Online Edition 10.26.06

Happy Anniversary, Honey | Andrea Avery

Bar Tab | L. Dupree

Skuntry Brewing | Joe Esser

Tang & Gin and Gilligan's Island | Chris Johnson

When, Wine | Chris King

Shakes: When The Librarians Came To Town | Shan & Di

Untitled (London) | Orestes Valdes

Print Edition   


For All The Men And Women Who Go Out | Aaron Belz

Professor Diamond Bill Cardigan's Sure-Fire Bar Bet | Bill Chott

A Train Story | Matt Fernandes

Ed Fletcher's Corncrib Cocktails | Thom Fletcher

Mother's Milk | Jennifer Gaby

What's In A Name? | Franklin Jennings

Joe's Cafe | Brandyn Jones

Tasting Notes: Of Free Wine and Streetwalkers | Chris King

A Guide To The Lesser Brands | Michael McCarthy

Tickled Pink And Twisted Sister | Shannon McGinn

I Am Not A Nature Poet | Richard Newman

Alcoholism For Dummies: A Very Different 12-Step Program | Julia Smillie

Nine Beers In, I Beget A Serenade | James Weber, Jr.

On Texting An Ex At 3:30 AM | Tom Weber


Thomas Crone, Andrea Day, Nick Findley, Gina Rosa Gallina, Tom Lampe, Tara McCarthy, Dana Smith,  Adam Scott Williams

Skuntry Brewing | by Joe Esser

In August, 1989 a couple Wash U grad students were putting together a band. They already had 3 gigs lined up and needed, well, an actual band. I met these folks at an English Department party, myself a new Wash U grad student. I had a bass. I had an amp. I was undaunted by the prospect of 3 gigs in as many weeks, playing songs I'd never heard with half a band. Thus was born Enormous Richard, with me on what Lij, our fiddle and banjo player, dubbed the "farty-bass." We couldn't play that well, but if you listened, the songs were smart and kind of catchy, and we had tons of heart and lots of fun onstage. And we were pretty adept at shameless, clever self-promotion. And, more importantly, we had a name for what we thought we were up to: "Skuntry." Skuntry, the term, began as an amalgam of "ska" and "country," coined by original ER guitarist Marshal Boswell. It vaguely described one or two of our early songs, but the strong hint of "skunk" in the word was more fitting. Quickly we adopted Skuntry as a way to describe an overarching aesthetic philosophy -- indeed, kind of a religion. We defined it through our M.O., breaking into empty Wash U classrooms on Friday nights to practice, scoring gigs in trendy Laclede's Landing bars while barely able to tune our instruments, and so on. Like many scrappy St. Louis bands at the time, we found a loving home (and free beer) in Cicero's Basement Bar, and there Skuntry thrived.

Thus it was, in July 1990, facing what we thought was the imminent dissolution of the band (or its re-casting, which, indeed, did occur), we sought to record our ever growing song library as a tape we could share with our friends, and maybe sell at gigs, and that Lij could listen to on a plane to Hong Kong. We spent two days in Chris King's sister's basement in Granite City, IL and dropped keeper takes of about 35 or so songs live onto 2-track tape. The sessions ended on July 29, 1990, the 100th anniversary of Vincent Van Gogh's death and what we now consider the official birth date of the seminal document of Skuntry music, "Enormous Richard's Almanac." We crammed 30 of the songs we'd recorded onto a 90 minute tape and finally had in hand that elusive thing that every gigging band needed: "product." So, on to the packaging. Lij and drummer Matt Fuller drew up a clever and brilliant send-up of the familiar "Poor Richard's Almanac" and "Farmer's Almanac" covers, with illustrations of some of the song titles and the no-nonsense advertisement of what you'd be getting if you crossed our palm with five clams: "30 Skuntry Hits."

In the spring of 2005, Enormous Richard began planning our 3rd reunion gig. We got the bright idea 2 years prior to reunite the six musicians who recorded the "Almanac": Matt Fuller, Chris King, John Minkoff, Lij, Rich Skubish and me. While we had recorded the tape in July of 1990, the band in that configuration actually only played onstage together once or twice before Lij and Johnny followed their callings to Hong Kong and Chicago, respectively. But we were itching to perform the songs we'd always loved, and figured the town of our birth was ready to welcome us home 13 years later. The first reunion was a hoot, and for the second one, in Granite City, where we recorded the "Almanac," I Photoshopped a bastardized version of the original "Almanac" tape cover to promote the gig on So when planning for the 3rd - a repeat engagement of the previous one in Granite City, and now aspiring to be an annual event - I got the notion that I would brew a beer to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the committing to magnetic particles of ER's "Almanac." Skuntry had been beer-fueled from its inception; it was high time we had our own brew.

When I started brewing beer in my kitchen, a year and a half ago, I quickly realized that it, too, was essentially a Skuntry operation. I knew some of the math, a bit more of the biology, and a fair bit of the aesthetics of beer. But, really, I was kind of figuring it out as I went, and brewing batches with a kind of devil-may-care abandon. My first batch boiled over very messily because my brewpot was too small. My second batch, a barleywine, fermented so wildly that it literally exploded out of the fermenting bucket in my bathtub.

Prior to figuring on brewing an ER Almanac Ale, I'd brewed 3 batches, all from pre-packaged homebrew kits. This would be batch four and would be my first maverick from-scratch recipe, using the tremendous wealth of homebrew knowledge and experience I'd gained in 4 months. The project was starting to take on a familiar Skuntry smell. I concocted a brew that would be a kind of familiar American style pale ale, but strong and malty, with a hint of roastiness, and with fairly strong, also familiar hop character. It would need to be bottled on July 29, the 15th anniversary of the day we completed recording the Almanac. And so I brewed, and fermented in a plastic bucket and bottled on that magical day. I was pretty happy with the result too. So, on to the packaging. For the label, I asked Matt Fuller to draw cartoons of beer ingredients to replace the original drawings on what was to be a further bastardized version of the "Almanac" cover art. His drawings were no less brilliant than the original cover art, right down to the little skunk sitting atop the waterfall that illustrates that key ingredient of beer, water. I should note also that I took great delight in the paradox of associating our totem animal with beer. Strictly speaking, "skunkiness" is the smell of a beer gone bad, but for Skuntry, it took on a different meaning: the beer wasn't skunked, but the Skunk was most definitely in the beer.

For our 2006 reunion, I again figured on brewing a commemorative beer, this time to be called "Enormous Richard's Sweet 16 Honey Wheat Almanac Ale." It was our 16th anniversary and to play up the "sweet," I figured a honey wheat ale would be just the thing. What I ended up with was a strong, volatile beer with a pronounced, smooth honey flavor - pretty much what I'd hoped for. Matt Fuller once again contributed to a slightly modified version of the original Almanac Ale label.

Alas, the 2006 reunion gig never happened, owing to hectic schedules and family demands of band mates scattered across the country. We remain undaunted, though, and have committed to doing our darndest to make ER Reunion Number 4 a reality in 2007 (and a new batch of Almanac Ale shall accompany it). As much as Skuntry is an ever-changing philosophy and way of life, and now a cottage record label and small press, its roots are perhaps its most prominent and important feature - it started as an enthusiastic, sloppy, determined, tipsy and bold way of thinking, cooked up from the piss and vinegar (and beer) of youth. Brewing an annual Skuntry beer, like convening an annual reunion gig, is one way, I suppose, of trying to capture and hold onto that increasingly fleeting, youthful purpose and joy. Indeed, I'm trying to bottle it.


Joe Esser is the author of The Book of Punch Lines (Yoo-Hoo Press, 1993), and his poems have appeared in the Independent Review and SPSM&H. He is a founding member of the Hoobellatoo multimedia documentary and the owner of a small web development outfit. He lives in Wayne, NJ.