Enjoying Our Beer

by Art Mattson, OCM Historian

Beer wasn’t always as popular with Mensans as it is now.

To be sure, some individuals drank it, but it was not served at Open Houses and RGs through most of the 80’s. Almost all restaurants and bars had some variations of Bud, Coors, and Millers, including their light/lite versions. I refer to them as swill, and that’s all we could get. John Olsen (Johnny) said “I used to go to Renaissance Faires just to have the English beer that was on tap.” It was that bad trying to find good beer anywhere else. Sometimes we could find Heinekens or Corona or Dos Equis if we were lucky.

Johnny and a few others took to brewing their own beer. He said “it was very hard to get good fresh beer.” He made a dozen or so batches at home and that many more at brew shops where customers paid to use the equipment to brew their own. Many times we were invited to join him. A great Mensa activity, don’t you think?

In the late 80’s, the micro-brewery explosion flooded the market with a great variety of tasty crafted beers. Suddenly there were beers for every taste (except my wife’s; she doesn’t like any of it). Johnny stopped brewing his own beer because “great beer had become so readily available.” I soon discarded my own beer-making equipment.

Around 1986, Johnny started “Beerhunters,” a SIG now in its 28th year. He has sought out bars throughout the county that serve beer worth drinking. He has been very successful, finding us dozens of places in all corners of the county, and the middle as well. Sometimes we (no, not always me) go straight to the brewery to partake from the source.

Johnny has also hosted his 3rd Friday Happy Hour at Hollingshead’s (aka Thee Beer Place) for 25 years. They have 10-12 beers on tap (no swill) and hundreds of different beers from all over the world on the shelves. We sit at tables amid the shelves, and sometimes at tables outside. It’s a deli, too, with a dozen sandwiches they will make before your eyes, and other treats as well. As Yogi Berra says, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” That’s how good it is on Friday nights. Not to worry; show up. There’s always room for one more.

Johnny has led four all-day Pub Crawls, too, even venturing outside the county to places in San Diego and Riverside counties. I personally enjoyed the one that stayed in and around Anaheim.

When I chaired the 1990 AG in Anaheim, I asked Co-Hospitality Chair Russ Bakke to include a keg of Anchor Steam among his beer offerings. He did, but left it unlabeled. I think he shared his secret, though, because the keg was soon drained. It was the first time a GOOD beer had been served at an AG.

At the 1992 San Francisco AG, they closed the Hospitality Suite on Thursday night because they were serving a meal elsewhere (which you had to pay for) and didn’t want competition for it. Johnny, Bruce Poppe (then of OCM), Tom Karnes of Oceanside, and a couple from New Jersey refused to leave the suite. Rather than be ejected, they locked themselves in the bathroom where cans and bottles of beer were on ice in the tub. At one point, the young lady had to use the facility. It’s unclear as to how they handled that, but one story is that all the men had to get in the tub with the beer and ice and close the shower curtain while she did what she had to do. That may be apocryphal. Nonetheless, the protesting of the closing of the suite was just good, clean fun. It became known as the “Beer-O-Sphere,” and has been remembered frequently and fondly over the years.

In 1999 at the AG in Long Beach, Dave Mitchell joined Johnny in leading “Possibly the World’s Shortest Bar Crawl.” They took folks across the street from the Hyatt to “the Yard House, which was featuring more beers on tap than any other place in America (over 200). Next stop was a place right next door featuring hundreds of tequilas.” Hundreds? That’s what the program said.

I started out writing about beer and Mensa. It looks now to be an homage to Johnny. Just the same, we have had others make their contributions to our beer world, and I’ll close by mentioning just two. Our second President, Bob Swanson, led our first wine SIG. To change the pace, he put on a beer tasting one month and laid in a nice variety of beers. No one came. I was out of town and Johnny hadn’t joined Mensa yet. But times change.

Thirty years later, Bryan Dietz conducted a fabulously successful beer tasting at our 2013 RG in Buena Park. Bryan continues to do what Johnny and I gave up years ago. He brews beer. He’s active with a brewing club that meets every month. Next time you see him, check out his shirt. You might learn a little something about our favorite beverage.

This past May 30th, Johnny included a special notice in the weekly E-blast announcing an “Emergency Beerhunters Meeting.” It was a fifth Friday which would cause us to wait an extra week before our regular meeting which happens on the first Friday each month. Eight of us went to a brewery in Anaheim (Phantom Ales, Cider, and Cellar) which Johnny had just discovered. They have a nice tasting room and serve some very good food as well as a dozen delicious beers. Half the group went on to a second brewery (Bottle Logic) but I went home to my lonely wife.

Reprinted from the July, 2014, Oracle

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