Monday, 5 June 2017

Boys Weekend boosted by Highlander

I have arrived at the Promised Land - Highlander
Brew Co. in South River, Ontario. After a haitus,
Boys Weekend resumed this past weekend and I
finally got the chance to meet my brewmaster
buddy, Brian Wilson. This new brewery is a
huge step-up up from the old set-up, being about
four times the size. Never saw the original one.
Sometimes those Facebook "On This Day" notices can be tough to swallow. I mean, 95% of the time, they're genuinely fond memories. But the other 5% of the time, it's like Facebook is deliberately trying to crack you.

"Hey, remember that girlfriend from 10 years ago that you were madly in love with before she broke your heart? Well, here's a picture from that time you two vacationed in Mexico. Man, she was pretty hot, eh?"

"Remember that beautiful dog you worshipped with all your heart? Yeah, he's dead but here's his picture. You have no dog now."

Facebook can be a real bitch at times. But there was one particular set of photos that kept popping up in May and then resurfacing in October. Pictures from Boys Weekend in tiny South River, Ontario at the cottage of my buddy, Bill, on picturesque Eagle Lake. You see, for about a decade, a group of guys, usually about eight of us, went up to put the docks in every Spring and remove them in the late Fall. It was, as you can well imagine, a weekend rife with Poker, beer, Euchre tournaments, Scotch, nudie magazines and general guys-being-slobs-because-the-wives-weren't-around behaviour.

For two weekends a year, our inner Al Bundys came out to belch. Oh sure, there were Couples Weekends there, too, but nothing could match the sheer stupidity invoked on the Boys Weekend.

But Boys Weekend kinda fell to the wayside about six years ago. I'm not 100% certain why. Maybe some of the guys had a falling out. Maybe there was a spat between some wives. Maybe there were health issues. Or maybe some guys just had other things to do.

But those constant "On This Day" reminders of wild weekends on Eagle Lake were irksome for two of us - myself and our Barrie buddy, Kevin. Whatever the issues were, Kevin and I knew we had nothing to do with it. So we started poking Bill to reinstate Boys Weekend.
A reflection in time. That's Kevin lounging in the chair, me on
the back left, taking the picture and looking quite resplendent
in my Batman T-Shirt, flannel overshirt and Toronto Maple
Leaf pajama pants and in a nifty bit of foreshadowing, Bill, on
the right with a lampshade from indoors haloing his outdoor
head. An eagle-eyed friend, other Bill, noticed the lampshade.
And it worked. This past weekend, four of us - myself, Kevin, Bill and Brett - all splashed down on Eagle Lake for the first Boys Weekend in many years. About half the crew of former years but frankly, who gives a shit? Boys Weekend was always larger than the sum of its parts.

My secondary reason wanting Boys Weekend back is that South River is home to Highlander Brew Co. You see, several years back, brewmaster Brian Wilson and I struck up a friendship over private messages on Twitter as he mans the account. We talked about everything craft-beer-related under the sun and he seemed like a cool dude. Now before I go any further, I would like to point out Brian has no association with the pop group, The Beach Boys. Our Brian is Canadian of Scottish descent while the other Brian is American of Emotional Meltdown descent. Different dudes.

While Kevin and Bill had both landed at Eagle Lake on Thursday night, I arrived Friday early afternoon. Kevin had taken off to North Bay for some sales calls for the dental implant company which employs him, leaving Bill to meet me in South River. But the boys had enjoyed a bit of libations the night before, splitting somewhere between five and seven bottles of wine just between themselves. (The estimation of how many bottles fluctuated with each telling of the story.) So when I caught up with Bill on Saturday, one look at his weary eyes told me I was dealing with a hurtin' unit. That would soon change at Highlander.

In actual fact, the first person I saw as I came through the door was none other than Brian Wilson. He wasn't expecting me until Saturday, his day off, and was expecting to return.
Having heard that we have never had a
Beer Mimosa, the wonderful Leah set us
each up with one, using orange juice and
the ultra-carbonated Pipers Loch Pale Ale
So my Friday arrival worked perfectly for him. And he was eager to give us a tour of his brewery's new digs.

You see, Highlander opened back in 2009 in a smaller building somewhere around Eagle Lake. Having gone to his cottage since the age of five, Bill knew the exact location of the former brewery. I didn't have a clue. But last year, they started to build a new brewery right on Hwy 124, the two-lane road that runs down the main street in first Sundridge and then South River. It opened last October. The difference between the two, Brian told me as we toured, was the old one sat at about 2,400-square-feet. The new one? Over 10,000-square-feet. "We just couldn't keep up with the demand our brewery capacity allowed at the old place," Brian said. The new fermenting vats increased by the same volume and countless new ones were added. Now we're talkin'...

While Bill, a Scotch and wine drinker, marveled at the inner workings of a brewery, he told Brian that he and his wife, Sharon, were in on the May 24th weekend and while they roamed the front area of the brewery at will, they weren't offered a brewery tour. "Yeah, that's because you didn't come with this guy," laughed Brian, nodding towards me. That's me - I'm This Guy! Or That Guy. Just call me Guy.

Initially, finding the new brewery was easy enough. It is now the most physically-imposing structure on that little strip of Hwy 124. "You can't miss it," Bill told me. "It's huge, black and the only new building on the street for 50 years."
That's why I'm... guarding the vat... just like Brian Wilson does... 
It took us a few years but I finally connected with Highlander brewer
extraordinaire Brian Wilson. He gave Bill and myself the full VIP
tour and we got to sample some pretty special beers! Great time...
But when the tour was over, Brian had a special treat for us. You see, the brewery just created a specialty line named after the four seasons - Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn. Each is its own unique style and while they are pricey at $20 per 750-ml (25 ounce) bottles, they are extremely limited runs - under 500 bottles made of each.

And right now in their fridge, among other treats, are the Winter and Spring ones. So out came the corkscrew and Brian popped a Spring ale for us. Pouring the entire bottle into two beer mugs, he passed them along to us. "Now, I know you're a hophead," he said to me of the beer which he's classified as an English IPA, "so this won't be your usual style." However, that said, the 8%, probably 40-45 IBU (international bitterness units) ale certainly had a distinct taste. It was more of a Belgian ale style to me, despite the inclusion of Chinook, Centennial and Cascade hops. But beyond the hops is where he tricked this one out. Using Labrador tea and Wintergreen, this had a back-end mintiness to it. And the aroma was so floral, you knew instantly what he was after - the smells of Spring.

As he and Bill discussed the beer ingredients that can be found in the bushes around South River, I noticed another side-effect. I could tell it wiped out Bill's hangover almost instantly. Funny what a full mug of 8% beer will do, eh?
There was no way I was coming home without these
two bad boys. I suspect when I go back up in the
fall, their Summer and Autumn beers will be there
waiting for me. Loving Boys Weekend even more.
But the brewmaster wasn't done with us just yet as he uncorked their 10% Winter Imperial Stout. Holy Godiva, this was a beast. A big black bear of a beer which is probably not coincidental as bears and moose are known to freely wander the backwoods and country roads of South River.

Rich and thick with the usual aromas of chocolate and toasted malts, there was some definite orange rind and cinnamon in the mix. Not too surprisingly, Bill really liked this one as I have noticed wine and liquor drinkers seem to love the deep flavours in Imperial Stouts. And, of course, I was onboard because while I usually save the big stouts for the frigid Winter months, it's nice to have an outstanding one, such as this, every once in a while when the weather warms up. It's like a hearty meal.

Eventually, we had to clear out (while we could still drive) but in the end, we weren't done with Highlander just yet. We would be back on the Saturday. You see, we lost Kevin shortly after a very late breakfast (he was having a new fridge delivered to his Barrie home) but we gained Burlington buddy Brett. Our meeting point once again - Highlander. Hey, you gotta have that touchstone. Highlander was definitely ours. A safe haven as it were. A secure locale. This one worked pretty damn well for me.
As Bill, centre, has been coming to the family cottage for
decades and Brewmaster Brian is a local, it seemed the pair
of them had common acquaintances with nearly everyone
who walked into the retail area on Friday. Here. they chat
with an older couple who came in while we were hanging out.
It's not a big community - that happens a lot in South River.

Meeting Brett at Highlander in the early afternoon, Brian, of course, wasn't there but we were in the capable, sunny hands of retail ladies, Leah and Marissa. As Brett is a big craftie (though also fond of his Scotch), we ran the gamut of the samplers, pretty much trying everything. And if it wasn't on tap, they had no problem cracking open a 650-ml (22 ounce) bottle from the fridge for us.

One such beer was their 5.2% mildly-hopped, citrus-infused Pipers Loch Pale Ale. I'm not sure if it's always this heavily-carbonated but it was enough that Bill, who has some gastro issues, had to quickly leave the room briefly. Let's not even hazard a guess at which end that gas was released. Once we finished our samplers and Bill returned, Leah piped up, "Have you guys ever had a Beer Mimosa?" Well, no, a regular one with champagne and orange juice, sure, but OJ and beer? Not a combo I'd normally investigate. But Leah and Marissa told us they had discovered it quite by accident one day and now swear by it. So Beer Mimosas it was!

Well, geezuz, if the ladies weren't onto something. That was pretty damn tasty! Who would have guessed?
The June 4th sunrise on Eagle Lake at 5:30 am. Not sure why I was
even up but I went back to my bed not long after taking this photo.
But man, it does not get more picturesque than a sunrise on a lake.
Both Brett and I grabbed a Pipers Loch (among others - their Blacksmith Smoked Porter is one of the best of its style in Ontario - it was my Porter of the Year in 2015) with the intention of repeating that Mimosa Experiment at home. Drink half and make a Beer Mimosa with the other half. Great discovery, ladies!

So thank you, Brian, Leah and Marissa for being outstanding and gracious hosts. We will all be back in the Autumn. But before we're done today, one final Eagle Lake story. The first time I visited the cottage back in probably 2000, as we were driving in, I noticed a life-guard tower on a small sandy strip of the shore along the lake across the street from the Narrows Grocery Store. The life-guard tower was named "The Eagle's Nest." So I turned to Bill and asked, "Does South River know that was the name of Hitler's bunker at the end of World War Two?" Apparently, they did not. We have posed at that tower many times over the years, though probably never sober. But the thing is Boys Weekends are back on and we couldn't be happier. Local law enforcement, likely less so but we happily tell them how we pay their salaries every time. Cops love that reminder from rowdy citizens. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...