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A 2010 California Beer Adventure: Mill Valley, Boonville, Fort Bragg

September 22, 2010

The day had come to leave San Francisco and head north to Boonville, in Anderson Valley. (The other Wine Valley)  We made our way to National Car Rental, where we had a car reserved.  Being an Emerald Club member sure paid off, as we got to avoid the long line (at least 2 hour wait) and go directly to the front. We chatted with the agent, told her this was LushC’s birthday trips, and we got a free upgrade to a premium car. Now, we were going to travel in style.

My route had us crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and then heading to the coast to Highway 1 for a leisurely scenic drive.  It added about 25 miles and forty minutes to the trip, but would make the drive a little more interesting. It also avoided going near any breweries, so I wouldn’t be tempted to stop. Possibly, I failed to mention that beer was not the primary focus of this trip.  Celebrating LushC’s Birthday was.


Pretty tall? by LushC 2010


Our first stop was Muir Woods, less than an hour from San Francisco. This well-developed National Park gives visitors easy access to a magnificent Red Wood forest. Paved trails take you right in to the heart of the coastal old-growth forest, with views of thousands of the tallest trees in the world. There are several short loops (30 min, 60 min, and 90 min) and a few extended trails.  We took the 90 min loop, and began making future plans to return to hike the longer trails.  If you’ve never seen these massive trees, it is a must stop.

All that walking in nature sure made us thirsty.  I hadn’t planned on stopping at any breweries on the way north to Boonville, but LushC surprised me and recommend we find one.  Luckily, I did program a few into the GPS, just in case. We set our target to the closest one, Mill Valley Beerworks, only 3.4 miles away in the town of Mill Valley.

Getting there was a little challenging, as the GPS took us through a hillside neighborhood, on a very narrow and windy road, and then said we were at the destination a few blocks off.  We drove through town, not even seeing it.  Figuring we’d do better on foot, we parked and walked through town.


Mill Valley Beerworks


Mill Valley Beerworks
We were about to give up, then in the very last storefront in the main street through town, we saw the sign for Mill Valley Beerworks.  Walked in, looked around, and headed to the two seats open at the bar.  The whole place had a sense of being new, in an old building.   The original dark wood floors, painted tin and classic subway tile walls contrasted nicely with the new natural wood tables, bar and shelves.  It had a French-modern feel.   The shelves were filled with beer bottle from around the world.  In the back was the shiny stainless steel brewing equipment. Mid-day, it had more of the feel of a café, rather than a bar/brewpub.

We gazed up at the beer menu, and pondered what to get. Old Speckled Hen, Old Rasputin, Maharaja… Wait a sec, those sound a bit familiar, and so I asked the bartender about their beers. Well, they were still in the fermenters, were going to be kegged that day, and then not ready for a couple of weeks.  We were sorely  disappointed.

Ordinarily this would be a bust for us, but with the tap selection, the very impressive international bottle list (they even had Howe Sound bottles form Canada), the great atmosphere, and an intriguing menu we were content.  LushC asked for the Avery Maharaja (much to her surprise, it was served in a half liter!) and I went with the lowest alcohol beer on the board, a Kolsch from Germany (I don’t remember the maker).

We’ll definitely come back to the Mill Valley Beerworks, probably on the same trip we return to Muir Woods.  We’ll probably even spend a night or two in two in the Mill Valley Inn, just steps from the Beerworks.

Not wanting to get directly in the car, we walked around town for a little bit, and checked in some of the shops.  The town is super cute, trendy, and has a real upscale feel.  It really had that “Stars Hollow” small town village feel.  After splitting a burger at Pearl’s Phatburgers, we were back on the road.

By now it was about three o’clock; time was getting away from us, spending longer in Muir Woods and Mill Valley than planned. We had a lot of distance to cover, and wanted to get to Boonville in time to go to Anderson Valley Brewing before they closed at six o’clock. So, we made the decision to not go the scenic route, and opted for the more direct Highway 101.

Two hours later we arrived in Boonville, California.  I’m not sure what I expected Boonville to be but it wasn’t what I expected.  It’s about a mile long strip along Highway 128 on the way to the coast.  There are a few renovated and new buildings, and some empty rundown buildings. The town has a couple of shops, a few diners, a wine tasting room, fairgrounds, a great hotel, and an incredible brewery.


View from the balcony


Our lodging accommodation for the next two nights would be at the Boonville Hotel on the western edge of town.  It’s a charming hotel that could be described as modern farmhouse, well decorated with clean lines and warm colors, or as they describe, “A Modern Roadhouse”.  LushC really liked the aesthetic.  Our room (#6) was narrow, but had plenty of room.  The bathroom was nicely appointed and the bed was amazingly comfortable.  We selected this room because it had a covered balcony overlooking the valley and grounds below.  Continental breakfast was included and we had some amazing scones.

Speaking of the restaurant, Table 128, it was superb.  When we arrived on Wednesday they were only offering light plates, and on Thursday they offered a set dinner.  We made reservations for both.  The light plates were great, and an excellent value.  The set dinner was lovely and relaxing and we had a nice bottle of  local wine (a little sticker shock for beer drinkers but reasonable for wine drinkers).  The staff did offer us a good selection of beer since they knew our preference but we opted to go outside our comfort zone and get wine.   We were on vacation and celebrating.


Anderson Valley Brewing Company, by LushC 2010


Anderson Valley Brewing Company
Shortly after arriving and freshening up, we set out on foot for Anderson Valley Brewing Company (AVBC). I’d been excited about this visit since planning the trip in February.   The brewery sits at the crossroads of Highways 128 and 253 on the site of the original town.  It is surrounded by acres of fields and trees.  The estate consisted of several buildings, one being the massive Bavarian-style Brewhouse and the other being the taproom.  The taproom was large and open, with a small bar on one side, a few table in the middle, a cooler full of beer to go, a gift shop and a beer garden off the back.  It had all the makings of great beer hall.

As we sat down at the bar, on the cool tractor seat bar stools, I spotted some familiar faces at the other end of the bar.  What a small world, fellow West Seattleites and Beer Bloggers ( Kendall and Kim were in the house.  They too were on a non-beer vacation and were camping not too far away. (No we were not following them).  Anyway, that night we just sat and enjoyed our beers, and got to know Kendall and Kim, finding out we had a lot more than beer in common.

We returned the next night to try some more of their beers.  It was another laid back night with the locals and a few other beer geeks.  Instead of getting a sampler tray, we decided to try larger pours of beers we don’t find back home.


My Beer at AVBC


High Rollers Wheat – light, crisp, tart, and tangy, very refreshing.
Boont ESB – strong malt backbone with a floral and hoppy finish, delightful.
3-Way ESB aged 2 years in whiskey barrels and then blended with the Imperial IPA and Imperial Amber – a big beer smoothed out by the vanilla oak whiskey barrel flavor and a hint of sour.
Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout – very dark malt flavor with a hint of smoke and vanilla. Not a smooth as other oatmeal stouts but still good.
Anniversary Imperial IPA – very malty sweet aroma (smelled like wort), sweet malty flavor followed by a hop explosion. Very good, not super sweet, better than most Imperial IPA’s.
Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema – a perfect marriage of beer and cream soda, smooth and delicious.  (This was my favorite new beer of the summer)



SeattleKim at AVBC



AVBC Brewhouse by LushC 2010


The first night at the Boonville Hotel was very restful, and it energized us for our next day.  We were encouraged by Kendall and Kim to check out Hendy Woods State Park and the seaside town of Mendocino.  Of course, since Fort Bragg is only nine mile from Mendocino, this gave us the opportunity to go to North Coast brewing for lunch.   (Thanks LushC!)


I look so small. By LuschC


Hendy Woods is a nice state park in the middle of the Anderson Valley.  They have camping facilitates, cabin rentals, and a day use park with trails through the Red Woods.  We took a peak into one of the cabins, and it was pretty bare, just bunk beds (no mattress) and a wood stove, just a step up from camping.  The trail in the day use park was a nice meandering, but not super well marked, trail.  There were signs an all, but they were confusing, and we had to double back a couple of times.  Once again the trees were massive.

We made quick work of the trail and then got back in the car and headed towards to coast.  I have to admit, the Anderson Valley was simply beautiful; lined with hills, trees, vineyards and farms, reminding me a bit of the Methow Valley in Washington.

Feeling a bit obliged, we made a stop at Roederer Estate Winery for a bit of wine tasting.  Being novices at the whole wine thing, they took it very easy on us. We were impressed, and purchased three bottles to be shipped home.

Okay, now we were finally on our way to Fort Bragg.  The rest of the drive to the coast was amazing as the road went through groves of Redwoods.   It was foggy at the coast, but what we could see was breathtaking.   The sign for Mendocino soon past us, and ten minute later we drove into Fort Bragg.


North Coast, by LushC


North Coast Brewing Company
On the other side of town, right on Highway 1 we found the world headquarters of North Coast Brewing occupying three corners.  The Brewery on one, the Brewpub on another and the Gift/Bottle shop on the other.

The Brewpub is a charming English Style publican; very cozy, and warm.  There is a dining room off to the left, a small gift shop straight ahead, and the bar off to the right.   As usual, we sat at the bar which was a classic antique wood.

The menu was typical coastal pub food. There were burgers, salads, sandwiches and Fish and Chips.  LushC opted for the Veggie Burger with garlic waffle fries. The burger was messy but good and the fries were astounding. I had the Turkey Burger with salad which was also first-rate.

Since we were driving, and neither of us could drink in quantity we split a couple of their 4 taste sampler trays.


Taster 1 at North Coast


PranQster Belgian Style Golden Ale – Belgian yeast smell, golden cloudy, floral nose, light and crisp, sweet, fruity and spicy, clean finish.
Red Seal Ale (Cask) – Spicy hoppy, aroma and a smooth coppery malt flavor with a pleasant hop finish; very tasty.
Le Merle (the blackbird) Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale (7.9%abv) – spicy hop aroma, big flavor, medium bodied, a little sour,  but not too sour, peppery hop finish, slight Belgian yeast flavor. “Oh it’s nice, almost tastes like wine”, said LushC.
Old  No38 Stout (Dublin Style) – smooth and heavenly, robust malt and chocolate stout. LushC is quoted as saying, “mmm, mmm, really nice, smells fantastic, really chocolaty the way I like it”.
Scrimshaw Pilsner – nice crisp clean pilsner. This was one of LushC’s favorite, even though she is not a huge pilsner drinker.
Acme California IPA whole hopped – A bit in the sweet end with a floral and peppery hop finish; mild for a west coast IPA but very satisfying.
Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey – Wow! Maple syrup and caramel flavor; very smooth, dark, rich, and robust. LushC said, “a little sweet but much better on tap than in the bottle… I didn’t care for it in the bottle, but on tap it is good”.
Old Stock Ale – sweet grape/mead like flavor; quite enjoyable, just don’t drink a lot of it.



North Coast Reflection - by LushC



North Coast pub, by LushC


Afterwards we purchased some swag, and then made our way back to Mendocino.  Now this was a picturesque town. It sits on a bluff high above the Pacific Ocean with views galore.  I’ve never been to the New England Coast, but this is exactly what I envision.  We may have been a little young for a lot of the shops, but we still had a nice time. We even ventured down the cliff to walk on the beach.

Soon enough we had to make the trek back to Boonville and the fore mentioned second visit to AVBC and our dinner at Table 128.   We’ll put Mendocino and North Coast on our “go back to” list.

-To be continued-

More photos



Foggy inlet, by LushC



Deer Butt, by LushC



Mendocino, by LushC



View from Mendocino, by LushC


FTC INFO: Everything was paid for. Nothing was received for FREE.

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