Departed Friends

Last Call by | May 2007 | Issue #5

A brewer raises his glass

Photo by Jennifer Silverberg

“So when do you start?”
John Young

I will never forget those words in 1982 in the Sample Room at Young’s Brewery in London when the chairman overheard my conversation with head brewer Ken Don about me doing a traineeship at Young’s. As a third-year economic history student at Edinburgh University, I had traveled to London to visit Young’s on the recommendation of the UK Brewers’ Guild. Ken rightly had no intention of taking me on but was kind enough to provide a memorable visit and a half-pint of Young’s Bitter. Eight months later, I arrived for the first day of a six-month traineeship which turned into eight great years at the Ram Brewery in Wandsworth.

Last summer in London, I met up with old friends from Young’s, including Ken Don. It was a bittersweet moment. The chairman had passed away in 2006 and the Ram Brewery, England’s oldest, closed soon after, forcing old friends into early retirement or to search for new work in a consolidating industry.

“Expect a call”
Wally Ruwitch

Wally was a family friend whose business, 48 Alvey Conveyor, manufactured palletizers in the US and Europe. In 1982, Wally had word that I was skipping classes at Edinburgh in search of experience in the brewing industry. He phoned to say he had written to a friend at Scottish and Newcastle breweries in Edinburgh. The call came, and following the six months at Young’s, I spent six months at the Fountain Brewery in Edinburgh.

In the mid ’90s, just before Wally died of cancer, we went for a pint. It was a great pint. Although he made palletizers for all sorts of manufacturing customers, the friends he made along the way were the brewers. He said it was the beer. Scottish and Newcastle closed the Fountain Brewery in 2004.

“Where the &#@! is the heat in this place?”
Jim Kennedy

That was Jim calling from my flat in Wandsworth in January 1985. Jim had arrived in London a few days before me and had found the key to my flat but could not get the heat to work. Crazy bugger. He had come to London to make his case to be the first American importer for Young’s.

Jim raved about little-sold and rarely brewed Old Nick Barley Wine and Strong Export Bitter, later renamed Special London Ale. I am not sure if I or Jim came up with the name, but it was likely his fabulous wife and partner Bobby. Jim and Bobby‘s company, Admiralty Beverage in Portland, became the Young’s importer for the Pacific Northwest and they became great friends.

In 2000, Jim called to say he had cancer but had it licked—he was still installing draft lines when we met later that year. In early 2002, it was not looking good. A few months, later Jim phoned. “You’re coming on Thursday. I’m having my wake.” I got on a plane to Portland. The fellow in the seat next to me worked for Guinness and said he was traveling to a friend’s living wake. We had a beer. We had a friend to see in Portland.

It was some wake. Jim wore the same kilt he had worn to my wedding in Scotland. Later that night, we sat on his deck with a cigar and a beer. I found myself unable to speak. Jim drew on his cigar and said, “You could have left the heat on. I nearly froze to death in that damn flat.”

Jim died a few weeks later. We lost a friend. But he was there for many of us at the beginning; for the birth of Deschutes and Pyramid, Widmer and Schlafly, and so many more.

It is still all about the beer and the friends, here and departed.