Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Dude, Where's Your Car?

Greg and his beautiful wife April enjoyed the
Kentucky Derby just one week prior to our high
school reunion on May 14. Now the difference
between these two and me is that when they
wear all white, they look both sophisticated and
elegant whereas I would look like a wayward
pimp from Bogota. They wear it well, these two
"Where's your car?" Cheesy asked me as we connected at our mini high school reunion at Sixth Line Pub on May 14. Uhhh, car? Longtime best friend Dave Schaus and I arrived via taxi, knowing that the night would be filled with various and sundry alcohol treats as old friendships were renewed.

Turns out that Cheesy, aka Greg Cheesewright, had a trunk full of swag for me that he brought up from his suburban enclave of Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, a comfy community just outside of Detroit. And when I say a trunk full, I mean it was basically a Motor City Brewing Works bonanza - a 15-pack of their Ghettoblaster Detroit-Style Mild Ale, a mixed 12-pack of the brewery's finest, three of the brewery's T-Shirts and a healthy handful of glassware. Now fortunately, Dave's girlfriend, Jo, showed up late in the evening and Dave and Cheesy were able to do a trunk-to-trunk transfer in the wee hours. "What was all that stuff?" Dave asked me the following morning. "It weighed a ton!" Like I said, Cheesy came armed with heavy-duty swag, emphasis on the heavy.

Despite being Canadian, Cheesy wears his Detroit Pride on his sleeve. Even when the city went bankrupt in 2013, he saw it as a glorious opportunity to revitalize because, well, there was only one direction to go from there. And slowly, it would seem the city is lifting itself up by the boot-straps. Having civic cheerleaders like the long-time Red Wings fan Cheesy, well, that can only help.
John Linardos, shown here in a Jacob Lewkow
photo for the Detroit Metro-Times, frets that his
neighbourhood might be going a little too posh
but that he prefers that to the 1994 bad old days

Indeed, if there is one business owner that has seen that a neighbourhood can turn around, it's Motor City Brewing Works' head honcho John Linardos. When he created the brewery in the city's rough-around-the-edges Cass Corridor (Midtown) back in 1994, the scenery was a little different. As he told the Detroit Metro-Times in a 2015 interview, directly across the street from the brewery was fertile ground for johns to connect with hookers. "It was nuts. In the last three, four years, the change has been really dramatic. And now we're (local business owners) all just kind of like, 'What the f**k?' There's dog bowls with plumbed-in water on the sidewalk."

"We've got the high-end retailers coming in and we've kind of gone from zero to 100," he told the paper. But he remembers a time not so long ago when the brewery's horseshoe bar would play host nightly to "regulars and... six or seven people from the burbs or the outside neighbourhood... and they all would be talking. There were amazing conversations. Of course, our lights would get turned off the following morning because we hadn't paid the bills. You know, looking back on it, even then, a lot of us knew that was a special time."

While I am used to session ales that try to still pop with
west coast hops, the Ghettoblaster Detroit-Style Mild
Ale is all British as it wallops you with strong malts.
But the local economic boom came as a fiscal boon for Linardos as in 2014, some 20 years after its inception, the brewery finally paid off all liabilities and became profitable. So the brewery owner was embracing the change "because it also comes with streetlights and people walking all over the place on a Sunday instead of tumbleweeds blowing down the street."

However, I just noticed it's Beer O'Clock at Donny's Bar and Grill which means it's time to stop talking about the brewery and instead, tip the glasses. As hard as it may be to believe, Cheesy's swag sat with me for a full week before I started trying them all. The reason was simply this. My fridge was full of beer (with a smattering of edibles, mostly cheese) and there was simply no room in the Inn. As problems goes, file this under "Not A..." In the end, that timed out well because the following weekend, my son and I drove over to Dave's for a May 24th Weekend barbeque and if you're going to try new beers, it doesn't hurt to enjoy them with a Best Bud Feast Fit For Kings.

Cheesy had warned me that the brewery's flagship ale, Ghettoblaster, was, on occasion, a tough find due to its popularity. That said, he scored me a 15-pack of cans nonetheless.
Naturally, a bottle of their India Pale Ale was
going to be my first try from the Mix-12 Variety
Pack from the brewery. Six different styles were
jammed into that pack, something for everyone.
Okay, so let's set the table here. It's 1994 and there are no iPods, hence the ghettoblaster being the favourite instrument of sharing your music with the rest of the neighbourhood. At 3.8%, it's a session ale but this was also long before craft brewers started west-coast hopping them up the ass-end. And because of that low ABV, it (along with single bottles of the Honey Porter and India Pale Ale) was making the trip to Dave and Jo's because this Daddy had to get behind the wheel.

Now my penchant for hops is well-documented but it's beers like this that are really beginning to fan my appreciation for a hop-light, well-malted brew. I expected at 3.8% that this offering might be a little thin. I was more than a little wrong. For starters, look at the deep colour of that bad boy. This ain't Bud Lite. On the nose, this is dark fruit (plum with some nut) while on the tongue, it's surprisingly thick and rich. I can see why it can be tough to find. This is a beer reflective of the time period it was created - simpler and yet hard-nosed and a little bit raucous. Also quite delicious.

Naturally, my first try from the Mix-12 Variety Pack was their India Pale Ale because, well, have we met? Using Warrior, Columbus and Simcoe hops, this 7%, 85 IBU (international bitterness units) came with a bit of a surprise - a thin layer of sediment on the bottom of the bottle. Once upon a time, that would have sent me screaming.
A moment caught in time. Dave snapped this picture
at the barbeque as I eyeballed that tasty Honey Porter
while at the same time, inhaling deadly carcinogens.
Not so much these days. Despite the high IBU, this one is a British-west coast hybrid, selectively blending those hops with some deeply malted barley. That meant it was both bready and grapefruit on the nose while both pine and grassy on the tongue. A really nice hybrid.

The Honey Porter came with a bit of a "give your head a shake" moment for me. Dave, who favours his beloved vodka and soda over beers, was there when I opened it in the kitchen. I gave it the traditional sniff test and then sampled it. "This is a nice porter but I'm not getting the honey. Some real sweetness, though." Dave looked at me like he was about to staple a "vacant" sign on my forehead and waited for me to put two-and-two together. I realized after a couple of seconds, "Oh right, the sweetness is the honey!" Pretty sure the reason Dave has hung with me all these years is that he knows he will always be considered "the smart one."

Now Dave posted the above back-deck picture of me, staring at that Honey Porter and noted, "A man contemplating? No, merely enjoying a dart and a beer." However, our friend Karen interjected that it looked more like me thinking about what I was gonna to write about this beer. I know that look all too well. Though joking, Karen was bang-on.
Well, well, well, what do we have here? In the case of the
Motor City Brewing Works' Mix-12 pack, we have the
Jewel of the Nile. This Belgium Tripel was outstanding.
(As well, she saw me on the dance floor a week prior and can confirm that all of my dance moves come from the paternity test episodes of Maury.) So that Honey Porter, let's go there. On the nose, a bit smoky with some coffee but on the tongue, the sweetness rolls out and is blended with some chocolate overtones. At 5.2%, this is a nice sessionable dark brew.

The Mix-12 obviously has the obligatory lager and ale and in this case, it's their Bohemian Lager and Nut Brown Ale. The 5.2% lager is their safe cross-over gateway beer, the one a non-craft drinker could sample when visiting for the first time. Grassy on the nose, smooth but light on the tongue. Safe territory. Pretty much the same story for the brown ale, though a considerable step up from the lager (which is surprising for me to say because I am not a fan of the style.) But credit where credit is due, this is a decent example of a brown ale with a bit of panache. No brown blandness here, this 4.2% offering, just like the Ghettoblaster, offers up some above-average taste for a low-ABV beer. Some nut and chocolate on the nose with an ample dollop of roastiness on the tongue. I wouldn't be surprised if a novice confused this with their porter (minus the honey, which is from Michigan. Good on ya, mates!)
While brewing with Spruce Tips was probably a Scottish thing at first,
now more North American craft brewers are using this technique to
create some extraordinary ales. This was deep, delicious and full-bodied.

Okay, that's two strong beers first, two decent beers after that so where does that leave us? That would be with the two exceptional specialty beers in this package - the Belgian Style Tripel and the Winter Ale.

Let's call the Tripel the queen of the mix and the Winter Ale the king. I'll let you decide which rank is higher but based on the fact you pitched both the British tax rules and their crappy tea into Boston Harbour back in 1773, I suspect you care little for or about the British monarchy. Again, good on ya, mates! Also, why am I talking like an Australian? I mean, Australia was founded by exiled British criminals while Canada was founded by politicians. Okay, fine, pretty much the same thing, I suppose. Except I'd probably opt for the criminals.
What's a Canadian boy do when he relocates to the
United States? Why, he coaches Junior Hockey, of
course. That's Cheesy behind the bench doing that.

Okay, that Belgian Style Tripel... wow. This might be one of the best examples of this can-be-very-tricky style that I had outside of actual Belgian products. Their brewers nailed this bad boy to the door. And at 9.2%, this should be nailing you to a wall as well but it doesn't. (Well, until you try to stand up.) But that high ABV is not in the least discernible which means they did this oh-so-very-right. Lovely fruits on the nose, very notably apricot (it really jumps to the fore) with some light spiciness and more fruit (again, mostly apricot with some apple) on the tongue. And it lingers for a while. Just hanging around on your tongue... waiting for the next sip or hell, perhaps encouraging it. This is a first-class beer no ifs, ands or buts.

Which brings us to their second Best In Class - the Winter Ale. I can't compare the two, simply because they are radically different styles but man, I enjoyed the hell out of this one, too. Almost as strong at 8.8%, they used Michigan Spruce Tips (yes, from the trees - call it a salute to Arbour Day) in the process, giving this "barley wine style ale" some deep woodiness and dark fruits (notably plum) on the nose and real deep warmth and full body on the tongue.
If you are in Detroit and you don't visit this place,
well, then a plague on your crops! And your houses!
And your ancestors! Okay, that's going too far, eh?
I had this with a chicken dinner but man, this heavy ale belongs with red meat. So damn good.

But before I wind this down, I should point out that Cheesy brought me more than just beer and related products. You see, twice a year, coffee and doughnut giant Tim Horton's does something called "Roll Up The Rim" across Canada and in the northern states whereby you actually roll up the cup's rim, looking for prizes. You can win free doughnuts, coffee, gift cards right up to new vehicles. Hugely popular. On Facebook (and other social media), I posted a couple of "Please Play Again" rims to show my losing streak from the previous round was continuing on unfettered. Cheesy posted his from one week - five free doughnuts and coffee and a $100 gift card. He presented me with that gift card at the reunion so I could, I dunno, feel better about my beloved Timmie's. Except because he won his in Detroit, it was in American dollars, which we didn't know. Given the weakness of the Canuck Buck, the first time I used it, the machine informed me I still had $132 left... on my $100 gift card. To put that in Canadian vernacular, that's a beauty, eh? So once again, thank you to Cheesy, thank you to Motor City Brewing Works (awesome name, by the way) and thank you to alcohol for being Nature's cheaper, liquid version of Photoshop. Next up with the winners at the Canadian Brewing Awards in a couple of day but guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...