Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Mother Nature loves beer (I think)

I knew it was going to be tricky making it to the Great Lakes Tap Takeover at Buster Rhino's on this snowy Saturday night, what with Mother Nature threatening to put my best laid plans in the deep freeze.

We all know what a bitch Mother Nature can be, so I was going to need some good karma to make this happen.

My full-time job is in property maintenance and that means when it snows I have to be there shoveling it and salting it and otherwise making sure the sidewalks and runways of our malls are clear of it so shoppers can safely spend their money.

Most of the time Mother Nature co-operates by sending down the snow in the afternoon. The salt that is down already takes care of the first few centimetres and we're able to come in late at night or in the wee hours to do our work. By lunchtime the following day we're done and home bound, freeing us up to do our thing during the day, sleep deprivation notwithstanding.

This didn't look like it was going to be one of those days.

The other complication was that I was scheduled to work my delivery job that evening, with the plan to drop in at the bar after my short shift - 9:30-ish - and get a couple hours drinking in before going home to catch a couple or three hours sleep, as I had to be back at work early to clean up the remaining snow.

What, that's not what your work day is like?

Anyway, it didn't look like Mother Nature was going to work with me with her latest temper tantrum. The snow started building in the morning and I knew we would have to return in the afternoon to deal with it, jeopardizing both my part-time job (no small thing - I need the money) and the tap takeover.

No way I was going to miss that.

We worked two shifts that day. We came in early Saturday to do our litter run, with the outside chance we would stay to fight the storm.

Not a flake to be found.

But the snow started falling fast and thick as we left the yard and I started worrying about my delivery job, which was scheduled to start at 4:30 that afternoon. Keith didn't understand the fuss. "Which job pays more?" he asked me as we rolled away. This one or the delivery job?"Doesn't matter," I grumbled. "I want to do both. I need it to snow at MY convenience."

At this point I looked at Keith and at the other two guys in the truck and noticed it was 5:20, or possibly 4:20. After that I didn't give a shit.

By eight the litter run was done but it snowed heavy all morning and by 12:30 I was back at work with shovel and salt bucket in hand. The accumulation wasn't bad - I think we got five cennies that day - but it looked like an eight hour clean-up (especially as we had to move the snow while the parking lots were full of shoppers) and I really needed to get to my other job, if only for a few hours.

It's not normally a wise move to get mad at Mother Nature but damn...

I tried to give my crew a pep talk to remind them of the importance of me getting back to Oshawa to work (and then to Buster Rhino's to drink great beer) but halfway through my speech I noticed they had already left the truck and were inside Tim Horton's taking a break.

I think I was in there with them.

Anyway, we got the job done quicker than I thought - we left a few low priorities areas like back doors and such for the next day - and I was on my way back to Oshawa at 6:30, allowing me a couple of hours at least delivering Chinese food, fried chicken and drugs, among other things.

This was after a stop at home first - I oozed salt from every pore and several orifices and my left foot was frostbit -  to freshen up and confirm my ride to the bar.

I had tried my pal Brian first, as he was always up for drinking beer; craft OR crap, it didn't matter to him.

"Sorry, Pizza. Eleven-thirty sounds too late for me," said Brian.

This, coming from someone who believes a beer for breakfast was a perfectly acceptable way to start one's day, was surprising.

So I called my son Matt. "Number One Son," I began. "I'll buy you a beer if you drive me downtown..." Matt, like all my children, loves me dearly despite all my flaws and readily accepted the offer and even offered to come back and drive me home if I needed. As long as he didn't fall asleep.

At 9:30 we were off, and I thought about my plan of attack for the umpteenth time. A dozen beers on tap and two hours to drink requires strategy - unloess your name is Andre the Giant.

It's nearly spring so that meant Karma Citra was back, and this world class IPA - number one in Ontario, last time I checked - was tops on my to-do list. Swamp Juice IPA - a blend of three or four Great Lakes IPAs would be present and accounted, as well as Canuck (one of my go-to session ales) and fellow ales Pompous Ass and Devil's Pale Ale, all of which I was very familiar with.

Two Porters - the highly regarded Harry Porter and a coconut porter called Hanlan's Point - would also be in the house.

The other five on tap were worth trying if for no other reason than their names: possibly the coolest names in craft beer, which is this business, says an awful lot. There was Ice Hole Pale Ale; Idiot Mittens (a Belgian inspired Winter Warmer); Bad Blake Goes Pacific; Dirtbag McQuaid For a  Fine Gentleman Malt Liquor; and my personal favourite, Long Dong Pilsner, which had earned itself some pretty good reviews.

I had already decided that the Long Dong Pilsner was the perfect beer for Matt, who hadn't yet embraced the world of good beer.

Buster Rhino's was packed when we arrived, which is always a good sign, especially for Darryl, my favourite bearded publican. But the lovely lass at the bar greeted me with sad news. They already finished one of the kegs. "No," I said. "Not Karma Citra." Not to worry, she replied. "It's the Long Dong Pilsner. None left. Sorry."

Sarah, who walked over at this point to see who I was harassing, threw her two cents worth in as well. "Long Dong long gone," she said. Such a funny girl, our Sarah.

Sorry Matt. He shrugged and I bought him a Pompous Ass, an English-style ale that I figured he wouldn't mind, as IPAs make him gag. Meanwhile, I had a Swamp Juice to start, but only because the keg was getting low.

I'd heard of this concoction, a blend of whatever ales the brewery has going at the time, and was anxious to try this one, a mix of Karma Citra and Lake Effect IPAs and Canuck.

It was okay; nothing more. Big aroma of grapefruit, lemon and some tropical fruit, but the citrus flavours faded into the background a bit, leaving some resiny bitterness on the finish. A little light in the body, it wasn't in the class of Karma Citra, which I had next as Matt took his leave.

"If I'm still up at 11 I'll come back and take you home," he reminded me, and I reminded him how awesome he was.

Karma Citra, which I last enjoyed the previous spring, was everything I remembered. An intoxicating aroma of grapefruit, mango and tropical fruit with lots of lingering bitterness, the beer also delivered lemon and orange with slightly chewy malts. Terrific IPA.

I followed that up with a couple of porters, the highly regarded Harry Porter and Hanlan's Point, a coconut porter that piqued my interest. Both were quality sweet beers. Harry Porter delivered coffee, brown sugar, dark chocolate and bits of vanilla and licorice, while Hanlan's Point - named for legendary turn of the century rower Ned Hanlan and the clothing-optional beach on the Toronto Islands that bears his name - gave up coffee on the nose and a whole whack of coconut (what else) as it disappeared down my throat.

Both were delicious.

I moved on to Bad Blake Goes Pacific next, which was tasty, though I wasn't sure what I was tasting. Certainly bitter, but I didn't get much else.

It was getting close to 11 at this point, so I went back to Karma Citra to finish - hoppy, bitter, beautiful - as Matt approached downtown.

That was a good thing, as I had to get up at 2 - three hours away - to go back to work to finish all the spots we didn't get to during the day.

For the record, I slept like a baby, got up on time in the morning, and worked six hours with only the smallest of hangovers.

Must have been all that good Karma.

                        A Christmas story

The last Saturday before Christmas was a busy day for me, as I'm sure it was for most people. I had a few shopping stops to make and not a lot of time to do it as I was headed across the border for a brief beer shopping excursion before heading to a Christmas party in Burlington.

I managed to avoid the mall this day, but not Wal-Mart and Target and the Christmas stress was palpable among the throngs of shoppers looking for last minute bargains.

I had one other stop on this day, however, that more than made up for any Christmas blues I may have been experiencing: The Living Room Community Art Studio in downtown Oshawa.

The Living Room is a storefront art studio for the community - especially those who are most marginalized. On any given day the place is filled with budding artists - most of them children - intent on expressing themselves through their art or learning about their craft at workshops staffed by volunteers.

A sample of what is on display at the Living Room Community Art Studio
Front and centre in this magical place are two people near and dear to my heart: my sister-in-law Mary and my brother-in-law Anthony. Mary in particular is like a rock star here: children would constantly come up to her to show her their work: "Look at this Mary?" and "See what I did Mary?" and "Can you help me?"

And she would look. And she would help. An actor by trade and an art therapy graduate, Mary would
be ringing up a small art purchase and chatting with me, a woman who had come in to praise the studio and a budding artist or two, and then, as smooth as tomorrow's silk, take two strides to her left to welcome participants at a workshop that was just getting underway and then return to us and the conversation without missing a beat.

Like a boss.

Anthony, meanwhile, was also on hand offering advice and assistance, though his presence was a bit more restrained. A movie man and video editor extraordinaire himself, with a ton of experience in independent films as a producer/director and in supporting roles in bigger budget flicks, Anthony spent this day ensuring the workshop participants were able to realize their artistic potential and have fun doing it.

They make a great pair, these two. And the art community in Oshawa is the better for it.


I was at Buster Rhino's the other day and sitting at the bar was Courtney, who had proven her BFF chops by going on a beer-cation with Sarah last November despite the small matter of not drinking beer. I mentioned to her that I had put her in a blog recently, 11.05: Spittin' good beer, and had she read it?

If the President says so ...
Apparently not, she said, as Sarah just shrugged. "It was the time," I reminded her, "when you two were in here drinking and I came over to talk to Sarah about the 11.05 Triple IPA and, well, spit on her jacket."

She remembered THAT. How could one forget?

I told her I said in the story that she looked at me like I was some crazy old guy, but she disagreed with my assessment.

"I would never think that," she said. "I work with seniors all the time."

I'm not sure if she was serious or sarcastic, but either way I felt a little heat.

I think I got burned.

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