Alley Kat Brewing

Hops and Hockey Cards #3: Al Hamilton

Like a lot of people in Edmonton, I have a problem with the Oilers.

But while the Oilers faithful have been despondent over the team’s on-ice performance for a number of years, I’m a non-fan who got upset at the beginning of this season because of something they did off the ice.

The Oilers aren’t my team, but I’m an avid hockey fan and I’m passionate about the game’s history (if the existence of this running series didn’t make that already apparent). I’m also an insufferable pedant — which is why I can’t abide by the Oilers declaring that the 2018-19 season would be a celebration of the team’s “40th anniversary.”

Thing is, the Edmonton Oilers go back a lot longer than 40 years: they began their existence in 1972 as one of the founding clubs of the World Hockey Association, a league locked in a bitter rivalry with the NHL for seven seasons. (A league where a kid named Wayne Gretzky made his professional debut as a member of the Indianapolis Racers.)

The NHL won the war of attrition, and its victory allowed it to extract a surrender agreement from the WHA that was strongly in the senior league’s favour. Four teams — the Edmonton Oilers, New England Whalers (renamed Hartford), Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets — were allowed to join the NHL in 1979. Two other surviving WHA teams, the Birmingham Bulls and Cincinnati Stingers, were paid to go away.

This next point is important, because it sets the stage for the Oilers’ “40th anniversary” nonsense: the NHL considered the addition of the four WHA teams as an expansion, rather than a merger. The most obvious byproduct of this arrangement is it gave the NHL justification to pick clean the WHA teams’ existing rosters by reclaiming players who had jumped leagues and forcing the clubs to rebuild via an expansion draft.

The WHA survivors eventually recovered from the pillaging and went on to contend in the NHL — none better than the Oilers, who began a Stanley Cup dynasty after five years in the league.

One repercussion of the “expansion” deal still being felt to this day is the NHL’s petulant attempt to minimize the WHA’s role in history. WHA statistics are not recognized in players’ career totals, and the surviving teams’ in-house records were wiped from the books. The NHL’s perpetual grudge can be seen at its most absurd on Oilers merch that’s embroidered with the date “EST’D 1979,” leaving no doubt how the league views this year’s milestone.

The Oilers either didn’t have the autonomy, or the good sense, to rise above such bullshittery. An unfortunate victim of this ham-handed process (other than the truth) turns out to be one of the franchise’s most beloved players: Al Hamilton, a defenceman who played for the Oilers during all seven WHA seasons plus a year in the NHL. His number 3 was left off a commemorative patch emblazoned with the club’s retired numbers.

True, the six whose numbers made it onto the patch — Gretzky, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri and Mark Messier — are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Hamilton isn’t.

Fans noticed the omission, and many didn’t like it. Sure, Hamilton wasn’t a superstar hall-of-famer, but he was considered a leader in the dressing room and he put up some decent numbers, too. You could say he was a stalwart. A mainstay.

Being steady and reliable are admirable qualities — but alas, they can be taken for granted. People can be fickle. That’s certainly true among sports fans, but respected Toronto writer Stephen Beaumont recently noticed the same phenomenon in the beer world: sales of brewery mainstays have been sagging across the board as fans ditch the classic brands that made them interested in craft beer for more exotic and out-there offerings.

The trend inspired Beaumont to declare this month the inaugural “Flagship February,” and thus began a campaign to get beer drinkers to give some love to old mainstays they not have enjoyed in awhile.

It seems only fitting, then, to pay tribute to Hamilton with the mainstay of Edmonton craft beer mainstays: Alley Kat Brewing’s Full Moon Pale Ale.

Alley Kat has branched out into an ever-increasing number of seasonal and one-off beers since opening in 1995. During that time, Alley Kat’s beers have become bigger and more ambitious, like its Dragon series of IPAs. Throughout, Full Moon has endured — though some might remember Alley Kat briefly reformulated it as an IPA in 2015 in an attempt to capitalize on that style’s increasing popularity. (To its credit, when Alley Kat changed Full Moon back to its original recipe in 2016, it didn’t try to erase its first 20 years of existence by claiming it was a new beer.)

Today’s Full Moon holds up. Like a solid and reliable pale ale, Full Moon has balance: biscuity caramel malt that delivers a touch of sweetness, but not too much. The hops deliver grapefruit, orange and pine in noticeable measure, but they’re in good balance with the malt. The overall impression is hoppy, but not overly bitter.

Full Moon is a beer that satisfies, even if it doesn’t shoot the lights out. And on many nights, as in some hockey games, that’s all you need to win.


Back with a vengeance healthy dose of indolence

If conventional wisdom dictates that blogging exists under a “publish or perish” imperative similar to academia — that you have to keep up a steady stream of content to keep people coming back — then I guess my unplanned five-month hiatus could be viewed as a mortal blow to Original Levity.

Luckily for me, I didn’t start Original Levity for the conventional reasons, like making money via advertising or clicks. While I certainly view the blog as a way of keeping my personal brand out there after leaving daily journalism a few years ago, my main purpose from the beginning was to create an outlet for my beer-related brain droppings outside of regular contributions to publications like Avenue Edmonton.

“Let’s take a relaxed attitude toward blogging and watch the baseball match.”

The simplest explanation for my absence is that life has been busy over the past few months. But on a deeper level, I was wrestling with my motivation and something more existential: I have spent my entire adult life writing for a living. Coming home from work to sit down in front of a screen and write some more was starting to feel, well, a lot like work. And I’ve been struggling with that.

I’ve recently started putting together a couple of new posts, but it didn’t feel right to come back after five months and act like I never went away. While mulling over what to say, I came across a blog post that articulated many of the things I had been feeling, titled The Modern Trap of Turning Hobbies Into Hustles.

Sometimes, being a good writer means stepping aside and recognizing when someone has said something better than you ever could — and that was the case when I read this passage: “It’s OK to love a hobby the same way you’d love a pet; for its ability to enrich your life without any expectation that it will help you pay the rent.”

What that doesn’t mean is that I’ll write for others for free — that’s not a hobby for me: I’m a professional writer, and I’ve earned the right to expect to be paid for my time and effort in the 25-plus years I’ve plied my trade in newspapers, broadcasting and, more recently, magazines.

This blog, on the other hand, is a hobby. I’ll gladly write for free when the person in charge is me. But as the old expression goes, “You get what you pay for.” Absent the prospect of a paycheque (or any need for one) my output will vary accordingly.

Now … if a five-month holiday from posting doesn’t kill a blog, telling people, “Don’t expect anything new here!” surely will. So let me say in no uncertain terms that’s not what I mean. Stick around (or maybe, more accurately, come back), because I have plans.

While I’ve never really cared about clicks, one thing I’ve always wanted with Original Levity is engagement. What the past few months have taught me is that different people engage in different ways. Rather than stubbornly expect everyone who’s interested in what I say about craft beer to come here, I’m going to talk to people where they’re most comfortable hanging out and engaging — whether that’s discussing an interesting beer article I share via Facebook or Twitter, checking out Untappd to see what I’ve been drinking lately, or following my beery travels on Instagram.

By no means does that spell an end to this blog. While I want to use different channels to reach people more frequently, to me this is still a valuable venue for storytelling, reviews and opinion. To that end, I recently visited Alley Kat Brewing here in Edmonton and had the privilege of sampling every vintage of its Olde Deuteronomy barley wine going back to 1995. Watch for that story in the coming weeks.

When I started this blog in April 2018, I invited people to join me for a beer and some interesting conversation. My invitation is just as sincere today: the only difference is, you may find me in a few different places. Please don’t let that throw you. I’m just as thirsty and chatty as I’ve always been.