Dry January stirs a more permanent desire for NA beer

Dry January stirs a more permanent desire for NA beer

No alcohol for an entire month.

I realize this isn’t my greatest accomplishment, but it is what I achieved in January.

I participated in Dry January, a concept that has been around since 2012. I survived all 31 days plus the first of February without alcohol. I celebrated by opening a nice bottle of wine on Feb. 2.

Deschutes Black Butte is one of the few non-alcoholic dark beers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Wine. It’s what I missed last month.

I know there are non-alcoholic wines on the market, but they are not readily available in the stores I was shopping.

I did find a slew of non-alcoholic beers. I was trying them whenever I went out, which was more than usual last month because of my working vacation week in Tahoe. What surprised me the most is the greatest selection of NA—that’s how non-alcoholic drinks are referred to—beers was at the restaurant Barney’s in Paradise. The burger joint had five to choose from. I opted for the Lagunitas IPNA—even though it was February.

My favorite, though, was Deschutes Black Butte NA. I’m sure this has to do with my preference being dark beers. My friend, Darla, brought me a six to Tahoe for me. One day I hope to find a dark NA beer in Chico.

I chose to participate in Dry January for a variety of reasons. My friend, Joyce, had done so a year ago, which got me to seriously think about it. While I don’t drink a ton, I seem to drink every weekend. Could I even go 31 days? Then I wrote about all the options non-drinkers have for a story for the North Bay Business Journal which solidified my desire.

A variety of NA beer choices at Raley’s in Chico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I feel lighter. Not like I weigh less, because I didn’t lose weight through this journey. More like I’m not being weighed down. I feel a bit healthier. I admit this alcohol-free month also coincided with a few healthier eating choices.

I was a pretty healthy eater prior to January, so nothing drastic changed. For those who know me, yes, I’m still eating French fries.

Chico’s Sierra Nevada brewery in December released its first NA beer. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

What I might do going forward is add NA beer into my regular repertoire. I don’t drink a ton of beer. Mostly it’s in the summer, on a warm day or with certain foods. They gave me the flavor of beer—which is what I wanted. They are still empty calories, but fewer of them. I could also find them at breweries, so I felt like I as participating in the fun.

Wine, well, I need to try some NA ones to see if they could be added to my regular beverage selection. I’m also interested in trying the NA liquors I wrote about in that NBBJ story.

I don’t know if I will do Dry January again. Maybe. Seems like a good way to start the year. Then there’s always Sober October.

Mendocino Brewery a leader in environmental stewardship

Mendocino Brewery a leader in environmental stewardship

Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Mendocino County was the first brewery in the world to use solar. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s not just what’s in the can that matters. For Anderson Valley Brewing Company it’s about being good stewards of the land.

The Mendocino County brewery could have stopped years ago when in 2005 it became the first brewery in the world to install solar. Instead, the craft brewery continues to be on the leading edge of sustainability.

Most recently the current operators changed the packaging to eliminate plastic.

“We moved all packaging to the most sustainable packaging we could. All beer is in cans now with cardboard exterior wraps that allowed us to eliminate plastic,” Kevin McGee, CEO and president of the company, said. “We had to develop the packaging because it didn’t exist. We had to invest in a new packaging equipment to get the cans into the boxes.”

While he knows there is a cost savings to get rid of bottles and plastic, McGee hasn’t crunched the numbers to know that dollar figure.

“It was something we did because we knew sustainability-wise it was smart to do,” McGee said.

The switch to cans from bottles means the number of trucks needed to ship product has been reduced by 60%, McGee said. Weight is the big difference.

In keeping with the company’s quest to have as little waste as possible end up in a landfill, the bottling line was upcycled by being sold to a local winery.

Plastic is no longer part of Anderson Valley’s packaging. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Industry insights

Beer making isn’t necessarily an environmentally friendly business. It takes a ton of energy and water.

The Brewers Association’s “Energy Usage, GHG Reduction, Efficiency and Land Management Manual” says, “Refrigeration generally creates the largest electrical load, while brewing consumes the largest amount of natural gas.”

The Brewers Association represents more than 5,400 craft brewers.

“Energy used in a brewery breaks down into two primary units. Thermal energy in the form of natural gas is used to generate hot water and steam, which is then used in brewing, packaging and general building heating. Electrical energy is used to power all equipment, with the largest user being refrigeration,” the report says. “Thermal sources average 70% of the energy consumed in the brewery; however, it usually only accounts for 30% of the actual energy cost. Based on this, efforts to reduce electrical energy should be given top priority when considering energy reduction opportunities, as they account for the largest opportunity.”

The trade group launched its sustainability subcommittee in 2013. One outcome was a guide focusing on energy, water, wastewater, carbon dioxide and solid waste.

The group in 2014 wanted to prove to craft breweries that change could affect their bottom line. In a pilot program that year “savings ranged from $35,000 to $235,000 annually for small to larger craft breweries.”

A couple enjoys a beer in the large garden at AVBC. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

AVBC keeps evolving

 Anderson Valley Brewing Company (AVBC) knows it is leaving money on the table by continuing to operate a solar system that is nearly 20 years old.

That is why a $2 million project is on the drawing board. Exactly when the greenlight will be given to start construction remains a moving target. Plans were finalized in summer 2020, but then the world was shut down—including the Boonville brewery, and sales plummeted. It is still in a bit of a recovery mode.

When the new panels get installed, the solar production will go from powering 50% of the operations today to producing 110% of what the brewery needs, McGee said. He anticipates the excess will be sold to Sonoma Clean Power in Santa Rosa.

The arrays cover the brewhouse and a carport. Now the output is less than 400,000 kilowatt hours annually, with future panels forecast to deliver 861,000 kilowatt hours a year.

The plan calls for all of the more than 700 panels to be replaced, with an expansion to a neighboring building and elsewhere on the 30-acre parcel.

Once started, construction should take about three months. This includes building an on-site battery storage system.

“It will reduce our ongoing costs immediately,” McGee said. “It would pay for itself between eight and 10 years.”

Partnering with like-minded organizations is also a top priority. Coastal Ale, which was released this year, has 5% of its gross profits from packaged ales going to the Surfrider Foundation.

On its website the nonprofit says it is “dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches, for all people, through a powerful activist network.”

Anderson Valley is looking for other organizations to do the same thing.

A little history

McGee created a nanobrewery in his Healdsburg garage in 2007. Now his Healdsburg Beer Company is considered a sister brewery to Anderson Valley Brewing Company, which is owned by his father.

Michael McGee Sr. bought AVBC in 2019 from HMB Holdings. That group had purchased it from Ken Allen who founded Anderson Valley in 1987.

McGee, the CEO of Anderson, was employed by Santa Rosa’s Jackson Family Wines for six years where he was a  business strategist and personal legal counsel to Jess Jackson. After Jackson’s death in 2011, McGee started a consulting firm that focused on fixing problems for businesses.

The goal with Anderson Valley Brewing is for it to be in the McGee family for multiple generations. For now it’s dad as owner, McGee as CEO, and his wife, Katee, as creative director.

Three ponds filter the wastewater at Anderson Valley Brewing Co. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Proven practices

The University of Vermont published a report a few years ago saying for every barrel of beer produced it took three to seven barrels of water to make it.

Anderson Valley draws its water from the 10 wells on its land. All of the gray wastewater is released back on the property to recharge the aquifer.

This is done by an on-site wastewater treatment plant that has three ponds behind the main buildings that are in different stages of purification.

“We have a fully outfitted lab that we use for quality control and operations for the brewery and use that to monitor the state of the ponds,” McGee said. “We have reporting requirements.”

Allen, the original owner and founder of AVBC, was ahead of his time with the solar and ponds.

In 2020, a nitrogen generator was installed to take nitrogen from the ambient air that is then used instead of carbon dioxide. While McGee didn’t say how much it cost, he said it paid for itself in eight months.

He said a good deal of CO2 used at the brewery had nothing to do with carbonization, but instead was used to move liquid through the pipes. That’s now done with nitrogen.

All of the brewing waste like spent grains and yeast go to a local farmer for livestock feed.

“We are trying to be as self-sustaining as we can,” McGee said in reference to all of the brewery’s environmental initiatives.

Note: A version of this story first appeared in the North Bay Business Journal.

California consumers saddled with another questionable fee

California consumers saddled with another questionable fee

I’m a huge proponent of recycling. But the bottle redemption gig California has going on? Not so sure it makes sense.

California starting this year is charging a 5 or 10 cent fee on every glass wine and spirits bottle, as well as on large fruit and vegetable juice containers. For consumers to get their “deposit” back they have to take those containers to a designated recycling center.

Mine already go in my blue bin for the garbage company to pick up each week. This means I’m out the money even though I’m recycling. For years I’ve been out the deposit on aluminum cans, beer bottles and the like.

I realize it’s my choice how I choose to recycle. I’m going with convenience. I don’t want to keep a separate container for redeemable goods that I would have to haul somewhere to get a couple bucks back.

According to CalRecycle, the nearest place for me to take my recyclables is in another town 15 miles away. Clearly, not convenient.

In fact, I’d likely spend more money in gas than I would get back in cash.

I feel like I’m being punished. I’m paying a fee that the state is going to get to keep.

I don’t know how I lose each year by not redeeming the depois. I don’t actually care. It’s the principle of the whole thing. It’s government overreach.

It’s hard for me to believe this added fee will get more goods recycled. This is one of those cases where I’d like to be proven wrong. I’d like to think the powers that be who continue to make California a bigger nanny state every year know what they are doing. I hope this change will be better for the greater good, but I don’t have much faith in government these days at any level.

Pioneering company in stainless steel water bottles still based in Chico

Pioneering company in stainless steel water bottles still based in Chico

It’s hard to find someone these days without an insulated water bottle—at least in California.

A company that has been making these products for 20 years is based in Chico—Klean Kanteen. (Unfortunately, they don’t offer tours of the facility.)

Klean Kanteen’s special bottle after the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While these types bottles seem ubiquitous today, it wasn’t always the case.

“Back in 2002, there were no stainless steel water bottles for personal hydration, and the health and environmental issues linked to plastic use were not widely known. Seeing the issues early and clearly, Robert Seals, the inventor and founder of Klean Kanteen, began cobbling together the first prototype with things he bought at the local hardware store in Chico,” the company’s website says.

Klean Kanteen works with organizations to create environmentally friendly swag. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Klean Kanteen’s first BPA-free stainless steel bottles came to the market in 2004.

Siblings Jeff Cresswell and Michelle Michelle Kalberer bought the company a year later. Now it is an international success story.

It’s not just traditional water bottles, though, that the company makes. Cups for various uses, in various sizes—even baby bottles are available. They come with a variety of tops. Reusable straws are also for sale. Even food storage containers are available.

A few of their products are in our house. What I use the most is the stainless steel pint cup I got when I did the Wildflower Century bike ride a couple years ago. Pour a cold beer in it and the suds stays cold until the last drop. It’s perfect for taking into the hot tub because I don’t have to worry about it breaking.

Pre-flight ritual involves a stop at airport bar

Pre-flight ritual involves a stop at airport bar

When I hear “bloody Mary” I think travel, breakfast or a morning hot tub on a non-work day if someone else is making it.

(I don’t like making them; something about not measuring and therefore not tasting good.)

Kae, Cleo and Pam with a bloody Mary before a flight earlier this year. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s interesting how certain drinks are associated with certain times of the day or activities.

The travel part started eons ago when my sister, Pam, and I missed a flight. We went to the airport bar and ordered a bloody Mary, or two. We had to do something to pass the time.

From then on we would have one before nearly every flight. We introduced it to people we traveled with. Some took to it, others thought drinking alcohol at 6am was a bit much, and others just don’t like tomato juice and vodka. And some have it sans vodka.

To me, it’s a festive way to start a trip.

The Reno airport makes a good spicy bloody Mary—or at least last time I was there it did. I was so enjoying one that I nearly missed my flight. How could I tell people on the other end that the reason I was delayed was because I was drinking? Not good. Luckily, I didn’t have to have that conversation.

This month I had my first BM at the Palm Springs airport. While I look forward to a return trip to the desert, I am definitely going to pass on this drinking ritual. It had to be the worst bloody Mary I’ve ever had. I couldn’t even finish it. I should have known it was going to be bad when the garnish was a single olive.

I don’t seem to have that many rituals or traditions, but this is one of them. I doesn’t matter if I’m flying alone, I still stop at the airport bar on most flights.

California consumers saddled with another questionable fee

Craft beer transforming the bottle v. can debate

Those of a certain age remember when the only beer that came in a can was cheap and watery. A generation or two later and the opposite is true. Today, craft beer is almost exclusively in cans.

This transition has been gradual over the last several years, with the pandemic accelerating the transition from bottles to cans.

“If you go back a decade, it was hard to find craft beer in cans. The share of cans continues to grow,” said Bart Watson, chief economist with the Brewers Association, a trade group for independent craft brewers. “It’s driven by a bunch of different reasons. Economics is one. Cans are lighter, so it’s cheaper to ship.”

He also points to the shift in consumer expectations.

“Cans were perceived as lower quality. But we’ve seen a shift and that has gone away,” Watson said.

“Most breweries don’t do both. They have to make a choice. If they are starting a packaging line, they are putting in a canning line.”

This is true for Solano Brewing Company in Vacaville which canned its first beers the last week of August. A mobile canner set up in the parking lot where the brewery’s top three beers were packaged in the inaugural canning.

“It’s a test run to see how it goes,” explained Mark Shaw, head brewer of the 4-year-old brewery. “Right now the trend is for cans. There is less chance of oxidation, it stays fresher longer. You can put a lot more artwork on the can; making for more cool marketing that way.”

Solano Brewing tries to distinguish itself on store shelves by using a metallic element on the can “so it will shine a little bit to help catch your eye and give it depth.”

Solano Brewing is starting with 50 cases of each of the three beers.

In 2022, more than 65% of independent craft brewers in the United States used cans, according to Circana, which studies consumer behaviors.

Lagunitas packages its beer in bottles and cans. (Image: Lagunitas)

Reluctant to change

Lagunitas Brewing Company, one of the oldest craft breweries in the Northern California, was resistant to jumping into the canning frenzy.

“If you look at the entire history of Lagunitas, everything was in a bottle. It was about holding the paper label in your hand and reading the story on there,” brewmaster Jeremy Marshall said. “There was a lot of reluctance to put Lagunitas IPA into cans. A lot was due to the tactile sensation of our label. It has vertical groovy lines and this papery feel that (founder) Tony (Magee) said was an inspiration from Maker’s Mark (bourbon). A can would take away that label.”

Today their flagship IPA is available in cans and bottles.

Magee started Lagunitas on a kitchen stove in Marin County in 1993 at a time when breweries were rare in the North Bay. Now based in Petaluma, the brewery has been fully owned by Heineken since 2017.

“Tony was vocal he would be the last large brewery to put beer in a can,” Marshall, who has been with the brewery since 2003, said.

That day came in 2016 with 12th of Never, a tropical pale ale, being packaged in a hard to miss purple can. Showing a bit of rebelliousness, a beer cap is part of the graphics to remind people of bottles.

“12th of Never instantly became a resounding success. This was when craft seemed unstoppable. I pinpoint it as roughly the same time cans were gaining acceptance,” Marshall said. “Cans were helping fuel the meteoric rise in craft’s popularity.”

Even with the can trend not letting up, Lagunitas plans to continue to package its beer in glass and aluminum.

“The can format continues to rise in popularity because of its versatility to multiple occasions that are a prominent part of the younger consumers lives. Particularly during the summer months when hiking, boating, beach visits and pool side chilling are some of the preferred activities to engage in—a can offers a convenient way to crack open and enjoy your favorite beverage,” Lagunitas’ interim CMO Hannah Dray said. “We can all agree that cans are now dominating the beer industry, but with that said we continue see a role for and have bottle loyalists, therefore we’ll always be listening to that consumer and doing our best to deliver the right formats for the right and range of occasions that our consumers demand.”

In a four-year period, Lagunitas has shifted from 70% bottles/30% cans to 46% bottles/52% cans.

Nationally, according to market research firm Nielsen, in this same time period all craft beer has gone from 49% bottles and 51% cans to today being 32% bottles and 68% cans.

Another Sonoma County  brewery that has been slow to embrace selling canned beer to the masses is Russian River Brewing Company in Windsor. In September the brewery began putting its two lagers in 12 ounce cans, and made them available at local stores in October and plan to release them to the broader market in the first quarter of 2024.

“We have a lot of demand for cans. The consumer likes the ease and convenience of cans,” Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner and president of the brewery, said. “It will give us different shelf placement in stores as well. Right now we are only in bottles (at stores).”

Russian River has put several beers in 16 ounce cans, with this fall being a first for 12 ounce cans.

At this time these are the only two beers that will be put in 12 ounce cans, and the only two cans available outside of direct to consumer sales.

“It’s interesting to see the sea of cans on the shelf in the markets and then our bottles,” Cilurzo said. “Our bottles stand out among all the cans. It’s one reason we wanted to stick with bottles.”

Bucking the trend

Nile Zacherle, owner and brewer at Mad Fritz Brewing Company in St. Helena, has no intentions of every canning any of his beers.

“It’s about how I think about our product and what we do, which is part of the ethos I subscribe to in our product,” Zacherle said. “I feel like cans the aluminum is outside, but you have a plastic liner. Different types of liners are used and sprayed in there during fabrication. If you subscribe to the concept nothing is inert, you are really drinking out of a plastic bottle.”

He doesn’t disagree that consumers like cans, that it’s easier to transport for distribution and to take to the beach, and that aluminum weighs less than glass. Still, Zacherle believes at the end of the day glass is a better product, and is willing to pay more for it than he would if he used aluminum.

“Cans can fail, liners have failed and breakdown over time,” Zacherle said. “Bottling gives us control. We do it all in house. We are about authenticity of our ingredients, but if we put in a can, it would devalue the product.”

Cans of craft beer fill grocery store shelves. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Content to be in cans

Plenty of other breweries are happy to predominantly or exclusively use cans for packaging.

“We do the majority of our beer in cans. Once or twice a year we do some specialty hand bottled stuff,” said Trevor Martens, who with wife Stephanie owns Pond Farm Brewing Co. in San Rafael. “Cans are ultimately better for beer. There is no possibility of degradation. They are lighter, so shipping costs are cheaper. They are safer. If we drop one during canning, it is no big deal.”

Pond Farm has been around for almost five years, with canning introduced in the fourth month of being in business.

Instead of incurring the expense of putting in a canning facility, the Marin County brewery hires a mobile canner for that part of the process. On average about 150 cases of 16 ounce cans are packaged every 2½ weeks, with 24 cans in a case.

Martens doesn’t see cans going away. He said people who came of age drinking beer during the craft beer boom expect cans, adding that those people don’t necessarily know anything else.

Fogbelt Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa made a concerted effort post-pandemic to focus less on bottles and more on cans.

“We had done seasonal canning from 2017-20. As soon as Covid hit, the owners started investing in buying a canning line. We received it Christmas Eve 2020 and have been using it nonstop sense,” JP Balatti, head brewmaster, said.We can do 80 to 90 cases of bottles a day. Now that we have our own canning facility, we do 300 to 500 cases of beer a day.”

Balatti echoes that over others when he says they are easier to transport, don’t get broken in travel by distributors or consumers.

“Cans don’t get lightstruck, it’s better for beer. With glass, most use amber to prevent lightstruck,” Balatti said. “Overall quality of beer goes up with canning of beer. We can reduce the oxygen levels a lot. And the shelf life in longer.”

When Balatti started at Fogbelt the brewery had five core beers that all came in 22 ounce bottles, or growlers. Now only specialty beers are in bottles, with the rest being in cans.

“I like to think cans are going to stay a while. We are investing more in our canning line,” Balatti said.

Note: A version of this story first appeared in the North Bay Business Journal.

Arizona olive oil mill a delicious, educational experience

Arizona olive oil mill a delicious, educational experience

Lunch at Queen Creek Olive Mill is three kinds of bruschetta. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Surrounded by olives as the harvest was just beginning, we were about to get a lesson in all things olive oil.

Queen Creek Olive Mill near Phoenix is Arizona’s only working and operating olive mill.

When Brenda and Perry Rea started the business in 2005 they did so with 800 trees. Now there are 11,000 trees (16 varietals) on the 100 acres.

On the tour it was stressed to look at the contents of the bottle of olive oil you buy. It should only say “extra virgin olive oil” (EVVO) unless something like garlic or lemon or some other flavor is added.

“Make sure the phrase ‘extra virgin’ is on the label. Extra virgin olive oil contains the most nutrients and is the highest grade of all olive oil classifications,” Queen Creek says.

If it says “olive oil” or “pure olive oil” or “light olive oil” then it has been refined and may only have a small percentage of extra virgin olive oil.

Olive harvest at Queen Creek in Arizona is in October and November. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The three positive sensory attributes to EVOO are bitter, pungent (peppery) and fruity. Whereas sensory defects include metallic, rancid, and musty.

Much like wine tasting, we were given a sample that we first smelled, then we sipped it—no bread involved—just pure EVOO.

This orchard-mill-restaurant-store is quite an attraction. Inside the sample of oils and vinegars seem limitless. Stuffed olive, tapenades, spices, sauces and other culinary delights are for sale.

It really is an experience—and that’s what the owners want it to be—agritourism.

Happy hour at an historic ‘adult’ bar in a college town

Happy hour at an historic ‘adult’ bar in a college town


The Grill at the Diamond Hotel in Chico doesn’t feel like a college bar. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s always a good sign when people leave happy hour and they are happy without imbibing too much.

Such was the case earlier this month when for the first time I went to The Grill inside the Diamond Hotel in Chico. Joining me for cocktails and truffle fries were mom and Sue.

The hotel has a colorful history. When it opened in 1904 is was the premier hotel in town. Steam heated the 56 rooms, which all had private baths. Plus, each had gas and electric fixtures.

Twelve years later it burned. When it re-opened it was a travelers’ hotel, catering to those on a budget.

Those making decisions about remodeling the property in the 1940s thought stripping the original ornamentation was a good idea.

In the first half of the 1960s it was a women’s dorm for Chico State students.

By 1972, the building in downtown Chico was shuttered, becoming a bit of an eyesore. Historic lore is that locals called it The Pigeon Palace.

The Diamond Hotel first opened in 1904. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Then came Wayne Cook who bought the rundown building in 2001. He reopened the Diamond in 2005 with 43 rooms. Fifteen rooms and suites were added in 2021 when the neighboring Morehead Building were re-imagined by Cook.

In restoring the second structure, Cook had the original cupola on the corner of Fourth and Broadway streets restored.

Cook died in 2022 at the age of 79. His family continues to own the buildings.

As for The Grill, it opened this past summer with Jeff Dudum and Amanda Cramer at the helm. The restaurant Cook had opened was called the Diamond Steakhouse.

On a recent Friday night the bar was packed. This had a lot to do with Farmers Brewing Co. having a special event and it being parents weekend at the university. While it was loud, it wasn’t unbearable. And the service, well, it was great—really, it was exceptional considering how packed it was.

The happy hour menu comes with discounts on some of the cocktails (we had a Manhattan, margarita and lemon drop) as well as a few appetizers.

For a college town, this seemed like such an adult bar. I’m not sure the college students would have been there if it hadn’t been for their parents.

With a parking garage next door, we didn’t have to contend with street parking. It really was a happy hour, or two.

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