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ZZ Hop Release Pays Tribute to the “Hop Hunter”

Mike Sober is a big man in every way: His sheer size; his astounding facial mane; and his overwhelming reverence of craft beer. Beyond the irony of his last name, perhaps Mike’s most striking feature is his total, bigger-than-life appearance. . .he looks as though he should be on stage with old-school rockers Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and the beardless Frank Beard of ZZ Top.

He is as regular as any regular who has ever warmed a stool at the Auburn Alehouse, especially since he lives in Roseville with his wife of 39 years, Terri, who works at the True Value store on Nevada Street in Auburn. So when Brewmaster Brian Ford thought about creating his first triple IPA, “Honoring Mike by putting his image on the ZZ Hop came to mind immediately, ” he said. “The hoppier the beer the better as far as Mike is concerned, and this beer genuinely reflects his personality and his love of craft beer.”

Mike engineers trusses for a building components prefabrication company in Roseville, and if he is not riding his Italian-made Bianchi bicycle, his time is consumed with all things craft beer: He tore out the grass in his backyard, installed 10-foot poles and grows his own hops, producing just a couple of pounds of Cascade and Centennial varieties. He makes about 50 gallons of home-brewed beer each year, but , “I’d prefer to come to Brian’s place,” he said.

“I first got into beer in the Army when I was in Germany in the 70s,” Mike explained. “That’s when I learned that German beer was really good and American beer was crap. I started trying a lot of craft beers in the early 90s.”

Mike calls himself “The Hop Hunter” and as evidence, he maintains a flurry of Internet resources, including a Facebook page of the same name. Along with friends Mark Zahn and Rick Sellers, Mike created an organization called S.O.B.E.R. (Sierra Organization of Beer Enthusiast Recruiters, and the trio also launched the web site www.pacificbrewnews.com. If that’s not enough, Mike also writes about his beer experiences and random thoughts at www.thehophunter.blogspot.com.

When he travels, as you might imagine, Mike and Terri explore hot beer regions in the west. Last summer the pair traveled to Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Colorado to find new brews. “It was an epic tour,” Mike said. “Colorado was the best. . .we visited 24 breweries and collected 26 growlers.”

Within the next few years the Sobers hope to travel to Belgium, “For three reasons,” Mike explained: “To taste beer, to go bicycling and to learn more about the history of both world wars. . .I’m very interested in that.”

Biking in the foothill is another of Mike’s passions. “My all-time, favorite bike ride is to the Alehouse, about 20 miles from Roseville and a climb of 1,100 feet in elevation,” he said. “It works up a nice thirst, and, of course, I get a ride home.”

Mike first met Brian Ford at Pistol Pete’s in Auburn when Brian was building Beerman’s in Lincoln. “Both our wives have a love of beer and we forged ahead based on that,” he said, adding, “Brian is a fantastic guy and a world class brewer—it has thrilled me to know him.”

While ZZ Hop is being released at the Auburn Alehouse on February 10, there will be a preview release on February 9 at Mike’s favorite Roseville haunt in Old Town. The reason is Mike and Brian will be in the Bay Area to participate in San Francisco Beer Week.

ZZ Hop is the first Auburn Alehouse brew to honor a customer. Besides his likeness on the label, there is another tribute to Mike: the slogan “Drink to be Sober,” a remarkably fitting double entendre.

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