I’m sitting out on the porch at Wood Boat Brewery on Mary Street in Clayton on a (mostly) sunny day in June with a beer in my hand and Bob Marley singing “No Woman, No Cry” from a nearby speaker, and so you might assume I’m enjoying a pleasant spring afternoon.
But you’d be mistaken, since this is the north country.
So instead of warm sunshine on my face, and a cold beer on my hand, I get a 49-degree day with looming clouds in the distance, the slow, steady beat of the St. Lawrence against the docks across the street forecasting an afternoon of rain.
The beer is still cold, so I’ll take what I can get.
The sky is still clear as a bell if I just look straight ahead of me out onto Mary Street as elderly couples drive by in a series of brightly-polished 1950s sedans (is there some kind of convention?) and enjoy Wood Boat’s Old Town Oatmeal Stout (4.7 percent ABV).
It’s a Tuesday afternoon, which means my 4-year-old is in preschool and my 2-year-old is in day care. But while I usually take the opportunity to get what little sleep fatherhood and a night shift job on the paper’s design desk grant me, I was up early today.
My oldest had a swimming class, the last of the session, so his teacher asked if Christina and I wanted to go. So we went down to the Y, me chugging coffee and getting stuck at a light on Franklin Street after a sleep-eyed wrong turn into a no-right-on-red crosswalk and Christina calmly crossing the street from the Times’ offices, and watched our crazy child mug his way through swimming class.
Yes, he was the kid who was kicking his legs out for big splashes and the one who was running around the pool despite warnings to walk and to watch where he was going. He was the one who jumped into the pool without a care but who had trouble keeping his feet up when prompted, laughing like a maniac the whole time.
Yeah, I was proud of him even if the running part almost gave Christina a heart attack.
We wrapped him in a towel and told him we were proud of him and he jumped on top of me and started licking my sweater (again, he’s insane). And then we gave him a big hug and sent him back to school with his class and I walked Christina back to the office.
I probably wasn’t going back to sleep, so there was the whole day in front of me.
I could be productive, I told myself. I had this column to write, but I didn’t know what I was going to write about.
So why not do something I could write about? So I went home to refill my coffee mug and instead of getting much-needed sleep, I headed toward Clayton for an afternoon beer or three.
I got here early, maybe 11:30. Before the lunch crowd, probably. So I’m here, sitting outside on the porch … just me and a group of three maybe 20-somethings down at the other end of the big porch, maybe too young to drink and probably have glasses of water and soda.
So it’s just me.
Now I’ve been the only guy drinking at a bar before noon before. But it’s usually darker, seedier places than this and I’m usually about 10 to 15 years younger. The trade of warm PBR (no offense. Love ya, PBR) in dimly-lit rooms with uneven pool tables and Willie Nelson on the juke box in Pennsylvania for a comfy chair on a big porch, with the last licks of sunshine for a few days and a glass of the Old Town works for me.
Old Town is pretty light on its feet as stouts go. Roasted malts kept me a little bit warm inside, and while it could be a little heartier and heavier, it has a nice, creamy finish that I really enjoyed.
With mosquitos starting to swarm, I try the Pardon Me Pale Ale (5% ABV). Named for a famed 1940s runabout that can still be found close enough to throw a rock at from Wood Boat at the Antique Boat Museum, Pardon has a nice amber color and malty notes of chocolate and caramel. Not too strong, and far from my favorite beer Wood Boat offers, but it was tasty.
Now at this point, one of the mosquitos gets me. I’d been eaten alive already over the weekend barbecuing with Christina and the kids, and this little guy gets me right on the left thumb, and I slam my hand down on it, startling the kids at the other end of the porch.
I smile at them and shrug my shoulders. I try to clean up the bloody smear of bug on my hand, but it’s taking a while, and I’m starting to think I should leave him there as a warning to the others.
The bite is starting to itch, and I’m already scratching the thing bloody, but on the plus side, here comes the flagship, Channel Marker IPA (7.6%). I get the Channel Marker every time I go to Wood Boat. I came here today with every intention of trying nothing but stuff I hadn’t previously had, but I always give in.
It’s just too good.
Centennial hops, dry, strong. It’s quite floral in the nose, but without tasting like you’re sucking on a pine cone … absolutely one of my favorites in the region. I should fill four of five growlers of the stuff every time I drive to Clayton, but I’m the wrong combination of cheap and forgetful.
My flight filled out with the lovely Bourbon Barrel Aged Brown Ale (5.6% ABV), which has a strong bourbon nose but comes in lighter and leaner than you’d expect.
And even though I prefer my beer on the boozy side, this wasn’t too much of a disappointment.
Even though it’s light on the bourbon flavor, there are terrific clove and cinnamon notes and terrific, smooth vanilla in the finish. It’s the kind of bourbon-aged ale that Christina could actually get into, and I’m always on the lookout for stuff that fits her wheelhouse to give me an excuse for a beer-filled road trip.
Which brings me to my last drink.
I’ve finished my flight, and although the clouds are now overhead and the wind is picking up and the temperature dropping, it’s only about half past 12, and I don’t have to pick the kids up until 4. So I decide to order a pint. But what should I get? Everything I’ve ordered so far has been pretty good to great, and I’ve tried everything else on the menu previously.
But the beer lists prompts me to ask my server about seasonal beers, which I do.
Which leads me to a great spring beer, even for a cold, north country day in June. Woodboat’s Cranberry Orange Sour (5.4% ABV) has a dark, amber look, a bit cloudy, and it’s just a little bit sour up front. But those slightly sour notes of cranberry get kind of smoothed over with a really strong, crisp orange. I love sours, but if it’s not too mouth-puckering, I can be a little here and there on really fruit-forward beers. But this was so smooth and so refreshing ... I could almost imagine that the dull James Taylor song now playing was still Bob Marley and that spring in the north country wasn’t just an excuse to freeze your toes off and dodge mosquitos at the same time.
It felt tropical and thirst-quenching and for at least a minute, I thought it was an actual spring day. Not only do I think Christina would absolutely love this beer, I think I need to make an excuse to take her and the kids to Clayton this weekend.