À La Recherche Du Bière Perdu

Sitting here with benignly received stitches in my mouth, it’s not only that I look back with fondness on that time before a week ago that I could have a drink. It’s looking back with fondness that I could have anything pretty much not in paste form. I did have a bun the other day. Took me 27 minutes to eat it. Which reminds me of other looking back fondly at the joyful consumption as with this archaeological dig in England:

Once at the cutting edge of Oxford University, the friary building was either torn down or at least fell into disuse during the mid 1500s when the Franciscans fled the country during the dissolution of the monasteries. Built over for many centuries, it is only thanks to redevelopment for a new shopping centre that archaeologists have been able to delve into the treasures it contains. ‘Greyfriars’, as it was known, was home to both the friar lecturers and scholars and their students. So far the archaeologists have found thousands of artefacts, many hundreds of which – in true student fashion – are related to alcohol.

i remember when I could be related to alcohol, too. There is plenty more detail over at this site for Oxford Archaeology which appears to be the firm working with the developers to clear the site. The discovery of a 13th century tile floor was an unexpected surprise. Not unlike my surprise when I learned hummus and yogurt could be an entire meal.

There is much more detail in The Independent. Seems like the monks, unlike me at the moment, had a rich and varied diet:

Mutton, lamb, pork, beef, chicken, geese and song birds were all on the menu, as were sea fish (cod, whiting, haddock, herring, eel, gurnard, conger, grey mullet, thornback ray, salmon and sea trout) and freshwater fish (especially roach and dace). The archaeological investigation has also revealed that they had a liking for oysters and mussels – and for hazelnuts and walnuts. For making pottage – a thick mainly vegetable stew – they used wheat, barley, oats and rye.

They also found “hundreds of medieval beer mugs” – hundreds. The monastery is described as being one of the seats of “super friars” with great academic and political influence which is one of the things, I suppose that lead Henry VIII to getting rid of them. The order reestablished itself in Oxford a bit over a century ago. Their kitchens were apparently preserved in good condition… for archaeology… but I am not sure if they established whether the monk’s ale was brewed within that facility. Medieval Oxford not only had a brewer’s guild starting in the 1400s but they also had a Brewers Street so who knows.

So, there you go. A little light learning for a Tuesday.  From a guy with stitches in his mouth. Did I mention the stitches? I did? Oh, good.

All The Good News Beer News For 03Q218

What day is it? The meds are making for a blur. Without getting overly graphic, the other day there were four hands within inches of my nose and two of them were working a thread and needle. Gums were tightened. Rearranged. Anyway, it’s not been a time for gulping buckets of ales and lagers but it has been a great time to wallow in both mild misery and brewing related social media with a slight sense that things are either not right or, you know, the meds… so…

First off, given Vlad’s news in the lead up to the Russian performance art event mimicking an election that he now controls a nuclear powered cruise missile as well as a submarine bomb that now hover and skulk amongst us all ready to strike if we… what… say bad things about him… well, in light of that the news about Russian barley seems a little less important. But, it is interesting to read how Russia has become a key bulk exporter of our favorite grain. I don’t expect this to directly change much – but indirectly, the overall market might get shifted in a way that benefits the Western beer buying public due to new malt quality barley flooding the market.

While we Canadians are (i) subject to the Crown-in-Canada and (ii) members of the Commonwealth, I can’t imagine setting the opening hours according to somebody’s wedding. Do my UK readers care?

Lew blogged.

Next, if you click on the thumbnail to the right, you will see a promotional photo for BrewDog* from, I am told via Stringers on Twitter, the year 2014. Yet neither of the Google Image searches for “BrewDog sexism” and “BrewDog feminism” are otherwise particularly productive. So… keep all that in mind as you read on about their great new PunkNotWorthy class PR stunt (coming just days on the heels of their million beer giveaway PR stunt) and then their still a teensie-weensie bit odd apologetic confessional. Why mention the “talented team of women at BrewDog” as you ask to be excused for an admittedly botched stunt? Being newbies to taking an actual stance on an actual thing exterior to their imperial corporate existence, it seems they also borrowed this from (or at least failed to heed the failings of) the sexist / not sexist stratagem behind last week’s gaff by Stone. The best that can be said now might be that it is bad if superficial marketeering. The best we can hope upon reflection is that it was an entirely miscalculated act of sincerity by a corporation that is fairly immune to simple sincerity. Further comment: Mhairi McFarlane, Craft Queer, and many more. And M. Noix Aux Bières made an interesting observation:

There’s something badly wrong with the beer media when a company messing up its marketing gets more coverage than their announcement, in the same week, that they messed up one of their recipes.

Is that all there is? Big bulk craft. Getting it fairly wrong. Again? Leaning on the PR. Again. Because that’s what big bulk craft does. Does anyone care about these globalists anymore? It’s great route to medium term millions but the long term often see weirdnesses arise. The yeasty yogurt non-movement of 2016, for example. If you need any further proof of that reality, look at the news released on Tuesday that Sierra Nevada is changing direction, dropping innovation, getting back to lean on its flagship SNPA and hiring a PR firm to flog it.  Subtext: branch plant expansion hasn’t panned out, sales have dropped, panic setting in, “let’s not let SNPA turn out like Sam Adams” muttered around the executive committee room during breaks even as they set out on that same path.

There is another way. A more thoughtful path. This interview of Francis Lam, host of NPR’s The Splendid Table contained this interesting tidbit about the relationship between good drink and food:

There are people who have a beautiful wine with every meal, but for a lot of people that act signifies something special. You have to eat, but you don’t have to drink, so the idea of having something at the table that is there, almost purely for pleasure, is meaningful. I think for a lot of people that signifies that we’re here to actually enjoy, rather than just feed.

This is an aspect of the beer and food pairing discussion does not focus on, giving all the attention as it does to restaurant settings. Simply gathering and enjoying. How rad. It is even more interesting when considered along with this column from the ever excellent Eric Asimov of The New York Times in which he discusses how austere herbal old school value Bordeaux go so well with food even if not separate sipping. It would be interesting to see unloved or less understood beers highlighted alongside foods served at home that bring out their better natures… but that would require craft beer and pop beer writers to admit (i) value matters and (ii) some prominent beers are, you know, sorta duds.  But you are not a slave to either trade associations or the other voices who would control you, are you. Have some pals over, treat them swell and see what works over dinner. After all, this is only beer we are talking about.

Infogramtastic news! This important NEIPA tasting graphic passed by my eye this week. Click for a larger size for the full details. This decade’s wide leg jeans.

Celebrity newbie brewer or local newbie brewer?

And finally, Pete added a strong contribution to the discussion about pay-to-play in beer writing** as sort of a wrapper around a disclosure statement about a drinky junket to Catalonia:

I’m going because I’ve been keen to check out the explosion in Spanish craft beer for several years now and think there will be some genuinely interesting stories, but haven’t been able to afford to do it under my own steam. Will my reporting of the trip be influenced by the fact that I’m being given hospitality? I don’t believe so (beyond the fact that I’m actually there, of course.) But any story I write about it will carry a disclaimer explaining that it’s been paid for by someone else, so the reader can make up their own mind.

While we have never met,*** Pete and I have gotten along as web-pals for well over a decade but don’t really see eye to eye on this in each instance… but we see the same questions the situation raises so it was good to read his commentI was wondering what your reaction would be!” For me there are two things: self-certification and subject matter control.

As I have said before, it is not up to the writer to suggest that they are the self-certifying measure of any reliability. Only the reader can judge the result. But as long as there is disclosing, the judgement is informed. When I hear of folk presenting as beer experts or, worse, journalists quietly running review-for-pay schemes or side-gigs as law firm holiday tap takeover party as partnering hosts but not openly disclosing, I tend to place their other work in, umm, context. I am entirely sympathetic to the need to make money in a minor niche like good beer but one person simply can’t be all things. Promote and influence or research and write. The key word being “or” of course.

The bigger problem is one Pete might be implying in passing: “…beyond the fact that I’m actually there, of course…” It’s not, in fact, that he is there. It’s that he is not somewhere else. Where no one else is. Where no trade or tourist association pays the bills for travel and hotel. Where the beer isn’t free. I put it this way:

I need to better unpack your thoughts. You sit near a line. Main general quib? Lost stories of the unjunketed topics. Explorations. The work of @larsga is best example. Deep down, though, perhaps I never admired you more than when you were mid-Atlantic alone on a container ship!

Lars Marius Garshol, without a doubt, has done more to exemplify what researching in the service of understanding beer and brewing should be than anyone else in this decade. He has spent what seems to be every spare moment and every dime on seeking out the rural, secret brewing patterns lurking in the countryside of the northern third of Europe from Norway to Russia. These sorts of creative efforts and the resulting independent focus is what leads to innovative, interesting and reliable writing.  He sets a very high standard for not only me, the playboy amateur armchair historian, but even places more driven and diligent traveling researchers like Robin and JordanBoak and Bailey, Ron and (yes, of course) Pete**** in rich context. But it is a shared context. Pete makes that very clear, sets out the whole picture and places himself in that picture at his own angle of repose. We all do that. It’s just that some do it better and more openly than others while a few don’t at all. It shows.

There. Another week in the books. Please also check out Saturday’s take on the news from BB2 as well as Monday’s musings from Stan. I look forward to their corrections and dismissals and outright rejections of some or all of what sits above. It’s no doubt what’s needed.

*Disclaimer: I got boxes of BrewDog samples a decade ago. And I think I may have bought one small can of their beer coming up on five years ago on this trip.
**Disclaimer: I got boxes of BrewDog samples a decade ago. And I think I may have bought one small can of their beer coming up on five years ago on this trip.
***Because I hardly ever go anywhere…
****In fact, if I had the money, I would fund them all to chase after narrow and likely hopeless projects knowing they would come up with some of the best finding and writings as a result.

Session 133: Hometown Proud?

For this month’s edition of The Session, host Gareth of Barrel Aged Leeds has asked us this question:

For this month’s edition of the Session, the proposed subject is ‘Hometown Glories’. Take this and run with it how you wish, but when thinking about possible subjects I had in mind an imminent visit to the place I spent my formative years and blogging about it’s highlights and wider beer scene. 

Being a gent of a certain age, I was struck by how similar this topic was to Session #15 “How Did It All Start For You?with a heavy dose of Session #9 “When Beer And Music Shaped My Life added for good measure. Which is fine but there is another problem. I am not sure I have a hometown. Our family moved when I was age 7, 8 and 15 before I went away to university at 18 to a city where my parents moved to when I was 21. As an adult I have received my mail and wages in eight communities including long stretches in Poland and the Netherlands – not to mention of months long patches of slumming around the UK with friends and family half-heartedly looking for work. So what to do?

Recently I realized that there was more to the story. I was trying to make sense of the storeroom in the basement. There are boxes and boxes of my late parents’ things down there and, working my way through the papers, I came upon my birth certificate. Oh. My. God. They lied to me and took it to their graves. I was horrified. Even though I spent my first years in Mississauga, turns out 55 years ago I was born next door… in Toronto. TORONTO?!?! The shame. The confusion. Yet, now I know why I love Johnny Bower so.

So, I am drinking a Pompous Ass tonight from Great Lake Brewing, Toronto’s other gift to Canadian beer… you know, other than me. At $2.65 CND it’s the right choice, fresh value craft from a legendary micro in its 31st year. One of the things that makes me hometown proud.

One Other Problem With The Young White Males…

One of the nice thing about being a child of Scots immigrants who ended up in Nova Scotia is I am quite comfortable not being white or WASP even if I am privileged. Stealth immigrants’ progeny. Growing up in Nova Scotia in the 1970s, I never fully understood some things like the way other Canadians ate. Corn flakes? Coffee? Strawberry jam? We were more into oatmeal, tea and marmalade even if the sun rose over the Atlantic instead of setting. We were in a class with a few others of the similarly situated. One pal who married a lovely English lady later told me that our family was good training for meeting his in-laws. Like them, we apparently were the only people he had met who could all sit around the same room in armchairs reading newspapers or books. Quietly. Drinking cups of hot milky tea. Quietly. Taking turns making it. Quietly.

Which is something I think about when I read about “white people” these days. I used to think that they were just people who didn’t know their great-uncle’s names or why the different sausages existed and meant something. “White” was not a culture so much as an absence of personal family culture. Don’t misunderstand. There was no missing the strong Acadian, Black Nova Scotian, Caper, LGBT, Lunenburg German, Valley Baptist or indigenous Mi’kmaq experiences and their battles for equality in the particular time and place of my upbringing. The fight was so visceral that “white” (that sad default setting) spoke to as much to a fundamental lacking of something core as it spoke to a political and commercial privilege. It was a grey space in a vibrant landscape with robust variety and political tension. But for beer that sort of “white” is now a looming problem without much upside:

“Generation Z marks a turning point, being the first generation to prefer spirits to beer,” analysts led by Javier Gonzalez Lastra wrote in the report. However, one segment of Gen Z still prefers beer to other types of alcohol: white men. For a long time, beer companies only needed to appeal to white men to grow sales. White men have historically made up a hefty part of the American population. They also drink more alcohol on average than women of all races, as well as more than men who are not white.

So… in addition to buying into a systemically discriminatory construct, the persistent dependency on these privileged dolts might have resulted in something of a hollowing out of long-term customer base prospects. Is an unspoken flaw of the “beer people are good people (are people like me)” construct not only the wonky dependency on the heralds heralding  “doot-dah-doooo!” long-trumpetingly from the ramparts of majoritarian bastions but willful blindness to a key expectation supporting those bastions has long been undermined? It’s not so much that beer has failed to be inclusive as it has more fundamentally missed the fact that “white male youth beer culture” will now never again appear in any college level Demographics 101 class syllabus as representative anything like a majority.

The actual majority of the market – and the growing population defining that market – is not white or male or young… let alone “and” and “and”… which is a problem. Like the place I grew up in, it is filled with others who are now off and doing what they feel like freely. Which is good. And which makes me ask… if I was investing in a new crafty brewery in any kind of competitive setting why would I even market to the  white and male and young if I had any interest in surviving into the mid-2020’s? That market has already been locked in and is going to fade. Like the damp corner of a basement carpet that’s where the unwanted saturation is. Why would I not entirely aim my focus on the others, the actual majority? Or, you know, open a craft distillery?

The Space Left Behind When Jordan Stood Up

Jordan was in visiting his old home town. We had a very pleasant two hours in my favourite spot, a block away from my work. I started with an excellent thick smoked oatmeal stout from Black Oak. But it wasn’t the beer or even that we were in the Kingston brew pub, which I have written about before – including this post from 2005 – but we had snagged one particular booth by the front windows. Another view of the seat, in a bit neater condition, is one of the photos that scroll up above in the header area. I first sat in the spot twenty-five years ago when, before children, my wife and I would take weekend holidays in this small eastern Ontario city where we later ended up settling. The brew pub was our home base out from which we would explore the old town or, staying in warm and dry, watch a blizzard whip by on a Saturday afternoon.

Jordan had his own memories. He thought it might be where, underage, he was first served a beer.  He effectively had a tab a few years later when he was a regular after the late shift. The space still surprised him. We discussed what was behind it and chatted a bit with the manager, too. The way the selection of Ontario craft beer was not actually strongly highlighted was a key feature we landed on. No more mentioned than the fine whisky selection or the house smoked BBQ. The pub itself was the main attraction. There is nothing particularly self-conscious… dare I say “curated”… about the place. Good brisket on the nachos, a great selection of good beer both reflecting both craft and micro sensibilities, Dwight Yoakam on the speakers surrounded by decades worth of British and US breweriana coating every flat surface displaying thirty years of beer culture, gathered extemporaneously there like a jar of beach glass.

After his drive arrived and Jordan headed out, I sat there by myself for a few minutes, afternoon giving way to evening, until a large group came in. I motioned them to fill the booth as I moved to sit on a chair to the side. We had a couple of minutes as they shared their own thoughts about the place. Then my own ride was there outside the big windows because it was suppertime.

Session 132: A Homebrewing Conversation

For this month’s edition of The Session, host Jon Abernathy of The Brew Site has asked us to consider home brewing.  This is an interesting thing as we do not often get to consider, to reflect. To dwell upon. OK, who is kidding who? That is all I do.

I have had three phases of home brewing, the last of which is a decade in the past. The first, when I was in my mid-20s and between university degrees, was fun. I had been to the UK and picked up not only some books at the Pitfield Beer Shop but some rare equipment.  So, I was at the tail end of the UK-based Amateur Winemaker line of home brewing and never understood the attraction of Papazian – the relative flakiness and lack of technical information. More importantly perhaps, brought back a couple of five gallon polypin draft dispenser bags which, when filled, fit wonderfully into a milk crate. No bottles. Draught. When I bought my first house about 20 years ago, I went into home brewer big time brewing twice a month at least, making ten to twenty gallons of mainly low strength ale every four or five weeks. Last, when we bought this house I briefly revived the hobby.

Why did I stop? First, health. Home brewing – like that far more briefly followed hobby cheese making* – is basically cake icing making.  Gallons and gallons of beer – even ordinary bitter – sitting around the house represents thousands and thousands of surplus calories. I put on weight despite an otherwise healthy life playing soccer and working an acre vegetable garden.

And it is more than that. It’s all very fine to suggest that the problem with strong drink is that that it is a just buffer – that others suffer who are “those with difficulties that they hide with booze” – but we know better. Alcohol is the direct cause of deeper issues. In my first phase, the house basically became a free bar with a couple of draught taps. Those pals that hovered too much, as with any public house, were affected by that much drink. It did not take many months to realize it could get a bit unattractive even if it was interesting to figure out how cheap and easy it was to make a decent pint from malt, hops, yeast and water.

Cheap. Home brewing also was about saving money. When I was a college era party lad, it was great to pre-game for pennies. When I grew up and established myself, downing less and finally earning a decent income, my time became more important than the cash.  Why put all that effort into a task that was replicated by me heading over to the beer store and spending a bit of moo-lah? Additionally, the taking on of the task itself added a hazard to the house with young kids. Boiling a couple of gallons of maltose laced extract or shifting a full five gallon carboy are high quality occupational health and safety moments. It really no longer practically fit into life.

Finally, more and more good beer came into the world.  The move back to Ontario fifteen years ago situated me near a decent supply and the proximity to the international border with northern New York soon fed my cross-cultural interest in a wide variety of beers that I could never make – the fodder for the creation of this blog.  Why spend money and wait a couple of weeks shipping in the load of rare grains and other supplies from a quality home brew supplier when i could bomb down to Syracuse and load up?

So, what is left of the equipment gathers dust. No hobby for this old man.

*Downing a few pounds of the best cream cheese you will ever have over a matter of days is a great life lesson.

Ontario: Patricia, Stone City Ales, Kingston

A beer with subtitles: autumn saison, brewed with sweet potato and squash. I bought two bottles of this a few Fridays ago from the retail counter at Stone City, a short march up the hill from work. The first bottle gave me a bit of pause. This was an example of something. An excellent beer thoughtfully made that I liked but, still, one that I was not sure about.

And my uncertainty was fuelled by my own uncertainty as to why I am uncertain. So I am glad I bought two. This is a fabulous beer. The base saison is white peppered and dry. The gourd and rhizome quite restrained. On this warm Sunday afternoon in the middle of this strangely warm autumn, it tastes like the rich earthy air flowing in through the wide open windows. It is a clever timely release with adjuncts which are right up my alley. I grow squash and we even have use the nickname Swee Apado around the house, given we eat so much of it. So what is wrong?

Clouded vintage gold ale under a lacing fine white head. On the nose, it is classic saison in the Dupont style. Not the DuPont one, if you know what I mean. Backing it up is the dirt-tang of sweet potato. In the mouth, immediately dry and twiggy herbal with an very pronounced opening of flavours in the swallow followed by a long long hot herbal finish that resolves into the squash. The vegetable elements hide, show, hide then show.

I worry that my problem is this beer is cleverer than I am. Rustic and elegant. I can personally only claim the first. In my mind, I am searching for a place to put the beer. Pigeon hole it. I want to have it with spurting hot venison sausages. In a coconut curry. Or pork shoulder roasted on a bed of parsnips. I want a balancing fattiness. But is that fair to the beer in itself? Yeats spoke about loving something, someone for herself alone.  I have never claimed to be all that nuanced in my tastes but this may well be suggesting, strongly, that I revisit my limitations. I don’t like to not get the point of something this good.

So… I consulted Keats and his poem Ode to Autumn. The subtitle asked me to, no? And this explains everything. This is not the autumn of mists and mellow fruitfulness in the glass. That’s the autumn of back to school. A month ago. This beer speaks to a later point – the brittle leaf pile, warm welcome corduroys. Early sunsets and chilly walks back up Cobourg Road to get to college, to happy hour. Soccer practice with freezing knees. Remembrance Day and singing “Abide with Me” down at the Grand Parade.

We are not there yet. Here the leaves are still on the tree and I am picking cherry tomatoes off the vine a month after the equinox. I mowed today. Soon it will be six months to May. Four to March. This will be a short winter if autumn still is a ways off yet.


Half Hours On Earth, Seaforth, Ontario

I’d like to say that I visited Half Hours on Earth a few weeks ago but it was more like a drive-by shooting. Except I was only shooting with the iPad camera. See, it was summer and the kids at camps and cottages on the Lake Huron shore. My only job that week off was to get them there one weekend and get them back on the next one. Thirty-two hours of driving all in all. I needed some joy and a stop like this on a long haul is just the thing I needed. But I only had 12 minutes so I was in and out after asking 57 questions and coming across as a weirdo. I am used to me so it was fine.





Seaforth is a small crossroads ag supply town in south western Ontario that looks like a lot of the other small crossroads ag supply towns in south western Ontario that I married into. Lovely orange and tan brick houses and main street buildings. Gingerbread gothic revival churches sitting prominently on a grid of squares drawn on a map in the 1830s, long before the people arrived. All cooled by the shade of large hardwoods planted over 100 years ago – or maybe a dip in the river when it’s a hot one. The whine of cicadas interrupted by blizzards on an annual cycle. Alice Munro country filled with quiet towns laced with the quietly unhappy but satisfied enough. It’s not where you would think you would find great beer but a few weeks back Robin and Jordan declared it the best new brewery in the province and I went all in. I found the brewery and its two owner operators in the lower level of a grain depot by a rail siding. Here is what I thought.

Green Mind: The name is like a Third Doctor serial. Except it needs to have “of Doom” added at the end. I bought a quart jug, aka a small growlers. It provided me with a great follow up to a GLB Canuck and a Friday evening mow of the lawn. At heftier 7.1% its the biggest of the beers I bought, surprising similar but also the senior to the province’s favourite craft beer. Not a sour bomb so much as a weedy raggedy-arsed maybe even pissed-off IPA.  Pale malt sweet base under bitter greens. The lavender brett fitting beneath the lush ditch weed bitter herb hop. Remember. I just mowed the lawn. A bit of Chinese mustard green burn. Not really arugula black pepper bitter but green and sharp like a salad full of salad greens you never heard of. Quaffable. I quaffed. Rounded by the wood not a hint of any cheesy Chardonnay oak. Robust but not heavy. Extremely satisfying dry stinging nettle note in the finish. Cloudy but not milky, mustard – tan coloured ale under a rich clingy fine whipped egg white head. Sweet cream and herbs on the nose portending the unexpected. A thinking person’s ale. Or at least a person having a good think after mowing the lawn on a Friday. Lovely.

Jez: 5.6% rosehip rosemary farmhouse. Herbal lemonade on the nose. Smell like the sorbet/sherbet I want in my life. Cloudy dark lemon ale under rich white whipped head. Dry yet moderately full. Plenty of bright acid, lemon juice, rose hip giving both a bit of body and a seam of earthy slightly sweet must. Very attractive, vinous. Citrus rise at the start, lime and white grapefruit pith. Deftly confident if not bold. Could have been overbearing if a few element had gone astray. Could poach cod in this. With baby leeks and smashed new spuds. I came back to this one. As I thought about this beer, I agreed with myself about how brilliant the use of rose hip was.  Earthy but not mushroomed.

Corrigan: I believe I learned that this was the same 5.6% base beer as the Jez but with coriander and lemongrass. The lack of the earthy non-mushroom tone makes a great difference. This is all bright and light. The piccolo of citrus notes with a relatively slight herbal presence compared to Jez. The lemongrass adds green hues to the middlest middle where another brewer this summer or last might have placed cucumber. Very attractive…. again. The bretty lavender effect frames deftly. Did I use deft again, too? Sure did. A very much quieter sour beer but well worth leaning in a bit and paying proper attention.

Mingus Dew: I bought a full growler, a pottle to those who know. Quarts and pottles. Can’t we just call them that? This pottles-worth was drained in the backyard of the in-laws who were away out east on holiday. We were feeding grapes to the unwelcome rabbit who had set up shop, eating all their garden plants. Rather cheeky. It was the perfect antidote to a stinking hot day in a quiet town, another southwestern Ontario ag supply town. At just 3.8%, a dry hop table sour that offers no dangers, just promises. And opportunities. Dry citrus tang on the nose. Slightly clouded light golden ale under a rich rocky lace leaving head. I should pull the two emergency bottles of that Girardin with the black label out of the residual stash to see how they might compare. This is lovely. Yes, simple lemon but, as with GBL, there is that measured cream backbone from the light malt.

Pod Six: Last but not least. Again, I believe this is the same 3.8% base beer as Mingus Dew with sea salt rather than dry hopping. Side by side, very interesting. The most obvious difference is how the salt adds a slight coating to the lips. Next, it slightly takes the edge off the acid. It might contribute to a more restrained aroma. What, after all, is the smell of salt? A miner might know. The choice of sea salt is interesting as just down the road is Ontario’s salt supply at Goderich. I want to fill a jug with this beer and mild garden herbs. Parsley. Chervil.

We actually chatted a bit. Not what you would call an interview or anything. The kids were in the car. With the AC on. You can read the newspapers for that sort of information. Owners Kristen Harburn and Kyle Teichert grew up in the area. People I know probably know people they know or at least were at the same buck and doe. I asked how it was they got into sours and told me of trips to Buffalo to find Belgian sours, the empties of which were on display. I pointed at a few with strong memories for me, especially Brise-BonBons from Fantome which introduced me to hoppy and sour ten years ago. These beers are the the love child of that.

They ship their beers. You can order them and they stick them in the mail. I will do that. Likely today. After all, I am just about out. If I think of the thrill I had in the fall of 2007 finding myself in Dexter, Michigan getting an hour of Ron Jefferies’ time at the end of a busy week and then getting a case of quarts (and a woolly winter hat) to take away at $5.99 a bottle, the idea of getting beer this fine delivered to my door has a Jetsons’ tone to it here in Ontario the monopolistic. I like this future.

Session 124: That Old Beer I Loved, Where Have You Gone?

I have been away.* Again, as it turns out. In the last weeks of winter, I drove home alone to Nova Scotia for the funeral of a close pal. I drove the sixteen hours there and sixteen back to think about what he meant to me as I headed east and to decompress on the return. It was a heavy time but the fabulous views of the lower St Lawrence River at Kamouraska and passing by rural high schools where he and I played on the sports fields put things in their place. But it was heavy.

So, last weekend I did it again. College reunion. And a couple of pals getting married. The same views got me there and back. The same round domed worn volcano cores pretending to be islands and near shore hills near the corner, the point where the drive north up through northern New Brunswick and across Gaspe becomes the drive southwest from the mouth to the source of the river that made Canada. The sun was out for long stretches. This time the stereo wasn’t as loud. I didn’t need the Foo Fighters’ anger as much. As Friday morning drizzled, I took time to listen to the old guys at the gas station coffee shop explain how the St.John valley had been in drought, so the rain was good. I even thought on the way home to try out mumbling in half French to the waitress at the Exit 177 chicken BBQ place. 690 AM sports radio taught me about the Montreal Canadiens from Edmundston to Brockville. I drove as you do on long familiar roads, slightly glazed.

When I got to my small university at the sea and checked into the dorm I had lived in 35 years before, there were friends – all in makeup, pretending to be themselves in middle age. Within minutes I had been called old, fat, and an idiot in a bunch of ways by a bunch of pals. I was back home. I jumped in someone’s new red SUV and headed to a hotel with a gang to meet up with another gang. We laughed, told each other about our jobs and our hobbies, our kids, our spouses past and present. We talked about our dead friends. Not too much but enough.

One pal walked in the room with a case of Oland Ex, a plain old Nova Scotian pale ale. Undergrad beer made by a regional brewery generations old. Now owned by a company owned by a company but still brewed in town. Hadn’t had one in decades. Bread crusty, not quite as light as a macro lager. A little sweet and a jag of rough hop hinting at nothing German, British, Belgian or American. A perfectly fine Maritimer pale ale. I actually said “God, that’s good” out loud. A friend asked, given I was a beer nerd, what made it so good. I said the bread crust malt but I meant the company as much as anything.

*This month’s edition of The Session is hosted by All the Brews Fit to Pint.

“It’s a Shopping Mall for Alcoholics Out There”

When I was a kid thirty years ago, maybe 22 or 23, I got in an elevator to find myself moving upward with the folk singer Ed McCurdy. I was likely a bit worse for wear. He looked at me and proclaimed just that – it’s a shopping mall for alcoholics out there. Meaning downtown Halifax. My old hometown. Haven’t been here for 15 years, since playing in an alumni soccer game in 2002. He was right, too. It can be a blur out there.

I drove across a third of North America to get here. 1600 km of highway up along the St. Lawrence and then, once past Maine, south through the forests to the sea. All to be at the funeral for a friend, one of the best loved pals in my broad gang of undergrad pals. Gone far too young.  Kept in touch on the phone when I had a business question he could help with. We played on the law school team, too. Once made a sweet long looping pass from my spot in the rear at sweeper that he took off on, scoring on the breakaway. Told me with a grin as he ran back “hey, you don’t suck as much as I thought you did.”

We may well gather after the service to share stories. Friends flying in from across the country. Friends I haven’t seen for maybe 30 years. Halifax will still be ready. Ready aye ready. I was out with my brothers for a bit of dinner last night and then had a beer later with a newer pal who moved here a year ago from where I’ve lived in Ontario for that decade and a half. We walked around, me telling him what used to be in the empty store front or the bustling bar, him being somewhere between patient or interested.

Actually looks much the same. The pubs are still full. And are actual pubs. Lights higher, music lower. Big tables of people talking, shouting, laughing. I had New Ross cider at one place, Hell Bay oatmeal pale ale at another. Ate a good bit of haddock at the Henry House. Ate a big plate of Brussels sprouts and bacon later at a place on Argyle near where The Graduate used to sit. Cheery chatting waiters working at a busy clip.

Fog is starting to lift. Might go find some breakfast. Schooner Books is still there. So is Taz Records. Good old town.