Legend has it that there’s a saying among vintners; “it takes a lot of good beer to make great wine.”
That adage may just prove to be true in Sonoma County, which while known the world over for it’s award-winning wineries, is developing a reputation for its on-tap offerings.
Some of the pubs and breweries the city has to offer:
Russian River Brewing Co.
In 1997, Brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo joined Russian River Brewing Company (RRBC), which was founded by Korbel Champagne Cellars in Guerneville, Calif. When Korbel decided to leave the beer business in 2002, they sold the brewery to Vinnie and his wife, Natalie. Today, the Russian River Brewing Company focuses on traditional aggressively hopped California-style ales, Belgian-style ales, and barrel-aged beers. They brew a full line up of ales and lagers for the pub and for limited distribution.
Year-round beers include Pliny the Elder, Damnation and Blind Pig. But the brewery has a cult-like following for its Triple IPA Pliny the Younger, which results in lines of beer aficionados outside the Santa Rosa brewery each February who await its limited release. In 2012 Pliny the Younger was noted as the “number one beer in the world” according to ratings on Beeradvocate.com.
3rd Street Ale Works
The Third Street AleWorks’ philosophy about beer is simple – use the best ingredients possible; never cut corners; and keep it fresh. The brewery features an ever-widening group of “standard” beers, but also introduces 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. The flagship ales are Annadel Pale Ale, Stonefly Oatmeal Stout and Bodega Head IPA, while the rest are brewed on a seasonal or occasional basis.
Lagunitas Brewing Company
Just as seasonal flavors change in the different foods enjoyed at certain times of the year, Lagunitas believes beer’s flavrs should also change. Fall and winter call for richness and warmth, while spring and summer call for crispness and refreshment. Lagunita’s Beer Sanctuary and TapRoom in Petaluma features live music and beer, bringing in crowds of locals and visitors-in-the-know. Winter’s line up includes the Lagunator, Hairy Eyeball Ale, Brown Shugga, Lumpy Gravy and Cappuccino Stout, while summer highlights include the Golden Equinox Ale and Maximus. In late spring, pick up a case of “We’re Only in it for the Money,” named after Frank Zappa’s fourth album.
Dempsey’s Restaurant & Brewery
Dempsey’s award-winning brews have been carefully tailored to complement the food served at Dempsey’s Restaurant, but Dempsey’s is quick to point out, “they’re tasty on their own as well.” Popular brews include Sonoma Mountain (summer), Sonoma Irish Ale, Petaluma Strong Ale and Ugly Dog Stout (winter.) The signature brew is Red Rooster Ale, which stands up particularly well to full-flavored and spicy foods.
Fans of Gordon Biersch brewery and restaurant rejoiced when Dean Biersch opened Hopmonk Tavern. Joining the brewery’s own concoctions on tap are local, national and international beers that offer a well-rounded selection.
Hopmonk represents a marriage between the art and science of beer making. Hops are, in most cases, the key component of an individual brewer’s “signature” in that style – “art” of brewing. “Monk” is a tribute to the monks of Northern Europe, who brought a certain methodology and management to the brewing process – symbolizing the “science” of brewing.
Favorites include Hopmonk Kellerbier, Hopmonk Tavern Ale, Hopmonk Dunkelweizen and the Bavarian-style Dark over the counter drugs for aciphex Wheat Beer.
A small brewery, Stumptown only brews three of their own beers. Since they only have the ability to brew a few styles in house at any one time, they rotate styles and provide guest taps for other local breweries. This allows them to offer variety, and to showcase a few excellent examples of styles that aren’t brewed on site. It’s first, and most famous, brew is Rat Bastard Pale Ale, which numerous regulars claim was named in their honor. Also brewed on site are Bootlegger IPA (first tapped on the 70th anniversary of the repeal of prohibition) and Bush-Wacker Wheat, which the brewer claims has a “high coefficient of chugability.”
Ruth Mc Gowans Brew Pub
Ruth McGowan’s Brewpub, in the heart of downtown Cloverdale, opened by Mary Ann and Mike Brigham in 2002, and was named after 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, Wis.
Ruth McGowan’s beers are now being distributed at many fine dining establishments throughout the area. Beers are crafted using time-honored methods and outstanding ingredients, and favorites include Caroline’s Blonde Ale–great with spicy food, flagship Cloverdale Ale, Floyd’s India Pale Ale and Monster Brown Ale.
Old Redwood Brewing Company
The Windsor Town Green is home of beer tasting room, the Old Redwood Brewing Company. The brewery makes micro-brewed batches and serves them up in an atmosphere reminiscent of winery tasting rooms.
Behind the taps are four partners, Dominic Foppoli, Adam Derum, Mike Stewart, and Bobby Anderson. New, locally inspired brews are introduced each month and have included such blends as The Fulton, made with local honey; Windsor Wit, a raspberry wit beer; The Highway IPA, and The Colonel. Tasting hours vary, but are typically Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 7p.m.
Moonlight Brewing Co.
Started in rural Santa Rosa in 1992, the small brewery has capacity for about 1,000 barrels per year. While the original brewery was housed in a converted tractor barn, today it is makes its home in a custom-built building. Currently all the beers are only sold in kegs and are mostly 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. The brewery is too small to be open for tours or tasting. Because they don’t bottle at this time, there are no labels or bottle caps available for collectors.
Although the following aren’t breweries, they are also excellent places to sample a variety of Sonoma’s best microbrews:
Craft Beer Bar – Heritage Public House
Heritage Public House is a unique craft beer garden located in the Santa Rosa Vintners Square urban winery village. In good company with several small, boutique wineries, it features craft brews available on tap from small, California brewers.
Sprengers Tap Room
This tap-room in downtown Santa Rosa claims to have more beers on tap than any other bar north of San Francisco. In total, there are 40 beers on tap — an entire wall — with the majority coming from Sonoma and other Northern coast counties in California.
It’s an easygoing place, where everybody knows your name — or at least makes an effort to learn it. The grill behind the bar serves up burgers, matchstick sweet potato fries, hot wings and daily sandwich specials. There’s also an outside area, live music on select nights, TV’s, family-friendly dining and lots of sports on TV.