A Commons Goodbye
If you didn't know what day it was, you might have mistaken the mood at the Commons last night. It was packed; full of smiling, drinking people. There was a DJ. Three people manned the bar, which was four rows deep with people trying to order at certain moments. The nature of the celebration was effectively a wake, however. That was the last night the Commons will inhabit its home at the east end of the Morrison Bridge--and maybe the last night it will exist at all.
It's a surreal experience to visit one of the country's best breweries, see a gathering of their biggest fans, order glass of truly superb beer, and amid all the jollity know that it was all ending. (The Anderlecht wild ale was a revelation; Galaxy Myrtle was vibrantly fresh; and of course Urban Farmhouse and Flemish Kiss, my final two beers at the old place, were Urban Farmhouse and Flemish Kiss.) How could this be?
Over the past month, I've made a point of stopping in to the Commons as often as possible. If last night was a wake, the last few weeks have been like a period of mourning. A mood suffused the place of quiet and reflection; we savored the experience but braced ourselves for a time of its absence. Nevertheless, the beer was drinking better than it ever had. The familiar stuff was perfectly dialed in--I don't remember Flemish Kiss ever tasting as good as this year. The new ones continually surprised me with their self-assurance and accomplishment. The failure of most breweries is preceded by confusion and decline; The Commons seemed even more focused, like a virtuoso giving one final command performance.
Mike Wright was there, looking a bit shell-shocked. He was upbeat, however, despite fielding from me the same questions he was hearing all night. (How you doing? Is this really the end? Are you planning a reboot?) He was not morose, however, and to my relief said he was still hopeful. Give him a couple months to decompress and think. Josh Grgas, a constant presence, left the brewery in mid-September, but was back last night, too. More than Mike, his mood seemed genuinely melancholy.
As for the rest of us, we're going to have to figure out how to live in a Commons-less Portland. There are a few kegs left, and they will somehow make their way into the world. Like everyone else, I'm going to hope this is a weird, particularly acute moment of transition; that in a few years, when the Commons is back and turning out its usual line of stellar ales (and the occasional lager), we'll remember this moment like a nonsensical dream.