From all over Northern California they come – San Francisco, San Jose, Marin, Berkeley and beyond – with wide smiles and thirsty throats.
They gather in a no-stoplight town along a two-lane highway just a few miles from Anderson Valley’s wine country.
And they come – some 7,000 in all – to drink beer, not wine, in very much a beer-drinking environment, on the grassy confines of the Mendocino County Fairgrounds.
It’s the annual Boonville Beer Festival in Boonville, CA, 125 miles north of San Francisco in Mendocino County. On a sunny Saturday in early May, Boonville becomes a boom town.
Tho the 2016 event is a bit earlier, Saturday, April 30, owning to the fact that a national beer conference is taking place that traditional week.
80 Northern California Micro & Craft Breweries
This festival is a big deal, and not just because some 80 small brewers from all over the area participate, including host brewhouse Anderson Valley Brewing Company located just around the corner.
It’s a big deal because the brewers love it too; in fact, they have their own private tasting section afterward on the Anderson Valley Brewing grounds.
And it’s a big deal because the people who attend make it so, some arriving two days early, giving the adjacent campground the feel of a music festival.
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The beer festival is divided into two areas, to the right and left of the entrance, with a kind of “bridge of beer” in between the two. Most people make an early move to the right side, for that is where most of the beer stations are located. Jockey boxes pouring all kinds of home brews are lined up under tents and a tin roof used for the annual county fair.
After people make their initial mad rush to get that nice-sized beer glass filled up the first time and then rapidly refilled, the section to the left becomes the more popular hangout. It has a large grass area that’s ideal to socialize or to simply to soak in the atmosphere of the event. There’s plenty of space at the Fairgrounds for everyone without crowding anyone (except for when getting beer, of course).
Like at just about every beer festival, people go about the first couple of hours in a hyped-up state, acting almost as if they are afraid the place will run of beer. They’ve paid their $45, made arrangements to get here, waited to get inside and are ready to party!
At about 3, the pace slows considerably and there’s no more knocking elbows to get a brew.
This is when the grassy area becomes the hangout, some taking a seat and chilling while others gather in groups to laugh and drink together.
Throughout the day, there is music. The best bands play on a small stage by the beer on the right area of the fairgrounds; it’s inside a barn of sorts and has a dance floor made of sawdust. In late afternoon, a band also sets up in the grassy area. A solo musician also sets up at the end of the “bridge of beer.”
Then there are the musicians on the move, a group of a dozen people who appear to be reliving their high school marching band days. They entertain people waiting in line to get into the festival, at the entrance and at various places throughout the afternoon. After a few beers, they are wildly entertaining. At this point, it’s hard not to be smiling.
There’s even a costume contest.
Despite all the beer consumption – and some start well before the festival gets underway – this is a mild-mannered group, peaceful and fun-loving, casual to the core.
Many of them prefer to make it a multi-day event by starting on Friday in the campground. And they continue into night after the festival.
Others festvival-goers must have a designated driver (or take a party bus up from the Bay Area cities) because the closest accommodations are in Ukiah, a three-bar town about 30 hilly and curvy miles away.
The cost for the Boonville Beer Festival is $45 in advance and $60 at the door.
It runs from 1-5 p.m., and day drinkers begin arriving in town as early as 11 a.m. By noon, many of the closest parking spots along the street (free) are filled and a line has begun to form at the entrance; this swells to several blocks long by 12:30.
And no dogs. Or kids! This is a 21-and-over event.
There is fair food inside with prices ranging from $5-13. The event’s official website is from Anderson Valley Brewing.
Boonville Brewing Festival MAP