Sonoma County ‘beer geeks’ raise a glass to benefit military veterans in need

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Self-proclaimed beer geeks showed up in Santa Rosa on Sunday to chat pilsners, porters and pales, and sample suds from many of the region’s craft breweries while directing money to local military veterans in need.

The sixth annual NorCal Beer Geeks Festival was fittingly held at the Veterans Memorial Building, with proceeds benefiting area nonprofit Sonoma County Vet Connect. Despite being rescheduled from November due to the Kincade fire and PG&E power shut-offs, the event still packed a punch with several hundred people bouncing among booths with souvenir glasses in hand.

“I do feel that the people who drink quality beer tend to be quality people,” said Peter Lopez, the event founder and owner of Juncture Taproom & Lounge in east Santa Rosa. “It’s not so much the liquid. It’s more of what it represents when we get together for a beer or a glass of wine — the camaraderie, the toasting. It’s really just about connecting like-minded people.”

The event, which was also canceled in 2017 due to the Tubbs fire, offered something for both beer beginner and connoisseur, with the sounds of live surf rock and trays of barbecue sandwiches and sides of slaw complementing each pour. Nineteen breweries, two cideries and for the first time the region’s other adult beverage of choice with Geyserville’s Pedroncelli Winery joining, donated their product to raise funds that help keep former military service members housed.

Home brewer Daniel Carlson, 59, of Windsor, whose son is a veteran, sipped on a double India pale ale from Santa Rosa’s 3 Disciples Brewing and said there was no place he’d rather be on a Sunday.

“I do love beer, so why not come?” he said. “Everything around here, really, you can’t go wrong.”

Between ticket sales and a raffle for gift packs and household items, Vet Connect receives about 10% of its annual fundraising from the gathering, according to Richard Jones, co-founder, president and CEO of the Santa Rosa-based group. The nonprofit started in 2008 with just six volunteers and $500 in donations and has now grown to 20 strong and more than $50,000 in 2019 that they spread across several thousand former servicemen and women who have served in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The group offers rental assistance, as well as money for staples like food, clothes or minor vehicle repairs to ensure recipients stay on their feet.

“Every one of them has some semblance of (post-traumatic stress disorder) being in the military, and some are worse than others. They’re really suffering,” said Jones, a Northern California native and U.S. Navy veteran of Vietnam. “So it’s mainly just about the quality of life of our veterans here that we go after, and that’s what a lot of this money goes to.”

For the real beer aficionados, several brewers brought specialty drinks, including Alameda’s Faction Brewing, which releases an annual American-style IPA named for the NorCal Beer Geek group also created by Lopez. Santa Rosa’s Third Street Aleworks came with its new 10.9% alcohol by volume banana pancake pastry stout, which head brewer Tyler Laverty said has been popular at the pub with its notes of liquid chocolate and roasted hazelnuts.

“If there’s a place to pour a pastry stout, this is the event,” he said.

Margarita Vicencio, 41, won tickets to the festival from Sebastopol’s Seismic Brewing and brought along friend Amy Loyha, 45, of Cotati, to check out the craft beer scene and decide what they like for future nights out. The two cited Santa Rosa’s HenHouse Brewing as their favorite so far while tasting a peanut butter milk stout from San Diego’s Belching Beaver.

“It’s really good,” Loyha said of the dark chocolate-hued concoction. “I’m learning to drink beer, so I thought this would be great. It’s great having it all in one place so we can just wander around.”

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