A Grunion Story

A few weeks ago I was at a suburban Philadelphia branch of the Weis supermarket chain. Nice store. Big, well-lit and damn fine when it comes to offering a sweet selection of beers. Beer shopping usually is my main reason for entering Weis’s doors. I’ve dropped a lot of dough there in that pursuit.

What I buy, being a beer snob, are brews other than Budweiser and Miller and their milquetoast cousins. Over the last 25 years I’ve developed a love affair with more flavorful brews: the bright and piquant in taste; the murky and dense; and the bitter as hell, to cite a few. And Weis is a mecca for such goods.

So there I was, eyeing Weis’s beer shelves with deep interest. I’m always on the hunt for beers I haven’t had before, and I came upon one that day. It was an example of a pale ale, which is a common species of bitter beer that breweries like to tweak and play around with. Its maker was Ballast Point Brewing Co., a San Diego-based enterprise I was slightly familiar with, and the name on the label was Grunion Pale Ale. Grunion? The word rang zero of my bells. What’s more, the label pictured two fish writhing on the sands. What the f*ck was that all about? I hadn’t a clue. I bought a bottle of it, natch, along with a bunch of other brews, and went on my merry way.

Not many days after that I brought the unopened, fish-labelled bottle with me when my wife Sandy and I joined two of our top friends, Liz and Rich, at a Thai restaurant in the Philadelphia burbs. The place is a BYOB. Rich asked me what beer I’d arrived with. I showed him the bottle.

“Ah yes, grunion,” he said. “They are tiny fish that crawl out of the ocean to mate on beaches in southern California. They are quite amazing.”

I stared at him in disbelief. “Are you kidding me?” I finally asked. “You actually know what grunion are? And you know about their sex lives? How is this possible? I doubt if you’ve ever been fishing in your life.”

“What can I say?” Rich coyly intoned. “Some of us are blessed with the gift of extensive knowledge.” Those weren’t his exact words, but they are close enough.

I looked at Sandy and at Liz. I asked them if they’d ever heard of grunion before. The answer was no. I then proceeded to begin drinking the beer. It was delicious. Bitter, slightly citrusy from the hops used in its creation, and not the slightest bit fish-flavored(and that’s because grunion are not used in the brewing process. They only are on the label!).

Twenty-four hours later Sandy and I were at dinner in downtown Philadelphia with two more of our top pals, Cindy and Gene. The conversation, profane and giddy, went all over the map. After a while I started recapping the previous evening’s beer story.

“Can you believe it?” I said to Cindy and Gene. “Rich actually heard of grunion. Have either of you?”

“Not me,” said Cindy. However, Gene, a polite and non-bragging sort, had this to say: “Oh, I know about grunion. They are tiny fish that crawl out of the ocean to mate on beaches in southern California.” Those weren’t his exact words, but they are close enough.

I stared at Gene in disbelief. “Man, you’re a city boy,” I said. “Why do you know about grunion? Seems to me that they’re as obscure as can be.”

“Well, when I was younger I used to read a lot about animals,” he said.

I guess he did!

I firmly believe that in the greater Philadelphia region, whose human population exceeds the 6,000,000 mark, you’d have to search far and wide to find people who could tell you what grunion are. Yet, on successive evenings I’d broken bread with two of them. Talk about infinitesimal odds. If only, after all these years of knowing Rich and Gene, dashes of their brain power had made their way over to me.

Anyway, since those two grunion-centric meals I’ve done a bit of research into grunion. Not much, because I’m not the scholarly type, but enough to get a feel for the subject. Grunion, it seems, come in two similar but somehow different varieties. Type One lives in the ocean waters off of southern California. Type Two inhabits the Gulf Of California in the Mexican region known as Baja California. And indeed both types do crawl out of the water to mate. They do this at night during certain months of the year. You can read about grunion by clicking here.

And you can witness grunion doing their slithery, entwining beach thing by clicking below. Thanks to this YouTube video we might learn some new sex positions from the grunion spectacle. Hey you!!! You’re blocking my view!!! Sit down!!!

Alas, it’s time for me to wrap up these proceedings. Before doing so, though, I’ll add that Ballast Point Brewing Co. was founded by a bunch of cool guys. They like to fish almost as much as they like churning out beers, which is why they name most of their products after fish and other occupants of the seas, and picture said creatures on many of their labels. I’m on the lookout for Ballast Point’s beers now that I’ve sampled Grunion Pale Ale. Supporting those who not only are talented but lean toward the offbeat side is a good idea, don’t you think?

(Don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this story. Thanks.)

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82 thoughts on “A Grunion Story

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 28, 2017 / 9:00 am

      HI Gerard. I doubt if Ballast Point distributes to your part of the globe. But if they do, give Grunion Pale Ale a try.

      Like

  1. cindy knoke September 28, 2017 / 1:36 am

    Yeah, and they only come on the beach at night on certain tides and moon phases. When I was a kid, my parents would take us with flashlights to gather the fish, waiting till the mating was complete. Then they brought them home ostensively to eat. These are the most boney inedible fish you have ever tasted. I still remember them wrapping their bodies around each other on the sand by moonlight and wondering why we couldn’t just leave them alone.
    My husband bought the beer too, and asked me.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 28, 2017 / 9:02 am

      Cindy, I should have hired you as a consultant for this story!

      Have a good day. Thanks for adding your thoughts.

      Like

  2. The Artist's Child September 28, 2017 / 4:20 am

    Fascinating video. I knew grunion were fish but I had not seen their mating acrobatics. Their silvery colour makes for a beautiful spectacle. Fish names for beer. What a great idea. It would be hard to forget that name. Glad you enjoyed the brew.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Alyson September 28, 2017 / 5:35 am

    Ooh, I do like a factoid from the world of nature and hadn’t heard of grunion before either – Nothing surprises me when it comes to the world of mating in the aquatic world however.

    As for the beers, just so many nowadays with very interesting names (that can’t be quoted here as just too rude!) from small independent breweries. I particularly like when they use the word “hop” as a play on words – eg. Audrey Hopburn, Belgian IPA.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Dippy-Dotty Girl September 28, 2017 / 10:52 am

    Ah ale made from slithering fish! What an odd odd thing 🙂 I am an ale enthusiast and I don’t know if I want fish in mine but sure sounds interesting as an experience. That sight of the heads of the fish sticking out from the beach reminded me of this pie that they bake in Cornwall, UK, called Stargazy Pie, in which the heads of the fish stick out just so from the pie. Just a random observation 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 28, 2017 / 12:53 pm

      Hi. Later today I’ll edit my story, because I didn’t make it clear that the fish aren’t part of the brewing process. The brewers put grunion on the label only because they are fishing enthusiasts.
      Thanks a lot for stopping by. Appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. tanjabrittonwriter September 28, 2017 / 2:18 pm

    I didn’t know about grunion, either, and don’t care for beer (my husband claims I wasn’t really born in Germany), but I like innovative labels and names. And my husband would love to enjoy some of Philadelphia’s craft beers.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 28, 2017 / 3:19 pm

      Hi Tanja.
      These are great times for beer lovers. There are an amazing number of real good breweries in many parts of the globe.

      Liked by 1 person

      • tanjabrittonwriter September 28, 2017 / 3:22 pm

        We actually have a number of craft breweries in Colorado, much to Coors’ chagrin, no doubt. And my husband has brewed his own in the past.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. sniderjerry September 28, 2017 / 10:46 pm

    Hi Neil, I’m not a beer drinker but I enjoy some beer drinking songs – google Cal Smith The Lord knows I’m Drinking, Jim Ed Brown Pop A Top and Webb Pierce There Stands the Glass – And the big question – can beer make you smarter? I don’t know but it made Bud Wiser. Rim Shot! Have a great day!

    Jerry

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 29, 2017 / 7:23 am

      Hello Greg. Thanks for stopping by. Drinking a Grunion Pale Ale while watching grunion do their thing sounds like a good idea too.

      Like

  7. Cindy September 29, 2017 / 12:59 am

    That grunion video gave me the creeps! But Gene and I do always enjoy your talented and offbeat writing (as well as our giddy and profane conversations with you and Sandy).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 29, 2017 / 7:26 am

      Morning, Cindy.
      Sandy and I are looking forward to our next get-together with you and Gene.

      Like

  8. cincinnatibabyhead September 29, 2017 / 12:16 pm

    Probably your best take since I’ve been following. Is it true that like the tequila in Mexico with the worm in the bottle that you can get a Grunion in your bottle. CB would go for that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 29, 2017 / 1:28 pm

      I think you’re onto something. Ballast Point could put a grunion inside each bottle of Grunion Pale Ale. That definitely would shake up the brewery’s fan base. (But maybe not in a good way!)

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Joyce September 29, 2017 / 10:30 pm

    I will have to give that beer a try.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. K E Garland September 29, 2017 / 10:40 pm

    Now you’re into posting fish porn Neil??? Shaking…my…head and laughing out loud. I really like this story, actually.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Aunt Beulah September 30, 2017 / 1:43 pm

    Though I’m from the mountain west, I’m ahead of you on this one, Neil. I became familiar with grunion when in 1983 my first husband and I spent 5 months living on the Baja peninsula where local people interrupted the reproductive efforts of grunion to snatch them up for a fish fry. On nights they appeared, our Mexican friends would alert us that the grunion were running; but in their accented English, it sounded like the grunion were runion, which seemed appropriate and poetic.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger September 30, 2017 / 4:25 pm

      Hello Janet. It seems, from the various comments that people have written, that grunion are a lot better known than I thought.

      Thanks a lot for stopping by. I appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Ken Dowell October 2, 2017 / 8:41 pm

    Never heard of grunion. Nor do I find fish images that appealing on beer bottles. But then again I ‘m a big fan of Flying Fish brews.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. pjlazos October 2, 2017 / 10:32 pm

    I know nothing about grunion, but did have a similar experience with Naked Gobies!

    Liked by 2 people

      • pjlazos October 3, 2017 / 6:52 am

        Fish. 🐟 Bottom dwellers like catfish. I then titled a screenplay I was working on “Naked Gobies” because it was a murder mystery. Maybe you should write a short story!

        Liked by 1 person

  14. George October 3, 2017 / 2:08 am

    Excellent. I shall look out for Grunion pale ale. It sounds just my kind of thing and I’d course I can entertain everyone with an explanation of what a grunion is, although I’ll be spooked if half of them already know!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger October 3, 2017 / 6:53 am

      Hello, George.
      Thanks for the visit.

      Some of your friends, just like mine, might know all about grunion. You never know what info is inside somebody’s head!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. America On Coffee October 3, 2017 / 5:26 am

    Caguama! This is a beer share that is light, light almost no alcohol. But great fizz with seafood and fowl! Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger October 3, 2017 / 6:56 am

      Hello there.
      You know, I don’t think I heard of Caguama before. I had to Google it.
      Thanks for the visit. Appreciated.

      Like

  16. Susan J. Anderson October 3, 2017 / 4:39 pm

    When I was a young hottie on the scene of Los Angeles, it was not uncommon for a man to ask me to come see the grunion races at the beach at night. 🙂 Wish our Weis Market sold beer–we’re down here in Liquor-Board-Gestapo/Tax Hell Maryland.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger October 3, 2017 / 9:11 pm

      Evening, Susan. I’m more and more surprised by how many people know about grunion. I thought they were obscure, but I guess not.

      Thanks for adding your thoughts. Appreciated.

      Like

  17. anj&tay October 4, 2017 / 1:30 am

    I’m from southern California and I frequently visit Ballast Point breweries in San Diego. Not only do they have great beer but also great food and an awesome atmosphere! Thanks for sharing though, I had no idea what a grunion was!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger October 4, 2017 / 7:58 am

      Hi.
      I’ve been noticing BP beers here and there in the Philadelphia region, which is where I live. Maybe BP is expanding its distribution.

      Thanks a lot for adding your comments.

      Like

  18. Elizabeth M. Soltan October 4, 2017 / 2:45 pm

    Just caught up with your great, informative Grunion expose. I’d say, “Who knew?” Obviously, however, a lot of people besides Rich and Gene did know about these intriguing fish…..

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger October 5, 2017 / 7:50 pm

      Hello there.

      An odd thing about grunion (or so it seems to me) is that they inhabit a relatively small section of the seas. I wonder why they haven’t taken hold in other areas.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by.

      Like

  19. D-Claire October 6, 2017 / 7:33 am

    “grunion are not used in the brewing process. They only are on the label!” lol! Nice one. Glad you found a tasty beer and learnt something !

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger October 6, 2017 / 8:23 am

      Hello there. I appreciate your stopping by.

      I’ve run across Grunion Pale Ale only that one time. Hopefully I’ll find it again.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. dweezer19 October 8, 2017 / 9:11 am

    Haha! Well, anyone who was ever a fan of Three’s Company would also know what a grunion is, as well as a ‘grunion run’, both real and suggested as far as Southern California and the dating scene. Asking someone to a grunion run would be tantamount to inviting them up to Lover’s Lane to look at the constellations or, as in the smaller city case, going to the airport with a sixpack and park there- to ‘watch the planes land and take off. 😏I am a beast for craft beers and recently have had some amazing varieties. About the only one that gets nod for creativity but a big thumbs down as far as interest from me are the new sour brews. I mean, if I want to drink spiked pickle juice, I’ll just pou gin into my pickle jar and save the $$. Rogue has some nice choices as far as beers that have been around awhile. I found them years ago while visitng my sons in Lincoln, NE. Not a lot to do in NE but drink and eat. They do both very well there! 🍻

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger October 8, 2017 / 10:26 am

      In retrospect, I should have watched Three’s Company!

      I know what you mean about sour beers. I have yet to develop a taste for them.

      Like

  21. Robyn Haynes October 9, 2017 / 1:08 am

    Thanks for the fascinating info on grunion. I, for one, have never heard of them which is surprising because I’m a great fan of David Attenborough shows. Didn’t know about the beer either. An entertaining post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger October 9, 2017 / 6:55 am

      Hi Robyn.
      Thanks a lot for stopping by.
      I appreciate it.

      I’m still on the hunt for Grunion Pale Ale. I found it only that one time. I hope that I cross paths with it again pretty soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. mitchteemley October 9, 2017 / 6:19 pm

    I grew up in SoCal, and in my teens and early 20s we’d always head for the beach when we heard “the grunion were running.” Slippery–and safer–than the running of the bulls.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. cathleentownsend October 12, 2017 / 12:48 am

    We used to go grunion running on the beaches, although it was mostly a teenage thing. It gave us an excuse to stay late at the beach on moonlit nights. The only time we actually saw any was when we went as adults with a ranger. Some people picked them up barehanded, but I was fine with just seeing them. Quite a singular event. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger October 12, 2017 / 6:56 am

      Hello there. Once again I’m amazed by how many people are familiar with grunion. I’ll have to rewrite my essay!

      Thanks for stopping by, Cathleen. Enjoy the day.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. aprilswopegreene October 12, 2017 / 8:59 am

    I, too, am all about “supporting those who not only are talented but lean toward the offbeat side” 🙂 Fun post, Neil!

    Liked by 3 people

  25. Marie Rogers October 15, 2017 / 7:22 pm

    I had heard about grunion and knew they were a California fish, but that was the extent of it until now. I followed your links and am glad I did. How fascinating!

    Liked by 2 people

  26. YaksterX October 18, 2017 / 4:35 am

    Never heard of Grunion before, and I don’t drink beer. But I learned a bit about both today.
    Cheers!

    /thumbs up

    Liked by 2 people

  27. selizabryangmailcom October 26, 2017 / 3:36 pm

    Haha. I’d make such a boring drinking companion. I grew up on Coors and never got much past Corona and Red Stripe. But at least the grunion are leading more interesting lives than I am, evidently!

    Liked by 2 people

  28. viewfromoverthehill November 3, 2017 / 12:54 pm

    Hey Neil: You can add me to your pals who knew about grunions. But, I’d be cheating because I lived in L.A. for years, where people would annually gather on the beaches to see the sex orgy take place. I never saw it myself, but was well aware it was going on because it would be on the local news. Cheers, Muriel

    Liked by 2 people

  29. da-AL November 20, 2017 / 5:52 pm

    Same with me, Muriel — & I have less excuse for not having seen them as I still live close to where they do it. What the video leaves out, Neil, is that they make the shoreline glow blue 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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