The craft beer movement has been spreading across the U.S. for the last twenty years but more recently breweries and brew pubs have become a travel destination. No where is this more apparent then in Sonoma County, California.
Brew tourism in California is not chugging beer with college kids in a dank dark pub with sticky floors and loud music. Beer is serious business and beer connoisseurs today are grown ups who want a sophisticated experience that involves good food and beer with diverse and innovative flavors.
On a recent trip to what is known best as wine country I had the chance to taste some of the area’s best craft beers with Brew Brothers Brewery Tours. A tour is a great way for responsible parents like ourselves to enjoy an afternoon of beer tasting without the kids.
With the slogan, “We Drive You To Drink!”, our guide Richard Clay (also an owner) and his wife Chrissi were true to their word. As soon as we entered the van we were handed a glass of Richard’s own flavorful brew, which at 9% alcohol on an empty stomach was the perfect way to break the ice with our tour companions. The father of grown children, Richard enjoys his job and knows a lot about beer because he has been brewing his own for years and uses his clientele as guinea pigs for his latest concoctions.
Brewery Tour Highlight: It’s All About the Beer
We started off the tour at Fogbelt Brewing Co., a brew pub in Santa Rosa where we learned about the ingredients of beer. For instance, hops are the flower part of the hop plant that is added to beer to balance the sweetness of the malt. The higher the hops content the more bitter the beer.
A brew pub, believed to have originated in Germany, is a brewery that is also a drinking establishment, and may or may not have food. At Fogbelt, we started with some delicious bratwurst to accompany our brews, which included their Lost Monarch Wit, a homegrown fresh hop saison and an Atlas Blonde, which had a crisp citrus and pineapple flavor. In the back of the pub you can see the beer process in action through the glass windows that look into the brewery.
Our next stop was Bear Republic located in Healdsburg. This popular family-friendly brew pub has a large menu, a pleasant beer garden and an ample selection of its house-made beers. Richard brought out pitchers of Grand Am Pale Ale and Peter Brown Tribute Ale. The difference between an ale and a lager is that ales are fermented warm and made with top-fermenting yeast and tend to have a stronger flavor than lagers, which are generally lighter and crisper.
The final stop (and three breweries in one day is plenty!) was to Sebastopol, best known to grown up children as home to Charles M. Schulz of Peanuts fame. The Woodfour Brewing Company is located in an area called The Barlow, which was once a 12 acre apple processing plant and is now home to an eclectic mix of restaurants, shops, artist studios and bars housed in former warehouses.
This brew pub had a sophisticated and tasty-looking menu but we were too full of beer to eat. We finished off our afternoon (and almost our consciousness) with a Sour Farmhouse Ale and a Brett Comet, which is described on the menu as a guava and citrus on the nose with some herbal spice, clementine on the palette with a long balanced finish; brewed with 100% Brettanomyces yeast and Comet hops.
A beer’s bitterness is measured on an International Bittering Units scale (or IBU). Light ales will rate between 8-20 IBU and IPA’s will be around 60-100 IBU or more. Most breweries with taprooms and brew pubs will list the IBU of their beers so that you know what to expect.
At the end of the day I learned that I prefer the softer ales and wheat beers over the lagers and the hoppy IPAs. The tour is a fun and safe way to learn about beer and get a feel for the small towns that make up Sonoma County. The tour is about four hours long including travel for $75 or more if you want lunch included. They also offer customized tours for small and larger groups. Arrive with an empty stomach and eat at the first stop to avoid getting sloshed and of course plan to have a nap when you get back to your hotel.