This past Memorial Day Weekend I celebrated my 34th birthday. By no means a super significant birthday, except that I’ll take any reason to gather up my friends and have fun. So, I did just that and planned a fun, local, microbrewery beer tour.
Now when you think of beer in Wine Country, you think of the big guys, Lagunitas, Russian River, and Bear Republic. Which are great places and have delicious beverages, but I was looking for something a little more unique and off the beaten path of tour buses and long lines. As I started my list, I quickly realized there was no way to hit all these places in one day. I mean bravo to you if you can pull that off, but I highly recommend taking your time to enjoy each brewery and not end up face down on the floor.
Just to give you some perspective on the size of SoCo Beer Country, The Press Democrat (a local newspaper for you out of towners) reported at the end of 2016 that “By early next year, there should be 29 breweries operating in Sonoma County with a population of slightly more than 500,000. There were 18 in 2013...” I mean, that does make sense considering Santa Rosa was named Microbrew capital of the US by Pudding in 2017. To add to that honey pot, the Brewers Association 2017 stat report shows California produced 3.5 gallons of per adult (21 yrs +) or 28 pints.
So, realizing the size of beer country, I went with a divide and conquer approach and broke the county up into 5 tours. This tour specifically focused on Central Sonoma County, ie Santa Rosa. Our tour started with an 11 am pick up and even with 6 hours on the clock, we only made it to 5 of the 6 tasting rooms on the tour list. I mean we probably could have made 6 work but from enjoying our time in one place to maybe not so great service at another, we ended up cutting a stop. None the less, it was an awesome day and here’s how it started:
Months ago now, I was on IG and I came across this awesome tour company’s feed that uses Vintage VW busses on tours in Wine Country and I just thought to myself, how cool are those!!! Fast forward to two weeks before my birthday weekend and I’ve been talking about this beer tour but haven’t made any solid plans…that ‘oh shit’ panic button kicked on and I reached out to West Wine Tours.
Lucky me, there was one bus left for May 26th and I grabbed it! Now the fun part…where to go drink?! This list will probably be fairly well known to the local beer lover but for anyone looking for a new spot to check out or coming from out of town, I hope you find this list helpful:
1. Hen House
We arrived just a few minutes before our tasting appointment at 11:30, which was much appreciated by Nicky, the Tasting Room Lead and the one who walked us through our tasting…our tasting of ahem, let me clear my throat, 17 beers. See tip #4 below, sharing is caring! At 11:30 am that is a lot of beer for 7 people to split, especially if you order 2 flights, oops. But Nicky was great, walked us through all 17 beers and then left us to our own devices to continue to try them out with the tasting notes. It’s was hard to pick a favorite, as Hen House produces some great stuff but that morning, I was really enjoying Ski Mask.
The space is great, outdoor picnic tables with a good mix of sun and shade, a food truck, that on Saturday was serving up pizza and ample seating inside! Walk up to the bar, order your beer and pick a seat. There is a TV inside…not a main focal point, which is cool but what was even better, is it was playing Indiana Jones when we arrived. Just add another point in the win column for Hen House!
Now while their beers are delicious, and the space is cool, did I mention they have another tasting room in Petaluma? Their story, purpose and commitment is spot on with Poppy & Vine’s philosophy. Take a look at https://www.henhousebrewing.com/our-story/
2. Old Possum
They are the new kids on the block with just about 6 weeks under their belt, 5 beers on tap, a tasty looking food menu and sours on the way!
Great space, small front patio with bar seating. It’s in the southern industrial part of town, so on the weekends it’s nice and quiet with a large open field to the west. Back inside you hit the bar first, with great repurposed furnishings (I love the bar seats). To your left the bar opens to a large seating area that can accommodate a variety of party sizes.
Old Possum's purpose and mission is another great one, check out the “Full Circle” link below and be sure to click through the photos for little snippets of what they are about. https://www.oldpossumbrewing.com/full-circle
3. Lunch-Juilliard Park
Located in the SOFA district of Santa Rosa, Juilliard Park sits on 9.1 acres, right off the main drag into town. Draped in sunshine and Oak tree’s this park has a lot to offer: Bocce Courts and playgrounds, to strolling the grounds taking in the public art and rose garden. There is something for everyone.
Another fun fact: it’s one of Santa Rosa’s oldest parks. Previously home to the Juilliard’s, and yes they are related to the Juilliard’s who founded the Juilliard School of Music in NYC! The property was given to the city in 1931.
We parked on the west end of the park, near the Bocce Courts, under a nice large Oak tree and enjoyed lunch from West Wine Tours. It was a delicious quinoa salad with greens, chicken salad, cranberry, apple, avocado, and chick peas. Perfect healthy and light lunch. Can’t wait to go back and enjoy a picnic in the park.
4. 2 Tread
Located in the heart of downtown Santa Rosa, they recently started brewing their own beer, about 5 beers on tap and one on Nitro, as well as a wide selection of other beers, wine and liquor…Yep, a brewery that has a full bar, win! Don’t get me wrong, beer is great but sometimes you need a mini break, with a Bloody Mary (which theirs was pretty tasty).
Large indoor and outdoor space. Perfect for large groups or anyone looking for a patio with lots of sunshine. The patio has picnic tables with umbrellas and comfy outdoor couches for a leisurely afternoon of chill.
One downside is the parking, but that’s true for anything downtown. Their website does a great job of letting you know what options are nearby.
Yum… best known for Death & Taxes and Reality Czeck, the brewery's approach to beer feels a little different, as described on their home page: “Traditional pre-industrial… resulting ales and lagers are mostly Continental, British and post-modern American”, how cool!
Industrial style tasting room with large roll up doors that let the light in and give it an outdoor feeling.
Outside food is welcome, which is always great, and it's kid friendly.
All in all a really chill spot to grab a beer and enjoy.
Cooperage was our last stop and a fantastic way to finish out the day. Their beers are well crafted and there is something for everyone. I mean they even had a non-alcoholic kombucha on tap that day. It was nice and light, had a similar flavor to flat 7-UP.
The space is another industrial style tasting room with family style high boys, board games, shuffle board, and a food truck outside. Also kid and dog friendly.
But what is really cool, or at least in my perspective, is that the beer is always changing. Think of it as seasonal beer! So you’ll get something light and refreshing in the summer and thick and hearty in the winter… just like food, makes sense!
As for a favorite at this tasting, hmmm, I think Abbie Normal, a Belgian Pale, and the name is fun! They had a couple of hazy beers that were really tasty as well.
7. Missed - Plow… sorry we’ll have to add you to round 2 of the Central Sonoma County Beer Tour
Basic tips and tricks for a day full of drinking:
Hire a driver… whatever version of this you prefer, be it a tour company, a town car, Uber, Lyft, bribe your friend or younger sibling to be the DD, idk but don’t drink and drive. It’s not worth it and we have so many options these days to get to and from safely!
Wear closed-toe shoes, you never know if you’ll be able to take a brewery tour.
Start with a good base - breakfast is a must with a day full of drinking (we had homemade breakfast sandwiches)
Sharing is caring and beer tasting pours go a long way! Pours range from 3-5 ounces.
Water Breaks - a girlfriend of mine is a firm believer in ‘every other’, one alcoholic beverage to one glass of water.
Lunch break - this was provided with the tour but most of the tasting rooms have food trucks on site or bar menus with yummy food.
Drop off and dinner that can be delivered - we snagged pizzas from NY Pie before drop off - AMAZING!