What pairs well with a Lagunitas Imperial Stout? How about a sword swallower in a blue suit?
A Daytime IPA? That goes well with a contorting burlesque dancer wearing a clown nose, according to Lagunitas Brewing Co. event director Jimmy Jacobs.
For the sixth year, the Petaluma brewery hosted its Beer Circus on Sunday, a celebration of steampunk weirdness, Vaudeville spectacle and, of course, all things beer.
"It's about opening the doors of the brewery to the North Bay and Petaluma," said Jacobs, whose official title is Pony Ride Attendant. "Everyone is coming together to have a good time, get weird and spread some community love."
A crowd of 2,500 turned out to sample some of the North Coast's microbrews, listen to live music, marvel at 200 Bay Area artists and performers and see "things that could not be unseen." The event, started by Lagunitas founder Tony Magee, raises money for Petaluma school music programs.
On a cloudless day when temperatures flirted with triple digits, plenty of cold beer flowed from some of the 12 different Lagunitas varieties and nine firkins, or specialty, one-off beers.
Another 26 local breweries, including Hen House, Dempsey's, Petaluma Hills and 101 North, poured their products.
"It's a beer mecca," said Jeff Braber, a beer wholesaler from Chicago, who came to Petaluma for the festival. "This represents what craft beer is all about."
But there was plenty to dazzle the other senses as well. Corseted stilt walkers mingled with roaming Dixie bands. Acrobats dangled 30 feet off the ground from strands of silk. Bryan Kehoe's band played with special guest Les Claypool of Primus.
"I like the entertainment," said Amanda Visser of Santa Rosa as she watched one of the pasty-clad burlesque performers. "I've just been exploring. It's neat to see what the day brings."
Guests were encouraged to come in costume, and many stuck to the old-timey circus theme — there was plenty of ironic facial hair and top hats.
Others broke with tradition. There was Luke Skywalker and Jesus. The Big Lebowski made an appearance. Brett Beandry and Jeff Frost wore suits, gold chains and attached wrapped presents to their waists, representing characters in a popular Saturday Night Live skit.
"It's about raising funds for local schools," said Beandry, who works at Lagunitas. "Events like this help keep the music around, which is awesome."
Caitlin McCauley, who wore a corset and painted her face to resemble a Day of the Dead skeleton, waited in line to ride a bicycle-powered merry-go-round. The San Rafael bartender said this was her first Beer Circus.
"My best friend brought me here," she said. "She went last year, and she's been talking about how cool it was for weeks."
Besides the beer, local food vendors served up delicious festival fare. There was the traditional turkey legs, caramel corn and garlic fries. There were also grilled chicken sliders, tacos and frickles — fried pickles.
Mike and Barbra Condie of Moraga took a break from people watching to eat a plate of paella in the food pavilion. A civil engineer and part-time photographer, Mike Condie said he has been coming to the Beer Circus every year since its inception.
"It's a combination of good beer, good food and a carnival atmosphere," he said. "Everyone is having a good time and is well-behaved. And it's pretty interesting to see the sword swallower close up."