Saturday, 2 July 2016

In praise of my mentor (the man who puts the 'D' in D B &G

I was asked more than once about my recent weekend plans and my answer was always the same: I was heading for the border to do a beer run.

I wasn't lying - I brought my passport, crossed the border and bought U.S. craft beer at the Consumer's Beverages outlet in Niagara Falls - but I was being a little disingenuous as well.

The real truth is the border crossing was just a little extra bonus on the day; something I did because I am genetically incapable of pulling off the highway if I am within an hour of the American border.

My ultimate destination was the sprawling ground floor estate in Burlington (40 minutes from the border), better known in this space as Donny's Bar & Grill, home of Don (natch), my pal, my Beer Bro and my mentor.

That mentor thing might alarm some people, but it's the gosh-honest truth. Don was the man who guided me into the world of craft beer less than three years ago (thanks man!), but really, I have been following his lead for much longer than that.

Our first broadcast journalism assignment at Humber College in the early 80s was to produce an interview and present it to class. I was pretty shy back then (not to mention clueless around television equipment) so Don took me by the hand  (metaphorically) and we went into the nearest washroom to interview ... a urinal. Jim Bard, our instructor and the only man at Humber funnier than Don (his Kraft Dinner humour column for the Coven newspaper was a classic) didn't specifically say interview a person, Don argued. So I would ask a question, Don would pull the flush lever and...well, you get the idea.

Don in his element: beer in hand
When the 'interview' was played  in class Jim did not even glance my way. Instead, he looked straight at Don. "You put him up to this, didn't you?!"

Our college days were full of such touching 'mentoring' stories, but most would get at least one of us in trouble and I can't remember them too well anyway. It was the eighties, we were in college, there was alcohol ...

There was that time we talked our way into a Miller beer marketing event, ate steak, drank free beer all night while watching Don 'sing' on stage with Louise Mandrell, and stole a six-foot beer sign on wheels and took it home on the subway. But that tale has been told before and I re-tell it only to show the depths Don will plumb to show me the right way to growth and maturity.

I followed Don after college too, all the way to Kenora in the wilds of northwestern Ontario, where he showed me how to properly trash a hotel room (Sorry Kenricia Hotel) and how not to charm the local girls (Don: it's not your fault she wasn't a fan of Bob & Doug Mackenzie!). He also introduced me to sports writing and when Don went home - he discovered Kenora and its minus 40 winters were not to his liking - I took over his Sports Editor position.

And when I came home to Toronto a year or so later (having left my leased car in a ditch up there) it was my pal who offered freelance writing opportunities at the Bloor West Villager newspaper to keep me busy until another full-time gig presented itself.

(I should explain that these freelance stories were not paid in cash, as his boss, the late, great -colourful, anyway - Verner Kure, loved smoked fish, Molson Stock Ale and not paying his freelancers. Instead, Don would take me next door to Shakey's, a bar owned by former Toronto Maple Leaf Mike 'Shakey' Walton, and square up our account with beer.)

Pineapple Sculpin from Ballast Point
Ghettoblaster - a Detroit-style
Mild Ale from Motor City
By the time the 90s rolled around I fell out of Don's sphere of influence as marriages (two each), kids and distance got in the way. But we kept in touch - especially when Facebook came around - and when he discovered craft beer in 2013 I quickly jumped ship from Brava to Smashbomb Atomic IPA and followed him into this brave new world.

Now I make the trip from Oshawa to Burlington five or six times a year to see my pal. Usually these visits are planned around border crossings, but this one was different: he messaged me and said he was free the following Saturday and would I care to come down and drink beer?

Why yes, Don. Don't mind if I do.

So I did the border crossing, picking up some Pineapple Sculpin (Ballast Point), a few Enjoy By and Ruination from Stone Brewery - the Brewery That Can Do No Wrong - six Hop Nosh Tangerine IPA (Uinta), six Rampant (New Belgium) and a bottle of Space Cake IIPA (Clown Shoes) before heading back to Burlington and DB&G's.

We drank a few of my beers before deciding it best we emptied Don's fridge first.

We started with Ghettoblaster, a 3.8 per cent Detroit-style Mild Pale Ale that was part of a gift from Don's pal Cheesy. This beer smelled like it wasn't going to be any better than just okay, with sweet malts and a little spice., but it was a lot better than I expected. Very sweet tasting for sure (like drinking caramel) with a pleasing bitterness. And I went home with a Detroit Beer Company glass, so win-win.

With the City of Detroit top of mind, we talked about the passing of a mutual hero, the legendary Gordie Howe. We both had Gordie stories, though his came with a picture as proof. I only got to stand in Mr. Hockey's shadow for a few minutes, too afraid to interrupt the talkative uber fan who had his undivided attention.

First Ali, then Howe. It was a tough month for my sporting heroes.

Donnie with one of his mentors, the
legendary Gordie Howe, who we lost last month
We also talked about Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie, who was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer and is taking the band on a final tour this summer. After two days of trying I managed to outwit the scalpers and score a single ticket to one of the Toronto shows next month and I think most of Canada will be tuned in to the CBC August 20 for the band's final performance from Kingston.

And how Canadian is that?

We eventually got back to talking about beer and the brews I brought, with Pineapple Sculpin from Ballast Point next on the agenda. I love my Sculpins, having now enjoyed three of the variations of this seven per cent San Diego hop bomb, and this one was damn good, though it didn't really deliver on its pineapple promises. It smelled and tasted fruity, but I just didn't get the pineapple. Still delicious.

Space Cake, a  Double IPA from Clown Shoes (Ipswich, Massachusetts) was our transition to the big beers, as this brew clocked in at nine per cent ABV. It was all pine and tropical fruit on the nose, with more of the same - along with some mango - on the tongue. Very good.

Rampant was up next, an 8.5 per cent Double IPA from New Belgium of Colorado, one of America's best breweries. This was very good, with stone fruit and tropical citrus on the nose. It tasted like fresh grapefruit in a pine forest, with a little caramel malt on the side. Smooth but with a big bite. Balanced and bitter.

We tried the Hop Nosh IPA and this smelled delicious, with lots of bitter citrus like orange zest and tangerine. That and a little sweetness on the tongue, especially mandarin orange. My first tangerine IPA - I’m a fan.

We also found time to polish off a growler of Headstock - one of my all-time favourite IPAs - from Don's local brewery, Nickel Brook.

So it turned out we drank a fair bit, even though I was trying to pace myself, as a recent visit to DB&G's found me passed out early and at the mercy of a few of Don's friends. Not that I'm naming any names (*cough Marie and Cat *) nor that my good friend Don would be interested in those kinds of shenanigans (*cough yes he would*).

I worried for nothing. Around nine o'clock I heard something that sounded like snoring and there was Don, passed out on the chair. It's a rare day when I outlast him, so I basked in the glory for about 30 minutes before my eyes grew heavy and my chair became oh, so comfortable.

Coast to Coasters - a  collaborative Imperial
ESB from Flying Monkeys and friends
Space Cake IIPA from
Clown Shoes
Around two a.m. we both stirred and settled back on the patio for a nightcap: an Uber Berliner Raspberry Weisse from Nickel Brook. This was a sour beer, and the first sour  that met Don's approval. Me? Not so much. It had a powerful raspberry aroma and it tasted like punched up Raspberry Kool-Aid, with the sourness kicking in at the end. It delivered what it promised but I’m not a convert.

The too bright sunshine of the morning was welcomed with a big breakfast beer: Coast to Coasters, a Flying Monkeys collaboration with Phillips (B.C.), Garrison (Nova Scotia) and Trou du Diable (Quebec). My first Imperial ESB, this poured an impressive dark red with a thick and creamy head. There was lots of semi-sweet malts on the nose with a little plum, some caramel and a little bit of sweetness on the tongue. Hoppy as well. Very nice.

.All in all a great weekend - Don received the traditional U.S. mixed-six as a parting gift - and if you judge a good beer adventure by the number of new beers you discover along the way I had a hella good time at Donny's Bar & Grill. Nine brand new beers - nine! - were consumed on the Saturday while lounging on DB&G's sumptuous patio and through the week at the third floor loft back in Oshawa.

Add in all that mentoring from an old friend? Priceless.

All or Nothing goes all in at Trafalgar

Oshawa's All or Nothing Brewhouse is a contract brewer no longer.

All or Nothing Hopfenweisse
Founded two years ago by brothers Jeff and Eric Dornan and the makers of just one beer - the most excellent All or Nothing Hopfenweisse - the company just completed a purchase of Trafalgar Ales & Meads of Oakville and its sister companies Black Creek Historic Brewery and Trafalgar Distillery.

Jeff said the company will be making a "significant investment" in Trafalgar's 12,000 square-foot facility through the installation of a canning line and new fermentation tanks to enable them to produce craft beer, cider, mead and spirits under one roof.

The long term goal, he told the Oshawa Express newspaper, is to move the operation to Oshawa when the right facility (McLaughlin Armoury?) comes available.

Trafalgar, which has a 23 year history in Oakville, won seven awards at last year's Ontario Brewing Awards.

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