If beer is the answer, what is the question?
This time of year the question is where can I get together with friends and relatives to say good-bye to the old year and hello to the new without having to pick up my house or clean the bathroom? Like the pubs in the British Isles, local breweries are the perfect place to gather, chat, joke and of course drink a few beers. Unlike bars, beer brewpubs welcome everyone, youngsters to oldsters. Many serve food and some have games and special music performances. All offer a place to unwind and connect with people you like and maybe even some you don’t even know (yet).
Two establishments come immediately to mind. The Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Boonville and Tall Guy Brewing in Fort Bragg.
The AVBC is about as local as you can get. While founded way back in 1987 by Ken and Kim Allen as one of the first 20 Craft Breweries in the entire country, AVBC continues to evolve. The new owners wisely realize that they need to get through the long cold winter relying primarily on Anderson Valley residents as customers. With this in mind they have made their business as comfortable and accessible as possible to those of us who live here. Families are welcome, games are on hand and every Friday night live music is on offer. The service is friendly, the prices are reasonable and the vibe is decidedly upbeat. I dare anyone to drop in and continue to feel gloomy.
Abiding by the wisdom of avoiding the topics of religion and politics, a good time can be had by all. An added bonus in our retiree-laden valley is the relative youth of most of the patrons. I would say the majority of the AVBC beer drinkers visiting the brewpub are between 21 and 35. As a 73 year old, I really like to be surrounded by young people on occasion; it is energizing and fun. The beer is great even though they run out of the vanilla laden Summer Solstice (my favorite) way too early in the fall… But there are many others to choose from. The bartender is uncommonly patient and will give you little splashes of this and that to taste until you hit on one you like. You can also order a “flight” (a row of small glasses) giving three or four beers a more through tasting. Summer Solstice is kind of a “girly” beer, but there are many more “manly” beers on tap.
If you think making beer is a simple process read this excerpt from an online interview “Inside the mind of Brew master Fal Allen” — “Originally we were using English hops but when we got better American hops we switched over but tried to keep the same flavor and aroma. Right now we use a hopback, which is a big open vessel where you run hot wort over fresh whole flower hops. Whole flower hops have a different aroma than pellet hops, and give you lots of delicate floral notes. We also use pale malt and low roasted and high roasted crystal malt to round out the depth of flavor.”
Simple it is not. Later in the interview Fal characterizes IPAs (Indian Pale Ales) as having a lot of “punch” with a dominant hoppy flavor while amber ales have more “Panache” and are more easily paired with food. This simple explanation does a lot toward helping me realize why IPA’s have never been my mug of beer.
Tall Guy Brewing is the second brewery that deserves special attention as a destination for holiday (or anytime) celebrating with your favorite people. Located on a corner at 362 N. Franklin in downtown Fort Bragg in “the old Sears building,” Tall Guy Brewery has only been open for a few months and is already shaping up as the real heartbeat of downtown. The large retail windows left over from the old Sears heyday let in lots of light making the space seem very open and even bigger than it actually is. The space is big enough to accommodate the entire Boonville Big Band so it is sizeable. Specializing in “fresh beer” made in small batches, their beers are very refreshing and best when drunk within a very short time after brewing. “Hazy Mama” for example is very citrusy and beautifully cloudy with almost a pale orange juice look. It is scrumptious. You can order flights here as well: try lots of different flavors. The day we were there a great band that includes local guitar legend Pilar Duran called “Moon Rabbit” was on hand to play live.
The excitement of something new and happening is palpable at Tall Guy. We were lucky enough to run into the actual “Tall Guy,” Patrick Broderick in the pub. He was very approachable, happy to answer questions and seems to be quite pleased with his new place. Interested in Brewing since college, he has learned the craft and paid his dues working at other breweries including 23 years at North Coast Brewery in Fort Bragg. One of his stated desires is to be a center for the community and to this end he has made his place feel a lot like a big living room with couches and comfortable big chairs along with stools and bars along the windows and bigger tables for bigger parties. You can order hotdogs or pretzels if you need some sustenance along with your beer. Like the Boonville Brewery service is friendly, prices are reasonable and nobody is rushing you out the door. Another great place to gather with friends and family, kids welcome.
So if you want to hang out without the hassle of converting your house to a “visitor friendly” space consider meeting up outside your home. There is a lot to be said for letting someone else set the stage. Both the Boonville Brewery and Tall Guy Brewery have put a lot of thought into making your stay enjoyable. Why not take advantage of their hard work? Remember what Benjamin Franklin said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Cheers!