For many of us, Anderson Valley Brewing's familiar woodsy labels with their quaint Boontling names, drawn from the unusual dialect that evolved in remote Boonville in the 19th century, have always been part of our craft brew world.

It wasn't always that way. Twenty years ago when Ken Allen chucked a chiropractic practice in Vallejo, moved to Boonville and opened a brewery, most of the handful of craft brewers in business copied the English style: malty ales, winter warmers.

From day one, Allen's beers were different.

They were hoppy, when there were no hoppy beers. The labels were unusual; the names unique. From my first sip, I became a big fan. Still am.

They celebrated their 20th this past Saturday in a big way: carriage rides, music and a lot of fun. And this no-longer-tiny-but-still-remote California-hills brewery on 30 acres, with solar power, launched a new beer. It's Anderson Valley Imperial India Pale Ale (HHH1/2), and it's our Beer of the Week.

This is a big, malty beer, imperial in every way: 8.7 percent alcohol by volume and 100 International Bitterness Units. (For perspective, think of Coors Banquet, about 10 IBU.) But up front, it's a malty, copper ale, with hops riding in perfect balance in a drying finish with a bit of warmth from the alcohol.

There's an international hop shortage right now, and Anderson Valley's general manager John Kuhry says only Northwest hops are used; during brewing, there were 20 hop additions, Kuhry says. The beer also has a bit of sugar added for a bit more fermenting kick.


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Bottom line: It will be in the Bay Area in bottles next week. It'll be on tap at the Bistro's Double IPA fest this Saturday, and at Barclay's, Cato's Ale House and Ben & Nick's in Oakland, Pete's Brass Rail in Danville, Toronado and City Beer in San Francisco next week.

ON A RAINY NIGHT last week, I sat in on a Commonwealth Club Bay Gourmet panel discussion forum: "The San Francisco Beer Story: History, Culture, Taste, Cuisine," featuring moderator Bob Coleman, founder of the San Francisco Brewers Guild; Justin Crossley, of TheBrewingNetwork.com; Nico Freccia, co-founder of 21st Amendment restaurant and brewery; Dan Gordon, co-founder, Gordon Biersch; Dave McLean, founder, Magnolia Pub & Brewery; and John Foster, co-host of BeerSchool.com.

The evening ended with a beer and cheese tasting. Whew: 21st Amendment brought the Beer Hunter '08, a darkly delicious, 8.2 percent tribute to the late British beer author Michael Jackson. The beer recipe came from Jamil Zainasheff of Elk Grove, the Brewers Association Homebrewer of the Year. Zainasheff and 21st Amendment co-founder Shaun O'Sullivan first brewed it for the Great American Beer Fest Pro-Am contest. It will be on tap at 21st all month during Strong Beer Month, a dual celebration by Magnolia and 21st.

It was a fascinating evening, and I've got a full report on my blog and details on Strong Beer month. Check it out.

CALENDAR: Well, we're headed into Beerapalooza, and what a palooza it is. Celebrator Beer News publisher Tom Dalldorf, a guy who's always handy with words, named it for the series of events in the Bay Area in February, a month that used to be dead time for the beer world. But that was back in watery lager America. Craft beer changed all that. Craft brewers have stamped out dullness, and the Beerapalooza draws beer lovers from around the country. Homebrew clubs in Southern California charter a bus to get here.

Consider these events:

  • Double India Pale Ale Festival -- It all begins 11 a.m. Saturday at the Bistro, 1001 B. St., Hayward. 510-886-8525; http://www.the-bistro.com. More than 50 Double IPAs, live music and barbecue -- Main Street will be closed for the event. This is the fest that gave uber-hoppy beers their name. It's not to be missed if you love hops. Admission is $25.

  • Beer and Cheese Tasting -- 6 p.m. Feb. 13 at Rogue Ales Public House, 673 Union St., S.F. 415-362-7880. This one sells out. Sheana Davis of Sonoma's Epicurean Connection makes the pairings. Price is $35.

  • Bruce Paton's Chocolate & Belgian Beer Dinner -- 6 p.m. Feb. 15 at the Cathedral Hill Hotel, 1101 Van Ness Ave., S.F. 415-776-8200, Ext. 7785, http://www.beer-chef.com. Price is $90. This one also sells out.

  • Annual Toronado Barleywine Festival -- From noon Feb. 16 until the beer runs out, sometime around the next Friday. Toronado, 547 Haight St., S.F. 415-863-2276, http://www.toronado.com. Sixty or more barleywines; whew. Pay by the drink.

  • Celebrator Beer News 20th Anniversary Bash -- 4-8 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Oakland Convention Center, Marriott Hotel, Oakland, $35. 800-430-2337, http://www.celebrator.com. More than 35 breweries pouring beer; lots of food included. Live music. This one's a real bash, not to miss, even if you're bashful.

    A HEAVENLY MATCH: I've tasted a lot of food and beer pairings in the past few years. But it will be a while before I find an equal to two pairings at a Lagunitas beer dinner at the Pleasanton Hotel. The menu was designed by chef Neil Marcus, who has gone on to become a partner in a new Pleasanton restaurant, Eddie Papa's American Hangout.

    The new chef, Chris Smith, a San Francisco Culinary Institute grad who grew up in Livermore, prepared the dinner and did the pairing. He paired Lagunitas Censored (HHH) -- a stunning, malty 6 percent ale -- with a pepperoni Calzone on balsamic-dressed greens. Simply dynamite. The beer and the food blended and harmonized in a way that wine accomplishes only rarely.

    The dessert pairing was equally inspired: Molten Lava Cake with Caramel Ice Cream, paired with Lagunitas Hairy Eyeball (HHH), a powerful, 9.2 percent winter warmer. Intrigued? Check out my blog for the recipes, kindly provided by Smith. More beer dinners are ahead at the hotel; stay tuned.

    Reach William Brand at whatsontap@sbcglobal.net or call 510-915-1180 and ask for his Retail Beer Store List or Good Pub List. Read more by Brand at http://www.beernewsletter.com/blog.

    Ratings

    HHHHH World classic.

    HHHH May be a star; don't miss it.

    HHH Very good; worth a try.

    HH Good beer; no defects.

    H Don't toss it; demand a refund.