Booze labels from the Wayback Machine

I know I’m not the only beer person who also digs local history. Thus, I can’t be the only one who’d enjoy the California Historical Society‘s Vintage Beer, Wine, & Spirits Labels exhibition. The exhibition opened in December, but I live under a rock so I just went last week. It’s not really beer-focused, but there’s some beer in it. (Kind of like this blog lately.) If you plan on being in San Francisco at any point in the next two weeks, it’s an inexpensive, quick trip to the 1930s.

It turns out the California Historical Society has an absurd collection of alcohol labels, including many from the focus of this exhibit, Lehmann Printing and Lithographing Company of San Francisco. A journalist called Lehmann “the printer who hasn’t heard about the depression” due to the company’s rapid expansion and its products’ festive aesthetic.

There are definitely some signs of the times that times have changed since the ’30s. Several beer labels contain selling points like “less than 1/2 of 1% alcohol” — it must have been Prohibition — and “high in extract.

Lithograph

When you’ve seen the exhibit, if want to explore further the California Historical Society’s library could easily take up the rest of your day. Patty from CHS (a fellow beer lover) suggested I go in there and ask for some more labels to look at, because they don’t have room to exhibit most of them. The librarian returned with three giant boxes of wine labels, out of a total of eight boxes they have. Talk about drinking from the firehose. I was overwhelmed, but it’s good to know someone’s keeping track of this stuff.

Lithograph

I’d never been to the California Historical Society before and I’m glad I went. It also has a cute gift shop where you can buy, among other things, books of the spirits and wine labels on display. If you want to check out the exhibit, you have until April 23 (not the 16th as it says on their website). There are a whole bunch of other museums nearby and it’s convenient to public transit. Not to mention it’s near Bartlett Hall, Mikkeller Bar, and Thirsty Bear. Cheers to drinks, design, and history! :)

Thank you Patty Pforte for making sure I found out about this exhibition.

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Farewell, Speakeasy

Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, one of San Francisco’s first post-prohibition breweries, has “ceased operations indefinitely.” I’m sad to see it go. I feel for the people who worked there. I’ve drank a lot of Speakeasy at a lot of bars, and this brand will forever evoke a more optimistic, new-to-Norcal time in my life. And if you don’t think Payback Porter was a good beer, I’m not sure what to tell you.

Here are some photos from a trip to Speakeasy in 2010.

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Cheers.

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On not drinking beer at SF Beer Week

If your beer blog post does not contain any beer, is it still a beer blog? An existential question of our time. Regardless, I am here to report on my unique experience of attending the SF Beer Week opening gala without consuming a single drop of beer, because I was on the clock at the Whole Foods booth. I do these things so you don’t have to!

Pros:

  • With or without beer, it’s hard to top a beautiful, sunny day in San Francisco. It reminds you why we put up with the cost of living and the rich douchebags.
  • I once again confirmed that Whole Foods Market hires some very cool people, many of whom I feel instantly comfortable and social with, which really is an oddity for me.
I still love tourist crap like this

On the train approaching the gala. I still love tourist crap like this

Cons:

  • Could not consume tasty beverages. Well, many of my colleagues snuck beers anyway, but I’m a goody two shoes. (Cue the Adam Ant song)

Pros:

  • I didn’t have to care/strategize/stress about which beers to try since I wasn’t trying any of them
  • I got to see a lot of people I don’t see enough of, including some I haven’t seen in months or (!) years.
  • I exercised what I like to call “teacher bladder” (when I was a teacher I wouldn’t pee between 7am and 3pm) and did not have to run the disgusting and time-consuming gauntlet that is the opening gala bathrooms. This is impossible when drinking.
  • I didn’t bother braving the dinner lines, but because I wasn’t drinking it didn’t really matter. Kudos to Betsy from Churchkey and Chad from Benoit-Casper for sneaking me snacks, though :)
This has nothing to do with anything but I admire anyone wearing this contrarian opinion to a beer festival in 201

This has nothing to do with anything but I admire anyone wearing this contrarian opinion to a beer festival in 2017

Cons:

  • Drunk people are funny when you’re not drunk, until they’re annoying, but then you’re just glad you’re not a bartender anymore and anyway by then it’s almost over.
This was funny to someone after 97 short pours of IPA

This was funny to someone after 97 short pours of IPA

Pros:

  • I did not wake up in the morning and have to make sure I didn’t lose anything, check outgoing text messages for incriminating evidence, or unsubscribe from Facebook groups I don’t remember joining. I don’t normally drink like that but the opening gala is a burly beast and I know how things usually end.
  • At no point at the event or the next morning did I have to wonder if I sounded stupid or had been stupid or was going to be stupid. That happens even after a beer and a half.
  • Because I was the lone Sober Suzie in a sea of drunkasses I was the one who noticed the dollar bill on the sidewalk on 3rd street, which turned out to be a $100. Protip, if you’re going to an event with unlimited pours of alcohol, don’t just have a hundo in loose in your pocket.

Cons:

  • Feeling like the odd man out with your water bottle is easy for a night, but I can see how the struggle is real for my friends who have, for health or personal reasons, given up beer entirely.

In short, I still got to socialize, which believe it or not even anxious turds like me can do without alcohol, and it didn’t cost me any money or liver function or shame. I guess I finally understand how people tolerate the free/cheap designated driver option at festivals. Any one of us is capable of buying some good beer and drinking at home, but you go to these things to see your people. And that — no matter how much the cost of living or the rich douchey neighbors may seem to be taking over — is what makes our beer community still worth being part of. Maybe we should all do something without alcohol once in a while, since we don’t actually need it to have fun?

That said, I’m going to go have a beer now :)

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I love you, Lucky 13, don’t ever change

For some reason — surely having nothing to do with the increasingly turbulent and pre-apocalyptic geopolitical climate — I’ve been spending more time than usual in bars this month. And it occurs to me: while I enjoy things called “taprooms” and “pubs” and godforbid “tasting rooms,” there really is something to be said for a place that can only in good conscience be described as a bar.

(When I lived in Dorchester, Massachusetts I frequently passed a bar called BAR. I lived in that neighborhood for more than a year and never went in. Another regret to process in my middle age.)

But I am talking about San Francisco bars here. The dark, loud places which before sunset have bright, loud patios. Places where, even if those under 21 were allowed, bringing the kids would not exactly make you Parent of the Year. Places that show you, to steal Steve Shapiro’s line, that there’s “still a little bit of San Francisco left in San Francisco.”

Lucky 13 is one of the great San Francisco bars. I don’t go often, but I think I sleep easier knowing it’s there.

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I went for the first time in 2003 or -4ish, when the bar was still a teenager. I did not yet live in the Bay Area. It was Friday night and I could barely hear my friends. I accidentally walked into the mens’ room and no one noticed. (Except the guy at the urinal.)

I’m sure the regulars could tell me ways Lucky 13 has changed over the years, but I’m not seeing it. It’s like when you ask an old friend how so-and-so from back home is and the answer is always “the same.” But not in a boring way, in a reliable, oh-thank-goodness way. It seems like every few years they threaten to bulldoze it, yet it stands untouched in gentrified San Francisco with its middle finger gleefully raised.

It’s always had good beer to choose from, but it’s a bar first and a beer bar second. On my last visit, the only thing on the board I (maybe) hadn’t had before was written as “FIELDWORK IPA.” Which one? Who cares. Shut up and drink it. You’re here to bullshit with your friend and the bartender, not check into Untappd. They’re playing Oingo Boingo and the Soft Boys and Queen. This is a good night. Better get a Chimay white while you’re here, who the hell has that on tap anymore?

Who am I kidding, I get a Chimay every time I'm here

Who am I kidding, I get a Chimay every time I’m here

Sitting at the bar at Lucky 13 with a burrito and a beer won’t make you a San Francisco native, but it may make you a better person. You’ll find the magic at 2140 Market Street and you should take public transit.  Go there now before California is underwater, our president gets us nuked by subtweeting Kim Jong Il, or 2140 Market is condos…whichever comes first.

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You should be drinking more Marin Brewing

In today’s beer landscape, where a homebrewer with a dream opens a brewery every 10 minutes, it’s easy to forget the classics. Like the perpetually award-winning but somehow still underrated Marin Brewing Company. I’m guessing many Bay Area beer fans have never been there, even though it’s been around since 1989.

My first visit to Marin Brewing, 2010

My first visit to Marin Brewing, 2010

Today, I salute them even more than usual for brewing a beer called Not My President IPA. This is a less ballsy move in Marin County than in some other parts of the US, of course…but it does risk pissing off the 1/3 of the county who voted for Trump, and seeing a business risk pissing off anyone in the capitalist swamp that is 2017 makes me smile. Kudos, also, to the beer bars putting it on tap, and to the guy who posted the picture of Toronado’s draft handle for it to a beer group last night. (Spoiler alert: it’s a penis with Trump’s head on it). Marin has had the courage of its convictions for decades, though. Marin and its sister brewpub Moylan’s donated to over 300 charities last year, and have run a breast cancer fundraiser festival for 16 years.

The pub itself is family friendly and approachable. The music is uncontroversial and tends towards classic rock. Sports are on TV. Lots of regulars. There are some dashes of only-in-Marin personality, like the collection of old coaster doodles across from the bar, bike stuff everywhere, and photos of locals…but in some ways, this pub could be in any neighborhood in America. 

Photo by Eric Pietras

Photo by Eric Pietras

However, most sports bar-type suburban locales don’t have beer this good. When I’m trying to convince someone Marin Brewing is good (which I’ve had to do way too often) the easiest argument is 3 Flowers rye IPA. That beer wins medals for a reason. It’s one of the best selling 22-oz bottles at the Marin grocery store where I work, so the locals get it. Maybe the name turns some people off — it doesn’t taste like flowers, dude, it’s referring to hop flowers! I was drinking a glass of cask 4 Flowers (3 Flowers plus another hop) when I decided to finally write this post.

Photo by Eric PIetras

Photo by Eric Pietras

If you like the dark stuff, Pt Reyes Porter never disappoints. If you want a Belgian, you might actually get one (a rarity for a California brewpub). And if you’re one of those beer tickers who needs everything to be imperialized or rare or barrel-aged or have exotic fruit in it…well, Marin does that sort of thing sometimes, (like the beer brewed with Chinese medicinal herbs sourced from Jerry Garcia’s acupuncturist.) And Old Dipsea barleywine is delicious. 

My cat also approves of this beer

My cat also approves of this beer

Marin doesn’t aim to be the king of hop bombs, strong ales, or weird adjuncts. It does all those things, but it mostly provides a friendly neigborhood brewpub that makes me wish, for just a minute, I lived in Larkspur.

Are you going? Cool. There are some daily specials to learn and love, if you’re one of the  4 people in the Bay Area beer scene (other than me) who are actually on a budget.

Monday: Tasty gringo tacos for $2.50

Tuesday: $3.50 pints (do NOT tip your server 50 cents, c’mon now.)

Wednesday: $3 off growler fills, so, $12.

They do a good job of posting taplists and specials on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The pub is located at 1809 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur, CA 94939. Public transit to Marin Brewing is technically possible, but not convenient unless you’re near certain bus stations in Marin County or you’re in SF near the ferry. (I do recommend the ferry option, it’s pricey but fun.) What you could do, if you want to try a ton of beers but not die on the way home, is end your session with a movie at the Cinemark that’s stumbling distance away.

Or just look for Marin beers at smart beer bars. (Hey beer buyers…as of 2015 the wholesale prices were more than fair.)

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Disclosure: We’re not BFFs, but Marin brewer Arne and I run in the same circles and we drank a lot of beers together in Belgium in 2015. I liked Marin a lot before all that. Hey Arne and Betz, when are we getting beers again?!

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The best beer thing I did all year

Let’s just get this out of the way: 2016 sucked, my blog sucked, I sucked. I have reason to believe at least my blog and I can suck less next year. No promises about 2017 in general, but dammit this is a beer blog and we’re not going to talk about that.

Instead I’m going to tell you about my best beer day of 2016, which was in March, but I’m posting about it in late December because SUCK. I’m sorry the name of my blog is becoming increasingly misnomer-ish but it was nowhere near the East Bay either — it was hanging out at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, CA. I got a little bit of special treatment for being In The Industry, but this is otherwise an epic beer day you could have for yourself.

I’m a loyal Sierra fan, even though I too got pretty tired of a certain green-labeled pale ale back in the days when that was the best beer option at almost any neighborhood bar. Sure, I have a soft spot for beer pioneers, but Sierra Nevada also continues to simply get things right while staying remarkably current with their new releases and seasonals. Some of you don’t like Sierra Nevada. I don’t get it but that’s fine. MORE FOR ME.

The tour

I should say I find most brewery tours incredibly boring. Tell me again, marketing intern, the difference between ales and lagers! The Sierra Nevada Beer Geek tour is for the rest of us.

I don’t want to go too in-depth here because I want you to go do it yourself. But I will relay a few of the highlights…

1. It’s three hours long. When they say “geek” they mean it.

2. Your tour guide might actually know more about beer than you do for once. Our tour guide was Byron, who knew what he was doing and seemed to enjoy doing it. Ask him anything. No, really.

This guy. Smart at beer.

This guy. Smart at beer.

3. You’re going to go all over the brewery and see all kinds of cool stuff like brewing equipment so German you can’t pronounce the controls.

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4. You are going to drink beer straight out of the tanks. Maybe twice.

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You also get a t-shirt and a growler…that’s a downside for many beer geeks, who have way too many beer shirts and growlers already, but these are at least cooler looking than most.

When the time comes for you to go up north, book your tour here.

The brewery restaurant doesn’t suck

In fact, the taproom is legitimately good.  The three of us on this trip — all of whom might identify as a “foodie” if the term wasn’t so stupid — ate there for both lunch and dinner the day we got there. Everything satisfied, though I can’t speak to dessert because my friend Jared is a visionary who made a good case for Narwhal counting as a dessert item.

This will likely be your splurge meal, though a Chico splurge meal is a Bay Area Tuesday ($12 burgers, $15-20 mains).

Other bars in town

The bar that felt most like the East Bay — but with everything still being a buck or two cheaper —  was the cool beer bar The Winchester Goose. It sounds like it came out of the Hipster Business Name Generator but the staff and patrons at my visit lacked any of the pretense you’d find at a similar spot in [insert your least favorite Bay neighborhood here]. Founders Curmudgeon and beer soup in a bread bowl, yes please!

Loose in the Goose

Loose in the Goose

Duffy’s Tavern sounded like my kind of place but I’m thinking I was there too early. It strikes me as the kind of place that gets cranking much, much later. Also the kind of place where you wonder upon entering when the beer lines last got cleaned, but my Firestone 805 tasted fine.

Argus sounded like the opposite of my kind of place but came strongly recommended from some locals at The Winchester Goose. Maybe you will have time to try it.

Off the beaten tourist path (you’ll need a car) is The HandleBar, Chico’s first beer bar. (What did I say earlier about loving pioneers?) Solid food, good beer list. As of this writing, go to their website and click on “Events” to see some familiar East Bay beer faces…

The Chico bar I’d most like to see magically transported to my neighborhood was The Maltese. Not a beer bar, but they did have a decent selection, including Sierra seasonals for $4. We also marveled at how affordable whiskey gets the further a bar is from San Francisco. Even the cover band was good (highlight: The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait,” complete with horn section.) As I posted at the time: “brb, moving to Chico.”

And, you know, you can go downtown and see the world’s largest yo yo for no particular reason.

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You’re fun, Chico. I’ll be back.

2016, we will not speak of you again.

Cheers, friends. Thanks for (still) reading.

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Made in Richmond: Benoit Casper Brewing

It’s not easy being a beer nerd in Richmond, a city of approximately 100,000 residents and exactly one bar that rotates its taps. That may change soon, and Benoit Casper Brewing Company — Richmond’s first brewery in the modern era — has been quietly leading the way.

(You should also stay tuned for East Brother Beer Company, a brewery currently being built in Richmond on Canal Street. More on them later).

Benoit Casper Brewing was founded in 2014 by Marc Benoit and Chad Casper (get it?) but it’s okay if you don’t know them yet. Slow expansion is actually their goal, not least because both founders have day jobs and families. “We will be lucky to top 200 bbls this year and 500 next,” said Chad. They hired their first outside employee this year, assistant brewer Tim Clair, and will be adding a 15 bbl fermenter and expanding the cold room. They self-distribute and plan to keep their beer more or less within a 50 mile radius. 

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Benoit Casper beers can be found at more and more beer bars in the area, but the physical brewery, for now, is known mostly to a small group of locals. On my visit, I ran into two neighbors I’ve never actually seen within Richmond city limits before because until now we all had to leave town for beer.

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Benoit Casper already had to jump through hoops to be allowed to brew in its 12th Street location, which is zoned residential. The good news for central Richmond is that, despite the paperwork hassles, they’re moving forward with a plan to open a taproom in the brewery. This should be a wonderful thing for a neighborhood generally lacking in entertainment options outside people’s homes. Selfishly, I’m stoked for a beer place I can walk to in under half an hour, and I’ve got a soft spot for drinking spots near BART stations. 

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So why Richmond? Sure, it’s less expensive than most parts of the Bay Area. But just as importantly for these guys, the brewery is adjacent to the construction company Chad Casper has worked at for the better part of two decades. That is a guy who gets to name a beer Iron Triangle Double IPA.

When your side hustle is next door to your day job...

When your side hustle is next door to your day job…

As a relative newcomer to Richmond (I bought my house in 2013), I’m in the precarious and perhaps hypocritical position of hoping the city can improve in the future without losing what makes it good already. It bodes well that the first brewery in otherwise beer-challenged modern Richmond is a labor of love, not a gentrifying bandwagon jump. I look forward to meeting more of my neighbors over beers soon.

While we wait patiently for the taproom, you can email info@bcbrewing.com to arrange a growler fill or keg fill and meet the crew. Outside the brewery, Point Richmond’s rugby pub Up & Under is the most reliable place to find a Benoit Casper beer on tap. Follow Benoit Casper on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and don’t forget there’s a world north of Berkeley.

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Remembering Lee Shephard

Drinking beer in Alaska in January. Photo by Ann Niemczyk.

Drinking beer in Alaska in January, like a boss. Photo by Ann Niemczyk.

Lee Shephard died on June 10 after an unfair struggle with a rare, aggressive neuroendocrine cancer. We in the beer community knew him as an award-winning homebrewer, master BJCP judge, festival organizer, volunteer wrangler, podcast co-host, drinking buddy, teacher, mentor, and friend.

It’s hard to overemphasize how much Lee taught so many people. Drinking a beer with Lee, you paid more attention. His BJCP classes were epic, unpaid labors of love full of hard science, tough love mixed with consistent encouragement, and extensive handwritten comments. Whenever he sat down at a judging table, both his fellow judges and the homebrewer up for critique were going to come out smarter. Unlike many brewers at his level, he was patient with newbies, generous with advice, and nonjudgmental of your learning curve. He was an actual educator in a world of pedants and know-it-alls.

Facebook is doing what Facebook does after someone passes…exploding with tributes that all but canonize the departed. In Lee’s case, it’s hard to argue with the outpouring. He really was all those things: smart yet humble, sarcastic but kind, hardworking and funloving, discerning yet forgiving, and liked by goddamn everyone.

Another rock star claimed by 2016. My condolences if you knew Lee. Bigger condolences if you didn’t.

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CommonWealth Cafe & Pub to change hands

Some people open a bar or restaurant, hire a general manager, and walk away. Others are so much a part of the business it’s hard to picture it without them. Ross and Ahna Adair, who founded CommonWealth in 2010 with Ahna’s brother Pete Jeffryes, were synonymous with the pub for many people. That’s why Facebook freaked out a little when this was posted on the CommonWealth page on Monday night.

Dear Friends,

The time has come to advise you all, we are stepping aside.

The CommonWealth will live on though, offering all the things you’ve come to know and love. We are simply passing on the torch to our friends, Lizzie Alford and Josh Rosenberg. They have both been regulars since we opened in 2010. Lizzie liked us so much she came on staff two years ago and Josh is a longtime member of the local restaurant community.

Several factors have culminated in this carefully considered decision but we are primarily motivated by what we feel is best for our wee family right now.

We are thrilled that Lizzie and Josh want to keep things going and honor all the hard work and love we have put in. They are an energetic young couple and we have the utmost faith in their ability to carry on the tradition.

When we think about getting out of the biz a wave of nostalgia passes over us and the six years we have spent building this pub flashes before our eyes. It will be bittersweet once the time comes, and no doubt emotional. We have made so many wonderful friends here.

We have been fortunate to find new owners who will continue on with the same care and passion and we feel assured that with your support, this pub will thrive for many years to come.

Cheers! Ahna and Ross

Many responses were some variant of “sad news.” I say CommonWealth Micropub closing in December was sad news. This change doesn’t need to be.

I admit I’m not objective, as I used to work for CommonWealth. I’ve only met Josh a few times but I’ve worked extensively with Lizzie. She’s been in the restaurant industry since she was 15 and is that rare breed of hospitality pro who is both a born server and a smart manager. Relax and trust her with this.

I asked her if anything would be changing and her response was quite clear. “Josh and I have no plans to change the Commonwealth,” she wrote. “We want to save it, to save the atmosphere, the traditions, the comfort food, the good beer. That includes maintaining the current staff and culture. Pub quiz, Burns night, bagpipes, FUTBOL. Futbol fans can rest easy, we’re gearing up for Copa America, and the Euros this summer. Just to be extra clear, NO ONE is being let go or fired in this transition of ownership.”

There you have it. Think of this as a family business being passed to a younger generation. Yes, it’s weird to think of visiting CommonWealth without seeing either of the Adairs, but all the other faces behind the bar (and in the kitchen) will remain familiar.

What’s next for Ahna and Ross? First up, some travel with their daughters. “The only thing we know for sure is we plan to travel to Scotland for the summer once Ruby and Charlotte are out of Kindergarten,” wrote Ross. “I haven’t been home in over 6 years, Ahna didn’t come with me on that trip because she was pregnant so it’s been even longer for her, the girls have never been. There’s a lot of folks dying to meet them. CW has anchored us to Oakland but our families are spread across the globe. We need to go see them.”

Having been behind the scenes at CW, I saw how hard Ross and Ahna work running a business AND raising twins. I’m happy for them, not sad, and I wish them all the relaxation and passport stamps they deserve. Cheers!

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Road trip: HenHouse Brewing’s Santa Rosa taproom

HenHouse Brewing has officially moved out of Petaluma and opened its new brewery and taproom in South Santa Rosa. I got invited to the soft opening, and needed no further persuasion to hop in the car and check it out. Soon, you can too: the taproom grand opening and release of HenHouse’s new sour is Saturday, March 5.

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As originally reported in The Press Democrat, this is a 75,000 bbl brewhouse, with initial production estimated at 5000 bbls. Likewise, there were 7 beers on tap over the weekend but I counted 21 tap handles. It’s going to be fun to watch HenHouse grow into this space. They’ll be filling some of those taps with fun tasting room-only beers from a 2 bbl pilot system.

They’ve got all the brewery taproom bases covered: full pours, small pours (essential at a place you almost have to drive to), growler fills, comfortable and casual vibe. They’ll be putting in more outdoor seating so you can look forward to drinking a HenHouse saison in the sun, as nature intended.

Some of you are skimming down the page wanting more about that sour beer. Okay. Co-owner Collin McDonnell kindly slipped my table a sample of it and I advise you to get excited about HenHouse’s barrel program. Stony Point Sour is “our house Saison aged in a mix of white wine barrels for about two years with Chardonnay juice, strawberries and boysenberries,” said Collin. “We have at least two more definitive beers lined up in the barrel program: saison with Chardonnay juice blended with a lactic fermentation which tastes like sparkly wine cooler peaches, and a barrel aged saison with kumquats. All three are different blends of the same base batch. Going forward, our funky/sour barrel aging program will take on a shape like this: multiple blends out of one batch. It’s a cool way to pull out different aspects of one beer.” Word.

HenHouse is located at 322 Bellevue Ave, Santa Rosa, 95407. The hours will be Wednesday through Friday 4-9pm, and Saturday/Sunday 11am-9pm. You can bring your own food or get chow from Red Horse Pizza on Friday through Sunday. It’s legal to bring the kids. Go get some good beer made by good people.

(Disclosure: I’ve been bullshitting with Collin on Twitter and running into him at bars for a few years now, and he bought my first beer at the taproom.)

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