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North And South : Monterey Beer Festival
By Mike Pitsker

This was my first experience with the fabled Monterey Beer Festival, having always been elsewhere on the dates of the event, but this year I vowed to make it a priority. This time the fest was condensed from a biannual, spring/fall set to a one-day summer blowout. Event Coordinator Jeff Moses put together a monstrous lineup of breweries from around the state and around the world and filled the Monterey Fairgrounds with booths, bands and beers.

The California coastline always strikes a chord with me. I love the scenic mountains falling toward the sea along the Monterey coast, and Highway 1 offers views that triple the local property values. The day of the fest was overcast, a bit chilly for early June, and perfect for drinking beer. A warming stout and a bratwurst always dispels the chill, and an IPA to top it off banishes the cold for the duration.

Jeff met me at the gate and ushered me in just as the fest was finishing its prep. I walked along the grass-lined pathways as the first band finished its warm-up and began its set. Over 70 breweries took part at the new location, most from California, but many imported products made the mix truly international in scope and flavor. I saw Chimay from Belgium pouring near Scotland’s Belhaven and Young’s English Ales, and Germany’s Paulaner near Moretti of Italy. Stella Artois, Kronenbourg, Murphy’s Irish Stout, San Miguel, Chau Tien, Hacker-Pschorr, Unibroue … the list went on and on.

But the best mix, in my opinion, was not international or even interstate, but just a gathering of north and south. Beers from some of the smaller breweries from Northern and Southern California are rarely tasted outside of their own small distribution areas. Monterey is a perfect middle ground for these breweries, who don’t mind driving a few extra miles to have their products sampled by beer lovers to whom they might not otherwise have ready access.

The fest offered a monstrous lineup of breweries from around the state and around the world.

My first beer was a red from Reaper Ale of Foothill Ranch in Southern California. I had become acquainted with this product just days earlier when I had picked up a 22-ounce bottle from Beverages & More. Next I tasted an IPA from Anderson Valley Brewing of Boonville, an old and trusted Northern California favorite. From there I stopped at the booth of Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, a new organic brewery, and I spoke with owners Emily Thomas and Chad Brill about their new project. For a new brand, it was delicious. I especially liked the amber ale. Lots of malt flavor with just enough hops for a finishing touch. I’ll be watching to see if they make a lasting impression.

Another Northern California brew, Marin Brewing’s Mt. Tam Pale, proved a delicious contrast. Marin’s sales guru, Curtis Cassidy, who also represents Novato, Calif.’s Moylan’s brews, leaned against the company’s logo-laden pickup truck — which is half transportation and half taproom — as beer lovers poured their own from the side-mounted beer taps on the truck’s shell. “I wasn’t even going to come to this festival,” Curtis said, “but how could I miss it?”

The second band began its setup, and I munched on bratwurst while enjoying a stout from English Ales, the local Monterey favorite that is gaining a reputation for its consistency, both batch-to-batch and in adherence to style. I tasted Lost Coast’s Downtown Brown from Eureka in California’s north and a Rock Bottom porter from the south. Lagunitas in the north offered its IPA and dueled with a Rock Bottom IPA from a different Southern California location. Firestone Walker brought Double Barrel Ale from the south, and Speakeasy poured Prohibition Ale from the north.

Other states were also represented. Montana’s Big Sky Brewery has been making recent inroads in the California markets with its Moose Drool brown ale, and Rogue from Oregon is always a welcome treat. Alaskan Amber alt beer is one of my perennial favorites, and Kona’s Fire Rock Pale Ale seemed popular with the crowd.

As much as I would have liked to have sampled every beer available and name them all here, the list is just too long and the day was just too short. But after sampling delicious beers and speaking to old and new friends, the drive back to the Bay Area proved to be relaxing. And I was thankful for my designated driver, to be sure. Visit montereybeerfestival.com and put the Monterey Beer Festival on your calendar for next year!

Mike Pitsker is an associate editor of the Celebrator Beer News and a longtime beer-industry professional.


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