Breweries, Craft Brews and Brewpubs

Stop in to Bear Republic for a Racer 5

While Northern California is known mostly for its wine history, the story of the emergence and maturing of the craft beer industry in this area is a story that should be told. In the ‘70s, the beer and lager industry had consolidated to only 44 brewing companies, and those companies were beginning to consolidate even further. Madison Avenue had decided that what America really wanted was a low calorie light lager. Real beer lovers were reduced to making their own, which spawned the grassroots movement of homebrewing, or what we know now as “Craft Brewing”. In 1965 Fritz Maytag purchased Anchor Brewing Company. In the midst of a shrinking marketplace of the ‘70s, Maytag maintained some of the original beer traditions of that brewery, brewing unique beers in a time of homogenized beermaking. Inspired home brewers started their own small brewing companies.

In 1976 what some call the true renaissance of American craft brewing emerged with the founding of The New Albion Brewery in Sonoma, by  homebrew enthusiast Jack McAuliffe. Finding brewing equipment non-existent, he salvaged what he could from scrap yards, and built much of his equipment by hand, assembling his piecemeal gravity flow brewery in a former agricultural warehouse. Jack lived in a loft above the brewery. While this brewery went out of business after about 6 years, there were hundreds of homebrewers that were inspired and followed in Jack’s footsteps. The breweries they started have led to the revolution of better tasting beer that is so prevalent in Northern California today.

Sonoma County boasts eight great microbreweries: Dempsey’s and Lagunitas in Petaluma, Russian River Brewing , Third Street Aleworks and Moonlight Brewing in Santa Rosa; Stumptown Brewery in Guerneville, Bear Republic in Healdsburg; Ruth McGowan’s in Cloverdale; Sonoma Springs in Sonoma Valley; coming soon to Windsor, Old Redwood Brewing Company.

Lagunitas Brewing offers a great tour of its Northeast Petaluma facility. You will start with some history and tastings, then end your tour with the beer of your choice in their Tap Room and Beer Sanctuary. Sample the famous IPA, Little Sumpin’ Wild Ale, Brown Shugga and many limited production ales you won’t find anywhere else. Or just go straight for the 8% Hop Stoopid! Walking Tours happen Wed-Fri at 3:00 & 5:00, Sat-Sun 1:00, 3:00 & 5:00. Tasting Tours are weekdays at 3 pm. Lagunitas also serves up an eclectic mix of live music and hearty paninis in their beer garden. 1280 N. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma. 707-778-8776. •

Dempsey’s Brewery is Sonoma County’s oldest brewery, now celebrating their 20th year. Stop in and sample their Red Rooster Ale, Ugly Dog Stout, Sonoma Irish Ale, Galaxy IPA or Petaluma Strong Ale. Complement it with a burger or other pub fare, while you relax on their riverside patio. 50 E. Washington Street (Golden Eagle Shopping Center), Petaluma. •707 765-9694 •

Moonlight Brewery was started in rural Santa Rosa in 1992 by Brian Hunt. Small by most all comparisons, the brewery has capacity for about 1000 barrels per year. Whereas the original brewery was in a converted tractor barn, today it’s house  in a building built in 2003 for the brewery. Currently all the beers are only sold in kegs and can be found in San Francisco, the East Bay and North Bay counties. Mendocino and Lake Counties have a few spots, and there are rare sightings in Santa Cruz, Seal Beach, and San Diego. While there is currently no tasting location, you can find their signature Death & Taxes, Lunatic Lager and Reality Czeck in many restaurants and breweries in this area. •

The Russian River Brewing Company (RRBC) was originally owned by Korbel Champagne Cellars in Guerneville, California and was founded on their historic and beautiful property amidst vineyards and redwoods near the Russian River. When Korbel decided to get out of the beer business in 2003, they generously offered the brewmaster, Vinnie Cilurzo and his wife Natalie the rights to the brand. While at Korbel, Vinnie started experimenting with brewing beers in wine barrels (he had just one barrel at the time) and created RRBC’s flagship beer, Pliny the Elder. Pliny the Elder is brewed with Amarillo, Centennial, CTZ, and Simcoe hops. It is well-balanced with malt, hops, and alcohol, slightly bitter with a fresh hop aroma of floral, citrus, and pine. The origin of the name? “Pliny, the man, lived in the first century- 23 to 79 A.D. According to our brewing references, he and his contemporaries either created the botanical name or at least wrote about Lupus salictarius, or hops, currently known as Humulus lupulus. That was a very early reference to an important part of any Double IPA!” The reputation for Pliny the Elder has grown exponentially since it was unveiled in a Double IPA Festival in the year 2000. This year, on the first friday of February, RRBC unveiled Pliny the Younger, their first Triple IPA! Enthusiasts lined up for blocks to taste this well balanced, Pub draft only, VERY limited distribution ale. Drop in to their 4th Street location and order a sampler. They have 18 beers on tap, including their well-known Damnation (10.75% alcohol, triple-aged with oak chips), Blind Pig IPA, Perdition, Supplication (barrel-aged in Pinot barrels), Temptation (Sour Aged in Chardonnay barrels) and Consecration (Sour Aged in Cabernet barrels). 725 4th Street, Santa Rosa. 707.545.BEER. •

Third Street Aleworks opened to the public on March 8th, 1996 when the combined efforts of Todd Hedrick, Chris Hagan and Jim Tasley made their dreams of opening a brewery a reality. Their philosophy about beer and brewing is simple – use the best ingredients possible; never cut corners; and keep it fresh! Brewmaster Randall Gremp has the task of producing an ever-widening group of “standard” beers (i.e., beers which have come to be expected by our discerning clientele) while also introducing more exotic and experimental styles to the mix. On any given day, there are between 10-13 beers on tap, including cask-conditioned ales and house-brewed root beer. Outfitted with a state of the art 15 Barrel Brewing System from Pub Brewing Co. of Santa Rosa, brewery tours are available by appointment, so give them a call! Or just stop in and sample signature brews like Stonefly Oatmeal Stout, Annadel Pale Ale, Bodega Head IPA and Stepchild Red. 610 3rd Street, Santa Rosa. 707-523-3060. •

At The Heritage Public House (in Vintners Square), you can enjoy a variety of California’s finest small craft brews available on tap. Their mission is to introduce you to new breweries and their tasty offerings. But Heritage Public House isn’t just about beer, they also have boutique wines available (supplied by The Wineyard winery partners) by the glass as well as Champagne meaning there’s something for every palate. 1305-A Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa. 707-595-1488. •

Stumptown Brewery, located on the Russian River in Guerneville, is home of the celebrated Russian River Beer Revival BBQ Cookoff, where they host 30 breweries and 30 barbeque teams on their riverside lawn. It happens on August 12 this year, so get your tickets early (they sell out fast)! But if you can’t make that event, any time is a great time to come in and sample their Rat Bastard Ale, Bootlegger IPA or Bushwhacker Wheat, along with some other local favorites like Moonlight’s Death and Taxes and Bear Republic’s Racer IPA. 15045 River Rd, Guerneville. (707) 869-0705. •

Bear Republic Brewpub is a beer-lover’s island in a sea of great wine tasting. Located off the Healdsburg Plaza, Bear Republic is celebrating a Bronze Medal in the American-Style Black Ale Category for Black Racer™ at the 2011  Great American Beer Festival®. Stop in and sample Racer 5 IPA®, Red Rocket Ale®, Hop Rod Rye®, Big Bear Black Stout®, Peter Brown Tribute Ale®, or XP Pale Ale®. Specialty brews, not always available, include Apex, Black Raven Porter, Double Rocket Imperial Red Ale and their double IPA, Five Zero. Bear Republic brews are available across the country. 345 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg. 707-433-2337. •

Sonoma County’s northernmost brewery, Ruth McGowan’s is located in the second coolest town in the United States (according to, Cloverdale. Mary Ann and Mike Brigham opened their Brewpub on March 17, 2002, naming it in honor of Mike’s Grandma. Feisty, stout hearted Ruth still shoveled snow off her sidewalk and mowed her own lawn at age 96, back home in New London, Wisconsin. This family-friendly pub proudly features gleaming copper tanks. Come in and sample Caroline’s Blonde, flagship amber Cloverdale Ale, Monster Brown Ale, Ruth’s Citrus Wheat or Floyd India Pale Ale. Pick your favorite, then order a Growler! 131 E. First Street, Cloverdale. (707) 894-9610. •

Check out the beer garden at Hop Monk Tavern.
Photo courtesy

Hop Monk Tavern is the brainchild of Dean Biersch (of Gordon-Biersch), with locations in Sebastopol and Sonoma. In addition to their own brews: Hopmonk Kellerbrier (an unfiltered pilsner); Hopmonk Tavern Ale (a California Style Pale Ale) and Hopmonk Blonde Bocks (smooth with a kick), they offer a litany of local brews that will take you a year to get through (or at least a lost weekend). The Tavern is also know for its eclectic blend of live music offerings. 230 Petaluma Ave, Sebastopol. 707.829.7300. 691 Broadway, Sonoma. 707.935.9100. •

Sonoma Springs Brewing Company is a recent entry to the Sonoma County family of breweries. Brewing German style beers and California Ales, they are offering Wolf House Double Black IPA, Noma Coma Imperial IPA and more.  They are located at 750 W. Napa St., Sonoma. 707.938.7422. •

Old Redwood Brewing Company is scheduled to open their doors in late spring on Windsor’s Town Green. The first of the growing “nano-brewery” (a few hundred barrels annually) crowd to open a tasting room, the four collaborators, Dominic Foppoli, Mike Stewart, Adam Derum and Bob Anderson have contracted with local farmers to grow hops for them in the Russian River Valley, and incorporate local spices and fruits in their beer as well. Dominic Foppoli is bringing his experience making wine for his Foppoli family vineyards, as well as running boutique wineries Dom Whitney and Benevolo with friends. The tasting room is open in tandem with a wine tasting room, offering some local labels. This is an experience you will not find anywhere else. 9000 Windsor Rd, Windsor. (707) 888-4980. •  

Napa County breweries, from north to south, include Napa Valley Brewing Company at Calistoga Inn, Silverado Brewery in St. Helena, Napa Smith Brewery and Downtown Joe’s in Napa. Owners Michael Fradelizio and Ken Mee worked in wineries before opening Silverado Brewing Company. They chose as their site the historic Freemark Abbey Winery building, circa 1895. With massive stone walls and hand-strewn wood beams, the beautiful old building houses Silverado’s gleaming copper kettle brewing system behind large glass windows for all to see. Ken has won numerous awards for his beers, and Michael emphasizes natural and organic ingredients in the extensive menu offered. Silverado Brewing Company’s main and seasonal beers contain no additives or preservatives. Come in and cool off while sampling their beer, or watch the wine tasters drive by on their cozy patio. Try “Certifiably” Blonde Ale, Pale Ale, Amber Ale or Oatmeal Stout. Growlers are available! Tours available by appointment. 3020 St. Helena Hwy., St. Helena. 707.967.9876. •


Napa Smith Brewing Company is Napa County’s only production brewery with an onsite tasting brewpub. Craft brewer Don Barkley started making craft beer in 1978 at the legendary New Albion Brewery. He went on to help found Mendocino Brewing Company, where he created legendary beers like Red Tail Ale and Eye of the Hawk. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., they offer flights of ten brews on tap: Organic IPA, Lost Dog, Bonfire, Cool Brew, Crush Beer, Amber ale, Pale Ale, Wheat Beer and Pilsner. Their latest Limited Edition is Grateful Dog Barleywine. Stop in for a pint and a game of darts. 1 Executive Way (intersections of Hwy 29 and Hwy 12), Napa.  Call 707-255-2912 for tour info. •

Established in 1993 by owners Joe Ruffino, Joe Peatman and Nancye Peatman, Downtown Joe’s is a city of Napa tradition dating back eighty years. Joe Ruffino’s Grandmother, Grace Ruffino opened Ruffino’s Restaurant in 1944. Today, Downtown Joe’s downtown Napa locale offers a festive atmosphere with a tempting river view patio. The brewery at Downtown Joe’s was built in 1988 by Chuck Ankeny, the great grandson of Adolf Hamms of Milwaukee. Chuck and brewmaster Brian Hunt aimed to re-establish the great beer brewing tradition of the City of Napa. Joe Peatman and Joe Ruffino bought the brewery in 1993 and re-christened it Downtown Joe’s. Joe Ruffino retired in 2004 and now Joe Peatman runs the business. Brian stayed at the Brewery through the transition and spent his days brewing here and his nights making Moonlight Brewery (see “Moonlight Brewery, this story). The brewery was built as an Ale House and produces mostly ales, some very British, and some with a decidedly West Coast flair. Stop in for a tour and sample Lazy Summer American Wheat, Tail Waggin’ Amber Ale, Lou Paine Pale ale, Tantric India Pale Ale, Catherine the Great Imperial Stout, Triple Dog Dare You and many more! 902 Main St., Napa. 707-258-2337. •