Steinbeck and Sour Saisons

2016 Steinbeck Festival logo

Logo used by permission of the National Steinbeck Center. Designed by Kim Osborne.

Here on the Monterey Peninsula, Steinbeck stories abound—and I don’t mean copies of his novels like Cannery Row, which took place in Monterey. I’ve heard more than a few tales about our Spaghetti Hill neighborhood being the real-life Tortilla Flats and how the 1962 Nobel Prize winner often crashed on living room sofas around town at the end of hard-partying evenings.

But nearly a half century after his death, John Steinbeck is still loved all over Monterey County, perhaps nowhere more so than at the National Steinbeck Center in the heart of downtown Salinas. In addition to a museum brimming with memorabilia, the center hosts readings, lectures, writing competitions and other events year round.

John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

May 6-8, the Steinbeck Center, in partnership with the Salinas Steinbeck Rotary Club, will host the 35th annual Steinbeck Festival. For the first time, the noon-4:00 p.m. Saturday Street Faire on Main Street will feature a Homebrew Fest. A separate craft beer dinner will take place at 5:30 p.m.

Several days ago, I stopped by Bottoms Up Homebrew Supply in Seaside to chat with owner Duane Shimabukuro about the Homebrew Fest. In addition to being an all-around great guy who dispenses a lot of free brewing advice, Duane is big on community involvement.

Duane Shimabukuro, owner of Bottoms Up, Seaside, CA

Duane Shimabukuro, owner of Bottoms Up, Seaside, CA

Each spring he takes orders for hops rhizomes, with all profits going to his kids’ school. Last fall, he organized a homebrew tasting for an event at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. (See the “Not My Father’s Beer” post from October 27, 2015.) He started an annual competition for local homebrewers around National Homebrew Day, which falls on May 7 this year.

One of his customers, also a Salinas Rotarian, suggested pairing the homebrew competition with the Steinbeck festival. Duane didn’t have to think twice. “It was an opportunity for education, for exposing people to making their own beer.”

He put the word out and homebrewers from Santa Cruz to San Diego signed on to donate their time and beer. On Saturday, May 7, over 30 homebrewers will be pouring more than 400 gallons of some 80 different brews at three beer gardens during the Steinbeck Festival.

I emailed Jon Ezell, one of the best homebrewers in the area, to ask when he plans to serve. His reply reads like the beer menu on a pub chalkboard:

“‘Black and Blue’ – Black session IPA with ginger

‘Tartanic’ – Dry-hopped sour saison

‘Vice Admiral’ – Nelson Sauvin saison

There may be others – but don’t know if they will be ready…”

Jon Ezell brewing in his garage

Jon Ezell brewing in his garage

Duane summed up the selections saying, “For the average craft beer drinker, I think they’ll be blown away.” Early bird tickets for the Homebrew Fest are $35, or $50 for VIP. Day of tickets are $50, or $75 VIP.

I contacted Salinas attorney and Rotarian Anne Olsen for information on the dinner. While the pairing menu hadn’t been finalized, she wrote that the beers will include both craft and homebrews. “Sierra Nevada has donated porter ale. Alvarado Brewing has donated German alt beer. I understand that North Coast Brewery is donating some also.”

The 5-course dinner will start with stuffed mushrooms and end with chocolate flan cake with caramel and chocolate sauce. While tickets are a bit pricey at $100, all proceeds go to the Steinbeck Center, and the dinner will be held in the Steinbeck House, the author’s boyhood home. The large old Victorian house on Central Avenue is a worth a visit in itself.

Steinbeck House

The Steinbeck House

On a personal note, I’ll be in Philadelphia at the annual Craft Brewers Conference May 3-6 and staying the next day for a meeting of the North American Guild of Beer Writers. Otherwise, I’d be one of homebrewers pouring. If you’re in northern or central California, I totally recommend a trip to Salinas on May 7 for a great day of Steinbeck and homebrews!

Click below for information and tickets:

2016 Steinbeck Festival passes

Steinbeck Homebrew Fest

Steinbeck House Fundraising Craft Beer Banquet

Banner in downtown Monterey. Photo courtesy of Joe Livernois

Banner in downtown Monterey. Photo courtesy of Joe Livernois.


  1. These homebrewers don’t smile too much. Must be the sour beers. : )

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