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Battle of the Brews: April 8, 2017

Battle of the Brews at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds

One of the tastiest events fills the Grace Pavilion each year with delicious fermented beverages—the Battle of the Brews, which brings some 70 craft breweries and cideries from Sonoma County and beyond to the Pavilion for a day of tasting, judging, and noshing.

The 21st Annual Battle of the Brews takes place April 8, 2017. Sponsored by the nonprofit Active 20-30 Club of Santa Rosa #50, it’s a benefit for disadvantaged youth under the winning tagline, “There is no better beer than the one you raise to help a child in need.”

Grace Pavilion at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds is a vintage 1940s, oversized Quonset hut — a large space that can hold everything from sewing expos and craft fairs to roller derby, as well as the annual takeover by myriad merchants of gadgets and garments during the Sonoma County Fair.

Billed as Sonoma County’s premier craft beer event, the day is divided into two segments: First is the “Craft Cup,” wherein beers are judged by a protocol approved by the BJCP, or Beer Judge Certification Program. 

“The Craft Cup is what normally draws the beer fans,” says Nate Friar, co-chair of the Battle of the Brews. “It’s not often that you have the ability to choose from 70-plus breweries (some pouring multiple beers), and talk to some of the brewmasters. The Craft Cup is really the time you can geek out and have a conversation with the breweries.”

That’s probably the event that I attended several years ago, although my memory of it is fuzzy (now why would that be?) and as Friar says, “it has probably changed a lot,” since I last attended.

Although the lines are longest are the hottest breweries of the moment, there’s plenty of opportunity to crisscross the pavilion and chat it up with the brewers about hop cultivars or whatever burning issues craft brew geeks have on tap.

The second part of the event is the less-expensive “Main Event,” which sees a larger crowd and the “people’s choice” award: beer tasters have the opportunity to cast their vote for a favorite brewery. And of course, the live music cranks up the volume.

Friar says that breweries pour special releases for the event, not just their usual lineup, and while there may be some surprise brews, they usually do not know until the day of the event. There’s no limit on the beers poured—some breweries may offer one, others four.

Participating Sonoma County breweries include 101 North Brewing Company, Carneros Brewing Company, Dempsey’s Restaurant & Bar, Lagunitas Brewing Company, Petaluma Hills, Ruth McGowan’s Cloverdale Ale, Sonoma Springs Brewing, and Third Street Aleworks.

Playing acoustically during the quiet chat with the brewers event, the Pat Jordan Band takes the stage at the VIP Craft Competition, while country crooner McKenna Faith turns it up a notch at the People’s Choice Main Event. 

Don’t miss the Sonoma County Sandwich Showdown—you won’t want to miss it after all those brews! And do designate a driver or use safe transportation services to bring you home—to date I’m the only beer taster I’ve ever seen spitting (like a wine taster) at a craft brew event.

Battle of the Brews, 1-8 p.m., Saturday, April 8, Grace Pavilion, Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa

Find more information about Battle of the Brews here.

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