by Michael Rasmussen
There I was at Higgins, spending my paycheck from the Celebrator Beer News. Again. Warren Steenson, aka Higgins' beer sommelier extraordinaire, came by the bar to pick up a drink order for a table. I asked him for a suggestion on my next beer. He surveyed my food and verified that the pint before me was a Vinter Varmer from Laurelwood, one of a half-dozen craft-beer taps at Higgins. In short order he returned with a bottle of Trappist beer from a previously unheard of monastery.
[an error occurred while processing this directive]"We just got this in. Tell me what you think," he said before returning to waiting tables. Later on we discussed the beer, under consideration to be included with the scores of other bottled offerings on the restaurant's beer menu. Warren was disappointed by the beer's lack of strong, unique character -- the kind of character you find in Chimay and Orval beers. I was happy with the very good, straight-ahead saison in the bottle.
Wait a minute. Beer sommelier? Scores of bottled offerings on a beer menu? A restaurant with a half-dozen craft beers on tap? A waiter who can knowledgeably discuss the differences in character among Belgian ales? A beer newspaper? Someone getting paid to write about beer? What is this world coming to?
Thankfully, the beer landscape has enjoyed many changes for the better in the 15 years that the Celebrator Beer News has been on the scene. You'll enjoy reminiscing as you read this issue cover to cover. Before you read more of this article, take a moment to reflect on the bounty you find on a beer hunt. Think about the almost overwhelming number of choices you have, from the full aisle of craft beers in the grocery store to the presence of at least a couple of craft beers available at any restaurant that serves beer. Think about how you can look forward to a cooler full of new tastes every quarter as breweries release their seasonal brews. Get good and comfortable in these thoughts, because you're about to be reminded of what it was like 15 years ago.
A beer newspaper? Ha! Fred Eckhardt was struggling to find enough good beer to describe in his regular column in The Oregonian, Portland's daily newspaper. Fortunately, he could talk about a pair of brothers, the Widmer boys. They were driving around in a 1970 Datsun pickup delivering their beer (or bier!) to the few places open-minded enough to take it. Fortunately, pub pioneer Carl Simpson was serving up hefeweizen in special glasses in his Dublin Pub on Belmont Street. The mighty McMenamins' empire was still a handful of little pubs. One of them had a brewer named John Harris, who was culturing yeasts up out of bottles and inventing beers like Hammerhead. Up the Columbia River in Hood River, funds from the Oregon lottery were betting that Full Sail would succeed and bring employment to the little town.
Microbreweries, as we called them then, were getting respectable enough that the Audubon Society turned to one for a fund-raiser. BridgePort, funded by the Ponzi family's wine business, decided to create a special beer for the event: Blue Heron Ale was born. The Horse Brass Pub and McCormick & Schmick's restaurants were demonstrating the benefits of multi-tap establishments. Back in 1987, that was about it for the beer world we know.
"Wait a minute!" you cry, "What about Deschutes? What about Rogue?" They were still gleams in their founders' eyes. Both opened in 1988. John Maier, fresh out of the Siebel Institute, was in Juneau at Alaskan Brewing. Many of our brewers of today were still in high school. Christian Ettinger was still a long way from graduation. Van Havig, who cooked up a killer Merry Prankster for Rock Bottom last year, was a high school senior. Alan Sprints, with no idea of being a brewer, owning a brewery or enjoying cult status for Hair of the Dog, worked in surplus management for Hughes Aircraft and dreamed of attending chef's school. Mount Hood Brewing was not quite five years from being founded. Eugene wouldn't be graced with the likes of Steelhead until 1991.
Apart from the breweries there was this strange little event, the Oregon Brewers Festival. It had returned for a second year and was surprised a second time by the number of people who showed up. The Oregon Brewers Guild? The brewers would not found that organization until 1992. Current director and lifelong beer evangelist Jim Parker was a staff writer for the Contra Costa Times. He wasn't dreaming of the pub he would own or the beers he would brew.
What about you? Were you, like this author, boiling extract in a spaghetti pot on the kitchen stove? Were you reassuring your mom, "No, the bottles won't blow up like they did for Dad. No, Mom, it's not possible for it to spoil and poison me"? Were you eagerly going to specialty stores to see if there was a new beer you hadn't tried? Were you even old enough to drink? The last 15 years have greatly enriched our world of beer. Take some extra satisfaction in that next pint and raise a toast to the community of good beer people who made it possible.
Michael Rasmussen is an award-winning homebrewer and beer enthusiast living in Portland, Ore.
Copyright 2003, Celebrator No material herein may be reprinted without permission of the Celebrator Distributed On the W3 For personal, non-commercial enjoyment and use only. Cheers!
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