Some years ago when we were both much younger, Grand-dog Eli and I regularly walked one of our favourite logging roads, Pidcock Main, which follows the Oyster River into the foothills. One summer there was logging well beyond what we could reach on foot, and the trucks came by only occasionally, loaded and unloaded logging trucks, and pickups. But mostly, because this road isn’t on the way to anything except bush, we were uninterrupted.
Which is perfect when you are walking an inquisitive dog who isn’t intuitive about traffic.
The beer cans were obvious, the first time we walked there, probably because there they are, staring at you: shiny and incongruous in the setting. And of course one notices small things when one is walking distances, watching the dog do his thing in the clearcuts, and considering what to photograph.
Well, to make a months-long story very short, once beer cans intrude on your consciousness, they’re everywhere. I eventually packed out two large shopping bags in one 12-km ramble after they had started to become a bit of a fixation.
And well may you ask, “What do people who toss beer cans onto logging roads drink?”
In my experience, that depends on where you are and who is doing the tossing, but on the Pidcock Main, in recent times, it was overwhelmingly Bud Lite and Lucky Lager.
Actually I’m pretty sure, on Vancouver Island at least, Lucky Lager features heavily in most places beer cans are tossed onto roadways. It is a beer that is undistinguished by anything except – correct me if I’m wrong – price. And it is consumed in considerable quantities here.
I must have consumed some in the form of “draft” in the beer parlours of my youth, but I’ve never been much of a beer drinker, and certainly in those beer parlours the ambiance was a lot more interesting than the beer. Lucky is not, in any way, a memorable beer.
I actually remember my first beer. I had it in the officer’s mess of the Bay Street Armories in Victoria in October of 1963, when I was in my first year at what later that year became Uvic. I had just turned 19, which is only remarkable because the drinking age in BC at the time was 21...everywhere except in military establishments where, following Quebec’s lead, the legal age was 19. I had just become an officer cadet in Her Majesty’s Royal Canadian Navy. There was a significant drinking culture among naval officers of the time, but this had very little impact, mostly because, while I was as impressionable as the next apprentice naval officer, I had almost no money and a university education to pay for. But I do remember the terrible beer in Nova Scotia, the first taste of bitters in England, and the temporary joy of drinking Heineken on board ship in Rotterdam, until sea-sickness on the way back to Halifax made that enjoyment impossible.
When I qualified as a teacher Sandy and I moved to Quesnel. The less said about the beer culture of Quesnel in the early 70’s probably the better, so I won’t, except to note that “pounding browns in the Billy B” of a Friday after work was a custom not unfamiliar to members of my staff. We tried making home brew; it was awful. I made wine, which wasn’t good but was at least drinkable, so we went with that. Ben Ginter had a brewery that you could smell all over Prince George at the time (the very brewery featured in that Canadian classic, “Strange Brew”!) but although the beer had character, it was less than good.
And then we ended up in London, on exchange. I taught English in a school in Islington while Sandy got to spend her days with two toddlers in a Council flat that was brilliantly-located near Camden Town, but also cold and damp much of the time and always cramped. My staff had a cadre of “real ale” enthusiasts, who delighted in debating the virtues of various local ales, of which London and its surroundings had many. Every day at noon we trooped to a pub that sold an acceptable ale for lunch; every time there was need of a festivity, the connoisseurs on staff would bring in a keg to try in the 6th Form suite at the top of the school. I lost track of the number, but do remember that the consensus, at the end of the year, was that the best bitters to be had in London was Young’s from South London. Which was a great pity, because in order to enjoy a pint of Young’s one had to compromise one’s principles: Young’s was known to support right-wing causes, and we were definitely a left-wing staff.
Unsurprisingly, the pint won out.
The other thing I remember concerning beer in London was the extravagantly-lit and loud pub right across the road from our flat, where the clientele was young and boisterous and drank Carling Black Label, as made in the UK.
In 2006, after I had retired, we returned, without the children (by that time all grown up) to London for a month. We had nostalgically looked forward to pub bitters, and weren’t disappointed: virtually all the pubs we fancied had become Young’s pubs! (And Black Label had become Carling. And the beer was a lot more expensive, but still delicious.) One of our projects was walking down the Thames, over several days, from Richmond to Greenwich, stopping for lunch and a pint at various riverside pubs along the way. Highly recommended; we may have to do something similar in the future.
As I said, I’m normally not much of a beer drinker. Except in summer, when the heat requires a beer. Consequently, I entirely missed the beginnings of the West Coast Craft Ale Explosion. However, at some point well before we were conscious of that explosion, we found we liked Okanagan Spring Pale Ale, and stocked the fridge with that regularly. Then Enid and Isaac moved to eastern Washington State, where summers are frequently intolerably hot; their local Safeway introduced us to the pale ale and IPA of the Deschutes Brewery, and I fear that was the end of Okanagan Spring in our affections. (The fact that they were bought by Sleeman’s which in turn was bought by Sapporo doesn’t help. Given the number of small craft breweries producing excellent beer these days we can be discriminating about corporate ownerships!)
We’re presently in what must surely be a golden age of beer: never has there been more choice; never have those choices been more reliably consistent and true to their promise. Beach Fire Brewing recently started up in Campbell River, Courtenay has had Gladstone Brewing somewhat longer, Comox has two, Cumberland, Port Alberni, Nanaimo... and literally a baker’s dozen in the Victoria area. (My current favourite is Driftwood’s Fat Tug, but nobody has ever claimed I have impeccable taste, so don’t accept that as a recommendation: I merely mention it to assert my bona fides in this discussion!) And that’s just on the Island. Many of them are available in liquor stores, many can be had on tap in pubs and restaurants. And as Sandy and I proved in our recent odyssey to Ontario and back, there are not very many significant communities in southern Canada or northern USA where it isn’t easy to find a pub or restaurant that serves good food and an excellent ale on tap.
As I said: golden age of beer.
But I also said I’m not much of a beer drinker, and my tolerance for supplying our offspring, their spouses, and their friends (all of whom are enthusiastic beer connoisseurs) is limited. So these days, when we return from Richland we do so not with the 48 permitted bottles of fine beer, but rather with the alternate of 4 bottles of wine.
Have I ever mentioned that Columbia Valley wineries make some of the very best wine in the world and that one cannot purchase most of it in BC? (And that, in the USA, you can purchase it at Costco as well as Safeway?!)