Dirty dialect in a small town: A trip to the Boonville Beer Fest

Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing serves up stout at the Boonville Beer Fest.

I thought that the booming voice yelling across the backyard of Anderson Valley Brewing Company, hosts of the vaunted Boonville Beer Festival, would be bearing tidings of “shut the hell up and go to sleep.” After all, it was 1am and many of the pros camping in the shady glen designated for brewers had a long day of pouring stouts and ambers in the hot sun ahead at the May 4 festival. 

But I had misjudged the staying power of bearded and hop-obsessed hippiefolk.

“I want to hear some partying!” concluded the voice. We beckoned the rambling brewer who’d dropped by our camp to pour another finger of barleywine, double-checked our Ibuprofen cache, and kept one blurry eye on the 24-year old apple farmer talking about oral sex in Boontling, Boonville’s appealingly vulgar indigenous dialect, by the campfire. I heard later accounts of brewers staying up all night communing with toads in the creek that lined the back edge of the Anderson Valley Brewery’s makeshift campgrounds. 

Boonville is no refined urban pourfest. “This is the beer festival you have to go to,” confirmed a crew member of Concord’s Black Diamond Brewing. If you enjoy sweeping mountain landscapes, 90 degree heat, and beer from across the state, you will agree. Boontville is epic, one-day setting for the 60-some breweries on tap each year.


Tips gathered around the campfire the night before the one-day festival: drink slowly, don’t drop your tasting cup, don’t get stuck in the fairground’s horse corral, keep an eye out for the actual indoors bathrooms for a break from the Port-a-Pots. 

I’ll admit I fell back on the stalwart Hell or High Watermelon Wheat ale from the home team 21st Amendment Brewery. I am not an ironclad beer drinker and by my way of thinking, the 90 degree heat that ruled May 11 in Anderson Valley was not ideal for coffee stouts no matter how delicious. Pro drinkers avoided joining in on the standard beer fest hollering that hails a dropped tasting cup, and focused their energies on finding the off-menu small-batch specialties being poured, like Black Diamond’s brandy barrel-aged Grand Cru. 

SF's thriving microbrew scene was well-represented by Speakeasy, Magnolia, Pacific Brewing Lab. The city kids were joined by scores of breweries from across the state -- Sacramento's Rubicon, San Diego's Societe, and the coastal Pizza Port were a few of the exciting new brews we tried. 

Beer's great and all, but Boonville's small-town trappings made a bright day of beer-drinking a cultural event.

The Anderson Valley Lion’s Club was selling BBQ tri-tip sandwitches for $10 ($12 with veggies.) I’m not big on the mammal-eating, so my boozy friend suggested I ask them for a grilled cheese. Larry Lombard, a Lion of 25 years and self-described “wingnut over in Boonville -- that makes me a flyboy,” told me I was SOL on veg-friendly eats at the Lion's tent. No big deal -- proceeds from the festival go to fund the Club’s two college scholarships, given out yearly to local high school students, and judging from the tent's traffic, they were going to make some academic dreams come true this year.

“This year it looks like it’s going to be good,” Lombard said. “We try just as hard on the bad years as the good years, though.”

Tucked away in the shade, the well-coiffed ladies of Anderson Valley Historical Society were working hard selling water bottles and Boontling dictionaries for donations and fending off the advances of dehydrated gentlemen. 

Boontling in action

“A lot of the stuff has sexual connotations.” (Forgive me, gray-haired angel, for not writing down your name! Blame the Watermelon Wheat.) The ladies and I were discussing Boontling, whose origins are debated. Was it created by the local fishermen, as written in the dimunitive Boontling dictionary I took home, or as the apple farmer told us and I prefer to believe, invented as a code used by the local wenches to throw shade at the city wife some poor Boont man brought home with him? 

At any rate, the verbal language was first officially studied by a California State University-Chico professor named Charles Adams. The dialect is largely referential, meaning most words originate from local landmarks. Maybe your cousin Sandy is a little slutty (this being the example used by the apple farmer) -- you’ll sub in the word “Sandy” for “floozy.” The adding on of new words to see if your conversation partner will catch it is referred to as “sharking,” making Boontling a dynamic language. 

Maybe. “I think it’s gonna die,” said the Historical Society expert. “However, there seems to be interest in it now.” Mainly from the media, she said. She directed me to town's two premier Boontling linguists for more info. She had one the guys' digits memorized. 

Here are some of my fave words from the Boontling mini-dictionary I copped, entitled A Wee Deek on Boont Harpin’s (A Little Look at Boont Talking). I advise memorizing them and trying not to irritate the locals using them when you make the trip up north for next spring’s fest: 

Apple head: girl friend

Burlapper: (not actually in dictionary, but the ladies of the Historical Society urged me to write it down, “burlapper” being some sort of four-letter word serving as both noun and verb)

Jeekus: donkey or mule

Jimheady: confused; unclear mentally; suffering from a bad hangover

Tidrik: a party

Wilk: a wild cat

Pickem up billies: dirty men’s socks (!?)

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