Mike Sober is a memorable man. Folks across California will recognize him and his signature scruffy beard as he enters the bar or brewery in his never-ending quest for the next great hopped-up concoction. On the outside he has the appearance of a gruff individual, but spend two seconds talking with him on any subject and you’ll learn quickly that Mike is a gentle, intelligent man that is fairly passionate about his beer choice of beer. Some have made the mistake to assume he’s a one-trick-pony, that his tastes for beer are solely focused on IPAs and Double IPAs, this is far from true. While he tends to enjoy these brews more than others, it is very common to see him sipping away at a clean pilsner, or an aromatic hefeweizen. The thing Mr. Sober demands above all else when sipping a beer is quality.
It’s been this way for many years. Back when the first craft beer revolution hit the Nor Cal bar scene (in the 1990s) you could find Mike and his lovely bride, Terri, sidled up at the Owl Club in Roseville (which, to my knowledge, was the first ‘craft beer’ bar in the region) sipping whatever good beer was on tap. He also made regular appearances at the local brewery, Beermann’s – which was conveniently located next to Mike’s place of employment. I believe it’s safe to say, if you’ve been a fan of craft beer in the greater Sacramento area, you’ve at least seen the man we love so much (by the way, Mike is a regular contributor to PBN). It was at Beermann’s and the Owl Club that a growing group of beer enthusiasts met Mike and learned to like him more and more with each chance encounter. Today, a tight-nit group of friends still meets regularly, part of a group we fondly call “The SOBER group”. The man in the middle, the connection many of us have (beyond our love of beer) is our relationship with Mike.
How fitting is it then to see a beer made and named after him? That’s exactly what happened when Brian Ford at Auburn Alehouse created a hop monster (triple IPA) and named it ZZ Hop, with the tag line “Drink to be Sober”. The beer is more than a tongue in cheek reference to Mike’s long beard, it’s a ode to a man that has influenced so many in the region – including, I believe, Mr. Brian Ford. You see, beyond his sipping Mike and Terri have regularly opened their home to host area beer geeks as we imbibe on some of the world’s best beer. Together the couple has traveled thousands of miles and collected growlers from just about every state in the western US. He’s been one of the region’s biggest advocates for better beer and has helped many brewers and bar owners with his free and good advice on a number of topics (a little talked about fact about Mike is his acute palate and ability to detect off-flavors in beer, even if he’s not sure what they are exactly). If ever there were a man in our region fitting of a beer named and modeled after him, it would be Mike Sober.
ZZ Hop debuts in February and will have a very limited run – only seven barrels worth (roughly 14 kegs). The official debut will fittingly be held at the Owl Club on February 9th. If you’ve ever seen the man, if you share a passion for Sacramento craft beer, do yourself a favor and find one of these insanely hopped-up beers. It’s pale, aggressively hopped in all ways (bitter, aromatic and flavorful) and will likely leave a mark on your palate.