It blew me away: rich, creamy, malty but perfectly balanced with Cascade hops. I didn't know enough about brewing to understand that their "brewplant" was hacked together from salvaged dairy and soft drink equipment. The brewers, Don Barkley, Michael Lovett and Jack McAuliffe, were just a few years away from the time they made beer at home on the kitchen stove.
I've been a Mendocino fan from that day on. It's been a long, painful road for founders Michael Laybourn and Norman Franks. They've had glory days and times they'd no doubt like to forget.
Sales boomed; Mendocino became, I believe, the first brewpub in California, if not America, to go public in 1994. They used the cash to build a big new brewery in Ukiah. Business boomed and then it hit the wall; there were no profits, the stock price plummeted; they ran out of cash for the new brewery. They tried a second stock offering, which went nowhere.
Then, in 1997, help arrived: Vijay Mallya, head of the UB Group, Bangalore, India, maker of Kingfisher beer, bought a controlling interest. Mallya now owns 87 percent of the stock. He paired Mendocino with a failed brewery in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and Mendocino started selling beer on both coasts.
Slowly, over time, sales have increased. And the beer has remained, with an exception or two, superlative, usually bottle-conditioned, never pasteurized. And now, after I don't know how many years, Mendocino has bottled a seasonal beer: It's Mendocino Wheat (HHHH), and it's our Beer of the Week.
There are a number of fine wheat beers on the market today, and this is one of them: Brilliant gold color, huge, lasting head, clean malty nose with a hint of the spice within. Taste is malty; mouth-filling with a crisp dry finish, a tang of spicy hops, supplementing the spice of the wheat. The hops last and last. Whew. Nice beer.
Master brewer Don Barkley, along with John Scahill one of the two only remaining founders, says Mendocino Wheat is made with 30 percent malted wheat and pale barley malt. Hops are a mix of citrusy Cascades and mildly spicy German Tettnang.
"We finish with Czech Saaz, lots of Saaz," Barkley says. That's the extra spice note, he says. Mendocino Wheat is sterile filtered, but not pasteurized, meant to be consumed this summer. It's 4.7 percent alcohol by volume. Like this one? Hold on, more are coming Barkley says.
For the record: Jack McAuliffe is the pioneer craft brewer who founded New Albion Brewing in Sonoma in 1977. He closed New Albion in 1982, the equipment went to Hopland, and Jack, Don and Michael came along. Don and Michael stayed on and became partners with the founders. Buffalo Bill's in Hayward opened almost the same day. I always consider them in a tie for first brewpub in the state. They both have bragging rights.
STOUT FLOAT: A colleague, Josh Richman, who has been known to hoist a pint now and then, has concocted a killer dessert. First, have you ever tried Guinness Stout (HHHH) with ice cream? It's excellent. But Josh has added a new element. The beer: Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout (HHH1/2). The ice cream: Starbucks Java Chip coffee ice cream.
Cappuccino Stout is brewed with 80 pounds of Colombian coffee from Hard Core Coffee in Sebastopol. Lagunitas' Tony Magee explains that the coffee is poured into the mash, taking the place of black malt (malt kilned to a degree of blackness). So this is a beer with a heavy coffee nose and taste. Josh says put a scoop or two (I vote for two scoops) of Starbucks in a tall glass, slowly add the chilled beer and enjoy. The only downside is Cappuccino Stout is a Lagunitas late fall seasonal. But it's still around if you hunt. Starbucks? Well, we all know where to find that. Add a dab of whipped cream and you've got a giant beer mocha, Josh says. Yeah.
MAUI WOWIE: Headed to Maui sometime soon? Here's something to bring back along with the macadamia nuts: a six-pack from Maui Brewing Co. Maui's owner, Garrett Marrero, says the company has begun canning its three best beers, created by head brewer Tom Kerns: CoCoNut Porter (HHHH), which won gold last year at the Great American Beer Festival; Big Swell IPA (HHH1/2), which can stand toe-to-toe with best of the Bay Area's hoppy beers; and Bikini Blonde Lager (HH1/2), an excellent summer cooler. A sixer of the three beers, two each, is $10, truly a worthwhile souvenir. And while on Maui, don't miss the pub or the tasting room nearby. For addresses and my report, go to http://www.beernewsletter.com.
CALENDAR: 2-5 p.m. June 2, Third annual Davis Beer Fest: Celebration of All Things Beer, parking lot, Sudwerk Hubsch, 2001 Second St., Davis. Beers from many Bay Area and Sacramento breweries. $25. Tickets at the door or call 530-758-3704. Benefit for Citizens Who Care, which helps elderly people stay in their own homes.