I'm not sure how to handle this in light of the news I just received. "What's On Tap?" columnist and the Bay Area's preeminent beer scribe Bill Brand is in a coma after being hit on the tracks by the N-Judah at 9:10 last night. Adding to this tragedy for me is that I was having the best time with him at 9 p.m.
Briefly, I started day 3 of Beer Week on the Bike 2 Brakers ride, which was great. I then stopped in at Alembic to see Sam Calagione and try Dogfish Head's Red & White. Which was great. Then Half Pint & I hopped on the N-Judah down to 2nd & King, before getting drenched in the rain to 21st Amendment (for my 2nd time. I had a beer & knockwurst earlier on the ride) for the Sean Paxton the Homebrew Chef's beer dinner. Which was beyond great. But on the ride there, our friend Jesse boarded and he started talking to a man sitting directly beside us. I'd never met him, but he looked familiar, only something was missing. The mustache from his picture online. Like I said, I'd never met him in person, but I've read him a lot, including when he gave me my first local coverage.
He was instantly affable. We all sat at the same table, Bill, Jesse and his girlfriend Elianna, Sean's wife Arlene and adorable little girl Olivia, Bryan Kolesar from BrewLounge.com who flew out from Philly and his friend Chaz who flew down from Juneau. We enjoyed a lot of great beers, yet I'll add that they were poured in moderation. We actually used the dump bucket instead of drinking everything just because it was there. Sean's featured creation, Monk's Blood, 21A's 3xIPA, an homage to Michael Jackson called The Beer Hunter, "Diesel"-a smoked imperial porter, a "funkified" version of the house Watermelon Wheat aged for 3 years, and some more Monk's Blood. All I want to do is write about the phenomenal food, which is why we were there, but in truth, that's not why we were there. You can get food by driving up to a window, then you eat it alone in your car. We were there for the company you enjoy during a fine dining experience like this. And as I was sitting across from Bill, he kept me amused with his stories about growing up in Nebraska and the times he'd visit Austin and Boulder ("oases" we called them). He recalled the early days of beer-drinking in the Bay. This coming from a man who didn't need to drink SFBW's official brew, "Original Albion," for he had the original New Albion over years ago. Though he'd written about it, it was great hearing it from him. He also knew from Anchor Steam, pre-Maytag.
He didn't just tell good stories, he was a great listener and enjoyed various stories floating around the table, from carnivorous tales about the difference between Alaskan deer and contiguous US deer, to beer celebrations outside California, to our general adoration of the little handful at the end, Olivia.
The impression I walked away with about him is, here's a guy who wholeheartedly appreciates everything about beer; he kept diligent notes in his omnipresent notepad about each beer's profile, how it played with the food including how its preparation IN the food, and most importantly, how we all came together on this night to celebrate it, and each other. It was clear that both Sean and Shaun (co-owner of 21A) were honored to have him at the dinner.
It was an honor for me to enjoy it with him and I pray to God he makes a full recovery so we all get to enjoy many more with him. Please join us in raising a toast to Bill tonight at 7 p.m.
Jesse took this great shot last night: