From the roof of the Eureka Theater, sweeping views clash with a rickety reality. Cracks zigzag through stucco. Failing metal ties are streaked with cobwebs and bird droppings. The decorative whorls that once topped the "E" in "Eureka" lie jagged and rusting, like a giant, broken snail shell.
It's easy to imagine a day, nearly 10 years ago, when someone looked around wildly, fleetingly, and thought: "With enough beer, we could fix this."
Welcome to Strangebrew.
The oddest beer fest in Humboldt has perhaps the most endearing mssion: Turn the Eureka Theater, sip by sip, into the house that beer rebuilt.
Strangebrew, coming up this Saturday, Nov. 12, has been the biggest fundraiser for years for the Eureka Concert and Film Center, the nonprofit that owns and is restoring the theater. The event brings in around $12,000 annually after expenses — not huge money but enough to recreate an art deco flourish here, a streamline moderne touch there. This year, the funds will probably go toward engineering fees to prepare for refurbishing the theater's iconic sign and the blocky stucco "monument" surrounding it.
You don't have to love the 77-year-old Eureka Theater to enjoy Strangebrew, but it helps.
In the small space between the front row seats and the big screen, seven breweries and one cider maker pour their strangest creations. Past years have seen slushy machines, infusing contraptions, beer cocktails, barrel-aged beers and beer ingredients that range from wonderfully weird to just plain weird. It's a night-long lesson in subjectivity. The moment you sip something truly distressing, you run into a friend drinking the same thing who shouts "Wow, this one's amazing!"
Your friends will be shouting. The cozy cluster of brewers down in front lures everyone into a tight, beery clump. This year, organizers will try to spread things out a bit with home brewers closer to the lobby and an outdoor beer-friendly space where people can get barbecue from Southside Mike's BBQ truck. Still, even though attendance is capped at 400, at times it's going to feel like 398 of them are jostling past or yelling over you.
Roll with that. It's Strangebrew. And we have Sonny Simonian's love of old, bad beer movies to thank for it.
Simonian joined the Eureka Concert and Film Center board nearly 10 years ago, when — like every nonprofit board, ever — it was trying to plan a fundraiser.
Since Simonian was a cellarer and occasional brewer for Mad River Brewing Co., and before that had brewed for Lost Coast Brewing, beer movies bubbled up quickly in the conversation.
There was Beerfest, about a secret society of competitive beer drinkers. And Strangebrew, about two brothers, a brewery, a mind-altering beer and a plan to take over the world. "It was campy when it came out, and now it's way beyond that," Simonian says.
Borrowing elements of both films, the board decided that a weird beer competition could be just the thing.
"Our thought was, we'll do a fundraiser and ask any of the local brewers if they'd be willing to make one or two odd things that they wouldn't normally serve in their tap room. Everyone was all for it. They loved the idea. It kind of poses a friendly competition."
The original format, with its full-length feature film, didn't last long, though. Give folks high-octane, peculiar beers, sit them down, dim the lights and show something like Strangebrew or Beerfest, and, well ... the party snoozes.
"I think just about everyone in the theater passed out," Simonian recalls.
Now old beer commercials might play in the background, so the big screen doesn't go completely to waste, but that's about it. The focus stays on beer, brewers and creativity. There's a trophy of sorts — an enormous, boot-shaped beer glass — and a chance to ask local brewers about what they've concocted.
Tickets for Strangebrew are $30 in advance (check with your favorite beer, cider or ticket venue) or $35 at the door, if any are left by the time the strangeness begins at 5:30 p.m.
And if you aren't a fan of bacon beer, you can always do this for the theater.
A Date with Beer
Thursday, Nov. 10 – The new Aussie- Humboldt collaboration brew dreamed up by Eel River Brewing and Australia's Akasha Brewing should be on tap now through the weekend at The Local Beer Bar in Eureka. Called Ruby Rhod Fall IPA, it's super hoppy and tests your Fifth Element trivia knowledge.
Tuesday, Nov. 15 – Sure, you could just listen to feral jazz from Dogbone or nosh on a hot dog special during Mad River Brewing Company's Dog Day Afternoon. But adorable, adoptable real live dogs will be right there in Blue Lake, gazing up at you with their big doggie eyes ...
Thursday, Nov. 17 – Pucker up for a sour tap takeover by Alvinne Brewery at Dead Reckoning Tavern in Arcata. Both fruited and non-fruited sours from the Belgian brewery will likely stay on tap for a couple of weeks.
Saturday, Nov. 19 – If you're feeling restless, take a jaunt up to Crescent City to see what Port O'Pints Brewery has been up to during its start-up year. This new brewery to our north is throwing its first birthday party, starting around 3 p.m., with a couple of bands, a dozen beers on tap, including its recent release Irish red ale, and smoked savories from Engine 101 Smokehouse.
Monday, Nov. 21 – Prepare for the rich food in your future with a dessert and beer pairing at The Local Beer Bar in Eureka. Pastry chef Chrissy Gierek will create five desserts to be paired with beers from around the world. 4 to 10 p.m., $25.
Nov. 23 (tentative) – Right around Thanksgiving, Six Rivers Brewery expects to bring out its Jacob Marley's Winter Porter, a robust brew seasoned for the season with mulling spices.
Thursday, Dec. 1 – Microbrews from Michigan are coming to Arcata's Dead Reckoning Tavern, with a six- to 10-tap takeover showcasing the range of styles brewed in the Midwest by Founders Brewing Company of Grand Rapids.
Thursday, Dec. 1 – See what Humboldt Homebrewers are cooking up, or bring your own homebrew and homebrew questions to the regular meeting of local home brewers club, 7 to 9 p.m. at Humboldt Beer Works in Eureka.
Sunday, Dec. 4 – Eel River Brewing celebrates its 21st birthday with a daylong party, featuring contests, food specials and its hard-to-find 21st anniversary beer.
And an early Heads Up for 2017: Mad River Brewing Co. plans to close from 5 p.m. on Dec. 31 through most of the first week in January. It will be installing more taps to feature specialty small batch brews, guest brews and locally made cider. It should reopen in time for a special barleywine event on Saturday, Jan. 7.
Carrie Peyton Dahlberg is sure that no beer could possibly be stranger than this election year, so she'll be toasting the end of it all at Strangebrew. Send her your beer news at firstname.lastname@example.org.