Stout Fellow

Unreal hoists (metaphorical) pints with Yakov Smirnoff and (real) pints with the Guinness brewmaster; then we try to get a deal on an empty Falstaff keg. Plus: RFT editor Tom Finkel makes some unbelievable hires!

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, the brewmaster for Guinness came to St. Louis last week to beat the drum for the legendary Irish stout. Unreal felt obliged to hoist a pint with him.

"It is an honor," Fergal Murray began, "minding the greatest brand of beer for the people of the world, for it is the best beer on the entire planet."

The 43-year-old Murray, a theatrical bloke whose curly brown hair seems to erupt from his scalp in unkempt patches, held forth eloquently about his time-honored craft and what a pub barkeep must know to pour the perfect pint: The beer lines must be clear, the glass clean and dry and held at a 45-degree angle. And never — Heaven forfend, never— should tap touch glass as the delicate liquid showers down.

"One must let it settle then before topping it off in order to create the right dome, the perfect crown," said Murray, who has held down the top spot at Guinness since 1995. "The beer must enter the glass at 42 degrees Fahrenheit — exactly42 degrees. All of this should take 119.5 seconds. It is a work of art."

Spellbound, Unreal took a reverent sip of the beer Arthur Guinness created at St. James Gate in 1759. "No, no, no!" Murray shouted. "One must drink deeply, to summon the full glory of the beer, to properly taste the complexity of the beer."

When he's not globe-trotting, Murray's at the 50-acre Guinness brewery, taste-testing the three million pints that are produced each day. "I must taste every batch," Murray told us, "which means I must drink a part of ten to twelve glasses each day.

And what does he think of St. Louis beers? "I've had a couple of Buds in my time. Their brewing criteria is quite extraordinary," he said diplomatically. Schlafly? "Oh, indeed. It's lovely."

And with a couple of six-packs, our new friend Fergal sent us on our way with this parting insight: "When you drink it, you know where you are in life. It speaks to the sociability of the Irish. It is fantastic!"



Brewskis with Yakov
Last week Anheuser-Busch announced its intention to brew and distribute Budweiser in Russia. Looking for a little geopolitical perspective, Unreal dialed up Yakov Smirnoff, whose Branson-based theater has served as the gulag of gags ever since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Unreal: Did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine the day Budweiser would brew beer in Russia?

Yakov Smirnoff: Well, that puts the final nail in Lenin's coffin. But I don't think the name "Budweiser" will fly. May I suggest: Komrade-weiser.

Who do you think would make a better pitchperson: A) a tipsy, dancing Boris Yeltsin, B) a lithe and fluttering Mikhail Baryshnikov, C) a pair of wisecracking lizards or D) a Branson-based Russian émigré with a fantastic beard?

I would go with D. But only if they pay me in dollars, not rubles.

Wouldn't you have to change your name? You're a walking advertisement for vodka.

No. Smirnoff and Budweiser would only give the beer extra proof — make it better.

In the '80s you starred in a Miller Lite commercial in which you famously said: "In America you can always find a party. In Russia the party finds you." Are you saying that you're now willing to hawk beer for Budweiser?

If the offer is good, I'm willing. Why do you think I'm doing this interview?

Are you at all worried that this could be a covert act on the part of the CIA to keep Russians inebriated, thus ensuring that the U.S. remains the world's lone superpower?

I don't think they need any help with that. When I lived in Russia, it was like, against the law not to drink. Bartenders knew only three kinds of drinks: vodka, two vodkas and the bottle. There was no way to escape it. When I came to the United States, I realized you don't always have to be drunk, because you have more freedoms.

Like the freedom to drink anything you want?

There you go! You have choices: Black Russians, White Russians, whatever you want.

A-B's not revealing financial terms. But in the Cold War economy, Levi's sold for thousands of rubles. In pairs of denim pants, how much do you think this deal's worth?

Oh, millions. If you get people drunk enough, they'll take off their pants just to get another pitcher of beer.

What on earth brought you to Branson?

I was drinking Bud. Let me tell you: Drinking and driving is never a good idea. Ha! No seriously, I wanted to go to Vegas or Atlantic City after the Soviet Union collapsed, but they didn't think I'd be funny anymore. Branson didn't really care. That's why I came here, and it's been the best move since I came to America in 1977. This will be my fourteenth season. Come on down and see me!



Fake Is the New Black
With Riverfront Timesstaff writer Mike Seely's transfer earlier this month to newly adopted stepsista paper Seattle Weekly, editor Tom Finkel has embarked on a hiring spree. Topping the roster of new high-caliber talent: Oprah butt-boy James Frey.

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