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When four former high school classmates got together to surprise their husbands with a early Father's Day treat, they wanted something different.

"We had a covert meeting in my garage," said the ringleader, Christine Sims of Petaluma. "We wanted to do something for the boys that would be the best Father's Day gift ever."

Then she saw an online ad for North Bay Brewery Tours.

"I thought, &‘That's amazing. That's something for dads. That's something new, not another winery tour."

So on a recent Saturday morning, the four couples gathered at a Rohnert Park parking lot to board the new touring company's 14-passenger bus for a day of beer tasting. The surprise was a success.

"I had no idea," said Dan Arntz of Petaluma. "This is fun. This a good time."

The tour started with a visit to the Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma for a tasting and lunch in the outdoor beer garden, followed by a tour of the brewery.

As the group left, Lagunitas tour guide Lewis Norbell predicted that visiting breweries by bus would be the next big trend in excursion packages.

"I truly believe that in another year these trips will be as hot as winery tours," Norbell said.

North Bay Brewery Tours was founded in April 2010 by Ron Holt, 26, his brother James, 23, and their partner, Robert Watkins, 23, all of Rohnert Park. They bought a bus, hired a professional driver, got the licensing and insurance they needed, and started booking tours.

"We've always been big fans of craft beer. I like wine, but I love beer," said Ron Holt. He left his previous job as a business consultant for the Subway restaurant chain in Los Angeles to start North Bay Brewery Tours.

A Sonoma State University graduate with a degree in small business, he's glad to be back in Sonoma County.

"We've gotten a really good reception for the tours," Holt said.

The next stop was at the Beverage People in Santa Rosa, a shop that offers supplies and advice to home breweries, and by then a party mood prevailed among the dads.

Told by a guide that the yeast used to make beer was alive, one of the dads knocked on the refrigerator door and said, "Hello?"

For tour member Rod Hass, a retired teacher from Magalia in Butte County, this stop was serious business. Brewing his own beer is not just a hobby; it's practically a religion.

"Beer is the Rapture in a keg," he quipped.

While there was plenty of serious, scientific talk during the day about hops, barley and alcohol levels, the mood was light and the pace was easy.

Seated outside the Bear Republic Brewing Co. in Healdsburg around several platters of barbecued oysters, the tour party sampled ESBs (Extra Special Bitters) and IPAs (India Pale Ales) with a dedication usually reserved for Pinot Noir.

"I'm not a wine guy," said Dan Arntz, whose wife Amanda organized the Father's Day surprise with her friends, Christine Sims and Jamie Reagan of Petaluma and Mindy Johnson of Rohnert Park.

Today, the real Father's Day, the men will be with their kids, but last weekend they had a special day of their own.

"This was just for the dads," Simms said.

The tour's last stop was the Third Street Aleworks in downtown Santa Rosa, where the party gathered in the balcony for another round of beer samples.

Ron Holt seemed pleased with the job he has created for himself.

"It has been a lot of work getting started, but I spend my day around a lot of nice people who make good beer," he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.