Walking into Napa Point Brewing feels a little different than other breweries.
No beards. No tattoos. No cartoony labels or graphics featuring impossibly lovable scruffy dogs.
It feels grown up, like, say, a winery. And that's not an accident.
Robert Dahl, CEO and founder of the month-old brewery south of the city of Napa, said he visited hundreds of breweries before opening his business and noticed a consistent theme: a certain shaggy DIY vibe that spoke of wide-open innovation, but was a little shakier when it came to engaging guests and running an efficient business.
"The problem was, I noticed, it wasn't done at the same level as in the wine industry," said Dahl, who runs nearby Napa Point Winery and contract bottling operation California Shiners. "It was a very 'garage' mentality."
The new brewery, in the industrial park next to the Napa County Airport, is gleaming and bright, with a restaurant, an outdoor beer garden, and a soon-to-open taproom with TVs, dart boards, beer pong tables, and room for live bands. The brewery has two "brewski buses," small delivery trucks converted to mobile taprooms to show up at beer festivals and fundraisers.
In the back of the 51,000-square-foot facility is the site that will soon house both a 15-barrel brewing system and a 30-barrel one, along with fermenters, storage tanks, a state-of-the-art bottling line, a sophisticated water filtration system, and a quarter-million-dollar wastewater treatment plant.
The new brewhouse will probably open sometime early next year. For the moment, the beer is being made in a nearby brewery, though Dahl declines to say which one.
But because Dahl has no direct experience in brewing beer, he recruited a high-end brewmaster to use his gleaming new brewhouse, luring local brewing standout Denise Jones away from Moylans Brewing in Marin County to create what he is calling "ultra-premium" beer, an unusual term in the world of beer.
"It can't just be words; it has to be in the proof," he said. "You've got to have a world-class beer; you have to have a world-class experience.
"If I'm selling ultra-premium beer, I have to resonate all the way through with ultra-premium, in our staffing, in our restaurant, in our food, in our beer, in our packaging, the whole experience," he said.
But how does this all square with the normal image of the craft brewery, with rogue homebrewers gone big time, mad scientists cooking up extreme brews, and bewhiskered beer geeks at the taproom looking for the next big thing?
"It's definitely a different model," admits Jones, who has a small ownership stake in the new brewery. "Most brewing startups are cobbled together with very little money; they struggle to get investors, they struggle to get loans."
But, she said, with the first generation of craft brew fans reaching and passing middle age, and perhaps looking for a more refined experience, "We decided it was the right approach to do a startup that doesn't feel like a startup."
Dahl and his main business partner, construction company owner Greg Knittel, largely financed the operation themselves out of their personal savings, Dahl said, though he declined to put an exact number on it.
Napa Valley is probably a good place to experiment with such a model in brewing, Dahl and Jones say, since people who live in or visit Wine Country are well acquainted with the more winery-like establishment that Napa Point represents.