I used to have long dark curls, stomp around in biker boots, live in a tower at a women's college, wear long black hooded cloaks and fence after midnight with my madcap friend Will across the battlements and through the darkened halls. It was my senior undergraduate year at Haverford, and I had a better room draw at Bryn Mawr College a mile down the Mainline. I rather liked Mawryrs too, and represented in those days that now extirpated species of collegiate male known as the "Bryn Man."
When I wasn't writing my thesis on Faulkner's Native Americans, fronting for - I kid you not - The Hiram L. Weinstein All-Star Memorial Funk Project, or flipping pizzas as the night manager at the student owned and run basement pizzeria "Skeeters", I got seriously into home brewing. My partner in crime in this endeavor was the afore-mention Will Judy, who I first met at a Hallowe'en party my former girlfriend and I had thrown in which he appeared wearing a clown nose and a tuxedo. Will had followed his Bryn Mawr girlfriend to Philadelphia and enrolled at Temple, but by my senior year both of our respective relationships with Mawrtyrs had ended messily and we were left with our own friendship which lasts to this day. Earlier this year I was an usher at his wedding.
Will had the equipment and a twisted sense of humor much like my own. I had some artistic talent and an interest in producing labels for whatever we had bubbling in the fermenters. We favored 16 ounce Yuengling bar bottles for our product, and the flagship brew of the Screwhead Microbrewery was Iron-Pig Mega Stout. This was an awesome concoction, so creamy dark you could almost drink it with a fork. The Iron Pig himself was modeled on a cap badge of one of Richard III's retainers, crossed with a warthog and razorback swine. The nose ring, eye-patch, peg-leg, tattered ear and buzzing flies were my own embellishments. My then girlfriend Liz Penland, now a Coptic scholar, did the lettering for the label.
The Pig was such a mighty concoction that Will's house parties were very well attended for the beer alone. Labeling was an analog affair - no photoshop and color laser printing in 1990. Hand colored and photocopied and gluestuck was more our speed, tedious but satisfying work each weekend as we brewed one batch, bottled another and drank a third.
It was not the only branded brew we produced. Hammerhead Amber Lager was a a nice, hoppy bottom-fermented beer and I enjoyed creating the label as much as drinking what it advertised. Another favorite (Haverford being a college founded by the Society of Friends) was modeled on the Quaker Oats can and branded "Wasted Quaker Oatmeal Stout." The "wasted quaker" himself , below, could have been old Billy Penn crossed with W. C. Fields; at least that was the design concept, and the beer I recall with great fondness as worthy of its name.
Will was a master at dreaming up names for beers we never brewed, particularly those with literary allusions. I think he contemplated "Emily Dickinson Fly Buzz Ale", and I worked on a pumpkin flavored pale ale for Hallowe'en called "Cadaverford." Clearly we did not have a shred of marketing advice, since neither of these ideas are likely to inspire purchase and consumption of the fluids so labeled. Free beer was something else again, and this being a labor of love we were decidedly non-profit and artistically free to experiment with content and design.
The day I defended my thesis and with nine days before graduation, Will and I decided on an impulse to take two cases of Iron Pig on a road trip to New Orleans. Where else could we get a sense of how the public might receive our product if we decided to go commercial? We loaded our bottles into Will's diminutive Honda Civic late that afternoon and headed for Dixie. We just about ran out of gas in North Carolina and my sister who, was a sophomore at Chapel Hill, refused to let us into the house at 2:00 in the morning so we slept in the car. We hit New Orleans the following afternoon and decided that our best option was not to go to sleep but to move from establishment to establishment until morning.
Much to our surprise, the bars actually do close eventually on Bourbon St. We found ourselves at 4:00 a.m. at the last relatively "clean, well-lighted place" in the Quarter, a cowboy themed bar called The Roundup. Its clientele seemed to be plaid wearing truckers and one drag queen, which we thought was open minded. Will struck up a conversation with a tragic looking woman on the stool beside him and told her she'd look much better without all the makeup. Several unexpected things happened at this point. The woman recoiled, saying "Are you always such a bitch?" A man playing video poker announced "Hey, I got a straight!" to which the mustachioed bartender replied "In this place? Get real!" In such manner it was revealed to us that we were in a gay bar. We took it all in, had another beer, and decided it was time to find a safe place to crash, which turned out to be the golf course at Tulane until the police told us to move along and it began to rain.
When the water started coming in under the door, and we had enjoyed a brisk outdoor shower, it was time to head for higher ground. The highest ground in that section of flooded New Orleans was the trolley track that ran down the center of the avenue. We drove that way for a while, then dipped almost to the hood into a puddle at the entrance to a parking lot that appeared to be above high water. The rain stopped and we spent the next hour wading though the garden district and a flooded cemetery where it was now perfectly obvious why New Orleans entombs its dead above ground.
Unable to face a second sleepless night, we headed out of town that afternoon and made it back to Philly 5 days before graduation and without a bottle of Iron Pig left to our names. Will and I made a deal regarding our joint ownership of the Iron Pig brand. The one of us who figured out how to profit financially from Iron Pig needed to give most of the credit to the other, swapping fame for fortune. Well, Will, thanks for coming up with the concept. I'll see you in the funny papers.