Photos © Brian Stechschulte
Drive four hours north of San Francisco on the Redwood Highway and you’ll arrive in Humboldt County. It’s a beautiful region of California full of old growth trees, weed gardens and hippies that make Berkeley look like Orange County. Look a little harder and you’ll find a few of the most underrated breweries in the state.
One of those is Eel River Brewing in Fortuna, CA, the first certified organic brewery in the United States. They put a big emphasis on sustainability in addition to making great beer. Spent grain feeds brewery owned cattle, which gets served as organic beef in their tap room, and their production facility in Scotia runs on 100% bio-mass renewable energy. So imagine my surprise when I meet co-owner Ted Vivatson, a 6’4” dude dressed in camouflage pants that looks like he’s about to go wrestle bears, instead of a earth hugging hippie in tie dye.
In my experience I’ve never met anyone like Ted in the brewing world. He doesn’t mince words or dance around a topic. I wish I had recorded our entire conversation. He could fill a book with awesome craft beer industry quotes, so I’m putting it lightly when I say my tour was exciting and eye opening.
Why organic? You might think Ted has a bleeding heart or believes in the greater good, but he said “I brew organic because it just makes sense.” He sees a world loaded with antibiotics, pesticides and pollution and that makes you wonder, “Why hurt your body with all that crap?” It’s a sentiment that drove him to raise his own cattle. I’ve heard this reasoning a hundred times in the Bay Area, but for some reason when it’s coming from a guy that looks like GI Joe, you tend to see it in a different light.
After our conversation we took a spin around the original brewery and the taproom in Fortuna, which feels a bit like a hunting lodge. Historic photos and artifacts from bygone logging days adorn the walls and ceiling. Outside their beer garden is the size of two basketball courts. It’s filled with picnic tables, horseshoe tossing pits and old cement slabs that one supported the logging facility that used to be there.
During my visit on Sunday morning the place was packed. Nearby hotels bring in new customers and the RV park down the street provides a steady stream of customers even on slow days. In addition to the beer, a full menu makes it a popular place. I tried the burger and it was delicious (probably because it was made from hippie grass-fed meat).
I didn’t get a chance to check out the production facility in Scotia (located inside an old redwood mill), which was a bummer, but time was dear and maybe that will be something I can check out next time? If you’re ever headed though the Eureka area of Humboldt, stop by Eel River Brewing for some great organic beer and food. Heck, they’re flanked by two hotels, so if need be, you could safely crawl back to your room.