I knew this time would come.  Eventually, I thought to myself while walking, there would be a drug or alcohol “issue” that I’d be forced to deal with.  But so soon?  I’d only been president for half a year and, let’s face it, we weren’t going to make Playboy’s list of top ten party schools.  I never expected beer to get in the way of human ecology.

But the call came. 8.15pm on a Sunday before Martin Luther King Day — a strange and, frankly, dorky time to have a party.  The Associate Dean of students had fielded the call from a neighbor who complained not of loud music or unsightly vomiting in the street but of the pungent, overbearing smell of fermenting malt.  As I quickened my pace down Ledgelawn, my nose hairs beginning to freeze from the biting cold of this eventful night, I tried to piece the forthcoming scenario together but couldn’t.

Sasha Lasa — we called her Slash-ya for her cuts-like-a-knife approach to handling difficult students and difficult student situations — Slash-ya was the Associate Dean of students and would normally take charge in this kind of scenario, but two things sped through her head when she got this call: One, throw Collins in and let him get his hands dirty on something like this – knock him off his pedestal a bit; Two, Collins — he’s Irish, isn’t he? He knows the ins-and-outs of beer.  He’s a subject-matter expert and will handle the situation.  Hence, now I’m walking toward the dump on a freezing cold January night, missing Ricky Gervais’ monologue at the Golden Globe awards.  How did I get roped into this?  I’m a college president for Christ’ sake.

I’ll tell you how.  Lasa was right. I did grow up knee deep in beer.  My father, son of Irish immigrants from County Cork and County Roscommon, had the genius idea to start an Irish pub back in my hometown when I turned the ripe old age of one.  That move did great things for his marriage, as you might imagine.  I wound up pouring my first lager at three as entertainment value to the regulars at Collins’ Pub.  I’ll never forget seeing my first puddle of vomit on the bar room floor – not a pretty sight.

Those early years could have had devastating consequences to my affinity for alcohol, but it turns out I love beer.  In all the fancy cocktail parties I go to in my new role as president, in all the parties where wine universally trumps malts and hops, I love asking, en voz alta, what do you have on tap?

But I know the dark side of brew too and stand ready to crack the whip on the human ecologists who’ve had a bit too much.  Walking, and quickly approaching the house-in-question, I decide that I’ll take a fatherly, “we’ve all been there” approach.  Stern, but compassionate.  I’ve got two little kids and I know that every moment is a teaching moment.

As I approach the home I DO immediately smell that witches’ brew.  It’s a pungent and humid odor that has somehow survived the cold, dry air of the night.  But no music.  No fighting.  No vomit (thank God).  They must be in the basement doing beer bongs and calling spirits on a Ouija board.

I take one, last deep breath of cold air, knock on the door and enter.

There’s beer everywhere.  I’ve never seen anything like this.  Volumes of beer.  I went to Tulane as a graduate student and saw massive quantities of beer at frat parties on Freret Street — but nothing like this.

And there was music, but that was my first clue that this wasn’t going to be the bust and lecture I’d expected to make and give.  It was a live Simon & Garfunkel piece.  It was coming from a turn table — an LP.  The beer wasn’t dripping from crushed cans of PBR or from ill-fated attempts of keg tapping, but was in big, beautiful, ornate glass five gallon jugs.  Big white burlap bags of barley and hops were the sofa and love seats of this brewer’s den.  No black light Black Sabbath posters.  Instead, poster-sized excel sheets full of, full of data damn it!

I had intended (and practiced on the walk) a “What the hell is going on here!” rhetorical for my entrance to the party.  That approach got muffled to a “What in the hell is going on here?” question I let percolate in my own head.

“Darron – come on in.  Have a seat.  Can I get you a glass of ‘Skull Cracker’?”

I, as any good beer-lover would have done in this situation, sat down on my barley sack, cleansed the pallet with a bite of pretzel, and reached for my glass.

“Skull Cracker is from the Orkney Islands and has a medium, creamy, beige head and a hazy, apricot color, with particulate matter floating throughout. The aroma is of dark fruits, figs, and prunes. Taste is of sweet, dark fruits, prunes, figs, chocolate, and there is some spicy hop presence. One gets a strong alcohol profile with this, and it is reminiscent of brandy. Mouthfeel is medium, and Skull Cracker finishes fairly dry, rich, and smooth. Overall, this is a fabulous beer. You’ll enjoy it.”

That’s Osiris Mateo, fourth year COA student, brewer extraordinaire, and the reason I’ve left my wife at home to laugh at the TV alone while I investigate this debauchery.  He’s flanked by his mistress and several of his cronies.

“Darron,” Osiris continues, “I’m going to be very busy with a week of decoction mashes, so we’re going to have to move through these beers quickly so I can get to bed and wake up fresh and ready.  You’re more than welcome to stay, but try not to get in the way, ok?”

I love this college.

We move to a classic Czech Pilsner. We drink to an LP of Stan Getz.

I come to find that the brewing is part of a senior project and I immediately begin to poke and prod about the educational value of brewing.  Is it human ecological?  Is it, well, is it ‘academic enough’? – I cringe when I hear those words leave my mouth, because they don’t feel right.

Nink, Osiris’ housemate, a tall, lanky fellow with the legs and arms of a climber jumps in, pours a Dortmunder Export and says “Tell me you don’t taste the beer of industrial city, of labor — light and refreshing but real and dense.  This is a working man’s beer and brewing is about history, it’s about culture and it’s about human creativity.”

“It’s ultimately human ecological.”  Again, Osiris. “I brew as a chemist and as an artist.  I brew and come to know the life and times of a Trappist Monk.  I brew and feel the oxygen building strong cellular walls before going anaerobic.  I don’t read chemistry, I live chemistry.  I am a farmer.  I cultivator of yeasts.  I KNOW fungal reproduction.  I am a sculptor of fermented foods.  I’m an economist and entrepreneur.  I am a conservation biologist and environmentalist, concerned by grain crop fertilization and the need to add sulfur to kick back the level of nitrocyanamide.”

I expected such a response but felt good for checking — this was, indeed, more than just brewing beer as a weekend, what-the-hell hobby.  I was starting to feel the effect of the high-alcohol Dutchess de Bourgogne Flemish Red Ale and thought I’d better limit my participation in this event, so asked to try one more and then head for home.

“Well, Darron, why don’t you finish the night with a German beer.  I’m focusing on German beers.  Have a Weinstephaner.”

The Weistephaner goes down smoothly.  Chocolatey.  It’s rich – as rich as the mid-70s Yes bootleg that now spins on the turn table.

“Think about the German Beer Purity Law,” Osiris chimes in. “I love brewing German beers holding to these purity laws.  I’ve come to know and explore the philosophies of purity and of quality.  By placing constraints on the beer brewer’s palette, you inspire innovation.  And isn’t that a life lesson!?”

To that, I stand, thank Osiris and his group of merry men and women, and ask politely that they try to minimize the brewing when the wind is coming from the northeast.  Should that northeasterly neighbor call again, I’ll pay them a visit directly and ask for a bit of leniency.  That neighbor is amongst a colony of brewmasters, of artists, of human ecologists.  It could be a learning moment for them.



  1. Jenn says:

    Beautifully written! I love this neighborhood.

  2. shannygrrl says:

    This is absolutely brilliant. Thanks for sharing the story!

  3. Mike Staggs says:

    Excellent story!

  4. Jer Bear says:

    Thank God they are not making Skittles as a senior project.

  5. susan says:

    Darron – I love this! Thank you! It’s brilliant!
    We have a few things in common. My mother is from Galway, but currently lives in Roscommon Town, and my grandfather had a pub in Ballygar where I pulled my first pint of Guinness at the ripe old age of 9.

  6. Jo Cosgrove says:

    This is so great, Darron. Makes me that much more proud to be an alum pursuing a future soaked in spent grain and hop fumes myself…

  7. CedarBough says:

    very funny

  8. Darron Collins says:

    Very to somewhat loosely based on reality…
    thanks for your comments!

  9. Peter Moon says:

    Off to Ireland next week. You’ve inspired me to do a little more research while I’m there.

  10. Dave says:

    A nice tale that makes me long even more for good beer. Kigali is a great city. There is excellent Chinese, Indian, and Ethiopian food. But the beer situation here is bleak. It is as if nobody has heard of hops. The local beers actually list sugar as an ingredient. Save something nicely hopped for my mid-summer return.

  11. Jason Day says:

    COA stories seem to somehow evolve, yet stay the same throughout the years….

  12. Subcommandante Marcos says:

    You never set foot in a fraternity while you were at Tulane, you liar. Other than that, a wonderfully crafted anecdote about the life and times of our next generation of great human ecologists.

    • Darron Collins says:

      I’m afraid you’re mistaken. I did an an anthropological inquiry into the alcohol consumption of Delta Tau Delta, on the corner of Freret and Audubon — remember that house that burned down??


  13. Johannah Bernstein ('83) says:

    Wonderful, more please!!!

  14. Heather Martin says:

    Gosh this really was great

  15. Pete Williams says:

    Nicely done sir! Wish I could try some of those…

  16. Bo Greene says:

    Craig would be proud……………of the brewers and of you, Darron. I wish these guys knew him.

  17. Bo, that’s just what I was thinking. Sigh. Wonderful tale, Darron.

  18. beeractivist says:

    As a brewer, beer drinker, director of sustainability at American University, and author of “Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World,” I praise you for this blog post. You might enjoy my writings on sustainability and beer at

    Also, we are hosting the Climate Leadership Summit at AU this June. I hope you will join us Darron.

    Drink beer, save the world,
    Chris O’Brien

  19. […] human ecology. Apparently he understand the human ecology of beer. Read what he has to say about it here, including gems such as this one: “I, as any good beer-lover would have done in this […]

  20. I knew it had to be pure, vintage COA, and I was not disappointed. Write a dozen or two more like this, and you’ve got a damned good story collection to publish.

  21. donnagold says:

    Absolutely brilliant! Eases my transition from Oaxacan journey back to Maine + COA. Next up, the human ecology of mezcal?

  22. Aoife O'Brien says:

    Wonderfully written. As a COA alum from Ireland I will unabashedly say, I feel jealous and want to be in that room, that company and that conversation. Man, what a wondrous place.
    Cheers, Aoife

    • Darron Collins says:

      Thanks Aoife! That reply made my day. Didn’t i just read about you in the Portland paper??? Erin go Bragh! DC

  23. Kate Hayford says:

    Great read!! And Ledgelawn was even my street of residence during my COA days. Thank you for bringing back great memories of being a student there.

  24. Mukhtar Amin says:

    A beautiful story! Thanks for sharing!

  25. Jordan McMonagle says:

    Apparently I’ve been fighting the fight to save the world for years…..Long live Reinheitsgebot!! Oh and fabulous story. I may actually donate to the President’s Fund now that I know what I’ll be supporting…

  26. David Alden says:

    You had me at beer bongs and Ouija boards. Great story!

  27. bill says:

    Looks like our first contribution to the new collection of Human Ecology Essays from staff and faculty. Way to lead!

  28. Seán Murphy says:

    You had me laughing with this one. We picked the right guy. No doubt about it.

  29. Maria Lis (COA class of 2007) says:

    “They must be in the basement doing beer bongs and calling spirits on a Ouija board.” Priceless. This was such a funny, engaging, and well-written post. Keep them coming!

  30. Andrew Curtis says:

    Fantastic piece, Darron. I’m glad you are experiencing these brilliant friends of yours and mine who brew with abandon, a sense of history, and a whole lot of love. Thanks for the dispatch.

  31. celebrationrock says:

    I am (channeling) Stan Getz, and I approved this message.

  32. Rob Levin says:

    Great story, Darron.

  33. John Buell says:

    I hope that after a long career at COA you will bless the world with your memoirs. I am very busy today but could not stop reading this tale.

  34. Joe says:

    Unfortunately when I was in college doing beer bongs and keg stands with cheap beer(Fun times!) It’s great to see college students take an interest in brewing quality beer.

  35. Mary Bacon says:

    So will COA be offering a brewing class? I hope so….really!
    suggest winter term as a good time,drink beer,feed the eagles etc.

  36. DaddyO says:

    Interesting story. Sounds like you got a new school of brew mastering in the works. ; )

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: