A shared obsession
Chico Beer Enthusiasts: a community of serious beer geeks
The details of how I ended up in fantasy beerland don’t matter. I received a text, and before I knew it I was at a semi-secret location at a nice home in the suburbs of north Chico with a very happy group of revelers. They were members of the Chico Beer Enthusiasts Facebook group, and they were gathered around a glowing treasure chest of amazing, exotic-looking beers, many not available around these parts.
There was the Cherry Raz Bu, a Berliner weisse-style ale from de Garde Brewing (Tillamook, Ore.); the Freakcake Barrel-Aged Oud Bruin, a Flanders-style old brown ale from Crux Fermentation Project (Bend, Ore.); and a big bottle of gueuze from Cantillon—a small, well-regarded, family-run Belgian brewery—for which one group member had shelled out nearly $100. Those and another 70-plus unique beers!
I was definitely not in Kansas anymore.
The CBE group was founded at the beginning of summer by Spike’s Bottle Shop owner Kevin Jaradah and fellow beer geeks Chris Gomez, Mike Olmos and Keith Mitten (host of that fateful night’s bottle share) as a way for like-minded beer fans to be able to connect with one another. As Jaradah put it, there were two goals: “Share knowledge. Build friendships.”
The private group (anyone who agrees to be nice and to post often is welcome) functions as a local beer-geek bulletin board, with group members sharing beer news, sightings of special-release beers on local shelves, and even postings by local beer bars about special releases and special events—delivering information directly to their most devoted customers. But mostly it’s a whole lot of beer sharing/reviewing, with members artfully presenting “now drinking” photos of their discoveries and offering analysis of every new beer.
Though it’s been up for less than four months, the group—now with nearly 500 members—has been more successful than the founders would’ve guessed, as the concentration of group knowledge has raised everyone’s awareness of what’s out there.
“Now the quality has changed significantly,” said Mitten about how the range of beers being discussed on the forum has expanded greatly, to which Gomez added: “Now it’s really crazy.”
I got a taste of how crazy their version of craft-beer fanaticism has gotten during our interview, which turned into a mini bottle share between Jaradah, Gomez, Mitten and his wife, Andrea, in the couple’s kitchen. The first offering from Mitten was Sip of Sunshine IPA from Vermont’s Lawson’s Finest Liquids, which he said was “very difficult to get” out West. When I got home and looked up the beer, I quickly discovered just how difficult. The beer is distributed only in the brewery’s home state of Vermont, it sells out almost immediately after being stocked, and it’s one of the most highly regarded and sought-after beers on Earth. Which explains why the guys were so delighted and why it was one of the most delicious things to ever hit my taste buds.
Of course, the Enthusiasts aren’t the only beer geeks in town. In fact, there’s an actual Chico Beer Geeks group on Facebook as well, which has been around longer and has about 300 more members (many of whom are in both groups) but isn’t nearly as active as the CBE page.
And there is an especially committed CBE faction—about 100 or so, Jaradah guesses—that are very serious (they are the same ones who meet up for epic bottle shares). They plan their vacations around beer destinations. They wait in line for special beers. They trade for hard-to-get bottles online at sites like thebeerexchange.io or the trading forums at beeradvocate.com (Mitten received his bottle of Sunshine as part of a box of goodies in a trade with a fellow enthusiast in Chicago). And if they take a road trip to, say, Russian River Brewery in Santa Rosa (which many CBE members do on a regular basis), they’ll post on the board and take orders, bringing goodies back to Chico. And every experience is posted.
Even though many of the board members have accumulated impressive stashes of sought-after beers (Gomez estimates he has about 150 bottles cellared), the intention isn’t to horde, but rather to share. All three agreed that, if they get their hands on something special that their beer buddies haven’t tried, they’ll hold off on drinking it until they’re all together. The shared experience comes first.
“If I’m getting rare bottles, I want to share them with someone,” said Gomez. “I’d feel bad if I opened [it] up and there’s no one to share it with.”