I have to say, one of the best things about living in Sonoma County is that you never run out of fun or interesting things to do. Here at Farmhouse, we pride ourselves on staying on top of all the best activities for our guests and this takes a lot a lot of field trips (oh poor us, it’s grueling)! This spring we’ve been working on better understanding interesting and unique artisan opportunities outside the world of wine drinking (more to come, I promise). We’ve met with cannabis providers, cheese makers, heirloom farmers, organic soap manufacturers, salumi works, and spirit producers to name a few. But the one area that we have yet to explore and, arguably, the second most popular alcoholic beverage coming out of our County, the world of craft brewing which is shocking because I absolutely LOVE beer!
Sonoma County has developed a reputation as being an epicenter for the craft brew movement and, we decided that for us to fully understand this world, we needed to do an in-depth field trip! My good friend, Herlinda Heras, aka, the Beer Girl, offered to be our guide. On a sunny Wednesday morning, Thomas, Rachel, Jessica, Herlinda, and I set out on an adventure!
Our first stop, Moonlight Brewing Company, and our host, Brian Hunt, considered to be one of the shamans of America’s cult beer movement (according to GQ Magazine). While we sipped Brian’s delicious beers, he filled us in on the rich old-world history of beer making, a beverage originated to be something safe for the people to drink at a time before preservatives and refrigeration existed and water was often dangerous. We learned about how beer was governed by the German tax laws and the sacred trio of ingredients, barley, hops, water (and yeast before they knew what that was). It was a fascinating history lesson and a great way to start our day. Oh, and did I mention, his beers are damn good!
Stop number two, Shady Oak Barrel House in Santa Rosa. Owner and proprietor Steve Doty was our guide and he took us through his process of barrel-aged beers. At Shady Oak, they specialize in sours, something I was not very familiar with. Evidently sours started in Belgium and Germany long before sterilization existed when bacteria was accidentally introduced into the process unintentionally causing a secondary “sour” fermentation. This is the same reason why pickles and kimchi are sour. The beers were interesting and incredibly complex. His apricot sour was the hit of the day! If sours aren’t your thing, we all agreed that the Funkatronic IPA was hit! That alone is worth a visit.
Lunch and our final brewery tour was at the brand-new Windsor facility for Russian River Brewing – home to America’s most famous craft brew, Pliny the Elder. Started by husband-and-wife team, Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzio, this homegrown brew started from humble beginnings to go on to become one of the most well-known microbreweries in the world. We were in for a treat, Vinnie himself took us on the tour of his brand-new state-of-the-art facility. What a pleasure to get to hear him tell us about every decision he made and every piece of equipment he chose for his “dream” brewing facility. We ended our tour in a tower located in the back of the building up hidden stairs and through what appears to be a medieval door (talk about insider access!). Inside that door hid a huge “cool ship” (an open-top cooling vessel for hot wort) surrounded by windows. Just like they did centuries ago before refrigeration, the windows are opened to let evening breezes cool the brew. As large and as modern as this facility is, it’s clear that every bottle of beer is heartfelt and intentional. Vinnie and Natalie beam with pride as they tell their story. I already was a big fan of their beers and now I’m even a bigger fan. Lunch at the brew pub with a pint of pilsner wasn’t half bad either!
All in all, a pretty great day and we barely scraped the surface. With so many more phenomenal breweries in the area, we might need to take another field trip! But, more importantly, I got to see our county through a different lens. Everyone thinks about wine when they think of Sonoma County. But the beers being produced are every bit as special and worth checking out. Whether you’re a local or just visiting, make sure to find a moment for of pint of something special, you won’t be disappointed!