The idea of a beer aficionado used to conjure images of a guy playing poker or kicking back at a party with his buddies.
But a plethora of world-class beers on California's North Coast and the growth of craft beers nationwide are drawing a growing pool of fans and more women into the mix.
“I love trying new beers that maybe I can't try at a regular bar,” said Haley Fess, 27, of Santa Rosa, who works in advertising and marketing. “I'm not scared of the fact that only boys drink beer ... Having Russian River Brewery in my own backyard really opened my eyes.”
Her friend, Tamara Russell, 25, of Santa Rosa liked the chocolate and toffee flavors in a beer from Ballast Point.
Fess and her girlfriends were among an estimated 2,000 attendees at the 17th annual Battle of the Brews, an event at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on Saturday that featured selections from more than 40 craft breweries. The event, organized by Active 20-30 Club of Santa Rosa, was a fundraiser for local children's charities. It has raised nearly $1 million over the years, said Craig Worthen, co-chairman for the event.
Regional favorites Lagunitas Brewing Company, North Coast Brewing Co. and Anderson Valley Brewery were pouring samples alongside industry heavyweights like Heineken and MillerCoors.
“I think it's a younger crowd, but also I think we've seen a lot more fathers and sons come out, or even mothers and daughters, whole families,” Worthen said. “There's always been a lot of women; it's a nice, safe, fun event.”
About 30 breweries entered a “Craft Cup” competition decided by professional beer judges, and all were a part of the “People's Choice” contest.
Russian River Brewery, the Santa Rosa beer lover's mecca, was not a part of the festival, disappointing a number of fans in the crowd.