The Hopeless Moderate: J.C. Mercer
By Bill Mickelson
On a recent Tuesday evening, J.C. Mercer strode through the swinging door of the Silver City taproom in Carharts and steel-toed boots after just finishing a batch of the brewery’s in-house root beer. He disappeared into the bathroom, like Clark Kent into a phone booth, and reemerged moments later in an electric blue collared shirt with a freshly waxed mustache, ready to take up his post as beertender.
J.C. has been with Silver City for just about a year, training in the cellar and on the packaging line, but over the past month he has spent most of his time learning taproom operations and filling in open shifts behind the bar. He was voted our crewmember of the month for February and this month he makes his triumphant return to the cellar side as production ramps up for the summer season.
Before signing on with Silver City, J.C. made movies, worked in live audio and ran sound and lights for concerts and stage performances throughout Kitsap County. He’s got one of the biggest laughs in the building, an award-winning mustache and initials that nobody knows what they stand for. On a rare night off for him, we met up at Rainy Daze in Poulsbo (since J.C. lives in the North End) in attempt to get him drunk enough to spill the beans on what J.C. really stands for and what keeps his mustache so pristine.
SO THE QUESTION ON EVERYONE’S MIND, WHAT DOES J.C. STAND FOR?
After a pensive moment of silence, with a wry smile, J.C. responds, “It’s my name." He follows up with one of those big, resounding J.C. belly laughs.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN MISTAKEN FOR JAMES CASH PENNEY?
"No, not mistaken for, but it has been posed as a guess for my name."
HOW ABOUT JC WHITNEY?
"Haven’t gotten that one before."
"Yes, all the time."
"A couple of times."
“John Cougar Mellencamp, if you take out the Mellencamp,” Carla, our beertender for the evening, posits.
JOHN COUGAR!? IS THAT YOU?
“No… well,” J.C. replies. “If I was, would I tell you? That’s the question. I’ve been playing the name guessing game for awhile.”
“Jimmy Carter is a good stand by. That one comes up a lot.”
I THINK CARLA MAY HAVE NAILED IT ON THE HEAD EARLIER, AND EVEN YOU MIGHT BE SURPRISED TO FIND OUT THAT YOUR NAME MAY ACTUALLY, OR MAY NOT, BE… JAMES CAGNEY?
“That’s a good one!” J.C. exclaims. “I like that one. Let’s go with that.”
“Well, cause you’re not Johnny Cash,” Carla adds.
“Jose Cuervo,” J.C. laughs. “I’ve gotten that one before too. I think (Silver City Beertender) Josh is on a roll with the J.C. names lately. One of my favorite ones that he’s come up with is Justice Commacho. That’s another good stand by for me."
JUSTICE COMMACHO! THE ONE WHO TRAVELS WITH ROSEY CHEEKS AND A WAXED MUSTACHE! WHICH LEADS TO THE NEXT QUESTION ON EVERYONE’S MIND, TELL US ABOUT THE MUSTACHE.
“Ok, yeah, so I did a lot of gig work before, worked at a lot of events and shows. And one of the things that I ended up working regularly was the Kitsap County Fair & Stampede. Really fun gig actually, that’s one I’m gonna miss a lot. This past year was the first year that I didn’t work it… Every year they have a whisker competition. So I’ve had a mustache since probably junior high school, and when this whisker competition came up, people said, ‘Hey, you should enter.’ And I said, ‘Ah, I just have a plain old mustache, there’s nothing crazy about it.’ And they said, ‘Yeah, but you should enter anyway.’ So I did and I ended up getting fourth place that year.”
THAT’S PRETTY GOOD.
“Well, it was my first year, and you know first through third place are the only ones who get to take anything home but I figured if I could take fourth with just a regular mustache, I could probably get up on the podium if I worked at it, you know? So I had a year to train… (He laughs another hearty J.C. laugh). And I tested out a variety of mustache products in that time: Tubed wax, bees wax, hair gel, hair spray. I’d read that (Spanish painter Salvador) Dali used fig sugar in his mustache, so I tried sugar and was not very happy with that. So I worked on it and by the next year, I ended up in third place. So I was getting there… the difference has always been that I still had the rest of this going on. That’s been my distinguishing feature the whole time is that I don’t just have the mustache but I also have the rest of my facial hair.”
YOU’RE A WELL-ROUNDED INDIVIDUAL.
“In technical terms, it’s a combination of a Dali and a Van Dyke, I think. So I’m kind of outside of any specifically defined mustache genres because I incorporate a few different aspects of facial hair. So anyway, a year in, I was able to get the Dali thing going, just straight out. I was working on perfecting my symmetry for awhile and then I started the curve. I started incorporating a little bit of a turn to things,” he motions with his hands. “It’s been five years in the making, but this is where we’re at now… and I’m pretty happy with it.”
“You kind of look like the strongman, you know like from a sideshow in the circus,” Carla says, pouring us a round of Empyre Porter.
“Well…” J.C. replies. “It goes back and forth between the strongman and the ring leader. It just depends on whether or not I’m wearing a top hat. I’m looking for the perfect top hat right now.”
THAT SOUNDS KIND OF LIKE HOW THE LAST MONTH HAS GONE FOR YOU AT THE BREWERY. WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE AND WHAT DO YOU DO AT SILVER CITY?
“It depends on the day,” J.C. laughs. “Sometimes I’m a beertender, sometimes I’m a packaging assistant. Those are my clock in titles. I’m a part of the cellar team, part cellar, part packaging, then I’m also in the taproom.”
YOU ALSO MAKE THE SODA.
“I also make soda. I am the soda man.”
YES! YOU’RE PROBABLY THE BEST SODA MAN WE COULD ASK FOR WITH THAT MUSTACHE. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB, OF ALL OF THOSE THINGS THAT YOU DO?
“Honestly, I think I the most fun I have is talking to people about the beer and how we make it here at Silver City. Talking about the beer and talking about the process. But the only reason I can do that is because I’ve been back in the cellar doing it.”
DID YOU EVER IMAGINE YOURSELF WORKING AT A BREWERY?
“Not until recently. I’ve got 15 years experience in audio. And that’s a lot, I spent a lot of time there. When I was in high school, or even earlier, I wanted to be a filmmaker. I made a movie with my dad when I was like six or seven. I had a collection of Star Wars toys and he bought a VHS recorder, like one of the big, over-the-shoulder ones that actually recorded onto full VHS-size tapes and we filmed ‘Journey to the Golden Planet.’ It was Han Solo and Chewy and C3PO. For some reason, they found this Golden Planet and landed there and explored… Just a ten minute movie that I did with my dad, that got me hooked and I’ve wanted to make movies ever since. Then I went on and made a movie, did a lot of short films and professional video work… And then I ended up in audio kind of as an off-shoot but also just kind of because that’s where I found work. I still miss that stuff. It’s all the stuff in between that I don’t miss: The setting up, the tearing down, the ridiculous hours and the not-so-awesome pay.”
WHEN DID CRAFT BEER COME INTO YOUR LIFE?
“Pretty early on. I moved up here in ‘99 but before that, my mom had come up to visit friends who lived in the area and the thing she couldn’t stop talking about was the Silver City Restaurant. It was one of her favorite parts about coming up here to visit. So before I ever came here, all I ever heard about was Silver City. I moved up here in 1999, and I was very much not of legal drinking age, but Silver City was still like this big, cool thing. It’s the kind of thing where it’s like you can’t do this anywhere else. It’s not like a chain. This is the only spot where you can experience it. So that was kind of our family thing for awhile was going out to eat at Silver City. And we had Silver City beer in the house a lot of times cause that’s what my mom would buy. I think my first craft beer was actually an Alaskan Amber, but then I got on a big amber and red kick so Ridgetop Red was I think second or third and I was like, ‘This is f*cking awesome.’ So Ridgetop Red got me hooked. And then I was just trying everything at that point. I’ve gone through a lot of phases in my beer preferences, but I’ve always been a fan of Silver City beer. In a sense, I guess it started in ‘97 or ‘98 when I wasn’t even anywhere near Silverdale. I think I was living in, I can’t remember if we were in Texas or still in Nicaragua at that point. Either way, I was living very far away from here.”
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE LOCAL BREWERY OUTSIDE OF SILVER CITY?
"Ahh," he hesitates. "You said you were gonna give me a bunch of 'what's you favorites,' and I'm like '$&#*!' I'm not good at favorites. I think it's more of I like different things from different places. I like the really unique vibe that you get, the unique differences you get at different places.
"I don't know, I'm kind of a hopeless moderate. I'm just kind of really good at playing the middle all the time. So favorites are not my gig."