Bits 'n' Pieces: Brewing offers respite from illness

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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Ron Muck isn't the type of guy to let an illness stop him from doing what he loves.

But when it comes to brewing his own beer, the 46-year-old from Hazel Dell has to get a little creative.

Muck, who's been brewing beer for 22 years, suffers from a rare auto-immune disease called inclusion body myositis.

The disease causes his immune system to break down muscle tissue. In the eight years since he was diagnosed, the once avid cyclist now needs help lifting his arms and feeding himself. But his spirit is still strong, he said.

"I've got a wonderful community, friends, and I'm a firm believer in counseling to help get you through it," Muck said.

Through the degeneration, he's continued to concoct his own beer recipes, and with a little help from friends, he's still brewing and tasting his inventions.

"Friends are still willing to come over and help me brew, and my wife (Jeanette) also helps a lot," Muck said. "I have a recipe, I get the ingredients and then they put them in when I tell them to."

And Muck still has a great taste for it. In February, he won the People's Choice award for his American pale ale with juniper and star anise at Mashfest, a private Vancouver home-brewing festival and competition.

"That was really cool," Muck said. "I got a lot of great feedback. I've been brewing the juniper for three years, and my wife, who's a chef, convinced me to add the star anise."

When she heard about Muck's award, Arlene Nuñez, owner of By The Bottle, and her husband, Dave Nuñez, owner of the Old Ivy Taproom, decided to help him take his beer to the next level. Both businesses are at 104 W. Evergreen Blvd.

The three worked with Amnesia Brewing, in Washougal and Portland, to brew a commercial batch of the beer, called Muck*U.

"It's this wonderful story of what can happen in the beer industry when we all work together," Arlene said. "That's why I'm in this business."

Muck's beer is now on tap at the Old Ivy Taproom and will also be featured at this weekend's Who's Your Daddy? beer festival in Turtle Place Park, Seventh and Washington streets.

Being able to brew a commercial batch of his recipe "was a dream come true," Muck said.

And getting to direct the brewing process with Amnesia's seven-barrel brewing system was a lot of fun, Muck said.

The end result? A hoppy beer with a very subtle licorice hint.

Muck plans to attend the festival and hopes people will feel free to come talk to him about his beer.

"The experience was just a blessing," Muck said. "Brewing, it helps me get through this. It's quite rewarding."

Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.