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Eulogy for a Beer Lover

July, 1999

By Bobby Bush

I doubt that Carl Simpson ever met a person he didnít like. Well, certainly not an individual who appreciated good beer. You see, it was Carl who introduced me to the wide wide world of beer; not your run of the mill swill, but the good stuff, handcrafted, full of flavor and based on tradition sometimes hundreds of years in the making.

But I digress, this is not about beer. Itís about, as The Oregonian lauded shortly after he died of a stroke at age 67 early this year, a ďbeer visionary.Ē My heart skipped a beat or two, when unaware of his passing, six months later I plodded up to the bar of The Dublin Pub only to learn that Carl was deceased. A lump lodged tightly in my throat as reality stung hard. I nearly cried.

Carl was gregarious, his face always full of smile and arm extended ready to greet every customer. Ten years ago, it was this gracious gentleman who became my temporary beer mentor, sharing tales and, most importantly, dozens of tastes from his wall of beer. Though they didnít have a name for it then, The Dublin Pub was one of Americaís first multi-tap bars. When I first visited in 1989, General Manager Simpson showed me the ropes, sharing samples of beer from fledgling breweries like Portland, Bridgeport and Widmer. In fact, it is Carl who is given credit for recognizing the market potential of one particular Widmer product. Anxious to get anything local on tap back in the mid-80s, he pressured Kurt Widmer into shipping a rushed keg of unfiltered ale. Carl bought tall 22 oz glasses, stuck a lemon wedge on the rim and, according to Oregonian writer John Foyston, ďsometimes sent a server through the bar with a tray of unordered Hefeweizens so people would ask what it was and order the same.Ē The brothers Widmer resisted selling this cloudy beer, but Simpson insisted. The beer became, and remains, Widmerís biggest seller. Itís known today as Americaís Original Hefeweizen, a traditional Bavarian brew with a definite US accent.

Though Carl acted like he owned the place, he was just the front man, booking bands, ordering beer, smoozing patrons. With owner Katie Bullard, the pair opened the bar in 1983. It was shortly thereafter that Carl recognized the potential of a broad beer menu, but there just werenít enough exotic beers to fulfill his desire. By 1984, with help from beer authority and author Fred Eckhardt, a national brewing treasure himself, The Dublin Pub was hosting regular beer tastings, allowing Eckhardt to preach at length to the converted, but also establishing a local tradition that helped build this rundown, wrong-side-of town Southeast Portland Irish Pub-on-steroids into a nicer Raleigh Hills establishment with 100+ beers on tap and another 200 in bottles.

I can see Carlís round cherubic face now, full of sparkle as he describes a raspberry lambic from Belgium or an IPA from Rogue in coastal Newport. Even if I didnít ask, he would send a pitcher of something new over to the table, or line-up five different draft ciders for a mouth puckering taste comparison.

My schedule allowed a visit to Dublin Pub only three or four times a year, less when I moved east five years ago, but Carl always recognized me. The beer t-shirt, the inquisitive gleam in my eyes as I scanned the wall of tap handles, the good olí boy accent, who knows? But this short, pudgy bulldog of a guy was always there to share, to educate. He gained a life time customer. I just wish he was here to enjoy it with me. Somewhere up there, Carl Simpson is enjoying a bagpipe band and a small glass of barleywine. The big guy is right there by his side, anxious to hear his stories.

In honor of Carl, I threw caution to the wind that night, and ordered a pint of Fred. This strong, sweet Belgian-style ale, a Hair of the Dog Brewing Company creation named in honor of the aforementioned Fred Eckhardt, was one that his friend Carl must have taken great pride in. To honor another great man, someone should brew a big, bold, expressive, extroverted beer and name it, what else, Carl. I can drink to that.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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