Sam McManis

December 9, 2012

Discoveies: Boontling great beer -- must be Boonville

Enough with those effete, raised-pinky wine- tasting tours.


Sam McManis roams the region to find where you want to go

BOONVILLE – Enough with those effete, raised-pinky wine- tasting tours.

Gimme some brew, will ya? With a little attitude and a stout character or two as something of a chaser.

Even here in the Anderson Valley, in Mendocino's less-fashionable interior, there are no less than 43 wineries and vineyards stitched into the rolling hills of tawny oaks. Soon, it seems, the proliferation of Northern California wineries will outnumber even Starbucks franchises.

Yet, the big draw for those seeking either inebriety or a chance to let their sophisticated palates go slumming sits on the corner of Highways 128 and 253, just east of Boonville proper.

It is a Bavarian-style structure housing the Anderson Valley Brewing Co., home of ales and stouts once merely a local delicacy but now available nationwide and in four countries. And, yes, the owners give tours, have a tasting room and offer other attractions.

But be prepared, it's hardly your upper-crust, "Sideways" experience.

You belly up to the tasting room's bar, both elbows on the copper counter. You quaff, not sip; swallow, not spit. The beer samples come in elongated shot glasses, not fine-stemmed crystal. Rather than reaching for an oenophile's ludicrous adjective to describe taste and aroma, a perfectly acceptable response is a Homer Simpsonian "Mmm, beer."

Or, more likely, what you'll hear at Anderson Valley Brewing Co. is an exclamatory "Bahl Hornin'." That means "good drinking" in Boontling, the official unofficial language of Boonville codgers. Boontling is mostly an archaic dialect, having all but died out in the 1920s, but within the confines of the brewery, it endures.

If you're lucky, you might even happen upon Rod DeWitt, director of plant engineering, who spouts Boontling with an accent that's part "you betcha" Minnesotan, part shanty Irish, part three-sheets-to-the-wind.

"It's kind of hilarious," said tour guide Jess Nau. "One time, I caught him doing it by accident. One of our customers asked him for directions to a place downtown and he starts spouting Boontling. I said, 'Rod, you need to speak English.' "

Nau, sadly, is not fluent in the language, but she gave it a shot: "I do know one of our slogans for our Oatmeal Stout: It's not just shy sluggin' gorms neemer. That means, 'It's not just for breakfast anymore.' "

Such goofiness permeates the brewery. Spirits are altered even before imbibing in the spirits. There's an 18-hole disc golf course with a degree of difficulty entirely dependent on your level of intoxication. Pink flamingos (plastic, not living) dot the grounds, and Barkley, the beloved mascot that's a bear with antlers, stands as a sentinel at the head of the tasting room.

(Quick digression about Barkley: Said to be a native species of the Anderson Valley, the stuffed bear's antlers are explained thusly: "Bear + Deer = Beer.")

The tasting room is hardly tastefully appointed, at least to your pretentious wine snob. There's the functional wraparound bar, some spare tables, a TV set mounted to the wall showing a Raiders game on this particular afternoon. The patio is preferable during warmer months, shaded by (what else?) trellised hops.

Twice daily, a staff member gives a 20-minute tour of the facilities. But let's be honest: Unless you're some budding microbrewer, you're not going to be overly interested in the process of making beer, all that talk of mashing and milling, of aeration and flocculation of the wort.

Nau, our tour guide, seemed to realize that. Which is why, at the outset, she dangled this tantalizing piece of information: Our $5 ticket stub entitled us to "one Daily Specialty Sampler" of the company's seasonal beers.

She also told us we had to wear closed-toed shoes and don dorky goggles in the brew house – something about safety regulations and Cal-OSHA. Disobeying that admonition – and, actually, disobeying just about everything – was Nau's tour assistant, a cute, rambunctious 4-year-old black Labrador retriever named Luke.

"Follow Luke," Nau said at one point. "He goes on every tour. He knows the way."

It's not all whimsy, though.

Brewing here is a serious enterprise, a multimillion-dollar business. What started in 1987 as a 10-barrel undertaking in the basement of the Buckhorn Saloon has grown and fermented into a 100-barrel, 3,100-gallons-per-batch operation, bottling five days a week.

As Anderson Valley Brewing Co.'s reputation grew and its list of awards proliferated, founder and brewmaster Kenneth Allen sold the business to HMB Holdings, led by "industry veteran" Trey White. Rather than change the brand and – more important – culture of the place, White instead brought back Anderson Valley's former brewmaster and bulked up marketing.

One taste of the post-tour complimentary specialty brew tells you the joint hasn't gone corporate.

Luke weaves between the legs of customers, the ball game is blaring and Barkley stares down at you with those mesmerizing glass eyes.

You're inspired, even to engage in some Boontling, the ale serving as a kind of speeded-up Rosetta Stone course.

Brightlighters and back-dated Chucks like get all nettied and jape on over from the briny with their appleheads to go a-horning until they get the fiddlers and harpin' tidrick with some bar-eesole, who turns all can-kicky and is liable to commence a fister.

Loose translation: City slickers and pretentious types like to get dressed up and drive from the coast with their girlfriends to drink until they get the delirium tremens and prattle on with an idiot at the bar, who turns angry and is apt to start a fight.

Of course, that really doesn't happen at the bar, at least not too often. This is just some Greeley (newspaper reporter) blooching (telling) a bowgley (big lie).


When: Thursdays through Mondays at 1:30 and 3 p.m.

Where: Anderson Valley Brewing Co., 17700 Highway 253, Boonville.

Cost: $5 (with free-drink coupon)

More information: (707) 895-2337;

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