You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone
We have a friend who is devoted to blues—music, that is. For years he has been talking about traveling to Memphis and then heading south into the Mississippi Delta for a tour deluxe, visiting historic spots and listening to the blues in steamy juke joints.
One of his favorite movies is “Deep Blues,” a 1993 journey through the Delta by noted blues historian Robert Palmer. Palmer is dead now, as are about half the musicians featured in the documentary. Several of the juke joints are also gone.
When we prod our friend to make plans for this trip, we point out that with the passing of each summer the chances increase that instead of listening to favorite musicians, he’ll be visiting their graves.
His missed opportunities came to mind in December when we heard first that Sherlock’s Home, a brewpub in Minnetonka, MN, was closing, then that Larry Erenburg was leaving the Country Inn in Krumville, NY.
We wrote about Sherlock’s Home in this space in 1995, and we talked to Erenburg on more than one occasion. If you made a note to try “real ale” from wooden firkins in Minnesota or stop by and have a conversation with a guy who has been pouring beer since before the American beer renaissance began, well, you had your chance.
Then There’s Good News
Like our blues-loving friend, the longer you wait to visit watering holes and breweries that sound appealing, the better the chance they won’t be there when you get around to it.
Nothing is permanent. For instance, who would have thought that the “World’s Largest Six-Pack” of Old Style beer in LaCrosse, WI, would disappear? It didn’t exactly disappear, but when Pabst Brewing bought the Stroh Brewery and got rid of the former Heileman brewery, the six large holding tanks once decorated like beer cans were painted white.
These “cans” held 22,200 barrels of beer, or 688,200 gallons. That’s enough beer to fill more than 7.3 million cans, and placed end to end, those cans would extend for 565 miles. It would have taken a single person consuming one regular-sized six-pack per day 3,351 years to finish all that beer.
A bit of good news is that City Brewery acquired the plant from Pabst and has kept the hulking regional brewery—a fast-disappearing breed—alive.
Likewise, the Country Inn will continue. Peter Rinaudo has bought it from Erenburg. “My terms were reasonable,” Erenburg said. “No tablecloths, no TVs, and absolutely no ferns. Peter accepted them enthusiastically. He’s the right person.”
The Country Inn is an old hotel that sat vacant for five years before Erenburg bought it in 1972 as a residence. When he decided to open the bar in 1974, Schaefer was the only beer on tap. “We couldn’t sell Bud—it was a super premium,” Erenburg said. He built his reputation by finding everything he could in bottles, mostly imports. “We had about 35 brands. It was a lot of work finding that many, but it kept increasing,” he said.
By 1976, the Country Inn had four taps; Erenburg added two more in 1978. Now there are 11 choices—Budweiser and an inviting mix of US craft beers and imports—but a wide bottle selection is still at the heart of the pub. “I guess I have a reputation for searching out new beers,” Erenburg said.
After 28 years behind the bar, Erenburg, 72, has certainly earned his retirement in Puerto Rico. Rinaudo plans to improve the food selection and to hold events like beer dinners. There’s every chance that the Country Inn will remain a delightful stop, and it’s on our working list (not a short list) of places we’d like to visit or re-visit.
On Our Wish List
What else is on the list? Usually a combination of places it’s been too long since we visited, some that may have changed, and new (at least to us) spots that we’ve heard good things about. Some are places we expect we could already recommend—like the Taphouse Grille in Bellevue, WA, with 160 taps. Others we’d feel obligated to check out. For instance, this e-mail had us scrambling for the atlas to figure out where Martinsville, VA, is (south of Roanoke and not far from the North Carolina border):
“If you ever pass through Martinsville, you might want to stop in at The Ten Pin Cafe at Sportlanes. Yeah it’s a bowling alley, but the guy who bought it a few years ago is a beer fanatic. The place used to have only like five beers. It now sells over 300 different beers. It’s also the only place in a 50-mile radius with Guinness on tap—talk about an oasis! The owner is Will Pearson (yeah, he’s my brother). John Pearson.”
At the top of the list right now is O’Brien’s Pub in San Diego (4646 Convoy St., 858-715-1745). O’Brien’s has been featured in this space before, primarily because it is a wonderful locals spot. Although it is in the middle of what is called Korea Town, with Asian food vendors and car dealers rather than homes in the surrounding neighborhood, it’s a pub where regulars gather for lunch and after work. To keep their mug in the mug club, members must come in once a week.
Since Jim O’Brien opened the pub in 1994, it has evolved into a place to showcase local beers at a time that San Diego brewers were quietly changing the notion that southern California produced little interesting beer. O’Brien’s was the first account for almost every local micro, including Stone Brewing, AleSmith and Ballast Point.
It became a hangout for brewers, where the likes of Tom Nickel (Oggi’s Pizza and Brewing Co.) and Tomme Arthur (Pizza Port) would discuss the next event (the San Diego brewers put on a series throughout the year). By then, the tone of the beer lineup had shifted to decidedly more hoppy, with four Stone beers often on. The bar sold more Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale than any other in the country, going through 10 percent of the 2001 batch.
When O’Brien indicated last summer that he wanted to sell his place, it took Nickel and Chris Collins only days to negotiate the deal. They were already working on plans to open a bar in a different part of town.
“I was around the corner at UPS, and they had lost one of my packages. I was upset and in desperate need of a malt-based beverage,” Nickel said. “I wandered in, poured myself a beer and went into the kitchen to talk to Jim. He mentioned he was selling the place and we started talking about why, how much, what it was like running the place and it hit me—I am going to buy O’Brien’s. I called Chris as soon as I got home and told him.”
To celebrate the change at the beginning of January, O’Brien’s held a series of grand opening parties, one each night of the week and a private party on Saturday. Monday was non-IPA night and featured beers such as AleSmith Horny Devil, Maudite, Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre and Ballast Point’s Tongue Buckler. Tuesday was out-of-town IPAs; Wednesday, Double IPAs (11 of them, including a cask of Ruination from Stone). Thursday was local IPAs, and Friday, the 15 beers of Vinnie Cilurzo and Russian River.
While Collins upgrades on the food side, Nickel, known to craft brewers across the nation for his distinctive beard styling (though he was clean shaven to begin 2003) and permanent energy, has plenty of beer plans. O’Brien’s now regularly features cask-conditioned beer and will have a different beer theme each month as well as an “epic” event.
“The regulars were hesitant about the changeover but have since become our biggest cheerleaders. They love what we are doing and love that their beloved IPAs are staying put,” Nickel said. “I want O’Brien’s to be the place that people recommend when someone tells them they are visiting San Diego and want to try some good beer. I want to carry every local bottled beer, so that you could try them all in one stop.”
Nickel appreciates that he didn’t have to start from, literally, zero like Erenburg back in 1974.
“I am a serious beer geek who is blessed with an equally serious beer-drinking clientele,” he said. “Everything that I am doing would be pointless without the crowd Jim had built up to drink these fantastic beers.”
Stan Hieronymus and Daria Labinsky are authors of The Beer Lover’s Guide to the USA (St. Martin’s Griffin).