Almost every weekend for more than a year, Scott Misener's aging pickup truck has bumped and clanged along a twisting dirt road to a metal shed high on a ridge in Fruitland.
There, Misener has milled and mashed, hopped and hoped.
Now he's about to find out whether Humboldt's beer drinkers approve.
Misener is making the transition from hobbyist to commercial brewer, introducing his Ridge Rd. Brewing Co. this weekend at Hops in Humboldt. His will be the county's seventh brewery and its most southerly, based about 10 miles northeast of Myers Flat.
He's starting about as small as a brewer can, pouring three beers at the festival and arranging to offer his brews at a handful of bars and restaurants soon after. He's got no tasting room, no growler sales and at the moment, no outlets that are confirmed solidly enough to name them in print.
He's got beer, though. Twenty-four barrels of it, with more production planned later this month.
I met Misener on a smoke-hazed afternoon at his home in Fortuna, where his truck, "Mud Crud," was loaded with kegs that make the clattering trips to his brother's property in Fruitland. He is lean and soft-spoken. I could envision him offering quietly practical advice during his day job as Fortuna store manager for Northcoast Horticulture Supply. Misener squinted into the sun as he talked about the almost meditative calm of brewing in Fruitland, the peacefulness of that ridge, the ingredients from the land. The malt in his Cinder imperial stout is smoked with local oak. Juniper berries and spruce tips bitter his Comet Oorbier double hefeweizen.
There was no time for us to visit his brewing venue; he was getting ready for a Lake Tahoe vacation, and when he returns he'll be juggling brewing with work and family time with his wife and their 6-year-old daughter. Since Ridge Rd. beer can't be purchased anywhere yet — Misener plans a tasting room and bottling line in 2016 — he handed me a cardboard box full of sample bottles.
They were capped in all colors and identified mostly with plain white labels he's used when testing his recipes on family and friends. The exception was a name scrawled on duct tape — a backwoods look Misener likes for a rice, corn and cane sugar concoction he calls Redneck Ale.
Fully packed, complete with instructions on which bottle-conditioned beers should be opened over the sink for worry-free foaming, this box looked like a great excuse for a beer tasting.
I called on friends and relations, and set the stage with every little glass I could find, along with water, snacks, pens and Misener's descriptions of each brew. The consensus?
Most of us preferred the darker Ridge Rd. beers, and we noticed that across the board they seemed lighter than other beers we've drunk in the same styles.
A wee heavy Scotch ale called Great Scot! won the day. It's a style that tends toward higher alcohol and more sweetness than regular Scotch ales, and the Ridge Rd. version is especially smooth and satisfying, quaffable despite an alcohol content Misener estimates at 9.5 percent.
"Make this their signature beer," my friend Thom said. He was ready to buy a six pack. Amy liked an imperial stout called Kaiser Dick — "Creamy, chocolatey, the one I would drink happily." The three beers that Misener has chosen to highlight at Hops in Humboldt, a pale ale, a kolsch and the quirky Redneck ale, didn't make the top of anyone's list. The quickly assembled box might have included some off bottles, though, so I'm not sure the samples were fully representative.
If you're going to Hops in Humboldt, you'll have a chance to taste for yourself. And if not, just keep an eye on restaurant and bar menus. Misener is planning on Kaiser Dick as a winter release and Great Scot! for spring. Along with an English Special Bitter he calls simply "The Special," those three are my favorites from Ridge Rd. — so far.
Saturday, Aug. 22, 1 to 5 p.m., Hops in Humboldt, Rohner Park, Fortuna. Homebrew, cider, mead and barrel after barrel of craft beer will be poured. Labels new to the festival this year include Oregon's Rogue Ales, Heretic Brewing Co. from Fairfield, California and Nectar Creek Mead from Oregon. From local brewers, look for Eel River Brewing to get out its Randall infuser and blend in something fresh (it's a surprise). Humboldt Regeneration will have a gruit style beer bittered with thyme — no hops were harmed in the making of this beverage. Six Rivers will bring something special in a little cask called a firkin, in which beer is conditioned in small batches. See the Eight Days a Week calendar for more on Hops.
Tuesday, Sept. 1, kicks off an anniversary month for two Humboldt breweries, with Mad River Brewing Co. in Blue Lake is releasing its 26th Anniversary Ale, an imperial cream stout aged with oak — not in a barrel, but with large oak spirals placed inside its stainless steel fermentation tank.
Sunday, Sept. 6, noon- 8 p.m. marks anniversary time for Humboldt Regeneration Brewery and Farm, which celebrates its third year with a daylong party at its back-behind-everything brewery in McKinleyville. At least 15 different beers will be on tap.
Saturday, Sept. 26, noon to midnight is the Fall Fever Bierfest, with eight to 10 German-style beers at Redwood Curtain Brewing Co. in Arcata.
Send your beer news and events to Carrie Peyton Dahlberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.