Thank You Ray Deter [Goodbyes]

Jimmy Carbone (left) and Deter celebrating the Good Beer Seal Proclamation (via diesel

Ray Deter was the heart and soul of D.B.A., and the original D.B.A. was the first beer bar—or bar of any kind, for that matter—I visited in New York City.

I’d heard of D.B.A. spoken of with the reverential tones reserved for Gotham landmarks like C.B.G.B.’s and Siberia (the old one, of course), and so on a hot July night in 1999 I piled in a cab with a couple of high school friends living in a ramshackle office building in Little Korea and headed South to find it. We did and we stayed later than we should have, which is usually the case with a visit to 41 1st Avenue. I found this reverence entirely justified—look at that beer list! The whisky, the Kentucky Bourbon!—and in all seriousness D.B.A. became one of the reasons I moved to New York City. But unlike the punk clubs and gutter dives D.B.A. was about sharing knowledge, not posing on a stage or getting wasted. I knew that no matter what else happened, I could at least count on one really good place where I might find common cause, a decent beer, a good conversation. That hasn’t changed, of course, but it will never be the same, because Ray Deter won’t be standing down at the end of the bar, with his steady attention to the main thing—the beer.

I didn’t meet Ray until many years later, around 2004. A writer friend, Seth, had gotten to know Ray, who invited us both in for some beer tasting. That tasting led to many more; Ray was deeply passionate about craft beer, and like us, lived in a city almost entirely oblivious to its charms. The fact is that were it not for Ray Deter and D.B.A., the good beer renaissance that has transformed Manhattan into an isle of beery joy may never have happened at all, or at least not for many years. A trip to the candle-lit, copper topped tables and those chalkboards was a golden promise every time.

That first night I met Ray he blew us away by pulling dozens upon dozens of beers out for us to try from his cellar, and there would be many other such nights when his generosity flowed like the East River. There was the photo shoot when he kept running back up and down from his stash with new treats, regardless of their value and rarity, making the work light and laughter-filled.

And there was another fine early summer evening, after a party at The Blind Tiger Alehouse, when it was time to relocate. Deter, along for the ride at his friends’ bar, invited the revelers to reconvene at D.B.A., which was, naturally, packed. Ducking inside, Ray reemerged with bags and bottles under each arm, and began handing them out until he’d supplied the whole lot, and then led us all, Peter Pan-like, to his own roof top apartment in the East Village.

It was 2005. I recall the limpid quality of the air and the orange-teal-grey-blue views we took in from that spot, looking West. Soon were listening to a series of hilarious stories from a German brewmaster wearing lederhosen (he’d flown that day from Munich for the party carrying only bottles of beer as luggage). Seth and I and a girl I was falling for and everybody stayed too late and talked too loud. Herr Lederhosen recounted his affinity for heavy rock (“especially The Slipknot!”) and trundled off into the night at about 3:30AM, looking for life, and then we left Ray’s place too, weary with laughter. The promise of everything I had come to seek in New York hovered in my hands like fireflies.

And there was the night about a two years later when Ray and a few close friends gathered in the back garden of D.B.A. to toast another very special person making what would be his last visit to the city: the late beer writer Michael Jackson. Just as he had always loved to do, Ray shuttled back and forth making sure we were all comfortable and well-supplied. Of course we were. And a few months later when Jackson died, there was a nationwide toast being organized by Monk’s Cafe owner Tom Peters, beer importer Dan Shelton, and others. I headed to D.B.A. to find Ray and a friend of his, and there the three of us stood for a couple of hours trying to make a measure of things. We did a lot of looking down into our beers.

Ray’s death this week was needless and random and many decades too early. My sincere condolences to his family and friends.

One mutual friend of Ray’s I called when I heard the news said a Belgian brewer friend had thought of Ray as the ultimate incarnation of American freedom. Idealistic, forgiving, a bit reckless at times, joyful, and more than anything else, generous. Ray was all those things. This July 4th, instead of tanks, keep a tankard in mind, and toast Ray, for all he did.


Raise a Glass to Fall [Diversions]

 

thirsty much?
thirsty much?

The sky may be falling on Wall Street, but we’ll always have beer. It makes us happy; it’s inexpensive; it’s readily available. What’s not to like? And fall is an especially good time to drink it. The Great American Beer Festival is in just a few weeks; the traditional Oktoberfest in Munich started just two days ago—and will go for another 13—but there are plenty of reasons raise a glass of beer right now, and close to home instead. 

 

For the last five years I’ve had the incredibly good fortune to join my friend Seth Fletcher in rating the best beers in the land (or sometimes the world) for MEN’S JOURNAL, a somber task we approach with monkish restraint (OK, we enjoy it mightily, but if we actually finished the hundreds of bottles we sample each summer the story would never happen. Much returns to Earth from whence it came. And we have notebooks, piles of them. We swear.)

This year’s list is on newsstands now, and this time, the premise was deceptively simple: if you like ‘X’ mass beer, try ‘Y’ craft variation. Are you a Guinness drinker? Then try Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter, available in 19 states and counting. With an eye toward America’s smallest, most artisanal craft brewers—some with only a handful of employees—we dedicated ourselves to coming up with a list of exceptional American (and in one case, Quebecois) craft beers that are a bit harder to find, but so worth the effort. Many of these beers are available in NYC, on tap or in bottles at bars like The Blind Tiger, Bar Great Harry, DBA, Against The Grain, Spuyten Duyvil, The Diamond, the Brazen Head, and more. There’s also a mini-profile of beer provocateur Vinnie Cilurzo (of California’s Russian River Brewing Company). Enjoy!

RELATED:

– Our previous offerings: 2004, 20052006, and 2007.

– The hard-to-please imbibers online at BeerAdvocate.com discuss our picks (via http://www.beeradvocate.com)(cheers, guys).

– Photo album: Outtakes from my 12 month tour through 14 countries, 59 breweries, and 330 beers on the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship in 1996-7.

– Interesting piece by Nick Kulish on the German beer scene today (NYT).