Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

A return visit in the time machine to Lyons Brewery and Judy Ashworth

Photo: Judy Ashworth with Andy Musser, former Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster, now Anchor’s rep in Philadelphia. Taken at Anchor’s 2007 Christmas party.

The trouble with blogs is they’re linear. They’re like a moving finger that writes and moves on. Early this month I posted part of an article I wrote for Northwest Brew News about Judy Ashworth, who without a doubt was America’s first craft beer publican. She held court at a place called Lyons Brewery in Sunol, which is in the San Francisco East Bay about 50 miles east of San Francisco.

The comments posted by former Lyons pub folks have been great. Unfortunately the post is buried four screens back….

Here’s the top of the story…

Time Machine — Remembering When…

By William Brand

Judy Ashworth with Andy Musser at the Anchor Christmas Party 2007 It’s almost impossible to imagine the Northern California pub world of 30 years ago: With luck, in a typical neighborhood tavern, there were perhaps four taps, Bud, Coors, Miller and maybe, for variety: Schlitz or Olympia. Differences were slight: Bud was fizzy, Coors was light, Miller tasted slightly sweet, Schlitz was dry, Oly was sour.

Anchor was evolving into something splendid, but it rarely made it out of San Francisco and certainly never to neighborhood bars.

There was no light beer; counting calories like avoiding cholesterol and stopping smoking were in the future and bars were smoke-filled; ashtrays were ubiquitous.

The beer was boring – there for the mild buzz, although most of us got our buzz outside with reefer.

We were between wars: Vietnam had dribbled into closure, more crap was ahead, but Billy Joel hadn’t yet written the song. All we wanted _ those of us who had chosen to oppose the war, dropped out and grew our hair long, and those who got drafted and wound up getting their asses shot off in Nam _ was a little peace.

Beer was boring, so what… Well, craft beer changed all that, it was like the Billy Joel song, NewAlbionMendocinoNewmansSierraNevadaWidmer…

But what about the lowly pub? Those smoke-filled arcane places full of stoners sipping tepid lager? What happened to them? They were hit by a whirlwind, her name is Judy Ashworth.

A single mom with three kids, she bought Lyons Brewing, a pub in bucolic Sunol, California in1983. “It was a longneck, Bud-drinking cowboy bar,” Ashworth says. “I was 39 years old, the owner wanted to sell and couldn’t so he sold it to me on a note.”

“I was known as a mixologist, even then. I had a mix, I called ‘Judy’s mix,’ Bavarian Dark and Coors. But I’m not even sure why, but I wanted other beers. READ THE REST OF THE POST…

And here are some of the comments:

A. Ass Says:
April 17th, 2008 at 11:24 pm e
Thanks for the story on Judy Ashworth. That brought back some meories. My (eventual) wife and I stumbled across the Lyons Brewery Depot completely by accident one night and never looked back. What a treasure that place was. I still drink from the glass we got at the benefit, still occasionally wear my LBDCC shirt, and still curse that fire every time I drive through Sunol.

She was always very welcoming, and enthusiastic about her newest discoveries. We learned a great deal about beer from Judy, and I’m glad to hear she is doing well.

William Brand Says:
April 18th, 2008 at 7:07 am e
All hail Judy!! (May she open another pub))

Jessejps Says:
April 26th, 2008 at 9:04 pm e
Lyon’s brewery was such a big part of my life in my 20’s. from the time I turned 21 until I move away to Seattle I was there every Tuesday and almost every Sunday. with the “Tuesday night crew” Rick was our barman, Mark, Dave, Erik, Bob, Brian, and a cast of others who I aplogise for leaving out. Judy’s Pub was where I learned to truly love Beer. She had a “Passport” where you could get a stamp for every new beer you tried at 25 you got a free beer, 50 was a t-shirt and 100 was a huge glass boot full of the beer of your choice. I lost track of how many different beers I tried after 150 or so. It was that kind of place, Judy was always looking for good beers and we watched new breweries come and go or grow and succeed. It was the only place I know of to have barley wine on tap. Judy LOVES to talk about beer, and she definetely knows her beer.
Great friends, great beer, so many great memories. It’s good to hear that Judy is doing well. The Tuesday night Crew still meets at the Hopyard in San Ramon as far as I know, the faces may have changed a bit, I know Mark, Dave, Eric, Dan and Rick are still around. I live in Minnesota now, maybe I’ll make it out there to look them up this summer

William Brand Says:
April 26th, 2008 at 10:36 pm e
Wow Jesse. Those are memories. If you cone back here this summer and go to the Hopyard and those same people are still there, let me know. I’d love to write about them (and you)

You know, you had a front seat on Craft Beer history. Lyons was totally unique. She was far ahead of her time. Thanks for the info and memories. wb