One of my favorite things about the craft-beer community is how extremely welcoming it is. Nobody discovers it on their own. Rather, they are introduced and ushered into the fold by kindly enthusiasts who want others to understand and enjoy the flavor and quality of cut-above ales and lagers as well as the tremendous subculture they have spawned. Like so many others, I was lucky to have such an individual steer me in the direction of craft beer…and it changed my life. I’ve mentioned him numerous times in interviews when asked the inevitable question: “How did you get into craft beer?” But I’ve never given him the full credit he deserves, and I’d like to take a moment to correct that.
The year was 1998 and I was in my early twenties working for a microelectronics company in Kearny Mesa. I rarely drank, and when I did, I exclusively indulged in hard alcohol. I had zero taste for or interest in beer, and that’s what I told my friend, Jason Megraw, when he invited me to join him and some other co-workers for beers at some nearby bar that I had never heard of called O’Brien’s Pub one day after work. His reply was, “So what, it’ll be fun.” How could I argue with that ironclad logic?
That afternoon I met Jason and his group, all of which were clearly regulars at O’Brien’s. When the waitress came around to take our orders (yes, they had table service back then), I froze, realizing I had no idea what to order, and said I’d go last. I listened as everyone reeled off names of beers I’d never heard of, simultaneously trying to think of a beer that would be considered cool enough that I didn’t embarrass myself. When my time finally came, I sheepishly requested a Heineken.
“Oh, god, no, no, no,” Jason said, looking simultaneously amused and horrified. “He’ll have an Arrogant Bastard.”
I felt relieved when my pint of heady, deep-amber ale matched that of my tablemates, but I was confused. This beer looked nothing like any I’d seen before. My family pretty much only drank Coronas with lime wedges jammed down the throats of their clear glass vessels, and every beer I’d seen in print and television ads to-date had been golden-hued, with many touting their smooth-drinking and less-filling natures.
When I took a sip of the beer in my glass, it was bold in every sense: bready and heavy in its malt complexity, outrageously hoppy and overtly alcoholic (not that I had the knowledge or frame of reference to understand any of that at the time). This beer wasn’t bland, watery or otherwise boring. It was interesting and exciting, and made me want to try other beers. I did so with my next pint, having another iconic beer (not that I knew that), Bigfoot from Sierra Nevada Brewing.
Few are the craft-beer fans who started their slide down the rabbit hole with an American strong ale and barley wine, and I certainly wouldn’t have without my friend, Jason. Nor would I have proceeded to attend tons of beer festivals, participate in homebrewing sessions, learn about a broad range of worldly ale and lager styles or start designing labels to adorn bottles of Jason’s amateur brews. And I likely wouldn’t have discovered local brewing institutions like Pizza Port Solana Beach, Rock Bottom La Jolla, Stone Brewing, San Diego Brewing or Callahan’s Pub.
Jason was generous with his time and his passion for craft beer, or microbrews as they were called back then. He and I started going to O’Brien’s all the time, dragging new friends with us. It’s remained a gathering place for us for a quarter of a century. As I consider that span of time, there’s hardly anything in my life I can think of that has been as long-lasting and important as my appreciation for beer, patronage of that special spot or the memorable moments with friends and loved ones that have taken place there. And I owe it all to Jason.
Many people make a difference in one’s life, but Jason helped change the entire trajectory of mine simply by being nice enough to bring me in on something that was special to him which he thought I would enjoy, as well.
I recently received the shocking news that my dear friend Jason had passed away. It was unexpected. He was only in his late fifties and had no underlying health issues. The news hit me like a sledgehammer to the chest and I am still reeling, mostly because of the regret I feel for not having told him how important he was to me and how much I owe him. And not just for opening my eyes to craft beer, but for being such a wonderful friend to me. It’s not an easy thing to do. I’m not as available as I’d like and get wrapped up with work and trivial things, allowing them to take precedence over the good people in my life. Jason didn’t.
He is the only person who has ever read every single word of fiction I’ve written. Not only did he read multiple manuscripts registering well above 2,000 pages, but he exactingly proofread them, offering notes, finding plot holes and asking smart questions to help me make what I was working on better. And he did it enthusiastically, exhibiting a joy in the process that helped me to keep going and showed how much he cared. And I would wager nobody unaffiliated with the Lupus Foundation of Southern California attended more of my Beer to the Rescue fundraiser events than Jason.
When I was a single dad with a young son and he was in his early thirties, he would selflessly hang out with us, play catch and other games with the little guy he called “B-bon” and come to Padres games with us, including spring-training excursions to Arizona. He even brewed my son a batch of root beer on his seventh birthday. But there’s more to Jason than who he was in relation to me and my son.
Brought up on the upper west side of New York City, Jason was a no-nonsense guy who didn’t suffer fools but sure enjoyed fooling around. He had a great sense of humor and a unique high-pitched laugh that I will never forget. Jason was an engineer by trade, super-smart and extremely calculating. He was also an athlete. He completed scads of marathons and Spartan events, did mud runs at Camp Pendleton, ran on the reg and enjoyed biking, especially from brewery to brewery with a fun beer-and-bike group he caravanned with on weekends. He was also a great softball player that I had the pleasure of calling my teammate for years (undefeated season in 2001!), and an avid hiker. He liked taking on mountains, even in the dead of winter with multiple feet of snow covering those lofty caps and was the type of guy who could summit all of San Diego’s five peaks in a single day. He loved his family and the band Sublime (something else he got me into).
I thank you for indulging me in sharing about my friend. I don’t typically get too personal, but I felt it was important to tell you about him. While there are members of the San Diego craft-beer community that are well known, it’s likely you have never heard of Jason. Yet his impact on me, and by extension the San Diego craft-beer scene, was significant. Without him, I wouldn’t have pushed to cover local beer in the mid-2000s when I realized almost nobody else was. There would be no San Diego Beer News or any of the newspaper, magazine, radio or TV coverage I’ve had the privilege of producing for the past decade and a half.
It’s because of Jason that I have the honor of telling the stories of our local breweries and artisans and providing information to keep local craft-beer fans informed. I can’t imagine my life any other way and am so appreciative to the kind ahead-of-the-curve enthusiast that took me under his wing.
Jason was a wonderful person. I will miss him dearly but will remember him always. Toast your friends openly and often while they are present to feel the love you have for them and know, without a doubt, just how important they are to you.