I sure remember that Tommy Lee-Pamela Anderson sex video when I was a teenager," said Jay. Ahhh, don't we all? Usually when a sex tape leaks onto the internet, it's called a scandal. But if a member of Motley Crue is in it, they just call it promotion. But this blog is supposed to be about beer, not kick-ass music so the clocks on the walls of Donny's Bar and Grill are screaming, "Get to it, lard-ass!"
My main men, Trishan, Josher and Jonny held a little
Craft Beer Competition a couple of weeks back and
while nine beers competed, only three were crowned!

But we're not starting with me. No, we're starting with the boys from my last Beer Store who had themselves a little Steak and Craft Beer Competition Dinner (a Beer-B-Que?) a few weeks back. The boys start with Trishan (aka Tree), one of the classier dudes I've ever worked with. This guy knows fine wine, fine food, fine everything. Frankly, I'm surprised he even talks to us, being as we are something of a motley crew ourselves. Then there's Josh, the store's chill surfer dude. Never seen Josher too upset about anything. And finally there's Jonny, our lovable doofus. Jonny will always be one of my favourites simply because he's a really good man... but at times, a very bad boy. But if you asked me to pick one friend to have my back in a fight, no question - Jonny all the way - he's the size of a moose and a street-scrapper. When it comes to my main man Jonny, I'll tell you this - if we were going down on a ship and there was only one life-jacket left, well, I'd really miss the guy!
The beers in contention for the lads' Steak and Craft Beer
Night were, from left, Side Launch's Wheat, Haliburton
Highland Brewing's Abbey Ale, Flying Monkeys' 12
Minutes to Destiny Hibiscus Pale Lager, Erdinger's
Dunkel, Boulevard Brewing's Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale,
Innis & Gunn Oak-Aged Beer, Stone Brewing IPA and
Mad and Noisy Brewing's Hop Weisen? So who won?

But the boys had compiled an outstanding selection of beers for the competition - Side Launch Brewing's (Collingwood) Wheat, a traditional weissebier, a Haliburton Highlands Brewing Abbey Ale (I've never had the pleasure of this one), a Flying Monkeys Brewing 12 Minutes To Destiny Hibiscus Pale Lager (I'll get to that in a minute), an Erdinger (Erding, Germany) Dunkel, an outstanding German dark wheat, Boulevard Brewing (Kansas City) Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale, a Belgian-style saison with plenty of punch, an Innis & Gunn (Edinburgh, Scotland) Oak-Aged Ale (one of my favourites), a Stone Brewing (Escondido, California) IPA (if this isn't one of the winners, heads will roll) and a Mad and Noisy (Creemore, Ontario) Hop Weizen, a wheat that packs a nifty hop kick. Well, first of all, the boys really crossed the board with these nine, each a different style so that's impressive off the top. Even the three wheats were unique styles, varying in large degrees. After the steaks were downed and the nine distinctly different brews were sampled, three winners did emerge - the Stone IPA, the 12 Minutes to Destiny and the Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale.
I love the top of the Lagunitas Hop Stoopid IIPA
label with the tagline: 102 IBU 4 U. Very clever!

According to Josher, the Stone IPA was the flat-out consensus winner but as far as I concerned, these guys were the winners with their varied selection. They really crossed the beer map with these nine. But I hadn't had the 12 Minutes to Destiny Hibiscus Pale Lager, simply because I couldn't find it. Tree told me his sample came from a customer who had visited the Barrie brewery. But gawd bless Jonny, he finally tracked it down at an Oakville Beer Store but warned his cohorts, "Don't tell Donny until I get mine first!" The fear is, of course, if I get there first, there will be none left for the others. I'll be honest - that fear is not completely unwarranted. So I found some and what Flying Monkeys has created is a sweet Summer beer. Pouring a medium red, it's not fruit on the nose - it's actual fruit juice on the nose. And on the tongue, very sweet raspberry. I had no idea what a hibiscus was (turns out it's a flower) but this 4.1% pale lager is very much a fruit beer, a style Highlander brewmaster Brian told me was on the rise. While a little too sweet for me, it is an interesting take on a Summer beer!

Well, Kylie, my beer technician from Rib Eye Jack's Ale House, is on vacation in Greece for a month (lucky girl) but she didn't leave me empty-handed before her departure.
This North Coast Brewing Old Stock Ale was
so heavy in malts, it was practically a barley-
wine. Thick, meaty, malty and very very tasty!
She gifted me with a Lagunitas Brewing (Petaluma, California) Hop Stoopid Imperial IPA and a Bells Brewing (Gatesburg, Michigan) Two-Hearted Ale IPA. Both outstanding, both perfect 100s on RateBeer so I was sure to thank her from across the Atlantic as she happily soaks up the Greece sunshine and culture. The 8% Hop Stoopid pours a golden-copper colour and is all tropical fruit on the nose while the bitter grapefruit clings to your tongue like Jack clung to that door in Titanic before that bitch Rose let him die. (I'm sorry but I still think there was room for two on that door!) The 7%, roughly 85 IBU (international bitterness units) Two-Hearted was equally enjoyable, mostly floral and pine on the nose while citrus on the tongue but without the staying power of the Hop Stoopid. If you held a gun to my head, I would give the Hop Stoopid a slight edge but frankly, why are you resorting to violence? Is this how your parents brought you up? I don't think so.

The next beer is actually a mistake. Beer Bro Glenn crossed the USA border for one of his illicit beer runs and accidentally grabbed some North Coast Brewing (Fort Bragg, California) Old Stock Ale 2014. He told me he meant to grab the IPA next to it but, well, he missed and didn't discover that until he returned to Canada. What can I say? Nice mistake!
What has two thumbs, loves hop and won't let
the terrorists win? THIS GUY right here!!!

Sweet shirt came courtesy of Stevil St Evil...
At 11.8%, this dark, thick, rich ale is nothing but malts, brewed with Maris Otter Pale Malt and Fuggles Hops, both imported from England. Described as an Old Ale, this is a borderline barleywine with its deep complexity. All dark fruit on the nose, the essence of plum and toffee on the tongue with its high ABV barely masked. Definitely not a Summer beer but man, could I drink this in the Winter!

Well, I have a lot of beer coming up as a care package from New Zealand from Stevil St Evil containing a Four Horsemen of the Hopocalpyse Triple IPA, a Panhead Ales Triple Eye Monstrous Pale Ale, a Garage Project Hellbender barleywine and a Garage Project Louisiana Voodoo Queen spice beer landed here not long ago. Then Rib Eye Jacks' general manager Steve sweetened the pot with his contribution to the Donny Beer Fund of The Alchemist (Waterbury, Vermont) Heady Topper IPA and Lawson's Finest Liquids (Warren, Vermont) Sip of Sunshine IPA and then finally my young friend, Megan, gifted me with two Imperial IPAs from Nova Scotia, one ESB and a cider. Why a cider? Not sure but it may go down good in this heat-wave!
Oh crap! We're coming up to this time of the
year again, aren't we? Stupid pumpkin beers.

So I've got lots of beers coming up. But unfortunately, as we head into Autumn, it means the return of those goddamn pumpkin beers, the scourge of the craft beer world. Fortunately, I discovered the best way to enjoy a pumpkin beer last year. Follow these simple steps:
1) Find a frosty mug, preferable one that's been in the freezer. 2) Carefully pour pumpkin beer into the mug on a 45-degree angle. 3) Carefully pour it down the drain using a 180-degree upward-to-downward hand rotation. 4) Bury that contaminated glass in the backyard and get a fresh one. 5) Refill new glass with a tasty IPA. 6) You're welcome!

And with all of these music, beers and beer-drinking friends stories here, what have you learned today? Simply this. My support group can out-drink your support group eight ways to Sunday. Don't even challenge us. Frankly, we'll throw out our two big guns, Stevil St Evil and Rib Eye Jacks' Steve - respectively, the Joe Montana and Dan Marino of Beer Drinking - and simply watch you fall to the wayside. Or gutter, more accurately. Oh and what's a cottage like without Wifi? My old college buddy, Dennis, found out the hard way and you can read all about it, right: HERE! But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...