This water tank marks the current Anderson Valley Brewing Company site on the outskirts of Boonville, CA

The original AVBC brewery was in the basement of the Buckhorn Saloon in the center of town

Matt Guyer charms AVBC founder Ken Allen by carefully avoiding any eye contact

Liquid Diet on the road
Day One: Boonville

BEER IS NOT JUST SHY SLUGGIN' GORMS NEEMER. AND DON'T YOU FORGET IT. Anderson Valley Brewing Company is in Boonville in Mendocino County, about 100 miles north of San Francisco. The first 75 miles or so of the journey are straightforward, moving as fast as traffic will allow up Route 101; the last 25 a bit more exciting, along the twists and turns and hills of Route 128 leading down into the valley. Boonville is an old logging, farming and sheep-raising town which has become, thanks to chiropractor Kenneth Allen, a beer town. The town is now dominated by the brewery, which Allen and his wife founded in 1987 when they discovered that the pure water of the valley lent itself to producing excellent beers. The commercial property they purchased in downtown Boonville for their chiropractic office became instead the Buckhorn Saloon, with a microbrewery in its basement.

The beers produced by Anderson Valley turned out to be just as good as the water promised and I'd guess the brewery is today on most people's lists of the top ten in the country. AVBC outgrew its original 10-barrel system by 1996 and moved to a 30-barrel brewhouse and plant on a 30-acre site a mile south of town that year and added a bottling line. A new Bavarian-style brewhouse was built in 1998 and now houses 100-barrel and 85-barrel systems acquired from Germany. These went on line in 2000. Among other new equipment added in recent years is some with Philadelphia roots, which you can read about here.

"The place is entirely self-sufficient," general manager Fal Allen told us. "We do everything ourselves because its pretty hard to get outside contractors up here. We do have a local general contractor on call full time and I doubt he'll ever have time to work anywhere else. We have our own water supply--six wells--and a waste treatment plant so that all the water that comes out of the brewery goes back into the property."

The site consists of 30 acres and is also used for the annual Boonville Beer Festival in April which draws 50-plus breweries and some 3000 visitors to the Valley. "About a 1000 of those are brewery-related people," said Allen. "So many people come up from Sierra Nevada that they have to shut down for a day because there's not enough left to work." The event raises more money than any other activity in the valley, some $15,000 or so being donated to the fairgrounds, rescue squad, volunteer fire department and other agencies last year.

Our accommodations for the night were in the Boonville Hotel, about 20 yards across the street from the Buckhorn, which was a good thing. Fal Allen joined us there for an evening during which much beer was consumed, a quantity which, in combination with being awake for 20-plus hours because of the flight and time difference, left your humble correspondent just barely able to make it to the room. Among the beers we sampled at a steady pace were a memorable Port Barrel Stout (aged six to eight months in the cask) and the very good AVBC 15th Anniversary Ale.

The Anderson Valley is famous for Boontling, or "Boonville language," a strange dialect which was created somewhere around 1880 and flourished over the next 40 years to the degree that every resident could speak it somewhat and for some it became the primary language. One theory holds that the language was created by farmhands and loggers who want to be able to talk about their sexual dalliances without their wives overhearing them. Another says valley women working in the fields first came up with it so they could gossip about one among their number who was with child and without husband. Myself, I'd vote for the women. Men eager to brag about their sexual conquests would never have the patience to invent a whole new language in which to do it.

Boontling was a language made up as they went along and grew through a system of using their slang words in new combinations to describe things. For example, the words "Bucky walter" can still be seen on some old telephone booths. A "Bucky" was a nickel and, the story goes, Walter was the first man in town to own a telephone. He got the bright idea to charge his neighbors a nickel a call if they wanted to use it...you get the idea. Like too many unique old traditions, Boontling is dying out these days. We met Anderson Valley's Peter Suddeth, who is, Fal Allen claims, "the last guy under age 70" who is still fluent in the old dialect. He proved it by talking to us in incomprehensible sentences for a bit.

The headline at the top of this entry is, of course, in Boontling. It's my rough translation of a Beer Yard motto, "Beer, much more than just a breakfast drink."

Friday, February 14: San Francisco Dreaming

Return to Liquid Diet February 2003 Page