Musings on Muir and Stickeen

Cans of Stickeen, our double IPA dry-hopped with Simcoe, Eureka, and Idaho 7, will be quietly stocked in the pub cooler at open on Tuesday (7/31). This beer hits home for us in so many ways.

High on my “if you could have a beer with anyone” list is John Muir. He sublimated his naturalistic spirituality into visionary conservation efforts, creating a template for us to protect, manage, and--most importantly--experience the wild lands that connect us to the primal world whence we came.

Muir’s exploits are a model for living. He climbed a hundred-foot-tall spruce in a winter storm to better hear the music of the wind and feel the tree’s experience of the gusts. He climbed to a ledge behind the tallest waterfall in North America in the middle of the night to see the moon through its tumbling gauze. He made the first ascent of Cathedral Peak, a steep and exposed peak that today’s climbers don’t stand on without the air of ropes and protection.

Later, Muir explored the glacial inlets of Alaska on a canoe-based expedition. He took advantage of a day on shore to traverse a glacier that spilled into Taylor Bay. His expedition partner’s little black dog, Stickeen, foisted himself on the journey. Stickeen had a strange aloofness, independence, and idleness that made Muir cool to him, but the dog had also shown a keen interest in excursions on land, demonstrating great endurance, curiosity, and bravery. He turned out to be a natural adventurer out on the glacier, climbing footholds that Muir cut with his pickax and leaping easily across crevasses.

When a violent storm of wind and rain came ripping upslope, Muir and Stickeen found their retreat back to shore halted by a yawning fifty-foot-wide crevasse with no seeming terminus in either direction. Stickeen’s confidence and poise peeled away as Muir descended the crevasse to a narrow ice bridge he intended to take across. He cut steps into the ice to assist his descent, made a careful embrace of the slippery bridge as he worked his way across it, and repeated the step-cutting on the other side, now some thirty feet deep in the crevasse. He carefully climbed out and called for Stickeen to come across, but the dog was trembling and resisted venturing out on the wind-whipped ice bridge. Muir tried walking away to induce a crossing to no avail. They went at this for some time before Muir forcefully commanded Stickeen to cross and the weary dog finally snapped to and obeyed. Muir reached down to grab Stickeen as he worked his way up, but the dog flew joyously past him and proceeded leaping a few hundred yards across the glacier’s surface, rolling around and panting in complete exultation.

Isn’t the beer industry going through its own icy trial, making the leap from a demographically proscribed subculture to becoming relevant to all? Doesn’t any particular brewery in a market of 6,000 have to work its way into a dark, cold, windy hole of self-discovery and climb its way out? Isn’t our city trying to do much the same? These are the questions traversing my mind as we roll out Stickeen.

I’m also thinking about the spirit of awe and adoration Muir had for the natural world and the conservation ethos he channeled that into. Our location on the western aspect of Appalachia and the arc of colonial, revolutionary, and industrial history means that our natural ecology is heavily shaped by patterns of the human hand: settlement, agriculture, transportation, and extractive industry. Penn’s old woods are well-kept in small stands here and there, but we inhabit a world largely alien to nature. Subdivisions outnumber hemlocks, and skyscrapers and furnaces tower over them.

Still, there’s a growing sense of the value of the natural order in the way we eat, drink, recreate, and go about our lives. We strive to build into this ethos as much as we can. Our kitchen sources local, seasonal, responsibly grown and raised ingredients whenever possible. We partner with a local farmer to ensure our brewing waste ends up in the food chain rather than a landfill. We seek partnerships with local conservation organizations like Tree Pittsburgh to support their missions. We are proud of our gold certification with Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurants for water conservation, waste reduction, energy efficiency, and responsible sourcing.

How wild that humans actively seek to loosen their grip on the world around them these days; that we strive to make it less in our own image? Or is just that that image is changing into one where we draw benefits from the revival of natural landscapes rather than the subjugation of them. Aren’t we just trying to make possible locally what Muir extolled over a century ago? “Keep close to Nature’s heart,” he urged, “and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”


Stickeen - Double IPA - 8.2%

Our extra-resiny double IPA returns with a gentle pruning to crystallize sappy gobs of Simcoe, Simcoe Cryo, Idaho 7, and Eureka into the fluffy flaked oat substrate. No lactose this time and the slightly drier finish means there's more punch in the myrcene. Drinking dank and pungent at 8.2%, these are basically just sugar pine cones masquerading as pounders ready to stick your icky. Inspired by the crevasse-crossing type-two epic John Muir and the eponymous adventure dog had on Brady Glacier in an Alaskan squall way back in 1880.