The Famous McMenamin “Drink Tank”
That’s what I call their annual folderol at Hillsdale Pub to plan the celebration brew for the June anniversary of the company’s first venture, the 1983 Old Barley Mill Pub in Portland’s east side Hawthorne neighborhood.
One must really stay alert to make a record of the doings at these crazy sessions. This year, there were about 24 of us contributing and examining the various additions to the brew. The base beer is a light amber ale by Hillsdale brewer John Keane to an original gravity 1052/13Plato, 5.4% ABV, brewed with Baird Gambrinus Pale malt and some caramel malt for color. The beer is hopped to about 31-ibu from Nuggets and Centennials.
The brew itself is only the beginning, because our Drink Tank contribution is symbolic of the entire McMenamin operation. We gather there, each of us bringing a contribution to the pot. The whole process is masterminded by Mike McMenamin and supported by brother Brian, the fun-loving brains behind the brothers’ zany, but hugely successful, company. They are definitely prospering: while they started $300,000 in debt in 1983, today they are probably millionaires. But as Mike himself put in 1985, “The only rule here is there are no rules. The main thing is to have fun!”
The four-hour session started with lunch, a definite prerequisite for an afternoon of drinking. The various contributions to the 23rd anniversary brew include beers, (some 14 from the company’s 23 breweries), wines from their various vintages, and other spectacular wines such as a D’Oliveiras 1929 Boal Madeira (and as a gift to me for my 80th birthday, a 1922 example of that very same rare wine!) These libational additives were interspersed, from time to time, with singing by Greg Clarke, a local musician, playing bluegrass on his mandolin.
Every now and then Mike and others placed paper bits of several readings in the pot. These included a dissertation on how beer isn’t alcohol, from a November 1914 Oregonian newspaper ad by Henry Weinhard’s local brewery, a belated and unsuccessful attempt to stave off Prohibition in this state.
A German ‘83 Von Kesselstatt Riesling Auslese was added to the pot shortly after that ,along with a Clarke song “Brown-Eyed Women,” and a jolt of French-made Absinthe Edouard at 72% ABV.
As the day wore on I noted, “The afternoon seems to be slowly spinning out of control…” More songs, including me leading the chorus in a round of that old Prohibition favorite “The Song of the Starvation Army:” “We’re coming, we’re coming, our brave little band, on the right side of Temperance we now take our stand!”
A total of 42 inoculations (beer, wine, champagne, some well-aged really fine rum, bourbon, tequila, and a bottle of my homemade saké) were among the 72 deposits, including herbs, flowers, songs, and readings, accompanied by a continuum of babblements and dissertations of one sort or another. The sun was low in the sky as I boarded the city bus back to my home at the opposite end of Portland. I was grateful not to be driving my auto. Whatever it was we did; it was a grand doing. I guarantee it!