“An August Beer Drinker"
August is the eighth month of the year and, coming in
the dog days of summer, is an excellent time for
downing a few cold ones in an attempt to beat the heat.
But, according to Webster’s dictionary, “august” also
means inspiring “awe” “reverence”, “majesty” and
“grandeur”, and those definitions certainly fit the august
beer drinker after whom this article is titled. I refer to
long time acquaintance August Helms, breweriana
collector, raconteur, beer drinker and pub crawler par
But before relating the reasons why August is so
august I must give a little background on the nature of
our “acquaintance” relationship. In 1972 I bought a
Ballantine beer tray for a quarter at a garage sale.
Seeking out companion pieces for my lonely Ballantine
tray soon became an obsession and every weekend was
taken up with trips to flea markets, antique stores and
yard sales for more trays. After two years I had
amassed what I thought was a rather unique collection.
To be sure, people collect stamps, coins, Hummels and
almost anything else you can think of including a guy in
Somerville who collected BUSES.
Naively, I had never heard of anyone collecting beer
trays, so I was extremely interested when a small ad in
the paper asked readers to respond to “beers trays
wanted to buy or trade”. I called the number given and
made arrangements for the trader to come to my house
on the following Thursday evening after I returned from
my insurance appointments. Shortly after 9:00 pm the
august August appeared with his friend and fellow tray
collector, John Jonkoski, and a supply of trays available
for trading purposes.
I quickly realized that I was dealing with major league
stars and I was in low minors class D status when it
came to number and rarity of trays owned and number
of beers consumed. I had purchased a couple of cases
of Piel’s deposit pints the day before and after making a
few trades beneficial to both sides, I offered my visitors
a brew. To make a long story short, at approximately 2:
30 am my wife descended the stairs, suggesting the
festivities come to a hasty end, a suggestion which was
eagerly taken since the Piel’s was kaput and we weren’t
about to continue without more beer.
I didn’t think much more about the evening until six
months later when Augie called and invited me to John’s
home to see the new trays they had picked up on a trip
to Pennsylvania. If you’re wondering why Augie invited
me to John’s house it’s because John couldn’t do so
himself. When I arrived he was passed out on the floor,
but Augie was a gracious host and proudly showed me
the new acquisitions.
Several years passed before I once again came into
contact with the august beer man purely by accident at
the Farcher’s Grove Oktoberfest and again at Union’s
Swiss Chalet, at the time two of my favorite beer
drinking venues. Stopping at the long gone Homestead
Tavern for a six pack of Prior’s Double Dark and finding
Augie seated at the bar dodging cockroaches with the
other patrons was another chance meeting , along with
bumping into him at the Deutscher Club Oktoberfest.
Then, to my amazement, the proprietor of my all time
favorite watering hole, the Gaslight, in South Orange,
gave me some breweriana magazines a recent customer
had left. The description Dan gave of the customer
could have only been Augie and I soon found out he is a
Sunday afternoon regular at the Gaslight.
I had known that Augie always took his vacations in
England in pursuit of “real ale”. In fact, thirty five years
ago, it was he who schooled I me in the difference
between real ale and “keg beer”, but I did not quite
grasp the total majesty of those trips until recently and
that majesty is the inspiration for this article.
I called Augie and asked about interviewing him relative
to his beer drinking life and he, being amenable to the
idea, arranged to meet me at Frenchy’s, a neighborhood
sports bar featuring nothing exciting on tap, so it was a
Yuengling for him and a Guinness for me.
I asked a few preliminary questions before getting down
to the real reason for the interview. Mr. Helms, who is
currently the only Cask Commissioner Emeritus of
Draught Board 15 (no dues required) surprised me
when he said he didn’t have a legal beer until age 22
because he really didn’t care one way or the other about
beer. He surprised me all the more when he said his
current favorite is Yuengling. (because it’s better than
Bud and you can get it anywhere”).
He rarely has beer at home because he prefers draught
beer and this is readily obvious to all when viewing the
photo of Augie holding a large glass of beer in each
hand in Will Anderson’s “From Beer to Eternity”. He likes
visiting pubs because “that’s where you really meet
people” and “you always learn something new when
conversing in a tavern”.
His interest in breweriana started when he bought an
Ehret’s Extra beer tray at a New York City flea market in
1971 and mushroomed until he amassed over 300 and
was running out of room to store, let alone display
them. The tray collection was sold en masse and soon
replaced with tap knobs which take up less space. That
collection was sold as well, but his interest in breweriana
continues as he makes many trips to trade shows and
conventions. (Possibly because there’s always draught
beer available as well as the trays, knobs, cans, lables,
coasters and myriad other relics of American brewing
Some years back, when he took over editorship of the
East Coast Breweriana Association’s bi-monthly
newsletter, the improvement was incredible and was
most likely the basis for the magazine being the
outstanding publication it is today
The utter majesty of Augie’s beer accomplishment and
the reason why this piece was inspired: Augie made his
first trip to England in 1972 and fell in love with British
“real ale”(cask conditioned and hand pumped ,as
opposed to being force carbonated and dispensed by
CO2). Then, starting in 1977 he returned to Blighty for
28 straight years. Sure, there were a few museums,
cathedrals and other historic places to visit, but mostly
the trips were a British pub crawl, and as a consequence
of those crawls, Augie has visited (are you ready for
this?) an awe inspiring, majestic total of 3,496 pubs.
But even that lofty number pales by comparison to the
fact that it’s DOCUMENTED!
Augie has saved 40 years worth of notes, printed in his
precise Teutonic draftsman’s hand. No Word
spreadsheets for him. I was astounded to leaf through
those pages and find that each year was categorized
with the date, day of the week, the number and names
of the pubs visited on that date, beers had in each pub
and the occasional comment neatly printed alongside.
(“excellent porter” or “the Flowers’ Best Bitter was a
3496 is a Herculean number. 28 years means about 125
pubs were visited a year, or almost 10 a day for 14
days! And all of it solemnly recorded! In a draftsman’s
hand! And that doesn’t include one single American,
Belgian, Dutch, Italian, French, Mexican or Irish pub
Augie has also visited. Again, I feel like minor leaguer. I
keep a list of brewpubs visited and also write down the
date, beers had, comments, etc. After 27 years and
twelve countries since I entered my first brewpub I am
at an even 100, a far, far cry from 3,496.
An august accomplishment for August, indeed!
has to say
and it could
Click on pictures to enlarge
Beer My Way.........
Beernexus.com proudly presents....DAN HODGE, beer reviewer, historian and raconteur
anything and everything about beer
by Dan Hodge