Ken Weaver knows a thing or two about craft beer in the North Bay, as well he should; he wrote the book on it in 2012. Weaver’s The Northern California Craft Beer Guide featured his exhaustive reporting paired with his wife-and-photographer Anneliese Schmidt’s images.
Since writing the definitive who’s who of the region’s breweries and crafters putting beer on the map in wine country, Weaver keeps up with the craft beer scene these days in a new way, producing a webcomic, Massive Potions, each week for over a year, in which Weaver’s fictional post-apocalyptic brewery features a cartoon cat and other denizens who satirize craft beer clichés and poke fun at industry trends, like this summer’s hard seltzer craze.
“I got into beer more as a consumer at least a dozen years ago,” says Weaver, who earned a master’s degree in physics at Cornell University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland. “I had gotten involved in RateBeer.com back in DC, and that gave me the lay of the land. I got involved in the craft beer scene for fun, then I was writing on the side and it all came together.”
Weaver moved out to the North Bay with his wife, who had family in Marin, and the couple settled in Petaluma. In hindsight, Weaver says his Northern California Craft Beer Guide came about randomly after years of beer blogging and a timely conversation with publisher Chris Gruener of Petaluma-based Cameron + Company.
“That was a great opportunity for my wife and I both to settle into the scene,” says Weaver. “As someone new to Northern California, it was a great way to explore and become immersed in what was going on out here.”
In the intervening years, the craft beer scene in Sonoma, Napa and Marin County continued to expand. There is increasing competition to have the latest and greatest available on tap and to go, and long-running craft brewery staples like Lagunitas Brewing Company and HopMonk Tavern are now in company and competing with new breweries, taprooms and locations such as 3 Disciples Brewing, who host their Oktoberfest on Saturday, Sept. 21, in downtown Santa Rosa, and HenHouse Brewing, who’s inaugural Freshtival Beer Festival commences on Oct. 12 in Rohnert Park.
“The thought of re-doing the Beer Guide at this point feels overwhelming,” says Weaver. “There’s breweries everywhere, it’s a much more matured and developed scene; and this was a relatively mature and developed scene seven years ago. It’s gotten even more so.”
Weaver also says that the continued development of the local scene means that breweries are becoming more localized and specialized to their neighborhood. “They’re serving their local geographic area, their footprint is modest and they are working on close relationships that are much more sustainable long-term,” he says. “The growth is stable, but there’s more competition and people are having to settle for smaller niches than they originally expected.”
While another Beer Guide isn’t in the works, Weaver has been plenty busy keeping his eye on the scene and offering his takes via Massive Potions.
“I’d been kicking this concept around for a while,” says Weaver of the webcomic. “I had been trying to find my feet going down the path of writing fiction.”
The concept of and characters in Massive Potions went through several literary forms, from novel to graphic novel to four-panel webcomic once Weaver started drawing the characters on his digital device. “It felt like the right gear for what I was doing,” he says. “Adding the graphic component, a light switch flicked on, it made sense. I could get a feel for this world.”
The two focal figures of Massive Potions, the big-haired Zo and the glasses-wearing cat Whalefeather, are the heart of the brewing operation. They hang out with characters like the brewery’s easy-going and only customer Pete, the bartending cow Dennis and other interlopers like the recently arrived White Claw, who expels the virtues of hard seltzer upon the IPA enthusiasts to little avail.
Though there are blueprints for a book coming in the next year, the best way to read Massive Potions is to find the series online.
“It’s fun making fun of these things, but the nice thing about the comic is that it’s not just one voice,” he says. “Having these characters gives me the opportunity to have different opinions, different angles and concepts; it’s more fun to explore how different people are thinking about this stuff.”