Brewers’ Plate 2012 And My Happy Schooling

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.

Sackets Harbor NY Vintage Base Ball Tournament 2011

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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.

PGP 9.0: Britain’s PM Has A Post Ale Go At Aunt Sally

I love it. I have always thought the pub game called “Aunt Sally” was the least identified and most offensive continuing recreational tradition amongst the English-speaking peoples and, but except for maybe the Queen having a go, Mr. Cameron’s attack on a defenseless image of an elderly lady playing of the game this weekend was about as classic an example as one might imagine of the game’s intersect of innocence and villainy:

After being handed his first half pint of beer, a 4.4 per cent proof tipple called Big Lamp Summer Hill Stout, Mr Cameron joked: “This is quite potent stuff.” But that did not stop him from buying another half, a Tring Special Effects beer. Mr Cameron then had a game of Aunt Sally, where players use six sticks to try to knock a ­wooden doll from a plinth. He felled it at the last attempt.

Here’s the thing. As I understand it, these sorts of throwing games go back centuries. Bowling is a rolling game and skittles is a lobbing game. And before the clever got the idea to lob a ball, they just made a game up by chucking a stick at something – often another stick or sticks standing on end. So, how do you make chucking one stick at another stick more laddish when, you know, it’s 1673 and video games, personal hygiene, “I’m Too Sexy” and human rights are centuries off? You pretend the stick you are aiming for is an old lady – perhaps even a witch! – named called Aunt Sally.

The world most indispensable web site, The Online Guide to Traditional Games has a lot of information on Aunt Sally including one theory that it is a descendant of the perhaps… well, certainly if one was the rooster… more offensive pub game of “throwing at cocks” in which male poultry were stoned to rounds of ales, laughter and applause. Timothy Finn’s indispensable book, Pub Games of England, traces a form of the game back to the 1300’s. Finn states at page 82 that the game suffered a downturn at the end of the Tudor period: “[t]he chief competition to the game came from other forms of skittles and bowls, most of which could claim at least some of the sophistication that Aunt Sally so obviously lacked.” An active league still plays in Oxford.

If I were to review the available visual record of this weekend’s events, Barry Clack’s photo above from the now suddenly defunct New of the World (at 168 years an institution a fraction of the age of Aunt Sally) only tells half the story, showing Cameron about to throw. He does not show the object of his implicit (even if utterly culturally buried and personally unrecognized) morality play of misogynistic wrath. He does capture, however, something of the heft of the sticks old Aunt Sally faced for the recreation of others. I note in the Online Guide‘s images, a gent in 1911 was allowed to wail away at her overhand. We may well be developing better manners about these things.

Ontario: Pan-Ontario, BeausFlyMonkGrandGreat Brewing

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They are still at it over at the Kingston Brew Pub as I write. Steve is to the left and Dave to the right, both Beauchesnes and both of Beau’s All Natural Brewing of Vankleek Hill in the furthest eastern edge of the province, roughly east of the eastern tip of Cuba if you must know. The release of Pan-Ontario, a blend of four Ontario beers which were then rammed into a a bourbon barrel, heated to 3,000C and sent to the moon and back in the Space Shuttle as part of the celebrations of the second annual Ontario Craft Beer Week.

OK. I know. I made the last two bits up but it is a pretty snazzy beer so it’s like it went through all that and came out the other side – all the better for it. It’s a big beer. 10% brown ale full of date and vanilla and other good things with maybe a bit of black cherry, too, but not so heavy that you wobble around like a weeble. Made of Flying Monkey’s Netherworld and Grand River’s Curmudgeon and Great Lakes 666 as well as Beau’s Screaming Beaver in unknown proportions. What I really like is that is not a recipe collaboration (aka another tax write off holiday in Norway for the brewery owner) but an actual blend of actual real beers to make another beer. It was like a nut brown ale as envisaged by a rabid squirrel. Sounds bad but I expect you have not hung out with rabid squirrels as much as you might so just have a little faith in the image, wouldja?

A great way to end a work week. I got to spend a few hours with the guys. I got to talk with staff and local beer fans talking about the brew as well as other things. I got to ask for another sample and was handed a full pint of the stuff. I made my way home in one piece.

Twenty Years Ago, A Christmas Eve In Scotland

One of my favorite Christmas Eves was twenty years ago tonight, in Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland. I was visiting my uncle, auntie and cousins and had settled into a week long stay. It didn’t take long for it to seem like to everyone in the village I was that “coosin frae Gan-ee-der.” People shouted hello to me from across the street, a colonial vestige of something, a bit of all their people who had gone away. I had been there a few years before by myself so was renewing old friendships but this time I had come there from a new direction – from Poland where I had been teaching English as a second language in a small city on the Baltic coast. And I’m still married to the guest I brought along, the one I had met only a few weeks before, back there well east of Germany where the Soviets still had tanks. All in all, a complex bit of culture shock going on: from the nutty affluence of North America to the balance of hard luck and new hope world of the land keeking out from behind the Iron Curtain and then on to somewhere in between, an old village in the old country in winter.

In that village there was a pub. The Golf Inn. Down the street and around the corner from the family home most evenings we played pool, drank a lot of Guinness and sat around and talked night after night with family and friends, greens keepers, university students back from college all curious about what we had seen in the East. We were there on Christmas Eve, too, dressed up a bit more and well fed by auntie, packed in with the neighbours likewise having a great old time when, at 11 pm, without any warning to we two Canadians in the corner, all moved as one across the road to the Church of Scotland, the Kirk, for the service. It was magic. Never been in a church before or since after a night filled with beer and friends. Before and after the dour sermon, there were great big men swaying in kilts, well oiled from the evening to that point. They sang in congregation and beefy harmony in great booming voices. Unlike this night, twenty years later in another church in another country, I am now not sure if they sang the Viking meets Italian carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” but they may well have:

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

After church, we were with the half that did not pour back into the pub to continue. We had to get back. There were plenty of guests in the house besides ourselves, generations of relatives that all had to get up in the morning as one. We walked together back round the corner and up the street in the cold still dark night full of the singing, the beer, the night.

Beau’s Thursday Night Tasting In the Backyard

A fun way to spend the evening. Beau’s had their quarterly business meetings in town and they all came over for a few hours of opening bottles – including the father, son and a sizable host. We nine started well with two saisons and biere de garde: Hennepin, Jack D’or and 3 Monts. Batch 10 from Pretty Things was much better than the more recent bacth 13. Lesson: let it sit.

Things got a little wobbly with three Quebec takes on Belgian white beer. We thought RJ’s Coup de Grisou was fine and a good value beer. And Barbier from L’Ilse D’Orleans was not well understood given its level of rich maltiness. But Blanche from Charlevoix was a revelation in nasal interaction with beer. Freesia. Fabulous.

Three more bottles were opened. Trade Winds Tripel from the Bruery was a bit muddled with a nice aroma. Too much of the malt ball for the style or maybe just our level of interest given the other choices. Next, the Poperings Hommel Ale, as always, was amazing. The greatest pale ale in the history of the planet? Could be.

Then the taxi was called for the eight to be off. It was time. The mosquitoes had begun to bite. Just time to open a quart of Drie Fontienen’s Oude Gueze, one of the few beer that could follow a Poperings. Like any divider of people, some were not with it. They got the first taxi. The rest of use stood on the driveway, waiting on the warm quiet summer night sipping. Then the taxi and then they were off and away.

The Women Every Real Canadian Male Has A Crush On…

Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin, left to right, Kim St-Pierre and Charline Labonte drink beer on the ice with their gold medals after Canada defeated the USA in women’s Olympic hockey final game in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday Feb. 25, 2010. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Scott Gardner)

Truth be told, every Canadian male has a deep and abiding crush on every member of the woman’s hockey team and photos of them drinking beer just feed the flame. We have commercials where the players kick doltish men like us all on the ice. They sell us social networking tech. While we have to work on their taste in beer, these are the sweethearts of the nation. Goalie gear, baby. Oh baby.

Did Richard Lautens of the Toronto Star get the best picture of the moment?

An Olympics And Beer Story That Makes Some Sense

I still wonder what the average Latvian thinks about all this but at least this story makes a little more sense than needing to shut public booze sales and politicians drunk driving. Yet the International Olympic Committee is not amused:

Nearly an hour after the Canadians won their third consecutive Olympic gold medal with a 2-0 win over the Americans, the players came back out on the ice in the near-empty arena, smoking cigars and swigging champagne and beer. (Rebecca Johnston even tried to drive the zamboni.) “I don’t think it’s a good promotion of sport values,” Gilbert Felli, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympics, told the Associated Press after learning about the celebration. “If they celebrate in the changing room, that’s one thing, but not in public. We will investigate what happened.”

Gold. Literally. What’s that IOC? Leave it in the locker room? Hide your beer drinking?? What a joke. Remember, these are Canadian hockey players and remember what the Russian goalie said when the mens team gave them the boot the other night: “They came like gorillas coming out of a cage.”

Yet is that what we are? Is that what the world sees? Are we really the wild men and women of the north, clubbing and hammering poor Russians and American athletes as mere foreplay for a good beer? Sadly, no one appears to have taught the women’s hockey team on the ways of good beer. Does she really need to be sucking down a Molbat macro-blurt?

Olympic Celebrations One Big Binge-o-rama

Call the Neo-probes! Athletic competitions now proven to lead to binge drinking as Vancouver struggles to keep up with drunk jet setting gangs of cow bell ringers and fans of third-rate curlering nations. Jet setting Olympic public boozing is apparently something we are very good at in Canada:

“Due to an unprecedented number of intoxicated people, we must do what we can to ensure the Games are safe for everyone,” said a spokesman for the province’s liquor licensing branch Sunday. “We’re taking a measured approach that still allows people to have fun and feel confident that they will be safe while doing so,” he said… Vancouver Police said they are prepared to ask for more early-closing orders to tackle public drinking, drunkenness and disorder on city streets, after being granted similar orders for Saturday and Sunday. Police spokesman Const. Lindsey Houghton said there was a noticeable spike in people bringing booze into the downtown core on the weekend.

And it’s not just the crowds in the streets who are booze fueled. We Canadians proudly celebrated the gold medal celebrations by our own Jon Montgomery, the fastest guy to go head first down an ice chute on a sled: “I don’t subscribe to necessarily all the things typical athletes do, and for me a pint now and then is a good thing,” he said… “I go out to parties with him, and he finishes the party,” said teammate Mike Douglas. He finishes the party. That’s why we love him. He walked around chugging from a pitcher of beer after the victory pretty much like he did, above, at the Skeleton World Championships in Feb. 2008. And during an interview, a fan tossed Montgomery a mickey of rye, which he stuck in his back pocket. That’s why we love him. He is us.

We are such bad examples for ourselves.

Update: Huffington Post has the photos and a video:

My Seemingly Obligatory Thoughts On St. Patrick

Have a thought for Saint Patrick, the actual guy. Taken as a teen age slave from his native Wales to Ireland, familiar with all the details of Druidism from whose bondage he was destined to liberate the Irish race, able to paralyze those who would deter him from his mission and all we can do is get pounded in his name. Isn’t the 17th of March now a bit of a sad legacy given, at least in certain places, the celebrations reach a pitch which would make a Druid blush?

Craft beer fans seem to object to the St. Patrick’s Day as a general thing. Andy Crouch is turned off by the exploitation by big American breweries, the push by Guinness for a holiday is seen for the commercial exploitation that it is and slightly excruciating efforts are made to find another angle on green beer.

But not being Irish, not being American, no longer being a regular Guinness drinker and not being a person to go out and get sloshed in bars like some cheese-eating frat boy…what’s the harm? Isn’t the cheeriness associated with the day and the doings somewhat compelling? Aren’t there peoples from Patagonia to the Republic of Palau who ache with jealousy at the good PR the Irish get out of it? And, given all the free press about beer this time of year – if we are like Patrick to be evangelists ourselves – isn’t this a great opportunity for a teaching moment? Isn’t this, frankly, the sort of beer holiday that craft brewers would dream of making up if it didn’t already exist?

Saint Patrick can be associated with bringing the gift of civilization, of the pluck to take on an impossible task, of the enduring drive to achieve passion’s dream. These all seem great values you can associate with hard working craft brewers. Take back and take on the day, I say.