Anderson Valley Brewing Company By Sean Creevey
Anderson Valley Brewing Company is definitely not your typical craft brewery, they do things their own way, in their own language, and at their own pace. Located 40 minutes from any main road and a two hour drive from the Golden Gate Bridge, Anderson Valley Brewing Company (AVBC) doesn’t need to conform to national trends or feel the need to follow the beer classifications that can become technical gibberish, clouding the heart of the matter: good beer is good beer. In the Anderson Valley, the brew comes from the heart, not from the wallet. While others put their bottom line at the top of priorities, AVBC emphasizes fun and creativity while creating interesting but ultimately drinkable beers. As the owner, Trey White tells his employees, “it’s a marathon not a sprint” and with that message in mind AVBC has been creating World-Class beers for 25 years.
Of course, beer is top priority at any brewery, but like the best of ‘em there is more to a brewery that allows the brews to be enjoyed in context. Located on 30 acres of woods, pastures and even a disk golf course Anderson Valley has worked hard over the years to incorporate as much of the community, human and otherwise, into their production. AVBC has a strong commitment to their local environment, which may have to do with the origins of the brewery itself. The valley was initially found by accident while tracking a wounded deer and instead of dinner what was found was a magical place tucked away between the mountains. When people began to come to the valley it seemed wrong to disturb such a majestic place.
AVBC is no exception to the sentiment, every year the Waste Reduction Awards Program (WRAP) recognizes businesses in California that perform an outstanding job at reducing their waste, and AVBC has been awarded that prestigious award five times. Like many breweries nowadays, all the spent grain is reused for cattle feed, by local organic farmers for their various purposes and to grow mushrooms. Not only are the spent grains reused, so is just about everything that comes into the brewery, glass, plastic bottles, cardboard, plastic wrap, and everything else they can reuse and recycle, they do. It’s not all about what leaves the brewery,, but what comes into it is also taken into consideration. When AVBC began to outgrow their last building they moved and consequentially needed larger brew tanks to meet their demand. Instead of having some brand new tanks commissioned (which would use many resources) they found a couple copper ones in Germany that were no longer being used. This was a one-time purchase that would likely go unnoticed by other breweries as far as incorporating it into their Carbon footprint. On the day-to-day scale, they’re still conscientious, utilizing glass bottles that are 50% postconsumer and 65% total recycled content. AVBC is also starting to use cans for distribution, adding all their recyclable benefits. To top it all off, in 2006 AVBC installed a large solar panel array, one of the largest at the time actually, which works to produce 40% of the electrical needs of the facility.
When you find yourself admiring the artwork of a bottle or can of your favorite AVBC brew you might notice a couple things that could use some explaining. For one, there’s a bear with antlers, don’t worry it’s not actually found in the wild, but it is found in the brewery. This creature that I speak of is the official mascot of AVBC and his name is Barkley, he is a mix between a bear and a deer which the staff has so aptly named a beer (bear X deer = beer). Another thing that you may notice is the strange words and names of brews, they might seem foreign or otherwise strange and unusual, as they should. This all comes from the history of the valley: without giving yinz a history lesson the people of Anderson Valley created their own dialect in order to distinguish the city folk from the people of the valley (as well as allowing the valley folk to make fun of the city folk in front of them). Thus, Boontling was created, and the phrase “bahl hornin” was part of it and is now on all the packaging of the brews. What it means is “good drinking” it’s a sort of toast as well as a way of life. Therefore, most of their brews incorporate some boontling into the name in order to give it that much more of a personal feel, in case you didn’t get enough from the brew itself.
The current system that AVBC works off is a 100 barrel system that they use for the production of most of their beers while they use their 10 hectoliter system that they use to experiment with. For example, their Mendonesia series was born on their smaller system, including their estate ale, Mendo Mello which uses Chinook and Cascade hops fresh from their own fields. AVBC is continually trying new brews and experimenting with old like the Imperial Boont which is essentially the Boont Amber Ale with double all the ingredients in the same volume. From lager to Belgian style Trippel AVBC covers their brewing bases, approaching all beer-drinkers with quality brews— they even have a pumpkin ale coming out towards the end of July, so keep an eye out for the fall brew. And we owe the great pleasure of enjoyment to the wonderful people at Vecenie Distributing Company, without them these delicious brews never would have made it this far east. So next time your bahl hornin’ remember who’s responsible for your pleasure.
Summer Solstice: poured from a can with a nice big and frothy caramel colored head. Notes of caramel and sweet malts in the nose and a beautiful amber color. If you’re looking for a classification for this brew you won’t get it from the brewery but for those who need to have a category for their brew to reside in it would be a cream ale. Although the folks at the brewery wouldn’t necessarily call this a cream ale, that’s what it’s become known as. It’s a brew that doesn’t try to fit and you simply can’t help but accept it for what it is. In fact, the brew has gathered such a liking that it has gained a nickname that I personally find to be the most accurate description of the beer. What Summer Solstice has so affectionately been named is “cream soda for adults” and I couldn’t agree more. At 5% ABV you can stand to have a Summer Solstice session and reminisce of the days of cream soda and kiddie pools.
Boont Amber Ale: this brew is the flagship brew for AVBC and it’s no surprise, this just may be one of the best ambers the world has seen. Poured from a bottle with a solid two finger tan head and a deep copper color. The nose is undeniably fruity with peaches and berries coming to mind, take the first sip…wow, I didn’t know an amber could have so much going for it. The fruit stays, but doesn’t linger, the malt certainly takes over the tongue, but with a bit of a hoppy finish. The hops are so masterfully placed in this brew that they breathe life into the brew and then back away so you can enjoy it. I’ve found that paring it with a nice sunset is ideal, the color of the sky matches the color of the brew and everything is right in the world. Coming in at 5.8% ABV you can stand to have two (or three) and mull over the meanings of life.
Hop Ottin’ IPA: the favorite of their brews on this side of the country, an IPA for the ages. Stick your nose in it, it’s undeniably, deliciously hoppy. Then take your tongue to it and behold the glorious “C” hops, Columbus and Cascade, which give you that notable grapefruit taste. Perfectly balanced with malts that provide a backbone, which works to enhance the hop aroma IPA enthusiasts love. A dry, herbal finish that furnishes a feeling of satisfaction yet still has you craving more. An archetypical West Coast IPA, upfront, bold, well-balanced, and easy-going. Coming in at 7% ABV and 78 IBUs this is a brew best enjoyed with sharp cheddar or some curry chicken or, of course, all on its own.
Other Year Round Anderson Valley Beers available in Western Pennsylvania are: Poleeko Pale Ale, Heech O’ Hops Double IPA, El Steinber Dark Lager & the collaborative brew , Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout.