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AUG/SEP 2005 | REGIONAL | WEST COAST

Beerfest In Sonoma Wine Country
By Brent Ainsworth

It’s not the “Sonoma County Beerfest” or the “Luther Burbank Center Beerfest” or the “Redwood Empire Beerfest.” Nope, it’s just known around the Santa Rosa, Calif., area as the Beerfest. For 14 years, it’s been good enough to go by one name … sort of like “Vinnie” of Russian River Brewing Company fame.

The entry line was out the door on June 4 at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, just north of downtown Santa Rosa, where the Beerfest raised funds for Face to Face and the Sonoma County AIDS Network. Organizer Lynn Newton said about $25,000 was raised this year and more than 1,100 revelers attended, an increase of about 100 from last year. That was great news for executive director Rick Dean and all the folks at Face to Face, which offers prevention education about AIDS and HIV as well as care for those who suffer from the disease.

“The long and the short of it is that, from my perspective, every year it gets better and better,” Newton said of the Beerfest. “This year I got a phone call from someone who identified himself as a senior. He asked me if his wife would be comfortable at the event. It really made me happy to say an emphatic ‘yes!’ I wouldn’t have said that 10 years ago.”

Indeed, the crowd was in control on a day that wasn’t as lethally hot as it was in 2004. Newton was proud to report that it seemed as though just as many women attended as men and that it was a diverse clientele — as diverse as the fine beer and food offerings.

“Every year, the Beerfest gets better and better.”

Yes, it was a beerfest, but change one letter and it turns into a beef-fest. Meat-eaters had a field day. There were amazing choices everywhere, from the delectable sliced medallions of steak from Russell Ramsey’s Chop House to the spicy ribs from Willowside Meats to the mango/chicken sausages from Aidells and the hearty Harris Ranch tri-tip sandwiches from Molsberry Market. Somebody realized that real ale lovers are usually carnivores.

Among the Sonoma County microbreweries and brewpubs gloriously represented this day were Moonlight, Third Street AleWorks, Russian River, Bear Republic and Lagunitas. Moonlight’s Brian Hunt, sporting his own Death & Taxes T-shirt and straw hat, always has a grand time at the Luther Burbank Center, which is just a couple of miles from his one-man microbrewery, making him the localest of the local.

Bear Republic, makers of Racer 5 IPA and Red Rocket Ale, was voted People’s Choice Brewery and proudly displayed samples of its new six-packs, which made their debut in Sonoma and Marin Counties this spring. A representative from retailer Beverages & More told me the next day that the Bear Republic sixers were flying off the shelves. It’s great to have more outstanding, award-winning NorCal brews available in 12-ounce bottles.

Smaller brewpubs and micros from the Redwood Empire, such as Stumptown, Ukiah Brewing, Mount Saint Helena, Dempsey’s and Ruth McGowan’s, were in their element as well at Luther Burbank, reminding revelers that the little guys make good beer, too. Newton said she was pleased that Black Diamond of Walnut Creek brought its goods after a hiatus of several years.

The Trailer Park Rangers, a local band led by singer/guitarist David T. Carter, were in sweet form. Their brand of old-time Americana roots rock was especially ear-opening because — shocker — Carter’s an Aussie. Bonzer gig, cobber!

“The toughest nut to crack with a beer event is getting the right crowd,” Newton said. “It’s particularly sensitive with a high-profile, professional, health-oriented nonprofit like Face to Face. Raising money and promoting breweries are the two obvious goals, but the third thing driving the event is my passionate desire to produce an event that is comfortable for everyone.”

Brent Ainsworth, a beer lover and resident of Novato, Calif., is the Lifestyles editor at the Marin Independent Journal.

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