"In a way, I feel lucky to have cancer. It's allowed me to do things that I would not have normally done."
– Charles "Bob" Hirsch
Bob died from leukemia three years ago, about a month after his 21st birthday.
"Bob loved beer," said Bob's friend Manny. "When he turned 21, I went up to Alaska for his 21 Run with all his friends."
Bob had relapsed again.
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"This time they told him there was nothing they could do for him," Manny said. "That was really tough. He realized his days were numbered."
On Monday – May 14, Bob's birthday – Bob lives again. That's the day Manny Chao, an owner and brewer at Seattle's Georgetown Brewing Company, releases Bob's Beer, a brown ale brewed to commemorate Bob and to raise money for a children's charity.
Bob isn't Bob's real name. Bob's real name is Charles Hirsch. At Camp Goodtimes, the Vashon Island summer retreat for children with cancer where Manny met Bob and everybody has a camp name, Bob said, "Just call me Bob."
"I was his counselor back in 1999," Manny said. "He had gone through remission and was doing fine."
Bob was 16 years old. He was in Manny's leadership training.
"Instead of just being campers where they get to go fishing, they really have more of a purpose of being there," Manny said. "They get a chance to be assistant counselors and help out."
Back home in Alaska, Bob did volunteer and charity work. He won an Inspiration Award from the Juneau Cancer Society.
"He was very instrumental when he was at Children's Hospital, talking to kids and just being inspiring," Manny said. "He wanted to come back and be a counselor, but unfortunately his health wouldn't allow it."
Away from camp, Manny and Bob stayed in touch.
"When he turned 18, he actually realized death," Manny said. "That winter his father died in a car accident."
Later, Bob moved to Seattle for treatment.
"That's when Bob and I became friends," said Manny, who is 10 years Bob's senior. "Because he was down here away from all his friends, we would hang out, go to movies, bum around. We read the Lance Armstrong book together. That was cool."
BIRTH OF BOB'S BEER
After Bob died, Bob's brother suggested that Manny brew a beer for Bob. After all, Georgetown's signature beer is Manny's Pale Ale. Roger's Pilsner is named after Manny's partner.
"Definitely," Manny said. "That's a great idea."
Then Manny had second thoughts.
"It seems kind of weird to make a beer for Bob and profit from that," Manny said.
It was eventually decided that Bob's Beer would be a once-a-year special beer. All proceeds would be donated to charity. Bob's mother picked the charity.
This year, Manny hopes to raise $20,000 for the Seattle Ronald McDonald House. When Bob's Beer was first released in 2005, more than $7,000 was raised. Last year $14,500 was raised.
Thirty barrels, or 60 kegs, of Bob's Beer are en route to Seattle and Tacoma pubs and restaurants this week. Bob's Beer won't go on tap until Monday, Bob's birthday.
Georgetown is charging pubs and restaurants $100 wholesale per keg. The brewery will donate that money to Ronald McDonald House. Additionally, Georgetown asks that pubs and restaurants write $100 checks to Ronald McDonald House as well. Some places will donate all proceeds from their sales of Bob's Beer. At $4 a pint plus what Georgetown and the pubs and restaurants kick in, one keg of Bob's Beer and all its proceeds means about $450 for Ronald McDonald House. Georgetown's distributor is kicking in couple of grand, "which is awesome," Manny said.
Asked if there were any qualms or controversy about using beer as a fund-raiser for a children's charity, Manny said, ""It hasn't really come up that much."
"Beer sometimes gets kind of a bad rap because people associate it with partying and drunkenness," Manny said. "But I think people are starting to learn that craft beer is a little different. It can be like wine. It doesn't have to be associated with a bunch of people getting drunk."
Bob did some drinking on the night he turned 21.
"It was amazing," Manny said. "It didn't seem like the kid had cancer. I couldn't keep up with him. He just really wanted to live it up because he didn't know how long he was going to be alive."
Bob's Beer went into production about four weeks ago. It's shipping to pubs and restaurants this week.
"We do it a little longer," Georgetown owner/brewer Manny Chao said. "We don't filter it. We want it to kind of fine out on its own and age. It's got a lot of chocolate malt in it, which tends to be a little harsh if you don't allow it to age out. We brew it ahead of time. We don't really lager it, but we age it and let it come into its own. It's a bigger beer. It's about 6.3 percent alcohol, 6.4 percent, so we want to give it a little time."
WHY BROWN BEER?
While the name rolls off the tongue, Bob's Beer rolls out in kegs only once a year.
"We want to make a full-time brown ale," Manny said. "We wrestled with the idea of making Bob's a full-time beer. But we really don't want to take away from the special event of it."
WHEN TO BUY BOB'S BEER
"It went so fast last year," Manny said. "Within the week it was gone. I have a feeling it will be half that time this year."
WHERE TO BUY BOB'S BEER
Here's a list of Seattle pubs and restaurants that will serve Bob's Beer.
BOB'S BEER TO GO
BOB'S BEER CASKED