The Darkest One
by Peter Bailey
Come in, come in, come in, come in
From thin and wicked prairie winds, come in
It’s warm and it’s safe here and almost heartening
Here in a time and place not lost on our imagination
— “The Darkest One” The Tragically Hip
The late, lamented Gord Downie was an Ontario boy – but he seemed inspired by the west. And we loved him back. He captured the Prairies in some of the Hip’s best songs, like “Wheat Kings” or “The Darkest One”. According to Dave Bidini’s memories of touring with the Hip in his book On a Cold Road, Gord Downie learned of the cold and isolation of Prairie winters by crisscrossing Canada on tours. Yes, there was snow. Lots of snow.
I was thinking about the long cold road that links Canadian bands of different eras when I saw a show in October by Japandroids, a magnificent and loud punkish rock two-piece from Vancouver. The venue was Union Hall, and while waiting for Japandroids, I remarked to my son that his mum and I had had our first date in the same place over 30 years ago. Back then it was a shiny nightclub called Goose Loonies and we drank Long Island Ice Teas and B-52s. Then the Japandroids hit the stage, the mosh pit exploded into life and I retreated to a safe spot beside the sound man. I saw him point at his can of Blindman New England Pale Ale and give the thumbs up to the guitar tech nearby. The rest of us made do with Bud and Coors Lite.
Watching the mosh pit, I remembered the Bruce Cockburn song “The Coldest Night of the Year”: “Heard the punkers playing / Watched the bikers dance… I drove all the people home / I was the one with the car.” The cycle of life: one day you’re the guy crowdsurfing, carried aloft by the crowd, the next day you’re the old guy at the back humming Bruce Cockburn songs. But then Japandroids launch into “The House That Heaven Built” and I’m bellowing “If they try to slow you down / Tell em all to go to hell” and pumping my fist with the crowd. After, we’re outside shivering in the cold of a dark Edmonton evening. I see drummer David Prowse making his way through the crowd and I grab his hand and thank him for his music.
Thank you as well to all the rebels and punks and dreamers across our cold and lonely land. Thank you to the kids from Kingston singing songs about Tom Thompson and Bill Barilko and David Milgaard. The Edmonton bar owner saying no to the threats of a global beer company and continuing to serve only Alberta-brewed beer. The woman who started a food magazine in a chain restaurant town. The revolutionaries, with their brew kettles and wort chillers brewing great craft beer in places like Edson and Lacombe and Hinton and Edgerton and St. Paul.
We can all be rebels in our daily lives. As the dark draws in this season, remember what Gord Downie sang to us; “No dress rehearsal, this is our life.” In the words of Stuart Mclean, another Canadian icon we lost this year, choose the good tomatoes.
Go to the show, follow your arrow, take the trip, make the call, meet the neighbours, write the cards, hug your friends, hold your family close, and yes – drink the good beer. Life really is too short for bad beer.
Into the Dark Six Pack
Fight the winter dark with great craft beer. All these beers pair well with holiday chocolate and other rich delights. Beer available at Sherbrooke Liquor, Keg ’n Cork and other fine beer stores.
Phillips Longboat Chocolate Porter, Victoria, BC
In 2001 Matt Phillips started his brewery with overextended credit cards, a bed on the brewery floor and a dream. Today Phillips is a leader of the BC craft beer industry, continuing to brew appealing, delicious beers like this classic English-style porter with an upfront chocolate aroma and taste thanks to the addition of cocoa and chocolate flavouring.
Blindman Trip Hammer Robust Porter, Lacombe, AB
The founders of Blindman Brewing fear no beer, brewing fine versions of beer styles from sours, saisons, pale ales to barrel-aged porters. Trip Hammer is a medium-bodied American-style porter with coffee and chocolate notes up top and a hint of liquorice and sour fruit.
Fernie Sap Sucker Maple Porter, Fernie, BC
A happy story coming from a sad story: following the death of Fernie Brewmaster Gord Demaniuk in 2016, Fernie hired Gord’s son Jeff Demaniuk as Brewmaster. Jeff is forging his own way but also continuing his dad’s tradition of innovation, including unique beers like this delicious, hearty Porter enhanced with a touch of maple syrup.
Situation Iconic Milk Stout, Edmonton, AB
Situation brews this rich Stout with lactose, or milk sugar, which adds sweetness and a creamy mouth feel. It is then cold-infused with single origin El Salvadorian coffee beans from Edmonton’s Iconoclast Coffee. The result is a silky Stout with big coffee aroma and roasty malt and chocolate flavour.
Bent Stick First Pull Coffee Amber, Edmonton, AB
The young founders of Bent Stick bring a rock and roll attitude to brewing, unafraid to try new things. Here they cold-steeped an amber ale with Sanson No. 7 coffee beans from Edmonton’s ACE Coffee Roasters. Perfect beer for transitioning from daytime coffee to night-time beer!
Alley Kat Long Johns Salted Caramel Ale, Edmonton, AB
Neil Herbst and Alley Kat have been brewing special holiday beers for years. This season they added candy sugar, vanilla and sea salt to an amber ale to create a fabulous salted caramel ale. I paired it with a Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel from Cococo Chocolatiers at a recent beer event and it was a smash hit with the crowd.