Monthly Archives: November 2012

Where Everybody Knows Your Name – The Blue Plate Lounge

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Since putting the call out for write-ups of your favourite pub, I’ve received several e-mails filled with interesting stories and places. I’ll be trickling a few out from time to time, but please, if you want to contribute go to this post to read about it and e-mail me at robin@thethirstywench.com

This post is from Ian Campbell in  Massachusetts. And while it isn’t a place where everyone knows his name, he knows the place quite well.

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I tend to split my time between working and blogging at kleptofuturist.com. And I have to admit, with shame in my eyes: I’m not a beer drinker. The stuff’s too heavy for my stomach most days.

But I do love a fine whisky.

There’s a bar in my hometown that I go to maybe once a month, which is more frequently than any other bar. You might qualify it as an anti-pub, very much a whole in the wall. I go specifically because no one knows my name. I find the furthest booth from people that I can, which is hard because the entire place has less square footage than my apartment. And living large I am not.

But when a place persists in the collective memory of your family for sixty years you can either honor it or risk it haunting you.

The Blue Plate Lounge in Holden, Massachusetts is small and dark. There is nothing special about the building, a one-story hovelesque woodframe painted in subdued tones of blue and gray. The windows are frosted with age and one’s been broken for several years. After a few drinks I’ll stare at that broken pane and wonder what happened, catch myself creating totally involved narratives. And remind myself to pace myself a little further out on my next drink.

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Located right on Main Street, it shares a parking lot with a seasonal greenery on one side and a liquor store on the other. The beeping of large trucks in reverse is ever-present thanks to the town’s highway department being just a few hundred feet up a side road. I’ve attached a picture from their Facebook page (I didn’t even know they HAD a Facebook page) because I’m not sure how kindly they’d react to me whipping out a camera. The Blue Plate Lounge screams low-key these days.

Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti read his work here. Spiritual heavy Ram Dass had a beer at the bar and then gave a two-hour talk.

The legend of the Blue Plate is a long and strange trip. The now deceased co-owner was a recovering addict. Named Tiny for the same reason that any man is named Tiny, he acted as driver and bodyguard for the Dalai Lama during the latter’s trips to the US in the eighties. Tiny also spearheaded a number of community projects, helping other addicts recover or assisting Tibetan immigrants in escaping the Chinese. His heart and hugs were the only things that dwarfed his stature and his story is one of the reasons I’m always drawn to this place.

I also come here because it’s part of my story, or at least my family’s. Legend has it that my grandfather took my father here at age eight or so after telling my grandmother they were going ice fishing. He even loaded gear into the car. No ice was fished. Instead football was on order, a snowy away game amidst a nondescript day at home. This snow was my grandfather’s undoing.

Upon the two of them returning home my grandmother exclaimed over how much snow fell during the football game. My dad, unknowing, eight, responded “I know! We saw the whole thing!” The whole sordid business unmasked, granddad placed squarely in the doghouse, this event earned a firm place in the oral tradition of my family.

“Honor it or it haunts you” becomes an even starker imperative when I admit that I never met my father’s father. He died before my birth.

None of the people at the Blue Plate know this story.

None of them know my name.

I find an isolated booth and lay down my bag. Cross the dance floor in two and a half steps. Get to the bar in five, passing an aged lottery machine. Rustle myself up a whisky and return to my booth. The looks I get tell me that not many patrons come to write, not many sit down and pull out an iPad or a notebook. But they don’t bother me and likewise. There’s a respectful gulf between us. They see a man at work and leave him alone.

That gulf leaves just enough room for me to get some writing done. And occasionally allows for a glimmer of the past. Ferlinghetti or Ram Dass upon the five foot square stage smoking and riffing. Or a man I never met and his young son sitting at the bar and watching a snow-covered football game in black and white.

I catch the briefest of glimpses and turn back to my notes. When I want a refill I find my way back to the bar.

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A Musical Beer Collaboration: Flying Monkeys BNL Imperial Chocolate Stout

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Around September Canadian beer lovers and music fans alike were excited to learn of a collaboration beer being made with Ontario brewery Flying Monkeys and the iconic Canadian band the Barenaked Ladies. For those not familiar with the group, they’re basically the ultimate “local boys do good” story here where I live, the Toronto suburb of Scarborough. Everyone here has sung along to “If I Had a Million Dollars” and “One Week” at least ten times in their life, have hung out in their preferred hangout of the Scarborough Town Centre and well…let’s just say that the Barenaked Ladies are kind of a big deal here. Even ignoring their hits, my international readers will probably best know them with the song “Get in Line” from King of the Hill or even more popularly, the theme song for The Big Bang Theory. So if you’ve heard their music with it’s naturally quirky nature, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that they would team up with a brewery called Flying Monkeys.

What makes this fun is that BNL Imperial Chocolate Stout, due to hit stores across the country to coincide with the “Symphony Barenaked” Canada tour starting November 30th, isn’t just a matter of the boys sticking their names on the beer and leaving it be. They kept well connected with the folks at Flying Monkeys, working out what they wanted the beer to represent, supplied box and label art by band member Kevin Hearn and even showed up for the first day of brewing. “The guys got a crash course in the brewhouse. Honestly, we’ve never collaborated with a better bunch of guys!” says Flying Monkeys founder and brewer Peter Chiodo.

The Ladies themselves had an amazing time. “It was incredible there,” says drummer Tyler Stewart. “The folks at Flying Monkeys, they love what they make and they’re so in to it and have a great time. And we love them because they are what they are, making high quality stuff that people love and isn’t crappy. That really matches the BNL philosophy.”

Let’s talk about the beer a bit. BNL Strong Beer is an Imperial Chocolate Stout made with organic Ecuadorian Cocoa Nibs. “And it’s at 10% (ABV), so this isn’t a beer you can quaff, but instead sip and really appreciate.” says Stewart.

Now. On to the review. To enhance the experience I’ve asked Tyler what Barenaked Ladies songs he’d pair this beer with and he suggests two. The first being “Ordinary” from their 2010 album All In Good Time “I think ordinary matches because the song has this really upbeat tone, but very intense lyrics, so the song isn’t what it seems to be. Just like this beer, while on the surface is an ordinary drink, it is anything but ordinary.” He also suggests the hit “Pinch Me” from 2000’s Maroon album. “It’s time to wake up and try some beer!” he says with a laugh. (I’ve put the songs up below this post, so feel free to listen and read)

COLOUR: A beautiful black with a decent mocha head that sticks around for the party.

AROMA: Chocolate fudge cake all the way and it hits you when you first open the bottle. You can smell the chocolate two feet away. Slightly fruity. I would have no problem letting this sit so the smell could take over my room.

TASTE: As expected, there’s a HUGE bitter and delicious cocoa presence at the front with a sweetness that makes this taste almost like chocolate milk but more like a good and dense chocolate cake. After that comes a hint of molasses with a slight fruity taste hitting the back with the gentle burn of the alcohol. Or maybe this warmth is from the cocoa. Hm. Mouthfeel is very creamy with little carbonation. Tyler was right in saying this is not a drink to be quaffed. I couldn’t quaff this if I tried (and I did try for, uh, the sake of experimentation).  The heaviness of this beer makes me almost feel like I’m sipping a cocoa liquer. I kind of wish I had some ice cream or raspberries to compliment this.

VERDICT: Love it. It’s heavy, full of delicious cocoa and creates a comfortable warmth that matches the season, and the music of the Barenaked Ladies, perfectly. This is obviously a dessert beer for me, but can be enjoyed any time. I’ll be looking forward to getting more of this, one bottle for aging and another for an especially cold winter night.

And now I’m going to have “One Week” in my head for…well, maybe about a week.

photos courtesy of Flying Monkeys Brewery, except the one of the box which is mine.

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CURRENTLY DRINKING: Baldwin FishEye-PA

So most people on here know what I think of Toronto-based Kensington Brewing Co.’s Augusta Ale (hint: I really like it). So it doesn’t come as much of a shock to learn that I was pretty excited to hear about the release of their newest release, an IPA called Baldwin FishEye-PA. I was disappointed that I missed the chance to sample it at it’s debut at Bar Hop a couple of weeks ago, but was delighted to be given a can by the folks there (the can, funnily enough, was completely blank. I attached a label on to it with scotch tape).

The beer, named after the fish markets on Baldwin Street in Kensington Market, is around 6.7%ABV although I’ve been told that that will be lowered slightly for the beer’s release in to LCBOs some time in the spring of 2013 where it will be sold in tallboy cans.

Shall we get to it? Yes. Let’s.

COLOUR: pours a clear, light crimson. Similar to apple cider or orange blossom honey.

AROMA: Front end of the smell has some nice fruity and citrusy tones with a nice warm hint of pine at the back.

TASTE: Since it’s an IPA it’s no surprise that there’s a strong hop presence at the start, but the hops is holding hands with the sweet malty body ending with a slightly astringent finish before moving on to the pine notes.  Aftertaste is a bit of frutiness with another healthy dollop of pine that rounds things off somewhat nicely.

VERDICT: Although I think this is a good beer from the folks at Kensington Brewing this just didn’t quite hit the mark for me. I feel that the hops could have been shown off a bit better and the slight astringent taste was a bit offputting. The pine, however, was a big and welcome surprise for me and personally would be my main reason for drinking more. While I’d really like to try this after a couple of more batches, the beer has some good character to it and will definitely match the Spring season that it plans to launch in. I also plan to try it over at one of my places on Baldwin, Thirsty & Miserable, for the true Baldwin St. Experience.

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