Friday, 2 June 2017

Winning doesn't always include victories

When putting together a photo album for the reunion of Trafalgar
Road on Facebook, I teased Dennis throughout, calling him the lonely
and unloved bass player of the group. But I knew I was saving him
for the final picture, this one of him playing the keyboard, singing
"In The End" by The Beatles. I jammed myself between the piano
and a wall of electrical equipment to get this one picture. In fact,
I was up and ready before Dennis had even unstrapped his bass to
get over for this photo. Yeah, it's helpful to know how the song ends. 
Granted as a huge Beatles fan, I know how ALL their songs end.

I'm gonna start this one talking about a group of four men, all of them my friends, and eventually narrow it down to just one of those four. I'll try to give you the Reader's Digest version because I'm just that kind.

Back in March, one of those men posted an old newspaper picture on Facebook of a band he was in, back in the late 70s. It was given to him by his sister, who had saved it these many years. That would be Dennis. I know this fellow well as we were both high school friends and later room-mates when I was studying Journalism at a community college and he was taking Advanced Astro-Physics at the west campus of the University of Toronto. He was a good guy, never lorded that over me, taught me about stars and shit... and that's as far as I wanna go with that lie. I have absolutely no recollection of what courses he took at university.

But Dennis had a twin brother, Danny, also a high school friend, and the pair was in a band called Trafalgar Road with another high school friend, Frank, and a childhood friend named Greg. Back in the day, a Trafalgar Road gig was a goddamn riot. These guys were the shit! Four very funny guys, talented musicians, all with live mics. Their sets were great music with comedic flair spread throughout.

So that same day in March, knowing we had a high school reunion coming up just last weekend, someone floated the idea on Facebook of these four coming back together for a band reunion that night. And then it just took off. We all clamoured for it. The guys were onboard, despite geography issues such as drummer Greg now living in Ottawa (far away) while the other three are down here in the Mississauga to Burlington area.
While Dennis, right, has been nominated for Oakville's
Volunteer of the Year Award, his twin, Danny, left, has been
nominated for nothing. Is it because he's like me and thus

very selfish? Actually, no. He's a pretty giving guy. But that
little volunteers competition has stringent rules about not
allowing twins on the ballot as it waters down the process.
In the end, they only got to practise twice, once on Easter Weekend and again, the afternoon of the reunion.

So what happened? They killed it. Then resurrected it with Thor's Hammer. (No, Mjolnir does not have that power, just lightning.) And killed it some more. It was like three days had passed since they played together, not well over three decades. A great night of friends, fun and music.

But this is the point where I narrow it down to one. That would be Dennis. Every Wednesday night, Dennis hauls his tired old ass over to the new Oakville Hospital and plants it in front of a piano in the main area off of the foyer. For three straight hours, he plays classic hits from the 1940s, 50s and 60s for many elderly patients at the hospital. His groupies now are at the geriatric end of the scale but you take love where you can find it.

And just this week, he found out he was nominated for Oakville Volunteer of the Year. He's up against 11 others with pretty damn impressive credentials. Mathematics would say he has an 8.3% chance of winning. Las Vegas has him at a 157-to-1 longshot.
Oddly, this seems like yesterday to me and honestly, I
do not remember the world being in black and white.
But this is what Trafalgar Road looked like back in the
late-70s. But time went back over three decades when
they all played together again last Saturday. Damn fun.

Dennis actually Googled some of his competition and some of their accomplishments are quite remarkable. So Dennis is quite content practising his "It's an honour just to be nominated" speech. In his own blog, he basically said in it that he was practising a British accent just so he can at least sound a little more sophisticated in defeat.

Obviously because he's my friend, I hope he wins. But in another way, it doesn't really matter. You see, I kinda think he already won. I have a lot of friends, whether recent or in this case, going back decades. You know how many how been nominated for being the best possible citizen they can be? That would be one - Dennis.Turns out my ratio of friends who've served time versus those nominated for Volunteer of the Year is three-to-one. The rest of us just get speeding tickets.

Dennis and his beautiful wife, Kim, throw this great bash every Summer that is literally around the corner from me. At the high school reunion, Kim made sure I knew the date of this year's, telling me numerous times. (July something... Dennis, just tell me when I haven't been drinking. That's a narrow window so before noon when I'm still on coffee, okay?) So if Dennis doesn't win, I will go to a Trophy Store and buy him a big-ass trophy.
On a grey rainy day in May (so pick one of the 27 rainy days),
I took this dreary picture of Lake of Bays' new Broken Axe
American Pale Ale. It didn't bring the sun out to play but it
certainly cheered me up. One of their new rebranded beers.
No, it won't be for Oakville Volunteer Of The Year because that would tarnish the noble achievement of the winner. I can guarantee this, though. It'll be better! Possibly porn-related - best portrayal of a plumber, maybe. Haven't really decided yet. Like I said, to me, he's already won. And in case, he actually wins, I threw $10 down on him in Vegas. But no trophy from me if that happens. Volunteers should never be greedy. (I've heard. I wouldn't know.)

Now because this is a beer blog and not an "I can't believe one of my friends is this giving" blog, let's get to the beer. Dennis prefers Stella Artois. However, Kim's favourite is Sawdust City Brewing's Gateway Kolsch. So their home does have craft beer loving potential in Kim. Dennis? Meh, he just wins awards and stuff.

But lemme tell you about some dynamite new craft beers that could potentially win awards. Last month, Lake of Bays Brewing, nestled firmly in the lush country country of Baysville, Ontario, took three of their five year-round core beers, gutted them and rebranded them.
What's sexier than a supermodel? To me, it's when a craft brewery,
such as Lake of Bays, does something bold like this. Three of their
core beers gone and replaced with something even better. That's guts.
Gone was their decidedly British-style IPA, 10 Point (the number of tips on a deer's antlers), their quite mild Crosswind Pale Ale and their premium lager Rock Cut. Of their five core beers, only Top Shelf Pale Lager and their excellent and should-never-be-tampered-with Spark House Red Ale remained.

Why such a bold move? Because why not? Did the gamble pay off? It says here (like, in this space... by me) that, yes, it most certainly did. Turns out the brewery had been working on this all Winter.
While many were upset to see Rock Cut Premium Lager
fall to the wayside, I call this German-style Switchback
Pilsner a more than ample replacement. This was tasty!
In a press release, Lake of Bays revealed, "Brewers Dan Unkerskov, Mike Pawlick, Andrew Walsh and Mark Campbell spent the winter concocting innumerable pilot batches for bold new brews."

Note to Darren Smith, the young man who founded Lake of Bays back in 2011, give these guys a hefty raise because geezuz, did they hit the uprights. While fans of the three cast-out brands did raise the usual fuss on the Internet, all I can say is: Try them first!

Replacing the Crosswind Pale Ale is the new Broken Axe American Pale Ale and man, as someone who has had both and enjoyed them, all I can say is this is a huge step up. Okay, if you're in the forest chopping wood and you break your axe, what's that called? It's called Quitting Time, my friends. The trees will still be there tomorrow when you arrive with a new axe. And the Broken Axe, created by Mike and Andrew, is exactly that - a 4.8%, 36 IBU (international bitterness units) sessioner that would be a really great first crack after a long day.

If Lake of Bays owner Darren Smith, left, and head
brewer Dan Unkerskov look proud, it's because they
should be. Their new line-up of beer is spectacular!
Also, a huge shout-out to Dan's moustache which I
would say deserves its own separate Twitter account.
Is this Dane actually Lanny McDonald's brother??
Using Centennial, Wakatu and Idaho 7 hops (seeing that last one pop up in a lot of great beers these days), the duo created a west-coast style that has ample fruit on the nose (mostly melon and a little wheat is what I got) but a hefty slap of grapefruit and citrus on the tongue. This now will sit in the fridge at Donny's Bar and Grill as a starter beer for the Summer and I hope Lake of Bays puts this in those 5-litre (1.3 gallon) mini-kegs (or Bubba's as we called them here) just as they did with Crosswind for a stretch. That's how much I enjoyed this. However, I also enjoyed it as a man with a permanently broken axe because I don't chop wood. For exercise, I prefer to pork chop, instead. And yes, Spellcheck is insisting I spell it "ax" but I'm going with what's on the label.

Okay, the replacement of Rock Cut Lager with Switchback Pilsner seem to cause the biggest stink online with the beleaguered Lake of Bays' Twitter person repeating over and over, "Just try the pilsner!" I did and it was worth it. (Imagine that - trying something before you bitch about it. Whatta radical concept.) Sorry, Rock Cut fans but this is far superior to its predecessor. Head brewer Dan, the brewery's resident Dane, has gone for the German-style pils rather than the traditional Czech one and it has paid off nicely. By using Hallertau and Magnum hops (rather than Saaz), this is grassy and clean on the nose, smooth with a touch of wheat and citrus on the tongue. Lovely pilsner!
Finally, the west coast IPA that I have waited years for
Lake of Bays to make is here. And it's a beauty, folks.
Love the beer, love the branding, love everything here.

Okay, obviously, I'm gonna save the biggest and best for last and that was the swapping out of 10 Point for the new Oxtongue IPA. Night and day, people. The 10 Point was nice enough for its malty British style but this is west coast hoppy all the way. With brewers Andrew and Mike again at the helm, this 6.2%, 65 IBU ale, using Centennial, Idaho 7 and Pekko hops, is the IPA we have long been waiting for from Lake of Bays. Pouring a beautiful clear copper colour, this was citrus on the nose with more of the same and grapefruit on the tongue, pretty much what we have come to expect (and at times, demand) from an IPA. As Millennials would say, "This beer is on fleek!" As the rest of us would say, "Wow, that's a really stupid expression but this is a great beer!"

These beers are too new to have won awards but much like my buddy, Dennis, up top there, I say the brewery has already won, making a move this bold. Excellent call, guys - a shake-up of this magnitude is risky but when it pays off, damn rewarding! And it did. Well, guys and dolls, that's it, that's all for me as I am off to tiny South River, Ontario, for a Boys Weekend at the cottage. That Highlander Brewing is five minutes from the cottage is a happy coincidence. Head brewer Brian Wilson (the one not affiliated with the Beach Boys), we will see you and your tasty-ass beverages soon, my friend! Until next time, I remain...