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Monday, October 31, 2016

Sonoma County's Growing Beer Scene

In the last couple decades Sonoma County's booming wine tourism business has become an integral part of the area's economy. We're actually finding people coming for the beer, too, and that's expected to grow significantly in the next few years.

Areas like San Diego, Portland, OR, and Denver/Ft. Collins, CO are destinations for beer drinkers as they have concentrations of 50 or more breweries in a small area. Sonoma County isn't at that scale, but is rapidly increasing the number of craft breweries.

There are about two dozen in the county now and we should hit about 30 next year. How many are too many? Some are skeptical that the area can support more, but with people taking beer vacations like they take wine vacations we don't require only the local residents to support the industry.

Sonoma County has more going for it besides having a good infrastructure already in place for visitors. We have some iconic names:

  • New Albion Brewery - It's not a name well-known except to beer geeks, but Sonoma was home to the first modern craft brewery in the U.S., opening its door in the mid-seventies (and closing in the early '80s). In the 1980s there were already a couple other small operations in Santa Rosa that had varying success: Kelmer's Brewhouse and Acme Brewing.
  • Moonlight Brewing - Again not widely-known, but they started almost 25 years ago, well before the craft beer craze, with a black lager called Death & Taxes -- a beer that's been a fixture in the area.
  • Lagunitas - Founded in the early '90s they are one of the biggest craft breweries in the county. Home to one of the best-selling IPAs.
  • Russian River Brewing - Talk about iconic. RRBC and its owners, Vinny and Natalie Cilurzo, are to the local beer scene what Robert Mondavi was to Napa Valley wine. On any given day you will find people from many states in the union and probably a few foreign countries in the brewery. Or standing in line to get in.
Sonoma County is also home to Bear Republic, of Racer 5 fame. They are about to open a second brewpub in the county. There is also a growing hard cider industry. No, we're no where close to running out of choices for adult beverages!