Saturday, 14 May 2016

Old friends and new beers

Pete and I met up after literally decades at the Oakville pub-
restaurant, The 3 Brewers. That's their brewpub Blonde Ale
in Pete's hand while I went straight in for the IPA. Not bad...
It's funny the stuff you remember that others have forgotten. It's even funnier when someone remembers something you did that is seriously drawing a blank in the memory cells.

A week ago, I had the opportunity to catch up with an old neighbourhood kid and subsequent classmate when he flew into Mississauga from Dubai. Now lemme set the table here first. Pete grew up around the corner from me in a nice middle-class neighbourhood in Oakville known as Falgarwood. This was back in the day when everyone left their front doors open, all other neighbourhood mothers were your second mothers if you hurt yourself (as they knew not only who you were but how you did in Grade 3 Math) and we knew it was time to go home for the night when the street-lights came on. So a simpler time like a million years ago. Even as a youth, it was apparent that Pete was a gifted lad, blessed with a mind that could likely outwit even the most cunning of corporate lawyers and political strategists. And I mean, when he was seven.
For the first time ever, the Ontario Brewing
Awards posted the results on a large screen
in Toronto's Great Hall on April 28. From
all accounts, the approach went down well.
Now here's the thing about kid geniuses - they are either very socially-awkward, spouting such gleaming comebacks as "Oh yeah? Well, I could beat you at Chess in five moves!" or they accept their gifts, knowing those around them aren't quite as sharp but also that having friends is much better than the alternative. Also they are aware that they could beat you at Chess in three moves, not five, but they politely keep that to themselves.

Suffice it to say, Pete was the latter and frankly was one of the funniest kids I can remember. So when we met up at The 3 Brewers brewpub in Oakville, it soon devolved into a round of "Do you remember when you...?" With my memory of Pete, it was easy. It was a high school Math class and five of us were called to the front as the class ended. We were being major distractions to others that day so the teacher hauled us up for a post-lesson lecture. We were all being chastised for our behaviour, trying our best to maintain a chagrined expression on our face. Because I was at the far end of the semi-circle, I was the only who could see Pete at the other end. As the teacher rambled on incessantly, Pete started doing this comical little sidestep away from the group as if to distance himself while giving me the stink-eye at the same time. My challenge? To not laugh. Because if I do - and Pete knows this - it takes the heat off the other four and places it squarely on my shoulders. I tried - oh man, I tried - but a little snicker came out that I quickly had to cover up with coughs. I mumbled, "Sorry, sick" and dodged the bullet.
After years of work with the Toronto Fire Service,
Pete has retired and become a consultant. That
eventually lead to a KA-CHING! contract in far-
away Dubai where Pete is served drinks by ladies
on roller-blades and other life luxuries. To honour
his profession, I give you Pete's favourite photo...

But screwing each other over is what guys in high school (and far beyond) do. We're brutal that way. The memory game happened on my Facebook page last week when a former high school classmate, Claire, reminded me of History class antics gone wild. Apparently, we were all acting so badly that our teacher, Bert O'Hearn, finally stormed out in anger. After 30 seconds of stunned silence, I finally piped up (with obvious concern and empathy), "I think he's gone to the Teachers' Crying Room." I honestly don't remember that but frankly, I'm astonished that most of our teachers didn't end up in the looney-bin. As model students go, we were neither. Ironically, O'Hearn ended up being my step-son Ryan's principal many years later and when I introduced myself, he seemed to remember me fondly. Saved again by someone's faulty memory. My sole hope at that moment was that he wouldn't remember my slack-ass high school shenanigans until after Ryan graduated, which appeared to be the case. Another bullet dodged.

However, with another mini-high-school reunion at the Sixth Line Pub in Oakville scheduled for tonight, I'm sure many more "Do you remember when you...?" moments will be popping up in the near future. While White Oaks Secondary School will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary this weekend with countless gala events, we are doing precisely what we did in that high school by ditching class and heading to the nearest pub. Makes sense to me.
Here we have a couple of gold-coloured gold medalists
with the StoneHammer Pilsner and the Thornbury Blue
Mountain Lager. Two very strong patio beers right here!
Which is ironic because here they are. On my damn patio.
Hell, I even caught up with my high school sweetheart after, well, decades last night for the Pre-Party-Party (because you gotta have that) at Rib Eye Jack's Ale House in Burlington. To Kylie, my faithful beer technician who served our crew of thugs, I'm gonna have to invent a new word that means both "thank you" and "I'm sorry." Hmmm, thanksorry!

And with that, let's make the seamless transition from my old friends to my newer ones. That would be Ontario's fine craft breweries and some of the award winners at the 2016 Ontario Brewing Award, held in Toronto on April 28. I looked at a healthy handful of them last time - many among my favourite brewers (yo, Side Launch, looking at you) - so let's keep that ball rolling.

Let's start with a couple of gold medal winners in StoneHammer's Pilsner and Thornbury's Blue Mountain Lager, which both collected gold in, respectively, German Pilsner and Bohemian (Czech-style) Pilsner.
Here's the second and third place finishers in the Ontario
Brewing Awards' Bock category - the Creemore Springs'
urBock and Big Rig's Bock Me Gently. Both excellent!
I quite enjoyed both for their style, which, frankly I don't drink enough of these days. While I am busy chasing IPAs and stouts, I sometimes forget about lagers and pilsners which just a few short years ago was all I drank. Lightly grassy on the nose with a slight sweetness to the smell, on the tongue, they were both exactly what pilsners should be - easy-drinking and smooth. Great patio brews.

The second and third place finishers in the Bock category were a lovely dark step up from traditional lagers. Creemore Springs urBock (one of the brewery's best) and Big Rig's Bock Me Gently (ten points to Gryffindor for the name) are both solid. At 6%, urBock has some nice raisin on the nose and is well-carbonated. The 7% Bock Me Gently has all that with an added hint of spice on the tongue. Both great but I am waiting for any brewery to release a Bock Me, Amadeus. Go ahead. Use the name. My bad-pun genius should be shared, gang!
If there is a Beer Fest and my Barrie bros Barnstormer
Brewing are there, it means I'm gonna see either Allie
or Hannah... or in this one case, both. Always a treat.

My friends at Barnstormer Brewing in Barrie took silver in the Peat Smoked Scotch Ale category with their Smok'n Skywriter while Ottawa's Big Rig took gold for their Tartan Pants Scotch Ale. How are they? I wouldn't know - still waiting to try them. But courtesy of server Allie at the Streetsville Rib Eye Jack's Beer Fest, I had a chance to try their 400 Blonde Ale which had a nice grassy aroma and a hint of citrus on the tongue. It's in the LCBOs now but hey, I got a preview taste. I was there, Allie was there, the 400 was there - what can I say? The stars aligned.

Elora Brewing came second in the British IPA division with their Lady Friend IPA. When I tried it at the Burlington Winter Beer Festival, server Lee told me that "we use Columbus hops in the boil and then finish with New Zealand hops - Pacific Jade, Southern Cross and Wakatu." At 6% but just 50 IBUs (international bitterness units), this beer is wandering away from the British side a little with its hops but I am finding more and more these days, that British style IPAs are actually British-American West Coast hybrids and I gotta say, I'm onboard with that trend.
Elora Brewing may have struck silver with their Lady
Friend IPA at the OBAs but it was their Three Fields
Unfiltered Triple Grain Lager that I gave the gold to at
the Burlington Winter Beer Festival. Lee shows it to us
I quite liked the Lady Friend but thought the Elora booth's real winner that night was their Three Fields Unfiltered Triple Grain Lager, which was my only lager of the night at the Winter Fest. It was 5%, hazy as hell, even grainier than it was hazy and man, what a nice treat.

Next up is a shout-out to Outlaw Brew Co's Bandit Dark Ale, another one I enjoyed at the Winter Beer Fest. On a night that seemed oddly (for me) dedicated to amber and red ales, I very much enjoyed the Bandit, which claimed bronze at the OBAs for Dark Ales. Booth worker Johnny, who had traveled 206 kilometres (128 miles) to Burlington from tiny Southampton, Ontario, explained to me that night, "Bronco's our flagship, 5.6% and it's a hearty beer layered in caramel." Indeed, the beer had great weight with a solid malt backbone so I'm pretty happy for these guys.

Last... but never ever ever least... are my craft comrades at Flying Monkey's Brewing in Barrie. There are precisely 2,361 reasons to love these guys. I could list them all but the court order says I can only legally state two - they're a lot of fun and they're very colourful. There is no missing a Flying Monkeys booth at the Beer Fest. Even the colourblind, such as myself, sees nothing but a wild swirl of colours that I can easily misidentify.
When I first discovered craft beers, Flying Monkeys'
Hoptical Illusion Almost Pale Ale was my go-to for a
session beer to take to a party. At 5% and just 18 IBUs,
it won't floor you but there is no mistaking the Amarillo
hops in this dark and delicious beer. The Best in Show!
Geez, did they have a night at the OBAs as they collected three golds. Their 12 Minutes To Destiny was the best Fruit Beer (had it last summer, a nice light raspberry ale), their Invictus won the best Imperial Stout and in news that should make my old City Hall buddy Kevin quite happy, their Hoptical Illusion Almost Pale Ale took the best British IPA. I remember Kevin telling me when he first discovered it that the Hoptical "reminds me of some of those great British Bitter Ales that I love." Well then, buckle up, Kevin because it also beat every beer in every category to win the coveted Best of Show. In fact, since my buddy Dave and I are getting together to chow down before the big high school reunion, Hoptical Illusion is tonight's session ale of choice for the pre-meal, honouring its big win.

But it's time to get ready for the big bash tonight so I gotta go. Not saying we're getting older but the fact is at this age, we're all waking up on Saturday morning at the same time we used to finally fall asleep on a Saturday morning. I've also notice that it's funny how some sayings go out of style. Like "Hey, Donny, you're looking good." That one apparently fell to the wayside a few decades back. But in case any Millennials are snickering at a bunch of us Baby Boomers partying down tonight, just remember this. If you're even just 25 years old, you are already older than every single dog on the planet. So, chill. Okay, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...