Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Interview Series : Meet the Geek : @CaptainNeon

I'm proud to announce I recently had an opportunity to chat with the voice of McMenamin's @CaptainNeon on theTwitters. After much coercing I was finally able to get the official Twitter feed of The Kingdom to step up and do our "Meet the Geeks" series. @CaptainNeon has become one of my favorite Twitter personas to follow based on the high level of interactivity and willingness to go above and beyond to answer questions/demands, and assist with locating limited run beer releases. (As mentioned below) 

Beer Atoms Troy Dockins designed for the Lighthouse Brew Festival
Name: Twitter's @CaptainNeon (online Twitter stream of McMenamins Breweries)

Hometown: Portland, Oregon (63.8 Nautical Miles from the Pacific Ocean.)

Favorite Beer: Black Widow poured via nitro-tap is a current favorite. Love that beer. The Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin is beautiful piece of work. For personal reasons involving a lost companion Black Lab Stout will always have a certain hold on my heart. The Cavatica coming out of Fort George is really solid - every time I drink it it really rocks my boat. But there you start to sense the problem of focus: Currently it's only on the porters and stouts, any number of favorites of which I realize have been omitted just one sentence removed. In a few fortnights winds will shift warmer. It will be like 90 degrees out and the flaws in my beer listing logic will become apparent when I'd gladly trade my treasured black gold for a holds worth of Vienna-style lagers, regionally produced bitters and smooth pales complimented with a plethora of pilsners. So much compass tuning is needed when addressing the old "one beer to rule them all" question it often appears an exercise in futility.

Favorite Beer Haunt: C'mon, need there be only one answer to these? There are so many fantastic places to hang out in for beers now, it really just depends on what kind of vibe you are going after. Any establishment of higher drinking with outdoor seating in close proximity to a river or ocean is always gonna grab my eye. I get itchy if I can't sense a body of moving water nearby. Seagulls and/or fishermen cussing are a huge plus. Sipping a rum barrel-aged porter next to a fire pit under the stars on a cold, clear night sounds sublime. I love open rooftop bars at sunset but they blow bad if caught in a squall. Maybe you'd know, does anyone serve ale conditioned in actual toasted coconuts yet? That would be cool, especially if they were poured fresh out of the shell from the bartop. I'll have to look into that...

What was the first craft brew you ever tried? What did you think? Wow. Well admittedly that was a really long time ago. Cartwright wasn't on my radar then and strangely enough I thought first of Smith & Reilly, but I don't think that would count as a "craft beer" per se. Can't recall much about them but S&R was one of the first examples I encountered of a regionally produced beer that seemed to try to do something a little different. Like a lot of folks in these parts the real answer to this question probably lies with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or straight up Anchor Steam. Both inspirational, floral, exciting, innovative beers. They didn't seem as revelatory or earth shattering as one might think looking back in time. It was more like a 'this is awesome in every way, and an example of the type of beer we should be making around here' kind of reaction.

But here's the thing, that's not the whole story. I grew up within a bowshot of the old Burlingame Market which had probably the best selection of imported beers in Portland at the time. These days we are all pretty spoiled and take the huge variety presented at the local grocery stores or the fine-tuned curation of places like Beer Mongers or Belmont Station as our given right. Shelf space wasn't always this way. Anyway, before the joint burned down Burlingame Market had this cavernous Adult Beverage Grotto that took up much of the back of the store. The heart of this grotto was walls and coolers brimming with exotic beer. The original Stingo, Optimator, Leopard, Ur-Bock Hell, Bass Ale, Watneys Red Barrel, Aass Bock, Oranjeboom, Cooper Lager, Tooth's Sheaf Stout, a bunch of unaffordable Belgian bottles that had caged champagne corks poked in them. Every visit was like an Easter egg hunt except with beer. Any imaginable brand you could think of. An eye-popping education for the budding beer enthusiast in the late 70's, early 80's freshly weaned off Powers Park keggers and cans of red or blue up on Council Crest. A real paradigm shift. There were so many great examples of beers across such a wide variety of styles. That early fascination with the imports nurtured by places like Burlingame Market put into motion the the deep-water detonation that was in store a few years later when the 'craft beer' revolution really blew up out here. The possibilities were understood because the examples were out there if you took the time and put in the effort to find and research them. 'Research' of course meaning drinking fathoms of new and exotic beers, the questions of reverse engineering their respective forms coming later. It wasn't a tough sell in retrospect.

So when I did taste Sierra Nevada the first time it was like 'well, it's about freaking time….' The beer had that same mystery and intrigue of the import, but just seemed so much more fresh, vibrant and alive.

Do you homebrew? If yes, favorite homebrew to date: Well I was working for Mike and Brian McMenamin, slinging across the bar-top early versions of local micros like Hammerhead, Widmer Alt and Spring Draught from Bridgeport. Those three were all real game changers for me early on. This led to an increasing curiosity about the beer making process and led to Charlie's book and then a more detailed book by Greg Noonan. The books got me fired-up to start homebrewing with some friends, probably just like many who've found their way into the craft beer business. I made the pilgrimage to the original FH Steinbarts. The seas parted and a ton of my tip money disappeared for homebrew supplies. We made among other things extract beer, all-grain beer even a hard cider using this old wooden hand press to crush apples that looked and operated more like some medieval device designed for the enforcement of excruciating torture. I don't homebrew anymore, but it was definitely a primary catalyst for the career path I ended up following.

How’d you hear about the pdxbeergeeks? It was the strangest damn thing, there was a fellow who followed us on Twitter whose Avatar wore these lime-green Bootsy Collins shades. He would immediately surface and demand very specific information any time I posted something relating to barrel-aged ales or the gigantic fruit beers produced at one of our locations on the @CaptainNeon feed. After a few friendly exchanges he keelhauled me for not 'following' him back -- an unintentional slight based on my deck-hand level understanding of that particular nuance of social media. Over time I found it curious that his tweets started including the hashtag #pdxbeergeeks. So I figured might as well sign up for that feed as well. Well come to find out, there was a direct connection between the Avatar with the green Bootsy Collins glasses and one of the founders of #pdxbeergeeks. It was a good discovery, because their mission is worthy.

What does being a beer geek mean to you? The more salient point than what being a 'beer geek' means to me is what being a beer geek means to all of us. Us beer geeks have shaped the current state of craft-beer culture as much as the craft beer culture has shaped us. It's a reciprocal relationship. There's no doubt that beer geeks will continue to put their stamp on the conversation as it moves forward. Which is all good. (Also, for the record, the last two answers reflect the most times I've ever used the word 'geek' or any derivative thereof in in a five minute span in my entire life).

If you could change one thing about beer culture in the US, what would it be? After all these years you'd think I'd get over it but I'm still chafed by the lowbrow, buffonish image of the 'beer drinker' so often perpetuated by the largest commercial brewing brands via their various advertising strategies. No doubt it must work or they wouldn't do it. Lowest common denominator, I get it. But I don't have to like it.

What do you love about Portland’s Craft Beer scene? You have to love a town where people of all ilk care enough to create a 'craft-beer scene' with this kind of vitality to begin with. You have to love that so many people make beer, think about beer, write about beer, argue about beer, and, most of all, drink beer more often as philosophers and less often as Philistines. You have to love that beer is part of the civic dialogue and is very truly respected here. I mean you could go a lot of different directions answering this question. But when you boil it right down to this basic essence what's not to love?

Where can we find you on the web:
Twitter: @CaptainNeon
McMenamins Online