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James Dr. Fermento Roberts





This doesn’t feel right because it doesn’t fit my overall writing objective as a beer columnist, but it’s difficult not to weigh in politically on the EO-15 issue that’s driving beer into the streets. So, here I go.

When I started writing this column 23 years ago, I asked myself, “hey, if I’m going to do this, and I sort of want to be consistent, when I sit down to write every week, what do I want my readers to come away with?”

That remains an easy answer. I want my column to make people to go away thirsty for good beer after they read it. Writing about politics, crappy beer that occasionally ends up on the market and industry gossip doesn’t perpetuate that objective and neither does writing about closing down watering holes and breweries because of a disease, no matter how in our face (excuse the pun) the whole issue is. So, I’ll start this by saying “excuse, me, I digress.”

I’m writing this for two reasons. First – like it did back in March – shutting down beer places is seriously impeding my ability to enjoy the fruits of our local beer artisans’ labor, and I’m not convinced that just pushing people outside to drink beer isn’t just pushing the same virus outside right along with it for us to get it the same way.

Besides, with the breweries and bars all shut down, what the hell else do I have to write about? I may as well bitch like everyone else. Hey, Berkowitz: if you’re reading this, I get what you’re trying to do, but I don’t get the sense you thought through this very well, and from the numbers, it doesn’t seem like it’s doing any good. I’m sure you have your reasons, but thanks a lot, just the same.

There. I’ve done it. I’ve never done what’s the equivalent of lambasting a city official before, and I’m not sure how it’s supposed to feel. I sure wish I wasn’t compelled to do such a thing, but I’m a little bit pissed off.

Taking beer to the streets is a survival strategy for breweries and bars during these trying times, but this has disparate impact on the smallest breweries with no distribution chain and small physical footprints that might be too tight industrial areas or shared spaces to create outside drinking places sufficient to keep their businesses alive.

I can go to most local breweries, bars and restaurants that are remaining open – even the small ones - and get beer to go, as all of them are pumping up their offsale efforts, but when I got out to get beer at other than at a liquor store, the “being out” part of it is most of the reason I do it. Friends, atmosphere and ambiance enhance my overall drinking experience when I’m in the mood for it, otherwise I could just sit at home and put my elbows on the table, prop my chin in my hands and drink beer at my kitchen table as I watch my boring Muldoon world go by. My garage refrigerator is always full of a lot of our local fermented finest; I’m never lacking, but when I go out, I want to BE OUT.

But wait. What am I bitching about? Those establishments that have enough outside physical space, are able to broker some agreement with landlords and surrounding businesses, and can get the permits to do so, afford me the opportunity to drink my beer right there.

So, given that, isn’t the whole concept of drinking beer and eating outside is a happy thing? We’re Alaskans, after all, right? Being outside is what we DO. So, this whole thing is akin to being on an eternal picnic until a vaccine, herd immunity or some other miraculous thing comes along to return us to some degree of pre-pandemic normalcy, right?

Unequivocally, it’s not for me.

After living here for 40 years, my heterodox opinion might shock you, but unless I’m truly out in the woods or away from town, I’d rather drink — and especially eat — indoors at breweries, bars and restaurants. I especially don’t like eating outside and don’t even do that at home or in the woods, unless I really have to. I don’t like wind when I’m at a sit-down dining experience outside, and I certainly don’t like bugs. And let’s not pretend that each and every Alaska day is filled with bright blue skies, still air and abundant sunshine. What if this marches on into October and November? I don’t like eating with cold weather gear on. Nope, I’m an inside kind of a guy most of the time.

Then there’s this whole thing about beer gardens and beer tents. Heck, at some of our better situated establishments with the wherewithal to do it, big huge wall tents have been erected that are climate controlled, and except for wall art and crap like that, and the whole temporary feel of these arrangements, eating and drinking beer in them is as close to being in the establishment they’re bolted to, right? I wonder if COVID knows the difference.

And, back to the outside thing: do germs travel any further on a light breeze or in the wind than they do in still air? I’m not a scientist, but pushing beer into the streets and making me enjoy it there doesn’t give me any additional sense of safety. On top of the obvious discomfort for a guy like me, I don’t get the sense that all of those random people walking by and starting at me eating and drinking are any safer than those that would be inside of a carefully regulated dining and eating establishment.

And, I don’t know if me doing my part of fastidiously wearing my mask in public places is making a difference, but I’m doing it. Actually, I’ll do pretty much anything to get back to sipping my coveted cups back in my breweries and bars, inside, where I belong.

Until then, I’ll pass on the facades and I’ll be drinking at home.

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