It’s 64 degrees and sunny in Boonville, California. The air is quiet. The sheep are grazing. Hawks and condors slowly soar overhead without a sound. A gentle breeze cools the warmth of the sun off your back. It’s a place almost frozen in time – just like it’s native dialect of Boontling. Just off the beaten path of Highway 101, over the curvy twists of Highway 128, lies 33-year-old Anderson Valley Brewing Company – a brewery that has quietly been brewing well-known beers like Boont Amber, Poleeko Pale and Summer/Winter Solstice alongside a wide variety of goses in cans for distribution to 39 states and over a dozen countries. But things are about to get louder as a new sound technician has joined the band.
New CEO Kevin McGee’s father purchased Anderson Valley Brewing Company in December 2019 in a move The New School reported 8 days prior to the closing of the deal. McGee’s father is the lone shareholder. You can learn more about Kevin in our initial report of the transaction, but this article seeks to dive deeper into what the future of Anderson Valley holds. To do that, we’ll also take a look at how far the brewery has come to better understand where it carries forward from here.
“We’ll be louder than before,” shared McGee. “The liquid is not an issue. There’s a depth and substance to this place.”
A Depth of History
Not many breweries in America have the depth history or substance of character of Anderson Valley Brewing. Founded in 1987 by David Norfleet and Kim & Ken Allen, Anderson Valley was one of just 20 craft breweries in the United States the day it brewed its first batch. The original 10-barrel brewery, still used as an R&D brewery today, was installed in the basement of The Buckhorn Saloon in downtown Boonville – a town with a population of just 1,035 at last census. It’s not the kind of place even the most adventurous entrepreneur or brewer would choose to establish a brewery today given the low population and logistics of drawing visitors into the valley and sending beer out of it.
Anderson Valley’s first distributed kegs were sold to David Keene who opened a specialty beer bar in San Francisco the same year called Toronado. You might have heard of it, perhaps as one of the most celebrated beer bars on earth today. As Brewmaster Fal Allen told the tale, Keene would make the 100-plus mile drive from SF to Boonville to pick up kegs in a small pickup truck. Once the kegs were loaded, the truck could not climb back up over the small hill outside the brewery. So the crew at Anderson Valley would help push the truck over the hill and see Keene off on his way back to Toronado.
Fast Fact: Anderson Valley's Brother David Dubbel and Brother David Tripel are named for Toronado's David Keene.
In that first year, Anderson Valley sold a reported 600 barrels of beer. They outgrew their orginal 10-barrel system by 1996 and a new 30-barrel brewery was built at the corner of Highways 128 and 253. Just two years later, in 1998, production reached 15,000 barrels and construction began on the twin copper “onion domes” 100-barrel & 85-barrel brewhouse. These are the same Bavarian-sourced bronze kettles you can see through the giant windows at Anderson Valley today. The first 100-barrel kettle, constructed in 1959, was sourced from the Upper Franconian town of Bad Staffelstein. When the town of Kasendorf, just 23 miles east of Bad Staffelstein, heard that their neighbors had found some Americans willing to take old brewing equipment off their hands, they practically gifted the second 85-barrel kettle to Anderson Valley. It had served the town of Kasendorf since 1961.
Enter the gose
“In a lot of ways, gose sort of saved the brewery,” shared Brewmaster Fal Allen. Allen (no relation to the founding Allens) started at Anderson Valley in 2000. After having been the general manager from 2000-2004, he spent a few years away. In 2010, Allen returned to Boonville, and has been there ever since. Before ABVC, Allen started brewing professionally at Red Hook in 1988 and then subsequently at Pike Brewing and Big Time Brewing among other Seattle-area brewing gigs. “Before we brewed one here,” quipped Allen, “I’d never heard of a gose before.”
McGee couldn’t help but chime in, “He’s being modest – Fal wrote the book on gose!” It’s true.
Around the time of Anderson Valley’s sale to Trey White in 2010, their production had slipped before a resurgence on the back of 85-barrel batches of gose in 2012. Gose is a warm-fermented, soured and salt-added beer style that originated in Goslar, Germany.
Thanks to an innovative line of canned and bottled goses that included The Kimmie, The Yink & The Holy Gose, Blood Orange Gose, G&T Gose, and Briney Melon, the brewery produced 55,000 barrels in 2016. It also received a boost from a well-developed barrel-aging program and partnership with Wild Turkey Bourbon. That program gave us widely distributed BBA favorites like Bourbon Barrel Stout, Huge Arker, Wild Turk Old Fashioned, and Barrel Aged G&T Gose.
Something New from Something Old
Allen led the way to the taproom for some tastings and shared with us a number of innovative beers alongside some of the classics. The newest offering that stood out from among the rest was the Tropical Hazy Sour.
This beer uses the house culture called Horse Tongue. How it got its name is a fantastic story of random opportunity. Early in the development of Anderson Valley’s barrel program, the barrels shared a barn where horses were stabled. As the story goes, an apprentice brewer stored one of the barrels incorrectly and too close to a horse pen. Overnight, the horse had reached over the enclosure, pulled the bung out of the barrel and slurped up some fermenting farmhouse ale. The young brewer caught the horse in the act the next morning and kept his secret a mistake. That is, until the day came to taste and sample from the barrels. Sure enough, the barrel that had been exposed to the horse tongue was the barrel that the brewing team was most impressed by. So, the young brewer came clean with the story and the yeast culture’s name was born.
Horse Tongue was used to ferment the new Tropical Hazy Sour. On the hot side, this beer began as many of Anderson Valley’s gose’s do. However, during fermentation, guava and passionfruit were added. Originally, Fal Allen hoped to use oranges as well – a throwback to his upbringing in Hawaii with POG drinks. But oranges made for too sweet a concoction for Allen’s liking and the recipe was altered.
The result is a slightly tart, easy-drinking sour ale that bears an appearance similar to many hazy IPAs. Tropical? Check. Hazy? Check. Sour? Check. Three very marketable beer descriptors in one can of juicy and refreshing beer with a dry finish that invites you back for more. Something new that just might lend a little insight to the brewery’s future.
The Future Doesn’t Need Fixing
“I’m not gonna say, ‘We need more cowbell in the Boont.’ That’d just make me an asshole.”
President & CEO Kevin McGee
New CEO, Kevin McGee, has spent decades consulting with up-coming and even struggling businesses – mostly wineries. He’s been a consultant and personal confidant of Jess Jackson, founder and CEO of Kendall Jackson Wines and Jackson Family Wines. During that time, he helped improve, repair, salvage and even rescue businesses in the beverage industry.
“Being able to come into something that’s not broken, that’s been amazing,” shared McGee. “I’ve had to come in and fix businesses before. I don’t have to do that now. There’s a lot of meaningful character here.”
McGee assumed the role of President and CEO after purchasing Anderson Valley with his father for an undisclosed sum. There are no banks involved. No investors. This is the family business now. “I’m here to make my dad proud,” said McGee.
The future of Anderson Valley Brewing looks a lot like the past in some aspects. The commitment to the environment is unwavering. Since 2006, the brewery has had a photovoltaic solar array which provides near half of the company’s power with a peak of 125 kilowatts of solar energy. They also have an on-site wastewater treatment plant to recycle and reuse water. The same water used in brewing waters their 28-acre estate, including estate-grown hops. They’ve even been a 5-time California WRAP (Waste Reduction Awards Program) winner. On the brewing side of the business, Boont Amber Ale was just inducted into the San Francisco Chronicle’s Hall of Fame by an overwhelming public vote and vote by the judges for the honor. Don’t expect Boont to be retired or changed.
“I’m not gonna come out and say, ‘We need more cowbell in the Boont,’ joked McGee. “That’d just make me an asshole.”
The Future is Flexible
But the times, they are a-changin’, and Anderson Valley is ready to flex with it. As forms of packaging have shifted, Anderson Valley has made some changes already and more may not be too far out. You’ll still find bottles and cans of Boont, Barney Flats, Old Fashioned and all the favorites – but they may look a little different as research and efforts are already happening to explore putting their bahl steinber (translated from Boontling as “good beer”) into 16oz and 19.2oz cans and smaller bottles for the more specialty offerings. Premium barrel-aged beer may be seen in 500ml bottles with more tactile packaging.
“We want to make our beer more portable than ever,” said McGee. “It’s backpacking beer. Folks should be able to pack a few out, crush ’em and pack ’em back in. You should be able to fit a few in your bag and take them with you wherever adventure takes you.”
“If you finish one of our beers and don’t want another one,” inserted Brewmaster Allen, “Well, then we’ve missed the mark.”
The future of Anderson Valley in Boonville also includes a better use of their current facility. For many years, the sign over the taproom has read “Visitor Center”. For McGee, that 2-word phrase represents a way of thinking he plans to leave behind.
“We’re not a stop to someplace else,” he said. “People should plan to settle in for a while and enjoy a pub-like atmosphere, the beer garden, and the disc golf course.” McGee shared a vision of a more public house feel to the large taproom space. Already, daily hours have been lengthened and options for food service are being explored. Ultimately, McGee sees the 28-acre grounds as the home for more daily community building and hosting more events, festivals, parties and gatherings.
Public relations, communications and marketing are things both McGee and Allen indicated that the old guard shied away from. Anderson Valley Brewing often flew under the radar despite being on the cutting edge of many style trends, business developments, environmental initiatives and logistical breakthroughs. McGee seeks to fill a role within the company that’s never existed before – that of a marketing and brand manager, according to the North Bay Business Journal.
While many of the ideas, aspirations and the overall vision for Anderson Valley may not seem set in stone, it may as well never be. The brewery has weathered many storms, resurrected a nearly extinct beer style and innovated packaging and distribution channels in such a way that they’ve remained one of the top 75 producers of beer in America. Many of those changes and innovations happened quietly under previous leadership, but expect the new chapter of Anderson Valley to make some noise.
Here’s to pikin’ a long jape and no jeffers for the bahlest burlappin’ steinber known to kimmie.
Michael Perozzo is a life-long resident of Southwest Washington and father of 4. At his day job, he leads a digital marketing and graphic design team supporting food/beverage clients at ZZEPPELIN. Michael helped start Brewcouver – the passport to Vancouver’s breweries – and co-founded NorthBank Beer Week. He also manages beer buying for the Vancouver Brewfests and helped create Brewing Bridges Collaboration Fest. Portland Trail Blazers fans may remember him as DarthBlazer circa 2008-2012.