The first thing I did after the earthquake and when I was able to get home was to check the beer supply and the condition of my dedicated beer refrigerator. Populist post-natural disaster doctrine says I probably should have filled my bathtub with drinking water. That's just flat disgusting as far as I'm concerned, and besides, I've learned that in medieval times, beer was a staple; it's well known that pathogens can’t survive in beer and it was more stable and safer than water. Some say that beer saved the world in the time of the great plagues where water was unsafe for human consumption.
My beer refrigerator fared very well. Only three large bottles had tipped over, but amazingly, there was no breakage. I was fearful; when the quake erupted Friday morning when I was at work, my small refrigerator in my office exploded open, ejecting its contents across the room with enough force to burst soda cans and contribute to the rest of the mess the shaker left behind. I certainly hope that you and yours fared well and with minimal damage.
I quickly surveyed my stock. I didn’t know the condition of liquor stores and breweries. I need to determine if I had enough of my coveted grog to get me through until recovery and restoration efforts opened the stores and breweries again. Fortunately, I’m usually well stocked and figured that with a little rationing, I would be good for at least a week out, and beyond that, I’d start drinking through the massive vintage collection I have in the cellar. That reminded me to go down and check the condition of those stored beauties and was relieved to find that all was intact and not a single bottle had toppled.
After cleaning up a bunch of busted glass, broken plates and other minimal disarray, I got on the computer. I shouldn’t be talking; I know many others suffered interminably with loss of electricity, heat and plumbing, some had significant structural damage and some houses were flat destroyed. My heart goes out to all of you that suffered through this ordeal. There was no thought of going back to work; my building had been shut down and sealed off waiting for the harried building managers to shuffle in structural engineers to assess the damage and determine re-entry and re-occupation protocols.
Social media exploded to life. Along with pictures of the collapsed overpasses, roads, fires and everyone’s personal experiences and damage, the sad truth graphically started to emerge that many of our liquor stores, breweries and brewpubs had suffered major damage and losses.
If you haven’t seen the images of La Bodega and the Brown Jug Warehouse and can stomach the carnage take a peek; the prognosis was not good. It looked like it was going to be a while before things got cleaned up and things were up and running again.
What amazed me is within the Brown Jug Warehouse set of pictures, the liquor and wine aisles were destroyed. I saw that the bottles on the floor of the wine isles were particularly hard hit with a pile of broken bottles at least a foot deep from edge to edge. When I scrolled through the beer pictures, I kind of had to chuckle. At least in the Brown Jug images, I could only see a few tipped over boxed half racks of beer and one burst can on the floor. Absent were images of the shelved single beer and cooler door beer outcomes and I’ve been unable to get a report of how those sections fared.
The images of the aftermath in some of our breweries, brewpubs and watering holes was heartbreaking. In particular, some of our flashier establishments lost a whole lot of glassware and rare and expensive hard liquor ejected from the shelves around the beer taps and in some cases the beer was adversely affected.
“I’m glad we carry a large inventory of glassware; let me tell you that,” says 49th State Brewing Company owner David McCarthy. I used to get chided by the other owners that we had way too much glassware in our inventory, a lot of which is stacked in boxes downstairs. We’re lucky we have it,” he says.
49th State puts a lot of pride in their beer service and serves different styles of beer in the appropriate glassware for the style, so there’s a lot of inventory. “We lost thousands of dollars in glassware. We probably lost 70 bottles of rare, one-off irreplaceable whisky. It smelled great though,” says McCarthy with the cheerful, resilient forever positive attitude he’s so well liked for.
Not so cheerful was his description of how the cascading glasses and liquor bottles pushed the tap handles forward on close to 80 of the taps in the establishment, letting beer flow in rivers and draining some kegs. Other pubs suffered similarly.
Amazing to me is how quickly 49th State recovered. “Our staff just showed up without being expected to or asked and dug right in and got things cleaned up and restored; we were operational again by 3 pm,” says McCarthy. I wish I would have known that, I’d have been right down there for a fortifying pint.
Breweries fared pretty well, despite all the bitching and moaning about code compliance, regulations and inspections that often delay projected opening dates when breweries start up, it’s with reason.
“We cursed the inspectors,” says Ted Rosenzweig of the recently opened Turnagain Brewing Company. “Before we opened we were, like, ‘this is an insane horrible expense’ but on Friday, it saved our ass.”
By code, breweries are held to very high construction standards; the massive tanks have to be bolted to the floors to earthquake standards and other safety systems are mandated the prevent loss and damage while keeping people safe.
“We had one broken bottle and one broken glass, but other than that, we just lost a day. The power went down and we couldn’t open the tasting room that day, or we would have,” says Rosenzweig.
Midnight Sun came out okay too. “On the brewery side, we had Lee, Chief of operations and Ty, our chemist on site when it happened and there was an outside technician working on a boiler,” says Darcy Knifel, the brewery’s Beer Ambassador. “Lee and Ty made a run for the outside. The tanks were swaying but no major damage. Upstairs in the Loft, two folks were prepping for regular business. There was no major crashes, a few minor spills, but nothing crazy,” she says. “At the end of it all, we only lost one bottle of Matanuska Thunder Funk and we figure about 10-15 pint glasses.”
Out at Odd Man Rush Brewing Company in Eagle River, much closer to the quake’s epicenter, things are okay too. “We feel lucky; our brewhouse, tanks and all fermenters moved about six feet, we lost some glassware and all of the kegs in our cold room where in a huge dog pile. We cleaned up Friday and were back open Saturday to an eager crowd looking for beer. I heard we were one of two places selling beer out here,” says Reid McDonald, one of the owners.
I didn’t talk to all of the breweries and I suspect there are some real tales of woe out there, but in the end, I got the sense that when it came to the state of beer our resilient industry folks were “shaken, but not stirred.”
Most of the brewpubs, breweries and publicans shared the unanticipated result of having to be closed for restoration and repairs. Most got dozens and dozens –if not hundreds - of similar calls along the lines of “hey, man, are you open? I REALLY need a beer!”
Beer’s great in good times and it’s great in bad times. It’s stable and sustaining. Although I never had to touch my vintage collection, I’ll be better prepared going forward.