James 'Dr. Fermento' Roberts

I took some time away from work and the mainstream and got off the grid for a little while just to disconnect. I was not totally isolated, but wanted to see what it felt like to get out of the big city for an extended period of time. I was essentially away between July 2 and July 26 with one beer resupply trip that brought me back to town for less than a day, and it turned out to be the longest period of time I’d been away from work for well over 40 years.

Doing such a thing was a lot easier when I was younger, dumber, didn’t have a professional calling in my trade and wasn’t supporting a family. This whole episode took some serious planning, but that was part of the challenge. My self-induced absence was somewhat of a practice run for a retirement that’s looming ahead that will place me in the woods for what I hope is for good and where I can transition from writing about beer to writing fiction, hoping it sells, but having the financial wherewithal to get along if it doesn’t. 

Disclaimer: this whole thing wasn’t as isolationist as the romanticist in me would like to make it out to be and believe. My friend Lynn flies up from Phoenix every year to escape the heat for a while and loves doing project work that includes bouncing around the countryside on ATVs, operating dangerous machinery, toting firearms, wearing bear spray, drinking a rude amount of beer and kicking a lot of embers into a lot if dying fires when the conversation is warmer than the cool breeze that drops the temperature in the deep valley up Resurrection Creek, or “The Res” over three miles south of Hope where I hang out when I’m not in Anchorage. We just did it for a lot longer this year.

Another thing I got away from was my perpetual quest for drinking new beers which normally has me running all over the place, visiting breweries and our local grog shops up here multiple times a week to get my fix. 

Instead, I relied on extensive pulls from the vintage collection of beers I’m trying to drink through these days with the premise that there’s no liver in a shroud. Lynn’s a great sport. He loves the big, well-stored beers that were designed to be laid down and range from about ten years old up to some that exceed 30. 

On the night before we left town, we crawled around in my makeshift beer cellar like a couple of gleeful kids having discovered an open treasure chest spilling over with a stash of long forgotten fermented jewels from faraway places. 

“Oh, that one for sure!” Lynn would cry out in delight as I’d pull one tall cork-and-bail bottle after another from the rows and rows of slowly disintegrating cardboard wine and big beer boxes that found their home down there mostly over a quarter of a century ago. I’d hold each one up by the neck for his inspection with a flashlight penetrating the still, dusty, dark air. Barley wines, old ales, Russian imperial stouts – among many other styles of long aging beers - and an abnormal amount of Alaskan Smoked Porter were plucked from the dust and cobwebs and found temporary transportation in a number of sturdy plastic totes to haul them to the surface and into a free refrigerator I’d sourced from Facebook Marketplace and picked up in Girdwood on my way south for consumption. 

I have no electricity, running water or heat in my little remote camp and only use a generator to charge electronic devices in my increasingly power-hungry lifestyle. My generator got a lot less use on this trip and didn’t get much use other than to keep beers cold in a secondhand refrigerator I’d temporarily situated in a Conex box about a half a mile away from camp. Keeping my beer in a Conex really served no other purpose than situating it far enough away from camp so I couldn’t hear the damned thing run and to keep the refrigerator/generator combo out of the occasional deluge that would dampen the day, but never our spirits. We made a lot of trips back and forth at all hours of the day and night to the storage unit for beer.

We didn’t just drink vintage beer and had to augment our stash with lighter, more quaffable beers. If we just drank the typically higher octane vintage beers on the same schedule and with the same ferocity we drank beers on a “normal” vacation, our days would have been much shorter indeed.

We sourced some classic Euro wheat beers and other tried and true stylistic classics because both Lynn and I love them. Although Lynn hates IPAs, I brought down a pretty formidable stash of my mainstay King Street IPA and enough of the attractively priced ($19.99 a case at most Brown Jug outlets) Matanuska Brewing Company Arctic Warrior American Ale as maintenance or “warm up” beers for more pedestrian consumption during our projects and the long lazy Alaska summer afternoons that made up our trip. 

What did I come away with from the entirety of the experience? 

For one thing, I’m ready to retire from full-time work and get out of the mainstream for good. COVID set the stage for that by pushing me away from a brick and mortar work experience — something many Alaskans are experienced with, and I suspect enjoying in one form or fashion. At my age, I figure with what I’ve got left in life, it ought to be for me and those I care about, right?

If I intend to formalize some sort of a plan that includes giving semi-wilderness living a shot, I’ll have to get back into homebrewing again, something I’d espouse easily because I loved it when I did it and it was hard to give up when I stopped. That happened when the Press came into my life 23 years ago. I figured I could either “make beer and drink it, or drink beer and write about it.” You know where I ended up with that. 

In the interim another revelation for me is that I’m tired of IPAs. There’s a degree of market saturation with the many iterations within the increasingly diverse style that’s probably the most rapidly transforming in beer’s recorded history. It’s wearing out my palate which now is craving the softer styles including well-made pilsners and lagers, traditional Euro wheat beers, English milds and even some seemingly forgotten ambers and browns. 

Regardless, there’s no lack of material to choose from out there and I’m somewhat eagerly anticipating my return to my favorite grog shops and breweries to find out what I’ve been missing for the last little while. 

Is it good to be back on the grid? I guess so; I just don’t know how long it will last. 

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