Michael Jackson Drank Here: 25 Historic Beer Sites
The anniversaries have started to come fast and furious. It’s been 40 years since Fritz Maytag tasted Anchor Steam for the first time. The Cartwright Brewery began its short life 25 years ago in Portland, OR, and it will be 20 years come April since the considerably more successful Widmer Brothers sold their first keg of beer.
This year—just for starters—we can celebrate the 10th anniversaries of the opening of Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats, the arrival of specialty Belgian beers on tap, the birth of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, and the legal return of Oklahoma’s Choc beer.
When thousands of breweries open (and close) over a period of 25 years, new beers styles are invented, festivals spring to life, and something like a million (OK, that’s a wild guess) tap handles bearing names such as Fancy Lawnmower Beer and DUIPA are created, then it must be time to start sticking push pins in a map and planning to visit spots where modern brewing history began.
Because All About Beer Magazine has been around for 25 years now, we’re celebrating with a beer tour that has 25 noteworthy stops. The goal was to pick places you can visit, so rather than send you to the address where Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan started New Belgium Brewing Co. (a house in which they no longer live), the choice is the brewery (where the original brew house is on display).
The stops on our tour aren’t necessarily the historically most significant destinations, but they are worthy representatives of what’s happened since a 15-year-old Yorkshire high school student first…but that’s getting ahead of the story.
If you want to visit these places in one road trip, you might rearrange the order. This list goes from Houston to California and back to Austin because it is presented approximately in the chronological order in which the featured events occurred.
Years, rather than months and days, are listed. While it would be possible to attach exact dates to some of these events, other things didn’t happen on a single day. More important, and honest, details are often a bit hazy. As Don Younger of the Horse Brass Pub pointed out, “We didn’t know we were making history—nobody does at the time—or we would have written these things down.”
Let’s hit the road or, to reach the first site, jump in an airplane.
Castle Hill Hotel
1957—Michael Jackson, still in high school and under legal age, drank his first beer here. It was a half pint of mild from the local Hammond’s Brewery. A year later, on August 5, 1958, Jackson began working as a reporter on the local newspapers. Still under age, he joined his reporter colleagues for pints in the pub at lunch. Now earning a wage, he could afford bitter. Twenty years later his landmark World Guide to Beer, in which he approached the broad topic of beer with a journalist’s curiosity, was published. It eventually inspired a continent of new brewers.
478 Green, San Francisco
1965—Fritz Maytag tasted his first Anchor Steam at the Old Spaghetti Factory (now the home of the Bocce Café). Fred Kuh, the owner, told Maytag that if he wanted to see the local brewery where the beer was made, he’d better hurry, because it was about to close. Maytag saved Anchor from bankruptcy by buying a 51 percent share of the company and purchased the rest in 1969. He was selling Anchor Steam in bottles by 1972. Within another three years, he had reintroduced a truly hoppy beer (Liberty Ale), a special Christmas beer, and a barley wine to American beer drinkers.
American Hop Museum
22 B St., Toppenish, WA
1972—Development of Cascade hops began in Oregon at Corvallis in 1956 and continued at Prosser Station in Washington’s Yakima Valley. It was released to commercial development in 1972. Starting with Anchor and Sierra Nevada Brewing, Cascade became a signature of small-batch brewers, but in those early days there were only large brewers to buy the fledgling hop. “You’ve got to remember that there were only about five varieties of (domestic) hops then,” said Ralph Olson of Hopunion. Today, brewers may cram 16 kinds of hops into a single beer. With 75 percent of the hop acreage in the United States, the Yakima Valley is rich with hop history, much of it kept at the museum.
1974—The first Beer & Steer was held at Sugarloaf Mountain. Going on 300 homebrewers gathered in the mountains, camped if they wanted, built a stage, listened to live music, and drank a lot of beer. There was no place to keep kegs cold, so they piled snow into a truck and chilled thousands of bottles. This became an annual event for 10 years, and an occasional one after that. It started before there was an official homebrew club in Boulder and well before Charlie Papazian launched the American Homebrewers Association. “I’m sure it helped Charlie learn how to put on large-scale events,” said Charlie Matzen, who helped found Zymurgy magazine. “By the time we did the first (AHA) competition, we knew we had the ability to put something on.”
Horse Brass Pub
4534 SE Belmont, Portland, OR
1976—There are various stories about how Don Younger acquired the Horse Brass Pub, but what’s certain is that it wasn’t until after he owned it that he decided to find out just what an English pub was. So he headed to Great Britain in 1977. “That’s when I knew,” he said, his eyes dancing. What, he wasn’t yet sure, “but I was going to do the pub thing.” In the years since, scores of publicans have visited Portland to learn the secret from him.
The Hopland Brewery
13351 S. Highway 101, Hopland, CA
1977—Jack McAuliffe founded New Albion Brewing in Sonoma in 1976 and started selling beer in 1977. It was the first new brewery to open in the United States since Prohibition, and the first modern microbrewery. When it closed in 1982, its yeast, some equipment and several employees headed to Hopland to start Mendocino Brewing, which thrives today. Brewing now takes place at Ukiah (still using that New Albion yeast), while the Hopland pub serves Mendocino beers. Parts of the old New Albion system decorate the Ukiah brewery, while Hopland has old bottles and case boxes on display.
200 University St., Seattle
1979—Every time Charles Finkel and his wife attend the symphony, he can’t help but think about when Merchant du Vin had its offices in a Tudor-style building on this spot. After reading Jackson’s World Guide to Beer, Finkel called him in London to praise the book. They quickly became friends. Soon they were sharing beers in Finkel’s kitchen (where Ayinger’s dopplebock, Celebrator, got its name), and by 1979 Jackson was conducting tastings at Merchant du Vin for retailers and restaurateurs. It was no accident that Seattle was one of the first beachheads for specialty beer. Finkel threw a party at another MdV location, Lechi on Lake Washington, to celebrate Jackson’s 50th birthday. By this time, he had started Pike Brewing Co., so they brewed a commemorative Michael Jackson beer called Old Companion.
Millennium Harvest House
1345 28th St., Boulder
1982—This hotel was called the Hilton Harvest House in 1982 when a modest 20 breweries brought about 35 beers to the first Great American Beer Festival. At the 2004 festival, 100 judges from four countries judged 2,016 beers in 67 style categories.
Widmer Brothers Brewing
929 N. Russell, Portland, OR
1985—Kurt and Rob Widmer were operating on Lovejoy Street when they loaded their first kegs for sale into a used 1970 Datsun pickup truck they bought from their father, Ray. This was self-distribution at its most basic, although hardly uncommon for craft brewers getting started (see next entry). Rob and Kurt are well past making their own deliveries, but they’ve still got that truck. It’s parked out of the way at the brewery and one day may be on display.
Great Lost Bear
540 Forest Ave., Portland, ME
1986—Dave and Weslie Evans, along with Dave’s cousin, Chip MacConnell, opened the Bear in 1979. When Geary’s Brewing was founded in 1986, it became apparent that six draft lines weren’t going to be enough. “We talked about taking Sam Adams off (one of the six lines), then they rented a bus and took us down to Boston for a tour…. We ended up adding taps (to 24) instead,” Dave Evans said. To keep new beer flowing, Evans and MacConnell would head to neighboring states to pick up kegs from smaller breweries. “It was semi-legal,” Evans said. Evans also remembers when Alan Pugsley (who set up the Geary system and later co-founded Shipyard Brewing) would drive up from Kennebunk with beer in the trunk of his “big old Chrysler.”
557 Haight St., San Francisco
1987—David Keene and friends hatched the idea to open a beer bar while drinking in this small, cave-like Haight-Ashbury bar. They ended up buying Miss Jenny’s Hair Salon next door and the Toronado was born. The Noc Noc has upgraded its beer menu in the years—enough that you might have a beer in this Haight “dinosaur” before stepping next door to the Toronado, where it’s hard to imagine a better beer selection. A bit of graffiti on a bathroom door at the Toronado once read, “Dave is God.” Then another customer added, “Dave is better than God.”
8715 Stella Link, Houston
1989—Much of the history of the Dixie Cup Homebrew Competition revolves around DeFalco’s, although this isn’t where the homebrew store was located when the annual galas started at the Orange Show in 1984. DeFalco’s was still on Morningside in 1987, and the event was in the parking lot when Fred Eckhardt made the first of what have turned into annual pilgrimages. He held his first Fred Tasting in 1989, pairing beer and chocolate, in the defunct Gulf Freeway Best Western, and the first Dixie Cup commemorative beer was brewed in 1990. Old Fred, an unhopped, very strong “Renaissance style” beer, was handed out in 187-milliliter bottles. The 21st Annual Dixie Cup last October drew 1,138 entries.
1989—When Jackson’s Beer Hunter series appeared on the Discovery Channel (and later on PBS), a new audience saw beer as something beyond “Tastes Better, Less Filling.” In the North American segment of the six-part series, Jackson took an overnight bus trip with Anchor Brewing employees to Tule Lake, where they saw barley harvested that would be turned into malt for Our Special Ale, Anchor’s Christmas beer. “The value is unbelievable, because it gives us an identity with our Christmas ale that relates to an actual farm,” Maytag told Jackson as they sat by a campfire. “It gives our company something that is hard to duplicate.”
Aus-Tex Printing and Mailing
2431 Forbes Dr., Austin, Texas
1991—With large shipping bays to the side and plenty of room for trucks to maneuver, this looks like a perfect building for a brewery. In fact, it was the Celis Brewery, one of the shining lights of the mid-1990s. That Belgian brewing legend Pierre Celis founded a brewery in Texas was nearly as exciting a story as the classic beers he produced. He sold the majority interest to Miller Brewing in 1995, then the rest in 2000. Shortly thereafter, Miller closed the brewery, eventually selling the beautiful equipment and brand names to Michigan Brewing. “It’s a huge loss to Austin. It’s like if you had an internationally recognized symphony and no one came to hear it,” said Chip McElroy, co-owner of Live Oak Brewing Co., also in Austin.
New Belgium Brewing Co.
500 Linden, Fort Collins
1991—The Celis Brewery received much more attention when it was built than New Belgium, since Lebesch began brewing on a 5-hectoliter system in his Fort Collins basement. New Belgium has moved twice since, and the brewery now holds two massive Steinecker brew houses, four quality assurance labs, and a wastewater treatment facility. The entire operation is powered by wind. The original brew house won GABF gold medals for three other breweries before New Belgium reacquired it and put it on display just beyond the large glass window that looks from the tasting room onto one of the Steinecker systems.
Samuel Adams Brewery
30 Germania St., Boston
1993—Before “extreme beer” became part of our vocabulary, Boston Beer rattled conventional brewing wisdom by rolling out Sam Adams Triple Bock, a shocking 17 percent brew, at the 1993 Great American Beer Festival. “At the time, everyone was trying to make one new classic style. That’s what was driving innovation,” said Sam Adams founder Jim Koch. “I wanted to step outside of that, to try to expand the boundaries of beer rather than expanding on traditional styles.” Casks containing some of the original Triple Bock, which has been followed by the much stronger Millennium and Utopias, remain on display in the brewery.
263 S. 15th, Philadelphia
1995—The first draft beer from a Belgian specialty brewer was poured on June 13 at a beer dinner here. Kwak was soon followed by plenty of others, and by the next April Copa Too! hosted a mini-Belgian festival with 18 Belgian and Dutch specialties. The next year, manager Tom Peters moved on, hooking up with Fergus Carey to open Monk’s Café (also in Philadelphia), which in 2002 became the first beer emporium outside Belgium to put Chimay on tap.
Flying Fish Brewing
1940 Olney, Cherry Hill, NJ
1995—Gene Muller literally founded Flying Fish Brewing Co. on the Internet. Muller said the idea was to make the website “This Old House meets the World Wide Web,” letting visitors see the thousands of details involved in putting a craft brewery together. By the time the first beers went on sale in 1996, site visitors had helped name beers and design T-shirts and labels, volunteered to be taste-testers and even applied for brewery jobs. To keep true to its roots, twice each year the brewery hosts private parties for subscribers to its e-mail newsletter.
Pete’s Place, Krebs
420 SW 8th St., Krebs, OK
1996—The story is that members of the Choctaw Nation taught Italian immigrants to make beer in the early 1900s. One of them, Pete Pritchard, opened a restaurant where he sold his homebrewed Choc beer. He never added a separate bar, preferring to serve the beer to diners at their tables. Pete continued to brew and sell Choc until 1932, when he was arrested for brewing illegally and sent to federal jail in Muskogee. Choc soon returned at Pete’s, continuing after Bill Prichard took over for his dad until 1981, when the illegal homebrew was shutdown. The first legal Choc was served in 1995, after Pete’s, now run by Bill’s son Joe, became a brewpub. In 2000, Choc won a medal at the GABF as an American-style wheat beer. The beer has grown so popular that Pete’s has added brewing capacity and is distributing it in kegs, bottles and cans.
Stone Brewing Co.
155 Mata Way, San Marcos, CA
1996—A year after Vinnie Cilurzo, then at Blind Pig Brewing, made the first commercial Double IPA anybody knows of, he brewed a second. The last drop growler of that batch was sold to Stone Brewing Co. founder Greg Koch. It was an outrageously hoppy beer, but then Stone was about to become known for setting hops standards of its own. Stone opened the same year, but before anything was done to the empty warehouse, Koch and partner Steve Wagner decide to throw a dinner party. Among those in attendance were Cilurzo and his wife, Natalie.
Goose Island Brewing Co.
1800 N. Clybourn, Chicago
1996—The first Real Ale Festival started with 32 beers in tight quarters here. It has grown into the largest cask ale event anywhere outside of England. The festival has always been backed by considerable assistance from the Chicago Beer Society. The idea for an event focusing on a single genre of beer was inspired by the “Spirit of Belgium” weekend put together by the BURP homebrew club in the Washington, DC, area in 1994.
Wynkoop Brewing Co.
1634 18th St., Denver
1997—Jack McDougall of Canford, NJ, won the first Beerdrinker of the Year competition sponsored by Wynkoop. The annual nationwide search serves as a reminder that our beer renaissance is consumer driven. McDougall was an original member of the Bar Tourists of America, a loosely organized group that held its first tour in 1978, consuming exotic beers such as Ballatine Ale, Hacker-Pschorr Dark and Krueger Porter while visiting seven bars.
1997—To celebrate exporting the first Dogfish Head Brewery beer from Delaware, founder Sam Calagione built a sliding-seat rowboat and rowed a six-pack of Shelter Pale Ale 18 nautical miles to a beach at Cape May, NJ. Calagione left Lewes Beach at 7 a.m. and arrived in New Jersey 6½ hours later. “It was a long, strange trip and pretty disorienting,” Calagione said. “I couldn’t see land for about half the trip.” A party at a Cape May bar followed, with Dogfish Head beer on tap. “But we all took sips from the six-pack that I rowed across the bay,” Calagione said.
Bar stool No. 2
Falling Rock Taphouse
1919 Blake St., Denver
2000—Don Younger and Chris Black, who runs Falling Rock, first met in 1999 when they were on a panel together at the Craft Brewers Conference in Phoenix. They immediately became fast friends, part of an unofficial club of pub owners who keep finding ways to serve up still more interesting beer. Younger had long avoided attending the Great American Beer Festival, but after Black visited Portland, Younger was obligated to make one to Denver. Now Younger is something of a regular at GABF, though you shouldn’t expect to see him at the festival itself. He’ll likely be on the second barstool from the door at Falling Rock. What happens if somebody else sits there? “The bartender will probably say, ‘You know, Don’s going to be in soon. Maybe you should find another seat,’” Black said.
Oskar Blues Grill & Brew
303 Main St., Lyons, CO
2002—Working in an abandoned barn next to the brewery/pub, Oskar Blues employees basically hand-canned the first craft beers to be put in cans where they are brewed. Other breweries have since begun using cans, sales of Dale’s Pale Ale and Old Chubb in cans have boomed, and the brewery has upgraded its canning line. By last November, owner Dale Katechis had handed out two of three $6,000 mountain bikes promised to the first customers to recycle 3,501 cans.
That wraps up a beer tour that is admittedly Colorado and West Coast oriented. Certainly, there’s plenty more history east of the Mississippi if you want to start working on your own itinerary. Try Boscos in Tennessee with its Flaming Stone Beer, McGuire’s Irish Pub in Florida, or the Brickskeller in Washington, DC. This year, it will be 20 years since Kalamazoo Brewing’s Larry Bell sold his first beer. Still another anniversary.
Stan Hieronymus apologizes for all the breweries, individuals and drinking spots that didn’t fit into this story. You may e-mail him your own historic stop at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is currently at work on “Brew Like a Monk,” part of a three-part Brewers Publications series on brewing Belgian-style beers.