The second beer

Once upon a time, there was a pub. It was where the green met the boot or some such crap.

It was, of course, Pub Italia.

Pub Italia was a favourite place of both Hillary and I, for different reasons. Hillary loved pasta and I loved the beer selection. (And the beeramisu. I'm still sad about that.)

There were one or two other pubs in Ottawa that had incredible beer lists but Pub Italia was particularly notable as it was the only one of those few that also had St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout on tap.

Brett and I listed that as our favourite beer at the time. A decade on, I'm not certain it still holds number one position, but it's close. It's a great stout.

So sometimes, the three of us would go to Pub Italia for a night of drinks, pizza and pasta. We did this enough times that a routine worked itself out.

We would sit down and Brett and I would order a pint of oatmeal stout. Sometimes we'd get an appetizer. Mostly we'd just order food. Hillary would pick up the beer bible and start leafing through it. She would eventually settle on and select our second beer of the evening.

We'd order a pair of whatever she had picked and try it out. We'd eat, maybe have dessert and then finish the evening with a closing pint of the stout again.

The second beer was how I remembered these nights. Hillary, according to her at least, never tried to pick beers we wouldn't like. She would always target something that she thought we hadn't tried and had a good description. Some were good, some were not to our tastes, but they were always intersting and often ones we might not have tried.

But there was that one time.

She ordered the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier. Or, as it was on the menu, Schlenkerla Smokebeer. "It sounds interesting!" She said.

The beers arrived. I distinctly remember the smell of campfire. Not the crisp smell of a burning campfire, but the smell of your clothes the next morning after you spent a long night sitting around a fire drinking.

I remember the taste of it. A good dark beer that someone had steeped ashes in for far too long. You might wonder how long an appropriate amount of time to steep ashes in a beer is. I don't know. I assure you, however, this beer steeped them too long.

What I also remember about that beer was another sense. Take an abstract painting. Part of you might feel that anyone could splatter paint that way. But there is something else about the piece that you realize that it was deliberate in a way. Someone cared about those splatters. There were dozens of canvases that were not quite right and didn't make the show.

This beer was that art. It was a campfire beer, but you know the people who made it cared about getting that stanky woodsmoke clothing taste into their beer. They worked at it. This was the best smokebeer that they could make.

I never ordered it again.

I also vaguely remember the evening. I remember tasting it with Brett and the expression on his face of being sort of vaguely mystified. Like, is this real? We finished it. We ordered stout.

We never let Hillary forget the smokebeer.