2005 | REGIONAL | WEST COAST
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
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
Mike Pitsker is an associate editor of the
Celebrator Beer News and a longtime beer-industry