It's Seattle Beer Week, and there are lots of things going on, lots of things to do. I picked one called the Pine Box Can Derby. This curiosity needs to be cracked into two parts: One is the Pine Box, a bar and restaurant that replaced the deceased Chapel, a bar and nightclub that replaced the deceased funeral chapel run by E. R. Butterworth & Sons. The Pine Box's specialty is beer (more than 30 are on tap), and it's run by Ian Roberts, one of the organizers of Seattle Beer Week ("a celebration of the beer community"). As for the Can Derby part, it's a race involving a wooden ramp and beer cans on mini-wheels. The event happened in the exact same area where Bruce Lee's flower-covered coffin was loaded into a hearse almost exactly 40 years ago (you can see footage on YouTube).
I entered the busy Pine Box with low feelings about the derby. It sounded a bit silly. It sounded like nothing more than a way (and not a very good one at that) to waste time on a sunny Saturday afternoon. My only question was this: How many beers are needed to make this kind of thing (beer cans racing down a ramp) even interesting? Three beers? Four? Five? My guess was about six. On the sixth beer, I would finally be drunk enough to be richly tickled by this childish rubbish. My first beer on the road to the sixth was a can of New Belgium Shift, which has a nice, sharp, but clean taste. The area for the derby was, to my surprise, crowded, and the table next to the peak of the ramp was packed with can-cars of every kind—cans with holes in them, cans that had been flattened, cans that had been crunched, cans that no longer looked like cans. The games began. Before I took two sips from my beer, I fell in love with the derby. It's not as dumb as it looks or sounds. Indeed, a lot of thought and time is needed to make a can-car that not only stays on the track, but moves with a great speed and steadiness.
Many can-cars were badly made and went nowhere, but there were also a good number of superbly designed ones that moved with marvelous smoothness down the ramp. If you are going to race a can, you must take the time to do it right. It really makes a difference. It makes everyone happy to see a little engineering genius. In the end, I had only two beers, the second of which was Fremont Seattle Beer Week Organic Pale Ale.