Northern California Homebrewers Festival 2015

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Our Malt Konocti Mashers’ booth on the right with a little waiting area in front of the dispensary.

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This year’s theme was Prohibition. Under the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, doctors could write prescriptions for alcohol. “You’ve gotta fever and the prescription is more beer.”

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Looking toward “Home” (left of photo) where you register and buy tee-shirts.

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Dr. Paul tasting a prescription to see if it meets his exacting standards.

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Patients could choose from a tasty array of medications.

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Next door to our booth was a “barber shop” where one of the aerosol cans of Barbasol dispensed an IPA.

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The D.O.Z.E. ([Mt.] Diablo Order Of Zymiracle Enthusiasts) booth was a Dept of Treasury office with soda up front and samples of forbidden beer in the back.

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Looking to the left of our booth.

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Evidence tags on illegal beer at the GBA booth.

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The Worts of Wisdom booth had soda in the front (self-serve). Word is that they had beer behind the curtain.

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GBA’s serving list being prepared.

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Almaden Brewers prove that tie-die is not dead, though it should be.

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Silicon Valley Sudzers had some cute names for their beers.

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The Silicon Valley Sudzer branch office of the IRS.

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The Doctor is in.

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GBA getting rid of the evidence by drinking it away.

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A wanted poster for Willie the Brewer on a trash can.

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Across from our booth. The lecture tent and stage on the left.

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The checkered awning is the booth for tasting the club competition beers.

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Lecture tent and stage on the right. More booths on the left.

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The “Library” with the faux stone walls had some amazing food.

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Dr. Jon dispensing medicine to needy patients. The sign in front says, “The Amazing Dr. Paul’s Healthful Elixirs: Good for What Ales You.”

These photos are from the Northern California Homebrewers Festival (NCHF).

NCHF was bittersweet this year, landing as it did, during the Valley Fire. When we set up our booth, we knew at least one member had lost his home and two others were not sure. To say it put a damper on our spirits would not be overstating it.

We thought we might just have a pile of burnt rubble instead of any booth. In the end, we set up and made the best of it.

The theme this year was Prohibition. Prior to the event we did some research (okay we Googled it) and learned that prescriptions were written for alcohol. So we ordered some toy stethoscopes and reflective mirrors for our foreheads, and printed up some fake Rx pads. We prescribed many of the following: Dr. Kam A. Sutra’s India Pale Tonic, Dr. Paul’s Chocolate Coconut Porter Elixir, Blanche’s Nutritive Cream Ale Tonic, Dr. Jon’s Mother’s Milk Stout, or Dr. Jon’s Three for the Road Tripel.

Next year’s theme is…wait for it…Belgium. So if you like beer that tastes like a barnyard with cloves and bananas sprinkled about, you’ll love the NCHF in 2016.

Observations from the 15th Northern California Homebewers’ Festival

NCHF 15 logo and theme, “Our Founding Fathers.” From left to right: Ken Grossman, Charlie Papazian, Michael Jackson, and Fritz Maytag

It’s ninety degrees in the shade, if there were any shade, and I’m carrying a four-ounce taste of beer and a paper hot dog carrier filled with pulled pork up a hill toward a wooden picnic table underneath some live oaks. There’s reggae music playing in the background behind me, and as I walk, on my right a guy wearing a kilt is talking on a smartphone, “Have you ever strapped on a kilt?” he calls into the phone; as though wearing a kilt is completely new to him and wants to know if someone else has had the same feeling that he is experiencing now.

I’m at the 15th annual Northern California Homebrewers’ Festival and the first I have ever attended. Though the first festival was held in Skyline Park in Napa in 1998,

it is now held yearly at the Francis Lake Resort in Dobbins, California on the autumnal equinox—a religious event, of sorts (that goes a long way toward explaining the chanting and drumming later on at midnight). The festival registrar, Paul Keefer, tells me this year’s attendance is around 500. There are 36 homebrew clubs, under an assortment of canopies, pouring homebrew and handing out food.

“Mary, the Queen of Beers” tells me, “If you can’t find something you like here, you may as well pack up your tent and hit the road.” She is of indeterminate age, somewhere between 50 and death. She wears bangles on her wrists and bottle caps serve as earrings. She is to this beer event what the Annie Savoy is to the movie Bull Durham—a true believer in beer. She has tried them all and the only one that satisfies her is the Church of Beer.

Mary is right. While many of the beers are styles that just don’t appeal to me–meads, bretts, sours, and the like–I found a lot to taste: American Pale Ales, India Pale Ales, lagers, etc.

We are an eclectic mix of geeks (the male/female ratio is about 60/40), who probably enjoy talking about beer and beer making as much as we do drinking our product. And, there is a lot of product. According to Mary, Queen of Beers, there are “278 different tastes on tap here.” She knows because she went around and counted them. One booth had a couple of low-alcohol session beers. The 2.8% ABV one tasted like a liquid pretzel, bready and delicious.  A friend loved the Kölschs and Milds and he said Berliner Weiss beers both straight as well as with the raspberry and woodruff syrups were delicious.

Tossing the keg competition

Tossing the keg competition

From the picnic table on the hill, I see a knot of people at the rustic resort’s baseball field. At first I think it could be a pickup game of softball but the spectators are ringed around the infield. I wander down to the field, stopping only to sample a few more beers and finger foods, to find that it is the brewers’ version of a caber toss from the highland games. Mostly guys, but some women too, are testing their strength and skill at tossing an empty 15-gallon beer keg as far as they can. At the time I checked, the farthest toss was 29 feet.

In addition to the keg toss there are other competitions. There is the club competition for historical beers (one of them used molasses and sunflower and pumpkin seeds) and one for beers using brown malt. A chalice filled with samples of all 278 beers sat on top of the trophy. After the finalists were announced someone was going to have to drink from it–whether that was the winner or the losers was not clear to me.

If you were at this or other NCHFs please leave a comment below. As always, regardless or whether you have experienced any NCHFs, your comments are appreciated.

For more on the Northern California Homebrewers’ Festival see their website (http://nchfinfo.org/)

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