The Nostalgia Series: (Ale Street News 2003)

A Visit to Anderson Valley

By Jack Curtin

Crazy Bob was behind the counter at Horn of Zeese (cup of coffee), a small dining establishment in Boonville, Cal., where we were having breakfast after a long night’s drinking with Fal Allen, general manager of Anderson Valley Brewing Company. That session had taken place at the nearby Buckhorn Saloon, site of the original brewery, and we definitely needed a cuppa or two. I eventually asked what seemed an innocuous question: where might I find a phone booth bearing the old Boontling identification, “Bucky Walter?”

Boontling is an folk language invented in the late 1800s and spoken only in Boonville. There are two theories as to how it came about. One side argues that the men of the community developed a code for campfire conversation to allow them to exchange tales about which wives they’d been fooling around with. The other says local women created the language so they could gossip about other women and their husbands without concern.

Like virtually every language born in an isolate community, Boontling derives from a combination of utilizing the names of local residents to signify some special event or characteristic, borrowed words from homeland languages spoken by early residents and the incorporation of commonly used local slang (“bright lighter” equals someone from the city). While it is fading away now, spoken only by real old-timers, a few locals do maintain a serious interest in Boontling’s preservation (Peter Suddleth, graphics director at AVB is one) and almost everyone can give visitors a example or two. The one most commonly offered is “Bucky Walter,” which means a Payphone (Walter was the first man in town to own a telephone and he’d charge a nickel, or bucky, for others to use it).

Given that, inquiring about a Bucky Walter hardly seemed provoking, but Crazy Bob went off almost before the words were out of my mouth. “Pacific Bell is taking them all down, painting them over,” he sputtered. “Everything has the corporate name on it now. Nobody asked us if that’s what we wanted, they just went ahead and did it.” Whoa. You obviously don’t mess around with a man and his Boontling in these parts.

If Boontling is a symbol of Boonville’s isolated past, the town itself has moved quite nicely into the present. It’s still well off the beaten path, hidden away in the heart of Anderson Valley, about two hours north of San Francisco in Mendocino County. Once know for its apple growing and vineyards, the valley today draws a steady stream of tourists interested in cycling and hiking in the old-growth redwood forests that fill its coastal hills (the Mendocino coast is about 40 minutes west). The area is still replete with vineyards.

People visit Boonville for a lot of reasons. We came for the beer.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company was created in 1987 by chiropractor Dr. Kenneth Allen and his wife Kimberly in an old commercial building in the center of town (it should be noted here that the center of town is only a few hundred yards from either end of town). The original 10-barrel brewery was housed in the lower level beneath the Buckhorn Saloon, which was then a brewpub. It became a 30-barrel system, with bottling line, when moved to its present location on the edge of town in 1996. That 30-acre site has its own water supply and waste treatment facility as well.

Even as that was happening, Ken Allen was preparing for a quantum leap. He had already acquired a 100-barrel brewhouse from a defunct German brewery in 1995 and construction of a new Bavarian-style AVBC brewhouse began in 1998. An additional 85-barrel kettle from a second German brewery was added to the mix when the new plant opened in April 2001. “Just in time,” says GM Fal Allen (no relation), who came to the brewery in 2000 after a nine years as head brewer at Pike Brewery and an earlier stint at Redhook Ale Brewery. “We were already at capacity with the 30-barrel system.”

The brewery currently produces eight bottled beers which are available throughout California and in 20-plus other states: Boont Amber Ale, Hop Ottin’ IPA, Poleko Gold Pale Ale, Belk’s ESB, Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, High Rollers Wheat, Deep Enders Dark Porter and the most recent addition, Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale, released in November of last year. Fal Allen says that an AVBC Triple is planned for release later this year. Beer names, you might note, all have either a local town or region or a bit of Boontling in their names (hop ottin,’ for example, means “hard working hops”). And in one of those little oddities I love, it turns out that the ESB, which is the weakest seller in the line, is absolutely killer in North Carolina, where the major portion of its national sales are recorded.

Anderson Valley is also host for the “legendary” Annual Boonville Beer Festival, which was held for the seventh time on April 19. This year’s celebration brought roughly 3000 visitors for the day, about half of them brewers and brewery workers. “We have a big party and dinner for all the brewery people on Friday night,” says Fal Allen, “and many of them camp on the grounds.” At least one of the major San Francisco breweries has to close down the weekend of the festival because so many of its workers head north to attend. “We had more than 250 beers for people to try,” reports Allen, “from 66 breweries which came for as far away as Quebec. We had 18 food vendors, two bands and beautiful California sunshine.”

How to sum it all up? Well, as they might say in Boontling: Anderson Valley beers are surely worth boarching (partaking of repeatedly). These brews are not just shy sluggin’d gorms neemer (a breakfast drink) and a man could easily become stook on (in love with) them. Bahl hornin’ (good drinking) for sure.

Oh, and one more thing: all the Bucky Walter signs are not gone and we have the photo to prove it.

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