By Gregory Daurer | Jun 07, 2019
"They have made really good beer ever since the beginning," says Allen, who first began working for the Anderson Valley Brewing Company (AVBC) 13 years after its founding.
For longtime beer drinkers in Western states, the names of Anderson Valley's beers will clearly ring a bell: e.g., Belk's Extra Special Bitter Ale, Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, and Boont Amber Ale, all of which medaled at the Great American Beer Festival between 1994 and 2004.
At 58, Allen's journeys into brewing have taken him from his native Hawaii to the Pacific Northwest in the mid-'80s; to Mendocino County in Northern California in 2000; to Singapore in 2005; and then back again to brewing at AVBC in 2010.
"It's one of the most beautiful spots in California, if not the United States," says Allen about the town of Boonville and of the Anderson Valley. "We're a small, isolated community [with] a lot of really friendly folks. I just enjoy the country livin'." The region has even produced its own unique lingo: Boontling. Each can of Anderson Valley beers is graced with the toast, Bahl Hornin', which translates from the Boontling language as "good drinking."
Allen did some "good drinking" back in the late '80s when he worked in Seattle at the Pike Place Brewery (now Pike Brewing Company). The owners, Charles and Rose Ann Finkel, also oversaw importation company Merchant du Vin. Due to that connection, Allen tried his first Belgian sour beers, which were made by Lindemans, and he brewed a porter and Scotch ale, after first trying versions from, respectively, Samuel Smith and Traquair House. Shortly after leaving Pike Place in 1999, Allen was the third recipient of the Brewers Association's Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Craft Brewing.
Commenting on returning to AVBC after living in Singapore for five years, Allen says, "One of the things I brought back was a sense of experimentation that US breweries were just starting to play with." In Asia, Allen's directive had been "to fuse Asian cooking with European brewing tradition."
Now back in California, Allen not only makes IPAs and Abbey-style ales, he's also "made a beer with lemongrass for a while" -- an example of that Asian, culinary influence he acquired abroad. Looking for local ingredients to use in California led him to incorporating redwood tips into a beer. The brewery also collaborates with Wild Turkey, using the brand's bourbon barrels. Allen adds, "We're coming up with some tropical fruit flavored beers -- one with guava and passion fruit -- that'll be a sour beer like a Gose."
Which leads us to Gose -- a centuries-old German beer style still so new to American beer culture that the GABF didn't even have a medal category for it until 2017. Quite literally, Allen has written the book on the beer: Gose: Brewing a Classic German Beer for the Modern Era (Brewers Publications, 2018). Within the work, Allen tracks the evolution and lore surrounding this slightly sour, slightly salty beer -- a beer which he hadn't even heard about until 2011.
Today, Allen brews a series of Goses within Anderson Valley's 100-barrel brewhouse. Fruit-flavored versions include Blood Orange, Briney Melon, Cherry, and Framboise Rose. But it's especially gratifying to drink the Gose called The Kimmie, The Yink, & The Holy Gose (a wordplay on the Holy Trinity, incorporating the Boontling words for father and son). "That's our unfruited Gose, and, I think, that's the most traditional of them," Allen says. "It's a really quaffable beer, a very good session beer. 4.2 percent alcohol and very thirst-quenching. I think that kind of Gose is why Gose became so popular, why it had its day in the sun back in the 1800s -- and why it's having its day in the sun again, this millennia."
Out of the 50,000 barrels that AVBC brews annually, Gose has turned out to be "hugely popular." How popular? Allen says Gose sales amount to "probably, with all the Goses combined, 50 percent of our total sales."
In the summer -- the perfect time of the year to quaff a Gose -- Allen says that AVBC's solar-powered brewery gets a lot more visits from brightlighters (that's Boontling for "out-of-towners"): "The brewery has 28 acres and an 18-hole disc golf course, so there are a lot of people who come up just to play disc golf."
And there are AVBC specialty beers available only in Boonville. "We're always trying new beers," says brand ambassador Allen. "We brew probably 30 or 40 new beers a year. Most of them don't make it outside of our pub. But we're always looking for a new thing, new flavors, and new ways to make excellent beer."
Favorite beers: Allen first cites Magnolia Brewing Co. in San Francisco, co-owned by Dick Cantwell (formerly of Seattle's Elysian Brewing Company), with whom Allen co-authored the book, Barley Wine: History, Techniques, Recipes (Brewers Publications, 1998). "They make awesome beer. Dick's a real innovator and a great brewer, and I often look to him and talk to him when I'm thinking of new beers.
"And Steve [Haumschild] at Lanikai Brewing out on the island of Oahu in Hawaii is a phenomenal brewer and makes delicious beers, as does Tom Kerns, who runs the Big Island Brewhaus in Waimea on the Big Island of Hawaii.
"All those guys are inspirations. They're just great brewers; really, really nice guys; and always happy to help or talk about beers, discuss ways that we can make our beers a little more interesting or a little better."
Challenges: "The biggest challenge clearly right now is sales and marketing of beer," says Allen. "I think that when we went from having 2,000 breweries a few years ago to over 7,000 breweries today that the market's getting crowded, and the slowdown in beer drinking in general has had a serious impact on a lot of breweries."
Opportunities: Thriving via collaborating: "I think the beer business is probably the greatest business that anyone could ever be in, and I think our opportunity to work together with other breweries and build that is our greatest opportunity."
Needs: Allen asks if this category refers to needs in a perfect world or in reality. "In a perfect world, we'd need to be closer to a real highway," says Allen. "We have a lot of trucking issues."
And there's the age-old need to let the world know what you're doing -- even for a brewery founded in 1987: "One of the things we need the most is to get out and get noticed by consumers."