Tuesday afternoon in Kelseyville. Mike Guarniero and Danny Prather perch on barstools next to the front window, half-full beer glasses on the floor next to them. Danny’s taken the lead on a Neil Young tune he’s finishing, and odds are they’ll switch it around on the next song. Between the two of them, they could play all day and never repeat a tune. Danny gives a hearty strum on his guitar as the song ends, then grins as he leans over and takes a sip of his beer. Caroline Chavez, co-owner of Kelsey Creek, sees his glass empty and quickly brings over two full ones. “Now everybody,” she says, walking the smooth walk of a skilled bartender, “You all need to pitch in. I’m the only one buying them beer right now.” Mike and Danny happily grab their full brewskis, sip off the foam, and start a new song.
You probably know Mike and Danny. They’ve been everywhere in the county and are some of the most connected musicians around. Mike’s the author of the Lake County Music Guide, while Danny’s lived in Lake County all his life and played music everywhere, including opening for bands like the Allman Brothers. So what’s gotten them so low that they’re stuck playing for beer? Nah, it isn’t like that. Pre-covid, Mike had the idea of bringing back the concept of busking, or playing for donations. It’s been a staple of musicians for thousands of years, and he figured, why not for beer? But that was in 2019, and then 2020 came. But Kelsey Creek brought it back, and it’s a blast.
Kelsey Creek Brewing Company has plenty going on—they’ve got live music, trivia night, and incredible beers. And this past year Jason Chavez, co-owner and brewer, took up making hard seltzers. I caught up with him one morning before he opened and chatted with him about what he has on tap. “I wasn’t sold on seltzers when they came out,” he says as he pours a taste, a hops tattoo winding down his arm. “It was all White Claw. Then I saw the Clarity seltzer, by Eel River, and thought maybe I would give it a try.”
The big breweries aren’t really brewing hard seltzers. Instead, they take neutral grain alcohol, water it down, and add flavorings. Jason decided to do it differently. “I learned a lot,” he continues. “The key is the water. It has to be reverse osmosis or distilled. I got in touch with Scott at Cobb Water, and he delivers it to me. Then I use distiller’s yeast, which is neutral flavored, and real fruit purees.” The result: high-quality, great-tasting seltzers. Depending on what he’s brewed, you’ll find one on tap, from blueberry to pineapple jalapeño.
And Jason’s always experimenting. Each time you head in, you’ll find a new beer available. He just ran out of the Funk What It Is, an apricot beer aged in Viognier barrels. And he’s thinking about moving into hard teas. “I’m just going to go to the grocery store and buy every hard tea there,” he says, describing his plan. “And I’ll try each one and see what I like.”
But it’s still Tuesday afternoon, and Mike and Danny have finished another tune. A customer walks from the bar and puts some money in the tip jar. Mike smiles, then tells everyone, “We play a bit, and take a sip. Play a bit and take a sip.” Danny gives a big laugh. They’re casual, relaxed, and comfortable playing with each other. Caroline leans over the bar, checking the level of their beers, and seeing they’re okay, helps another customer. They’ve still got an hour or so more to play, and the beer’s still pouring.
Busking for Brewskis is every Tuesday from 3-6 at Kelsey Creek Brewing Company
Kelsey Creek Brewing
3945 Main St, Kelseyville, CA 95451
Hours: Monday Through Thursday, 2-8 pm, Friday and Saturday 12-8 pm, Sunday 12-6 pm