I was of the age where I had drunk beer a few times but my expert opinion on the quality of beers was a parroting of my slightly older, more experienced, cooler peers.
“Canadian beer is real beer! American beer is diluted piss! If you’re on the wrong side of the border, get Michelob because,” a pause, as-if recalling the taste, then a semi-pained admission “It has traces of beer flavour.”
Olympia Beer had the reputation as one of the worst. Their slogan was It’s the Water and the standing joke was to drop the definite article.
It is the making of another joke about the beer that reminds me of a summer Sunday floating down the river in an inner tube. It is the joke that lets me figure out the details of the trip which otherwise would be just a vague memory of a lazy sunny afternoon.
It was probably the summer of ’76. I was too young in 1975. There is another story for 1977 though August of that summer could be possible. 1978 feels too late.
I belonged to a youth group. The kind that parents sign you up for to make sure you get out of the house during school vacations. The kind you participated in because you got hang out with your friends and the parents paid for the activities.
I remember the winter activities best: five-pin bowling, classic movie nights where setting up projector lasted longer than the movie and the occasional trip across the border to see a basketball game.
My memory tells me that the inner tubing was a last-minute choice, that there had been another activity planned for that day and that we were further south than was comfortable for a day trip. And, I cannot figure out if my recollections of no towels and improvised water outfits is a creation to fit the narrative.
I remember being told that the river flowed all the way to the Olympia Brewery. I remember imagining it flowing up to a gate in the shape of a horseshoe. And I remember being told that we did not have the time to go all the way to the end.
Progress was slow. Kicking against the banks, using our hands as rudders, we were continuously trying to manoeuvre the tubes into the parts of the river that looked like they had a little extra flow. We were hoping that if we could catch the right current we could still make the brewery before it was time to go home. Instead we ended up joking that we could walk faster than we were floating downstream. That was before we got to the golf course.
The river split the course in two. We started riffing on the possibility of getting hit by a bad golfer’s ball; wondering if any of the holes straddled the river; and imagined the river bed covered in lost balls.
The river mirrored the golf course’s calm. We started to paddle to keep moving at a walking speed.
Nature called soon after passing under a foot bridge and being in the middle of a golf course became a logistical problem.
To reduce the drag I had positioned myself in the tube with as much of my torso out of water as was possible but my cheeks were still below the water line. That was enough contact to eliminate the option of holding it in.
The presence of golfers eliminated the option of lowering my shorts.
That left the option of lowering my torso further into the water. Enough to relieve myself directly into the flow of the river and rinse my trunks while making sure that I could still raise it up again afterwards. That meant keeping enough of my arms and legs draped over the wet sides of the inner tube.
My gymnastics finished, I announce my accomplishment with “Now I know why Olympia Beer tastes like piss.” I got a few smiles. The idea was funnier than the line.
Nowadays, the best-selling beer in Canada is Bud and the Americans are known as the pioneers of the micro-brewery.