Fermento in tank

James 'Dr. Fermento' Roberts

I had a dream the other night in which I was drinking a very crisp, snappy, tall lager in an upscale, crowded bar in a big city. I’m guessing the dream took place San Francisco, since I grew up around there and used to hang in that city in my formative years. It had that feeling, anyway. 

San Francisco was the first place I discovered real beer, that being Anchor Steam beer in 1972 in the Old Spaghetti Factory on Green Street. This wasn’t the location in my dream, nor the time. I was a sophomore in high school back then and I was clearly older in the dream, but not as old as I am now.

In that dream, real estate was scarce in that bar on that night; it was crowded and festive. Clearly, the dream took place in the holiday season. The place was lively and in motion, and the crowd was just shy of boisterous. I won’t say I was surrounded by friends, but the overall feeling in the dream was that I was at least with friends or at least one friend, not that it matters. 

I was better dressed than I would be today and felt a little smart and stylish. Others around me were the same, lending an air of casual sophistication. Skirts and suits floated by behind me and sometimes brushed up against me as a blur visible in the bar mirror behind the tap line I was staring at, licking my lips while studying the draft lineup for my next selection. 

Glints of light flashed off the gleaming tap towers, dancing with that inviting, communal sound of glassware and silverware making contact with various surfaces. Laughter and beer-emboldened conversations ebbed and flowed from the tables behind me, sometimes comprehensible, but mostly not. In this dream, it was warming either way. 

I didn’t realize it until later, but in this dream, I wasn’t wearing a mask. People weren’t socially distanced or cowering behind their cups. There wasn’t any talk about any pandemic, politics, or rioting. In this dream, I was as happy and vibrant as I’ve felt since I can remember. 

I don’t remember how the dream ended, but when I woke, I mentally sniffed around and remembered where I was. A sinking feeling crept over me like I’d pulled my emotional covers up to hide from something. I’d left the radio on, and KWHL was blaring out The Glorious Sons’ S.O.S. (Sawed Off Shotgun). The line “I’m sick of being okay against my will” would haunt me for the rest of the day. 

I capitulated and got up and wandered downstairs in my to find the previous night’s cast offs and decoys (empties) on the coffee table and kitchen counter. It looks like I’d had a little party – by myself.

Such is my beer-drinking life during COVID. I haven’t been infected by COVID (yet), but the dream and my reaction to it is another indicator that I’ve got some COVID-related stress going on, and the imposition of Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson’s Emergency Order 16 (EO-16) last week isn’t helping.

I always worry about everyone else, but once again – as I was back in March – I’m worried about the impact that Emergency Regulation 4 is going to have on Alaska’s craft brewing industry. Regulation 4 stipulates that the hospitality industry, including bars, breweries, restaurants and night clubs are to remain closed except for outdoor dining, take-out and delivery service. I don’t care so much that I’m back to drinking beer in a tent for a while; I’m worried that this severely limiting “round two” of restrictions might be fatal for some of my favorite bars, restaurants and breweries. 

It’s not just breweries in the Municipality of Anchorage that are affected. Forget about EO-16, people everywhere are hunkering down naturally in response to the pandemic, and – like me – are doing more beer drinking at home. Where are we getting our suds? At our favorite grog shops, of course. Although the run on packaged beverages is only part of the cause, the uptick in consumption at home has contributed to an aluminum can shortage industry wide – across the United States – but it’s particularly impacting up here in Alaska, where raw materials are hard to get anyway. The end result? If bar and restaurant restrictions, social distancing and natural hunkering down have put the squeeze on the spigots, or draft beer flowing across the bar, an aluminum can shortage is making it even more difficult for craft breweries to get their product to market. 

The bottom line is that it sucks for our craft brewers right now. What’s a beer lover to do?

This isn’t new advice. I was quite liberal with it back in March. It’s absolutely imperative that you not only drink locally, but get out there and patronize those same breweries, bars and restaurants you did before, even if it means eating and drinking in a shelter, grabbing take out and eating in your vehicle or taking it home, or just standing outside having a beer while hugging a heater or a fire. This won’t be a stretch for me, I did plenty of this style of drinking when I was younger, and still do sometimes today. Drinking keggers in the woods or in someone’s garage comes naturally to me for some reason.

Although it’s pretty easy for me, it’s my resolution that through the duration of EO-16 that I’m only drinking craft beer made in Alaska. Sure, I experiment a lot with outside and imported beer, but my go-to and mass consumption beer is always local. I like it better than anything else on the market anyway.

But what I can do better, is to not just head to the liquor store or Costco to fill my fridge; it’s patronizing our small breweries directly that makes the biggest difference, especially since not every brewery distributes their beer outside of their brewing confines. Make growlers and crowlers your friend and fill frequently and from multiple breweries around town.

I don’t dine out a whole lot in the first place, but I’m committing to doing so going forward. Since the first go-round in March, our local establishments have pivoted their business models to streamline and accelerate take out, curbside and deliver services. Capitalize on this to support local businesses. 

Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, Christmas is in a couple of weeks, and all of your Christmas gifts ought to come from local sources. Not only do our breweries sell a lot of cool swag, gift cards are a great option. Trust me, no beer loving friend of yours would frown upon a gift card from a local brewery, bar or restaurant. I love them. My shopping-challenged friends and relatives from outside have even gone as far as calling up here or working through Ms. Fermento to score me those magic plastic passes to good beer, good food, and impulse shopping for stuff I wouldn’t normally buy.

Craft beer lovers have to help save craft brewing in Alaska, and it’s surprisingly easy to do. You just need to do more of what you’ve always done in the past, but do it a little differently and with a little more frequency and dedicated purpose. Your direct support will help our brewers, publicans and restaurant owners have sweet dreams until this crap is over some day. 





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