He’s an imposing figure: six-foot-four or so with long blonde hair and a scruffy beard, and if appearances are any indicator, he'd be just as at home rowing a longboat into the Saxon shores for a little looting and pillaging or walking through towering cedars with a double-bladed axe slung over his shoulder and a blue ox at his side as he is here today. I suppose it’s possible he does those things too (cosplay is cool, no judgements), it’s just, most often, I see him in places like this.
If you don't know Joe (aka the Thirsty Writer), then you're probably not following the craft beer conversation in BC.
Joe is a prolific curator of craft beer lore: publishing a column for Explore BC and appearing on CBC Radio, CFAX, and the Vancouver Sun, to name a few. He’s written (and subsequently re-written) a book titled Craft Beer Revolution, arguably the definitive guide for craft beer in BC. Unofficially, he’s kinda the ‘go to’ guy when you need an expert on the craft beer industry in BC.
I came to White Sails today with the knowledge that my friend (and co-writer) Matt would be interviewing Joe for Go! Nanaimo on Shaw TV. Little does Joe know that I fully intended to eavesdrop on their conversation and write about it. A fly on the wall, or for a more alliterative version, a bug in their beer. Disclaimer: I've never seen a bug in any White Sails beers I've drunk. They're lovely people, and work tremendously hard to maintain a bug-free environment.
I’m sitting at a table a comfortable distance away. I’ve got a flight of beers and a Mixed Nut Bowl. That’s important, for reasons I’ll get to later. Today, I’m trying the Tafelbier and Belgian Black, chasing them with the familiar S.M.a.S.H. and Yellow Point Pale Ale.
I’m intending to eavesdrop. I really am. I have my journalist pants on; pen and paper at the ready. My highly-trained ears are honed in on the conversation, and just as Brewmaster Tyler starts talking about the Tafelbier (I know, because I managed to get the word "Tafelbier" written down), Leif (not that Leif, the other one) walks in with a tour in tow. He’s here on his half-day Taste of Nanaimo tour. We catch up for a minute, he asks me about the Tafelbier—this is my first chance to try it.
I know. You’re dying to know about my impression of the Tafelbier. Here it is.
It was fine. I'll drink it again, if I have the chance.
That's it. That's all you get. Disappointing, right?
Well, wake up, Sally. I'm no cicerone, and anybody who knows me knows it. Anyway, do you want me telling you what you should drink? Or whether a beer's got good lacing, or whether they chose the right hops for the style? I'm just saying, there are plenty of folks (Joe included, or Jan Zeschky if you prefer) whose opinions are pretty credible. Besides, I think it comes down to the individual. For me. whether the beer is empirically good isn't really important. It's more about whether it's good enough to order again, about who I'm drinking with, or whether it's good enough to grab a growlerfull.
Funny story, I’m chatting with Leif, and he says to me “My client just told me that in Europe, 'growler' means ‘lady bits.’ And I told that to Matt, and he said ‘So, filling a growler over there means something very different.’”
My client told me today that in Europe, 'growler' means 'lady bits.' Leif Bogwald
So, anyway. Our attention turns to the Communal Bowl of Mixed Nuts™, which—in addition to being delicious—turns out to be a great conversation booster. “Whatever happened to Corn Nuts anyway? You never see them anywhere.” Leif muses.
They’re here, I say. In this bowl. And then my squirrel-brain takes me away, and all I can think about is a Seinfeld-ian world where any number of crazy dudes walk around saying “What's the deal with corn nuts?”
Which, turns out, actually happened.
But, I’m supposed to be listening to Joe, Matt, Tyler and Brad talk about beer, not discussing mixed nuts in popular culture. Damn. I’ve missed a lot of this conversation. I mean, they must be halfway-finished by now. I try and tune in, but I can't hear what they're talking about.
I'm not really sure what to do now. I've missed too much to effectively write about their conversation, though I can imagine they're talking about beer. Possibly Joe's book. Probably Craft Beer Week. Maybe it doesn't matter, I mean, eventually Shaw will put it up on their YouTube channel, right?
I feel a little bit like Hunter S. Thompson at the Mint 400 without the insane lawyer or excessive drug use. Really, my only hope at this point is that someone interesting will walk through the door. While I'm waiting for that to happen, I surreptitiously snap a few photos of Joe. I throw out a tweet too, because nothing says "I was there" like a time-stamped social media post with my face in it.
It’s then that another friend (and fellow Nanaimo Design Nerd), Monica Shore, walks in and stands at the bar. I shout her name a new times, hoping she'll notice. Then I think that bringing attention to myself by yelling super loudly probably isn’t the best move. I mean, there's no explicit rule that says, "journalists reporting on the action shouldn't bring unnecessary attention to themselves by shouting like madmen," but I think it's one of those unwritten rules we all just agree on.
I sneak a mouthful from the Communal Bowl of Mixed Nuts™ and quietly stroll over to the bar. Monica’s here for a growler, and some last minute planning for PechaKucha Nanaimo Volume 3. We chat with co-owner Monty for a quick second; he's excited to be a sponsor at the event. Then I invite her to join me at my table.
She obliges, and graciously helps me pick at the Communal Bowl of Mixed Nuts™. It's then that I think to myself, “yeah, this bowl of mixed nuts is really catching on.” Also, by this time, I’ve worked my way through the pale ale and am well into the S.M.a.S.H., which, coincidentally, equals well on my way to being SMASHED.
In addition to barrel-aged beers, conceptually, I’m a real fan of the S.M.a.S.H. That’s a Single Malt and Single Hop beer, if you’re interested in that sort of trivia. I tried my first S.M.a.S.H. at the Great Canadian Beer Festival in 2015. I remember (vaguely), I was at the afterparty, and I was sitting with the Cumberland Brewing Company folks. I recall at one point talking to the brewer, this salty dude who probably bites the tops off his bottles before guzzling them back, broken glass and all, and he says “just do S.M.a.S.H. Simple is better.”
I’m paraphrasing, because frankly, I was pretty inebriated by that point, and it might have been the guy from Cumberland Brewing, or it might have been a beer-induced hallucination that was actually me alternately screaming at a squirrel and puking into a trash can, but that was the gist of it. Simple, classic, delicious beer. One hop, one malt, nowhere to hide, and a ton of possibilities. At Cumberland, they're on their 7th S.M.a.S.H right now, affectionately named "S.M.A.S.H. VII." They don't bottle their beer at CBC, but by all accounts, it's well worth the drive up to Cumberland to give them a try.
Anyway, Monica and I are sitting there, and I have to say these mixed nuts are really good, and the conversation turns to birds. Well, one bird. Specifically, the bird sitting in the window at White Sails. We wonder if it’s real, and if not, what it’s doing there. After it doesn't move for five minutes, I still can't tell if it's real or not. Maybe it doesn't matter; real or not, the bird's presence up there is a lesson in stillness and reflection—our Zen master perched atop the mountain.
After a few minutes more, Monica leaves; I figure she's probably grown tired of watching me stare at a fake bird. Just then, Matt and Jocelyn wrap up their interview with Joe. They join me at the table where we chat about various and sundry things, the beer being the least of them; though by this time, I'm through all the beers in my flight but the Belgian Black. Matt asks my opinions on the Tafelbier, but as I said, I really can’t remember by this point. Then he proceeds to help me polish off the Communal Bowl of Mixed Nuts™ while we talk about the possible (and highly anticipated) return of his band from the 90s, The Kiltlifters.
With the Communal Bowl of Mixed Nuts™ picked down to the crumbs, and the flight of beers gone, it's time to wrap this up. I came to White Sails today to spy on Joe Wiebe, but by the time all's said and done, I’ve completely forgotten he was there. It's then that something else occurs to me. In all this time I’ve been sitting here, I’ve barely talked about beer at all. It reinforces my thoughts about why I like craft beer. It’s not so much about the beer, it’s the opportunity to sit in a nice room with people I like and drink decent beer while I do it.
I think that’s the attraction with White Sails. It’s not the beer, though their beer is good. It’s the gathering place: a warm fire, a welcoming atmosphere, and wonderful people coming and going. It’s like the old saying goes, if you sit in one place long enough, you’ll run into everyone you know. I’ll add to that, if you can do that, drink good beer, and share a Communal Bowl of Mixed Nuts™ at the same time, that’s about as close to perfect as you’ll ever find.