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Five Breweries That’ll Make You Forget You’re in Wine Country

A guide to beers both beloved and little-known in Napa and Sonoma.

Beer from Bear Republic

Beer from Bear Republic 

 

It comes in many colors. It will get you buzzed. And it’s made just an hour north of the city. Nope, not wine. It’s beer! Next time you’re enjoying the weather in wine country, stray off the grape path to sample these warm weather ales.

Wheat Ale at Calistoga Inn Restaurant and Brewery
You may think brewing is new to Napa Valley, but Calistoga Inn has been doing it since the ‘80s. This quaint bar’s solid flight features four regulars: a Pilsner, a Porter, a Red Ale, and the orange peel-hinted Wheat Ale. If the weather’s anything like last weekend, leave the bar and head out to the beer garden on the far side of the restaurant. Not a wheat lover? Try their award-winning Red Ale, which recalls a refreshing iced tea.
1250 Lincoln Ave, Calistoga (707-942-4101)

Pliny the Younger at Russian River Brewing Company
This beer is as cultish as beers get around here. Like a Rorschach test, this rare triple IPA’s taste seemed different to each enthusiast. Those in the know have described it as heavy with flavors of tropical citrus, caramel, and pine resin. If you show up at the brewery, expect to wait in line. Luckily, several bars in the surroundings have been known to have it on tap this time of year.
725 4th Street, Santa Rosa (707-545-BEER)

Pickers Saison at Old Redwood Brewery
If this were a colder February, we might have recommended Old Redwood’s Imperial Black and Tan, a Russian stout with a touch of barleywine aged in bourbon barrels, which makes drinkers fancy a Siberian bottoms-up with Dostoyevsky. But winter in California is summer anywhere else, so go with the Old Redwood’s fruity, succulent saison. Old Redwood is a small, freewheeling brewery whose atypical blends tend to sell out, so join their membership list to stay on top of their rotating brews.
9000 Windsor Road, Windsor (707-657-7624)

Hop Rod Rye at Bear Republic
If you’re looking for a garrulous atmosphere and an extensive beer list, Bear Republic is your spot. Match the late-winter heat with Hop Rod Rye, which combines the hoppy bitterness of an IPA with the spice of an 18% rye malt. The result? A strong and peppy beer that a fellow taster described as “liquid fire beer.” If rye doesn’t make you salivate, there’s plenty else to choose from—the copper ale and pear cider are two other favorites.
345 Healdsburg Ave, Healdsburg (707-433-2337)

The Blue Corn Pale Ale at Mad Fritz Beer
Wine country meets beer country at Mad Fritz, where two Napa winemakers have recently turned their talents to brewing. Their nano-crafted beers mature in chardonnay oak barrels and the Blue Corn Pale Ale—with a bright, semi-sweet flavor—is just one of their eclectic blends. Mad Fritz is a small operation—visits by appointment only—but a couple of restaurants in St. Helena have them on tap. For a full demonstration, stay tuned for their 5-course, 5-beer venture with Farmstead Restaurant in St. Helena next month.
393 La Fata Street, St. Helena (707-968-5058)

 

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