Nine years ago, back around those heady days of political blogging, I wrote a series of posts on a fictitious Atlantic Canadian separation movement focused on a mde-up new capital called Tantrama City. One post set out details of the Canada Day celebrations under the new governmental order and featured the photo of Neil and Larry above. I have no idea who these guys are but I love it. It may be the most Canadian image I have ever seen. The nutty bow ties in the national colours, Neil’s boring earnest shirt and Larry drinking a Bud. And the fact they don’t give a crap and are just having a good time.
Is there a Peru Day or a Norway Day? Canada Day is such a politely bland concept but, this being a confederation with lingering prickly regional identities, it suits us. We are the country that cancels recreations of historic events. Why recall past unhappinesses? What we remember in particular is the formation of one semi-autonomous colony out of three in 1867 (or was it four… Canada was sort of split into Canada East and Canada West but had formerly been separately Lower Canada and Upper Canada from 1791 to 1841), two of the invitee colonies not joining in until six (PEI) and eighty-two (Newfoundland) years later. My particular part of the nation remembers the events with mixed emotions.
So, on this we day celebrate the fourth version of Canada after the one that was otherwise a bit chunk of New France up to 1760, then the one with the Upper and the Lower, then the one that didn’t work from 1841 to 1867. And maybe the one from 1763 to 1791, too. OK, maybe this is the fifth Canada. Most of all we recall the man who is attributed with bringing the four colonies together, Sir John A MacDonald. Larry and Neil might well have been making a joke or two about him – as the founder of a large part (but not all) of our current constitutional structure (yes, it is a bit messy) was a bit of a drinker. A bit of one. Consider this description of one of the planning sessions from the pre-Confederation years:
“…The Council was summoned for twelve and shortly after that we were all assembled but John A. We waited for him till one – till half past one – till two – and then Galt sent off to his house specially for him. Answer – will be here immediately. Waited till half past two – no appearance. Waited till three and shortly after, John A. entered bearing symptoms of having been on a spree. He was half drunk. Lunch is always on the side table, and he soon applied himself to it – and before we had well entered on the important business before us he was quite drunk with potations of ale.” But, after two and a half hours of debate, the wound up their discussions of the constitutional changes and agreed on the course to be followed…”
So, we are a nation imagined and brought into being by a drunk. That is the story we are told. Historian Ged Martin in 2006 published this detailed study of the record of Macdonald’s drinking patterns which both confirms the fantastic level of consumption, his personal struggles as well as the possible causes. It is a very sympathetic piece. If they read it, I am sure Larry and Neil would like him more… and raise another beer to the nation imagined mid-spree thanks to potations of ale. They’d probably raise an American one come to think of it. But only if it was the nearest one. We are not that fussy.
Even though it is just the 17th of May, this weekend is nicknamed May Two-Four. It is Canada’s non-much-observed celebration of the lass who was Queen Victoria. Monday is still called Victoria Day. It also has a quiet subtext of somehow being the celebration of the present Queen’s birthday. If those are the dimming antecedents, the once glowing purposes of the day – they are doubly wrong. Our current absentee monarch was born on an April 21st. Vicky was born in May 24th but, as you may note, that is not today’s date.
And yet this is the weekend of May Two-Four. Not next weekend which contains the twenty-fourth day of May. This one. Why? Because a two-four is the name of a cardboard case of 24 bottles of beer. Twenty-four 12 ounce bottles is that unit that is beyond personal consumption. It implies either sharing or duration. A long warm weekend is apt for both. And gardening and fireworks. Because we have no real remaining cultural focus on this long weekend, unlike any other long Canadian weekend, we are now free to create our own. So we think about drink in itself. We just enjoy ourselves.
It was not always so. In the course of co-writing one book on the history of beer in Ontario and another on Albany, I have written about three drink laced celebrations of the Monarch’s birthday in 1755, 1776 and 1828. As I mentioned the other week, Sir William Johnson supplied the Royal loyal allies of the monarchy, the Mohawk nation of central New York, with beer during the Seven Years War – aka the French and Indian War. One of those deliveries, as noted at page 572, was on June 4, 1755 when he obtained two barrels of beer from Hendrik Fry for the Mohawk at Conajoharee to drink to toast the birthday of George III. As I wrote a year ago, Craig and I located the scene of the drunken tavern brawl 21 years later in Albany which finally ripped that city’s Tories and Patriots apart triggered by overly vigorous toasting to the King. Perhaps my favorite Royal birthday celebration in British North American happened about half a century later. As you will see in Ontario Beer, at a celebration of the King George IV’s birthday hosted by the Canada Company on 12 August 1828, 200 settlers gathered at what is now Guelph when it was at the point where the forest met the clearing of fields. A whole ox was roasted held over the fire with logging chains. As there were few utensils, most of it was eat off of wooden shingle plates with a stick for a fork. After the eating was done:
…toasts were drunk to everybody and every conceivable thing, the liquors of all imaginable descriptions being passed round in buckets from which each man helped himself by means of tin cups…
It is recorded that many were found the next morning reposing on the ground in the marketplace “in loving proximity to the liquor pails.”
Now, I am not suggesting we take our Canadian admiration of the Crown to that point. But… it is a proud tradition. It brought together peoples as loyal allies, insulted our treacherous enemies and celebrated the new frontier in our new homeland. If I had my druthers, that would be what we celebrate today. Not so much the Crown or a particular monarch but the loyal pioneers who defended the cause and created the nation. And drank like idiots as they did and because they did. Because we are like that.
Church play last night with two angels and a camel handler representing. Home for the 1981 SCTV Christmas special as well as Pope Francis. Awoke to screams. A carrot and oats strewn kitchen floor, too. Damn reindeer. Napping before roasting leg of lamb on the agenda.
This is a difficult date on the calendar for me. Like in many places, the Irish, lapsed or otherwise, and their fellow travelers in small town eastern Ontario have gathered and tightly packed themselves into traditional bars like the Douglas Tavern or the Tweedsmuir drinking macro lager dyed green and/or Guinness and/or whatever else is going. But I am not of them. Scots me. These celebrations can get quite elaborate and have been mentioned in our national Parliament. They seem to rival the… err… passion seen in the larger urban St. Paddy’s events in US centers like Syracuse where it lasts so long it forms its own season. The day seems to serve the need for a New Year’s Eve party ten weeks after that hammering of the brain cells – and one with less of the pretense, more of the getting pickled for being legitimately pickled sake.
I say legitimately as these descendants of the Irish in this part of North America embrace themselves and the generations before them through this ritual. Me? It’s been tea and water for me today. A Saturday even. I am being sensible, see. Sensible. Four years ago, I called for the embracing of March 17th by the fans of good beer. Things may have changed. From the Twitter feeds and Google news items floating by good beer fans seem to be rejecting rejection. And some craft brewers are getting into the day. Beaus, as Bryan recently noted, has a seasonal beer out now called Strong Patrick. Are there others? Why not? If ever there was a reason to brew a seasonal beer it is in response to a season focused on beer. One problem, however, is that craft beer has somewhat abandoned standard Irish stout. As Andy noted last fall, it was the least competitive category at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival. Imperial Irish reds are all very fine in their way but why not make an Irish dry stout for when the Irish are dry? I might even join in.
… and what did I learn? Well, the nicest guys to drink with are the off duty local OPP who watched the crowd’s back the night before. And there was the realization that having smartguys in the room who have brewed in industrial and craft settings for decades adds a hugely positive level of understanding to a discussion where there are many levels in the room from hard core beer thinker to nano craft brewer to happy two-four pop beer buyer. Interesting to note that value and authenticity were the factors of the greatest interest to those at the presentation.
Plus, I learned that a Tim’s chocolate glaze will almost entirely strip the taste of the cigar from your mouth… thought not your sinuses. Then, I also learned that in Buffalo NY Tim Hortons is called Timmy Ho-Ho’s which is just wrong. Also, you never know where you will meet people who know people you know. Additionally, I learned from having the mango hoppy Vassar Heirloom as well as Dieu de Ciel imperial stout that mixing two strong tasting beers can actually not lead to a strong tasting blend. I was surprised by the negation.
I don’t know how many of these I could go to in a year. The perfect weather, setting, company, program, volunteer work, community support, staff dedication, food and beer selection, insane taxi drivers, tone and fun of this event might actually be hard to beat.
Ron was on fire. Sure, I had to threaten the audience before to ensure that they had to listen if they knew what was good for them. But they did listen. And it was good for them. After about seventeen genial interjections the lady in the back told me to shut up. That was excellent. Then we were done and retired to the room at the back, opened the fridge and found the five pounds of Quebec blue cheese that the previous panel had left behind. That was some friggin’ good cheese. Tomorrow? Pub games. Spent a happy half hour this morning buying and then sanding junks of wood for an Aunt Sally set for the noon. That’ll be cool. Knocking down a stick. By throwing a stick. Excellent.
I was handed this beer at last week‘s beer event. I just would like to mention that this is one of the best Ontario-made beers I have ever had. Part of their Project X series, it’s on limited release and, sadly, limited production. Too bad. Thick sheeting mocha cream head over deep dark ale. Thick aroma, too. Cocoa and mint. Pumpernickel and cream. If I had thought of a beer future back in the 90s, it might have been this. Before hop mania. Before sour. When malt and roast reigned. This has it. Masses of dark malt with dry roast coffee as well as sticky date and raisin notes all carried along with a rich light sour even yogurty yeastiness. It is heavy. In the best sense. As heavy as you wished your coffee in the morning could be.
I think I recall Troy telling me as he passed the bottle that this was named after Burt Reynolds. Can’t recall why.
What a pleasant Wednesday. I ate. I sipped. I asked myself a lot about how people in downtown Toronto spend their Wednesday evenings. I did not think I got swept away in pairing mania but, and it is a subtle but so bear with me, there were many wonderful combinations to be found.
For example, Beau’s Mates with Dates and the cheese made from water buffalo milk from Montefort Dairy was a really interesting side by side but it was not one of the proposed pairings on offer. Similarly, a deftly tucked away bottle of Ten Bitter Years from Black Oak went very well with the dessert crepe being given away in a booth but that was not the beer on offer because the crepe had Ontario black walnuts. The chef and I talked about the weirdness of the texture of the crepe and nuts with a very bombish IPA. But we agreed that there was a twigginess in the hops of the beer that worked with the walnuts which tasted like you face would after an hour of chainsawing hardwood.
So did I pair? Probably. Was the event a good one. It really was. I am going to just post this now but add some more thoughts as my day’s class on contract drafting proceeds. Unless it is riveting. Which it could be. You never know.
This year’s vintage base ball game was remarkable. The weather was so hot I thought that I was going to faint when I slowed into second on a couple of doubles. The team had a few new faces but was as keen as ever and took both games after never winning a single game in the USA in the four previous seasons. Well, there was 2008 when the game was rained out. We declared that we had not lost by default.