Sunday, 29 November 2015

The song remains the same...

Dennis and Danny make a dreary night in Streetsville
a lot more fun by basically rocking the night away and
having the time of their lives (with the exclusion of, you
know, children being born and stuff.) Great night for us
This is the story about how I single-handedly drank a small Streetsville bar out of craft beer...

But, as I tend to do here, I am putting the cart in front of the horse. So let's go back a little and set the stage. My buddy, Dave, is pretty much my oldest friend going as we met on Day One of Kindergarten. In fact, it was in Kindergarten that he and I realized we have many common interests and they remain interests we enjoy to this day, including play-time, finger-painting, Nap Time and eating paste.

So he called me a couple of weeks back and said he and his lady-love Joann wanted to go check out our high school friend, Danny, playing a gig at a Streetsville pub. As it turns out, Jo was on one of those Oprah-style body cleanse diets that prohibits pretty much every food I enjoy - basically, she was restricted from all the fatty, bready, artery-hardening, deep-fried goodness that I happily consume daily. When I go down, I don't want my last words to be, "I don't get it? I ate healthy!"
Steve: "Do I know all the words to the song
American Pie? Did I believe in rock and roll
and can music save my mortal soul? And can
you teach me how to dance real slow?" Okay
then, Steve, I'm gonna just take that as a yes.
More like, "Let's face it. I've been playing Beat The Clock for decades now," My body is not so much a temple but rather a filth-encrusted Meth lab above a seedy massage parlour in Chinatown. Hell, I'll eat a greasy snack while I'm making myself a snack.

But as well as specific foods, Jo couldn't partake in alcohol which meant two things. 1) We had a diet-regimented designated driver at our disposal. And 2) she couldn't eat Dave's signature side-dish cheesy garlic bread, which enabled me to eat a littlesome, most, all of it. But I'm confident she enjoyed watching me eat it as much as she would have enjoyed having some herself because that's how little I know about women. But on with the rock show...

After being chauffeured to Graydon's in Streetsville, we instantly saw high school buddy Steve and his lady Lori sitting near the stage (okay, spot by the window might be more accurate). Sliding in beside him, Steve had an ominous and dire warning for me. "There is only one waitress for this entire place." Now Steve was our high school's star athlete and I think even he was impressed with the instantaneous speed I displayed getting to the bar. The Flash would have come second.
Through the medium of interpretive dance, our new
friend, Morticia, sways alongside Dennis as he sings.
Now I'm not saying Morticia was hammered but
every once in a while, her boyfriend would look up
from his phone to make sure she was still vertical
 and not horizontal. She was actually harmless fun.
Steve was right. The poor wee waitress was flying solo after a co-worker called in sick and a manager bailed. Checking out an array of taps, none of which worked for me, I asked her if they had any craft beer. "I'm not sure," said the frazzled lass. "Is Flying Monkeys craft beer?"

With my Flying Monkeys Amber Ale in hand - I'll be back to that in a minute - I returned to the group and some friendly high school shenanigans as our crowd grew. Danny's twin brother Dennis (a former college roomie of mine and Dave's) was a surprise guest and before long, friends from our old Falgarwood neighbourhood, Bill and Ingrid, joined us. Basically, we had all the makings of a rave. Minus the mosh pit. And the rave part. We think we're still young enough to rave. We just forget how.

Danny, as he always does, had a big binder of song lyrics and between sets, he was flipping through it to collect the music for his next one. Unfortunately, he was doing it in front of me so I picked that moment to diss him, noting "You know, Sir Paul doesn't flip through lyrics sheets up on stage." referring to the obscure bass player for some clunky garage band called The Beatles.
Dennis asked me which Superman emblem this
was. Told it was from the "Death of Superman"
 epic story-line, Dennis deadpanned, "Oh yeah. I
remember... I took the day off work to mourn."
So Danny hastily threw an assortment of songs together and returned to the stage spot on the floor by the window. But he ran into a small problem when he came to play Don McLean's American Pie. Without the lyrics, he pulled up short about halfway through. In other words, his Chevy did, in fact, make it to the levee but the word stream went dry. So Steve, sitting not seven feet away, simply piped up and sang the remaining lyrics. Right order and everything. I haven't seen a save that sweet since Tom Henke pitched for the Blue Jays.

The rest of the night was a blast as we cheered and drank and basically had high school type fun being entertained - once again - by the Ford twins, who continue to retain their crown as the Funniest Conjoined Siblings Ever. Wait, that means Siamese Twins. Well, I believe they were connected at the funny bones. Granted, I wasn't quite done with Danny yet. When he noted, "Well, I haven't rehearsed this one," I couldn't help but chirp, "Then make Dennis sing it!" And then there was Dennis playing imaginary keyboards on Supertramp's School, exhorting us to play the air keyboards with him. Like Steve before me, I totally nailed it. Not even one lesson. Self-taught.

But the level of fun and enthusiasm we all had that night was not measured in our high school shenanigans but rather in a thank you from an outsider. While that harried waitress did eventually get another helper, she took the time to tell Danny something at the end.
Flying Monkeys Head Wizard Peter Chiodo
holds up my favourite offering - Smashbomb
Atomic IPA. That's a damn tasty brewski...
"The waitress said our side of the bar totally made her night," Danny told us. "Everyone was happy, friendly and patient with her. The other side, not so much." Granted, we are all old enough to not need outside validation. That doesn't mean we don't want it, though. Hell, we lap it up like free booze at a wedding reception. Turns out we learned more in high school than we thought. But another great night...

Okay, onto the small matter of me drinking Graydon's dry of craft beer. Yes, it's true. I drank all of their Flying Monkeys Amber Ale. Both of them. So really, not much of an accomplishment but again, sweet validation! But this beer wasn't always a Flying Monkeys product. In its original form, it was called Robert Simpson Confederation Ale because when it began in 2005, the Barrie brewery was called Robert Simpson Brewing, in honour of the town's first mayor, himself a brewer who founded the Simcoe Steam Brewery in the 1870s. Then in 2009, Peter Chiodo, the founder and head bottle-washer, decided to change things up. This March 2009 press release, likely penned by Chiodo himself, explain the switcheroo.
Certainly a decent enough little beer but far from
Flying Monkeys best work. Like the balance of
their beers, this could use a little kick in the hops.

"Once upon a time, we were The Robert Simpson Brewing Company but we're morphing into The Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery. Why? Because being named for a dead white guy just isn't very exciting. Where's the fun in that? Beer is supposed to be way more fun than a history class. It'll be weird for a while but the new name opens up so many possibilities for us to express ourselves (and be flaky)."

While the name change instantly made the brewery more interesting and far more colourful (their booths at Beer Festivals are, by far, the easiest ones to spot), at the time, it didn't sit well with some Barrie residents. Indeed, with some, it still doesn't. Not long ago, I was discussing Flying Monkeys with Neil Miller, a friend and prominent beer writer in New Zealand, on Facebook. One of his friends, clearly from Barrie, noted she much preferred the old name, Robert Simpson. Neil, well-schooled in the art of politics and diplomacy, offered up this analogy. "Consider the following statements. 'Release the flying monkeys!' Or 'Release the Robert Simpsons!' Which has more flair?" With that clever rejoinder, Neil won over the dissatisfied customer, who laughingly confessed he made a valid point. As he tends to, being the most clever shepherd I know.
While I suspected the Founders Brewing
Double Trouble Double IPA would be the
big winner of the two, it was, in fact, their
Breakfast Stout that blew me away here.

So how was that Amber Ale? Honestly? Meh. The brewery pounds out phenomenal (and usually hoppy) beers with alarming frequency so this doesn't measure up to some of their best - the Smashbomb Atomic IPA, the Hoptical Illusion Near Pale Ale and the staggeringly tasty seasonal Chocolate Manifesto Triple Chocolate Imperial Stout. So some pretty big shoes to fill for a wee bonny amber ale. That said, even though I found it extremely thin for its style, it was light years ahead of any of the commercial alternatives available on tap at Graydon's. Life is measured in the small victories so it was a winner in that regard that night. As soon as I was forced to switch to Keith's IPA (yeah, right) on tap, I was missing that little amber ale.

Moving along, Beer Bro Glenn stopped into Donny's Bar and Grill recently because as I have mentioned here numerous times before, I often forget to lock the door. And he brought me a couple of beauties from Founders Brewing out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Even though I have alerted the border patrol numerous times that he is a convicted heroin smuggler, he continues to scoot into the United States on his infamous beer runs into Niagara Falls, New York, eluding the authorities with measurable success. But from our friends at Founders, he came back with their Double Trouble Imperial IPA and their Breakfast Stout.

Boo-yah! The Rainhard Brewing Kapow!
IPA brings the fight. Looking at the label,
young Cara said it reminded her of the
Batman TV show. She's right about that.
Well, obviously I was going to prefer the IIPA... or so I thought. Don't get me wrong - that Double Trouble was outstanding. Tons of mango on the nose (Glenn got pine) with plenty of fruitiness and roasted maltiness on the tongue (Glenn got the same... plus a few more things), this was a 9.4%, 86 IBU (international bitterness units) dragon-slayer. A superb offering. But as Thor would utter if he were facing Loki, I say thee nay! Twas the Breakfast Stout, a double chocolate, coffee, oatmeal imperial stout that snatched away the Asgardian crown. (Grand Rapids is often confused by mortals with Asgard.) Crap on a cross, this was good. I'll let the brewery's commercial description take it from here because it's spot on.

"You've got to love coffee (Me waving: I do! I do!) to truly appreciate this phenomenal brew. Brewed with an abundance of flaked oats, bitter and sweetened imported chocolate, Sumatra and Kona coffees. We're actually not sure if this is some type of coffee cake or a beer. Either way, you can drink this ale with a fork." To continue, I would add, at 8.3% and 60 IBUs, it combines the malty goodness of chocolate and coffee with a textured hop-malt finish that stays on your tongue long after the sip. This might be the single best non-barrel-aged stout I have had in a long time. A surprise knock-out by the Stouty Underdog.

Next up, we had a freebie from Rib Eye Jack's Ale House's general manager Steve, whose provincial and cross-border beer runs are legen - wait for it - dary.
Okay, after examining this graphic
evidence, it is quite clear that Cara
saw something I never thought of!
He stayed in the Greater Toronto Area for this gift - a Rainhard Brewing Kapow! IPA. Now before I begin, let me say this. I am a huge fan of their Armed N Citra Pale Ale and their Refuse Double IPA - both stellar beers. But I wasn't a big fan of their The Antidote IPA. Rib Eye Steve suspected it was the choice of milder hops in that brew that perhaps threw me off and he is usually right.

However, when I got the Kapow!, it was a different story. For starters, young bartender Cara looked at it and said, "Hey, that reminds me of the Batman (TV) show." A little stunned because I was a kid when that show aired and I know I have a couple of decades on her, I asked how she even knew about that old-time classic. Turns out in her youth (which wasn't all that long ago), Canada had some retro-channel for a time and not only was she versed in Batman, she happily crowed, "I also watched Leave It To Beaver!" That is, indeed, important because everything I ever learned about weaseling your way through life, I learned from Eddie Haskell. But back to the Kapow! Okay, once again, I can say that I love and want to marry Rainhard, that sexy, sultry brewery.
Planning on having a Guinness Blonde American
Lager? My buddy, Thor, has thoughts on that idea.
Okay, at 6.5% and 65 IBUs, this is all orange peel on the nose and citrus bitterness on the tongue. I would drink this again... and again... and again. They hit the nail on the head with this one. Fan-freakin-tastic.

Finally, let's end this with something sketchy - the Guinness Blonde American Lager. When it landed at my Beer Store recently, I inspected the label and saw it was brewed in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Same place as Rolling Rock Pale Lager. Same brewery, in fact. The end result? I'll try to use my friend Neil's sense of diplomacy here. Anyone who considers this a good beer likely believes that Velveeta is a fine cheese. How's that? Just don't. Thin, weak and forgettable.

Before I go, back to Glenn briefly. After my last blog, in which I praised the Firestone Walker Double Jack IIPA, he pointed out I had consumed some a year ago just before we went to the Burlington Winter Beer Festival. I double-checked and he was right. It turns out that alcohol does kill brain cells, particularly those pertaining to memory. I mean, when I was a kid, I could name all the dinosaurs. Now, years later, I can maybe name three and I'm not even sure armadillos count. Next up, Walkerville Brewing is revisited as coworker Marie brought me some goodies and a crap-ton more. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...