When I graduated from college in 1989, some friends & I piled into a car in Northern California and then drove the 15+ hours to Seattle, with the goals being to hunt for records, drink a little beer, and to take in as many live bands as possible. Up to that point “drink some beer” meant whatever someone brought back to the table in a cheap pitcher, or whatever was under $5 for a 12-pack (or “half rack”, as they call them in the Pacific Northwest). I still had this somewhat “ironic” approach to beer consumption at the time – which in retrospect was lame, but obviously held the seeds for my current high-end snobbishness. I’d drink whatever swill was “local” and not available where I lived, all in the name of trying something different than the usual Bud/Miller/Coors axis. In LA it was this monstrosity called “Brew 102”; in Seattle it was “Schmidt”. These beers are beyond awful, but to a poor 22-year-old, they were what was served. I’d never had nor seen an Anchor Steam nor a Sierra Nevada, even though they were out there well before that June 1989 day that changed my drinking habits forever.
We had a friend who worked at Sub Pop Records and who gave us a tour of the place one afternoon. Afterward, we retired to the bar across the street on 1st Avenue in downtown Seattle – the Virginia Inn. With us was the guitar player of then-active grunge/pop band SWALLOW, a fella named Chris. I sat down with him as we ordered, and he took the bottle he’d just ordered and, in a voice worthy of an tribal elder, spoke words I will never forget. “Do you know what this is? This is a microbrew. It’s called Red Hook, and it’s brewed here in Seattle”. He told me about the small batches, the tiny tavern they operated in the Fremont district, and the fact that the beer could only be found within the city limits. I thought that was pretty right-on, but I was floored by how amazing it tasted. When your taste buds have been poisoned by years of Stroh’s, Meister Brau and Weinhard’s intake, and you then get a taste of a true ESB (Extra Special Bitter) made with craft and care by budding professionals – well, it was over. I moved to San Francisco a few months later and 12-packs quickly became a relic of my youth. I told everyone about “Red Hook” and the miracle of microbrewing, and felt pretty goddamn special to know about it. It started showing up on taps in San Francisco a couple of years later, and I always made a point of ordering it if it was around, as it was my first love, if you will. Still enjoy it, though the ‘Hook has been supplanted by quite a few other fine beers on my quality meter in the years hence. But Chris from Swallow, if you’re out there, you changed a young man’s life in 10 minutes, and I owe you a round of obscure Dopplebocks in return.