Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Beer Can Lit
Those words on the can are good fodder and a pleasant excuse when the doc says, “Hold it to three a day.”
By Dana Sturn

Some things you discover on fishing trips have absolutely nothing to do with fishing, but become such an important part of the experience that you can’t have one without the other.

We were on a small lake south of Kamloops, British Columbia, at the back end of the season. Popular in May, this lake gets pretty quiet in June. But there’s a late chironomid hatch that no one seems to know about, and we had been doing pretty good. The problem here is the rolling hills of this ranchland country don’t provide much of a windbreak, and one afternoon after several hours of excellent fishing the winds arrived to force us off the water.

This was an important trip, one I didn’t imagine I’d ever make six months before. Lying in a hospital bed with wires attached to me, I couldn’t help wondering if I’d ever have another fishing trip. Fortunately, what started out as a heart attack wound up as a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation that my doctor thought might be linked to a rather generous consumption of adult beverages—something known as “holiday heart.” With a stern look and a shake of his finger he told me it might be a good idea to cut back on the wobbly pops. But if I had to sacrifice quantity, I was sure as hell going to have quality. After all, Doc didn’t say “stop drinking.” He said, “Stop drinking so much.” This led to a serious exploration of microbrewed India Pale Ale. Which led me to Beer Can Lit.

Grab a can of microbrew and you’ll likely notice something rather fun about it—the copy on the can. When you take the time to look, don’t be surprised if you discover something quite clever, hiding there in plain sight, just beneath the condensation drops.

Most beer can copy describes the product in the most banal terms. Words like “crisp”, “clean”, “smoothness” and “drinkability” are so overused as to render them meaningless. If the health of a democracy is in any way proportional to the inventiveness of the can copy on some of its favorite beers, we’re in deep trouble folks.

Thank God then for microbrewed IPAs. These wondrous brews are mostly made with care and no small amount of flair. And like the brewmasters themselves, turned loose in the brewhouse to work their alchemy, the marketing departments in some of these breweries are proof positive that the creative spark is not doused in the brewhouse’s stainless kettles.

While hiding from the wind near Kamloops, we sat under a tarp that flapped wildly around us with every guest. I reached into the cooler I’d filled with an assortment of binge-worthy brews, and out came a Yellow Dog Hazy IPA.

“A hazy, crazy tropical fruit explosion!” read the can copy. “Slightly cloudy in look with a super soft mouthfeel, this beer is then loaded with a plethora of hops to give it strong flavors of grapefruit and stonefruit. Bright, fresh and vibrant, this hop elixir will have you racing to the end of the glass!”

Well, that’s a long way from “clean and crisp.” And if a brewery is so enthusiastic about their product that they gosh-wow the can copy, I figure there must something special about it. Besides, I’m not exactly sure what “a super soft mouthfeel” is, but I’d kinda like to find out.

This ain’t bad, but some of the microbrews have really gotten serious, in the process turning can copy into something approaching art. British Columbia seems to be a hot bed of this sort of thing, judging by the second can I pulled from the cooler, Hop Circle IPA, brewed by Phillips Brewing out of Victoria, BC.

The can copy read, “With a hop flavor that’s out of this world, Hop Circle IPA will probe your taste buds and abduct your senses. The gravitational pull of this IPA will have you searching for another close encounter of the thirst kind. Resistance is futile.”

Where to start? How many sci-fi references can you wrap around a beer can? Minds meld as each sip and each new reading reveals more depth to the metaphor.

The folks at Driftwood Brewery, again out of Victoria, have taken can copy to its highest form, with its signature IPA, Fat Tug, the day’s third brew.

“Take a deep breath, sailor. It’s difficult to fathom, but such monstrous hop bitterness can be foiled by ample malt buoyancy; this hop monster will pull you slow and low, deep down to Hoppy Nirvana.”

There’s a lot going on here: the subtle nod to Melville; the clever assonance; even Disney’s Kraken makes an allusive appearance. Fat Tug is an IPA with a kick reminiscent of the Vesper Martini: one is not enough, while two’s too many. It’s worthy of at least 20 minutes of thoughtful reflection on the nature of things, and the merits of using anti-static bag over silver tinsel to tie your chironomids.

But after an enjoyable hour of this sipping and thinking it was apparent that our fishing day was going nowhere. When the little bay where we camped starts to back eddy, you know the fishing is done. So we stowed the tarp, tied our boats to a tree, and retreated to the camper where herring strips, our tying vises, and an iPod full of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings waited. I thought about my physician’s words. Three seemed enough.

As the wind battered the camper and we tied chironomids I slowly ascended to Hop Heaven. It wasn’t long before the gravel outside made sounds like approaching waves. An engine quit, and a truck door slammed, rather close. No doubt someone we knew, but we looked at each other, wondering who talked. You see, the problem with only telling your one trusted friend about a secret fishing spot is that everyone has at least one other trusted friend. One day someone arrives to introduce themselves and pretty soon you trace their knowledge of your secret spot right back to you.

Footsteps approached, two taps on the camper door, and a six pack of Bowen Island IPA appeared, one of my favorites:

“The shipyard is alive with the sounds of artisans at their task. The boat wood’s floral and citrus fragrances swirl through a solid framework, planed smooth and perfectly balanced. A rich golden color sets off the final details. Artisans build it best.”

Indeed they do. You can’t build a memorable lake trip without boats and beer and beer can lit. And my health? Quality, not quantity. A few each day, and no more.

Well, maybe just one more. After all, what’s a fishing holiday without a little holiday heart?

Dana Sturn
Dana Sturn is a steelhead devotee and the founder of Spey Pages. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia and can be found each year, minus 2020 of course, swinging up chinook and steel on the Dean River, among other places. Follow him on IG @danawsturn