2021 Summer Beerchasing Miscellany – Part II

A Gathering of Oregon City Boys

((Welcome back to Thebeerchaser.  Since this is a long post, if you are seeing it through an e-mail, please visit the blog by clicking on the title above to see all of the photos and so the narrative is not clipped or shortened.)

In a few recent posts, I have mentioned my years in Oregon City – my youth including graduation from Oregon City High School in 1966 (Go Pioneers!) and my experience as a young adult in this historic community.

The last Beerchaser post was a review of the impressive new (February, 2021) community gathering place named Corner 14.  It was featured along with some of the City’s rich history – the first incorporated city west of the Rocky Mountains. 

The co-owners of this collection of twelve food carts, 24 taps and cocktails (“Great Food, Spirits and Brew”) are former Oregon City Mayor, Dan Fowler and his daughter, entrepreneur, Cherisse Reilly – a 1997 OCHS grad. 

An earlier post during the pandemic entitled “Beerchasing Miscellany – Looking Back” also talked about memories of life in this bustling suburb a few miles south of Portland, Oregon.

Well, I had a wonderful afternoon Beerchasing recently with two other good friends – both OC Pioneers.  I’m somewhat surprised that I had never been to the Falls View Tavern – a classic dive bar that is located right on Highway 99E – and as you might expect – right across from the historic Willamette Falls.  I’ll be writing about the tavern’s story in the next month. 

Jim Westwood, a 1962 graduate, is a retired Oregon appellate lawyer, who along with his Portland State College teammates, made history in 1965 with their unexpected, underdog run on the nationally televised GE College Bowl program.

Jim is also a frequent Beerchasing companion and his story is conveyed in my blog post in which he was a Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter in 2013.  Jim and I also cherish our conversations over single-malt beverages in Portland. 

But we’ve had equally lively, diverse and sometime heated dialogue over beer in some great Portland dives, which have included The Tanker, Belmont Station, Kelly’s Olympian ,The Standard, TC O’Leary’s,  the Yard House and more.

I was interested in a Portland State University Facebook post recently which read, in part:

““One of the College Bowl trivia whiz kids who helped put Portland State College on the map was reunited with an old friend recently.  PSC alum, Jim Westwood, captain of the 1965 National Champion GE College Bowl Team dropped by Smith Hall (named after Mike Smith, a deceased member of the same team) to pose with the trophy the team won for its undefeated run on national TV.  ‘It’s the first time I’ve held it since 1965, he said.’ 

The silver bowl features the names – Westwood, Robin Freeman, Larry Smith, Michael Smith and coach, Ben Padrow – and is stamped March 7, 1965, the date of the 415-60 victory over Birmingham Southern in the final match.  It’s been ….on display…for decades.”

As if Westwood isn’t enough grist for a robust chat, our other companion was Matt Love, who lived in Oregon City during his junior high and high school years and graduated from OCHS in 1982.  He relates this story in one of his excellent books Pioneer Pride, which I read with continuous fits of laughter and nostalgia.

You see, Matt is a prolific author (nineteen books) who owns the Nestucca Spit Press – a small publishing company.  His repertoire, to name a few I’ve read, includes Oregon Tavern Age – an exploration of dive bars on the Oregon Coast – something Thebeerchaser relished.

Add to this list, The Bonnie and Clyde Files – How Two Senior Dogs Saved a Middle-aged Man.  In 2009, he won the prestigious Oregon Literary Arts’ Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award for his contributions to Oregon history and literature. 

And although I have communicated with Matt multiple times over the last eighteen months by phone, e-mail and ZOOM, the Falls View was the first time I had the privilege of meeting him in person – one that I’ve been anticipating since 2011.  That’s because Matt was a key factor in my decision to launch “Thebeerchaser.com” that year.

It was appropriate that we meet in a dive bar because my first “contact” with Matt was through his blog “Let it Pour.net.” – a colorful and well researched account of his visits to historic dive bars along the Oregon coast from 1999 to 2011, when he discontinued it.

I was so enthralled with his stories and the vivid descriptions of the bars’ history, regulars, staff and stories that I decided that a similar tour of watering holes would be a wonderful retirement hobby to pursue in Portland. 

That goal expanded to include saloons all over Oregon – including some of Matt’s great haunts like the Old O in Lincoln City and the Sportsman Pub and Grub in Pacific City – both on the Central Oregon Coast. Oh yes, there’s also Newport’s Bay Haven Inn, the Mad Dog Country Tavern, the Tide Pool in Depot Bay and……. 

That seemed like a good pursuit, so I embarked on visits to bars and breweries throughout the United States (including Alaska and Hawaii) and even a few in Europe. The total before the pandemic approached 400.

Of Dogs and Meaning – and He Really Does Mean it!

And while I’m slightly biased based on my friendship with Matt, I have to rave about his most recent book – one that garners my whole-hearted endorsement even though I’m only 64 pages through the 102-page work entitled Of Dogs and Meaning.

An outstanding read even if you don’t own a dog

I grew to really appreciate Matt’s writing style, his humor and rich descriptions from reading the aforementioned “Pioneer Pride” and his booklet “Oregon Tavern Age,” but his tome on dogs (and life) is absolutely captivating – and I make that assertion even though Janet and I have never had a dog during our 41 years of marriage.

That said, we love our grand-puppy Sullivan in Seattle and sobbed when our other five-year old golden retriever, Wesley Walter (who our 2 ½ year old granddaughter referred to as “Dog Dog,”) succumbed to a heart-attack in April at just 5 1/2 years old.

Matt, at times can be cynical, but his keen insight on both the human and canine condition – often using well-placed rhetorical questions – is overlaid with rich humor and erudition:

“What’s with the phrase, ‘dogging it?’  Football and basketball coaches from my youth always screamed about not ‘dogging it’ during practice.  Was the implication that dogs loaf and humans shouldn’t follow suit when competing at sports?  It makes little sense, but then again it does, because human insults that reference dogs are legion in American speech. 

For example, ‘hot dogger,’ is a derogatory phrase applied to a basketball player who plays with a certain panache and executes theatrical dribble drives, behind-the-back passes and balletic fade-away jumpers.  Pete Maravich was the greatest hot dog basketball player in the history of the sport.  Who wouldn’t want to play basketball like Pete?”

In sixty-four pages in his yarns and anecdotes about canines, I’ve seen references to works by Lord Byron, Ring Lardner, John Steinbeck, Eugene O’Neill, John Irving and Shakespeare.

Besides Matt;s own heart-warming stories from athletics, teaching and most notably, of his own dogs – Sonny, Bonnie and Clyde, and Tex.  He relates canine tales ranging from those involving George Washington, James Madison, John Kennedy, Barack Obama, Winston Churchill and WC Fields.

And of course, his years in dive bars yield a few good anecdotes:

“I met a dog in an Oregon Tavern who fetched cans of Hamm’s for humans from behind the bar, but only Hamm’s. Budweiser was out.”

And to illustrate his points, he uses song titles and lyrics from country legend George Jones, the Monkees, Harry Nilsson, Blake Shelton and the Beatles as well as his own musical piece, which has not yet made the Country Hit Parade:  “I Had to Put My Dog Down. Wish it Had Been My Ex-girlfriend.”

I’ll finish with a long excerpt (but one worth reading in its entirety) from page 16 which made me laugh out loud – one of many times

“In third grade, I fell off a shed and broke my left wrist.  As some sort of therapy, my parents surprised me with a beagle.  I named him Tex and he became my best friend, boon companion….

My most indelible memory of Tex involves leaves and and football.  I would spend hours raking leaves into giant piles that I arranged to resemble an offensive line in football.  Tex would stand on the opposite side of the piles. 

I would toss him a hamburger chew toy, he would snag it with his teech, then bolt back through the piles like the fat fullback he was. I would play middle linebacker and meet him in the hole, tackle him and boy and dog would roll and roll on the grass, and the leaves would fly and fly. He never fumbled……

Tex, the fullback….

We played this game for years.  He knew it was coming when I started raking and waited with the hamburger in his mouth.  When he died my freshman year in college, he was buried in the yard with that hamburger. Raking hasn’t been the same since.

I once told a woman I was dating that I grieved more over the death of Tex than my grandfather.  She later cited that as the moment she knew she was going to dump me.  Another woman I dated suggested that my three dogs sleep in my truck outside her home.  It was over right there.  Another woman I dated told me it would never work because I had three big dogs.”

You can order this book for only $20 from the Nestucca Spit Press.  I guarantee that you will become a fan of this talented writer.

:

Photo Attribution

Multiple photos courtesy of Matt Love and the Nestucca Spit Press, the City of Oregon City, Corner 14 and Portland State University

*1.  Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare#/media/File:Shakespeare.jpg

*2.  Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hamms_Logo.jpg

2021 Summer Beerchasing Miscellany – Part I

Now That Really is a Dirty Shame!

While I’m happy for my friend, John Runkle, the owner of the World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak, Montana, I lament for the rich history of legendary dive bars, that John has sold the bar – the new owners take over in late August.  Originally there was talk that they would change the name, but that appears to be a false rumor.

After reading about the history of the bar in Joan Melchers’ two books “Montana Watering Holes,” I called John and arranged a visit and stay in 2019 at the Yaak River Lodge, which John also owns – located on 7.5 acres along the beautiful Yaak River.

I stayed for two nights in the Moose Room (the Wolf Room was already occupied) – waking to John’s home-cooked breakfasts of bacon, hashbrowns and blueberry pancakes.  In the near term, He will continue to operate the Lodge – a rustic retreat shown below which is about one mile from the Saloon.

My enthusiasm for the Bar, John and his staff as well as the entire Yaak community of about 250 people, is evidenced by the four blog posts I wrote – necessary to adequately convey John’s and the “Shame’s” amazing stories. 

The last one entitled “Thebeerchaser’s Final Thoughts on the Dirty Shame Saloon,” published in October 2019, contains only some of the tales I heard there.  Check it out and the others to understand some of the reasons why this remains my favorite bar in ten years of Beerchasing.

So what’s in store for this soon to be father of three kids under six after his wife Dallas Runkle’s projected delivery date in September.  They live much of the time in the Tri-City area in Washington where Dallas is completing her graduate studies in education and counseling.

A conversation this week with John went like this:

Beerchaser: “Are you going to sell the Lodge at some point?”

Runkle: “Yes, we’ve temporarily taken it off the market, but when Dallas finishes her educational requirements in about a year, we’ll probably move to Texas.”

Beerchaser:  “What are you going to do, John – Run another saloon, run for office, run a marathon…” (John is a staunch conservative and we had some great debates about politics and life during my two days in Yaak while we drank beer.)

Runkle:  “Since Dallas will be working and at sixty, I’ll be the oldest dad in the world with three kids under six, I’ll probably be taking care of my offspring.  (Laughing) Joe Biden’s child-care credits will help me do that!”

John hasn’t met the new owners of the Dirty Shame yet, but they are a group of radiologists from San Luis Obispo, California, who also bought the Yaak River Tavern across the street from the Dirty Shame and evidently acquired the nearby  Overdale Lodge as well.  Does this seem a little like the premise of the series “Yellowstone?”

Regardless of the name change, the bar will not have the same character as when John was the owner and what he has made of this legendary watering hole since he bought it out of foreclosure in 2013. 

John’s humor, great heart and sense of community, have made this a focal point for the community and miles around for events such as the Sasquatch Festival, the Crawfish Festival, the Adult Easter Egg Hunt or the “Yaak Attack.”  After the two previous owners failed, John’s business acumen prevailed and the saloon has increased revenue every year except in 2020 with COVID.  It has never been more profitable.

He ended our phone call by saying, “Don, don’t forget that on July 31st, we will have the last staging of Female Cream Wrestling (last year it was canceled because of COVID) and the farewell party with live music will be on August 28th.”  

Let’s see – it’s 520 miles or 8 hours and 29 minutes from my house to Yaak.  And, if I hurry, I might be able to get a reservation in the Moose Room again…..(See the end of this post for another photo album of my visit to the Dirty Shame.)

Back to Beerchasing but Farewell to Some Favorite Haunts

With vaccination rates at a good level and restrictions lifted in Oregon, Thebeerchaser is back in business – visiting new bars and breweries to add to the total – now approaching 400 – since starting this retirement hobby in August 2011.  My most recent post related my four great visits to Corner 14 – a wonderful community watering hole in Oregon City which opened in February of 2020.  Stay tuned…..

That said, the pandemic and lockdown were brutal to hospitality establishments and some of my favorite bars and a few breweries didn’t make it.  And while we lost a number during the pandemic, it exacerbated an already tough economic environment.   An 4/4/21 Oregon Live article entitled, “Brewers Were Soaked by the Pandemic” stated in part:

“Oregon breweries were already undergoing a generational transition in the months before the pandemic hit.  In 2018 and 2019, Lompoc, Bridgeport, Portland Brewing and Widmer Brewing all closed restaurants and/or bars.  Alameda Brewhouse, Columbia River Brewing and Burnside Brewing shut their doors too.”  (Click on the links to see Thebeerchaser reviews.)

“Oregon breweries shed 1,000 jobs between the summer of 2019 and the pandemic, nearly 12% of the sector’s employment.  Then 3,500 jobs vanished in the spring of 2020.

Employment….tumbled 43% in the first months of the pandemic.   While many of those jobs bounced back over the summer as the state gradually reopened, brewery jobs remained down nearly 29% — a greater fall than at restaurants and bars, overall.”

Ironically, liquor sales jumped 20%, last April, during the first month of the pandemic to a record high. But there is good news on the brewery front. 

A number are expanding their locations including Pelican Brewing in Lincoln City, Lake Oswego’s Stickman Brewing and Baerlic Brewing in NE Portland.  Chuckanut Brewing of Bellingham, known for its lagers, has filed to open a SE Portland beer hall.

I’m very excited to check out a new Portland brewery.  Steeplejack Brewing is scheduled to open in an historic church building (112 years old) in July.  (Soft opening on 7/16 and grand opening on 7/31.) .  Two University of California – Santa Cruz college buddies – Brody Day and Dustin Harder are partnering to restore this wonderful NE Portland landmark  (Willamette Week 2/20/21)

Demolition and rebuilding is underway as crews are digging up a section of the main hall of worship for a sunken brewery, but Steeplejack plans to keep many of the most iconic and timeless elements of the building intact.

William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States, actually laid the cornerstone of the church at a ceremony in front of thousands of onlookers back in the day. But the primary feature is the 65’ ft. high steeple and bell tower from which the brewery gets it’s name.”  (“Steeplejack Brewing drafts All-Star Team for upcoming Portland brewpub in restored church.”  (The New School 4/20/21)

I  had a good telephone conversation with co-owner Brody Day and challenged him on the headline of the second article above asking, “What makes your team of the All-Star caliber?”  His response was good.

Steeplejack’s Head Brewer and Lead Brewer, Anna Buxton and Anne Aviles both have extensive experience in the brewing industry.    Anna at the  innovative Modern Times Brewing and Anne in the Experimental Brewing aspect at both DeGarde Brewing on the Oregon coast and Portland’s award-winning Breakside Brewing.  

The pent up desire to socialize with friends and family over a good beer portends a robust summer and fall for Northwest watering holes – that is if they can find adequate help.  The new Pelican pub in Lincoln City advertised a $2,500 signing bonus for cooking staff.

A late June visit one of our favorites on the Central Oregon coast – Depoe Bay’s Horn Public House and Brewery – had a big crowd, but the upstairs section of the pub was closed because they didn’t have enough kitchen help to accommodate the demand.

I’m also pleased to see the ill-conceived recent plan of a few Oregon Legislators in House Bill 3296 to raise the Oregon beer and wine tax by 2,600% and 1,400% respectively according to Willamette Week, died a well-deserved death before it even got out of Committee during the 2021 Session.

That said, I was saddened to see in a visit to Lincoln City that a favorite community dive bar for decades – the Cruise Inn, which I reviewed in 2014, appears to have closed its doors. Although I haven’t found any formal notice, the furniture, equipment and “library,” including the complete set of American Jurisprudence Legal Forms are gone and the phone disconnected.  

Check out a few photos from my posts on the Dirty Shame Saloon.

Photo Credits 

*1. Pelican Brewing Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/PelicanBrewingCompany/photos/10158384649633435

*2. Stickman Brewing Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/stickmenbeer/photos/a.254878121231579/

*3.  Baerlic Brewing Facebook Page  https://www.facebook.com/baerlicbrewing/photos/1360228664170193

*4.  Steeplejack Brewing Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/SteeplejackBeer/photos/106659551525747)

*5.  Steeplejack Brewing Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/SteeplejackBeer/photos/a.107641808094188/

*6. The Horn Public House and Brewery Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/thehornpublichouse/photos/878078125931167

*7.  The Horn Public House and Brewery Facebook Page   https://www.facebook.com/thehornpublichouse/photos/a.221404098265243/

Bar Culture – Part III

The topic of bar culture is one close to my heart – reinforced by my Beerchasing hobby started shortly after retirement ten years ago. This is the third post about the elements of “bar culture” excerpted and expanded from my article for Bridgeliner – a wonderful on-line newsletter in Portland, Oregon.

Cassie Rudd, the Editor, asked me five related questions. The first was addressed in the post entitled “A Petri Dish – Bar Culture Part I” and the second in a less elegantly titled post – “Bar Culture – Part II.”

In the narrative below, you will see responses to the final three questions including the last which describes the three Portland watering holes which I think best embody the elements of bar culture described in the article.

Now get out there with your friends and help those bars and breweries to continue their important role in the economy and community!

Support Your Local Watering Hole *1

What direction do you see Portland’s pub and tavern culture heading and what are some of the pros and cons?

I’m very optimistic that Portlanders will again head to bars and restaurants to mingle with friends now that vaccination rates make such gatherings safe. The same  is true for watering holes throughout the US and globally for that matter. 

And the character or culture will quickly be restored if operational constraints aren’t too strict – like not allowing seating at the bar – an important part of the ambiance in every bar. 

It’s important to support these establishments after the severe economic constraints they have faced in the last eighteen months.  And the financial hardship is not new.

Even twelve years ago, author Mike Seely in his book, Seattle’s Best Dive Bars, stated his concern that the dive bars in his city were swiftly disappearing and might be an endangered species.  

Photo Jun 14, 12 33 02 PM

A wonderful book

The Portland Mercury also did an article on March 9, 2016, entitled “The Portland Dive Bar Preservation Society,” stating, in part:

“Portland’s lost a bunch of dive bars recently. A few were absolute shitholes that deserved to disappear, but most were victims of circumstance and change.

A number of other bars have changed ownership and been fancied up to suit the modern market. Dive bars, if not endangered, are at the very least under threat.” 

The pandemic and lockdowns have not been kind to some of my favorite bars reviewed since I started my blog.  Gone but not forgotten are Sidecar 11, Bailey’s Taproom Crackerjacks Pub, The Tanker and the Tugboat Brewery.  (Click on the links to see the reviews.)

With the forced closures and the riots in Portland, the concern now transcends just dive bars.  Any small, independent watering hole faces economic challenges. 

It’s up to Portlanders to support these establishments unless they want to see more sterile, boring and insipid establishments devoid of personality such as the Yard House (see my 2016 review entitled “The Yard House – Does it Measure Up?”) in downtown Portland.   It’s owned by the same corporation that owns the Olive Gardens

P1040027

The Yard House – where you are met by a hostess who seats you in the bar and they contract with a commissioned artist who does all of their artwork nationally – does not measure up in my opinion.

What do you think will always stay consistent with Portland’s pub and tavern culture?

This answer may alienate those who think Portland’s own culture is unique, but I will respond with the same answer whether describing a bar in Portland, the Oregon Coast, Montana, New England or Amsterdam.

Besides my own experience, the evidence is derived from resources I’ve used in my blog from Matt Love’s “Oregon Tavern Age,” to author Joan Melcher’s two books, “Montana Watering Holes”, to Dr. Tom Noel’s wonderful and appropriately titled book, “Colorado – A Liquid History and Tavern Guide to the Highest State.”

I’ve talked by phone with each of these writers and in the last month even started an e-mail dialogue with a fellow blogger – Rich Carbonara – who lives in Munich, Germany and publishes a blog entitled “The Beer Wanderers.” (Rumor has it that we have at least one interest in common – validated when I purchased his excellent book  Beer Hiking in Bavaria.)

Photo Jun 15, 1 01 16 PM

As long as we don’t capitulate to the corporate chains who want to open their aseptic, suave drinking venues, the ancient tradition of a gathering place where one can raise a mug with friends will continue without much evolution.  That’s a good thing!

All the authors above, I’m sure agree, as I do, with English poet and essayist, Samuel Johnson’s assertion:

There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern.”  *2

Obviously, I can’t speak for him, but I also concur with the twelfth century poet who stated:

“When the hour is nigh me,

Let me in a tavern die

With a tankard by me!”  *3

What is one of Portland’s quintessential pubs you feel is emblematic of that culture?

This is a hard question to answer because there are so many good bars.   When a bar is good, it’s fantastic.  And even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good!  However, I will suggest three rather than one – all on the Portland’s east side. 

Gil’s Speakeasy whose owners self-describe as “The nicest assholes in town,” have a wonderful dark, spacious bar with no sign on the exterior and great cheap daily specials ranging from $3 chili dogs to $1 sloppy Joes. 

They even have a coin-operated breathalyzer – an option if you’re not sure.  It states, “Blow before you go.  Profits to local charities.”

It is the epitome of a good neighborhood dive bar from the exterior, to the ambiance once you walk in. The owners are, in fact, “nice” but definitely not assholes! The food, music, games, barstools, backbar and furnishings demonstrate the bar culture I’ve described.

Don’t overlook Mad Hanna – a wonderful bar community – has transformed itself during the pandemic into a general store (“part indie boutique, craft fair and whimsically curated market”). 

Besides, there aren’t too many saloons where you can chow down a $4.50 peanut butter and jelly sandwich while guzzling your $2 Happy Hour PBR.

But the bar or pub that epitomizes the culture discussed above is The Standard.  This dive opened in 2007 at NE 22nd and Broadway and was perfectly described by Mathew Korfhage in the “Willamette Week 2018 Bar Guide”:

“But the thing that made me treat this bar as an extension of my living room for seven years, what makes it different from every other bar with cheap drinks and a pool table and a covered patio in winter, is the simple decency of the place.  

The Standard is one of Portland’s last true neighborhood bars, a ramshackle version of Penny Lane decorated in shattered CDs and corrugated metal……More than any other bar I know in Portland, it is a sodden vision of an ideal society.”

While I’ve named three of my favorite bars in Portland with great character, one can do the same, to a greater or lesser extent, in every community in the US and every other nation. 

Perhaps if we had friendly discussion and debate over a cheap Happy Hour brew, we could iron out the polarization characterizing such dialogue during the pandemic.

Cheers and Amen!

And thanks again to Cassie and Bridgeliner for making it possible for me to contribute the articles.

Photo Credits

*1.  Public Domain – File:Dollar.PNG – Wikimedia Commons

2.  Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons (Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds – Samuel Johnson – Wikipedia) National Gallery

*3.  Image courtesy of Pam Williams

Bar Culture – Part II

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Test_tube#/media/File:Two_small_test_tubes_held_in_spring_clamps.jpg

(Welcome back to Thebeerchaser.  Since this is a long post, if you are seeing it through an e-mail, please visit the blog by clicking on the title above to see all of the photos and so the narrative is not clipped or shortened.)

In the last post on this blog, I captured one of the five questions posed by Cassie Ruud, Editor of the Portland online newsletter Bridgeliner in a 4/23 article on bar culture

Check out the link below to see Thebeerchaser post on which it was based, which includes a lot of great pictures illustrating the eclectic elements of bar culture I’ve witnessed in reviewing almost 400 bars and breweries in the last ten years:

https://thebeerchaser.com/2021/05/03/a-petri-dish-bar-culture-part-i/

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This post will address the second question posed by Cassie in the Bridgeliner article entitled “The Foamy Culture of Portland Pubs with Beerchaser Don Williams.”

My major premise, based on personal experience, is that Portland bar culture doesn’t differ significantly from that of bars in Eastern Oregon, on the Oregon Coast, New England, Savannah or Charleston in the Southeastern US, or for that matter, Amsterdam or Venice.   

The pictures below illustrate my premise that while each bar has different and interesting external trappings, the overall culture of bars throughout the world – the abstract meld of all the elements ranging from furnishings to music to the unique blend of personalities of the staff and regulars – is shared in these establishments 

2018-09-09 18.16.07

Ebenezer’s Pub in Lovell, Maine in 2018 where we entered Beer Heaven.

In the ten years I have been Beerchasing, I have been to almost 400 bars and breweries from my home in Portland, Oregon to watering holes throughout the state – the Eastern Oregon desert to the beautiful coast. 

I visited bars like Darwin’s Theory in Anchorage, to those in the southeastern US from Charleston to Atlanta to Savannah, where at The Original Pinkie Masters bar shown in the picture below, the 3/4/13 edition of the Savannah Morning News reported:

“As the oldest running watering hole downtown and one made famous when President Jimmy Carter announced his candidacy while standing on the bar…..” 

I was welcomed in each and they all felt like home!

There is the dark ambiance of historic Durty Nelly’s in Boston, or the spacious charm of  the Horner Pub – surrounded by majestic peaks in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland – where tourists like us rubbed shoulders with the amazing “cliff divers” or the farmers, foresters or innkeepers who live in the village of  2,300 at the foot of 9,744 Mt. Schilthorn, where there is also a Taverne right near the summit.

But I can also experience the vibe by just driving twenty-five minutes to downtown Portland – only about seven blocks from the high-rise office building where I worked for twenty-five years – to the Yamhill Pub – one step below a dive, but a grunge bar that at one time sold more PBR than any watering hole in Oregon.

Staying in Oregon, I can drive across the beautiful Cascade Mountains through the Central Oregon desert and visit one of the cowboy bars in Eastern Oregon such as the Long Branch in LaGrande – “well known for its home style cooking and the most reasonably priced food and drinks in town.”

Cassie’s second question in the Bridgeliner article was:

Has the culture gone through any observable changes from your perspective? If so, what kind?

It goes without saying, we have to separate pre and post pandemic.  I’ll base this on the nine years I’ve been Beerchasing prior to the pandemic.  During that time, I’ve witnessed minimal change in what we are describing as culture. 

That said, if one goes back further, there were some monumental changes affecting the character, operation and economics of bars and taverns. 

I’ll defer to my friend, author Matt Love, who for thirty years, studied and wrote about bars on the Oregon Coast. I originally met Matt through his blog – Let it Pour – (Thebeerchaser is modeled after it) where he wrote about his experiences and love for the dive bars up and down the coast.  

Matt is the owner of the Nestucca Spit Press – a small publishing house he formed in 2002, and you should check out its offerings.  In 2009, Love won the Oregon Literary Arts’ Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award for his contributions to Oregon history and literature.

He conveys the contrast between contemporary bars and those in the ’60’s – 70’s in the Introduction of his marvelous book-within-a magazine entitled, “Oregon Tavern Age”:

“It was the halcyon days of Oregon tavern life; no liquor, no craft beers, no meth, no video poker or slots, smoke-filled, and the classic cheap Pacific Northwest lagers brewed in the Pacific Northwest by union men reigned supreme….Customers watched Perry Mason on low volume and read mildewed Louis L’Amour titles from the lending libraries tucked away in dark corners.”

In a three and one-half day tour of bars and breweries on the Central Oregon Coast in 2014, I found that many of the dives Matt reviewed still maintained the atmosphere and character which captivated both of us in these “institutions.” 

The pictures below show some of the favorites: The Sportsman Pub and Grub in Pacific City, where Matt was the “Writer in Residence,” the Old Oregon Saloon (“The Old O”) and the Cruise Inn – right in the heart of Lincoln City.

Don’t forget the Bay Haven Inn that goes back to 1908 along the docks in Newport, or the Mad Dog Country Tavern up the Bay about a mile, where you could get some hardboiled eggs or Hot Mama pickled sausages both of which had been “fermenting” in large jars probably since the second FDR Administration….P1020651

And the unforgettable Tide Pool Pub in Depoe Bay, where Vicki, the owner, claimed (with some credibility) she made the best pizza on the Oregon Coast.  She also told us about how her dad took her to one of the first “Take Your Kids to Work Days” when she was in grade school in Chicago and her dad worked in a slaughter house!

One final note on the Tide Pool which will give you an idea of why Matt Love is such a good writer, is his description of the bar’s Tank of Death – a fascinating and bizarre “aquarium” which captures the attention of anyone entering the bar:

“……..a salt-water glass coffin called the Tank of Death.  It is packed with all manner of marine creatures caught by local fishermen who bucket in their curious finds and dump them in.  Eels, crabs, sea bass, perch, Dick Cheney, octipi and urchins all end up in the mix……….

According to the bartender, aquatic creatures regularly stage a battle royal to the death and the tank serves as a Roman arena of savagery and merciless predation  – with bets slapped down and accelerated drinking when the water turns a creamy, cloudy red.”   

Matt alludes to two monumental shifts altering bar culture – the advent of video poker – in the late 80’s and the end of smoking inside Oregon bars in 1984.   Why? Because much of the dialogue and story-telling disappeared. 

Instead of thick plumes of nicotine laden smoke from Camels, Winstons or Marlboros circling above the heads of those at the bar or at individual tables where they told tales, the smokers escaped frequently to the front or rear exits – maybe a small patio – where they puffed in solitude.

In fact, one wag stated that he was concerned about the end of smoking at Portland’s legendary Horse Brass Pub, not because of losing the clientele, but “we assumed its billowing, milkshake-thick clouds of cigarette smoke were load-bearing structural elements of the building without which the sprawling pub would collapse.” 

The ubiquitous video slots with their Siren Song began beckoning those who rationalize that they are helping to fund a playground or civic center with this “sin tax” on Oregon gamblers. (Twice, I have witnessed patrons frantically go through several hundred dollars while I was having a pint.)

While these two developments forever changed certain elements of bar culture not only in Oregon, but throughout the US and Europe, I am not as pessimistic as Matt Love appeared to be in the final entry to his blog in 2004.

Institutions adapt and while the advent of video poker altered the physical trappings and interpersonal interactions, watering holes acclimated and most survived – just as most will emerge from the pandemic as the familiar gathering place of regulars.

I’m looking forward to discussing this with Matt when we have a beer this summer!

Appendix by Matt Love from his blog – Let it Pour”

“I love these taverns, so much in fact, that six years ago I began writing about the ones on the Oregon Coast where I live.…(in his excellent blog Letitpour.net)  After all this exploration, doubtless I am an expert on Oregon taverns. Thus, it is with sadness that I declare the unique cultural institution of the independent Oregon tavern is dead.

The state of Oregon seriously wounded it with video poker, and more recently with the introduction of line games (slots), killed it altogether.….In 1991 when the Oregon Legislature directed the Oregon Lottery to allow video poker in taverns and bars…..it was a frenzy.

Then in 2005, line games were introduced into Oregon’s taverns and bars…..Sure, the pool and darts continue, but these taverns are not the same, and I know because I drank beer in them before they were enlisted by the state to raise revenue from the pockets of vulnerable, occasionally inebriated people.   What is especially sad is to have witnessed how video poker slowly transformed taverns from gritty bastions of independence into de-facto tax collectors for the state….Rest in peace Oregon tavern.”

A Petri Dish — Bar Culture Part I

 

(Welcome back to Thebeerchaser.  Since this is a long post, if you are seeing it through an e-mail, please visit the blog by clicking on the title above to see all of the photos and the narrative is not clipped or shortened.)

Books, articles and watering hole patrons often talk about “Bar Culture.”  But how does one define this abstract concept and how does one find it?  Recently, Bridgelinera Portland, Oregon online newsletter edited by Cassie Ruud (I’m proud to say – an Oregon State University grad) featured two interviews with yours truly – The Beerchaser.  

The link below will take you to the first interview – how the Beerchaser started and how it has changed during the pandemic.   https://bridgeliner.com/%f0%9f%8d%bb-portlander-don-williams-takes-us-beer-chasing/

And the following narrative is an expanded version of the second article entitled “The Foamy Culture.” The narrative below is my response to the first question Cassie asked with a lot of photos added from bars I’ve been to over the last ten years to illustrate the elements of bar culture.   

Most are from Portland watering holes and It saddens me to add that a number of bars are from some of my favorites which are no longer open. Future posts will address the other four questions on bar culture because it is a complex topic and needs a lot of photos to convey.

I’m saddened that the photos below are from a number including Club 21, Zarz, Crackerjacks, Mad Son’s, The Tanker all permanently closed – a loss to not only their patrons but Portland’s bar culture. And those are just ones represented in some of the photos in this blog post.  There are many more on the list.

Regardless of where you live, when it is again safe, get back out and support these small business people whose livelihoods have been decimated in the last eighteen months.  Try Kelly’s Olympian or……….

What are some key elements of pub and tavern culture (particularly in Portland) you’ve observed in your years of beerchasing?

That begs the question, “What is culture?” Let’s assume it’s a set of intangible aspects of social life – in this case in an individual bar or tavern – as contrasted to a brewpub or taproom – because there are some real differences.  One way I describe this is a watering hole’s “character.”  It’s really no different in Portland than elsewhere.

It can include more global items such as its location and the exterior, the regulars, the personality of the bartender and staff such as Phoebe, the charismatic bartender at the Brooklyn Park Pub – the first bar I hit in 2011.

Consider the style of the furniture (tables and/or booths) and how they’re set up. Take, for example, the unique Captains’ chairs at Claudia’s Sports Pub.

But it’s also a conglomeration of more mundane factors ranging from the lighting, the art (often nicotine-stained murals) or knickknacks such as old beer cans, bottles of MD 20-20, hats and mugs, and  team pictures and trophies from bar-sponsored teams,. 

Don’t forget the signs/posters with trite sayings such as “The consumption of alcohol may actually cause pregnancy. ”

The music (jukebox or live-streamed or live music) is also a factor and the number and types of beer on tap and the prices.  

The atmosphere is influenced by whether there are games such as pool and shuffleboard or pinball and Skee-ball   Don’t forget a favorite – Big Buck Hunter.  Are there TV’s and if so, how many and how big?  Is video poker pervasive?  Is there a smoking patio? 

Do they have weekly events or gatherings and are these karaoke or Naughty Bingo Nights?

Are there animals present.  Not just service animals that are required under Oregon law, but are pets (and kids) welcome in the bar and on the patio.

Are the critters alive or dead?! Consider the skilled work of taxidermists with their product hung on the walls with glassy stares?  And are these mounted trophies, deer and elk or more exotic critters such as the albino goat at the New Atlas Bar in Columbus, Montana or the ferocious stuffed alligator hanging over the bar at the Blue Moon Saloon near Kalispell.

It’s important not to overlook the bathrooms or heads.  Are they unisex and are there locks on the door (or doors at all)? Do the sanitary conditions (for example vomit-stained toilet seats) motivate you to drink your beer slowly so you can wait until you get home?

And where but in Whitefish, Montana, can you see a life-size image of former NBA star Kevin McHale say farewell as you exit the men’s head at the Bull Dog Saloon?

Is there food and what type (usually plentiful) and whether it’s cooked on site or prepackaged?    Some of the cooks at dives and neighborhood bars are really quite accomplished at their profession. 

I guess, however, it does not take a trained chef to prepare the fried ravioli – available for $5 at The Standard or the Chicken Gizards (only $2.75 when they are the special-of-the-day) at the Yukon Tavern.  And oh the Burgers!!!

Are the trappings dive bar vinyl booths and card tables or more refined dark wood with fire places (often in dive bars too)  with volumes of books (real not decorative).

Two more factors that are important are the bar counter and back bar.  Is your beer served on a Formica stand or a dark, classy wood counter with an attractive backbar filled with a multitude of attractive liquor bottles or knickknacks which evoke stories? 

The Gold Pan Saloon , an historic dive bar we visited on a road trip to Colorado that dates back to 1879, had an impressive long, rich mahogany bar in Breckenridge.

In talking to the bartender, she told us that the bar and the beautiful backbar were shipped around Cape Horn to its’ destination in Colorado during gold mining days. I couldn’t verify the story, but it would not surprise me.

You throw all these elements – abstract, tangible and then add the people and the staff together and the result is a “Community” – and each bar or tavern is its own unique community or cultural institution.

Stay tuned to Thebeerchaser.com for future posts with the remaining four questions in the Bridgeliner interview about Bar culture.

Cheers

Beerchasing Miscellany – Emerging!!

Cheers!

While the global pandemic still hangs over our collective heads, with the numbers vaccinated in the first several months, there is at least some emergence from the darkness.

However, in many localities case numbers are not getting better with the vaccines; they’re going up. With cases rising for seven straight weeks, the World Health Organization said Covid-19 is still spreading exponentially around the world.

One reason may be that, although the experts reminded all of us that the vaccines would not mean life would get back to normal right away, many people are still behaving as if they didn’t hear or believe a word of that warning. We still need to be mindful of social distancing and wear masks.

There are still lockdowns and restrictions in many locations – varied and nuanced from country-to-country, state-to-state in the US and even county-to-county based on examples in Oregon.

But at least headlines and broadcast media narratives are not ubiquitous reports of doom and gloom in which we have been immersed for the last year. And by using common sense and moderation, we can go forth – carefully……

Thebeerchaser Story – From the Beginning

I started this blog in 2011 when I retired from the Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt law firm where I worked for twenty-five years – the last twelve as the COO.   The story of this blog – Thebeerchaser.com was related – quite well recently – by Cassie Ruud, the talented Editor of Bridgeliner – an online newsletter in Portland, Oregon. delivered to your in-box from Tuesdays through Fridays.

See the article at this link: https://bridgeliner.com/%f0%9f%8d%bb-portlander-don-williams-takes-us-beer-chasing/

There was also a lesson for me.  I initially disagreed with an issue in the newsletter and was ready to rant and send a sarcastic response, but instead sent a diplomatic missive to Cassie.  To my surprise, she responded with a very cogent response which made me realize that I was incorrect, and also see that she has a great online source of information. 

We also found that we had something in common – a fondness for the Old Oregon Saloon in Lincoln City.  Cassie had been a reporter earlier in her career in this city on the Oregon Coast and had seen my review of the Old O posted in 2014.

Take a look at Bridgeliner Even if you are not a Portlander, it has some good features and articles and provides another great opportunity to support local journalism.

Beerchasing Resumes – One Year Later

My wife and I celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary with our first real venture away from the Portland area in almost a year with a day road-trip up the Columbia River Gorge and returned by the Mt. Hood Loop Road (Highway 35).   Not one of the long journeys we love through Montana and the West, New England or the Southwest, but a full day in our own beautiful state. 

The Columbia River Gorge

Heading east just out of Portland we marveled at the continuing distinctive panorama.  On our left – the varied barge traffic along the River with Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens and even Mt. Rainer in the distant background. 

On the right – jagged cliffs, many with majestic cascading waterfalls and views of the mile-long freight trains starting or finishing their cross-country journeys.

We stopped for beers and lunch (see below) and walked the path along the Columbia through the picturesque village of Hood River.  On the return route we took in the orchards outside of the City, were captivated by the rugged Northeast side of 11,250 foot Mt. Hood *** and appreciated the lush old-growth timber that surrounds the highway. 

We’d made this trip before, but never after a year like 2020.  We were seeing the wonder anew!

It gave new meaning to the assertion of my favorite philosopher/writer/theologian –              G. K. Chesterton

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land: it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” (public domain)

Excuse the Digression…

You might wonder about the asterisks above – it was after the initial comments about marveling at the NE side of Oregon’s Mount Hood on the trip back home.   Well, that’s because I have a fondness for the Cooper Spur Trail which starts at timberline and proceeds along the impressive Eliot Glacier

The trail ascends – about 2,500 feet in elevation gain from the trailhead up the northeast route to the 8,500-foot level.

bo-bisa-cooper-spur-large-2

In the summer of 1990, when my oldest daughter was just seven, I wanted to expose her to the joys of backpacking.  So her Uncle Dick (a frequent hiking companion of mine) and I decided to take her on about a three-mile jaunt and camp for the night.  I had done the entire 36-mile Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood twice and thought a short section of the Trail would be perfect.

I looked in a NW backpacking book and remarkably failed to notice the elevation gain on the Cooper Spur hike.  We navigated the eleven-mile gravel road in and started the hike on a beautiful day. 

We soon rose above timberline and I realized from viewing the switchbacks ahead that it was going to be a challenge – not a level jaunt through the forest  – I would also have to carry Lisa’s backpack if she was going to make it.

But after several very strenuous hours, we reached the top of the trail as you can see from the picture of our green back-pack tent. 

20120601095619_00127A (2)

We camped right below Tie-in Rock – that’s where climbers rope up for the final ascent to the summit on this more rigorous route than the south-side – the most climbed.  The sunset was spectacular and the sunrise the next morning was glorious and capped an adventure young Lisa would never forget – nor would her dad and uncle.   

That said, when her mom asked her how she enjoyed hiking through the forest, Lisa responded, “Oh Mom, we were way above the trees almost the entire time.”  And when Janet saw the pictures, she admonished me, “If you ever take my baby on a hike like that again, &%$#!”

Lisa persevered that day in spite of her fatigue.  Today, she lives in Seattle with her husband, Jamie and two wonderful daughters.  She earned her Master’s Degree in Nursing at the University of Washington and is an oncology nurse.  And I’m thrilled that she and her family love to hike.

Beerchasing Resumes – In part!

At our stop in Hood River, while we didn’t go inside either Ferment Brewing or Pfriem Family Brewers, we had a great experience, especially at Ferment – founded in 2018.  It receives high praise in social media for its nice grounds and beautiful tasting room with large dark wooden tables on the second floor.  

Ferment Brewing Company

The expansive views of both the Columbia River and the brewery hardware on the ground floor through floor-to-ceiling windows make it an outstanding environment.  It’s a twenty-barrel craft brewery that self-distributes bottles and cans throughout NW Oregon and recently into Washington. 

We’ll look forward to taking in the tasting room when conditions are more “normal” – probably in the fall when on a brisk and windy Gorge afternoon, we can order one of their kombucha cocktails or their mint hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps topped with whipped cream.

An 8/29/2019 Oregonian article referenced plans for a “Portland public house and tasting room to open in 2019 on close-in East Burnside,” but that has not happened at this point.

It has a large deck on the second floor with plenty of large tables which enable social distancing without any problem.  The large open area with a nice lawn in back of the brewery with some picnic tables provides additional space in addition to area for dogs (and kids) to roam, play frisbee, etc.

Photo Mar 31, 1 59 26 PM

Ferment specializes in farmhouse and “traditional English style” ales.   You know you are going to get a quality beer.  The Brewery won a Bronze Medal at the 2020 Oregon Beer Awards for its Bier de Garde and more impressively, a Gold Medal at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival for their Pale Ale in the English-style category.  

The accolades for the Pale Ale continued in 2020 with a Silver Medal at the US Beer Open Championships (also one for the Pils Czech-Style Lager).  I had a Kolsch which was a very refreshing brew.   And we both had one of their cheeseburgers with fries – reasonably priced and delicious.

Dan Peterson, the head brewer who has degrees in microbiology and genetics at the University of Vermont was also head brewer at Pfriem down the street.  The owner’s interest in kombucha motivated him to explore and they offer three versions for those who prefer it to a pint of their good beer.

Pfriem Family Brewing

We visited Pfriem in 2016 and had lunch and beers on their great patio which has attractive and effective fire pits.  The views and the ambiance at Ferment are more noteworthy although Pfriem has a very nice taproom where you are surrounded by their impressive brewing equipment.

The menu at Pfriem is more expansive including roasted pork, quinoa and a couple of good salads besides the traditional pub faire avialable at Ferment.

P1030873

Pfriem in 2015

Pfriem has been making its award-winning beer since 2012 when it was created by three friends who became business partners with the motto “Proudly Crafted – Humbly Offered.”  

Their awards and featured articles are too numerous to mention from both regional and national publications (Draft Magazine, Forbes and Men’s Journal, etc.) including Brewery-of-the-Year, Best of Craft Beer and Best Brew Pub Experience.  And it’s a good place to work as evidenced by inclusion in the Portland Business Journal’s Most Admired Companies.

Both of these enterprises are sterling examples of Oregon’s independent craft breweries and make significant contributions to the region’s economy and the culture of their own community.  You can’t go wrong to take in some of Oregon’s finest scenery along with Oregon’s finest beers.

Cheers and Stay Safe!

Reflections on Western Towns and Cities – Part 1

I’ve mentioned in prior posts, our September 2019, fifteen-day 3,700-mile road trip through six western states.

And those who follow Thebeerchaser know that besides touring a number of fantastic National Parks and Monuments as well as the impressive Custer State Park, we visited wonderful bars and breweries – 29 of which I hit on my first six days (23 bars and 6 breweries).   After my first two nights in the village of Yaak, I stayed in scenic Montana cities of Kalispell, Hamilton, Anaconda and Livingston.

A field at the city limits of Hamilton

The idea for this road journey emanated from the ten-day solo road trip I took through Eastern Oregon, Idaho and Montana in 2004 during part of a law firm sabbatical.  In that 2,600-mile journey in which I carried my Trek bicycle on our Subaru Forester and essentially had no planned itinerary except to explore and discover – also to escape my Blackberry….

Oh, to be 56 again — my 2004 Road Trip

A number of those miles were on gravel Forest Service roads – including the challenging Trail Creek Road out of Ketchum, Idaho shown in the photo with the cattle I saw along the way.

After staying at Oregon’s beautiful Wallowa Lake, and lodging for two nights nights in Stanley, Idaho,I stayed in Salmon, Idaho – right on the west border of Montana – and joined  a lot of folk rocking out to a country-western group at the Lantern Bar on Saturday night.

There was no room except one seat at the bar and I started talking to a construction worker about where I should head.   He was very helpful and I asked him if I could buy him a drink.  He responded “No.  But you can dance with my girlfriend.”  (Sitting next to him.)  She then made a valiant effort to teach me how to do the Cowboy Two Step.  (I was about the only guy in the bar without cowboy boots…)

The next morning I attended church at Salmon’s United Methodist Church where I enjoyed the sermon and talking with friendly members of the congregation at the coffee-hour afterwards. 

I then headed for Butte and marveled at the Big Sky Country and camped near Wisdom before staying my last night in Missoula.

Historical sites such as the Big Hole National Battlefield and the Historic Montana State Prison and Auto Museum at Deer Lodge took an entire day to adequately appreciate.

Of course, I also hit several of the “ghost towns” – all of which were fascinating, especially Bannack, Bonanza – home of the now restored Yankee Fork Dredge and nearby Custer, which has many of the historic structures preserved – founded in 1879 by a Harvard Law School graduate who gave up his law career to become a prospector.

Looking down from Boot Hill in Bannack

The seeds of Thebeerchaser Tour of Bars and Taverns which commenced upon retirement seven years later, were sown on that 2004 trip based on my initial visit to the legendary Rod and Gun Whitewater Saloon in Stanley, Idaho and the the Dewey Bar in Wise River, Montana..

The Dewey Bar in Wise River, Montana

The narrative on those two bars can be viewed at:

https://thebeerchaser.com/2016/09/08/beerchasing-in-idaho-part-ii-stanley-and-the-sawtooths/

and

https://thebeerchaser.com/2020/08/19/pondering-during-the-pandemic-1/

Downtown Stanley

The Rod and Gun was operated from 1971 until his death in 1990, by the singer and songwriter Cassanova Jack.  It’s located just east of the corner of Ace of Diamonds and Wall Streets in Stanley.

Located in Custer County, the town has a population of a little less than 100 and winter temperatures that made it once, the coldest place in North America. It’s in the heart of the wonderous Sawtooth Mountains and the gateway to the Idaho backcountry.

I returned – this time with my wife in 2016, and Cassanova Jack’s brother and fellow musician, Jonny Ray, was an engaging host and full of stories on their days touring and captivating bar stories.

Jack’s band was named the Stardusters and Jonny Ray (who still is known as the “Singing Bartender“) subsequent band was named JR & Cheap-N-Easy

Johnny Ray at the Rod and Gun in 2016

The Dewey Bar, is really in a remote area – in Wise River, Montana, along the Big Hole River.  I camped that night in a Forest Service Campground.   I naively walked into what came close to being the first bar fight I witnessed.

Due to the mediating skill of a retired attorney from Seattle, the fracas was avoided when he admonished the two guys on the brink of fisticuffs in a commanding voice, “If you two will sit down and shut up, I’ll buy everybody in the house a drink.” 

This was followed by rousing cheers and a fairly hefty bar bill which he gladly dispatched.  I then spent the next hour sharing lawyer stories and a few drinks with this former counselor, which was the last time I’ve ever seen him. (I checked with the regulars to see if he was still around when I went back in 2019.)

Telling law firm stories in 2004

Just as in the fall 2019 trip, in my earlier road journey, besides the magnificent scenery, I was captivated by the rich history and most notably, the character and heritage of some of the smaller cities such as Stanley and Salmon, Idaho; Darby and Missoula, Montana; and Joseph and Baker Oregon. 

American Historian

This journey reaffirmed Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Thesis”:

“….the American character was decisively shaped by conditions on the frontier, in particular the abundance of free land, the settling of which engendered such traits as self-reliance, individualism, inventiveness, restless energy, mobility, materialism, and optimism.” (Britannica.com)

The Sawtooth Range from the outskirts of Stanley

On the 2019 trip, I also discovered that Turner’s premise shapes the political philosophy of Montana residents but more about that in Part II.

My trip in 2004 was ten unforgettable days of adventure and gaining an appreciation for the rustic western countryside.

Janet – “Don’t Even Think About It!”

Runkle – An invitation for a bucket list item….

When we discussed the 2019 proposed route for our trip, my wonderful spouse of 40 years, informed me in unequivocal terms that she was not going to take a several hundred mile side trip to the far NW corner of Montana so I could visit the World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak.

This storied bar had been a bucket list item since shortly after I started this blog in 2011 and had talked to the owner, John Runkle.  He  extended an invitation to visit him and stay in Yaak.  I was therefore downcast with the ultimatum….

But through the negotiating process, refined over those four decades, she then generously agreed to my spending the first six days sans companion and picking her up when she flew into Billings, Montana to complete the rest of our trek.  Now you know why I honored Janet with Thebeerchaser-of-the-Year title in 2015.

In South Dakota’s Badlands National Park

So like a little kid on Christmas Eve, I drove the 520 miles from our residence in West Linn – a burb of Portland – to Yaak where I stayed for two nights in the Wolf Room of the Yaak River Lodge – it’s also owned by John Runkle – and about a mile down the highway from his saloon.

Yaak, with a year-round population of about 250 is an unincorporated community with minimal commercial operations and on which the “Welcome To” and “Come Again” signs could theoretically be placed on the same telephone pole.  It’s thirty miles west of Route 2 in the heart of the Kootenai National Forest on the Yaak River Road.

The Yaak River

But it was a wonderful start to the trip.  John was an outstanding host and I loved the people I met those two days on which I will expand in my next blog post.

On the remaining four days before I picked up Janet, I drove our Prius (sans gun rack) while being enthralled with the sights from Flathead Lake to the 585 foot Anaconda Smelter Stack.   My companion, of sorts, was Sirius Satellite Radio and I rotated through the channels from Jazz, to classical to Big Band, while always returning to Classic Country.

A plethora of styles on Sirius

That’s because these tunes helped capture the mood while visiting bars such as the historic Montana Bar in Miles City – serving folk since 1908 – shown below.  Each watering hole was filled with friendly bartenders and regulars, wild animal trophies, spittoons (a few) and juke boxes.

And they didn’t play the new pseudo country rock tunes – but the old-time vocalists I love, most notably, George Jones, Don Williams, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and more recent crooners like Alan Jackson and Dan Seals.

Unfortunately, I never heard the tune I longed for “She Was a Bootlegger’s Daughter and I Loved Her Still.” 

(Maybe that one was a figment of my imagination and I made up the title while downing a Miller High Life at the Antlers Saloon in Wisdom.

The Champagne of Bottled Beers

Now with the pandemic and resulting lockdowns, I’ve had a lot more time to reflect – rather than visit new bars.  And what brought back the best memories were some of the towns and smaller cities which just seemed like great communities to live, work and raise a family.

I’ll talk about that in my next post, but since I mentioned Dan Seals, it’s fitting – at least in my view – to end with some of the lyrics of his song, “God Must be a Cowboy at Heart” which perfectly captures the sentiment engrained on that trip.

Sleepin’ in the moonlight
A blanket for my bed
Leaves a peaceful feelin’ in my mind…
Wakin’ up in the mornin’
With an eagle overhead
Makes me want to fly away before my time

And I think God must be a cowboy at heart
He made wide open spaces from the start…
He made grass and trees and mountains
And a horse to be a friend
And trails to lead old cowboys home a-gain…

Along Montana Highway 43 near Wisdom

A Plea for Common “Cents” …..$

A  number of recent Beerchaser posts have chronicled the challenges faced by Oregon bars and breweries over the last year because of the pandemic.  Demonstrations/riots in the City of Portland, which have made national news and wildfires which ravaged the State, exacerbated the virus-caused lockdowns – all economically adverse.

Another unfortunate victim – closed indefinitely

Then most recently, a once-in-a-lifetime ice storm caused widespread power outages and again shut down business just as many had gotten the green-light to reopen.

For example, the innovative Oregon Public House closed its doors in November and the excerpt from its website is typical:

“This choice, made by our Board of Directors, reflects the reality of where we are after many months of reduced sales and related challenges….In this moment of ‘freezing’ restaurants and other businesses, we hope that you choose to support small and local businesses in whatever way that you can, because many of them have been struggling in the same way that the pub has.”

Well, I’m amazed and appalled to report that a new – avoidable specter – now rears its ugly head.  It’s one that could throw another wrench into the efforts of the beverage and hospitality industry to survive.  This one was originated by some sorely misguided, myopic and, quite frankly, apparently mindless individuals – mindless at least given the economic context.

Just as the virus has invaded our daily existence, it seems like common sense has often concurrently evaporated.  A number of times during the pandemic, I have uttered the phrase, “What were they thinking?” – the most recent involving a Cancun getaway, but there have been many others and not just those which make us laugh when we read the annual Darwin Awards.

Even those with a net worth of $87 billion sometimes make crazy financial decisions….

Like Philadelphia Eagles Coach Doug Pederson’s decision to give a third-string quarterback playing time in a game with playoff implications for other teams.  Then there was Vice President, Mike Pence visiting the Mayo Clinic without a mask in May 2020 and Mayo Clinic officials not challenging this action.

A leading stock market newsletter even questioned the legendary investment guru recently with an article entitled, “Berkshire Hathaway: Respectfully, Mr. Warren Buffett, What Were You Thinking? “(BRK.A) | Seeking Alpha

This time – and in one of the most egregious – it’s several Oregon Legislators (Rep. Tawna Sanchez (D-Portland) and Rep. Rachel Prusak ( D-West Linn) and an Oregon non-profit – Oregon Recovers – led by its Executive Director, Mike Marshall – who are proposing an extreme increase in alcohol taxes.

“Marshall said businesses could pass the increase in cost to consumers, arguing that the tax hike is the only way to curb harmful consumption and binge drinking.”  (emphasis added)  (KOIN.com 3/2/21)

As reported in this Fortune.com article article excerpt, they are proposing to raise $293 million over the next two years by this tax increase.

“Oregon brewers and vintners could see a dramatic rise in the cost of doing business if a new bill making its way through the state legislature passes. Oregon House Bill 3296 seeks to increase the state’s beer tax by 2,800% and wine tax by 1,700%.

Officials in Oregon’s wine industry say the bill would result in a $2 or more price increase on every bottle of wine sold in the state. Beer and cider could see even bigger jumps.”

Beer tax – from $2.60 per barrel to $72.60 in one fell swoop

Currently the Oregon tax on each barrel of beer is $2.60.  House Bill 3296 would increase that tax by $70 to an astounding $72.60 a barrel.  For beer, this would amount to about thirty-one cents per pint.

Michaeal LaLonde, the President and CEO of Bend’s Deschutes Brewery, stated;

“Unfortunately, a recent economic report from the Beer Institute and Brewers Association estimates 25% of those Oregon beer jobs will be lost by the end of 2020 because of the COVID-19 recession.” 

His 10/12/20 guest editorial in the Bend Bulletin responding to the proposal also asserted:

“Oregon is proposing to kick you when you’re down. COVID-19 has hit the restaurant, food, and beverage industry hard. In order to shore up state coffers, the Oregon Health Authority has released a proposal to raise $293 million by increasing the tax on beer, wine, and cider by 800%.  Not staggered, not stepped, but an instant 800% increase. The consequences would be simply devastating.” *

* Evidently the original Oregon Health Authority proposal in Gov. Kate Brown’s budget last October was for the 800% proposal and the more draconian increase followed in February by the Legislators in HB 3296.

Portland’s renowned Oregon Brewers’ Festival

As an example of the hardships, it was announced just this week that for the second year in a row, the Oregon Brewers’ Festival – Oregon’s largest and one of the longest-running in the nation – according to Willamette Week  is canceled this summer – again!

“Recovers” is a relative term…..

It is ironic when small business owners are wondering if they will survive and how they are going to recover after what they’ve faced in last year, that the Co-chair of Oregon Recovers stated:

“As we recover from the pandemic, it’s critical that we adopt strategies to protect our families and increase prosperity.” (emphasis added)

To ensure that those promoting the idea get the point, one more recent statistic – this one from Guy Tauer, an economist in the Oregon State Employment Division:

“Leisure and hospitality had 211,000 jobs in December of 2019 and by December 2020 employment fell to 129,400, essentially erasing the industry’s previous 25 years of job gains,” Tauer writes. “Of the 178,200 payroll jobs Oregon lost during that time, 81,600 of those, or 46.9%, were in the leisure and hospitality sector.”

There have been debates over the years about sin taxes – on alcohol, tobacco, gambling and more recently, sugary drinks, and there are pros and cons. There’s essentially a consensus, however, that sin taxes are regressive and the heaviest burden is on lower income individuals.

Will it accomplish its purpose in reducing addiction and underage drinking or just reduce consumption generally and hurt small businesses?  And how effective have Oregon’s addiction and recovery programs been to this point without adding substantial millions – especially since there is no infrastructure to handle the increased funding.

From the Oregon Recovers web page:

“Build A New System of Intervention:  ACRA will shift the burden of engagement and/or intervention in an individual’s substance use from the criminal justice system to the healthcare system by providing healthcare, social service, education and criminal justice professionals with the education and tools needed to engage patients earlier in their addiction.” (emphasis added)

It’s true that Oregon businesses have a stake in reducing alcohol addiction which is a drain on productivity and increases the cost of operations. I notice, however, that with one exception (Andrew Rowe) no one on the Oregon Recovers Steering Committee (Board) indicates having worked in the private sector or having a business background – nor does its Executive Director.

And the people of Oregon have been very generous in approving taxes for social causes – most notably in Portland where in May – during the height of the pandemic – a nationally innovative homeless service tax measure was approved.

It will raise $250 million annually for ten years towards funding behavioral health services, job training and other services for homeless people.

While it is true that the current tax on beer in Oregon is one of the lowest in the country and has not been raised since 1977, the approach in this legislation (HB 3296) is clearly not the way to accomplish it.  Oregonians are empathetic and will endorse reasonable ideas to address alcohol addiction and underage drinking.

The Oregon Beverage Alliance has started a petition drive entitled “Don’t Tax My Drink” to ask local Oregon lawmakers to oppose tax increases on Oregon breweries, wineries, cideries, distilleries, restaurants, bars and their customers.

To this observer, the tax proposal is brazen and arrogant.  Remember the pandemic slogan, “We’re all in this together?”  So I hope people will write to Mike Marshall and Reps Sanchez and Prusak.   You might start your communication by asking, “What were you thinking?”  And let’s hope that at least a modicum of common “cents” will prevail.

And Cheers to the Oregon Brewers’ Guild!

Destiny of the Dives!

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My beloved City is a MESS!

Portland, Oregon – the Rose City – again made national news last week because of continuing riots.   The city has served as an unfortunate national example of the most contentious and continuous riots/demonstrations since March.

A riot in August and still going on….

Many of those participating are exercising their First Amendment rights and feel strongly about the causes eliciting their participation.

That said, many just revel in  looting, indiscriminate violence and attacking law enforcement officers and demonstrators opposed to their views – if they even have them.

The question is how long does this continue especially given the impact on downtown businesses, many of which are small family-owned enterprises.   A 1/24 headline in  Oregonian entitled, “Pedestrians Vanish from Downtown” stated that foot traffic is down 80% from 2019.

Economist, Bill Conerly

Well known Oregon economist, Bill Conerly, describes the current situation and the implications in an excellent article in Forbes Magazine entitled “Death Of A City – The Portland Story.”

The impressive high-rise building in which I worked for twenty five years now has a fence around it to prevent vandalism and Starbucks and other vendors have disappeared from its lobby. (They were possibly going to remove it after the Inauguration.)

PacWest Center –Now fenced off and mostly vacant lobby.

This led the Oregonian in a January 22, story to ask, “What are we Marching for?  On inauguration days in Portland, protestors and observers wonder alike.”

“An on-the-ground view of Wednesday’s protest shows the lack of cohesion, the divergent ideas of what constitutes free speech in Portland and the turbulence of the crowd…..’I don’t know where the %*#% I’m going, but I don’t give a *&^%,’ yelled Princess Warner (20)……’This is the worst *&^% march I’ve ever attended,’ another one yelled.”

Other than hoping that someone shows Princess the *&^%$ way to Disneyland, I won’t make any other comments except to say, the riots are a primary factor contributing to the demise of my beloved dive bars (and other businesses.)

A grunge bar with character…

Just a few blocks away from where this unlawful assembly occurred and my former office, is the diminutive Yamhill Pub – not a dive, but a noted grunge bar that I featured in 2015 – home of $1.50 PBR Happy Hours.

In my last post I wrote about the GoFundMe campaign to save the Yamhill – struggling to survive based on pandemic considerations and restrictions.  Although the pub had a Facebook post on January 5th, nobody answered the phone tonight (Friday) – not a good sign.

https://thebeerchaser.com/2021/01/07/leaving-2020-in-good-taste/

The grunge bar interior at the Yamhill

The Concern….

I have written about dive bars before in Thebeerchaser – first trying to define them in 2011 – “Analyzing Dive Bars Head First” but also periodically citing the concern about their continuing existence.  A Portland Mercury article in 2016 featuring the Portland Dive Bar Preservation Society stated:

“Portland’s lost a bunch of dive bars recently. A few were absolute shitholes that deserved to disappear, but most were victims of circumstance and change. A number of other bars have changed ownership and been fancied up to suit the modern market. Dive bars, if not endangered, are at the very least under threat.”

This 2016 piece listed twelve classic Portland dives that might be endangered:

Reel’ M Inn, Billy Rays, Kenton Social Club, Georges, the Trap, Ship Ahoy, Blue Diamond, Tavern on Denver, Checkered Flag, My Father’s Place, Slims, Water Trough Saloon and the Lariat Lounge

Billy Ray’s – Still a Neighborhood Institution

The good news is that of these, only two have closed permanently – Tavern on Denver and the Water Trough Saloon although the legendary Reel ‘M Inn – known for its fried chicken and jojos since 1994 – is closed indefinitely.  Fortunately, the others are still pouring cheap Budweiser to regulars.

West Coast Dave Hicks at the Reel M Inn

That said, every week one can read about other bars or breweries that have not weathered the pandemic lockdowns or the depressed economy.  The following January article from Portland Eater gives a fairly extensive list of the bars and eateries (about eighty) that have closed since the Pandemic.

I would add to that list the following three bars:  the Old Gold, Paydirt and the Oregon Public House (closed indefinitely.)

Since the Oregon Public House was an innovative community experiment, we hope that later this year they will reopen and not only serve good beer, but also continue their support of deserving non-profit organizations in accordance with their motto – “Have a Pint – Change the World.”

“Have a Pint – Change the World!”

For memories sake, I will just mention a few closures of the almost 400 bars and breweries visited and reviewed by Thebeerchaser since 2011 and the links will take you to the reviews if your are interested. There are two on the list of closures that I will highlight, because they break my heart and if you read the reviews I wrote, you will understand why (Links over the name)

Crackerjacks Pubthis wonderful pub – “a beloved dive bar and pizzeria for more than 30 years” – I visited twice in 2014 and was the closest to a Cheers ambiance of any in the ten years I’ve been on this exploration of watering holes.   

Thebeerchaser outside one of his favorite stops on the Tour

Sam and Jimmy – two gems met on Thebeerchaser’s Tour

The first visit was with my good friend, “West Coast Dave Hicks” and not only was the food great – as it was on the second visit – but the Manager – Sam and the cook, Jimmy were wonderful and friendly people.

The Tanker Bar – this beloved dive bar at the east end of Portland’s Barmuda Triangle “spent the last decade serving cheap well drinks and airing Blazer games.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my most frequent Beerchasing companions – Portland lawyer, Jim Westwood and former Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter – whose mom was my high school Latin teacher for two years, accompanied me in 2013 and also translated the motto – in Latin on the bar’s logo – for me “In heaven there is no beer, so that’s why we drink it here.”

The regulars will miss the Naughty Bingo Nights each Tuesday which had a signature cocktail list featuring The Naughty Bingo Martini.  Jesse, the bartender, was a class act and helped make this early stop on my tour of bars a memorable one.

Jesse and Jim Westwood share stories at the corner of the bar

Sidecar 11 – this upscale “hole in the wall” bar visited in 2013, was not one of the most memorable, but distinguished itself with signature cocktails and an  impressive wine list.  The bar also featured great art by local artists.

One of the many good bars on Portland’s Mississippi Ave, Sidecar 11 closed “after years selling barrel-aged cocktails and whiskey flights.”  It also had a beautiful backbar displaying an incredible array of whiskeys.

The General and Aaron

As usual, the bartender, Aaron, was friendly and I also enjoyed my companion, retired lawyer and Air Force National Guard General, Larry Paulson, who after he left our law firm became the Executive Director of the Port of Vancouver until his retirement.

Portland Brewing – This one is also based on sentiment because my former law firm (Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt) represented them for many years.  Our partner, John Guinasso, who provided excellent legal counsel to the Brewery for many years, would periodically bring a case of their flagship beer – MacTarnahan’s Amber Ale – to the office on Friday afternoons and we would toast the end of the week.

The brewery was founded in 1986 and has flourished with a great taproom and restaurant:

“(In 2008,) it was sold to Vermont’s Magic Hat Brewing and then this entity was acquired by North American Breweries in 2010 and based in Rochester, New York. Two years later in 2012 this conglomerate of breweries was purchased by Florida Ice & Farm Co., based in Costa Rica.”) 

And that, my Beerchaser friends, illustrates why we should be concerned with the future of independent breweries as well as the neighborhood dive bar.

A Hint of Optimism

I’ll close with at least some good news.  A number of existing bars and breweries – those with a combination of sufficient space, adequate capital and management creativity and just plain grit – have either expanded or innovated to stay open and in some cases, grow and prosper.  Below are some captions for the stories on these enterprises:

Buoy Tap Room – Expansion Planned

Astoria’s Buoy Beer and Pilot House Distilling Are Preparing for Growth Along the Columbia River – Willamette Week (wweek.com)

http://Migration Brewing Is Opening Its Fourth Location in the Former Hopworks Space on North Williams Avenue – Willamette Week (wweek.com)

Produce Row Cafe Has Reopened Its Patio for Service After a Two-Month Closure – Willamette Week (wweek.com)

The great patio at the reopened Produce Row

The Owners of Roscoe’s Have Turned an Old-School Chinese Restaurant Into the Craft Cocktail Bar North Portland Has Long Needed – Willamette Week (wweek.com)

Beerchaser Regular Westwood at pre-pandemic Beerchase at Mad Hanna

https://www.wweek.com/bars/2020/12/16/one-northeast-portland-dive-bars-plan-for-surviving-the-pandemic-transitioning-into-a-general-store/

The owners of Mad Hanna have come up with one of the most innovative ideas by integrating a new General Store adjacent to the bar and I would bet that it will continue to thrive after the pandemic is over.

If you have not checked out this wonderful neighborhood-dive bar, you should definitely put it on your list and try their $4.50 Happy Hour peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I am grateful to my friend Hillary Barbour, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Burgerville. who introduced it to me and I returned with Beerchaser regular, Jim Westwood. (And Northwesterners, if you have not tried Burgerville take-out during the pandemic, you are missing out.)

And you can see others examples.  For instance, last weekend Church Bar – whose motto is “Eat Drink and Repent” – did a live, virtual concert entitled, “Save Church Bar.”

Mansfield toasting 95 patents at Church

I certainly hope this innovative bar with great ambiance survives so my former Schwabe colleague, Intellectual Property attorney, Jon Mansfield, can again post his 95 Patents in commemoration of Martin Luther’s 1517 masterpiece “Ninety-five Theses” on the entrance.

16th Century Theologian Martin Luther

As you can see by the example from the photo above while Jon was drinking a cocktail at the bar, he and the great theologian have a striking resemblance!

Onward and Upward

But all of us – whether in Portland, Boston or Amsterdam – can help these establishments to survive until they reopen and normal Beerchasing can occur.

Get a gift card, or order takeout – food and/or a growler (tip well!)  (The Oregon Legislature passed a bill this month in Special Session in which bars can now sell cocktails-to-go provided some food is purchased with the highball.)  Or just call the owner or manager, offer encouragement and tell them you will return when you can.

Because the alternative, if many of these independent entrepreneurs go out of business, is their locations to be absorbed by Applebee’s or a bar such as the Yard House – a sterile chain of bars owned by the same corporate entity as the Olive Garden and in my 2016 review I concluded that it did not “measure up.”  (Are you prepared for unlimited garlic bread with your pint of beer?)

Portland’s Yard House – Is this the kind of entrance you want to see on your neighborhood bar?

Wear Your Mask, Stay Safe and Blessings in the New Year.

Leaving 2020 in “Good Taste”?

Image courtesy of Pam Williams

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The Taste of Beer – Follow-up

In my last post, I did a rant, of sorts, about beer reviews – where some of the descriptions of my favorite beverage, in the reviewers’ attempt to be creative, are ridiculous.   I had saved examples clear back to 2014 to illustrate my point.  https://thebeerchaser.com/2020/12/23/holiday-cheer-and-the-taste-of-beer/

The Von Ebert Boarmobile

The reaction was positive and I wanted to follow with one more current example – from Willamette Week’s 2019 Beer Guide.

It’s an excerpt from the eighth-ranking in their Beers-of-the-Year the Pilsner (4%) from Von Ebert Brewing – a small and good brewer right in Portland’s Pearl District

 I’ll follow with what I regard as some common sense advice on tasting beer from two experts.  I might add, that of all of them, this description was one of the most ludicrous although the brewery’s Pils is a great beer:

“When the first sip of Von Ebert’s Pilsner crosses your lips, it tastes as if you were reading a 19th-century love letter painstakingly translated from German.

Three different Pilsner malts, each with its own crackery nuance, join like the tiny gears inside an imported continental timepiece, ticking beneath a flowery blend of Perle, Saphir and Tettnanger hops lifted into your nose by spritzy natural carbonation. And after weeks of cold-temp lagering, you can actually read a letter through it.”

“Crackery nuance?”

Wie hat Ihnen diese Beschreibung gefallen?

Oh sorry, I meant “How did you like that description?”  I got so carried away with German that I forgot some of you may not be enlightened enough to know the nuances of German to English translation (much less the “crackery nuance” he mentions). The reviewer’s tirade of wacky similes made me laugh.

For some more practical advice, and because he is a smart and gifted entrepreneur with common sense and a great knowledge of beer, I asked Adam Milne, the owner of Old Town Brewing for his take. (His brewery also produces one of my five favorite beers – Shanghai’d English Style IPA – a 2018 Gold Medalist at the World Beer Cup.)  His e-mail stated:

“I always like one of two approaches. One is to use common terms that are known to beer drinkers, so the readers have a universal understanding. This can be words like bitter, hoppy, fruity, malty, IBU’s and many others. 

The second approach is to go outside the beer world for terms that apply to food and drinks that everyone is familiar with. This can be describing sodas, cakes, fruits or vegetables. Basically compare to any ingredient in a grocery store or made in a restaurant. This allows for people who are not as familiar with beer to easily relate.”

Goethe – did not mix German beer and love letters

Notice Adam did not use Shakespearean metaphors or an example from Wolfgang Von Goethe although the WW reviewer might have taken the advice from this 18th century German poet, playwright, novelist and scientist who opined:  “A person ‘hears’ only what they understand.” 

I thought another good source might be an article in Draft Magazine entitled “What a psycholinguist can tell us about how we describe beer flavors,” but unfortunately, Draft Magazine was discontinued in 2017 and the pieces is no longer available.

There was, however, a practical article entitled “How to Describe Beer Like a Pro,” that seems reasonable.  https://www.finedininglovers.com/article/how-describe-beer-pro

Finally, before I leave the subject, I have to give Parker Hall, the reviewer from Willamette Week at least some credit.  Although I think his beer reviews are pretentious, I respect his education and background.  He is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music – a very respected institution, where he studied jazz percussion on a scholarship.

Oberlin – respected educational institution

“He remains a professional musician in his hometown of Portland, Oregon, and is an award-winning homebrewer besides being a contributor to Portland’s alt-weekly Willamette Week.”

And While I’m Ranting About Reviews…

I guess before I depart from the subject of reviews, I’ll also talk a bit about book reviews.  Obviously, my exploits to new bars was stymied this year by the virus, so I read a lot more – mainly fiction, but also some good non-fiction works as well.

2020 warranted escapism so a much of my literary menu was thrillers by popular authors such as Lee Child, David Baldacci, Harlen Coban, etc.  But I found that relying on well known authors to rate their contemporaries is not very helpful in selecting a good read.  Usually, they are one or two sentence comments on the front or back covers and thrillers typically have phrases such as “fast-paced, a real page turner, superb plotting, absorbing nail-biter, an all-night read, etc.”

James Patterson writes of Lee Child, “I’m a fan.”   Best selling author, Lisa Gardiner writes of David Baldacci, “…one of the all-time best thriller authors,” and New York Times best-selling author Lisa Scottoline states, “Baldacci delivers, every time!”   One has to ask, with their writing demands and appearances, how thoroughly are these best-selling authors going to read and digest another writer’s book?

Perhaps others have arrived at the same conclusion as stated in a 2012 Los Angeles Times article,Why is Amazon deleting writers’ reviews of other authors’ books?”   The author quotes Amazon in a response to a reviewer inquiry:

Amazon Book Store

“We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product. As a result, we’ve removed your reviews for this title.”  (emphasis supplied)

And, of course, this raises all kinds of questions such as, “How does one define ‘directly competing?'”  The article quoted one writer opining “….author-on-author reviews comprise so little of Amazon’s overall site content as to be nothing more than a “sparrow’s fart.”  Evidently, Amazon amended its position because the policy now allows authors to submit reviews of others’ books:

“….unless the author has a personal relationship with the author of the book being reviewed, or was involved in the book’s creation process.”

A Solution?

Now since in the last blog post and this one, I railed against the over-the-top creative license by beer reviewers and now I’m slamming book reviews for being boring gibberish, one might ask, “Okay Don, what’s your solution?”

My answer – after giving it about the same amount of contemplation that Lisa Gardiner demonstrated in her review of David Baldacci’s book above – is in two parts:

First, since one of the purposes of book reviews and comments is to help readers avoid wasting their time on bad books and other literary works, reviews should be limited to those of lousy writers, poets and other artists.  To illustrate, I will use the example of English poet William Topaz McGonagal (1825-1902).

I became aware of him from a calendar of events in the Oregonian which noted the date of the death of the man “who is affectionately considered Britain’s worst ever poet.”  Upon researching, I learned that others “celebrate” him in more exalted terms – “The world’s worst poet.”

An excellent 2011 article in the British newspaper The Independent entitled, “The Story of William McGonagal” stated:

“In his lifetime, he was a music hall joke….He was paid five shillings for a public recital so that his mostly working-class audiences could jeer at his bad poetry or pelt him with rotten vegetables…..

….Yesterday, the writer and comedian Barry Cryer went on the Today programme to pay tribute to the Dundee bard, and recite the only poem McGonagall was ever paid to write, which was an advertisement for Sunlight soap:

Requires minimal elbow grease….

‘You can use it with great pleasure and ease — without wasting any elbow grease.'”

In concluding this section and without trying to overdo the topic –  albeit extremely fascinating –  I leave you with a poem he wrote after visiting New York City.  It gives credence to the Wikipedia summary:

“He won notoriety as an extremely bad poet who exhibited no recognition of, or concern for, his peers’ opinions of his work….. His only apparent understanding of poetry was his belief that it needed to rhyme.

McGonagall’s fame stems from the humorous effects these shortcomings are considered to generate in his work. Scholars argue that his inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his work amongst the most unintentionally amusing dramatic poetry in the English language.”

Empire State Building – Tall,  but more than thirteen “storeys”

“Jottings of New York” by William Topaz McGonagal

Oh mighty City of New York!  you are wonderful to behold,
Your buildings are magnificent, the truth be it told,
They were the only things that seemed to arrest my eye,
Because many of them are thirteen storeys high.

McCongagal died in Edinburgh in 1902 in poverty and was buried in a pauper’s grave  leaving behind a vast quantity of work and a reputation that endures more than a century after his death.

To reinforce my point – reviews of bad literary work are much easier to write, there is more consensus on the degree of unworthiness, it helps readers avoid wasting their time and it may actually help the author’s awareness.  (I just need to be hopeful that reviews of this blog and the manner in which I play the oboe since retirement will be only mildly disparaging when included under this standard.)

“Bard” Reviews

Furthering my argument to essentially limit critiques to lousy literature or maybe even substandard beer, I would submit that the model in the following article could be used to promote creativity and more inventive descriptions.    Book Bub published a captivating piece, “Twelve of the Funniest Shakespearean Insults” – replete with affronts which would be fit for describing either a shoddy literary work or hideous malted beverage.

For example, let’s assume you’re about 120 pages into a novel that is boring, puts you to sleep and has no redeeming literary value.  You could aptly describe it as, A fusty nut with no kernel,” (from Troilus and Cressida Act 2, Scene 1).

Now since my nickname is “Dirt” as you will see from the blog header above, I might take issue with the following.  It could describe an author who should be pursuing a career using his or her hands to produce a product other than the written word – O Gull! O Dolt! As ignorant as dirt!” (Othello Act 5, Scene 2)

Or let’s suppose you hit a new brewery and after sampling their flagship beer, you have to force yourself to swallow the loathsome malted concoction.  It would lead you to describe the brewer as, “Thou cream-faced loon,” (Macbeth Act 5, Scene 3) while describing his brew as “(A) mouthful of foul deformity.”  (Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2).

This scheme could be expanded to other classical philosophers such as Machiavelli who might have been describing a writer when he wrote  – “……fickle, hypocritical, and greedy of gain.”

Socrates (left) with buddy, Aristotle

Or perhaps, Aristotle, advising a scribe to pursue another occupation – “To avoid criticism – say nothing, do nothing, be nothing!”

Upon reflection, it’s unfortunate that some of these utterances were not employed during the election cycle this last year.   So ends my rant and I guess, if reading annoying and trite reviews is my biggest annoyance, I’m pretty fortunate.

So Happy New Year from Thebeerchaser.  We are thrilled and encouraged that our two nurse daughters both recently received their COVID vaccinations and let us hope that the vaccines end up in arms around the world in a rapid, safe and responsible manner.

That said, since I’m a healthy, retired guy under 75, my older daughter when I asked her when she thought I would get my shot, responded with the following photo and said, “Drink up, Dad!”

So, until then, I will be a faithful mask wearer as I hope you will be.