James 'Dr. Fermento' Roberts

James 'Dr. Fermento' Roberts





When the events unfolded in front of me, like everyone else, 9/11 instantly became indelible. It’s one of those events that I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first became aware of it. 

To most people, the day has become as revered as church, and as saddening as a funeral, but I can’t hide from my pride in the bursts of patriotism associated with the annual events that feel to me like it’s kind of a weird, unhappy 4th of July. There’s a reason I feel this way.

Like most everyone else at this time every year, I’ll harken back to how I felt just after 9/11, because so much has changed in the world, but at the same time, much is the same old shit. 

To get the best perspective of where my head was, I dredged up the Anchorage Press beer column I wrote on September 11, 2001 for the September 13, 2001 edition of the Press. This isn’t a cop out just because I don’t have anything else to write about; I always have and forever will have much to say about beer. It’s about what’s changed, and as importantly, hasn’t since that fateful day.

I can still feel it, and my column back then reinforced that I started with anger and disgust, which are not surprising, the first steps in the grieving process. 

Recent national and global events associated with the long fall out from 9/11 keep me pretty well angry and disgusted, but on that day, “I was disgusted enough that I thought I’d just have a beer and think about things. No, I wasn’t drowning my sorrows or getting drunk to forget about life for a while. I just wanted to take a moment and hoist a silent pint of beer in tribute to all of those lost in Tuesday’s tragedy,” I wrote.

I also remember being unsure that beer would be a fitting topic that week and questioned what it had to do with a national tragedy of the 9/11 magnitude? 

Although it had shamefully little to do with the tragedy two days before, my anger turned to fierce patriotism that comes from having served 20 years in the military myself, with my son following in my footsteps, and having become a Gold Star family (once removed) when I lost my son in law, Spc Jeffrey Bisson in Iraq on January 20, 2007. Oh, and just for perspective, I was attending the Great Alaska Beer and Barleywine Festival that year, when I got the call announcing our family’s loss. 

Maybe patriotism is a scapegoat and maybe I’m a lush, but for consolation, I tied beer to our nation that week. 

So, with this excerpted reprint, see if you can’t feel the anger, frustration and some pride and patriotism in the following excerpt from that column. Then you tell me what’s changed from your perspective, because 9/11 will forever be a deeply personal and individual thing to each of us: 

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I am truly convicted that beer is an integral part of the very FABRIC of the United States of America. Beer is within the very core of this nation’s foundation, whether the neo-prohibitionists that would like to destroy its existence would acknowledge it or not. There is substantial evidence that the primary reason that the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, or landed at all for that matter, was because they were running dangerously low on beer and were setting ashore to look for the raw materials to make some more. 

Remember, there WAS life before bottled water, and back then beer was much more stable and resistant to bacterial contamination than water was. Simply, it was more suitable for long ocean voyages than water, and was actually casked early so that it matured throughout the voyage. Part of a sailor’s payment came in the form of his daily ration of ale. The nation’s first president had a brewery in his basement. Martha even brewed the stuff. Slaves that tended the brewkettle were generally more valuable and treated better. Except in modern times, beer factored heavily in the provisioning during all of our great wars. Even as late as Viet Nam, military airdrops of beer into hostile territory were as welcome as mail from home and medical supplies. Beer helped our soldiers temper their souls, and the familiar taste of American beer linked them wistfully with a life left back in the states.

It’s sad that things have changed so much when it comes to our troops and beer since then. In Desert Storm, since we were fighting a war for some other fucking country, we had to go by the host country’s rules. Alcohol is strictly forbidden in Saudi Arabia, and despite desert floor temperatures that often exceeded 120 degrees, there were no beer rations for Americans that were dispatched to risk their lives so that our government could once again play Big Brother to the world. 

Some of the more creative beer devotees were reduced to making illegal homebrew at great personal risk. I heard stories of potato beer, raisin beer, and beer made with just about anything that would ferment. If they were caught, the sanctions would have been severe. It most certainly would have cost them their careers, and had the Saudi’s or Iraqis caught them, it could have cost them their lives. Just a few weeks ago, 14 men endured a public flogging in which they received 80 lashes for being suspected of drinking. Here’s another reason to keep our borders secure and protect what little beer drinking rights we have left as American citizens. 

But, history’s boring unless it’s blood-fresh and actually being made, as in the case of Tuesday’s events. So rather than ramble on about beer’s posture in America, I’ll do what I set out to do in the first place, which is hoist a big, tall American beer in honor of all of those that were lost in this tragedy and no longer have the freedom like I do to go home and enjoy a good beer if they were to choose to do so. 

Right now I’m probably competing with larger venues in the media for your eyeballs, but given the admittedly miniscule chance that those responsible for this cowardly act might be reading this, here’s my message for the terrorists: Rest assured that I have enough faith in this great country of ours to assure you that no matter where you are, no matter what rock you might be hiding under, you will be found. There is not swift degree of retaliation that the United States could unleash on your that would vindicate you in the hearts and souls of the rest of us, but you can be guaran-goddamned-teed that whatever we do, we will rebound, rebuild and continue to thrive and prosper as a nation. Your cowardly act does not scare us: it awakens us. Yours was not an act of bravery but rather a gross embarrassment for you, your country and anyone or anything you may be associated with. The beer I hoist is not for you. May your mouth be filled with the driest sands of the desert upon which your father’s sperm should have been spilled rather than bringing a cowardly monster to life. This beer is for those that were lost and those of us that were left to rebuild. 

And, what beer am I going to hoist right now? Just to rub good old fashioned democracy and American capitalism in your face; it’s something absolutely huge and powerful. And when I say huge and powerful, I mean it in terms of raw economic and flag-waving patriotic power. At this point, I could drink nothing other than a powerfully-American Budweiser. I’m gripping a big, all-American 24 ounce tall-boy Budweiser emblazoned in all of the globally recognized patriotic red white and blue can. I’m waving it like a flag over my head right now with a scream of defiant pride. For reasons good or bad in this country, Bud is a brand that’s as solid and symbolic in the beer industry as is the military might in the United States that I know we’ll eventually unleash on you for today’s events. It’s as American as it gets, but this Bud AIN’T for you! I’m not drinking it because it’s the best tasting beer in America, but because it’s the most fitting biggest, most capitalistic thing I can think of to simultaneously slap you in the face and make myself forever proud to be an American. Budweiser probably made more money last week than your third-world toilet will see in a lifetime. If you want to do some real damage, blow up the Budweiser factories. Leave the innocent people to drink good craft beer with me.

***

Fast forward to September 11, 2021, and I can’t say that I feel or think a whole lot differently. If anger resentment and disgust are the earliest stages of grieving, how come 20 years later I haven’t been able to get past them and move on to acceptance? 

I don’t think I’m alone. Care to join me for a Budweiser?

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