Homebrewers descend on Petaluma

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In its third year, the Sonoma County Home Brewers Competition will roll out the red carpet along Petaluma’s Scott Street for the first time. This new location will not only allow for the increased capacity of both brewers and revelers, but will be smack dab between the two breweries that are integral to this event – 101 North and Lagunitas Brewing Company. This will be no ordinary beer celebration.

Festivities kick off at noon on Saturday, Oct. 7, in front of 101 North’s brewery. The location is apropos because the winning homebrewer earns the honor of brewing side-by-side with 101 North’s brewmaster, Joel Johnson. Scott Street is also the perfect spot because it is the heart of what is affectionately known as the “Makers District.”

With a number of elixir producers along its length, hosting a competition of this nature is perfectly placed on Scott Street. Lagunitas Brewing, one of those “makers” across McDowell Boulevard from Scott Street, was looking to do something in support of the local homebrew community, and this event is right up their alley.

To help Lagunitas reach local brewers, the organizers of the competition added a pre-party for homebrewers who submitted their applications early. Homebrewers are often more interested in feedback than awards, so this pre-party gave them invaluable insight into how to fine-tune their beers prior to the competition.

Hosted at Lagunitas several months ago, this pre-party included a question-and-answer session with Lagunitas’s brewmaster, Jeremy Marshall, as well as 101’s Johnson. At the same time, the two brewmasters were collaborating on a special beer, which will be available on tap at this weekend’s event.

The competition is the brainchild of Eric LaFranchi, whose affection for beer has no limits. He started Taps Beer Co. & Kitchen back in 2009 because he felt that Petaluma lacked a true multi-tap pub with direct connections to craft brewers. In conjunction with the Petaluma Downtown Association, Eric wanted to reach out to the public in order to find out what they thought would make a great commercial beer, instead of relying on the marketing teams at the major brands, who may not have their finger on the pulse of local craft beer aficionados.

Although Eric often taps from distributors, he is never as pleased as when he can offer his guests a keg of something special directly from the brewery, often retrieved personally or by one of his staff.

The Sonoma County Home Brewers Competition gives Taps direct access to one of the North Bay’s most unique collaboration. Eric will be sorely missed at this year’s event, but could not pass up on an invitation to visit half a dozen of Europe’s most influential breweries in Germany, Belgium and England, including Ayinger, Orval and Samuel Smith.

The competition’s winning brew is picked by a double voting system. Guests vote for their favorite brew across the competition’s five main categories. The top vote-getter from each category is combined with one beer from each category, as chosen by a group of industry judges. These ten beers move into the final round, where a panel of primary judges will crown a winner.

The primary judge panel is a who’s-who of fermentation experts, including Collin McDonnell of HenHouse Brewing, the aforementioned brewmasters of 101 North and Lagunitas, Garrett Martin of Adobe Road Winery and host of Spoiled to Perfection, Jeff Bull of Bullseyebrewco, and Herlinda Heras, co-host of KSRO’s BrewHaHa and coordinator of Sonoma State University’s Craft Beer program.

The industry judging panel includes Leslie Sbrocco, award-winning author, speaker, consultant and television host of the KQED restaurant review series, “Check Please! Bay Area.” Representing brewery folks is Lagunitas family members Mark Hughes, Bryan Donaldson and Sam Thompson, John Brewer of Marin Brewing and HenHouse Brewing, and Christal Farias, owner Beer Belly Brewing Supply.

Others from the industry include Peter Lopez, owner of the recently opened Confluence Taproom & Lounge, alongside fellow founding member of NorCal Beer Geeks, Edgar Delgado; sales manager of Morris Distributing, Greg Pastryk; wine, craft and European beer sales manager for Wine Warehouse, Daniel DeBonis; and Roaring Donkey owner Brian Tatko.

Rounding out the panel, I will be rubbing elbows with Will Bomar, owner of the Sweet Zone, Nick Harris of Petaluma Coffee and Tea, and attorney Andrea Pierotti, who along with handling wills, trusts, and estate planning, specializes in beer law.

With just about every taproom in Petaluma wanting a keg or two to serve their patrons, and many more bars across the North Bay requesting kegs, Joel will help the winning brewer scale their beer up to commercial capacity. However, kegs will only be distributed once Taps holds a special launch party, tentatively scheduled for some time after the New Year.

Because conscious connoisseurs are recognizing the palatable pleasure of pairing beer with food, the competition again offers sample pairings of some of the area’s finest cheese, including Nicasio Valley, Pt. Reyes Farmstead, Marin French Cheese, Laura Chanel, Bellwether Farms, Dacheva and Sons and Rumiano.

As a bonus, award-winning chocolates from Volo Chocolate, Dandelion Chocolates, Sonoma Chocolatiers and Dick Taylor Chocolate will also be on hand to compliment the cheeses and craft brews on tap.

Rocky and Rosie Chicken’s food truck will be serving up tasty meals, as will the Bodega – CA, Fuel, Mai Thai Kitchen and Brew. Raffle items will include BottleKeepers and Lagunitas Beer Circus Tickets. North Bay Brewery Tours is sponsoring games, such as corn hole and life-size beer pong.

Yet again proving that Petaluma is no run-of-the-mill town, the 2017 Sonoma County Home Brewers Competition leads the way when it comes to supporting local industry and ingenuity. Tickets are available for both designated drivers ($15) and designated drinkers ($35 advance/$45 at the door) at www.petalumadowntown.com. This is an adult-only event, so no children and no pets.

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