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.

After Sunset At Syracuse Last Sunday


We always seem to get lucky with the conditions at baseball games. Well, except for the condition of the guy nearby in the crowd at Blue Jays games. Always the drunk idiot. Otherwise, it’s been swell. Like last Sunday. Hoffman coneys. Empire Amber. I’ve cream for the kids just as a decade ago. An attentive crowd. Knew when to ooh and when to ahh. I am now rooting for Rochester’s Jorge Polanco. He looked like he had it all going. Their first baseman is already gone. Kennys Vargas is already back up in the show. Afterwards there were fireworks and patriotic songs. Is that what sets them apart from us? Patriotic songs? Maybe. Even at the mall the next day Ray Charles was singing about America as I shopped for shoes.

Book Tour Tales: Why Do I Love Upstate New York?


Back home. Been in the USA since Thursday and, unlike a lot of you who have to cross an ocean or get out a map, I was able to hit three grocery stores on the way home. See, I live 37 minutes from the international Thousand Islands Bridge, the most beautiful border crossing on the planet. So I bought laundry soap. But unlike most trips into the nearby Empire State, the family was not in tow. I don’t take off in another direction all that often. Which means I had a lot of time in the car to think about stuff. Or at least stuff other than where Mr. Bunny had gotten himself to. It’s always under the swim bag, by the way.

I had all the time in the world to think about what attending the SUNY Cobleskill event Grain to Glass meant. It certainly was the opposite of that stunned big craft celebrity brewer neediness. The room was full of people interested in becoming better brewers, better hop growers, better business people. It was also held on alumni weekend at the school, largely an agricultural college. There were chain saw demonstrations as illustrated past the corn stalk. There was free pulled pork from the hospitality school students, classrooms of diesel engine repair classes to check out and a whole bunch of other stuff. Beer was a topic among topics. It was a trade. It was placed in its proper place. A hipster free zone where no one gave a rat’s ass about the next PR twisty line coming out of the national Brewers Association board. Excellent.

Then, there was thinking about where I fit in to that proper place. People were really interested at that event and the others Craig and I attended about their region, their history and their beer. Beer was part of their culture. They were not there to learn about their niche hobby. There was no beer community. There was beer in the community. So, they wanted to know about traditional hops as opposed to new hybrid flavoured hops. Folk there – like at the other events – want to know about US ale brewing history, how there was two centuries of beery life before lager. It’s good to imagine how brewers in training might want to emulate those who came before them instead of some big craft guy who they see on YouTube or a TV ad. Are you picking up a theme?








One of the real treats of the trip was talking with a guy who has run a bar called The Lionheart for a quarter of a century who has found the way to sell three dollar pints of US craft beer while making a good living. A lot of it has to do with running a good bar with great staff but a lot of it also has to do with ignoring the next big thing that never turns out to be the next big thing. Taking care. Supporting local. Looking for value. Remembering the customer pays the bills not the suppliers. Including different sorts of clientele. Serving a mix of clients was also the obvious decision Browns of Troy which was running a charity event in another section of the brewery while we were holding forth in another space talking about the city’s brewing heritage. In a third section, the bar crowd were kicking back Brown’s great oatmeal stout or an IPA made on site as Jeter played his last game for the Yankees on the big screen. And as the Giants beat the Washington Whatchamacallits on another.











What’s it all mean? Why do I bother spending holiday time and more money on discount hotels than I will ever make on the book to visit again and again. I was telling someone how weird it is studying and writing about the history of a city I have no personal connection with. Yet when I am there – whether it is Troy or Cobleskill or Syracuse or up in the North Country – it feels like a place that is entirely normal. Not to mention beautiful. Yesterday afternoon I cut out of the SUNY event to take three hours to doddle my way over to Syracuse on a warm Saturday afternoon care of route 28 then along route 20 to route 92. Changing leaves. Pre-interstate main roads though small towns, along river valleys over rolling hills farmed for generations. Took me through watersheds that meet the ocean at Baltimore, New York and east of Montreal. Bought a hot dog at a Stewart’s.

Reading what I just wrote, if I am Stan I might think about how beer comes from this place and with the farmstead brewing and hop yards and cideries there is a lot to be said for that. But it is also a great place that you can learn about through its beer, its bars and its breweries. Beer isn’t a community. It is a window through which you can get to know about a community. That is why I am actually optimistic. You may not catch that from time to time but I do disagree with the idea posted by Boak and Bailey last week that beer is not as rich a seam as food, or music, or film. Beer is as rich but you have to know what beer isn’t to appreciate the point. Beer is not passive and it is not haute or elite. It is pervasive and innocuous. When we say beer is like bread we have to remember it is really like bread. An everyday thing. But we live and have lived in the everyday for hundreds and thousands of years in communities built around the brewery as much as the church and the town hall. That’s what people do as they do other stuff with their lives. Like these guys who you can see in the background of the picture above. People of the beer, I’d say.

That’s worth writing about.

Travel: A Trip Up To The National Archives

I made a quick trip to the Library and Archives of Canada as part of researching the book on Ontario beer history. Among the most interesting things seen was all the white with black veined marble throughout the place.

That’s the foyer up there. The Wellington Street building down the road from Parliament and the Supreme Court has an odd combination of the white marble, aged pine and brass fittings. It feels like the Earth HQ might have looked like on Space:1999. Apparently I failed to notice the Henry Moore down to my right when I took the picture.

Travel: A November Saturday Night In Albany

I finally figured out how to pronounce the name of the capital city of New York state. I knew “Ahhhlbany” was wrong but could not figure out “Awlbany” until I heard it was called “Smallbany” too. So it rhymes with small. There you go. We were there for an Albany Ale Project event at the Albany Institute of History and Art. It was a great event which I will likely write about over at the beer blog but wanted to note a few things for now about the travel aspects of the trip.





First, as illustrated, we had a great brunch at the Gateway Diner handy to the simply majestic Oliver’s Beverage. The place was big for a diner but the spaces were broken up so that you had a sense in each part of it that you were in a busy family diner. Service was fast and friendly. The coffee was good. I like having New York strip steak while in the Empire State. This was my first one with eggs. Poached. One must be careful these days.

The diner was not that far from where we were staying, the CrestHill Suites on outer Washington near the State Campus. We picked this up for 91 bucks on Hotwire. Clean. Generous room with a real kitchen that defied the use of nook. Armchair and sofa. Quite even if near the highway. We had room 312. We will book again. Best thing was the laundry basket in the bathroom. A $1.79 item that meant we did not have to leave damp used towels on the floor and, presumably, allowed the staff to clean up with a little more dignity than getting down on all fours to recover the last facecloth from under the sink. A simple smart thing that earned our respect.

Last, after the event three couples went for a Mexican dinner before heading for beers at the Lionheart Pub closer to downtown. The restaurant, El Mariachi, sits across the street from the Institute. Its one of those spots you go to in the States that reminds you that Canadians thing BBQ is a wiener on the hibachi. I won’t go into much detail except that supper for six was only a bit over $80 and that I had something that really rearranged my thoughts about Mexican food – chicken with pumpkin seed sauce. Fabulous. I am now going to make pumpkin seed sauce and pour it over everything. Generous portions. Great service and cozy small spaces.

So, as you can see, I have thought about something I want to write about in this space other than gardening. I mean I could write how the fence blew down on Friday but… really?

Election 2012: While I Still Have The Power To Blog….

I better make some comment on this election, make some statement given the history around here even if the digital world has deemed blogs to commentary what 8-tracks are to fine audio media.

I was over in the states yesterday and found an active economy. My favorite lunch spot, the Fairgrounds Inn where I have been going for at least six years now was hopping on a Friday lunch. I had the Italian Combo, thanks for asking. And I got my hair cut. The guy getting sheered next to me went on about the Biden debate. Unhappy but a bit shallow. Was there really cause to gripe? Businesses were expanding. On the way out of town, my rear passenger side wheel just about seized and we were lucky to come over the hill on #37 and see Frenchy’s Auto Repair right there. An hour was all it took to get a part delivered and see us back heading to the border. We lapped up the warm late late summer air on a gorgeous rural vista out back of the repair ship. Everyone in the place was happy and busy and working. Some were having a beer. One of my favorite things about the slice of the USA I get to see is how it is both so similar to the Maritimes as a bit of a hard luck corner of the nation but also how frankly cheerful and confident folk are. The restaurant was at a dull roar of conversation the whole time we were there. It was hard to tell if the auto repair was a place of work or a fairly hearty social club given all the people coming and going while we were there.

What will America do on 6 November? My take is that Obama has not been passed, the Federal Senate will not budge and a number of member of the House will move to the left, not the right. There will not be a throw the bums out movement. I don’t think Mitt Romney would be a catastrophe any more than four more years would. No wave of nuttin’. But the next four years one way or another will be about managing recovery. Whammo. Not sure the will be a WHAMMO!!! but there will be a Whammo.


Not Beer: Unfiltered Rosé 2011, Closson Chase, Ontario


Another day with nothing to do. Another summer run into nearby Prince Edward County, Ontario, to hit a few wineries and pad what we like to call the Christmas stash. See, I like good beer just fine and all but when you have big gatherings around roasts and twenty types of root vegetable when the sun goes down about 3:15 pm and find yourselves packed in tight with people whose tastes I am not sure about – well – I am going to pour wine. I will have good beer around, too, but just like a 50th birthday party I attended recently where I took a few good beers I expect they will sit there on the counter as every cooler, every bulk beer is drained ahead of it. See, most people are not like us. They don’t share our hobbies. They like auspicious dates on the calendar to be filled with familiar comforts and joys. And why not? Does every occasion need to be some sort of amateur training session?













So, west we drove the thirty miles or so to the winery laced county. It is pretty impressive when you get into the back roads. Corn and produce stands mix with wineries as well as folks’ houses and farms down narrow back roads roamed on a Saturday. Lunch was at Huff with its table service dining. The food was swell. Architectural even. The service attentive. We only had one glass of 2007 Merlot to check on the state of one of the bottles laid in last time. No need to save it any longer. The kids will do without in the 2020’s. Then we hit Grange, a new one for us with a bucolic setting and plenty of folk enjoying a basket lunch on the grounds. Our favorite sample was the most humble, a 2006 blend that was under 11 bucks. I also bought a Cabernet Franc, too. It’s destined for a roast as well. The tasting room had that odd library hush about it that wine people seem to like but the service was pleasant. Not that I was going to slap my knee and shout yee-haw or anything but, really, could the staff ask what I thought of their wine?













Last of the three was the smallest, Closson Chase, a return visit. On the way out, I told the staff that they won our loyalty with that free Freezee give away – not to mention the gardens in which you were invited to take the samples. Kids need a break and drinks buyers have kids. Smart move. Buys you 12 minutes. We tried a pinot noir, their 2010 Chardonnay from local grapes as well as this pinot rosé in my glass here later at home. It is tough having pinot noir or other red wines from Ontario having been trained as you all have for years on inky red plonk from Oz and Chile. These are lighter. And complex in ways that are… complex. So, even swishing the rosé around we noted something that was not acid, fruit or mineral in there. Something vegetative. We hummed. We hawed. Then green beans next to salmon were mentioned and, bingo, there you were. Now that thing is reminding me of that thing in saison that I like when it is there in a saison. Something between white pepper and green beans.

That was it. All the kids could take. We were off to the beach to paddle about and then off to Black River for cheese curds, a block of maple cheddar and a round of ice cream before the ferry home.

Now Twenty Years Since The Bosnian War Began

What a simple and strong tribute as reported on the BBC above. I have an odd three point connection to the Bosnian conflict as I lived in my former home of PEI when refugees were filtered through Canada’s smallest province to acclimatize them to a new home. In 1998, I played on a PEI soccer team with many Bosnians including one who had played first division football. And, years earlier, we were teaching in Poland when the former Yugoslavia began to fall apart in civil war. I saw TV twice in those months in late 1991. Once to see a soccer game and once to see the shelling of Dubrovnik. Also, in my former former home prior to PEI but after coming back from Poland in the mid-90s I met and even represented Canadian soldiers who were in the UN force that liberated Sarajevo with a proper vigor that the current Canadian government frankly seems to deny.

The stories from these three points in that decade combined giving me that sort of weighing awareness that made the news difficult to follow on one hand but saw me asking more. In the pre-pop-Internet world that meant maps and shortwave. Listening to the news fading in an out from Radio Belgrade, Croatian radio as well as B92 gave a sense. I remember when Arkan was killed a Bosnian friend inordinately connected came to my office to ask how that could have happened. I had to give him, a former Red Army soldier, a lesson on the SAS, vulnerability and other such things. He had no idea but told me much that taught me about the later NATO bombing of Serbia.

A red chair for each of the dead. Better than Yeats. Few signed up for a cause in the 90s.


Big Easlakia Base Ball News Circa 1874

While I was over hobnobbing with the shaken and moved of the southern part of our Easlakian neighbo(u)rhood, I have actual stuff to do. Base ball stuff as I wanted to research the Watertown tournament of 1874 given that there were references to it in the Kingston papers of the time. I had thought that they went to play but in fact it appears that they went to watch as they are not listed as a team in the schedule.

Kingston’s rivals of the day, the Guelph Maple Leaf, win the event held in late June and early July over eight days before pop up here after for a game on 7 July 1874. But there are other notes that make it very curious:

  • There is a first and second class tournaments being played side by side making for a total of 14 teams. I do not know why you would have seven teams per class but there you have it.
  • Being or rather not being “daunted” meant something in the mid-1870s as there is a second class team called “The Undaunted” of La Fargeville, NY and another second class team called “The Dauntless of Watertown, NY. Careful readers will know that there was also a team called Dauntless of Ogdensburg, NY which the Kingston St. Lawrence played on Friday 8 August 1874 in Ogdensburg as well as the Dauntless Club of Toronto that Kingston played in 1872 and 1873 .
  • One team in the first class group was the Ku-Klux of Oneida, NY described as “the acknowledged champion club of Northern and Central New York” in the 29 June issue of the The Daily Times of Watertown. You will be comforted to know that the Maples Leaf of Guelph thumped them 13-4 and that the team was slagged in the paper as “the negro haters” who scored a “usual whitewash,” a “goose egg, ” a “cipher” and “skunked” in various innings.
  • Certain players of the Nassaus of Brooklyn, NY and some Eastons of Easton, Pennsylvania were reported in the 6 July issue as having taken a wagon to Sackets Harbor on Sunday 4 July and returning in quite a state: “It would have been proper if the whole crowd could have been unloaded at the jail.” They apparently were driven through Public Square as they sand “Mulligan Guards” and kindred songs.

Thrilling stuff. Need to do a little cross referencing but it looks like the Eastons of the 1870s may have been a rival to the Philadelphia Athletics which are now the Oakland A’s.

Laying Down The Late Inning Double A Bunt


I was clicking away last Thursday as the Binghampton Mets beat the Portland Sea Dogs 2-1 in a pitchers’ duel. Got the bunt in a good sequence of shots. We had pretty good seats for seven or eight bucks and got to witness a lot of players who will never make the bigs. Some might. I really liked the Sea Dogs shortstop Diaz as well as all of the Met’s pitchers. Great Sox hope Lars Anderson did not have a good game going 0-4 with two strike outs. In fact in the ninth the lad was shouting “Swing At It, Would’ja Lars!!” as another strike went by as the bat sat nestled on his shoulder. Earlier, after bobbling and almost dropping a foul pop fly he was dubbed “Two Hands, Lars!” after the advice the boy shouted field wards a couple of seconds later. Super tiny midget level softball is paying off. Lars hit 3-4 the next night.