Beer Geeks

(L to R) "Pub Talk" guest Hugo Patiño , Merideth Canham-Nelson, KRML's Jeff White, Chris Nelson, February 2015

(L to R) “Pub Talk” guest Hugo Patiño , Merideth Canham-Nelson, KRML’s Jeff White, Chris Nelson, February 2015

It’s a gorgeous August afternoon in Carmel Valley, perfect for drinking Drake’s on a patio with a couple of beer geeks and talking beer adventures. Actually, that’s about as close to Heaven on Earth as it gets for me. (And, yeah, that was a pretty shameless plug for Drake’s, but you’ll see why in a minute.)

These days, it’s almost a badge of honor for craft beer enthusiasts to call themselves beer geeks and revel in that geekiness. If anybody deserves the title, these geeks sitting across the patio table from me surely do. They’ve been racking up some serious creds for a long time. Chris Nelson and Merideth Canham-Nelson have been the husband-wife team behind since 2005. On Twitter, he’s @thebeergeek and she’s @girlbeergeek.

Teachings from the Tap

Teachings from the Tap

For nearly three years, they’ve hosted the weekly “Pub Talk” on radio station KRML, which they broadcast from Peter B’s Brewpub. For the last two years, Chris has been the Drake’s Central Coast (California) rep, which explains why he’s wearing a Drake’s shirt and we’re drinking those Drakes—Hefes for Merideth and me, an Aroma Prieta IPA for Chris. Merideth, a social worker with a full-time job, even wrote a book about their 2008 beer travels, Teachings from the Tap: Life Lessons from Our Year in Beer. If you need any more evidence of their beer-geek status, their current dogs are named Schwarz and Wit. (Porter and Stout preceded them.)

The Nelsons got their beer geek start in 1992 when Merideth was going to grad school and waitressing at one of the early multi-tap beer cafes in Oakland, California. She decided she needed to know about the beers she was serving. Chris joined the educational fun, and before long, they were visiting brewpubs and breweries all around the Bay Area.

More time went by, and they were traveling all over California and to other states. In 1998, they made their first international beer trip to Ireland. Since then, they’ve sung along with Germans at Oktoberfest in Munich, visited all the Trappist breweries in Belgium, worked as volunteers in an Alaska beer festival and produced over sixty videos for their BeerGeek.TV series, filming in locations from New Zealand to Wales.

Chris working the Monterey Beer Festival, June 2015

Chris working the Monterey Beer Festival, June 2015

On the patio, I keep asking questions, and Merideth and Chris seem to enjoy answering. The waiter comes by and they each order another beer. I beg off, saying I’ve got an eighteen-mile drive home and knowing I requested a half-hour interview. Now we get to the heart of things. I raise my eyebrows and say, “So, let’s talk about The List.”

Chris and Merideth grin, waiting to see where I want to start. “What’s the current number?”

“Nine-hundred eighty, I think,” Chris answers.

The List, a record of the breweries they have visited, started in 1993. It has three rules: the beer must be brewed on the premises, it has to be consumed on the premises and chain breweries only count once. To put the Nelsons accomplishment in perspective, start jotting down the breweries you’ve visited. If you have a bad memory, you get to double the number on your list. And your total is . . . probably still a fraction of 980. (If not, let me know!)

It’s a lot easier today,” Merideth says. “When we started, there was no social media to help us find breweries. We forget today, but there was none of that back in 1993.” Chris tells of once driving five hours on winding Italian roads only to arrive and find the destination brewery closed.

Leslie, Merideth and Chris

Leslie, Merideth and Chris

Reaching one thousand has been the goal for a long time. It’s slated to happen on November 7 during a trip to Seattle. The Beer Geeks chose Holy Mountain Brewing Company as #1000. “We liked the significance of the name,” Merideth says.

Anybody who has hung out in a thousand breweries is bound to have lots of friends. Chris and Merideth say they haven’t planned a party, but then they start naming friends who have said they’ll try to be at Holy Mountain, and it starts sounding very much like a party, a sizable one, in fact.

And what happens after November 7? Merideth shrugs. “We don’t really know. One thousand and one, one thousand and two, just doesn’t have the same ring.”

“We’ll always continue to do what we do,” Chris says, and Merideth agrees. They have a couple of trips lined up for 2016. Plus, a friend who has lived in Panama and is going back has invited them to visit Panama City which, she says, has a emerging craft beer scene. “We’ve kind of ignored Latin America,” Merideth says, “But we couldn’t fit Panama in until 2017.”

The interview has gone on nearly two hours when we finally part ways. I drive home, charmed by The Beer Geeks.

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