I am currently sitting in a friend’s living room in Mountain View, California. I got into the bay area yesterday mid-day, and had a good time hanging out in San Francisco proper with a couple old friends yesterday afternoon and evening.
I usually love traveling, and I’m certainly enjoying the time I’m spending this weekend in the bay area, but unfortunately the occasion for this weekend is a bit more somber.
Many of you knew my good friend Rob Radford. What you may not have known is that he was diagnosed with Anal Melanoma about 6 months ago (shortly after that was when I made my most recent trek out to the bay area to visit him). Unfortunately, the chemotherapy regime they had him on was not effective and he passed away a few weeks ago as the cancer spread throughout his digestive tract and liver. He passed away at his home in Fremont, California and was with his family when he passed.
Rob was a great friend to me, and I have a ton of great memories of skiing, hiking, Bar-B-Q-ing, drinking beers, and generally hanging out with such a caring and happy individual. As many of you know, Rob was also the one who introduced me to brewing about 7 years ago.
He walked into my office at work one day and closed the door behind him (as he often did when he has something very ‘important’ to talk to me about). He sat down and told me that he had a brilliant idea: We were going to brew beer. I, of course, agreed to go in on this endeavor with him. He went to the Homebrewers Outpost here in town and bought one of their beer kits. We then went over to his house that next weekend, poured some beers and started reading the instruction sheet that came with it.
The extract was measured, the grains were steeped, and the boil was done on his kitchen stove. As I recall, we narrowly avoided flooding his kitchen from boiling over, only to overflow the sink full of ice and water when we transferred the boil pot into it to chill it. Generally, we felt like it successful, and within a couple days, the airloc on our carboy was bubbling away.
A couple weeks later we transferred into the bottling bucket, added some sugar, and set about bottling our first batch.
It was (supposedly) an irish red, and we ended up dumping about 90% of the bottles. It was horrible. It didn’t taste quite right immediately out of the gate, and over time developed a pretty nasty case of some sort of funk, resulting in ‘gusher’ bottles after around a month of aging (we kept holding out that it ‘just needed more time’).
We had the best of intentions, but I wasn’t going to go through a month (or more) of time just to have another bad batch. I told Rob we had to give it a second try, but we were doing it right this time.
Rob always said he was the ‘show pony’ and came up with the ideas, and I was the implementer. He bought a copy of How to Brew by John Palmer and surrendered it to me over a weekend for some research. I spent the weekend reading it cover to cover, and devising plans for batch #2. Rob suggested an oatmeal stout, and I set about constructing a mash tun, obtaining a full size boil pot, learning about sanitation and cleaning, and plotting out the gory the details of the recipe. I even think I did a step mash for that first batch (there were spreadsheets involved, it was glorious). Talk about going for the gold out of the gate.
Rob did his part by collecting as many oatmeal stouts as he could find and doing ‘competitive research’.
It was a great partnership, and the second beer was a rousing success. We drank every last bottle of it, and enjoyed every one. In fact, it was so good, that the Pan American Stout is a variation on that original recipe with some vanilla and coffee added to it.
Rob was always known for his enthusiasm, and his eternally upbeat attitude. He was always calling ‘strategy meetings’ (usually at Pay N Take over a beer) to plan whatever the next party or road trip was. We had many a night hanging out at his place in Country Club, watching movies on the big screen, grilling on the back porch, and cranking the music on his ridiculous sound system. His 4th of July parties were not to be missed, and you could always count on his place if you were looking for a BBQ on a long weekend.
Rob lived in Flagstaff for a few more years after that, and then ended up moving back to California for a new job and to be closer to his kids. Even after he left, he would travel back to Flagstaff to hang out with us from time to time. More often than not, this travel coincided with a party of some sort or another.
He was a fixture at my annual Turkey Fry party, which became one of the biggest events of the year around my house. The weekend before Thanksgiving I would have 2-3 batches of homebrew ready to go and would buy 30-40 lbs worth of turkey. We would heat up some oil in the back yard, deep fry the turkeys, and then feast on every sort of delicious food you could imagine (potlucks are great, and potlucks with 40 people are even better). I’ve done that party every year I’ve lived in Flagstaff, (2005 was the first year of it) and Rob missed it exactly 1 time. He flew out from California several times after he moved away just to come back for it.
Rob was a wonderful, caring, eternally happy person who was always up for helping somebody out, or doing his part to make a situation more fun. Unfortunately, he was taken before his time, but sometimes that’s just the way of things.
I do sincerely wish that he could have made it out to Flagstaff to see what ultimately became of that simple statement in my office 7 years ago. He got one of the first Wanderlust t-shirts when they were printed, and as the ‘show pony’ wore it proudly around the bay area when he was out and about. He’s gotten many care packages from me over the last few years of my test batches, and was always one of the first on the list when I needed some inspiration for what to brew next. He would have been right at home bellying up to the bar at Wanderlust. Come to think of it, he would have probably been drinking a beer while I worked the brewhouse, that’s how our homebrew sessions usually went down.
So, in the midst of about the busiest time in the brewery start up process, I’m taking the weekend off from renovations and heading to California. It may set me back a week or so, but in the grand scheme of things, that week is completely irrelevant.
I’m headed out to California, not for a memorial service, but for a celebration of his life. His friends and family have put together a Bar-B-Q at somebody’s house saturday evening, and we’ll all share some good memories of him, some good food, and some good beer in his honor. It’s certainly what he would have wanted.
If you knew Rob and you happen to see a Guinness tap this weekend while you’re out and about, stop and have a pint in his honor. Better yet, have a black and tan if it’s available, it’s what Rob would have done.