Thursday, 15 March 2018

The Cowbell Caper...

I tell you, it doesn't matter whether it's the biggest concert of the year or
a gig at a bar, my friend Dave, right, always scores front row seats. It's
like he has these magical connections or something. Here, he has our
high school buddy, Danny, practically playing the guitar just for him!!
This is the story of how the St Louis Wings restaurant in Oakville got the cowbell it so desperately needed. Not that they knew it at the time, mind you. Some things you just discover as life ambles along around you.

It all starts with my high school buddy, Danny, who does solo gigs with his guitar all over Ontario. Well, the west of Toronto area anyway. He's played his gigs in places as prestigious as Port Credit and Streetsville, often referred to the Caribbean of the North. Now, he's finally cracked the elusive Oakville market, which is clearly akin to the Mayan Riviera in these northern parts.
This latest gig came when he was at the restaurant one night and saw another musician on the upper level. So he tracked down the manager, Megan, and said, "Hey I do that, too, if you're interested..."
The chalkboard at the front of St. Louis Wings
said it all on February 23rd. Yes, Dan Ford was
coming and yes, those little musical notes let you
know this guy's a musician and perhaps a felon.
"Live music" was yet another helpful clue. It's all
about being able to read between the lines, folks.

So I suspect Megan did what any bar manager would do and checked Danny's criminal record to make sure he had the minimum number of misdemeanors to ensure that he was, in fact, a legitimate musician. Since Danny's penchant for jaywalking (and getting ticketed for said crime) brought his numbers well into the acceptable musician levels, the gig was on for February 23rd. That is, of course, the same day that in 1945, US Marines raised the USA flag into the ground in Iwo Jima, which is relevant in that both Danny getting this gig and that Marine flag thing represent huge victories for North Americans at large. We'll let the future historians debate which victory was more significant. (Okay, it's probably the first one since 20 million soldiers on both sides didn't live to see who won World War 2. But a fresh gig is big, too.)

But Danny texted me earlier in the day to say he would need my assistance on a song. My response was an always-erudite "Huh?" because I have no prior misdemeanors (I'm more of an actual criminal - I rip those tags that say "Do not remove" off mattresses) and thus really don't belong on a musical stage. He assured me my participation could be easily handled - he needed me to play the cowbell at the beginning of one song.
"For America, for the Allies, for democracy and for
Danny Ford getting a gig 73 years from now, we
declare these are not ideal flag planting conditions."

Well, since the cowbell is easier to play than even the tambourine (hell, Betty of The Archies could play the tambourine and she's a damn cartoon), I agreed but of course, had no idea what song it was. I would find out when called upon in Danny's third set of the evening that it was The Rolling Stones' 1969 hit "Honky Tonk Woman." Well, that seemed simple enough... except no story involving either Danny or myself is ever really that simple. My life-long friend since Day One of Kindergarten, Dave, (the handsome clappy chappy in the first picture) was there with his ladylove, Joann, who insisted this could be a musical performance worthy of Facebook Live. Meh, why the hell not? I've posted far more ridiculous things on social media. "But you have to really play the cowbell!" Joann insisted somewhat emphatically.

Well, alrighty then... So my moment in the spotlight (there was no spotlight - why was there no spotlight?) came and I happily started cowbelling. In my mind, I knew exactly when Danny's guitar would kick in. But it didn't. After a brief hesitation on my end, I resumed. Why did Danny miss his cue, I wondered. He's a seasoned musician. He's been doing this for decades now.
After my Cowbell Extravaganza, my best bud, Dave,
told me he was getting lessons from a pro and posted
a picture of a cow wearing a cowbell. However, as a
craft beer drinker, I was able to one-up him on this.
Well, upon YouTube video review when I got home, I actually stopped a full 10 seconds short of the guitar kick-in. Danny was fine. It was me. Again, in my defence, no musical background.

But once I restarted, I just kept going. It was a cowbell extravaganza, as they may or may not say in the music industry. On Facebook Live, Joann filmed the opening part of my performance and then the big close. And then the comments started rolling in. For days afterwards, cowbell memes were created, challenges to my Cowbell Throne were issued, all from high school friends.

Most of the comments were of the "Needs more cowbell" variety, a riff off the famous Saturday Night Live skit but there was one voice of reason amidst the din. Danny's twin brother, Dennis, also a musician, was vacationing down in Mexico with his lovely wife, Kim, during the whole debacle and he took the time to weigh in after viewing the video evidence. "This song needs less cowbell" was his succinct reply. He was not wrong.

However, what I did not realize was that there was a familiar face at the bar that night. My coworker, Patchy, was there with a buddy. Turns out he didn't see me but he certainly heard me.
My poor Beer Store co-worker Patchy was an unwitting
audience member at St Louis Wings when I was showing
off my cowbell skills. It was a total coincidence he was
there but it is, in fact, his regular hang-out, he told me.
When I came wandering down the stairs to the bar's main area with my cowbell, I stopped at the bottom, gave them a little taste of my talent and headed back upstairs. Patchy's buddy, who was facing me, told him, "There's some lunatic over there hitting a cowbell." Patchy told me later, "I only saw you walking back up but I recognized the hair." Rock star hair without the rock star talent or rock star bank account - a concise summation of my life. What was previously confined to a reasonable handful of high school friends on Facebook was about to spread to my work-place.

So Patchy had to show our other co-worker, Trey, the video evidence from the previous night. Knowing that I would be involved in some kind of cowbell calisthenics on that night because I love boring coworkers with all the mundane munitiae in my life beforehand, Trey watched the video of me jumping around like a deranged orangutan, shook his head and simply said, "What a goofball. I thought you'd do it with more style." Trey has know me since 1999 when Prince told us we should party like it was, you know, that year. Why he would think I'd do anything ever with style is well beyond my comprehension.
I think my home-boy Drunk Polkaroo had this on the last
Polkapalooza, which was late last year. In fact, in Blyth,
he and Mrs Polkaroo stayed overnight, above a bakery. In
the end, I was almost as pumped about that as the visit to
the brewery. But I was just having this for the first time.


All of this finally brings me to the beer portion of this alleged beer blog. You see, when my buddy Dave jokingly told me that an actual cow with a cowbell was training him on the instrument so he could best me, I had to tell him I had an unfair advantage. And I told him, "Up in tiny Blyth, Ontario, there is a brewery called Cowbell Brewing. I have been drinking their product for nearly two years and thus, I always have the Cowbell within me."

But I actually had the "Cowbell" within me on this night. I had a day shift and there was still hours before Danny's gig so I went to Oakville's best LCBO in the Oak Park plaza, five minutes up the street from me. Lo and behold, they had Cowbell's Doc Perdue's Boxing Bruin IPA there as their craft selection is fantastic. Reasoning that if I was gonna to play the cowbell, I should drink some Cowbell was justification enough for a pre-show beverage. Also, that's pretty much what I'd do - cowbell or not.

Well, I am glad I finally had this one as it is everything that was advertised.
Twitter friend Jen Heaslip was super clever with this one picture as she
actually put a Grain & Grit In The Palms IPA in a freaking palm leaf. I
have eight or nine different photos of this beer and that didn't dawn on
me once. So @crftbeernkittns (that's Jen), I will say job very well done!
Cowbell Head Brewer Stephen Rich, who leads a team of six brewers, may have a misstep at some point in his career but I certainly haven't seen it yet. Both their Absent Landlord Country Kolsch and Doc Perdue's Bobcat Red Coast Red Ale are winners of awards in my annual "Best Of" year-end lists and the hits just keep on coming with the Boxing Bruin IPA. Using five different hops, they always put a touch a Belgian Candi Syrup in the mix (don't worry - there was no weird sweetness) and the 6.3%, relatively low 50 IBU (international bitterness units) ale pops with citrus and mango flavours. Hoppy and bitter, which is everything we ask for with a good west coast IPA.

And while I have never visited the brewery in Blyth, Ontario (though I will), one brewery that has seen a lot of me lately is Grit & Grain Small Batch Beer, a small but vibrant operation in west Hamilton. In fact, I have popped in there, three times in the last four weeks. The first time was with Beer Bro Glenn, who was a sickly lad at the time. But Joe Mrav, who founded the place with his wife Lindsey, back in October, gave us both a sample of their In The Palm IPA straight from the vat. But you can't (or maybe shouldn't) review a beer from a sample.
I think Glenn tried this when we first visited Grain & Grit
but due to excessive nasal congestion (eeeeww), he couldn't
really taste anything. He missed another beauty from them.

So after my son, David, and I saw Black Panther on a Sunday matinee (if you haven't, go see it - awesome!), we scooted back out to Hamilton the following weekend because In The Palms had just been released two days prior. I had to see if full cans (so six of them, of course - plus others) lived up to the aroma I remembered from the sample. Lemme put it this way. I opened the can on a chilly day outside in a medium breeze to take a picture and all I could smell was grapefruit in the air. I shouldn't have been able to smell anything as I was pouring it into the glass above my head on an upper wall in the wind. But I got blasted with grapefruit, nonetheless. At just 5% but a wicked high 90 IBUs, this one was as punchy as hell. While Glenn remembers getting some pineapple on the nose, I didn't but man, I got tons of grapefruit and a pine back-end on this bad boy, which is just an outstanding low-alcohol IPA.

But I also saw Joe again, as well as Lindsey this time around and have a brief chance to talk to both separately. Great people, friendly as the day is long and truly this small brewery is a labour of love for them both.
No, it's not the season for Saisons (which is actually the
word "season" in French) but at Donny's Bar and Grill,
it's always the season for a citrusy beer so I had to dive
into this warm weather fare before the Spring sprung!!!

But I was back again last weekend because Fairweather Brewing, another new Hamilton brewery on the same street was releasing their Sundrop Wheat IPA and I wanted me some of that. I'll review that in a few days but there was a couple of new offerings in the Grain & Grit retail fridge. Well, at least new to me. Well, Glenn, I'm happy to report that one of their beers is definitely riddled with pineapple goodness - their Pineapple Rye Pale Ale. At 5.3% (yes, this pale ale has a higher ABV than their signature IPA) and 47 IBUs, Brewed with pineapple puree and rye malts, as well as Mosaic and Amarillo hops, this has the light sweetness of the pineapple, the subtle twang of the rye malts and well, the hops give it a nice dry, bitter finish. Head Brewer Alex Sporn just keeps cranking it beauties.

But when I saw Joe this time, I came bearing gifts. I had a pile of those plastic snap-lids for either a four or six-packs of cans. I noticed Grain & Grit used those in their retail outlet. I figure that those aren't free and knowing they're still a small operation, I figured I'd help defray at least a little cost for them.
Childrens' book artist and all-around great guy David Buist, a Twitter buddy, lives
very close to Grain & Grit in Hamilton and when he saw their Light Ray Session IPA
and Circuit Breaker Session Saison in their retail, he said it reminded him of super
hero names. So he created this cartoon for the brewery! Buist is also the creator of
the famous Drunk Polkaroo-Donny Inception shirt that I wore to Vegas last time!!
I also bought a brewery shirt to wear on the strip for my next trip to Las Vegas as I think they have earned that high honour already. I travel to the brewery almost as much as I do to Vegas, after all.

But one more from these guys because I think they're fantastic to close this out - their Citrus Saison. Well, there's plenty of citrus on the nose on this 6%, 38 IBU one with some nice fruit and a bit of banana on the tongue. Pleasantly mild and a solid example of the style.

Well, that closes out this edition but coming full circle, my man, Danny, will be back at St Louis Wings this Saturday for the all-important Saint Patrick's Day gig. Will the cowbell come out and get play once again? Doubtful. I can't see me topping my last performance because, well, I was exceptional and that leaves me just one direction to go. Sadly, that's down. Forget about it. If you need proof, well, here's Manager Megan's brief taping of my last performance on Instagram. I call it: Who's That Idiot With The Cowbell? But Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain as always...