50 Beers from 50 States in 50 Weeks: Is travels northern California to find beer Nirvana
Every year for the last three years I’ve gone to Monterey, Calif. for California Roots Music and Arts Festival, an awesome, predominantly reggae, music fest. This year, my girlfriend Megan and I decided we would take a detour to Lagunitas Brewing Company and Russian River Brewing Company.
On our way, just outside of Auburn, Calif., Megan said, “You want to go to Knee Deep?” (We had intended on stopping there on our way back from Cali Roots.) I really don’t remember exactly what I said because I was so excited. So much so, I forgot they opened at 3 p.m. — we got there at 2:20 p.m.
Since we arrived in Auburn early, we decided to find good spots for beer pictures. Unfortunately, I broke my ankle the week before, so Megan volunteered to take some photos for me. As we drove around, we spotted a peacock on a corner of a warehouse parking lot. Megan got out of the car with a bottle of Iron Horse Double Rainbow.
When she was well into taking photos she suddenly heard someone yell, “What are you doing?! Are you drinking on my property?”
Startled, she nervously explained to the owner of the warehouse about the challenge, all the pictures I take and how we were killing time until Knee Deep opened. I was oblivious to the scene happening a few feet from where I was comfortably parked in the shade, so it was a surprise when Megan returned to the car panic-stricken, proclaiming how much I owed her for her gracious help. Needless to say, it shook her up a bit, but I laughed anyway (because I’m a good boyfriend, ha ha).
When 3 p.m. came around, I hobbled into Knee Deep Brewing Company with my crutches and a huge smile on my face. I felt like Charlie and this was my Chocolate Factory. As the wonderful smells hit me, I expected to see Willy Wonka come out with a brewers’ beard and some Oompa Loompas carrying bags of grains and hops.
The tasting room is inside the brewery so I could see the entire operation while enjoying the flights I ordered. I got samplings of 10 brews I hadn’t yet tried. When we left, two fellow patrons I’d talked to in the brewery gave me a Drake’s Alpha Session IPA because they knew I’d not yet tried anything from Drake’s Brewing Co. I gave them a Tröegs Nugget Nectar in return — one of five I had gotten in a trade.
An hour and a half after leaving Knee Deep, we pulled into Lagunitas Brewing Co. It is huge. The tasting room is a large area outside with tables and plants and a stage. There was a band playing and everybody seemed to be having a great time. I had the Around the World flight, a 16-beer sampling and the pulled pork nachos. (All that beer needs some company in my stomach, and what better company than pulled pork nachos?) Megan had a Sprite (thank goodness for DDs) and the pulled pork sandwich. The food was good, the beer was good, and I had a good buzz going. I didn’t want to leave, but we were headed to Russian River next.
Russian River Brewing Co. is a brewpub in Santa Rosa, and home to the famous Pliny the Elder. We got a table near the door to the brewing area. I got the 19-beer tasting flight. I savoured every one with a great big smile on my face — maybe the two earlier breweries had a little to do with that smile.
The beer was amazing, and so was the service. Before we left, I ordered 17 bottles of 5 different brews. The waitress smiled and quickly said, “Okay,” without writing down the order; she left and returned in moments with boxes of the brews as if she’d had them already waiting for us. She let Megan take pictures of the brewing area, where the fermentation tanks are. She even gave us a bunch of coasters when we left.
Those were the best detours I have ever taken in my life. It’s crazy how we went to three brewing companies and they were all so different. The tasting room at Knee Deep, complete with regular customers, a view of the brewing operation, and the opportunity to interact with the expert and approachable staff, had a comfortable, personal feel. Lagunitas’s tasting room is to the side of their huge brewing buildings, and had an outdoor party/picnic, 4th of July feel to it. Russian River’s awesome brewpub had a going-out-with-friends feel.
Each of the breweries was so fun, and the beers were delicious. The timing of our visit to each brewery was perfect for each place’s feel: mid-afternoon with a laid-back, relaxed feel at Knee Deep; just before the sun started to set with an outdoor party and live band at Lagunitas; and an evening with a proper nightlife vibe at Russian River. It was amazing.
Follow the challenge!
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