I’ve known my buddy Glenn for a very long time, since before he became a wild animal trainer and professional zebra rider actually, and I’ve always loved his theatrical flair… We first crossed paths at the Halifax Buskers Festival in 1988 when Glenn was performing as a mime… A year later he was toying with the performance nom-de-plume ‘Howard I Know’ who, amongst other things had just started to play with a pantomime horse costume made out of bed sheets. The concept behind the costume is delightful…a miniature rider on a horse but the evolution of how that costume became Glenn’s trademark and indeed the inspiration behind this beer has a mythology all of it’s own.
The Flying Dutchmen, Noel Britten, Tash Wesp, & Moshe Cohen were all invited to meet up in the Canary Islands to rehearse The International Super Street Performers Theatre Show (which later had a smash opening at De Kleine Komedie in Amsterdam with The Shuffle Demons as the house band) a concept conceived by the brilliant Dutch performer Pieter Post (Mr. & Mrs. Jones on Holiday). He had seen Glenn in Halifax and invited him to join them. ‘Bring a new horse.’
In January of 1990 the group convened on the Boardwalk in Las Palmas. Glenn put his new steed together, drew a crowd and didn’t quite know what to do with them and they wandered off. Pieter suggested maybe jumping fences. After a day or so on the tennis court in the blazing sun, trying to jump over fruit crates in real time while the rest of the group lounged by the pool, it occurred to him to try it in slow motion. When he called them down, they all agreed he might have something after all and with great suggestions from many great performers the act took off.
The following year when Glenn accepted a gracious offer from master puppet builder, Erminio Pinque, from Big Nazo, to create a zebra-head for the costume the planets aligned and his character, El Gleno Grande high atop his mighty steed Sigfrido really started to take the International Festival Circuit by storm.
I like to joke that Glenn is a ‘one trick pony’ but at the heart of things, Glenn is an incredible storyteller who loves the tale he tells so much that his audiences can’t help but be charmed into falling in love with the ridiculous image of a tiny rider on a miniature zebra. Few performers are able to hold a show together with one visual gag, bravado and sheer force of will, which makes Glenn a very special and skilled showman.
“Help…I’ve fallen and I can’t giddy-up.!”
–El Gleno Grande
When it came to making a beer in tribute to this guy I simply asked him what he wanted and the response was simple…
“I love IPAs, the hop character is something I really enjoy, but after one or maybe two of those higher ABV beers I’m on the floor. I want all of those hops in a beer I can enjoy all night long.”
So creating an Indian Session Ale became the order of the day. I looked at the hops I was growing in my little hop yard and brought five different varieties into the boil kettle to craft a beer with all the hop character without the wallop of the high alcohol content. At 4.4% this is an easy drinking beer worthy of a long-necked rider of mini-zebras.
“As complex as an ostrich riding a zebra! An excellent beer!”
–Andrew Merta, Thirsty Coast Coalition
In Their Own Words – The Reviews Are In
Congratulations. The day has finally come. First you heard about it, then you googled it and gaped open mouthed at the fabulous label art (Rachel Peters), then a dark moment of doubt during which you despaired that you would ever actually possess a bottle of Checkerhead Brewery’s: Wee Zebra. And now it sits before you glistening, fresh from a cold bath.
Calmly, like Johnny Rains in the Green Room, you take off your belt and buckle the cap off that 650 ml Bomber. Now you lean over and gently inhale that first note of:: Is that oat straw? Nectarine? Lemon Grass? No. Do you detect a brassy tang? For a moment you forget that you know nothing about beer. You dream you are floating on a cloud of gassy bubbles both sweet & sour. Pungent and dank.
When you regain consciousness it will be time to pour your Wee into a glass. If you don’t have a glass, a paper cup will not do. Go get a glass. Now angle it, practically horizontal, as you carefully coax your zebra out & in so very gently. Easy … Steady …
Regardless of the caution you exercise at this juncture, you should know that there’s no way you’re not going to be looking at a lot of head. I’m talking about more head than in the daydreams of Mrs. Tocafondi’s Conversational 9th Grade French Class. But not too much. The mouth feel is luxuriant and every tiny bubble put to good use.
Again: Is that apricot? Don’t think so.
Thinking you have time to write down the question, you then turn back to a bottle now over flowing.. Having had a couple Wee Zebra’s 3 days ago, you knew to put it on a plate to capture every milliliter. But one more try at its smell: Miles of leather upholstery? Teacups? Handbags and an unlit cigar?. Certainly not.
The first sip galvanizes the teeth & sweeps across the tongue like smoke. A Barred Owl calls in a Chaparral. Rabbit remains motionless. The burp is tasteless.
Lost in thought you suddenly remember a bowl of oatmeal you had on a cold day when your Mom let you stay home from school. Never happened but the aftertaste is bittersweet and comforting.
It overflowed because you wanted to smell it in the bottle first. Tried that for awhile, then several sips out of a cup later, you think to smell it captured in that more open chamber: it’s reminiscent of straw bales set out on varnished floors for a sock hop. Late for dinner in a game at the sandlot. Shredded wheat in hot milky tea.
More sips polish the tongue with a liquid chamois, to be chewed until no swallow is necessary to quench the melancholy. Breathe out through the nose and listen: She thinks of you fondly from time to time.
Another becomes like a swarm of gentle bees who settle on the palate & die with great beauty.
It is a gorgeous sad beer that cries over beautiful songs & absent friends.
A homeless man in a wheelchair generously accepts a contribution and replies that business is okay for a weeknight. He has ridden the bus 20 minutes to be in front of the PNE. For a moment you are home, then soon enough back to being close by fast moving traffic at a busy intersection.
Nursing one last gulp, you pass a glass case of caramel apples at the entrance to the side show attractions, the smell of buttered popcorn bronzing the flickering gaslight. She is nowhere to be seen.
Now the glass is empty. Belgian lace hangs over a chair. A bell rings. It’s over, with only her footsteps far down the hallway echoing in time. You have arrived.
You do regret greedily tilting the bottle back and swallowing the very last bit, it is bitter with the realization that you now require another.
Aftertaste: By now you are tipsy enough to imagine the essence of a finely tanned Italian Loafer.
Afterthoughts: A checkered mini cooper convertible with a slack rope tied off to the roll bar. Miles & miles of prairie highway & mountain passes in a checker cab. A bug eyed sprite. Countless gigs all over the planet. Tireless attention to detail. Truly both a big and little brother. Thank you Davido. (‘I like the flowers’ playing in background). Clap fingers then hands, 5 rounds to end party.
el Gleno Grande