Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Marie, Christmas presents 'n beer - together forever

Poor Marie.

I'm not asking for sympathy for my friend because everyone wants (and many have had) her husband Ernie's delicious sausage, oh no. Not for having to work with my pal Don at The Beer Store, either, though that may be a legitimate reason for condolences.

No, I ask you shed a small tear for Marie because her birthday falls on Christmas Day.

If you want to maximize your present numbers, December 25 is the absolute WORST day to have a birthday. It's all well and good if you're Justin Trudeau, because growing up the son of a Prime Minister comes with its own perks. For the rest of us, having a birthday at Christmas is a total burn.

So we decided to do something about that extremely untenable situation. Don did, anyway. He organized a party at Rib Eye Jack's Ale House in Burlington (the better to show off his new favourite craft beer bar) to give Marie that birthday bash she deserved.

And to the surprise on no one, I used the party and the 90 minute drive to Burlington as an excuse to drive another 40 minutes each way to Niagara Falls, N.Y. to do a little cross-border beer shopping.

Now, when I say cross-border beer shopping, I really mean cross-border beer smuggling, as day trip shopping excursions are subject to duty and nobody wants to pay duty; least of all me. But nobody - least of all me - wants to end up in jail, on my government's blacklist, or, worst of all, beer-less because my prizes were confiscated.

So a strategy was in order.

In September I took the advice of the friendly clerk at Consumer's Beverages in Niagara Falls (just past the I-90) and put a couple of bottles up front with me to declare to customs. You know, as a show of honesty. The other six or seven bombers were hidden under a trunk load of work clothes, tools and assorted crap or under the seats up front.

Worked like a charm, despite a wrong turn at duty free forcing me to re-enter Canada TWICE.

This time I used the same strategy. A six-pack of Grapefruit Sculpin from Ballast Point occupied the front seat with me, while four bottles were stashed in the trunk and a fifth was hidden under the passenger seat. A couple of Ruinations (one for me and one for Don, because he cries like a baby if I don't get him one) and an Arrogant Bastard from Stone Brewery; a Beer Camp IIPA from Sierra Nevada with my friend Cat in mind; and a Yellow Snow IPA from Rogue.

I wanted to buy more but I didn't want to push my luck.

And then I headed back to the border, where I picked the wrong lane, waiting 45 minutes while cars to the left of me and cars to right of me were waved through without delay.

At least nobody was getting the "open your trunk, please" treatment.

Finally it was my turn and the friendly officer, after giving me a funny look when I told her I drove from Burlington to Niagara Falls for "six awesome IPAs" processed me very quickly. She handed my my passport back ("yes!"), with a little yellow slip of paper sticking out of it ("wait, what?") and said, "park over there where it says Canada."


So I parked. And watched two burly young men appear from the mist and tell to step out of the car, pop the trunk and wait on the bench until they were done ransacking my car.

All I could think was I'm screwed. I am royally screwed.

One guy started pawing though my trunk while the other pushed the driver seat forward and started searching under the seat.

I was SO screwed. They're going to put me in jail. They're going to red flag me for the rest of my life. They're going to take my beer.

They're going to take my damn beer.

After five minutes - maybe less - of searching, they called my over for the final interrogation. "Why did you come all this way for six beers, sir?" I was asked. "It's only from Burlington. And the IPAs are fantastic," I said. "Burlington is 40 minutes away," he countered. "That's why we pulled you aside. We couldn't figure out why you would drive all this way for six beers."

I muttered something about the awesome ales and hoped there wouldn't be any cavity searches at the end of this ordeal. And then the talkative one told me to have a good day and both of them walked away.

I can go? I'm not going to Customs Jail? How the hell did you not find the beer?

None of those thoughts were expressed out loud and in fact, by the time I asked myself the third question I was already gone and headed north through Niagara Falls (Canada, of course) and on my way to Rib-Eye Jack's in Burlington.

I think next time I will have to devise a new smuggling strategy. I only own so many underwear.

The delay at the border made me a little late for the party, but considering I was driving home after, that was probably a good thing.

Don, who was out having a smoke, met me outside the bar to accept the bottle I got him and to tell me some shocking news: he was going to 'gift' the bottle of Stone Ruination IIPA. That's right. He was planning to give away Ruination; the beer that sends him into fits of rapturous delight. Oh, the sacrifice.

The recipient of his largesse was the decidedly diminutive Kylie, the "uber knowledgeable Beer Technician to the stars" - I quote Don here, with the middle two words her official title - who would be one of our servers this night.

Don's been talking up her beer skills for weeks and I have to agree, though she (and a bunch of other beer experts) can't seem to pick out the smell of gym socks in a double IPA so she isn't perfect. That's right: gym socks and its pungent aroma was what the entire table got from a beer she recommended.

I'll get to that beer - which was delicious, by the way - in a moment, but I should introduce the party goers at this birthday bash. Cat and our friend Blair couldn`t make the event, so it turns out that I was the only person who didn`t work for The Beer Store or was related to someone who did.

The boys from Hologram enjoying Michelle's divine cake
There was Marie, the lady of honour sitting at the head of the table drinking Mill Street Cobblestone Stout, Anchor Steam Lager and some whiskey and God knows what else (and looking fresh as a daisy); her husband Ernie, he of the famous sausage, sucking back Mill Street Organic Lager, and their son Marc. There was Gord, who stepped up his game from his usual Coors Light to join Ernie with Mill Street`s Organic Lager`and who was in his glory razzing Don, who seemed to disappear every two minutes to secretly chat on his flip phone (a woman? I think so); there was Michelle and Ken. I don`t know what Ken was drinking but Michelle was seen sipping on a Grapefruit Radler which isn`t actually beer but I forgave her because she brought the birthday cake - a cookie crust chocolate cake with this whipped cream filling that was so good that the excellent two-man band had to have some too.

And then there were gym socks. Kylie ceremoniously brought out a bottle of Innocente Brewery's Guilty Conscience, a double IIPA that smelled like a junior high school locker room. Seriously. This aroma was shared round the table and the reaction was the same each time: the wrinkled nose of disgust. Don and I liked the beer though - there was grapefruit and resiny pine on the palate  with quite an enjoyable bitter finish - but that aroma! Thing was, Kylie didn't get it, and neither did the reviews on Rate Beer that I read, though one writer noted a 'sweaty tropical fruit aroma.'

I'll go with gym socks.

Rib Eye Jacks is quite the bar. It has an extensive craft beer selection, as well as whiskeys to satisfy every taste - and it treats its products like it treats its patrons - with reverance. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and the food is fantastic. I had the Bacon Maple Onion Burger (with a salad of course - one must watch one's girlish figure) and it was nearly as good as Michelle's cake.

I had something from Bellwoods to start - Roman Candle I think - and I also had a Anchor Liberty Ale (not as good as I remember) before finishing with a five-ounce taste of Don's pint of Boogie Monster from Indie Ale House.

And then it was time to go, after giving the birthday girl a kiss on the cheek and thanking Don for picking up my tab. (Thanks Broseph!) I was going home with bombers of Arrogant Bastard Ale (Stone); Ruination IIPA (Stone); and Yellow Snow IPA (Rogue); as well as most of a six pack of Grapefruit Sculpin (Ballast Point). And I wasn't in Canada Customs jail, which was also a good thing.

I'll be back to Rib Eye Jacks and I will be crossing the border again to get some fine IPAs when I do. I'll have a better smuggling strategy this time.


Three of the beers I brought back from the U.S. were new to me so I will take this opportunity to review them here. The Grapefruit Sculpin is a beer I have been seeking for some time, as the regular Sculpin was excellent. More grapefruit can't be a bad thing, no? Turns out, no, it wasn't. It poured a pale golden with a nice head which dissipated quickly. Lots of grapefruit on the nose and big citrus hops on the tongue. Grapefruit juice and more grapefruit juice with a little pineapple thrown in. Nice bitter finish. Excellent.

Arrogant Bastard was Stone's first offering when they opened 18 years ago and it was pretty damn good for a malty beer. Deep mahogany pour with a thick creamy and persistent head. There’s plenty of strong malt character on the nose with some dark fruits. Big and arrogant toasted malts on the tongue along with some sticky piney hops and a big bitter finish. For a malt-forward beer (not my usual wheelhouse) this was outstanding.

Yellow Snow IPA from Rogue (love the name) was a wee bit bit disappointing but still a good beer. This brew starts out golden but has a bronze finish. Mild aroma with a nice balance of crackery (if that’s a word) malts and citrusy and lemony hops. Quite drinkable but I was hoping for a little better.

Cheer and Happy New Year! And Happy Birthday Marie!

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