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Central Coast Update
Random Moments of Professionalism: CBN at 20
Back in the late 1980s, I really enjoyed the then-new concept of microbrewing. So much so that I got involved with a beer festival that featured the beers of every brewery in California. One of my duties was “field research.” That meant I spent many weekends at brewpubs and alehouses across the state.

In a Bay Area burg called Sunol in a place called Lyon’s Brewery Depot, I met a like-minded soul named Bret. Where I channeled my enthusiasm into a beer festival, he was planning to launch a “brewspaper,” a zine that would report the doings of the California beer scene. I wished him luck.

The next time I saw Bret Nickels was at a benefit/wake for that same Lyon’s Brewery Depot. That alehouse, part of microbrewing’s beginning, had burned to the ground. In between toasts to a well-loved alehouse that was no more, Bret proudly handed me a copy of the first issue of his magazine.

Boldly named the California Celebrator, it was all of 12 pages of newsprint. The graphics were primitive, but enthusiasm leaped off the pages. Most important, in the magazine’s center, between an article describing a Sacramento brewpub called Rubicon and another article mourning Lyon’s, was a page titled the “Golden Beer State” that listed 28 breweries (including A-B and Miller) plus several pubs, homebrew shops and liquor stores.

Yes, there have been folks who actually tried to pass themselves off as Celebrator writers.

The second issue featured the writing debut of Bret’s wife, Julie, as well as a letter to the editor from some wine geek named Tom Dalldorf. The “Golden Beer State” list had almost doubled, now listing 48 breweries (about half are still open). And the enthusiasm still leaped off the pages.

A year later, I succumbed to the enthusiasm and began submitting articles myself. First, I co-authored a letter to the editor and an article about conducting a “beer safari” safely and sanely. Next, I wrote about some of the better adventures collecting beer for the beer festival I was involved with. (Picture two guys in a van full of beer pulling out onto a one-way street — and a police officer going the wrong way down that same street.)

I then started writing about the brewpubs and alehouses I’d discovered while traveling in my “real” job.

We all had real jobs; the Celebrator was simply a labor of love we all volunteered for. Bret and Julie pasted the issues together on their kitchen table and self-distributed the publication in their pickup — statewide.

Pure enthusiasm can take you only so far. Writers came and went. More dire, Bret and Julie couldn’t keep the pace. Enter Tom Dalldorf.

Tom, a restaurateur and publisher, moved the Celebrator from Bret and Julie’s kitchen to his garage, then to an office behind the Hayward airport. After a stay in San Leandro (a block away from The Englander pub, where we held “editorial” meetings), the Celebrator is back in Hayward — in a basement office that getting to is a bit like the start of a “Get Smart” episode.

We writers got titles, shirts and business cards. Tom even started paying us!

With “respect” came imposters. Yes, there have been folks who actually tried to pass themselves off as Celebrator writers. Once, I was camped at a favorite watering hole when the manager informed me that another Celebrator writer was at the other end of the bar — and demanding free beer. I didn’t recognize my fellow scribe so, wearing one of my Celebrator staff shirts, I introduced myself. He hurriedly left — after paying for his beer.

On the other hand, my Celebrator credentials have gotten me adopted by a bachelorette party in Las Vegas. And by an Australian rugby team. And an Irish squad. I never was sure what sport they played, but I did see parts of Denver I certainly wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Nowadays the Celebrator is some 52+ pages with a slick cover and lots of photos and color. The magazine has outgrown its California beginnings: Its coverage is national, with regular reporting from Canada, Europe and Japan. Most important, the first issue’s centerfold listing of 28 breweries has grown to several pages of “Hop Spots” that cover most of the country.

And the enthusiasm still leaps off the pages.




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