Drinking beer used to be so simple. You stopped by the supermarket, grabbed a six-pack and popped open a can. You can still do it that way if you like.
But over the past several decades, with the rise of micro-breweries and craft brews produced on a relatively small scale, the American beer market and the public’s tastes have become much more diverse.
In the past decade or so, the Sonoma County brewpub scene has boomed, with local venues brewing and serving their own beers on site. And they’ve been joined by taprooms serving the best beers by local and regional craft breweries. Now even those distinctions are blurring, with some taprooms contracting with breweries for an exclusive line of beers.
Beer enthusiasts from throughout the United States and beyond line up around the block in downtown Santa Rosa for the Russian River Brewing Company’s limited, two-week release of Pliny the Younger triple India Pale Ale every February. But there is much more to the story than that.
Our recent Facebook query -- “What is your favorite new Sonoma County brewpub?” -- prompted so many responses that a simple list would run on for pages.
By the end of this story, we’ll be asking you for your favorites among the local brewpubs, but first, let’s start with two relatively new entries into the field that illustrate the variety that Sonoma County now offers serious beer fans.
Woodfour Brewing Company, which opened in August in Sebastopol’s Barlow shopping center, and Fogbelt Brewing Co., open since February in Santa Rosa’s Vintners’ Square, have one thing in common: their brewers all have some wine-making experience. Beyond that, the two places each take a totally different approach.
When beer buffs walk into Woodfour, a stylish restaurant with a wood bar and high-back chairs, they’ll immediately notice that the beer menu offers no India Pale Ale, a very popular style of beer that’s rich in hops flavor and fairly high in alcohol content. IPA has become the trademark of the West Coast brewing revolution.
“That’s intentional,” said Seth Wood, 29, who with partner Olav Vier, brews the beer at Woodfour. “We’re already surrounded by so many of the world’s best IPAs. We’re 15 minutes away from the Russian River Brewing Company. We’ve got Lagunitas in Petaluma and Bear Republic in Healdsburg.”
In contrast, Woodfour offers beers like Black Lager, a surprise since lager is one of the lighter styles of beer, and this beer looks dark.
“Our goal is to change people’s perceptions of what beer is,” Wood explained. “It’s not just fizzy, yellow stuff. There is more to beer than tailgate parties and football games.”
For that reason, Woodfour has no TV screens, a rare departure from the brewpub norm.
“We want to it be about the beer. We want to start a dialog with the customer,” he said. “Beer deserves a place at the table.”
In the tradition of winery tasting rooms, Woodfour suggests food and beer pairings: stout and oysters, black lager with house-made pickled vegetables.
At Fogbelt, one of the regular customers aptly summed up the house philosophy.
“They do a very solid representation of the styles of beer, and they make a good variety,” said Michael Squires, 27, whose family runs the Squires Cigars shop next-door.
Where to see the Wildflowers
Wildflower or Wildfire Hikes at Sonoma Regional Parks in April 2018
For directions and registration information, go to: parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Play/Calendar
April 8, 2018 from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Spring Wildflower Walks: North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park: Explore the park’s spring wildflowers and the rich biodiversity. Search for blooms beneath the majestic redwoods, along Matanzas creek, amidst beautiful oaks and throughout open meadows as we climb the north slope of Sonoma Mountain. Enjoy lunch and breathtaking views from the Bennett Valley Overlook on this 5-mile hike.
April 14, 2018 from 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Wildfire Ecology Hikes - Hood Mountain Regional Park: How are the parks recovering from the Sonoma County wildfires? Join a Regional Parks naturalist on 7-mile hike in Hood Mountain Regional Park.
April 14, 2018 from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Spring Wildflower Walks - Taylor Mountain Regional Park - Petaluma Hill Road Entrance: Enjoy surprising stories and fascinating facts about nature’s blooming treasures as we search along the trail for spring wildflowers and spectacular scenery.
April 14, 2018 from 2:00 – 4:00 PM
Spring Wildflower Walks: Creekside Wildflower Walk -Crane Creek Regional Park: Explore edible, medicinal, useful and wondrous wildflowers. Spot remarkable blooms and discover their stories on this fun and informative 3-mile walk with a knowledgeable naturalist.
April 21, 2018 from 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Spring Wildflower Walks: Serpentine Secrets - Tolay Lake Regional Park: Join Regional Parks and the Sonoma Land Trust to experience spring’s riches at Tolay Lake Regional Park and discover rare, diverse and abundant displays of native wildflowers. Learn about California’s serpentine soils and their important and unique relationship with native wildflower species. Enjoy amazing views of San Pablo Bay and beyond on this 6-mile, semi-strenuous hike through open, rolling grasslands. Bring a hat, sunscreen, plenty of water and a picnic lunch.
April 28, 2018 from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Wildfire Ecology Hike - Sonoma Valley Regional Park: How are the parks recovering from the Sonoma County wildfires? Join a Regional Parks naturalist on an easy to moderate-level 3-mile hike in Sonoma Valley Regional Park in Glen Ellen.
April 29, 2018 from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Spring Wildflower Walks: From Wildfire to Wildflower - Sonoma Valley Regional Park: Explore this unique botanical hotspot, observe splendid spring blooms, and discover the fascinating relationship between wildfire and wildflowers. This park was profoundly affected by the October 2017 Nuns Fire. Expect to see the park respond with an abundant and diverse display of wildflowers this spring — a beautiful reminder and charming celebration of nature’s resilience.
Wildflower and Wildfire Hikes at State Parks in Sonoma County in April 2018
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
For directions and registration information go to: sonomaecologycenter.org/events
April 8, 2018 from 9:30 AM – 1:30 PM
Join botanist Ann Howald of California Native Plant Society‘s Milo Baker chapter to tour areas of the park that burned in the October wildfires. The walk’s emphasis is on recovery of trees and shrubs that burned, and to look for wildflowers–possibly ones that follow fires and have not been seen for decades.
April 22, 2018 from 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Join Botanist, Peter Warner, in this Earth Day Sugarloaf exploration! Fire is a powerful, rejuvenating force in California plant ecology. On this leisurely walk, with some elevation gains and losses, well observe and discuss the various effects of fire and its chemical by-products on the flora (and fauna) across several different habitat types, including grassland, oak woodland, and chaparral.
April 14, 15 and 28, 2018 from 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Join park naturalists and/or Sonoma Ecology Center staff to learn how to interpret fire landscapes at Sugarloaf that burned in the recent wildfires. Come see the land recover. We will be assessing burned trees, learning how to interpret fire-affected landscapes, and watching for special “fire follower” wildflowers. Discussion questions include: Why did this happen? What does it mean? How do we prepare for it happening again?
Jack London State Park
For directions and registration information for Jack London hikes, go to: jacklondonpark.com/jack-london-future-events.html
April 7, 2018 from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM
Wildflowers on the East Slope Trail: It’s been a three years since the Eliot Loop Trail opened with the help of the Bay Area Ridge Trail and the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District. Join us as we discover an array of wildflowers that bloom along the trail while enjoying the fantastic views! We will expect to see carpets of California Poppies and Lupines at the top and a variety of wildflowers along the Sonoma Ridge trail. Join Park naturalist John Lynch as we take a moderately paced 12 mile nature hike to explore the wildflowers and anything else we find along the way.
Earth Day Wildflower Walk and Hike
April 21, 2018 from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM (walk) and April 22, 2018 from 10:00 AM to 1:30 (hike)
This Earth Day weekend revel in the beauty of spring with either a wildflower walk or hike. These outdoor adventures will be led by naturalist John Lynch and focus on the interconnected web of nature at the Park. Saturday discover the wildflowers along the Wolf House trail on an easy short walk or on Sunday, take an intermediate 4 to 8 mile hike, we’ll go where the wildflowers are best, on back country trails to discover a wider variety of wildflowers. With both you can expect to see Canyon Delphinium, Chinese Houses, Golden Fairy Lantern, Lupine, Popcorn Flower, Mules Ears (2 varieties) as well as the birds, reptiles and other plants that make up the eco-system of the Park. Our hikes are slow-paced so allow plenty of time, bring cameras, binoculars, poles, plenty of water, snacks and wear sturdy shoes. Be prepared for uneven ground.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here