In Northern California beer lore, one beer festival stands out amongst all others: the Boonville Beer Festival. The stories beer geeks brought back from Mendocino County were the stuff of legend. Great beer aside, it was the tales, especially of the campground parties, that piqued the interest of people who missed out. It took us fifteen years, but we finally made it to our first Boonville Beer Festival to experience the legend for ourselves.
Disclaimer: Merideth and I don’t camp. We spent Friday and Saturday night comfortably in a hotel room. Therefore, we didn’t get the full Boonville Beer Festival experience. And, we are OK with that.
The threat of rain didn’t keep the crowds away. The scruffy looking bunch began lining up over an hour before the opening time of 1pm. After being ID’d and banded by one of the festival staff, Merideth and I joined the line a bit before noon. Being our first Boonville, we looked over fellow festival-goers to gauge what the our day could be like. They were a rough looking bunch. Friday night in the campgrounds must have been a good time.
At 12:45, the doors were opened and the eager crowd streamed into the Mendocino County Fairgrounds. Not knowing the layout of the festival, Merideth and I bee-lined for the first set of taps we could see, just off to the left. In this grouping amongst others, was the festival host, Anderson Valley Brewing, Triple Rock and Russian River Brewing who already had a lengthy line. Around the corner, I found Moonlight Brewing and Twist of Fate on cask was soon filling my tiny tasting glass. Merideth’s first beer was Mammoth Brewing Golden Trout Pilsner.
With our first beers in hand, it was time to explore the lay of the land. The festival was spread out over a large portion of the Fairgrounds. Breweries were grouped in the animal stalls that ringed a redwood grove. More were grouped on the opposite side in a giant field where the wrestling matches later occurred. The spread out nature of the festival was somewhat annoying when we were first trying to figure out where everyone was located. But later with the festival was in full swing, the roominess was a godsend. When one area became too congested, we just found another area that was less crowded.
Overall, the beer selection at Boonville would make many beer festivals jealous. The list included a Who’s Who of California breweries. And a few hearty brewers made the long trek down from Oregon and Washington, including one of our favorites, Double Mountain from Hood River. There was even a couple of breweries we never heard of.
We sampled a number of beers over the course of four hours. Some of the beers of Merideth and I thought were of note:
- Ballast Point Sculpin
- Cherry Voodoo Triple
- Double Mountain Hop Lava & Vaporizer
- Drake’s Denogginizer
- Firestone Walker Double Jack
- Moonlight Bombay by Boat, Twist of Fate (firkin) and Reality Czeck
- Mad River Dry Hopped Amarillo (firkin)
- Marin Brewing White Knuckle
- Sierra Nevada Hips Helles
- Triple Rock “The Judge”
We’ve been to drunk-fests before, but Boonville made these other festivals look like a little old lady tea party. And I don’t really mean that in a bad way. From the opening bell, people were eager to party and party hard. Despite this vibe, there was never a feeling that things were going to get out of control. I think large amounts of marijuana being smoked mellowed the crowd. Even the wrestling in the big field appeared to be good-natured hijinks between friends. When the taps were finally shut off, the large number of people snoozing on the ground was evidence of a great day.
Despite not camping, we did get a taste of the campground experience after the festival. We wandered over to the Brewers Campground behind the Anderson Valley Brewery. For the next hour or so, we walked around that magical place where so many of the legendary Boonville stories are set. We popped in on our friends’ campsites, sharing stories and beers.
Merideth and I finally settled in the Marin Brewing’s campsite where a large number of people were gathered. The centerpiece of their area was a huge grill-mobile, an impressive piece of food cooking engineering. We enjoyed an Anderson Valley sunset chatting with friends, watching Whiffleball and eating amazing grilled lamb and chicken.
Groping our way back to our car in the dark with rain drops beginning to fall, Merideth and I talked about our fun-filled day. Our first Boonville Beer Fest was quite an eye-opening experience. We’ll probably be back and next time we may even camp. Many thanks to Sierra Nevada, Marin Brewing, and New Belgium for all their generous hospitality!