Friday, March 23, 2012

Just a few women and their beer in the heart of Canada’s capital - Guest Post

Today I am very happy to have a guest post from Renée Francoeur, someone that I "met" (you know what I mean) through the good graces of Twitter. There are some more details about her after the post, so I will duck out without further ado!



This is a toast to Ninkasi, the ancient Sumerian goddess of beer.

When I first moved to Ottawa for school I knew little to nothing about beer.

In fact, a beer to me was a solely a Coors Light – that was the standard. The wheaty smell of those Coors beer caps was a way I identified my uncle Kevin and the scent of summer of their cottage on murky Lake Huron.

It was also a lightning bolt flash back to New Years Eve 2005 when a friend had stolen two from her mother’s fridge for us to try under a blanket of snow, down a back road, walking in ripped, acid-wash jeans and screamo band t-shirts we thought made us stand-offish and cool.

Everyone drank Coors. Except my father who, true to his western roots, had about three Kokanees every year – if that.

But I should have known the artistic, microbrewed family of the golden grain beverage would eventually worm its way into my thirsty heart – by a fluke I ended up with a case of beer I’d never heard of before for prom. Then I was really the cool, aloof kid. Imported from the Netherlands. Bavaria, it was called. Heineken has nothing on those green bottles.

Ottawa, for the seemingly boring grey pantsuit city of politics it is, has a plethora of dark corner bars with academic personalities.

I came to relish quite a few of them. Especially Clocktower on Bank, Irene’s and of course the often forgotten O’Gradys, tucked down in the south side.

But, for the glory of craft beer and our favourite spot for gatherings, I have to mention the Arrow and Loon, perfectly located in the Glebe where many of us poor Carleton students lived in tiny apartments on the third floors of old houses with fire escapes and bathrooms the size of linen closets.

Here, I discovered real beer. It also led to a hell of a project for an arts reporting class.

Every now and then it happens; you come across a place worth branding into your memory, a place whose half wall wainscoting and scuffed up hardwood floors gets under your fingernails like savory smelling sawdust.

The Arrow and Loon in Ottawa did that.

Since those days of my undergrad, I’ve gone for a pint in too many places to recall across Ontario (including the Wheat Sheaf, Toronto’s oldest bar – check it) and now I’m drifting into small bars in Alberta (recently drowned a glass of Wild Rose Wheat ale at the locally owned Cities gastro pub in Red Deer and wasn’t sorry for it) . . . but nothing holds me like the Arrow and the Loon.

There’s just something so homey about a place where the waitress recognizes you . . . where you can get a good, local burger for half price . . . where the list of beer is lengthy and full like a garden on the cusp of harvest . . .

Upon my first visit to the Arrow and Loon, my friend Valerie and I asked the bartender to recommend a beer.

“Kichesippi,” he said without hesitation.

I liked the way the name – Algonquin for “great river” – fizzed on my tongue.

From the first sip of that all malt pale ale, so citrusy and dashed with a whisper of a zippy bitterness that swipes clean your palate, we were soldiers of the local brand (you can’t get Kichesippi anywhere else but within the Ottawa region).

Who knew beer wasn’t supposed to be watery? Who knew it could fit on a gradient of flavours, to be fitted with foods like the over-done society of wines?

We got ourselves to a brewery. And we went on a tour. And these women learned about their barley, hops, fermentation, and how to uses herbs and fruit as natural flavouring.

At the time, we didn’t know of any other places we could get Kichesippi (though we later found ourselves at a wine bar of all places where we could go for our honey-coloured liquid) so we stayed true to the Arrow and Loon.

Breakfast dates commenced there. Afternoon catch-ups after a studious week of essays or exams. Waupoos cider evenings to soothe mid-semester anxiety. Pitchers of some type of apricot ale straight from Montreal for tear-stained nights of healing hearts that had been through the sewer system and down the falls at Hogsback. We’d go watch UFC fights there and order Kichesippi or Beau’s lugtread lagered ale, handcrafted with organic malts.

Turned out Valerie and I knew how to order better beer than most boys we took there (they lacked experimental appetites when it came to their choosing their hops).

Our time at the Arrow and Loon was short – I only discovered their cask beers as I was packing up, saddled with my degree, to move 600 km away for a magazine job.

What I would give now to sit down at one of their dark wood tables for two, out on the patio in the quiet night, and ask Valerie about her day over a cool glass of Kichesippi.

Ah those glory university drinking days. It was the time. It was the place. We were the women. And the craft brew went down good and easy. Bulls eye of an arrow shot.

Renée Francoeur is a 23 year-old writer and proud feminist. She's currently working as a reporter in Red Deer, Alberta. She loves vegetable gardening, baking from scratch, watching brick houses go up, singing Cher and Reba at the top of her lungs while dancing in the kitchen with her mother, exploring old tombstone inscriptions, and eating and of course drinking local.

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