Seismic Brewing set to start pouring beer at new Sebastopol taproom

For more than two years, Christopher Jackson and his team at Seismic Brewing Co. have preached to consumers about how their beer is made in a sustainable manner. In short, that means using practices that support ecological, human and economic health and vitality now and for years to come.

They have touted, for example, how they have reduced the gallons of water needed to brew a single gallon of beer down to a ratio of below 3 to 1. They have talked about how they partner with local businesses - from malt provider to distributor - and cover the full cost of employees' health care.

Yet that message was hard to get through because the Santa Rosa-based craft beer purveyor didn't have a taproom where customers could visit, drink and learn more about Seismic - which is an anomaly in an industry increasingly relying on direct-to-consumer sales. That's about to change with the opening next weekend of Seismic's taproom in The Barlow in Sebastopol.

“We've got an opportunity to talk about our beer with as much passion and enthusiasm as we can in this space,” said Jackson, the 29-year-old son of Barbara Banke and the late Jess Jackson, who founded Jackson Family Wines, one of the nation's most recognized wine companies.

In an interview, Jackson said that if he had to do it all over again, he would have opened a taproom sooner, when he started in 2016 building his brewery in southwest Santa Rosa. “We would have been in a better position,” he said of the multimillion-dollar taproom project separate from his family's wine empire, but “frankly I think we are in a great position.”

Indeed, Seismic was an outlier. The only comparable craft brewery in California that didn't have a taproom for years after producing its first barrel of beer was Anchor Brewing Co. of San Francisco, which opened its Protero Hill brewpub in 2017, said Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association.

“It's just something the customer seems to appreciate,” McCormick said.

The advantages go beyond cultivating more customers. For small breweries, they can sell their beers on-site and to-go because it's difficult for them to get widespread retail distribution in the crowded craft brew marketplace. Larger breweries can more efficiently test new beer recipes to determine if they will catch on with beer drinkers before ramping up costly production.

“It allows core consumers to see who you are and experience the brewery and get a sense and feel for the story of the brewery,” McCormick said of the taproom.

Birth of a brewery

The early focus for Seismic was launching the brewery, which started shipping its beers to area bars and restaurants across Sonoma County in the spring of 2017. Later, the brewery started canning beer in six- packs and selling it to supermarkets and specialty stores.

Jackson's initial plan was to grow within Northern California and not try to flood the national beer market. Seismic now makes about 10,000 barrels of beer a year. It's also expanding distribution, selling beer in Reno and planning a push into Southern California.

“We will be knocking down the door of 30,000 barrels before we blink,” he said, noting his company is on track to turn a profit next year.

Still a young brewery, Seismic's beers already are getting attention. Earlier this month in a contest at the California State Fair, its gose, Danger Zone, won second place and its standard American lager, Tremor, garnered third place.

The accolades, company officials said, can be attributed to the brewing team and the company's “green” philosophy. Jackson recruited Andy Hooper from Anderson Valley Brewing Co. in Boonville to be his brewmaster. The brewery features cutting-edge environmental pieces such as a machine that reuses water by completely removing contaminants and solids from the brewing liquid. It also uses a centrifuge filtration system that removes sediment and residual yeast from the beer, thus improving the taste.

“That brewery has a lot of nice toys,” said Brian Hunt, owner and brewmaster of Moonlight Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa.

However, visitors who go to Seismic's 4,000-square-foot taproom in Sebastopol undoubtedly will be drawn there for the craft beers - initially a selection of 12 will be on tap. The lineup will include its biggest sellers such as Alluvium pilsner, Liquifaction kolsch and Shatter Cone IPA (India pale ale). Also, there will be special-release limited brews such as a crisp kolsch aged in chardonnay wine barrels and an imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels, a beer that gives off an aftertaste like a rich dessert. The beers will be served in a glass suited for each style, such as a stange - think water glass - for the kolsch.

“This is an opportunity to show off the breadth of our portfolio,” brewmaster Hooper said.

Unlike many local breweries, Seismic does not have a portfolio heavy on the hoppy and popular IPAs, preferring to have a beer range and style akin to the well-respected lineup of North Coast Brewing Co. in Fort Bragg.

“I would be unhappy if we were pigeonholed as that brewery that makes that one style of beer,” Hooper said.

Opening a taproom

The new taproom will be a draw on its own. The typical craft beer taproom is housed at the brewery and has modest decor in a spruced-up room inside an industrial park. There are a few exceptions locally, notably the Russian River Brewing Co.'s modern farmhouse-style brewpub and restaurant in Windsor.

That's not Seismic, though, based on a recent visit. Its taproom has floor-to-ceiling windows, wood paneling with sound-dampening features and two patio areas. The padded barstools come with electrical outlets to plug in a smartphone. The business borders Highway 12, yet a visitor inside can't hear the traffic. It resembles a modern winery tasting room straight out of Healdsburg.

Nonetheless, even with modern features Jackson said that it will still be a taproom with a billiards table and a framed drawing of Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry.

“I wanted this to be comfortable. I wanted the furniture to be comfortable. Sometimes, I sit at a bar and feel like a bird perched on a wire,” he said.

The environment is an ideal setting, Jackson said, for the more than 20 taproom employees to talk with beer-drinking patrons about the brewery's core philosophy: sustainability. The staff spent weeks in the brewery learning the basics of that from Hooper and how sustainability is a focal point of the entire operation from brewing to serving beers.

Sustainable mindset

“The story of Seismic is pretty simple. We wanted to make world-class beer in a sustainable way. We really wanted the experience here in terms of how the beer is poured and presented with our people to reflect that ethic at Seismic,” he said.

It's a message employees know well. The empty taproom in late February had more than 4 feet of water inside as a result of the atmospheric river that flooded Sonoma County, dumping as much as 20 inches of rain at The Barlow and other areas. The nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa flooded and water seeped into most of The Barlow's businesses. The flood delayed the taproom opening by two weeks, Jackson said.

“Climate change is real. It's a factor in the Sonoma County beverage industry with the fires and with the flood,” said Jackson, a graduate of UC Berkeley's School of Law and a father of three. “It has reinforced the critical element of sustainability.”

To that end, the brewery gets its power from Sonoma Clean Power and is looking at using carbon offsets in order to go “soup to nuts” carbon neutral, Jackson said.

“We didn't want to make beer and ignore the environmental impacts,” he said.

While running Seismic, Jackson has a second job. He and his wife, Ariel, are proprietors of his family's Stonestreet Estate Vineyards in Healdsburg. The winery is known for its single vineyard cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc from grapes in higher elevations of the Alexander Valley.

He's excited about the potential in the marketplace of wines made from grapes in the mountain regions of the valley given the increasing popularity of mountain cabs.

And that's not all. He also is serving as co-chairman of the Sonoma County Wine Auction this September with Gina Gallo of E. & J. Gallo Winery.

“I think it's a reflection of how special the wine community in Sonoma County is. That you can have two of the stiffest competitors of an industry come together in a way to lift up a community is the collegiality of local wine,” Jackson said.

Although they're different beverages, Jackson sees similarities between his craft beer and wine businesses. Similar to a winery tasting room, he's passionate about the Seismic taproom being a place where visitors can learn more about the ingredients in the beers and how they are made.

“If we are not getting people to come into this place for beer education, we are not doing our job right. This should be a bastion of beer education,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or On Twitter @BillSwindell.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine