Brewsday: Thank God I Can Have Beer Again Edition

Well folks, I did it.  I strapped on my little booties and ran twenty-six miles, from one end of Toronto to the other and back again, as part of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.


Above:  Someone much, much faster than I am; also, Kenyan

I didn’t exactly set any records, either for the course or even for myself personally.  I averaged just under 6 minutes per kilometer, had a pretty good first half and an absolutely brutal final 5km.  There was a point where I didn’t know whether to start walking or just keep running, because both options hurt equally.  At one point, everything below my ribs felt as though it had gained the ability to have a sinus headache — it was all waterlogged, achy, responsive only to persuasion rather than command.

Running the marathon is the hardest physical act I have ever done, and when I finally crossed the finish line four hours and seven minutes and thirty-nine seconds later, I felt crazed.  No amount of free bagels, bananas or little dried cookies were going to help me feel better — just the hugs from my family, Tina generously telling me how proud she was, an absolute lumberjack’s breakfast, a hot bath and a cold drink.

Of course, I loved the whole experience.  I stood among nearly ten thousand crazy people who thought it was fun to get up in the pitch black and run anywhere from three to twenty-six miles, and I was absolutely One Of Them. I am totally going to do it again, assuming that I can someday re-develop the ability to walk down stairs.  I assume that comes back, right?  I can’t bum-scoot my way out of the house forever.

But if I do have to spend more than a little while recovering, I might as well do it with my old buddy beer, long neglected during these last weeks of training.  Finally, I can load up on these rich carbs with the blessing of conventional wisdom, as long as I ignore the petty griping about “deleterious effects of alcohol.”  So it’s time to catch up with some of the brews that I’ve been waiting for, and might actually have earned for once.

Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale


I’ve had my fun with a few pumpkin beers in the past around here, but the truth is that they make me very happy:

  • first, because even the worst pumpkin ales feature spicy flavors that bring all the atmosphere of autumn right to the front of mind, getting me excited about changing leaves and crisp nights;
  • second, because they sometimes come in really big bottles

Imagine my delight when I found Great Lakes Brewery‘s pumpkin ale, which definitely comes in a big bottle and is among the best examples of its type.  Like their Winter Ale, the pumpkin brew doesn’t exactly feature slight flavors — everything about Great Lakes’ ale is bold, strong and big on the palette.  You wouldn’t imagine that subtle spicy flavors would be able to stand up against that, but it’s a testament to the beer that they’re not only present, but blend in wonderfully.

On top of everything, it even pours out slightly orange, which either is a marvelous touch or a side-effect of all the ibuprofen I’ve been eating by the pound taking in the proper doses.  With the autumn coming on hard and fast up here in the northeast, and October just around the corner, you owe it to yourself to pick up a few (enormous) bottles of this.

Innis & Gunn Blonde

I have also talked about Innis & Gunn before, damning it with somewhat faint praise while tenuously connecting it to how much I hate Chardonnay.  While I’d love to take the same opportunity to engage in such vicious rhetorical gymnastics here, I’m afraid the beer is just too good to permit that.



What got up my nose — nearly literally — about Innis & Gunn Original was that it had a complex flavor… I guess. And there were notes of oak… kind of.  Despite all the fooferaw about cask aging and intricate notes of subtlety, to me it just tasted like a brown ale with some citrus.

I wasn’t buying into the fuss, in other words, and by now you should know that it takes considerable resistance for me to sign up for goofy alcohol concepts.

So what a delight to find that I&G Blonde has done for me what the Original couldn’t — I can easily detect the vanilla promised on the label, and combined with the light bitterness of oak, the beer has an almost-chocolate flavor when you first taste it.  That’s a pleasant surprise from a blonde beer, which are normally sort of light and airy.

Innis & Gunn Blonde is a far more accessible entry than their Original, more true to its concept and easier to drink besides.

Bitter & Twisted

And speaking of Blondes that exceed expectations, there’s Harviestoun’s Bitter & Twisted.


First of all, Harviestoun is the kind of brewery who doesn’t see anything wrong with naming one of their flavors “Old Engine Oil.”  Not only does that score points with me for being hilarious, but it also makes me really want to try that beer.

But since that one wasn’t on the shelf, and Bitter & Twisted is almost as funny, I figured it was worth a go.  Another Scottish brew, this one is more along the lines of a typical blonde — in that it isn’t heavy on the flavor like Innis & Gunn — light in color and mild on the palette.  This is a beer whose citrus flavor, light carbonation and slightly twangy hop finish make it an ideal refreshment beer.

I know that’s an odd way to describe it, but let’s be honest:  there are beers that you go at with a knife and fork, and wouldn’t dare to pair up with food because the pint is meal enough; and then there are refreshment beers, where the cool, light flavor is just enough to wake up the tongue, cool the throat and ease the muscles.  Just right for a football game, or sitting on the porch, or sitting in a hot bathtub and feeling one’s hip adductors relax for the first time in thirty-six hours.

It took me a long time before I came around to beer, but it’s amazing how much I’ve missed it.  The wonderful heaviness of a pint of bitters on a chilly night, or the grapefruit ping of a bright ale when you need a boost — it’s all there when you need it.

And man, did I ever need it.  Welcome back, beer!  We have some celebrating to do.

  • Kristie

    YAY Mike! Congratulations! Hard as hell, right? Like, brain-stompingly, will-erodingly difficult. But totally worth it. And the walking down the stairs thing usually takes about a week to recover, Running anything over 5 meters (I translated that to your Canadian measurements) takes about 3 weeks. The bragging, though? It lasts FOREVER.

    And the next marathon you do, provided you do it in the next 6 months or so, is SO much easier, and you don’t need to train for it as much.

    Anyway, I think you’re a genius of running. And of beer.

    • Mike

      Aw, thank you!

      YES, hard as hell. That is probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever asked my body to do. Every part of me hurt, and I went a little insane at around the 20-mile mark and didn’t recover until I cried on Tina’s shoulder an hour later.

      I’m actually good and recovered now. I spent the day hefting boxes of books for a library sale, and came home to jog an easy 3 miles (in Canada we call that 5 keel-o-meet-ars) without any objection from my legs. So I should be in reasonable shape for the 10K race I signed us all up for on the 17th.


  • Lorraine K.

    Congratulations, Mike!

    • Mike

      Thank you! I’m in one piece and that’s what’s important!

  • bruleeblog

    Great job! Definitely not easy. I hope you recover without too much hassle.

  • Nanco

    Congrats, Mike! So proud of you!
    I’m buying some pumpkin beer when we’re down there (haven’t seen it up here). Dan likes both Innis and Gunns but there’s something I really don’t like about the original (the bourbon taste?) Their website says they’re coming out with a Rum Cask Finish Oak Aged Beer, that could be good! Check out their Flavour Spidergram:

    • Mike

      I found the original I&G too strong too, which is why the Blonde pleases me more. I’d be interested in the rum, but I think it’s going to have a similarly bitter cast to it.

      We will have to have pumpkin-beer-o-rama!

  • Kirsche

    Congrats, Mike! 4 hours 7 minutes is FAST!

    I did a half marathon the other week, and it was…fun. The race course passed by my apartment at about mile 3, and I seriously considered stopping for a nap. At mile 3. (5K for you metric types.) The fact that I have to do twice that for my marathon next month both horrifies and intrigues me. Still, the idea of getting insanely plastered afterward is great motivation for dragging myself across the finish line…

    • Mike

      Ehhh, I was on track for 3:36 for a while there — I would have been happier with that. But there’s always next time!

      If you find a little group or stick with a pace bunny, then you’ll find that the first half of the race just flies by. I had only done a half prior to this, and the company really does make a difference.

      And trust me, the image of toasting to your success with something very big, very cold and very numbing to pain will really help you during those last 3 miles or so. I speak from painful experience.

      • Kirsche

        Right, right, next time. It’s amazing how addictive running can be. I’ve wanted to do one marathon just to say I did it — I never thought I’d enjoy the process as much as I do. I signed up for a bunch of different runs over the summer, 5K, 8K, 10 mile, 1/2 marathon, and they’re all super enjoyable.

        People think I’m crazy for drinking beer afterward, but they are missing OUT! Carbs + calories are so essential after a long run, especially when you cannot fathom eating the bagels/donuts/bananas they have for you afterward at the race.

        Anyway, hats off to you for finishing, and for wanting to go back for more! I appreciate the advice — I’m sure I’ll need all the help I can get by the end of it.