Road trip 2008 – part 1 – Mammoth Beers and Bluesapalooza

This August we once again went off beyond the civilized tracks of BART for a mountains and beer festival vacation. One of the pleasures of doing this is in not taking our laptops. It’s great to be unplugged, and based within walking distance of our tasting destinations, renting a room for festival or brewpub evenings, and then driving and camping out in between.

This was our second year visiting Mammoth’s beer and blues festival, Bluesapalooza. This festival has a lot going for it. The location on the eastern side of the high Sierra in the ski resort village of Mammoth is glorious, with brilliant mountain sun, cool breezes and a shaded pine grove setting. This year the area perimeter was increased somewhat, giving participants more room to circulate. The music was solid, and the beer selection offered delicious treats from around the state.

Mammoth beer and bluesapalooa festival
Mammoth beer and Bluesapalooa festival


Water is the great political struggle, historic sore point and source of brews on the Eastern side of the Sierra, so it makes a strong rallying cry. The host brewpub has had something interesting for each of the last two years. This year it was 395 IPA, named for the picturesque highway nearby, made with with local hops, sage brush and mountain juniper. (Steve, always tough on additives and novelty beers, was not so impressed, but Gail thought it was evocative of that rain on the high desert aroma, one of the most primal of Eastern California experiences.)

For those of us in the Northern counties, the chance to try beers from smaller Central and Southern California beers is always delightful. After running to Pizza Port of San Diego when the festival opened, and then making a bee line to Craftsman, we relaxed and took it slow.

Brewbakers of Huntington Beach pouring for thirsty Northerners
Brewbakers of Huntington Beach pouring for those of us of the North

Looking at the Eastern and Southern Californians flocking to Marin, Bear Republic, Rubicon, E.J.Phair, and others from our extended area showed that this festival works both ways. Straddling the divide was Denise Jones, brewer for Moylan’s in the Bay Area, but native to the Bishop area just south of Mammoth. She was profiled in the magazine/program distributed before and at the festival, and we found her pouring at the Moylan’s booth. We had been a fan of her brewing earlier at Third Street Aleworks in Santa Rosa, so we were happy to see her get respect in her home turf.

Savoring the blues with a glass of Blind Pig and matching shirt from Russian River
Savoring the blues with a glass of Blind Pig and matching shirt from Russian River


The Bruery attracted Belgian style brew fans under the pines
The Bruery attracted Belgian style brew fans under the pines

A newcomer (for us anyway) with some nice Belgian inspired beers was The Bruery out of Placentia, with a crisp tasty wit called Orchard White that was getting good festival word of mouth.

Bluesapalooza dancing, sporting the 395 IPA shirt
Bluesapalooza dancing, sporting the 395 IPA shirt

The festival was well-run, with only tiny quibbles. The first night there are no guest beers, just the local brews, which is OK if you are not expecting otherwise. However, they had vegetarian alternatives at the BBQ dinner line this year, which was good to see. Most troubling, the festival seemed to completely run out of water, both in the portapotty hand washing stations and for rinsing and drinking at the beer booths, by mid-day Saturday. At altitude in a dry climate, that’s not a good thing. So there are a few more things to fine-tune. Still, it was a treat to be there, and we’d go again.

Afterwards we headed west. (More to follow!)

Explore Beer By BART – a list of Bay Area good beer places with transit info, and get out there to enjoy without driving.

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