More Than Just a Bunch of Wineries

Lagunitas Brewing Co. - All quiet in the Automated Brewhouse
Lagunitas Brewing Co. - Barrel Aging the Beer
Lagunitas Brewing Co. - The Writing is on the Wall

When you think of Sonoma, CA what comes to mind? Maybe green vineyards or rolling golden hills, but probably not craft beer and hard cider. On a recent vacation in Northern California I tasted quite a few beverages made with barley and apples instead of grapes. Sonoma County has built a reputation on wine, but a revival of hand-crafted beer and cider has grown from historic hop vines and apple orchards.

Why would I sample beer and cider instead of wine? Well, a craft beverage revival is gaining momentum and ... I love beer. Craft brewing is exploding (not literally) across the U.S. and cider makers are popping up wherever apples are grown. I checked out two breweries at both ends of the production spectrum; Lagunitas and Woodfour Brewing Company and cider from Tilted Shed.

Lagunitas Brewing Company, based in Petaluma, is the fifth largest U.S. craft brewery. Founded in 1992 Lagunitas has grown by leaps and bounds (with a brand new brewhouse in Chicago) they work hard to maintain their rebellious attitude. Taking the brewery tour we were regaled with tales of the founder's shenanigans and rowdy stories of beers like "Censored". Lagunitas does not brew "true to style" (e.g. Little Sumpin' Sumpin') so "purists" may be surprised by their beers. The brewery tour is fun and contrasts a quiet, fully-automated brewhouse with boisterous ales.

Just up the road in Sebastopol is the much newer and smaller Woodfour Brewing Company. Woodfour has a modest 10 barrel capacity brewhouse where they create interesting Belgian-style varieties. Although I'm not a huge fan of sour beers (often brewed with Brettanomyces yeast) Woodfour had a brown session ale and Imperial Black ale that pleased my more traditional palate. If you are looking for a change from familiar brewpub fare Woodfour is refreshing and tart break from the usual.

Tilted Shed Ciderworks is a new fermenter in Sonoma County specializing in apples. Tilted Shed wasn't quite ready for tours this summer, but their product was easy to find at a local grocer. We tried a bottle of the Graviva! Semidry Cider. Made from Gravenstein apples the Graviva! cider was crisp, dry and refreshing, but not too tart. In our experience making hard cider we know that making decent cider isn't too hard, but making great cider is tough.

Sonoma County is a beautiful part of Northern California and I love visiting. Here's an idea for a new marketing campaign, "Sonoma, It's more than just a bunch of wineries!" If the tourism board wants to use that sparkling bit of prose, it's theirs if they buy me a beer.

More Info: - Getting Hopped Up — Again

Gravenstein Apple Fair

Lagunitas Brewing Company

Top 50 U.S. Craft Brewing Companies

Beer Styles

Woodfour Brewing Company

Tilted Shed Ciderworks

A Toast to Fall's Harvest