I remember when it happened. I remember how heartbroken I felt, like there was a hole in the heart of Canada. I’d seen him a few years back during the 2011 Christmas tour, I met him then too. I can still recall, though not without getting a bit teary-eyed, how he stood up on the stage of the Port Theatre that November 29th and recited Dave Cooks the Turkey; a story I’d heard probably 20 times or more, a story that never got old.
That was six years ago. This was 2017. We’d known that Stuart was sick—he’d been sick enough to cancel the previous year’s Christmas tour.
And then on February 15th, 2017, he died. It hit me harder than other celebrity deaths—Stuart wasn’t just a celebrity, he was family, he was part of the fabric of Canada. I thought then that I should write something about it because that’s what you do when you lose something that big. You write a story, or a poem, or sing a song, or share a memory, or cook a meal, or whatever. You give something of yourself.
You also, if you’re so inclined, raise a glass. You say “cheers,” or do whatever makes sense. You could raise any glass of course, with whatever beer you had on hand. I didn't. I started something big.
My search started simply enough, with a search for “Stuart McLean beer.” It was followed by “Vinyl Café beer,” and followed again by “Dave and Morley beer,” until I landed here:
Dave and Morley Coffee Brown Porter
Based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, the folks from Good Robot Brewing Company are best described as a bunch of misfits too weird to do anything other than brew beer. That’s the short version, they do plenty of stuff that’s not weird at all, like community giving; the Goodwill Bot program raises money for local non-profits by sharing proceeds from pint sales in the taproom and turf.
More importantly, they brew (or brewed, I guess, they don’t do it anymore) a seasonal release called Dave and Morley Coffee Brown Porter. The genesis of the beer, of all the beers at Good Robot, is a fascinating story. Generally, they start with a beer and work backward to the name from the beer's characteristics. A beer like the brown porter, one that was "soft, approachable, well balanced, yet rich and nuanced," couldn't be anything but a tribute to Stuart McLean, just as a "sweet, smoky stout" couldn't be called anything but "Tom Waits for No One."
Makes sense to me.
Did I say that Good Robot is based out of Halifax? Did I say that Nanaimo is roughly 6,000 km away from Halifax?
Did I say that the Dave and Morley Coffe Brown Porter is a seasonal release? That means no bottles, no cans, and also, it’s illegal for breweries to sell beer across provincial borders in Canada.
It's a heck of an effort for a glass of beer, I think to myself. That said, I think Stuart probably wouldn’t have it any other way.
Coast to Coast Toast
I’m a West Coaster, through and through. That means that my sphere of influence goes about as far as Port Moody, and even then it doesn't like taking the ferry. I talked to Good Robot, who was game to work with me to get the beer from there to here. We brainstormed some ideas and came up with a risky but passable plan.
I asked around and found, through a friend of a friend of a friend, someone who’d relocated recently from Nanaimo to Halifax. We connected on Facebook after a brief introduction, and he agreed to go by Good Robot once the beer was ready and pick up a growler for me.
While this was happening, Matt was on his way to Ottawa to see his sister after a brief trip out to Montreal. Our plan, such as it was, was for our Halifax contact to buy the growler and overnight it to Ottawa on the Saturday in the hopes that it would make it to Matt’s sister’s house on Tuesday, so Matt could get it that day and bring it back to Nanaimo that same afternoon.
This is the actual text conversation.
The folks at Good Robot really delivered. Two pairs of shades, an amazing toque, a scarf that people are still jealous of, and courtesy of Matt himself and friend of friend of friend, the Dave and Morley Coffee Brown Porter.
If you ever want to transport a growler from one side of the country to the other, this is not how you do it. It was stressful. So, so stressful. It was, at any given point in time, one minor mishap away from crumbling like a two-day-old Timmie's donut.
And it was totally, TOTALLY worth it.
Dave and Morley Coffee Brown Porter is as good a porter as I’ve had anywhere. Nicely balanced with notes of toast, sweet caramel and coffee.
As we drank it, we talked about some of our favourite moments with Stuart McLean. Mine was the Christmas show, where I got to meet Stuart backstage (he’s as lovely in person as he is elsewhere). We talked about how Stuart had this way of bringing people together through food, music, and storytelling; how he had this way of tapping into the essence of all things Canadian and sharing them through his letters, and his stories.
I think back to that memory, and all the memories it conjures. I think about my community, and how craft has brought us closer together.
Most of all, I think about how quintessentially Canadian it was, how someone who didn’t know me in a town I’d never been to took a bit of time to help out a fellow Canuck, and raise the toast that traveled from coast to coast. It wasn’t cheap, it wasn’t easy, but it’s a story I’ll have for the rest of my life.
Now that’s what I call a one-dollar cricket.