Thursday, August 6, 2015

Guest Post: Summer Nights Drinking with Steady Flames

It's been a while since I had a guest post on Fuggled, and we have a returning writer here today, Renée Francoeur. Rather than witter on myself, here's Renée....

There were three women out on the lake in a giant, multi-coloured, inflatable tube. One, sitting upright with the poise of a ballerina, had a Nymphaea alba woven into her dark Spanish hair, and a stick she was using as a Venetian oar. The other two, sprawled out on their bellies, had tossed off their bikini tops, one hand each sunk below the tea-coloured surface.

In the other hand, of course, there was beer. Specifically, a 568mL can of Old Flame’s Perry Loved Mary West Coast Style IPA. The saying goes “…till the bitter end. But Mary loved another.” Let me tell you, if unrequited love had more of a hoppy scent to it and a lingering aftertaste of orange infused wheat (instead of acid reflux and tonsil stones), well, I may have been still somewhat happily dancing around Perth County, waiting for a bricklayer to throw me a bone. As it is, I’ll just take another cold one.

It had been years in the making: this reunion of women. My five best friends from university (who now are all oh-so-conveniently scattered across the globe) and I had snuck away to a cottage on the shores of the artificially filled Lake Scugog in Ontario. There was no one we knew nearby. No distractions. No boyfriends. No obligations. Just puzzles, board games, inflatables, bottles of sunscreen, one badly selected scary movie, a fridge full of vegetables and steaks from the family-owned Willowtree Farm market, and of course: beer. The Canadian-crafted, microbrewed, the guy/gal-with-the-recipe-was-a-friend-of-a-friend kind of good, wholesome shit, too.

I was one of the two ladies belly-down on said tube, sipping Perry Loved Mary, created in the heart of Port Perry, a charming town with the old pioneering whiff of Upper Canada, not 10 minutes away from our cottage. I like to keep it local on vacations—especially so if the brewery is housed in an old brick building creaking with history and antiques.


“I hope it’s been established I’d be the one to survive in the wild,” Cristina (the one with the lily pad flower in her hair) said, pushing us to shore with her rather impressive twig.

Sabrina and I dipped our hands further and attempted to paddle, tugging waterweeds (Lake Scugog is actually flooded marshland and Scugog is Ojibwe for “marshy waters”).

“Now, we had no stick yesterday and got back just fine,” Sabby said, making a whirlpool with her wrist. How I’ve missed her strong Quebecois accent (along with the way she’ll creep up behind you when you’re cooking and envelope your back and ribs in a quick, tight embrace).

We sipped our beers, the cans reflecting the beaming sunlight; we were diamonds in a swamp afloat a rainbow. And it showed on our faces as we tumbled onto the mossy bank; Sabrina losing her bottoms, me clambering on all fours to run to the bathroom, and Cristina daintily stepping on land with the help of an extra hand.

Later in the week we managed to toss on something more than string bikinis and tour into town. Old Flame Brewery was our first stop. It didn’t disappoint.

My grandfather’s great-great uncles had enough of the coal dust in Wales and dove into the carriage business around the Niagara region in the late nineteenth century while my great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Harris, took up farming in East Nissouri county.

Old Flame has made its home in the former Ontario Carriage Works, erected in 1884. I imagined those uncles touring this building in the 1890s as part of their work, perhaps aloof in striped trousers, velvet-collared overcoats and top hats (it was said they did well for themselves). Their hands behind their backs, boots covered in saw dust, peering at wooden spokes and the like. And now here I am, sampling malt and taking in authentic ceiling beams, still showing off their charred skirts from two major fires.


The girls and I plopped ourselves down at a fascinating table made of reclaimed wood with various malts and hops on display under glass. Off to the side was an old buggy that brought back memories of the doctor’s mode of transportation from my childhood viewings of Little House on the Prairie. The sitting area was bustling with a party on the new patio that extended out to the parking lot and an older couple at a table made from a vintage washing machine I later learned.

“Try the blonde,” said the older woman, after she offered to snap a photo of us.

“And if any of you are named Mary, they have a beer for you,” her husband added as they shuffled out.

It was just past noon so up to the bar we went. One “She Left Me Blue” (a 4.8 per cent blueberry ale that turns into a heat quenching shandy when mixed with ginger ale) and one Dirty Blonde (Kellerbier style lager), please. We were even permitted to take our glass pints with us throughout the tour. Thanks to an arm from Tiffany, I managed not to spill as I navigated around the tubes and grates in my high heels to get back to the see the massive fridge.

The tour marked the first time I sampled malt: a roasted one they use for the brunette (an aftertaste of burnt popcorn anyone?) and the one they used for the blonde (like chewing on wheat).

The crew at Old Flame was phenomenal: knowledgeable and friendly and our guide was hilarious in a relatable awkward kind of way (my apologies for forgetting your name). The hometown vibe is electric in there: service is personal. There are no assembly lines, no rushing or panic. I told the girls I could have spent all day on that patio, sampling everything they had. Old Flame may be playing off the memory of bygone romances and first kisses you can taste years later but everything about it whispers family. Maybe that’s what knotted it all together for me: a rising (thanks to the yeast of course) sense of loyalty. Try as hard as we might to bury and block, we all have old flames whose faces we’ll carry with us into the graves. Old first love, blasting though innocence, has a lasting impact. And after the heartache and the pain and the business of leaving bends the clock hands for a decent amount of time, there’s solely energy there. We can stay true to those kind of memories and the moments we felt we could trust ourselves to take such leaps: pure courageous unstoppable love. That is the crux, they say. It’s as we stay true to our blood and as we should stay true to good local brews.


(Yes, I ordered She Left Me Blue the first time I walked into Newmarket’s new Ground Burger Bar and yes I wanted to shout and wave at the staff manning Old Flame’s tent at the Jazz Festival—I recognized our guide!—but alas I was caught behind a fence and attempting to make it through another cringe-worthy cityboy date without an overdose of humiliation.)

Old Flame has another motto, too: life is better when you’re in love.

As an anti-institution-of-marriage pessimist still nursing a heart that was grated out into a liquid pig manure covered field, even I agree. And I’m so lucky to be in love with the Ninkasi goddesses I spent that week with on Scugog. They remind me of big, bold love and to honour all the love and fires around me. Out in the swamp, drinking beer, our spirits flickering unruly and constant towards each other, this is the flame.


This is Renée Francoeur’s 2nd guest blog post for Fuggled. See her first here

She is a 26 year-old journalist/writer who works in the magazine business in the Greater Toronto Area. She's worked as a news reporter in Red Deer, Alberta and Fort Smith, NWT as well as throughout Ontario and loves meeting new faces in new places. She is an organic gardener, local food and anti-fish-farm advocate, part-time poet, intersectional feminist, baker, and overall small town womyn. She loves Northern and social justice news, coconut coffee porter, goats, wild buffalo, whooping cranes, old tombstones, forgotten country bridges, late breakfasts with her kickass parents and operas with her little sister. She is currently working on a collection of short stories (when she's not driving down back roads or playing pool in gastro pubs) and hopes to one day call Yukon home with two potbellied pigs named Winifred and Beatrice.

Photos courtesy Tiffany D’Souza

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