For those unfamiliar with Northern California, the Skunk Train is an historic train that travels between Willits and Fort Bragg. Once a year, Lagunitas rents out the train for one of the coolest beer festivals I have ever been on. There’s the option of camping at the KOA in Willits over the weekend or catching the train in Willits at the depot Saturday morning. Being our first year, the wife and I thought the overnight party might be a bit much, so we headed out of Santa Rosa early in the morning and set off for Willits.
Upon arriving at the train depot in Willits we watched as beer and BBQ supplies were loaded into a small car in front of the Skunk Train. This train left first to stock what I will refer to as “Skunktown.” The rest of us waited for the actual Skunk Train to push off a little after 11.
Once aboard, the Skunk Train was fully stocked for a party. At the front of the first pair of passenger cars were two kegs, the new Lil Sumpin’ Extra and Pale Ale. Two cars back was the flatbed which was setup for standing passengers and the majority of the on-board partying. At the front of the flatbed was a jockey box pouring Lucky 13 and Lagunitas Pils. On the opposite side were a group of musicians that would play during the train ride to and from Skunktown. Behind this were two more passenger cars. To be honest, I had 4 taps pouring around where Jen and I chose our seats, and I didn’t see the need to investigate further. The rumor was that there was a bar at the very end of the train. My guess is that there were two more kegs on tap back there.
The ride started off quiet enough with only a handful of people choosing to board at the Willits depot. Once the crowd was picked up at the KOA, the party really got started. The flatbed quickly filled and the musicians turned it up. For those who wanted a more peaceful ride through the redwoods, the passenger cars were a nice retreat. In all the ride to Skunktown took a little more than an hour.
Once we arrived at Skunktown, I was surprised at what was waiting. A full BBQ buffet was laid out with pulled pork, BBQ chicken and various sides. FIf you were thirsty, Russian River, Moonlight, Marin Brewing, Moylan’s and Ace Ciders joined Lagunitas in pouring cold refreshments. My favorites of the day were Temptation from Moonlight and the Dirty Blonde from Marin Brewing. Jen also liked the Temptation and found the Joker Cider to hit the spot.
What seemed like a full day was in fact a short couple of hours. Before we knew it, the supply train was loaded with passengers and headed back to town. We then loaded up the Skunk Train and got ready for our trip back to civilization. I noticed many people wandering by with a special Skunk Train Ale. While I missed getting a picture, the beer was a sessionable amber, but the small taste I got didn’t allow for much more description than that.
The ride back was a perfect end to a long afternoon. The passenger cars turned into sleeper cars as each row of seats seemed to be occupied by a napping attendee. Meanwhile, on the flatbed, the party only got more wild as people warmed up for an evening on the campground.
As the crowd left the train for KOA, I was impressed by the atmosphere. This was an event featuring full pours, no tokens, and for the majority of those in attendance, no need to drive home. You might expect to see drunken chaos, but for the most part, the crowd looked like it had a long day, but not much else.
Thanks to Lagunitas and all involved in providing a fun afternoon. I will definitely be making an annual return to Willits.