by SB J. (Mendocino Bonobos)
Raise a glass to the Mendocino Brewing Company, recently apparently deceased. Renowned for its “First Brewpub in California Since Prohibition” (second in the U.S.), this pioneering enterprise was conceived over a generation ago by Talmage home-brewing scalawags Michael “Red Tail” Laybourn and “Nearly Normal” Norman Franks— locally infamous underground creators of “Thunder Beer”, brewed clandestinely in various basements and garages in the Ukiah Valley and distributed at notorious Redwood Valley Grange dances, complete with live music by the likes of the Ford Brothers, Tommy Tutone, and Kate Wolf, and featuring lively social exchanges that were known to include occasional fistfights.
In an unholy alliance with Potter Valley home-brewer/vintner/fungist John Scahill and Ukiah opportunist J. Holden, the boys somehow managed to legally establish the Mendocino Brewing Company in 1982. With an initial capitalization of a little over $100k begged from hapless friends, the infant enterprise was blessed by John Fetzer (yes, the John Fetzer) with the rental of a rundown old brick building, complete with outside area for a beer garden, right smack dab on Highway 101 in the heart of reawakening 400-peopled downtown Hopland: an aptly-named hometown for a brewery, eh? This blessing was followed by: (1) the ridiculous $600 acquisition of a 50-gallon-batch brew-tower, lovingly fabricated by legendary “New Albion” microbrewer Jack McAuliffe, and (2) the slave-wage services of his talented and dedicated brewing partners: the indomitable Don Barkley and the indefatigable Michael Lovett.
After months of finger-bruising construction, itinerant wildlife artist Randy Johnson’s amazing hand-drawn label logos and t-shirts, and untold gallons of product-sampling, culminating with the installation of the gorgeous white-oak bar crafted by Ukiah rascals Tim Husted and Rick Garren (perhaps the less said of these scoundrels the better) the Hopland Brewery opened its narrow door to a clamoring public on September 10, 1983, pouring its flagship “Red Tail Ale”, “Peregrine Pale Ale”, and “Black Hawk Stout” (the latter consumed almost entirely by local imbiber Fuzzy Austin). The riotous Grand Opening featured the music of Bob “Take No Prisoners” Dalton, Lonnie “Steve-Miller’s-Bassplayer” Turner, hippie troubadours Hansen & Raitt, and whatever other thirsty musicians shoved their way through the door for the raucous Birth Day celebration, back in the summer of ’83.
A parade of media articles (even mega-critic Tommy Wayne Kramer praised Red Tail as “divine”) and a legion of brewing accolades, world-class musicians, and dance-floor romances (a few marriages, even) would follow over the next years. Did I mention winning Ukiah’s “Hometown Parade” grand sweepstakes prize for a live band and “Rock-n-Roll Bottling Crew atop Fuzzy’s 20-foot flatbed? Glorious golden daze…
A decade or two later, with hundreds of well-financed imitator brewpubs popping up all over the nation, MBC fell upon hard times, as the saying goes, and Mendocino County’s All-American homegrown bootstrap enterprise was acquired ironically by the United Brewers of India, which failed to slow its declining years, until after 35 years of continuous fermentation, on or about January 13, 2018 MBC’s intrepid little yeast culture burped its last bubble of carbon dioxide and peed its last drop of barley grain alcohol. Kaput. The end of an era. The end, or perhaps now the beginning, of a legend.
Sic transit gloria mundi.
MBC leaves behind a living spawn of over 6000 craft breweries and brewpubs scattered throughout the United States. Remains are interred in the vault of memory, the annals of brewing history, and the now-silent sands of the keg-toss pit. No funeral services are planned, since in the hearts of yet a dwindling few, the dimming hope of salvation and resurrection flickers still. May the Raptor rise again!
Donations may be made to the Pioneer Craft Brewers Retirement Home, Hopland, California, Mendocino County, USA.
J. Holden, 3/15/18
3810 Lakeshore Blvd
Lakeport, CA 95453