Monday, 22 August 2016

♫ Watch the band... ♫

Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie had an entire
country in the palm of his hand on August 20 when the
band played their final show in their collective hometown
of Kingston, Ontario. Millions of Canadians got together
for viewing parties for The Hip's swan-song concert on

 CBC. Guitarist Paul Langlois, left, and the rest were there 
for the ride but everyone knew the night belonged to Gord.
On August 20, I actually felt sorry for other countries. Up here in Canada, we all stopped everything we were doing for three solid hours. And I mean, everything. Because collectively, as one nation, we wanted, no, I think, needed to do one thing and one thing only.

We put the entire world on hold for 180 minutes to watch the final Tragically Hip concert being broadcast across the country and live-streamed to the rest of the world, courtesy of a network we often love to mock and ridicule, the CBC.

And from 8:30 to 11:30 pm, we because a country full of Siamese Twins, all of us joined at The Hip. Aside from perhaps Olympic gold medal games in hockey, nothing had ever united us all in one place at one time quite like this. When Canada won gold for men's hockey at the 2010 Olympics, it was viewed by 16.6 million Canadians. I can guarantee you that if this concert does not topple that number, it will certainly rival it.

So why was this concert to important that an entire country would post a "Store Closed - Back in 3 Hours" sign on their front doors? Well, lead singer Gord Downie was recently diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. Despite his condition and his exhausting bouts with treatment, the band decided to do one last tour across Canada.
Canada's ridiculously-photogenic Prime
Minister Justin Trudeau walked through the
streets of Kingston on his way to the final Hip
concert. In a TV interview with Ron McLean,
Trudeau, who became a Hip fan in university,
said the band was "an inevitable and essential
part of what we are and who we are as a
country. It was an extraordinary opportunity
for everyone in Kingston but indeed across
the country to celebrate an iconic Canadian
band." And we all did celebrate exactly that.
So how important was the August 20 concert? Well, let's put it this way. The CBC cut away from the Rio Olympics to broadcast the concert. Since the CBC is a government-owned, crown corporation, they won't reveal how much winning the Olympic bid cost them. Because technically, it cost us, the taxpayers. But an estimate of $150 million is probably close to the mark. And they cut away from that to show the final concert. Live and without commercials. When a big business like the CBC does that - giving up guaranteed revenue to put on something for free - you know it's a big deal.

Now frankly, I didn't care that the Olympics got short-changed. Canada is a Winter Olympic country, what with the hockey, skating, sledding, snowboarding and skiing events. And we dominate so much that even the Americans and Russians are afraid of us. The Summer Olympics are a lot more... meh. Honestly, to me, when it comes to the Summer version, it takes about two seconds for me not even knowing a sport exists to becoming passionately invested in whether or not Canada is good at it. I mean, they play ping-pong as an event? Turns out the Chinese are insanely good at that. Canada, not so much. But in the end, we tied our record for medals at Summer Olympics so, you know, yay us! I also tied my record low events watched with one - the Men's 100M final. Canada's Andre De Grasse got a bronze but he was up against Usain Bolt so that's almost like a win. A horse on amphetamines couldn't beat that guy.

So, back to The Hip. I watched it at my friends Amy and Simon's place with a dozen of us there. Amy's father, Fin, was up from Florida and much to my surprise, he had a personal connection with the band. He's known guitarist Rob Baker's parents for some 40 years.
Have you got your Wellies on? Yup, the iconic logo for
Wellington Brewery in Guelph is a rubber boot or as
they are called by many, Wellies. That nickname actually
originated in New Zealand, which is rife with shepherds
minding their flocks of sheep and wearing, um, wellies.
"I remember when Rob was about this big," Fin said, holding his hand about two feet above the floor. As for the show itself, it took Downie about seven or eight songs before he found his sound but when he did? Holy crap. At the end, they did a three-song encore. And then another. And then a third. They gave a hungry country the musical nourishment and closure we craved.

But since this is allegedly a beer column, I have to find just the right brewery to include in a piece that opens by honouring The Hip. Well, let's see. Four of the five Hip members - Downie, Baker, bass player Gord Sinclair and drummer Johnny Fay became a band in 1984. Guitarist Paul Langlois joined them in 1986 as the final puzzle piece. I'll need an Ontario brewery with a history that mirrors that.

Well, why not Wellington Brewery out of Guelph which was created in 1985 and bills itself as "Canada's oldest independent brewery"? Seems like a solid fit, eh? They've both been around for the same amount of time.
Okay, this one I really liked! The rhubarb is there
in the taste but not overpoweringly so. Perfect job!
As it happens, my coworker Marie recently visited the Guelph landmark and came back with a bagful of beery goodness for me. I have yet to see the supermodel who can rival a Bag O' Free Beer for beauty. Like the last few Hip songs, it still brings a tear to my eye.

Now, due to its longevity, Wellington is often viewed as a stodgy, even dull pioneer in Ontario craft brewing. I disagreed vehemently. Yes, they have their core line that's been around for decades but these guys are still at it, cranking out new, interesting and cutting-edge brews. Old dogs can learn new tricks. I mean, it's only 31 years old. Technically, that's the same age as an actor has to be to play a high school student in the movies or on TV.

So let's start with a newbie of theirs, the Kickin' Back Dry-Hopped Session Ale. While not quite as hoppy as the name would imply, this beer definitely has its charms. Light tropical fruit on the nose, a touch of grapefruit on the tongue, this 4.8% brew had a perfect tweak of bitterness at the end. Nice job! A perfect Summer Sipper for, well, kickin' back...
Can you really go wrong with a Chocolate Milk
Stout? Nope, they are always delicious and fun...

To be honest, I didn't know what to expect from their Rhubarb Saison because of, well, rhubarb and saison reasons. Well, then, colour me pleased. (But please don't draw a penis on my forehead with a Sharpie when I'm asleep. It wasn't funny the first 17 times.) This has a lovely tartness to it. While there was no discernible fruit on the nose, which surprised me, there was a light spice aroma. But the rhubarb did come through, though very lightly so and it had a really nice dry finish. I was damn impressed with this one. One of the best fruit beers I've had this year.

This next one is not a newbie. Wellington's Chocolate Milk Stout pops up from time to time at the LCBO and I always make a point of grabbing a couple. This time, Marie did it for me. For the record, I pretended I had never seen it ever before in my life and I'll tell you something. It was an Oscar-worthy performance because of, well, free beer reasons. Not to mention the fact, this is a dynamite stout. And free!
Okay, this is a pretty clever name. Wellington's new
Against The Currant (complete with canoeist going
against the current) is a black currant kettle sour.
For starters, look at the beautiful brown head on this choco-bomb. You get roasted malts on the nose with a big old hit of chocolate. A slight hint of coffee on the tongue... followed by more chocolate. This 7.1% stout is a Cocoa Beast, baby! Remember back in the days when you were hung-over on macro brews and went to Mac's Milk to down a litre of their chocolate milk so you'd feel better? This would have been a better choice. One, it tastes better than chocolate milk. And two, it may have served as the introduction to craft beers that may have weaned you off the macro brews. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) Also the ABV would have vanquished that headache.

Okay, next up is their Against The Currant Kettle Sour, which won bronze for Best Fruit Beer at this year's Ontario Brewing Awards. Much to my surprise, there were no sour beer categories at the OBA's but we all suspect that will change by next year. The Canadian Brewing Awards has added them so like I said, next year. Thus spoketh Odin.
The Prismatic Golden Sour is part of the brewery's
Welly One-Off Small Batch Series. I made sure I hung
onto this one until sour-loving buddy, Jay, showed up.
As you can see, this pours a beautiful amber and was perfectly carbonated - fizzy and tingly to the last drop. The black currants they used come through strongly on the nose but more moderately on the tongue along with some citrus in this 5.5% beer. It is definitely sour but not baby-bite-a-lemon-slice-face sour. According to the commercial description, "Kettle souring lowers the pH of the beer by adding lactobacillus into the brew kettle which produces natural lactic acid. When the appropriate sourness is achieved, the kettle is brought to a boil, killing any living lactobacillus, leaving behind a distinct sour beer with notes of lemon and honey." Then they added the black currants to the mix. Got all that? Yeah, me neither. They lost me at pH. Dammit, Jim, we're beer drinkers, not biochemists! But hey, it's a damn fine Summer Sipper and that's all I care about. That and pizza. And I suppose my son. But only when he listens to me which is rarely. He has no idea how quickly he can slip down the ranks behind pizza and beer if he's not careful.
Gone but not forgotten is Wellington's president and
co-owner Doug Dawkins who passed away after a
massive heart attack on June 11.  Dawkins took over
the brewery in 2000. Brent Davies joined him later.

And finally for a more traditional style sour. That would be their Prismatic Golden Sour. Want to know the difference between this and a kettle sour? It's barrel-aged. *Boom* You don't need a fancy-pants Science degree to understand that. This beer was barrel-aged in Cabernet Franc wine barrels for over a year with a mix of wild yeast and sour bacteria. As Cabernet Franc is actually a black grape that is used in several wines, all red, it really came through in the taste. On the nose, this 5.9% sour was all citrus on the nose but strongly dark stone fruits (grapes, mostly) on the tongue. I saved this for when my sour-loving coworker Jay-Dawg was passing through Donny's Bar and Grill. I very much liked it. He very much loved it. It was tart, tart and then a little more tart.

But much like Wellington mirrors The Hip's reign in terms of longevity, they also started this Summer with a heart-breaking story, not unlike Downie's, which was announced just three weeks later. On June 11, Wellington president and co-owner Doug Dawkins passed away from a heart attack in the early morning. His longtime friend, co-owner and Wellington Vice-President Brent Davies told that employees at the brewery were stunned by the news.
Over 6,000 people packed the streets in Bobcaygeon,
Ontario to watch the final Hip concert on countless
big screens set up along the main strip. When the
song Bobcaygeon came on, the huge crowd roared
 its approval. Only The Hip could pull this one off.

"We lost a good one way too young," said Davies. "We're like a family here. It was extremely difficult to tell everyone what happened on Saturday. This is a family place. We all pitch in when it's needed, doesn't matter what the job is. Doesn't matter if it's an order that needs packaging or whatever. We all do what we have to. Doug was just a laid-back guy and a very hard worker. The kind of guy who could fix anything."

Davies added that the brewery was going to keep moving forward. "We had a vision and we're going to see that through." Dawkins purchased the brewery in 2000 from founder Phil Gosling after working on the production line for 10 years. He brought Davies in as a partner in 2010. Dawkins' passing was a sad note that rippled quickly through the Ontario craft brewing community. Pretty damn sad.

But let's wrap this up where we started. On August 18, just two days before the final Hip concert, my beer writing buddy and YouTube shining light Drunk Polkaroo posted one of his beer review videos. Now I am mentioned a couple times in it but that's not the reason I'm posting this. Trust me, I'm as surprised as you. The beer he's reviewing is Hopsta La Vista, brewed by my buddies Jimmy Peat, John Peat and Sebastian Lesch at Longslice Brewing in Toronto. But again, not the reason, though he describes the beer perfectly. No, it's because he talks about The Hip at the beginning, in the middle and again at the end. Polkaroo's lovable and relatable Everyman style described much better what most of us were feeling. After posting it on his Instagram, Longslice commented that "I guess you've been Tragically Hopped!" And that's Canada in a nutshell. Smiling in the face of adversity. But believe me, when the final chord was struck, an entire country wept. So here is: Polkaroo Talks Hopsta And The Hip  And hey, everyone, after Side Launch Brewing in Collingwood lost three batches of their award-winning wheat, let's all continue to #StepUpForSideLaunch by buying some of their fine beers. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's it and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...