OKANAGAN SPRING PALE ALE—Good beer between neighbors, especially if you don’t have a good fence

My Fellow Inebriates,

The toilets in the house are not very fond of swallowing, which has given my mother a familiarity with the plunger she never enjoyed in any previous dwelling. Not that she embraces the chore—her modus operandi is to dart away from what she knows will be an incomplete flush, hoping to pin the general blame on my dad’s more man-sized deposits.

But our reluctant toilets are only one prominent example of the ways in which building developers cut corners. Builders lure you into their spanky demonstration townhouses, where you ooh and ahh over the granite countertops and shiny backsplash, only to stick it to you with shoddy workmanship on less visible elements such as plumbing, roofing, the furnace, drainage, insulation and construction. The small stuff.

Naturally this happened to my parents on this, our first home purchase. When they first purchased me six years ago, they were still renting: they’d just left a West End apartment rental for a 60s-era Burnaby house, from which they were evicted to make way for ten of the owner’s relatives who wished to occupy it, then moved to another rental, this time in the boonies of Coquitlam, high up on a hill, where they were so miserable that they finally decided to grow up, take the plunge, and buy a place even farther out in the boonies of Langley. And that’s where we are.

It looked really shiny, this place, especially before the kids started drawing on the walls. Neither of my parents had ever occupied a new home, and this one was only two years old. The previous owners had been gentle with it. My parents figured that once they’d secured home ownership they’d ramp up to all kinds of other grown-up things: dinner parties and such, and they certainly wouldn’t let the mess get out of hand the way it had everywhere else.


Four years later, despite three angry toilets, a furnace that malfunctions in sub-zero temperatures, pockmarked walls exhibiting the scratchability of bargain-basement paint, a destroyed carpet, and thanks to the stellar insulation materials chosen by Platinum Enterprises, seasonal temperature variations evocative of that planet in The Chronicles of Riddick and/or Mercury, the whole gang is here. And somehow, those ideals about perfect housekeeping and continuous home improvement slipped away.

The next-door neighbours, mind you, have maintained their townhouse like a show home. Peek through the door (which is all we’re allowed to do because they hate us) and you’ll see calm, spartan design, carefully wiped surfaces, and not a thing out of place. Their yard does not contain two bikes, a broken stroller, a wrecked IKEA tent, a punctured swimming pool, a dirt-encrusted hose, 30-odd broken toys, and a water table swimming with filth. Their little garden is immaculate, and with every season it blooms with decorations—giant inflatable snowmen, pumpkins, and easter bunnies. In short, these people are fucking nuts. They have a real-life furniture catalogue going on inside their house, despite having two rugrats almost exactly like ours (just not as cute, friendly, well-mannered, intelligent, or funny).

So obviously my parents are burning with jealousy. Well, my mum is; my dad says he isn’t. How do our next-door neighbors achieve such order in their lives? Have they embraced the 7 Habits? Do they abide by The Secret?

My mum says no, it’s just that they’re fucking batshit crazy. It’s all very well to shop with the reluctance of the budget-bound at Walmart, looking for deals on necessities such as shoes and diapers. It’s another thing to invest in Walmart’s full selection of wacko lawn ornamentation and festoon your residence with it, all the while forbidding your children to touch anything. Anything! Those kids probably aren’t allowed to touch the walls. They’re rarely allowed to play with Miss P and Miss V; such an event only occurs if preceded by extreme begging on both sides of the fence by all four kids, none of whom have any idea why their parents aren’t best friends.

Not the neighbors, but some fellow Walmart shoppers

And my parents have no idea either! They don’t hate the neighbors; they’ve even invited them over for a beer. They’ve invited the kids over for playdates and they’ve tried to orchestrate accidental playdates in the park across the street. No go. Those people have a hate on for us and we’re not sure why. My parents used to muse about it a fair bit, wondering if…

  • The neighbors loved the previous owners of our house and were mad at us for taking it over.
  • They think they don’t have anything in common with us. Unfortunately this might be a logical conclusion if they’ve sneaked any peeks into our house the way we have theirs.
  • They think they’re too smart for us. Well, tidy homes=tidy minds. Perhaps they’ve got something.
  • They think we’re too smart for them. Unlikely. If my parents appear in the yard it’s mostly to drink beer or hustle the kids (impatiently) to school.
  • They’re offended by our yard. This is fully possible. Sometimes I’m offended by our yard.
  • They’re offended by my parents’ language. My mum and dad keep the four-letter words in the house for the most part, but you know how it is in summer when the windows are open.
  • They think we’re religious weirdos. LOL!
  • They are religious weirdos. We just don’t know; we haven’t seen any magic underwear, though.

Honestly, we don’t really know them at all. Occasionally we hear the mother hollering. She’ll yell stuff like, “FIVE MINUTES AND WE’RE HAVING SOUP & SANDWICHES; THAT’S FIVE MINUTES AND YOU HAVE TO MAKE A CHOICE TO COME IN. FIVE MINUTES!” And that’s when she’s calling her husband.

My mum knows how to yell pretty well too, although she throws more filthy metaphors into her dinner calls. I bet we could all hang out if we just made the effort. And (unless they’re Mormons) this is the beer that could bring us together: Okanagan Spring PALE ALE.

If it were summer I’d suggest a lager—something light with a slightly lower alcohol content just in case the neighbors are concerned about losing control. You can’t maintain your home furnishing as rigorously as they do if you’re looped. But with the continuing cold weather, PALE ALE is a more appealing option. OK Spring PALE ALE pours reddish copper with crisp carbonation and a frothy head. It gives off a mild fruity aroma—very subtle, so it shouldn’t turn off dyed-in-the-wool MOLSON CANADIAN drinkers (just a neighborly suspicion). On a scale of fruitiness, OK Spring PALE ALE is about a 2 compared to, say, TROIS PISTOLES or MAUDITE—beers that would appall the neighbors and perhaps make them question their sexuality.

On the palate Okanagan Spring PALE ALE is uncomplicated: some hops and carmelized malt with a short arc from sweet to slightly bitter at the end. More flavor actually emerges at the finish, which is probably of benefit to Okanagan Spring, since that lingering palatability goes a long way, especially when you are being distracted from your initial impressions by an eight-foot-tall inflated Easter rabbit undulating next door.

The mouthfeel is quite refreshing, almost palate-cleansing. Indeed, there is a brisk, scrubbing character to the carbonation that adds more than detracts from the drinking experience. Overall, this PALE ALE is a decent, middle-of-the-road offering, and if a neighbor passed me one over the fence I’d do a jig.

Spring has sprung now, so windows will open, as will doors. More often we’ll find ourselves ten feet from our neighbors’ garden activities. Maybe this is the year we’ll get to know them and find out if they actually hate us as we suspect.

Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” But, as it happens, our fences are pretty cheaply made, and some dumbass driver recently bashed part of our fence into smithereens. And since we don’t have a good fence, the job of relationship building goes to…beer.

LB gets schooled on how to taste beer

My Fellow Inebriates,

Last week’s inconsistent tasting of BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER left me wondering whether beer tasting is an art or a science. The first time I tasted this Okanagan Spring product, I felt shorted on substance; it seemed inadequately hefty for a black lager and sour on the finish. The second time I tried it, I didn’t mind it; it was quenching and good enough to warrant an apology to OK Spring if not a retraction. But get this—the third time I tried it I was disappointed again. Go figure.

The Craft Variety Pack contains three BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER bottles, all of which are now empty. On the third tasting I again noticed the sourness at the end and the lack of weight. It wasn’t a satisfying dark beer. But I wondered…how could my palate ricochet from underwhelmed to pleased to newly disappointed?

Should I really be doing this…tasting?

As I told my dad, the true test would really be a fourth bottle, which he could purchase at our local booze shop if he were kindly inclined. That fourth taste could settle the argument—is BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER a decent beer or not? And what the hell is going on with my furry palate?

Fourth time's the charm, I just know it.

I suspect my problem is common to booze samplers of every ilk. But do they admit it?

Take Robert Parker, for example. The most influential wine critic in the world, Parker is responsible for the inexplicable 51-100 score sheet (awarding all wines an initial 50 points just for existing) and has a profound influence not only on the market prices of high-end wines but on the growing practices of winemakers throughout the world. The guy has mad power, which translates into the scores he issues wines after swishing them around his gob for half a minute or so. He’s damned wines by assigning them 85 points and elevated others to supercommodities by flagging them over 95. And while he claims to remember the character of every wine that’s ever had the brief pleasure of the inside of his mouth, you have to wonder how reasonable it is to bet the farm on those 30-second judgments.

The Robert Parker rating system

Personally, I think you need to drink a full bottle of wine (and in the case of beer, at least a six-pack) to really understand its true character. To really know your booze, you have to take it from sober, reflective first sips through drunken, half-retching compulsivity and possible regifting to the toilet, right through to the hangover, which itself reveals a lot about a wine, beer, or spirit.

Now, you may think this is overly conscientious. You may think it’s too committed to providing an accurate review. But I think it’s essential, my fellow inebriates. Tastings involving one or two glasses of beer or wine aren’t nearly as thorough as tastings that get out of hand.

Anyway, this was my argument to my dad about why he should buy a full case of BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER.

“But you didn’t even really like it,” he said.

“I know, but I want to study why.”

And my mum chimed in unhelpfully, “You may not respect Robert Parker very much but he would probably think you’re a complete retard.”

Leaving wine and my mother’s political incorrectness aside, how do you perform a reliable beer tasting? This checklist is paraphrased from Bryce Eddings with typical disrespectful liberties respect and dignity.

  1. Pour the beer. No chugging from the can or bottle —you need to observe the beer running down the side of the tilted glass as you pour. Pour at a speed that will produce a two-finger (half-paw) head.
  2. Look at the beer. What color is the head? Is it thin or dense? Is it rocky (with dips and peaks as the bubbles dissipate)? When you hold the glass up to the light, is it cloudy or clear?
  3. Sniff the beer. Take three good whiffs before sipping. Which is predominant—malt (dark) or hops (light)? Take notes before you start sipping and get wasted (or allow your palate to influence your nose).
  4. Sip the beer. Note how it feels. Is it sweet? Bitter? Fruity? Beer tastes different in the front of your mouth versus the back. Often the first sip is sweet but the finish is bitter.
  5. Consider the mouthfeel. Is it light or heavy? Fizzy or mildly carbonated?
  6. Experience the finish. What flavors linger after you swallow the beer? Hops produce a lingering bitterness, malt a sweet finish. Write it down. Consume more beer if you need to reconfirm your impressions.

This last point is important, especially if your parents have tightened the purse strings on booze expenditures. Sometimes you need to consume one, two or even eight more beers to truly feel confident of your review. You mustn’t let parents people talk you out of this—your very integrity as a reviewer is at stake.

It won’t be the end of the world if we don’t buy more BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER. The beer had three chances and, taking the average, it was okay—even a little interesting. But there are lots of better dark lagers out there. Those of you who can go and buy them at the liquor store…well, you have it made.

OKANAGAN SPRING BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER—Okay, I admit it. I might be just a little sad.

My Fellow Inebriates,

We had a windy day yesterday, which meant the girls’ grandparents couldn’t come over on the ferry to get them. The plan had been for the monkeys to visit Vancouver Island for a few days (without parents for the very first time), and the mood—before BC Ferries cancelled all sailings—had been ecstatic. Days of fun for the kids! A peaceful house without toys on the floor for my parents! And for me, license to drink openly all day long.

Well, maybe not. My parents are still boring, controlling, (smugly) opposably thumbed and unwilling to invest in bear-oriented bottle-opening technology. But the point became academic when BC Ferries made its decision yesterday not to sail in high wind—probably less because the company fears a sinking than because union disgruntlement will skyrocket if the ferry employees spend a whole afternoon mopping up seasick passengers’ barf.

I’d been all prepared to miss the kids terribly. Somehow they were already seeming cuter and more lovable, the more I pictured them being driven away by Nana and Papa for their big-girl adventure.

The Bear Habitat. Escapees will be beaten.

My mum was relieved; she didn’t like the idea of them getting tossed around on the ferry. I felt like a bad bear for not having considered this. I do love the kids. The other day they made a “bear habitat” consisting of a dislocated couch cushion for all of us bears. Any bears who wished to opt out of the new habitat received beatings on the head. So you can imagine how conflicted I was about the ferry cancellation.

The kids themselves were devastated, which translated into some heavy bear usage. In addition to draping me in several dish-towel frocks, they chucked me down the stairs a few times and forced me to kiss Glen Bear on the mouth (which I didn’t mind). “Baby” by Justin Bieber warbled relentlessly in the background, either from YouTube or the six-year-old’s vocal chords—usually both. Finally Miss V launched into a tantrum, the momentum of which carried everyone into bedtime, and I was left to calm my twitching fur with the Okanagan Spring Craft Variety Pack.

The HOPPED LAGER I tried on Sunday wasn’t poor, but still I hoped for more from the next choice: Okanagan Spring BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER. But—perhaps because of the day’s emotional highs and lows, perhaps because of the package design, and perhaps because Vancouver Island Brewery’s HERMANN’S DARK LAGER had set the bar very high for that particular brew style—I wasn’t optimistic. Just sayin’ it so you know I didn’t go into this unbiased as I usually do. I certainly needed a beer, but I wasn’t expecting great things.

BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER is a deep cola color with tan head (not a good candidate for dyeing green on St. Patrick’s day). It gives off a toasty aroma with mild graininess, cocoa, and espresso. On the palate it’s crisp and unexpectedly fizzy; the coffee flavor moves to the front, jockeying a bit uncomfortably with the mild hops and malt. The mouthfeel isn’t as chewy as it could be, which again makes for some incongruity between expectation and taste. It finishes on an unfortunate sour note, like old espresso in a breakfast cup.

Sadly, BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER fails to hit the proper notes. It’s not sufficiently creamy, it’s more noticeably sour than bitter, and it lacks the weight that would make it a nice winter sipper. Instead (last night at least) it served me as a winter pounder—a release for some considerable frustration while I inspected my fur and wondered whether I would need anything sewn up.

Even though the earth didn’t move, I’ll still drink the other two in the variety pack—quickly. And who knows? They may even taste better today. The wind has calmed and the girls’ grandparents are on their way to get them. Soon they’ll be on a ferry headed to Vancouver Island, and it will be very quiet here.