Napa Valley has long been devoted to the products of the grape, but the region actually played a pivotal role in getting the craft beer revolution off the ground. New Albion Brewing launched the microbrewery trend in adjacent Sonoma County in 1976, inspiring a wave of delicious and potent alternatives to pale industrial beer.
There’s a symbiotic effect between the hops and the vine, since making beer requires the same creative and perfectionist drive as wine. As the saying about thirsty winery workers goes, “It takes a lot of beer to make good wine.”
The hand-crafted beverages co-exist happily at Napa spots including St. Clair Brown and Mad Fritz Brewing. Elaine St. Clair is both the brewmaster and winemaker at St. Clair Brown, an idyllic downtown Napa spot with a large garden patio and greenhouse for beer and wine tastings. Three varieties at a time are kept in rotation, with such selections as Farmhouse Saison, Red IPA or Vienna Pale Ale. Try a flight with snacks plucked from the garden including figs in lavender honey or fresh tomatoes and burrata.
Berkeley-based Fieldwork is right in Napa’s buzzing Oxbow market, so beer flights can be paired with tastings from the food hall’s bounty of gourmet stalls. Fieldwork has an impressive selection of amusingly named IPA variations, but don’t miss the sours, including Monster Jam.
Next to the marketplace, Trade Brewing’s friendly tap room occupies a quaint cottage, with easy-drinking beers that pay homage to manual labor. Mallet is a session IPA, meaning it won’t knock you out with the first pint, while Triple IPA Pile Driver has tropical notes and packs a serious punch.
Co-founded by the owner of popular local restaurant Oenotri, Tannery Bend’s brewery and tasting room is in the historic Tannery Row area of downtown Napa. Try Tannery’s Capps Belgian Dubbel brewed with locally sourced candy cap mushrooms.
Serious rare brew connoisseurs will want to make a beeline for St. Helena’s Mad Fritz Brewing, owned by two winemakers who bring a high level of craftsmanship and experimentation to beers that are served in the area’s finest restaurants including Charter Oak, the French Laundry and Single Thread. Wood engraving-style labels on their large format bottles tell of the inspiration for unusual varieties including The Lion and Other Beasts Grisette Ale. Some varieties are brewed entirely with grains and hops grown in the Napa area.
Beer crawl completists will also want to hit up Stone Brewing, a new outpost of the craft beer giant that brews on the premises in the historic Borreo building overlooking the Napa River and Calistoga’s Napa Valley Brewing Co., the first microbrewery since Prohibition to open in the county.