In the admittedly chaotic place that is my head, I have a little shorthand phrase that helps set my frame of reference for what I’m about to write. For Beer writing, it’s “Fuck Budwesier“. For wine, it’s “Pass the foie gras?” And for spirits – specifically Whiskey, it’s always been “This shit is gettin’ serious.”
For beer, the Bud phrase says it all: Screw that antiquated business of proclaiming oneself The King, the nonsense about beechwood (which doesn’t add squat to beer, in terms of taste), and the near-constant insinuation that drinking Bud and its moron cousins – Michelob, Light, Lime-a-Rita, and Clamato – is somehow “manly“, while craft beer is foofy and affected. If craft beer is so freakin’ masculine, why do Bud freaks whine like tiny little children whenever they taste a beer with a detectable level of hops? “Manly“, my ass. Hey, bartender! Another round of that peach-pumpkin ale, please!
But there has always been one brewery for which that phrase doesn’t set the proper tone. ONE brewery whose beers set themselves so far apart from what we collectively think of as “beer” that the name “Budweiser” really doesn’t even belong in the same continuum. No sense of rebellion, of the subject on which I’m writing being the anti-BudMillerCoorsPabst, or of the exact same slightly jaunty attitude with which most of us approach craft beer applies to this brewery. It’s almost – not quite but…almost – apples and oranges, not only with other beers but with almost any other beverage.
Eight years ago, when I started this bloglet in the virtual pages of the Seattle P-I, I fully intended to write about this brewery in the first week. I procrastinated, without knowing quite why. Just this week, it hit me: I wasn’t ready. Not sure if I am now, in fact. But it feels like the time, because…
This shit is gettin’ serious…
Drinking any beer that comes with a label, or on the glass or bottle, that says “Hair of The Dog” Brewing on it is something more akin to the experience of Whiskey, for me, than to beer. There is a real, tangible feeling of something Momentous when sitting down to sip a shot of great, straight single-malt Scotch, Tennessee Sippin’ Whiskey, or Kentucky Bourbon; a sense of Occasion and history and the long train of human effort and skill and tradition and even, yes, love that’s gone into the eight, ten, 18, 25 years that led from water, grain, and fire to this fragrant inch from my lips. It’s somehow an entirely different vibe from drinking a beer, even a truly great beer. That doesn’t mean beer is a lesser experience, just…different. And that is the exact feeling I get when I sit down with my friends, Adam and Fred.
I don’t remember when it was that I first tasted Hair of The Dog “Adam”. I do remember where it was: The Virginia Inn, in downtown Seattle. Sunny April day, scattered clouds, one large cargo ship lazily skimming across Elliott Bay, and Pearl Jam on the stereo. “Evenflow“, in fact. I didn’t know the brewery but it sounded interesting. The bartender brought the bottle and popped the cap. He poured it and turned away. I sipped…
And the Earth tipped on its axis.
My definition of the idea of “beer” underwent an instant and seismic shift, that day, in the time it took me to finish that 11 oz. bottle. This was entirely new; outside the normal expectations we have in hunkering down for a brew and some nachos. To that point, the only beer I had ever tasted that was even close to what Adam delivered was a six-ounce pour of Thomas Hardy’s Ale that I was handed at a British Embassy reception in DC, back in 1971. At that time, I was living in Russian Imperial Stout La-LaLand and shrugged it off. But it stayed with me, teasing my memory.
After that, I sought out HoTD, in every shop and in every pub in and around Seattle and on a couple of trips to Portland. I didn’t make it to the brewery until a cold, rainy afternoon in 2010, when a friend and I, in PDX on business, went directly there, at my insistence, from the interstate to their bar. It was like walking into church; again, that sense of the Momentous, of history and skill and devotion and even a touch of benign mania.
Alan Sprints is a Facebook friend of mine. I’ve never met him face to face, and quite possibly never will. I’d be afraid of groupieing out, of making Chris Farley’s interview of Paul McCartney look like a Charlie Rose sit-down. I met Michael Jordan, once, back in NC. I also met Edgar Martinez. In both cases, I wisely kept my mouth shut. I fear it would not be that way with Alan. After all, Jordan and Edgar are mostly memories for me. Hair of The Dog beers are sitting there in my fridge. Now. Whispering to me…
Adam. Fred. Blue Dot. Doggie Claws. Adam From The Wood. Cherry Adam From The Wood. Bob. Ruth. Matt. Lila. Rose, Rose Cassis. Flanders Fred, Alan’s collaboration with DeProef. My God…these were not just beers, not for me. These were Beer College. Experiences. Every time. I have now visited HoTD three times. I’ve never had the same beer twice. Every time one is set in front of me, I’ve had a tingling sense of anticipation, of something coming that would be outside the normal experience of drinking beer. And I’ve never been disappointed. The only beer, in fact, that I have ever even been lukewarm about from Hair of The Dog is Greg, Alan’s Pale brewed for the Portland restaurant icon, Higgins. And it is merely excellent.
In talking to beer geeks, over the years, most have something at least vaguely similar to say about HoTD. The almost universal reaction, when I mention the brewery in conversation, is a small smile and a nod of the head. I can almost see the beer memories running through their heads.
Everyone who reads this blog knows of my great love for Deschutes and their stunning Black Butte Anniversary Series, Jubelale, The Abyss, Hop Trip, Foray, Fresh Squeezed, and, lately, Pinedrops. They also know how much I adore Ninkasi and Reuben’s Brews and Sound Brewery and Three Taverns “A Night in Brussels” and Selkirk Abbey and Cigar City and Brooklyn Brewing and Devil’s Backbone and Perennial and Jester King, et al. But Hair of The Dog is, again, just different, for me. These “beers”, as we have to call them, hit me in a very tender spot that’s in the exact center of a triangle formed by my heart, brain, and soul; deeply, as with a great Whiskey. Hair of The Dog will probably never again be The Flavor of The Month. It may not even see a mass buzz of retro-reverence from the roving hoardes of Northwesty HopHeads, always circling the latest light bulb of Triple IPA. But then, from the git-go, that was never their audience. You may find a couple of those guys – the ones with a more historical bent – sitting at their bar, on occasion, but Hair of The Dog has always been for the serious, lifer Beer Geeks; those who approach the, dare I say it, Art of Brewing with a certain very private and usually unexpressed reverence. I’m probably going to embarrass the shit outta Alan Sprints with this misty paean but, seeing as it’s eight freakin’ years overdue, I guess he and I will both have to live with it.
It is no accident that I launched this soggy little cruise-missile of adoration on the Thursday of the Craft Brewers Conference in Portland; none at all. I want those visiting mobs of crafties to understand that they can, yes, and should make their visits to all the newer, shinier breweries in Portland. Much as I truly love Upright and Cascade Barrelhouse and Breakside and Gigantic and everything James Neumeister’s doing at Groundbreaker, and many, many more in that beer-soaked city, folks, if you stay in PDX for any length of time and go out in search of a Beer Experience and you do not manage to make it Hair of The Dog’s cathedr…I mean taproom, YOU BLEW IT. You wasted a chance to see the very roots, the literal beating heart of what it is that’s made Portland and the rest of Oregon arguably the greatest place in the Western Hemisphere for extending the boundaries of what “beer” can be.
Alan…I owe ya, man. Can’t possibly repay it but I promise to keep buying your beers as long as I live and maybe even crack an Adam on my deathbed. (“You can have my Fred when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!”) You and your weird, quirky Vision opened me up like a can of tuna to the idea that beer can be more than just “beer”. It can be something that comes within at least haling distance of the profound and the spiritual. Drinking anything from that dusty, studiously down-home building down there at Yamhill and Water Street, almost under the I-5 offramp, is a soul-deep skinny dip into the Deep End of American craft brewing and an experience that anyone who claims the title of “craft beer fan” must have, at least once.
You guys enjoy your sunny week’s end in The Rose City. Visit widely, taste liberally. And, for the Love of Beer…get some Dog Hair on ya while you’re there….
To me it’s like drinking a Trappist beer, there’s something more going on there than any other beer in the world. To me it’s fairly spiritual, but this is the spirit of Portland in these beers.
Thank you for putting into words exactly how I feel about HotD!