A Journey in Brewing

by Renee on October 18, 2010

Back in the CLE in time for Cleveland Beer Week–on the heels of an amazing trip to Northern California. I only wish I’d had more time to explore  many more of the breweries in the region. Of course, this just means I need to come back.

After a night in the beautiful coastal town of Mendocino, Paul and I headed out to Ukiah for the Mendocino Brewing Company brewery, and a tour by head brewer Gary O’Flanagan. This was the highlight of our day of beer for many reasons, first and foremost because Gary is a wonderful person–and not just because he brews delicious beer!

Gary walked us through the plant, explaining the operations as we went along, even allowing me to pour some hops into one of the brew vats!  But beyond the usual tour information, Gary had arranged several surprises along the way.

After Jack’s New Albion Brewery closed down, he went to work with the founders of MendoBrew, and apparently some of his equipment is still around. The first unveiling was Jack’s original, hand-fashioned copper brew kettle! What a piece of microbrewing history, tucked away in a back warehouse. Gary explained that hardly anyone there knows the significance of this piece of early equipment. Gary, however, does and I appreciated that he showed this to us.

Next, Gary revealed that he had asked some of the guys to dust off another old piece of equipment sitting in the warehouse–what was Jack’s very first homemade barrel washing contraption! This is the very same item that is in one of my most treasured photos of Jack. I sent photos of these items along to Jack, and he is very interested in seeing them again for himself one day.

After our tour, we had the chance to have lunch with Gary, and we talked about brewing history and our own personal histories. Somehow they are very much intertwined, and I am so glad we had the chance to spend that time together. Gary sent us on our way with a fine selection of Mendocino beers, and directions on how to get to the next couple of breweries on our way to visit friends in San Francisco.

Paul and I headed south on the 101–we had rented a convertible Mustang–and the California weather more than cooperated. We had beautiful blue skies and unseasonably warm temperatures throughout our visit. “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne became the featured song of the trip–we heard it at least four times that day! Somehow very appropriate along the winding California highway.

Our next stop was the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, for another look at a piece of New Albion history–this time the original sign that Jack had hand-painted many years ago. We walked into the bar on a busy Friday afternoon, and there it was, hanging over the bar, which was bedecked in pink for Breast Cancer Awareness month. Fellow bar patrons weren’t quite sure what we were doing taking photos of the thing. As we explained why we were visiting to our bartender, he told us that the sign was owner Vinnie’s most prized possession.

We asked him how it came to reside with Vinnie, and he said he thought a cousin of Jack or Don’s had sold it to them sometime a number of years ago.  Unfortunately, Vinnie wasn’t around, but I’d love to hear the detailed story from him some day.

Paul and I enjoyed the offerings while we sat and chatted with some of the Russian River fans around us. Pliny the Elder was a knockout of an IPA, but I have to say that the smooth balance of Perdition was my favorite beverage of the day. The pizza we noshed on was a nice accompaniment to the beer. I would like to have stayed and sampled more, but we had another brewery to hit before making our way to our destination. We left with a Pliny the Elder key chain and good memories.

Our next stop was Lagunitas Brewing in Petaluma. We arrived right at sunset on Friday, and the beer garden was hopping. What a great vibe: families sitting at the picnic tables enjoying beer and food while the band got folks up and dancing. The tasting room was buzzing with collective joy as bartenders put together custom sample trays and poured favorites for those wanting to kick off their weekends.

Paul and I each made up our own sampler trays.  My favorite was the Brown Shugga, and Paul enjoyed the Wet Dog. Lagunitas “Numbers Guy” Leon Sharyon ended up on our corner of the bar, and we shared a beer and some brewing conversation. We left with a Lagunitas t-shirt to remind us of the good time we had there and headed to San Francisco and the home of our friends Lynn and Jason.

 The rest of our weekend was a whirlwind–including attending the Kaiser Permanente Food for Health Forum and an amazing dinner Saturday night at Incanto with our friends. But as I told Paul as we were sitting on the bar stools at Russian River, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect day than that sun and beer soaked Friday.  Well crafted beers, good food, wonderful company, new friends, and a further appreciation for my journey in brewing.

Now, onward to Cleveland Beer Week! Cheers!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

"Numbers Guy" October 18, 2010 at 10:18 pm

great to meet you two…and glad you made Lagunitas a stop on the tour!

there’s a beer revolution going on; people coming to North Coast CA for brewery road trips. As we like to say “Obey the Buds”…


Renee October 18, 2010 at 11:44 pm

It was a great day! Hope we see you again.


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