Category Archives: people I know

The Divination Six Pack – Beer & The Tarot

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One of the things I’m often asked to do when trying beers is to assign a particular profile to whatever it is I’m drinking. This works as a descriptor of when/where to try a beer, but like with all things that involve taste and smell, it’s entirely subjective. To me a hotdog is best enjoyed on a city block while trying to fight away pigeons, whereas to others it might be in a baseball stadium. Each person has a different ideal scenario for what they’re having and each one has a very specific kind of emotional attachment to that scenario.

But hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s go back a couple of nights.

So I’m chatting with a friend of mine, Philosophy Professor and Occult Reality Augmentation Man-About-Town, Damien Patrick Williams about the popular method of divination, the Tarot Cards. Within that he brings up his own unique way of doing Tarot pulls that don’t involve the actual cards. Instead, he puts his music player on shuffle. When he asks his question (let’s say “How do I see myself?”), a song will come up and he’ll take in the lyrics and his emotional reaction to the song and figure out how it fits in to his question.  He feels that it works similar to the tarot, but also has the ability to provide a bit more nuance than cards, as songs can make you feel a whole mix of feelings at the same time.

This got me thinking about beer. After all, each beer has incredibly unique flavour profiles and brings about its own unique emotional response. If there was a way to create a randomized list of beers, could I do the same thing that Damien did with his music player? I decided to find out.

In creating a “deck”, I formed a list of a healthy mix of Ontario beers that were the resulted wins of the 2014 Ontario Brewing Awards, which involved three beers in each section, which was many different styles from Lite Beer to Dark IPA, to Wit Beer. To make things easier for a pull, I removed beers that either no longer existed (and that I hadn’t tried) or would be impossible for me to try in the span of a few days, leaving a grand total of 62 beers for this experiment. After making the list, I ran it through a list randomizer several times and it was complete.

To do a reading all you have to do is go to a random number generator, think about your question, and click “Generate”. Look up the number in the beer list, and then think about (or try!) the beer, noting it’s full flavour profile and what you think of it, including situations where you think it would be ideal to drink it in (and think about how you would feel about that situation, good or bad?). With those connections made, think about how they relate to your question and how they apply to you.

Removing the Tarot element of this, I feel it’s an excellent exercise in really getting to think about the connection you have with certain beers and may help you for pick out selections in the future. It’ll provide some context in your thought process and help you understand what kind of beer you want when faced with the dilemma of “what should I have?”. Additionally, this would be a really fun way to share beers with friends, as you can create a Divination 6-pack for them as a gift.

For the Ontario folks, I have this handy-dandy list pre-made, so you can use that (though feel free to make your own). For everyone else, at last we have a use for lists that web sites make! Ratebeer has a top 50 beer list section that can be customized, or you could spend an hour or so creating your own. The more there is on the list, the better. All you need is the random number generator and you’re good to go.

As for the questions, I’ve kept it simple but strong with six ones. You as you see yourself, you as others see you, your goal, recent past, near future, and ultimate outcome. As an example, I’ve done a pull of my own below. While I’m not going to give you specific aspects of my life, I have included my personal reaction to the results and have outlined the ones I feel have the strongest connection.

And here we go.

You As You See Yourself: Highlander Brew Company  Scottish Ale – A very soft-spoken beer in the public eye, but revealed to have a level of complexity due to the malts.

You As Others See You: F&M Stone Hammer Maple Red Ale – An all together solid beer and arguably one of the most solid from this particular brewery, it’s an Amber Ale brewed with locally sourced maple syrup. However, it isn’t to everyone’s tastes. Folks will either have one and never think of it again, or reach for another

Your Goal: Amsterdam Brewery – Downtown Brown – Whenever I think of Downtown Brown, I tend to think of “Balance”. While it has many of the elements of a solid, grounded brown ale, there is also a level of lightness to its taste that makes it a drink that doesn’t demand a certain atmosphere to enjoy it with. Very easy-going but grounded.

Recent Past: Molson-Coors Rickard’s White – Rickard’s White is actually a pretty good beer, but in America, where the exact beer is known as Blue Moon, it is a a beer that is constantly mistaken for something made by a smaller brewery (When in reality it’s made by one of the largest). As a result, there is a deep mistrust among the craft beer crowd and it has the image of trying to be something that it is not.

Near Future: Mill Street Frambozen – A very bright and sweet beer, ideally preferred in the sunshine. However, the taste is quite brief. (Only real personal note – Am planning a trip to Montreal soon)

Ultimate Outcome: Wellington Imperial Russian Stout – With several exceptions, I often view Imperial Stouts as the grand finale beer of a particularly trying day. With it’s dark roasted notes and slight alcohol burn, it’s a beer that’s meant to be savoured and sipped slowly. My ideal circumstance would be sitting in an easy chair with some music playing and a good book. Ultimately, with an Imperial Stout, in particular this one, I’d like to unwind from something with it. While this may not be my absolute first choice, it’s a damn good choice nonetheless.

And there you have it.

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Filed under Innovations, Learning, people I know, Tips

Vegas, Baby, Vegas: The Saveur Magazine Best Food Blog Awards Experience

 

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Well, I’m back from the desert city of Las Vegas, where I was treated by the folks at Saveur Magazine and Bellagio to come by, sample some fantastic culinary delights, and collect my award for Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog Awards in the category of Wine & Beer. I came to Vegas on the back of a trip to England, and so coming back to my own time zone on Saturday was…well, I’m still incredibly jetlagged, but not enough to give a small recap of my time with the folks at Saveur and the other fine bloggers who either won or were finalists. I have some thoughts on the actual beer scene in Las Vegas as well as some suggested places to go on and off the Strip, but I’ll be posting that separately in a couple of days for length purposes. You understand.

So Saveur.

IMG_8119It was definitely one of the more interesting and extravagant times of my life. To check in at the luxurious Bellagio Hotel & Casino, with a beautiful view of their famous fountain, and have the whole damned thing complimentary…it was something I never thought would happen to me. The days leading up to arriving in Vegas my impostor syndrome was playing up, wondering when I was going to be quietly taken aside and told that there was some kind of mixup. But it didn’t happen and when I received a delivery to my room of a bag full of wonderful delights, a bottle of Highland Park 12 year-old Scotch, Kettle Chips, Salted Caramel Chocolate, a small bottle of Zonin Prosecco Italian sparkling wine…I realized there had been no mistake and began to look on this whole thing with a bit more honour.

IMG_8152The Welcoming Reception was a tad awkward for me at first, but featured some lovely food samples based on some of the winning food blogs and good quality wines, all with the backdrop of the prestigious Bellagio Fine Art Gallery that currently has a “Painting Women” exhibition going on, primarily featuring works by female painters. As the evening was drawing to a close, I sought out some of my fellow Canadians and we all went out for pizza next door, sipping on our drinks and talking about our reactions, process during a post, and lives. It was the perfect end to the opening evening.

dimsumThe next day was more packed, with two “behind the scenes” tours, where we walked in the underground city that is the Bellagio Hotel staff area and met up with Executive Chef Patrick Lee of the Bellagio restaurant Noodles. where we sampled some quality Dim Sum under the backdrop of the gorgeous Jasmine. Then it was on to a favourite, a talk with Bellagio Master Patisserie Chef Jean Philippe, where we sampled some absolutely orgasmic chocolates, including whiskey chocolate truffles made with Highland Park.

IMG_8275We then went to the Culinary Classroom, where we sampled some Highland Park Scotch Whisky. This actually proved to be really educational for me. Sampling the 12, 15, and 18 year-old varieties side by side gave me the ability to look at the distinct flavours and notes of each and I ended up developing a new appreciation for Scotch. Afterwards we went to the Tuscany Test Kitchen where, with the help of Highland Park, Bellagio’s Chef Edmund Wong, and Le Creuset we made special cocktails and signature meatballs with a divine marinara sauce and buffalo mozzarella.

Finally in the evening we went to the lush Sensi, where we convened to be presented with our awards, an engraved Le Creuset frying pan. Also the first ever “Blog of the Year” winner was announced to the well-deserved i am a food blog. We then sat down for an exclusive peek at Sensi’s new menu prepared by Executive Chef Royden Ellamar.

IMG_8331My only criticism of the couple of days was the very notable exclusion of beer throughout these events. My blogging colleagues and I all noticed that, while fine wines, whiskies, and cocktails were consistently presented at the two main events of the Welcoming Reception and the Awards Dinner, beer just…wasn’t considered. It was disappointing to be there winning an award for writing about beer and being told that beer wasn’t on the menu. In the end I had to stand my ground a bit and ask for a beer to celebrate my award with, which to the credit of Sensi staff, they delivered (their only craft option was New Belgium Fat Tire). It was just a bit of a bummer to learn that perhaps beer still has some ways to go to be considered more than just the lower option at higher end places. But that’s a rant for another time and I’d like to note that the Fat Tire went incredibly well with the Ribeye Steak that was served with dinner. I even passed my glass around for comparison and other writers were astonished at a pairing they had not considered before. I should say that I really don’t intend on criticizing my wonderful hosts for an incredibly lovely experience, but considering what I write about I just couldn’t overlook this.

However, despite that, the entire two days was a whirlwind of new friends, dazzling conversation, and some personal feelings of validation on my part. It really was an unforgettable experience and I must thank my hosts at Saveur and Bellagio for making this Canadian feel like a star. I really appreciate it.

IMG_8350Afterwards, I ended up going on the hunt and discovered a wonderful bar on the strip called The Pub, in the Monte Carlo Hotel & Casino, sporting over 130 beers on tap. Manager Lisa King set us up right with some custom flights (including their own brand), some excellent conversation, and more than enough recommendations and insight on the beer landscape in Vegas and who to talk to within it.

I made so many friends with amazing blogs, (some shout outs to Maureen Abood, Chinese Grandma, Bit By a Fox, Culinary Bro-Down, and FEAST: An Edible Roadtrip among SO many others) but I’m going to suggest following everyone in the winner page including the very talented finalists.

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And there’s my recap folks. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! As I said up there, I had some beer adventures and that’s a post on it’s own. Stay tuned in the next couple of days for that one.

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In Space No One Can Hear You Review A Beer: Half Pints Brewing Co.’s Black Galaxy

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Whenever friends of mine let me know they’re heading to Winnipeg to see friends (And dear god, that happens more than you would think), they always ask for a local brewery recommendation and with no pause whatsoever my response is always “Half Pints Brewing”. There are others in Winnipeg and definitely in the whole province of Manitoba, but Half Pints is the one I always suggest because they have been leading the charge on well-crafted beers since 2006 when co-owners Nicole Barry and David Rudge opened their doors as part of a grand plan to open a brewery by their early 30s.

With Rudge as Brewmaster and Barry putting her extensive accounting and business administration background to good use as the brewery’s CEO, Half Pints have slowly and steadily made their mark on the minds of beer drinkers in the province of Manitoba and beyond. From being fiercely active in their local community (one instance of note is creating “Queer Beer”, a special beer for the Winnipeg Pride Festival with proceeds of sales going to Pride Winnipeg), to consistently coming out with new and exciting beers, Half Pints stands as a good example of creative brewing and cunning business sense.

Flagships include St. James Pale Ale, Bulldog Amber Ale, Stir Stick Stout, and the incredibly popular Little Scrapper IPA. Their market includes Saskatchewan, BC, Alberta, and of course Manitoba, with the occasional feature in the eastern provinces as well. If you find yourself in Winnipeg, the brewery also does tours every Saturday starting at 1pm.

1601307_681922288535481_1551725549_nI was lucky enough to get my hands on a bottle of their newest limited release, the Black Galaxy, a Black IPA finished off with, you guessed it, Galaxy Hops. The beer has been a popular March feature since it first came out in 2012 and has had Half Pints fans shaking with anticipation ever since. The beer is about 6% ABV and is being sold at the brewery itself along with selected stores while quantities last.

…And I have to say that it’s a comfortable and strong beer. Normally when I have a Black IPA I get a lot of roasted coffee notes at the end, and while I certainly start to get the malty notes as it warms in the glass, if I was blinded in an accident and drank this beer I wouldn’t guess that it was so dark in colour. I say this because despite its colour  it’s a very bright beer. The tropical fruit notes of the Galaxy hops comes out nicely in the aroma, and those same notes come out strongly in the taste. I have to admit, I didn’t know what to think of a dark beer release so close to Spring, but I’ll be damned if this doesn’t fit the season nicely. If I’m going to borrow from the space theme this beer takes on, the aroma and taste are two bright stars in an otherwise dark space.

It’s fun to see this beer unwrap itself while drinking it, going from a bright and tropical IPA while cold and ending up as a slightly roasted hoppy dark beer as it warms.

This isn’t the first time a Half Pints beer has made me smile at my glass and say “Well, look at you!” and I doubt it will be the last. While I have no clue when I’ll next be in Winnipeg, I’ll be sure to keep this on my list of destinations when I’m there.

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Filed under Currently Drinking, people I know, Seasonal Beers

Barkeep, Another Course – The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook

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Longtime readers of this site along with anyone who has known me for like, five minutes knows that one of my most enjoyable activities is cooking. Additionally, finding ways to cook with beer is another interest of mine, although I should say that beyond an excellent cake recipe, a weiss pizza crust, BBQ sauce, and a lovely sauce for some sausages, I’ve been left stumped.

Although there have been recipes and even books that involve incorporating beer in to the dish, I’ll be honest, guys…it’s easy to get cynical when I hear about someone releasing a beer cookbook. Normally it means that the recipes have beer thrown in with very little thought, the beers suggested are very specific ones which makes the book redundant in six months to a year from publishing date, the author’s tone suggests that (bless their heart) they don’t know a damn thing about beer, or, if it’s REALLY bad, a combination of all three of those things. We’ve all bought cookbooks before, or visited a recipe blog and were disappointed. We’ve all been hurt before.

But The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook is none of those things. For five years David Ort has been a food and drink writer on his blog, Food With Legs, and throughout that time he has been creating recipes, attending events, and doing research. This book, the product of many long hours of tweaking, testing, researching, and redoing for the self-taught cook, shows the careful effort that was put in to it.

The first thing that sticks out about each recipe is the accompanying beer recommendation. Although not every recipe is actually made with beer, every recipe does have a suggested pairing in order of style, specific Canadian beer, and sometimes a specific international beer. This not only gives you an ideal pairing for the meal, but, when referring to the specific style, ensures that I can still pick this book up after ten years and make something from it.

Another thing that sticks out for me is something that many would probably be surprised to learn – it’s not all pub food. While there are recipes for onion rings, Currywurst and Steak & Ale Pie, there are also recipes for Soba Salad, Fondue, and Rogan Josh as well as recipes for condiments such as IPA Mustard, homemade vinegar, and Hop infused Salt. The recipes I’ve been reading so far seem to range from “simple” to “a little more difficult but still simple” and the variety of foods ensures that one won’t be reaching for this book just for a main dish.

It’s also enflaming an adventurous, experimental spirit in me cooking-wise, I have to admit. I don’t even have my physical copy yet (I was graciously given a pdf to help me with this review) and as I type this I have some mustard seeds sitting in a jar of IPA where, for the first time, I’m going to be making my own mustard (though due to availability, I had to change the suggested beer of Amsterdam’s Boneshaker to Muskoka’s Mad Tom). Hop salt and Edamame will soon be following in the next couple of days.

To top it all off, its introduction section provides a very thorough history and guide to Craft Beer and the book is scattered with profiles of some of Canada’s Beer trailblazers. Ort’s thought process in forming the recipes is also brought out in an understandable way, helping the reader learn more about what it’s like cooking with the beverage from a  practical viewpoint.

In summary…buy this freakin’ book. There are others out there, but this one is the one I’m excited about because it is just so solid and ridiculously good. Simple recipes for big dishes that get you to think more about the individual ingredients as well as the incredible versatility of beer. Aside from what is already turning out for me as a book that I find myself going through for the next culinary adventure, it is also very obviously a love letter to good food, good beer and the country that provides both of those things.

David Ort’s Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook is available RIGHT NOW in Canada and the US both online and in stores, with plans to move things more across the pond to be available internationally.

For more info, check out the book’s page at beercookbook.ca

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You didn’t think I was going to write about a beer cookbook and not provide at least one recipe from it, did you? Honestly, and you call yourselves my readers…

When I visited David at his apartment a couple of days ago he made me a couple of dishes from the book. One in particular, an amazing fondue sauce, got devoured quickly. Tangy, sharp, smooth, slight burn (both literally from the temperature as well as from the little bit of brandy and mustard) and…argh. Just go and make it. Absolutely delicious.

FONDUE SAUCE

recommended beer Bière de garde
Barrel-Aged Bière de Garde, Bellwoods Brewery (Ontario)
Bière de Beloeil, Brasserie Dupont
(Belgium)
serves 4–6
preparation time: 5 minutes
cooking time: 15 minutes

7½ oz (230 g) shredded Gruyère
(about 2 cups/500 mL)
4 oz (125 g) shredded aged cheddar
(about 1 cup/250 mL)
1 Tbsp (15 mL) cornstarch
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 cup (250 mL) bière de garde
1 Tbsp (15 mL) whole-grain mustard
1 Tbsp (15 mL) cider vinegar
2 tsp (10 mL) brandy
freshly ground black pepper

Toss the two cheeses and cornstarch together in a medium mixing bowl. Set a fondue pot over medium heat and add the garlic cloves  and beer. When the beer barely simmers, add the cheese, a handful at a time, and stir to melt before adding the next handful. When the cheese sauce is smooth and creamy, add the mustard, vinegar and brandy. Season with a few grinds of black pepper. For dipping, move the fondue pot to its tabletop setup and serve with bread cubes, potatoes, sausages and pickles.

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Filed under Cooking With Beer, Learning, people I know

“The Cider Geeks Are Excited” – Canadian Beer News & The Rhino’s Fall Beer & Cider Fest

Last year I went to a Winter Beer festival that I considered one of the most refreshing festivals I’ve attended. It was pretty low-key and casual, but featured an incredible selection of new and interesting beers. It was in a wonderful space as well, which allowed people to sit down or walk around talking to each other. It was relaxing, eclectic and appealed to hardcore beer geek and interested newcomer alike.

And on Sunday Greg Clow of Canadian Beer News and the folks at The Rhino Bar & Grill did it all again for Fall and decided to include a wonderful feature of Ontario ciders on top of it.

With a total of 58 beers and 11 Ontario ciders listed, this proved to be a fun event and a nice sampling of what Ontario’s alternatives are to the syrupy apple juice one usually finds in liquor stores.

The clear highlight of the day for me was the West Avenue Cider Company, run by Husband-and-wife team Chris Haworth and Amy Robson. The Cidery is only in their first year, but has been making a big splash with one-off ciders, this event in particular featuring Barrett Fuller’s Secret Bourbon-Barrel Aged Cider, with a rich bourbon aroma and lovely vanilla taste notes and the Smash Me Up Butternut Cask-Conditioned Pumpkin Cider, which tasted like a  homemade mulled cider I would expect from a beloved Somerset family member with an age-old secret recipe.

And with plans to increase their production by 300% and make ciders with more select, quality ingredients, West Avenue is a Cidery I’ll be keeping my eye on.

A tip of the hat and a rising of the glass goes to Greg Clow and The Rhino for pulling off another wonderful event that I’ll always be looking forward to.

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Label Artists You Should Hire (part 1)

Bottle labels are, to me, very important. They express the thought and care that goes in to every part of the process. In a world where beer styles can blend in to each other, labels stick out, catch the eye and provoke a curiosity in the beer. Hell, myself and I’m sure many of you have purchased a beer based purely on the label art and have had excellent results from it. Collecting label art is a hobby of many as well. It’s a part of the beer-making process that is incredibly important and shouldn’t be overlooked.

The idea for this post came to me in two moments. The first was shortly after I was talking to the owner of a brewery about bottle label designs. He expressed an interest in a particular artist I knew (Manny Hernaez, who did my wonderful header). I sent an e-mail to both of them introducing each other and felt pretty damn good about hooking up an artist with work from a brewery that wants to use him.

by Katelan Foisy

The second moment came to me when I was visiting my friends Katelan Foisy and Melissa Dowell (the latter of which has a Narwhal BBQ Skewer Kickstarter you should all get in on) in a bar in Astoria. A beer was ordered and there was some frustration at a particular bottle that was quite ugly, with very little thought or skill put in to it. From there it went to me thinking of matching up some people via e-mail again, but then it REALLY hit me that I would be able to get a wider group of people, breweries, homebrewers, bars, promoters….anyone who needs an incredible beer label or poster or, in many cases as well, a web site, by making a post. So here we are, part 1 of a series of posts on artists I love whose work should go on a beer label.

NOTE: I’m not a rep for these artists and am not the one to talk to regarding inquiries. So I have included for you their web sites with portfolios, contact info and social media links along with a description from their site on their work (along with a few personal words from me). If you’re interested in their work and would like to commission a label or other piece of work, contact the artists individually. I can also confirm that every artist I put up in this series has experience with design and can design the label from a technical side as well as artistic.

Yao Xiao
www.yaoxiaoart.com
yaoxart@gmail.com
Twitter: @yaoxiaoart
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/yaoxiaoart

Recognitions: American Illustration 32, Society of Illustrators Student Competition 2013, Seattle Erotic Art Festival Juried Exhibition 2013, The Kennedy Center Certificate of Merit

“Yao’s work is published in anthologies, magazines and featured in prestigious collections such as American Illustration and the Society of Illustrators. Having a foundation in oil painting and sculpture, Yao makes vibrant, graphic and narrative images that are influenced by her diverse experience. She has found herself on a week-long bus trip across the US at one moment and drawing portraits at a secret speakeasy in 1920’s garbs at another. She enjoys that her work covers a wide variety of subjects–ranging from posters for underground parties, editorial illustrations for world travel magazines, and even to covers for adult novels. However most importantly, Yao likes to tell stories. Yao Xiao believes that stories are a basic form of communication that helps to bring people together, and that in every story there is personal truth. Her job is to create these personal truths through her art, drawing upon real characters and emotions, but not being limited by the conventions of reality as we normally observe it.”

I’ve been a huge fan of Yao’s for a while now. Her art ranges from simple and beautiful to complex and exisquite. I’m always left breathless when she produces a final piece or even when she posts progress photos on her twitter page (which she does frequently).

Katelan Foisy
www.katelanfoisy.com
kat@katelanfoisy.com
Twitter: @katelanfoisy
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Katelan-V-Foisy/232400910141396

“Katelan Foisy is a visual artist who specializes in collage and acrylic mixed media paintings. Her ruminative mixed media collages often evoke a gamut of emotion through the rich layers and textural combinations. Her illustration clients have included, The Grammy Awards, Out Magazine, The Progressive and many others.  Her collaged portraits and  mixed-media paintings have graced the pages of Scholastic Books and the walls of Young & Rubicam. Ensemble Studio Theater even had her work grace their stage. She was the art-director for Constellation Magazine from 2007-2010.”

I feel very blessed to consider Katelan a friend. Since first meeting her a few years ago I can definitely say  that she has a way of bringing out artistic inspiration in others. Her work is very honest and beautiful, sometimes evoking the luxurious decadence of the cabaret and absinthe lifestyle, but never forgetting the dark side of things. You never feel just one emotion with her pieces, and I really appreciate that. And although I did mention it up top, I have to thank her here as well for being an instigator in my thought process for this post.

Bill “Oddbill” Cunningham
http://www.oddbill.com
bill@oddbill.com
Twitter: @oddbill
Facebook: www.facebook.com/oddbill

“I Iike the way the chalk feels, the clouds of loose technicolor dust I have to blow off the paper, talking to the women who sit for me, translating them into completely nonsensical colors. What I hope is that there is something engaging about these pictures, that they catch your eye the way they did mine as I drew them. It’s really no more complicated than that.”

There are many things that stick out about Bill’s pieces. The line work, the shading…but for me the colours he uses are what stay in my mind long after I’ve seen them. Each piece instantly catches the eye and you find yourself wanting to see more.

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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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