Fresh fish is perfect sauteed in olive
oil and finished in the oven.
The drinking age in Nova Scotia was a strict, Baptist, 21.
In French-Catholic Montreal it was a much more cosmopolitan and loosely-enforced 18.
The inevitable journey to the drinking holes of Montreal was a right-of-passage for Nova Scotia's teenage males.
We worked and saved to wrap our thirsty fists around $160.
Fifty bucks for the train fare, 50 bucks for a room at the Y, 50 bucks for beer, and 10 dollars for a phoney birth certificate that gave proof to the lie that you were 18.
In the summer of our 16th year, Michael Burke and I were armed with cash, train tickets and IDs. Our heads were filled with dreams of beer and Catherine Deneuve-fueled fantasies of losing our virginities to exotic French women in Montreal.
Our first stop off the train was the legendary Stanley Tavern.
The waiter approached and made the perfunctory request for proof of age.
Reasonable. We both looked about 12.
We offered our counterfeit birth certificates. The waiter held them up side by side, scrutinized them, and said, "Same name. Born on same day, eh."
Dumbfounded, we stared at each other.
We had each paid 10 bucks for the same ID.
A couple of geniuses.
The waiter winked, and plunked down two cold beers.
In the ensuing 35 years I have spent more time on wine lists than beer lists.
When the time came to open a "cool" new restaurant, with a "cool" beer list, I had to rely on a young mentor.
"You have a unique, family-owned business," he said. "You should support unique, family-owned breweries."
The first thing he taught me was that the number of family-owned craft breweries is growing but that they have had to struggle in the face of obstruction from the "Big Three" - Bud, Miller and Coors.
Much the same as Wal-Mart uses its dollar muscle to bankrupt small retailers, the Big Three try to crush perceived threats from small, developing craft breweries.
They manipulate distributors and retailers to limit retail space for emerging craft beers.
The prime retail space in the glass cooler-fronts is dominated by Bud, Miller and Coors, garnished with "craft beer" selections like Stella, Beck's, Red Hook and Rolling Rock that are in fact owned by Budweiser.
Budweiser's corporate legal teams also assail family craft brewers with frivolous legal actions based on trumped up brand infringement and labeling charges.
One of the emerging brewers, "Dogfish Head," has acquired cult hero status among beer fans and small brewers because of their struggles with Bud's lawyers.
The big three also use massive marketing budgets to convince consumers that beer must be consumed ice cold. Ice numbs the taste buds. The icy coldness hides the fact that their mass-produced, cheap beer has very little flavor.
The next time you are checking a beer list, treat yourself to some big flavor from family-owned craft breweries like Ybor City, Dogfish Head, Yuengling, Abita, Sam Adams or Cigar City.
Oh yeah. Remember Mike Burke, who was drinking illegally with me in Montreal's Stanley Tavern?
He is now the City Solicitor of North Bay, Ontario. He is in charge of the city's drinking laws.
If you see him, ask him if he ever gets to Montreal.
He didn't lose his virginity on that trip either.