Hason of Sonoma vodka.
Winemakers often say “It takes a lot of beer to make good wine.” And while vines are likely the first things that come to mind when you think of Northern California, there is an abundance of world-class breweries and distilleries throughout Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Livermore. Here is a quick guide to 21 of our favorites to mix into your wine country visit—or plan a suds-soaked adventure in its own right.
Mad Fritz Ales and Lagers are brewed using single variety micro-malts, heirloom hops, and wine-barrel aged in St. Helena by celebrated winemaker Nile Zacherle. Mad Fritz is available on tap at Press Restaurant and Farmstead in St. Helena, or by appointment at the brewery.
Napa Point Brewery is right in the heart of downtown Napa, and their traveling, rentable, Brewski Bus is becoming the centerpiece at parties for beer lovers. Make sure you try their ales, which are smooth, flavorful and perfect palate cleansers if you’re on a wine kick.
Napa Smith is located at the entrance to Napa and on just about every menu in the valley. While the location is a bit industrial, the tours are informative and fun, and brews are straightforward and suit a wide range of palates.
The Calistoga Inn and Brewery is the spot to stop if you’re looking to catch a game with a cold one, or have a beer with lunch on the patio. Their beers are good and you can expect tasty seasonal releases, but this place is all about the relaxed atmosphere.
Napa Valley Distillery is a sophisticated spot to sip and shop in downtown Napa’s Oxbow market. Their tasting salon is crisp and classy, and their high-end cocktails and blends make for great gifts and conversation starters.
Charbay Artisan Distillery and Winery is family owned and operated and makes award winning whiskeys and creative cocktails that rival any in the country, if not world. The winery/distillery is surrounded by forest and will make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time. The Green Tea Vodka is not to be missed.
Hanson of Sonoma is producing grape-based organic vodka with branding hip enough to take any liquor display or home bar up a notch. The infused vodkas, ranging from mandarin to espresso, are subtle and smooth, and the Sonoma distillery will be open to visitors any time now.
Carneros Brewing is owned by the Ceja Brothers (of Ceja Family Vineyards) and they are doing the family proud with their complex but easy drinking beers. These fun-loving entrepreneurs will welcome you to their beer garden, tap room, or help you throw one heck of a private event.
Hopmonk Taverns are located in Sonoma, Novato, and Sebastopol and are more about garlic fries and live music than beer. However, they do make some tasty brews and all three locations have a friendly, laidback atmosphere with fun parties and lively crowds.
Warped Brewing Company is serious about beer but not afraid to have some fun. Their tasting room has a video game theme and they are becoming known for their seasonal beers like Pixelated Porter (Molasses Porter), Cold Crash '83 (IPL), Ninja Date Night (Tart Imperial Brown), and Impossible Landing (Kolsch).
Woodfour Brewing Co. was founded by Seth Wood and Olav Vier, two beer enthusiasts who make ten elaborate brews. A great place to visit, they also offer a rotating list of specialty guest beers, more than 40 beers from around the world, and tasty beer-paired cuisine.
Spirit Works is run by husband and wife team, Timo and Ashby Marshall, who blend British tradition with New World innovation into their spirits. Not shy to variety, they make handcrafts artisan vodka, gin, sloe gin, straight wheat whiskey and straight rye whiskey, Barrel Gin and Barrel Reserve Sloe Gin.
Find a comprehensive list of Sonoma County brewery listings here.
Anderson Valley Brewing Co. is all about ales and keeping it green. Their entire operation is solar-powered and they pride themselves on their warm and educational guest experience, as well as their annual Boonville Beer Festival in May.
North Coast Brewing Co. makes some well-known, award-wining beers like Old Rasputin imperial stout and Scrimshaw lager. They are also known for their beer and food pairings, such Red Seal NY Steak and Scrimshaw Steamed Clams.
Ukiah Brewing Co. was America’s first organic brewpub and focuses on handcrafted, unfiltered, small batch ales and lagers. They have gained fame of late for their Pilsner Ukiah and high-alcohol Doppel Dunkel dark wheat.
Mendocino Brewing Co. brews their beers in the traditional, Old World manner with proprietary yeast strain. They have the honor of being the first brewpub in California, second in the United States, and are very well known for their Red Tail Ale.
Bite Hard Cider is a gluten free, semi dry cider made by self-described “eccentric group of small town scholars, craftsmen, farmers, and freaks.” The ciders are available at a variety of locations and they are in the process of opening a cider house so keep an eye out for the grand opening.
Germain-Robin Distillery is famous for their award-winning, single-varietal and single-vineyard brandies produced using exclusively Mendocino County wine grapes. They welcome guests for tours regularly but require advance booking.
Altamont Beer Works is all about growlers, tastings, and California slang. Their beers are earthy like their style, which is demonstrated by the fun names given to their beers: Hella Lite, Left Coast Session, and their nod to Ron Burgundy, Rich Mahogany.
Eight Bridges Brewing Co. makes their beers in a traditional style and focus on seasonal brews and family-style events. Bring the kids and the dog and spend the day sipping, relaxing, and listening to live music.
Working Man Brewing Co. keeps things simple and dedicates their beer to the hard working people of the Bay Area. Focused on the basics of brewing and working hard at their day jobs, Working Man opens their doors every weekend to thirsty travelers.
There are a ton of other great breweries in Northern California and the Brewers Association to help you find them.