When Petaluma firefighter and paramedic Kevin Larson isn’t battling blazes throughout the city, he’s hard at work brewing up some ice cold suds in his west Petaluma garage.
Like many other local homebrewers, Larson has aspirations of opening his own Petaluma brewery where he can showcase his beers that are named after areas along the North Coast. He’s dedicated hours to crafting his “Goat Rock IPA,” which he’ll pour at Saturday’s Sonoma County Home Brewers Competition alongside about 40 other brewers thirsty for the opportunity to brew their winning recipe at 101 North Brewing Company.
In its third year, the event pays homage to a thriving homebrew culture embedded within the city’s larger craft brewery metropolis. Many of Sonoma County’s specialty breweries have been born from garages or backyards, where home brewers cut their teeth before commercially marketing their beer, according to industry experts.
Larson began handcrafting his own libations as a hobby with his father, but things got more serious about eight years ago, when he began to build a custom set up while experimenting with creating new recipes and types of beer. He last year participated in the former Petaluma Hills Brewing Company’s Homebroots program, where he created a batch of “Cherry Street Wheat” alongside brewmaster JJ Jay. He’s gearing up to open his own Coastal Acres Brewing Company, and is searching for financial backing and a commercial space.
For Larson, brewing is a passion.
“The best part is when someone who has never had my beer before tries it and I see their face and they say ‘Oh wow, you made this?’ It’s a pretty exciting thing to see someone enjoying your beer,” the 37-year-old said.
He’s also participated in the Santa-Rosa based Sonoma County Beerocrats club, which hosts a medley of events and competitions for home brewers. The three-decade-old club, one of the longest-running in the state, includes a handful of members from Petaluma, President Ron Slyh said. The home brewing culture in Petaluma and the greater Sonoma County has been heavily influenced by a deeply-rooted beer culture, Slyh said.
“This area up here in Northern California has a history in hop production years ago, and some of the first craft breweries started up in this area,” Slyh said. “Not many still exist today, but they were the ones that really fired people up like Sierra Nevada and even Lagunitas to start their own breweries.”
Homebrewers from the 100-member club have gone on to open their own brick-and-mortar establishments across the county, including Cotati’s Grav South Brew Co., Slyh said.
Meanwhile, Petlauma has earned a solid reputation for its brews — with the flagship of Lagunitas Brewing Company as well as a number of other local taprooms, Petaluma-based beer writer Ken Weaver said.
“Petaluma is incredibly strong in terms of beer and has a hugely supportive environment,” he said. “People support those breweries and they’re really into this work. Having Lagnuitas here has sort of established Petaluma as a brewing town and a place where this stuff happens. That’s sort of elevated Petaluma a lot in people’s minds.”
A 2013 bill championed by former Sen. Lois Wolk, whose district included Petaluma, made it easier to create and share homebrewed beer and wine. The Petaluma Downtown Association, which created the first homebrewing competition shortly after the bill’s passing, honored Wolk with a commemorative beer stein Wednesday, according to Executive Director Marie McCusker.
Sonoma County Home Brewer’s Competition
What: Petaluma Downtown Association’s fundraiser featuring homebrewed beer, food trucks, live music and a cheese and chocolate paring. The event is 21 and over.
Where: Scott Street.
When: Noon to 6 p.m., Oct. 7
How much: Presale tickets are $35 while admission is $45 on the day of the event. Advanced designated driver tickets are $15 and $20 on the day of the event.
More info/tickets: Visit petalumadowntown.com. Tickets can also be purchased at the 101 North Brewing Company at 1305 Scott St. or the Petaluma Visitor’s Center at 210 Lakeville St.