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Brewers gather in Petaluma to share their suds

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Brewers from across Northern California brought their best home-brewed beers to the Veterans Memorial building in Petaluma on Saturday, May 23 for the first annual Sonoma County Home Brewers Competition. The event, which benefits the Petaluma Downtown Association and was first envisioned in 2013, showcased Petaluma as a center of craft beer-making.

“We thought it would be great if there was a home brewers competition that allowed the public to be the judges by sampling rather than it be a behind the scenes,” said Marie McCusker, the association’s executive director.

However in 2013, laws preventing the public from sampling home brews after paying an admission put an end to the idea. But in 2014, a new law allowed homemade wine and beer to be sold to the public at charity events.

Saturday’s event with 67 competitors exceeded expectations, McCusker said. The main floor was packed with beer aficionados and parking at the Vet’s Memorial building was at a premium.

As the temperature inside the building rose, beers were flowing from home brewers who traveled as far as Sacramento, Yuba City and Concord to unveil their hobby to a thirsty public. While “standard” styles of beer like stouts, blondes and the ever-popular IPA were in abundance, several brewers really went outside the box with their entries.

Rohnert Park resident Dan Herrera brought his Café con Leche brew, which was made with organic Guatemalan coffee for the “coffee forward” taste that was popular among fans of stout beers. Another twist on the mighty stout was provided by Sam Thompson of Sebastopol, who offered up his “Peanut Butter Octopus” that had a nice touch of peanut butter on the palate. Other creative flavor twists included beers made with habanero peppers, chocolate, orange and key lime.

By the halfway point of the event, crowds had reached capacity. Just outside the venue, food was peddled by local favorites Thistle Meats and Rosie Chicken. There was also a croquet course with giant playing cards designed by Petaluma Heritage Salvage and a few cornhole games in progress throughout the day as well.

“I wasn’t sure how crowded this would be but it’s packed,” said Realtor Shad Cloney, a volunteer at the event. “This is awesome.”

A top ten list of beers chosen by the audience was put together for the panel of nine judges to sample and select a winner. Judges included Shane Goeppel of HenHouse Brewing, Mark Hughes of Lagunitas, Peter Burrell of Dempsey’s, JJ Jay of Petaluma Hills and local beer writer Ken Weaver. As palate cleansers, such as bubbly mineral water and pizza were brought out to keep the judges going, a gentle buzz of anticipation rose among the close-knit community of home brewers.

After much deliberation the judges finally came to a consensus with the winning beer granted the opportunity to have their recipe brewed and put into limited distribution by 101 Brewing of Petaluma. Joe Monostori and Jeremiah Konen from Cotati took first place with “Mojo’s Double Chocolate Milk Stout.” Both Joe and Jeremiah serve in the U.S. Coast Guard and have been brewing together for about four years.

“The opportunity for home brewers to have the public taste and judge their brews is a rare and awesome opportunity,” said Monostori. “I can only imagine this event will continue to grow and give home brewers the chance to get their recipes out there.”

Second place went to “Give the People What They Want IPA” by Mike Kelly and John Arends, and third place was awarded to “The Midnight IPA” by Darren Koop, Marcel Delagnis and Andrew Willis.

“We are so delighted with attendance and support for a first time it was a huge success,” McCusker said. “The PDA board president Chris Aluia, board members Eric Lafranchi, Jeff Mayne and Karla Schikore were the muscle behind the event. I couldn’t ask for a harder working team. Volunteers worked seamlessly to set up and continued tirelessly throughout the day.”

(Contact Don Lewis at ar gus@arguscourier.com.)