Find the Beer! A California Trail of Ales | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian

Find the Beer! A California Trail of Ales

Go locate the hidden bottles and replace each with a selection of your own

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A treasure! This beer lies hidden in the woods, six inches under, in Shasta County, CA. Can you find it? Photo by Alastair Bland.

The world is no one’s oyster. If it were, it would be full of pearls. But it is stashed with hidden beers. In the past, I have left a number of bottles stashed in rock holes in random locations in southern France. (So have a few readers of Food and Think.) Now, the game called “Find the Beer” comes to America. I’ve left a trail of ales behind me in Northern California, and in this post are directions to each treasure. Please play the game right and leave a beer of your own choice if you take one of the stashed bottles. Just be sure to replace your find with a beer in a bottle–not a can, which may deteriorate and corrode under harsh conditions–and notify us via the comment box below of your contribution. Game on!

1. Big River Bridge on Highway 1, near Mendocino, CA; Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout. At the south end of the bridge just south of the town of Mendocino, a beer awaits in the east side guardrail. The brew is a velvety smooth oatmeal stout from Anderson Valley that tastes vaguely like cream, sour caramel and woodsmoke. Sounds bad but it’s great–one of my very favorites, in fact. The beer is only 5.8% alcohol and not one suitable to long periods of aging, but the Mendocino County coast is cool all year, and this beer should hold up just fine until you get there.

A bottle of Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout dwells within the guardrail directly beneath the author’s bike helmet on this Highway 1 bridge in Mendocino County. Photo by Alastair Bland.

2. Near Napa, on the Trinity-Oakville grade section of Dry Creek Road; Lagunitas Brewing Company’s Undercover Investigation Shutdown Ale. A friend of mine once said that beer is the perfect athlete’s food. “It has water, calories and painkiller,” he explained. And so I hope that a cyclist on a long and arduous ride finds this next beer. It is sweet, fragrant, hoppy and strong. At 9.6% alcohol by volume and with some heavy sugar content, the 12-ounce bottle contains at least 250 calories (alcohol contains 7 calories per gram) and probably about 80 percent water.  Bring it home, chill it, and make it your recovery meal. Where is it exactly? In a hole in a tree trunk on the south side of the highway about 100 yards west of the Mount Veeder Road turnoff.

See the helmet? There lies the beer, in a large cavity in this tree trunk about six feet off the ground. The tree stands on the south side of Dry Creek Road, just 100 yards west (uphill toward Sonoma) from the Mount Veeder Road turnoff. Photo by Alastair Bland.

3. Muir Woods Road, Marin County; Belgian-style homebrew. A long, long time ago, I brewed a batch of brown Belgian-style beer. Then I forgot that I ever did–until early in 2013, when I found a box in my basement containing 30 bottles dated July of 2007. The lost stash! The beers remain good, if possibly past their peak, and I’ve decided to donate a bottle to the game. I left it in an old Eucalyptus log by the side of the road, smack at an intersection that local cyclists call “Four Corners.” Precisely, the beer is hiding at the southwest corner, several feet down a gravelly bank, in a rotted-out cavity in the log. Use a stick to pull out the beer (or be on spider alert)–and let me know how you like the beer. Just be nice; it was one of my first homebrews.

See the bike helmet at the lower left of the photo? A Belgian-style brown ale brewed by the author six years ago dwells just underneath, in the hollowed out log. Photo by Alastair Bland.

4. Bicycle/Hiking Trail (Old Highway 1) in Pacifica, CA; Lagunitas Brewing Company’s Brown Shugga’. This beer, made with a liberal addition of brown sugar on top of the standard barley malt, is good when fresh. Keep it around a year, and it gets better. Fast forward two more years, and a Brown Shugga’, bitter and sweet and vibrant when it first hits retail shelves, is like liquid candy–chewy, sticky, and fudgy. So it goes for the two-and-a-half-year-old bottle that now dwells in Pacifica, on the well-known bicycle-hiking path (I like to call it John Steinbeck’s Highway 1, since he surely drove it when this was the main coastal route) that ascends inland and upward from Pacifica to Moss Beach, over Montara Mountain. The bottle is buried deep in the pine duff behind a large Monterey pine tree beside the semi-paved trail. See the photo below for details.

Hiking or cycling southward on the abandoned Highway 1 that cuts across Montara Mountain from Pacifica to Moss Beach, you will pass this pine tree. Behind it, deep in the pine needles, is an aged bottle of Lagunitas Brown Shugga’. The helmet marks the spot. Photo by Alastair Bland.

5. Shasta Lake, CA, under a fig tree beside Turntable Bay Road, off of Interstate 5; Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA. The temperature was 105 degrees Fahrenheit (in the sun, but nonetheless) when I buried this beer in six inches of dirt, gravel and pine needles and placed two hand-sized rocks on top. But within the canopy of the fig tree, it was a cool 80. Thus, this strong IPA from Dogfish Head should be in good shape even through the fiercest heat wave. How to find it? If you’re driving north on Interstate 5 and arrive at Lake Shasta, take the exit to Turntable Bay Road. This paved downhill through the forest quickly turns to dirt. After several switchbacks and a quarter mile from the freeway, you will see the fig tree on the right as the road turns sharply left. Pull over, and scramble into the gully and start digging beside the trunk. There are burrs, spider webs and dust–but for a Dogfish Head IPA it’s worth the sweat and blood. See the accompanying photo for the exact location.

There’s the beer–Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA–standing in the exact spot where a moment later the author buried it. If you’re in the neighborhood, this brew’s an easy find. Photo by Alastair Bland.

Elsewhere in the World:  Those readers who have been following along know that Find the Beer had its roots in France, where the game began one year ago. Currently, a handful of beers remain stashed in cobblestone rock holes (the French love to build things with cobblestones–perfect infrastructure for treasure hunts). A number of these bottles dwell along roadways that are about to be swarmed by cyclists and fans of the 100th Tour de France. On such high mountain passes as Tourmalet and Col d’Aubisque, and on the road to Col de Jau–at these locations and others, beers have been patiently waiting for months. Refer to this post from May to find your way to them. In particular, the beer on Tourmalet is a high-alcohol giant that, after one year of aging at high altitude, should be a real treasure. Go find the beer.

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