"I think the craft beer world," writes Ken Weaver, "asks a person a very simple question: What do you really want? And I believe that's one of the more important questions we can ask ourselves--whether framed in terms of taste, or how we choose to consume things, or how we interact with the communities around us, or (in the most immediate sense) how willing we are to savor what's directly in front of us. That's what I see in my glass, and having met so many enthusiastic beer lovers of late, I think many of them see it in theirs as well."
Weaver's project, and that of his photographer wife Anneliese (Ali) Schmidt, is "The Northern California Craft Beer Guide" ($21.95 in paperback from Cameron + Company). Full color throughout, beautifully printed, the book is by turns informative, whimsical, funny--and useful. Ken Grossman, owner and founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, provides the foreword.
"When I made my first commercial batch of beer in 1980," Grossman writes, "the industry had hit a low point, and only about forty breweries remained. ... I would literally go door to door to different bars and sell single bottles of Pale Ale. Back then, people thought I was nuts! It was several years and loads of good luck later that we began to see more people moving toward bolder beers."
Today, says Weaver, "Northern California is home to over 150 breweries, approaching one-tenth of the nation's total, and the number of notable beer bars, bottle shops, and other craft beer-centric venues is of similar magnitude."
The guide divides California, from the Bay Area north, into eight regions, and highlights key "beer destinations" as well as other craft beer venues. The "North I-5, Chico, and Shasta Cascade" section lists eighteen stops, including the Mt. Shasta Brewing Co. in Weed; bottlecaps say "Try Legal Weed."
Weaver has chosen the best, but he's not afraid to say when a facility doesn't quite measure up. Sidebars abound, highlighting almost twenty beer styles (such as Hefeweizen/Wheat Ale), beer communities, sustainability, beer bloggers, festivals, and beer vs. wine. "Wine can be deliciously complex," Weaver writes. "Beer can be deliciously complex." Wine's complexity varies with the harvest; beer depends on the brewer's artistry. It's a heady thought.