New beer, cider companies turning Sebastopol into Sonoma County brewing mecca

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A few years ago, the Barlow in Sebastopol would not be on anyone’s list as a go-to destination in Sonoma County for beer aficionados.

While Woodfour Brewing Co. has carved out a niche at the outdoor shopping complex for almost five years with its highly regarded sour beers, nearby Warped Brewing Co. closed after failing to attract customers.

But things have changed in the upscale retail, arts and restaurant district, which is buzzing with new energy — and a distinct flavor of barley and hops.

The 220,000-square-foot complex, which previously housed an apple processing plant, has finally leased all of its retail space. It will include a future taproom for Seismic Brewing Co. of Santa Rosa, the upstart brewery led by Christopher Jackson of the famous Sonoma County wine family. Also joining the taproom lineup is Golden State Cider of Sebastopol, making a product that large marketing firms also include within the beer category and, in fact, is the second most popular craft style category behind India pale ales (IPAs). Both taprooms are slated to open by year’s end.

They will join Crooked Goat Brewing Co., which has become one of the county’s most popular taprooms since opening almost two years ago by offering a wide array of flavor-infused beers from pineapple IPAs to vanilla bean stouts. In addition, Community Market also has a popular taproom in the complex that features local beer and cider as well as occasional musical performances outside on its lawn.

“The concentration is great,” said James Holt, co-owner of North Bay Brewery Tours of Rohnert Park, which shuttles tourists and Bay Area residents around to local breweries on its half-day tours. “It’s making it a destination and not just a venue.”

To be sure, the Barlow still features three winery tasting rooms and an exclusive lounge for customers of Kosta Browne Winery, producers of a cult pinot noir. Spirit Works Distillery also has distinguished itsel with its craft whiskey, gin and vodka.

But the full lineup at the Barlow is likely to draw a lot more beer lovers to the district, located on the city’s east side next to Highway 12.

All of the taprooms will be housed within a short walking distance from each other. The HopMonk Tavern — and its popular beer garden — also is nearby and is easy accessible from the Joe Rodota Trail and West County Trail used by bicyclists.

The city of almost 8,000 people, long proud of its reputation as a progressive, counterculture hub — touted by its “Nuclear Free Zone” sign at the city’s entrance — is gaining a new image as a regional beer mecca, brewers said.

“I think it’s a destination spot,” Jackson said.

He noted brewers at The Barlow all feature different beer styles. For example, Seismic’s second most popular beer is a light-bodied kolsch and it also offers a pilsner besides some IPAs. Seismic has kept a regional footprint since reaching the market last year, producing about 5,500 barrels annually.

“I think the diversity of style and flavor will be great for the local customer,” he said. “We are living in a golden age (for beer).”

Woodfour owner Seth Wood agreed. “If you have a group of five people and one or two of them really love sour beer ... we are going to be able to grab them,” he said.

Wood, however, added that there will be likely critics who believe the influx of taprooms will mean that “Sebastopol is turning into a booze playground.”

Golden State Cider is excited to be part of the district because co-owner Jolie Devoto-Wade believes it can lure beer drinkers looking for something different over to its taproom.

“I think beer drinkers are pretty adventurous,” said Devoto-Wade, who as a child used to deliver apples to the area with her father, Sebastopol grower Stan Devoto, back when apple processors were located on the site.

Golden State will offer up to 10 ciders on tap, including premium drinks made from local apples, she said. There will also be apple juice for children. “A big challenge will be education,” Devoto-Wade said. “That will be central to everything we do.”

The Barlow is excited to have Seismic and Golden State in the district because they both have been able to generate a loyal following in the consumer market by focusing on quality craft products, said Tonja Kraynik, office manager for the complex.

“We’re happy to have them come,” Kraynik said.

One advantage taprooms in The Barlow have over others located in Sonoma County is that there are many food options located very close nearby that can be ordered and brought over.

For example, food from Barrio, a Mexican-style street food restaurant with gourmet ingredients, has been popular for those over at Crooked Goat, Kraynik said.

The vast majority of local taprooms don’t serve food, though a few rely on food trucks.

Not all the activity is centered around alcohol. A Japanese restaurant is slated to open soon in The Barlow. In addition, The Farmer’s Wife, a Sonoma-based pop-up that has generated great buzz with its sandwiches, also has signed a lease, Kraynik said.

“It isn’t just drinking,” she said.

To prove her point, the complex will host its first paid concert on Aug. 25 at its event center located behind the restaurant Zazu, featuring indie-rock singer Sean Hayes. Tickets are from $15 to $30.

A hotel has been planned for the complex, but the effort has not moved much in recent years as Barlow developer Barney Aldridge has struggled to find the right spot. However, a 66-room, four-story hotel between the town plaza and The Barlow — which will be operated by Healdsburg-based Piazza Hospitality — is scheduled to begin construction late this year or early 2019. That will bring more tourists over to the area.

“It’s not necessarily a destination they (visitors) are going to seek on their own. But when we take them to The Barlow, they are going to remember that,” Holt said.

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

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