How Portland’s Kilt-Wearing, Unicycle-Riding Darth Vader Impersonator Inspired His Own Beers
Brian Kidd—a.k.a. the Unipiper—has partnered with Portland's Rogue Ales and Green Dragon Brewing to bring create his very own limited-edition beer.
Photo courtesy of Rogue Ales Brewery.
If orange is the new black, then May 4 is the new Pi Day, thanks in large part to George Lucas and the Internet. (And if this day is your birthday, my condolences.)
In fact, 2016 is officially the first year that I cemented the mental connection that May 4 is no longer just May 4, but is now May the Fourth Be With You, an otherwise forgettable mid-spring day turned lighthearted Star Wars movie poster tagline. But what better way for Portland, Oregon, America's most self-deprecating, beer goggled city, to celebrate that than by honoring its senior Star Wars fan—and resident cultural icon—with his own sour beer.
Brian Kidd, a 33-year-old quantum spatial acquisition manager by day, is also the Unipiper: a dude dressed in a Darth Vader mask and a kilt, accompanied by bagpipes and a unicycle on other days. He's a common spectacle if you're getting day-drunk in Old Town or if you happen to be in the proximity of Powell's.
Indeed, in conjunction with this year's May the Fourth Be With You, Oregon-based Rogue Ales Brewery teamed up with their Portland-based outlet Green Dragon Brewery to honor Kidd by creating the Pickled Piper, a kettle-soured cucumber gose infused with pickling spices.
As a Millennial, I decided that I owed it to myself to investigate how a modern man can market such an enigmatic persona so successfully off the Internet by actually showing up places and doing stuff in real life. Surely, 2016 is not the golden age of street performers. But what are the origins of the man behind this mask?
Like most Portlanders, Kidd isn't from Portland. He moved to PDX in 2007 after having already experimented with being the Unipiper on the coast of North Carolina, where he worked at an aquarium.
"The story starts when I found the unicycle in a dumpster while I was learning to play the bagpipes. I picked up the unicycle and taught myself to ride," explains Kidd. "Something really clicked in Portland and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Portland embraces and values uniqueness. Everything else snowballed over the years, and I kept adding new elements to the act—like making the bagpipes start shooting fire."
Not actually Scottish by descent, Kidd is an avid Star Wars fan. There is photographic evidence of Kidd being dragged to Star Wars conventions as a kid by his dad. Fortunately, his lifelong adoration of Star Wars has inspired some of his own diehard followers, including his wife as well as lucrative local businesses.
"I met my wife on the job," says Kidd. "I was performing at the Portland Saturday Market in the middle of July on a very hot day, and this lady in the crowd thought I was cute, so she bought me an iced tea. I didn't see her place it down, but I was looking around to see who had. I was then hustled away by the police who mistook me for another bagpiper who apparently played in a very obnoxious way the week before. Somehow, my wife and I matched on eHarmony a week later after she saw 'playing bagpipes and riding a unicycle' listed on my profile and realized it was me."
Additionally, Travel Portland—Portland's most creative tourism outfit—named Kidd a cultural ambassador and invited him to tour the West Coast with them. Travel Portland had constructed the world's largest freestanding cuckoo clock with giant doors, and they enlisted the Unipiper to cycle through them first thing each morning to greet fresh onlookers.
Obviously, it was only a matter of time before Portland's elite craft beer scene crossed paths with Kidd. Rogue contacted Kidd, inviting the Unipiper to represent them at the Oregon Brewers Festival for the kickoff and the parade. Upon meeting Rogue officials at the festival, Kidd pitched the idea of a UnipIPA, which contained a formula that Kidd had been homebrewing himself. Rogue quickly produced the UnipIPA as the Unipiper's first commemorative beer.
Kidd's beer performed well. In a three-way collaboration, Rogue, Kidd, and the Green Dragon Brew Crew produced one barrel of the UnipIPA, which sold out in one night upon its debut last year, prompting a second go with the Pickled Piper this month.
"The Unipiper is a kindred Rogue that we've just naturally bonded with," says Rogue Ales president Brett Joyce. "We are excited to honor his creativity by working together to make the Pickled Piper beer. This creation is the embodiment of our shared spirit as we both continue to dare, risk, and dream."
If you can't get ahold of any Pickled Piper, though, you can see the Unipiper outside of a beer label, too. Kidd has a GPS tracker that allows people to keep up with the Unipiper as he cruises around town. Starting this July, Kidd will have a set route each Friday afternoon in order to appease tourists.
"Even if I'm not necessarily performing, I put in a lot of time for Unipiper-related things like working on events, merchandise, social media, and emails," says Kidd. "I have zero free time between dealing with the Unipiper and my day job."
Oh, right. He has one of those, too.