"You're making this hard for me," says a regular who's sidled up to the standing-only bar that divides the small tasting room from the tap house at the Humboldt Regeneration Brewery. He came to get a growler filled, but with 28 unique beers on tap, and a small littering of empty tasters in front of him, this customer is experiencing some decision anxiety.
Humboldt Regeneration Brewery and Farms lives up to its name. Owner Jacob Pressey claims to be the first commercial brewer in the county to roast his own malt (the process of germinating then drying grains) since Prohibition. He grows those grains, too, on a small plot of agricultural land down the street from his McKinleyville brewery and tasting room.
Pressey is gregarious, eager to talk about his experiments, experience and the thinking behind each of his unique brews. Formerly the brewmaster for Eel River Brewing Co., a North Coast icon in its own right, Pressey has been in the fermenting game for two decades plus.
His long-term goal is to mimic an estate winery — to buy a plot of farmland with enough space to grow all the grains, hops and other ingredients for his brewing needs and to have the tap house right there on the grounds, putting people right in the center of the farm-to-pint-glass experience. While he uses all the grains he grows, these days he has to supplement them with purchased grains to match the volume of beer he brews.
Humboldt Regeneration could be gently described as a nanobrewery, but the cramped brewery/tap room — decked out with boilers, a malt kiln, oak barrels and kegs and other accoutrements that spill into the parking lot — charms because it's clearly where the wizardry happens. There are a handful of tables and chairs, a standing bar and all of the kitsch and beer-stained memorabilia that would adorn any good taproom.
Variety is the name of the game at Regeneration. Rather than falling back on the hop-forward Northern California IPA trope, Pressey crafts a range of beers, from malt brews to fruit-based beers.
On any given day expect to find porters, gruts, stouts, ales, geuzes and several sour styles on tap.
The grut on this particular day is made from local mushrooms and honey — a strange combination on paper, but a delightfully subtle none-too-sweet sipping beer.
Regeneration beers have an earthy undertone — in a good way. Pressey is always exploring and trying anything from his and his friends' farms that might make a lick of sense in a beer. For example, there's a malty porter that runs through roasted apple branches, giving a slightly sweet, smoky vibe. And yes, those apple branches came from Pressey's trees. He culled them while doing some extensive pruning to build a fence around his orchard so his chickens could hang out under the trees.
Pressey offers a growler share program for those of us lucky enough to live around here. Like a farm share, you pay in advance and fill a growler each week, depending on your plan.
But travelers can fill growlers, too, and Regeneration offers pressurized growler fills that stay fresh a month or longer for the hardcore beer tourists who needs some imbibable souvenirs to bring home. (Go ahead and leave that spare tire behind if you need more room for growlers.)
Regeneration is tucked off of the beaten path in McKinleyville, at 2320 Central Ave., in a mini storage complex behind an auto garage. Look for the sandwich board announcing beer as you approach, and follow the driveway all the way to the back to Unit F. On Friday and Saturday nights, the space will feel cramped — it gets pretty busy with beer lovers — but weekday evenings are more mellow. And if you're looking to see parts of the brewing in action, try coming on Fridays or Saturdays as soon as Pressey opens. He'll often be found malting his grains or brewing a new batch.
2320 Central Ave., McKinleyville
Open Wednesday to Sunday
11:00 am-7:00 pm
Closed Monday - Tuesday