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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 — exactly 42 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 Times staff 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.

Finkel calls agreeing to terms with Frey, who fabricated harrowing experiences with drug addiction in the best-selling "memoir" A Million Little Pieces, "a career-defining moment that sent me into paroxysms of ecstasy.

"I loved Seely," says Finkel, "but his stories were, by and large, based on fact. To compete in today's media landscape you need edgy stuff — the kind of stuff that just doesn't happen in real life. Now we've got Jim Frey, whose name is synonymous with the word 'bullshit.'"

Also coming aboard: Village Voice senior associate editor Nick Sylvester, currently serving a suspension for fabricating an interview in a recent Voice cover story. "I think we'd all agree the Voice was a bad fit for someone of Nick's ability ," says Finkel. "We're confident he's gonna love it here."

"Here" is a relative statement. Not only have the new hires never set foot in St. Louis, they don't intend to. In a move Finkel says will save parent company Village Voice Media "many thousands of dollars," Frey and Sylvester will telecommute from their respective New York City residences.

Finkel declined to comment on rumors that the RFT is negotiating with novelist JT LeRoy, other than to say his paper "would love to get that lying sack of onions into our pages."

Somebody Buy My Crap

Item: Falstaff Quarter-Barrel
Condition: Empty
Price: $25
Name/Age: Jim/76
Location: O'Fallon (Missouri)
Phone: 636-978-0773
Issue: March 5

Unreal: Falstaff keg? Didn't they stop making that swill long ago?

Jim: I got it probably 40 years ago, when I was working construction at the old Falstaff brewery off of Shenandoah. It was empty when I got it. At the time I had visions of using it for an air compressor tank.

What happened to those dreams?

I ended up making the compressor out of an empty half-barrel of Budweiser. The Falstaff keg has just been sitting in my basement collecting dust.

Why sell it after all these years? Doesn't it have sentimental value?

I'm at the age where I know I'm going to die sooner rather than later. I got a houseful of junk. I figured I'd convert some of it to cash rather than making my kids root through all of it.

You've got it priced at $25. But with Falstaff out of business, isn't it essentially worthless?

Yeah, you probably can't get it filled with beer anymore. But I'm testing the free-market system. It could be worth any price to collectors. Also, you can use it for other things.

Such as?

I crafted a gas tank for a dune buggy out of a quarter-barrel. You could also use it for storage if you remove the tap and the bung.

The what?

Bunghole. Yeah, the word has many meanings. But that's also the name of the plug that holds the beer. You could remove the bung and fill the keg with water and keep it for use in an emergency.

Sounds refreshing!

Well, it will do in a pinch, I suppose.

From time to time Unreal trolls the St. Louis Post-Dispatch classified section's "Bargain Box." We cannot guarantee any item remains available for purchase at press time.

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