R.I.P. Ed McNally 1925 – 2014

1306679703384_ORIGINALCanadian beer drinkers should bow their heads and raise their glasses to the memory of Edward McNally, who founded Calgary, Alberta’s Big Rock Brewery in 1984. Ed passed away last night, as reported just a few minutes ago on the brewery’s Twitter feed.

Ed was a lawyer by profession and a westerner to his core. He came to the brewing industry by way of his position as director of the Western Barley Growers Association, which in the 1980s was experiencing legal difficulties associated with the sale and marketing of brewer’s barley. Researching the issue, Ed came across the story of Fritz Maytag and Anchor Brewing in San Francisco and decided that the best way to get a market for Alberta barley was to use it in an Alberta brewery.

I met Ed in 1983 as I was researching my first book, the Great Canadian Beer Guide. Although by then the head of a sizable business, he had no problem sitting down with, and indeed devoting most of his morning to, a young writer who thought he knew a lot about beer. I remember him still as a magnanimous,  forthright and highly entertaining man. We were to meet again several times in the passing years and never did I have occasion to alter that original impression.

As Big Rock grew bigger and bigger, the inevitable rumours would surface on a regular basis, suggesting that Big Brewery X or Y was about to purchase the company. I knew, however, that so long as there was breath in Ed McNally’s body, Big Rock would forever remain proudly and fiercely independent.

I’d lost touch with Ed through the years and, in truth, didn’t even know if he was still connected to the brewery at the end. But there is one thing I’m certain of, and that is that he remained a devoted Big Rock man to the very end. Rest in peace, Ed. Your legacy will not soon be forgotten.



How Old Do YOU Think American Craft Brewing Is?

Whatever it is, unless you’re a rabid American beer historian or a Facebook friend of Anchor Brewing, you’re probably wrong.

Believe it or not — and subject to different appraisals of what craft beer might be – it began 47 years ago today. Because, as I learned from Anchor today, it was on this exact date in 1965 that Fritz Maytag acquired 51% of the ownership of the Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco.

Fritz went on, of course, to buy the remaining 49% of the brewery in 1969, and proceeded from there to establish Anchor as one of the iconic brands of American beer. (That he had the audacity to launch Old Foghorn and what went on to become Liberty Ale in 1975 still amazes me.) So if you find yourself near an Anchor Steam Beer today, raise your glass to Fritz Maytag, a man of vision and the father of the modern American craft beer.

The Passing of a Beer Legend

It was with great sadness last night that I received an email from Celebrator publisher Tom Dalldorf informing me that the great Pierre Celis had died. Word came to him from Pierre’s daughter, Christine.

It was my pleasure and privilege to know Pierre for many years, following our first meeting at the GABF in the early 1990’s, when his Austin, Texas brewery had just opened and his Celis White was taking the festival floor by storm. Always shy and retiring in public, Pierre was openly and obviously relieved to meet someone he could speak to in French, just as I was thrilled to meet the man who brewed the beer I count as an early epiphany, Hoegaarden White.

Over the years that followed, I never got to speak with Pierre enough, usually catching snatches of conversation here and there at some beer event or reception, and it is to my dishonour that I never found the time to visit him in Belgium after he returned to the land of his birth. I am very sorry to see him go and extend my deepest sympathies to Christine and all of Pierre’s family and close friends.

I will write more about Pierre in my next column for the Celebrator, but in the meantime I exhort you to raise a glass to the memory of the man who almost single-handedly saved the white beer style from extinction and furthered dramatically the cause of Belgian-inspired brewing in the United States. Fill your glass not with Hoegaarden, which is a shadow of its former self these days, but with something you think an inspiring and passionate brewer from an earlier era might have enjoyed.

Enough Style Bullshit…THIS IS Important!

I’ve just learned that Portland, Oregon beer legend Don Younger suffered a bad fall last week and is clinging to life in a Portland hospital. OregonLive.com is reporting that he is not expected to survive.

Don is and has long been an unstoppable force in Pacific Northwest craft beer circles, first with his landmark Horse Brass tavern and subsequently with a host of other beer-related projects, from the Belmont Station shop to the New Old Lompoc. Besides which he’s a terrific individual.

You’re in my thoughts, Don, and I’m sure those of hundreds of others within and without the beer world.

Profiting From Jay’s Knowledge

I knew that it would be only a matter of time before my friend and colleague Jay Brooks got all the skinny regarding the Anchor Brewing sale, and he has not disappointed.

You should read the entire story here, and see more pics of the principles involved, like the one to the left that I unapologetically lifted from his site (from left to right, Tony Foglio, Fritz Maytag and Keith Greggor) , but here are the salient points of interest:

  • The new owners have a strong background of brand development;
  • Jay seems to think that they have as much respect for Anchor as Fritz does, and that’s good enough for me;
  • The story behind the curiously regimented news release is not nearly as odd as it first appeared.

But like I wrote, you should read it all for yourself here. There’s much more than what I just gave you.

I Agree, Joe, Vive Jean-Pierre!

In case you missed it – I know I did – Joe Strange over at the Thirsty Pilgrim offers a four paragraph tribute to Jean-Pierre Van Roy, a lion of a man and a hell of a brewer, who gave birth to his last batch of Cantillon lambic earlier this month.

There’s little I can add to Joe’s words, except to reiterate that, in addition to all he has done for the survival and betterment of traditional lambic brewing, Jean-Pierre also deserves credit for instilling in his son, Jean, the same sort of passion and tenacity that he has displayed throughout his brewing life.

Félicitations, Jean-Pierre! Et mille fois merci!!