The booze belt

Alcohol businesses boom on Chico’s south side; plus, sustainable sushi downtown

Chico is starting to amass a nice little collection of alcoholic beverage companies on the south side of town—around South Park Avenue and Meyers Street. I’m sure somebody can help come up with a catchier name than “the booze belt,” but that’s what came to mind first and it seemed alliterative enough, so there you go.

I learned of this new hooch hotspot from Ben Nielsen, proprietor of Lassen Traditional Cidery, whose home base is off of Bellarmine Court, just west of where South Park meets Meyers. It appears I forgot to mention the locally made cider company in my reminiscences of businesses that opened in 2016 (oops!), and Nielsen kindly reminded me. He also offered to sit down and talk cider with him while sipping his handmade concoctions. Why not?

Nielsen’s ciders are not what you might be used to if you’re an Angry Orchard drinker. In fact, I’m not a big sweet-and-sour fan, so it had been some time since I’d partaken of any cider at all (with the exception of one Christmas pint offered by friends of mine, Chico Homebrew Club mainstays Mike and Joan Daniels—that was a delicious home brew!).

Noting my newbie status, Nielsen talked me through as we tasted three varieties sold in stores: Apple-a-Day, Farmhouse Dry Cider and Newtown Pippin. All were good, and each was unique. The first uses a mix of heirloom and regular apples; the second, a mix of heirloom varieties, mostly King Davids; and the third is exclusively Newtown Pippins (hence the name). Predictably, the latter had the crispest flavor, while the other two were more complex. My fave: the Farmhouse Dry. De-lish.

Nielsen uses all apples from the North State, and unlike many mass-producers, he actually starts with the apple, versus with apple juice. That means his business is seasonal, and because he uses all wild fermentation (no sulfites in these ciders!), each batch will be unique. Nielsen’s plans for 2017 include opening a tasting room, hopefully this spring, so stay tuned! Find him on Facebook or go to for updates. (You can also find his concoctions at several local grocers and liquor stores, as well as on tap at Burgers & Brew, Handle Bar and Winchester Goose.)

Rounding out the spirit sector are HoneyRun Winery (2309 Park Ave.); the newly opened Hooker Oak Distillery (2420 Park Ave.); Eckert Malting & Brewing, which makes its gluten-free rice wines on Meyers; and Secret Trail Brewing Co., which recently signed a lease on that same street with eyes on a taproom opening over the summer. Sounds like a tasting day will soon be in order!

Making a move I was walking downtown the other day and noticed a new sign outside what used to be Monks Wine Lounge & Bistro (128 W. Second St.). It’s a notice regarding a pending alcohol license for Aonami Sustainable Sushi, which currently resides in the Safeway strip mall on Nord Avenue. I admire chef/owner Jimmy Lee’s commitment to using only sustainable seafood, and that seems in line with downtown sensibilities. Can’t wait! (But sushi two blocks from my office? This could be trouble.)