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Thursday, April 4, 2019 12:16 am

Beer and pot

One’s OK, the other, well...

George Reisch toasts the crowd at Pasfield House's first known kegger.

 

As keggers go, a shindig last Saturday at the Pasfield House was fancier than most – no Solo cups or loud music, and the kegs were pressurized, so no pumping.

But some things never change. Dozens arrived early, each paying $100 for all they could drink and eat, with the menu including horseshoes, pasta, shrimp, brats and sandwiches, either turkey or muffelata. It was the first in what organizers hope will be a series of beer parties featuring Reisch Gold Top, the recently revived Springfield brand that has local beer nuts going nuts.

I had my first taste about a month ago at the VFW on Old Jacksonville Road, what with Illinois Tap on North Grand Avenue recently having raised the all-day-every-day price of Pabst from $1 to $1.50 but helpfully putting a sign on the door announcing the price hike so as to promote informed decisions. I wasn’t expecting much of Reisch, which I’d never heard of before the hype hit local media, but it was the same price, more or less, as Budweiser. And, it turned out, much better. I had more than one.

Saturday’s event was supposed to be limited to 117 guests, matching the number of years Reisch was in business before closing shop in 1966, but it seemed like there were more. You could barely move. George Reisch, retired brewmaster for Anheuser-Busch whose family started its Springfield brewery in 1849, chatted easily about many things, including the legendary Gussie Busch and son August, both of whom once ran AB, but what really got him excited was yeast, proper glasses and the awfulness of bottles as opposed to cans – the guy is a total beer nerd, and he knows a thing or two. The best way to figure the quality of a brewing operation is to drink its light beer, even if you don’t like light beer – any flaws will be obvious. To determine whether a beer is good, pour a glass, let it sit four hours, then start sipping. If it’s drinkable enough to down a warm glass, it’ll be great when cold. Reisch, Reisch said, passed the test after FedEx delivered a test can to his St. Louis home for approval prior to the start of production at a Wisconsin brewery. He beamed the whole night on Saturday.

"This is nuts – just insane," he said as the crowd swelled. Four days later, he was still sounding like George Bailey from It's A Wonderful Life, saying he never dreamed that his family's beer would have such a following after all these years. "It's just a wonderful thing," Reisch said. "It came out of nowhere, this whole thing." Reisch had resisted calls to revive the family recipe until someone made a suggestion he couldn't refuse: Donate all profits to charity. And so all proceeds after expenses will toward historic preservation in Springfield. Saturday's event grossed more than $10,000. "There's no ulterior motive other than love," he said. Reisch says rumors that profits will go to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation to pay off its debt for Lincoln artifacts aren't true – no decisions have been made. "It's funny how people say that," he said. "We can't possibly even know who we're going to give the money to." Reisch says he's heard from beer lovers in Chicago, and so distribution might widen. But there are limits. "I said I only wanted to take care of Springfield when I started this thing," he said. "If we run out of beer in Springfield because it's going to Chicago, that's a problem."

Legislators and drugs
Legal pot might draw homeless folks to Illinois from across the nation. That’s just one of the whereas’s in a reefer-madness resolution sponsored by 60 House members urging that the state go slow in letting the devil’s weed be sold to consenting adults. “Hey, Ethel: Let’s get the heck out from under this bridge in Florida and hitchhike to the Springfield library so we can buy weed with money we don’t have.” Sure. Dan Linn, executive director of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, isn’t buying the hype. He predicts 10 or so of the representatives who’ve sponsored this silliness will ultimately vote for a legalization bill, but just when isn’t clear. “Will it happen this spring? Maybe,” Linn says. “By next spring? Very likely.”

Reefer redux
While legislators chew cud over pot, out-of-staters see green. Just ask Chris Stone, chief executive officer of HCI Alternatives, the dispensary company with outlets in Collinsville and downtown Springfield. Ascend Wellness, a Massachusetts-based company is buying HCI, which the company says serves about 10 percent of Illinois medical marijuana customers. The deal is pending approval of state regulators, according to Stone, who prefers the term “merger” to “acquisition.” Ascend plans to lease growing space in Pike County from Innovative Industrial Properties, a real estate investment trust that buys property for pot farms. Innovative in December closed on a $19 million deal for 10 acres in Barry, where the state has licensed a cultivation center that so far hasn’t lived up to dreams. Ascend will run the cultivation center and is expected to expand production, which has been lower than authorized. Linn sees the deal as part of consolidation in an industry where cultivation centers are holding onto licenses to protect market share while outsiders pay premiums to enter the Illinois market. While business booms, Stone says the state should be cautious in permitting new cultivation centers. Linn, who manages a Grandview dispensary, argues that the state should allow home growing. Reactions, he says, vary when customers find seeds in buds, which are supposed to be seedless. “They’re either very happy or they’re very upset,” he says. 

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