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Published on : Friday, August 5, 2016
The first Friday of every August is known as International Beer Day, when the whole world celebrates the world’s favourite drink. Beer! And on such a tasty occasion, it’s only fair to talk about beer destinations. There may be many famous beer destinations in the world, but one that may surprise you is California!
With nearly 500 breweries statewide (and probably more by the time you read this), it’s safe to say that the craft beer movement is booming in California. From the state’s northernmost stands of coast redwoods, south to the sun-scorched Mojave Desert, the craft beer movement has reached every corner of the Golden State. Even serious wine-producing regions like Napa Valley now tout their latest microbreweries, to say nothing of San Diego and other cities that have become synonymous with great craft beers at appealing and unique brewery destinations.
San Francisco – The birthplace of California’s craft beer boom
With nearly two dozen members in its brewers guild, all brewing within the 46 square miles/127 square kilometers of the city’s borders, the City by the Bay stands out as a beer-lover’s mecca. Top of the list is Anchor Brewery, making its signature “steam” beer and a dozen others in its brewery in the sunny Portrero Hill neighborhood since 1979. The brewery actually began in the late 1800s, and beer guru Fritz Maytag purchased it in 1965. Maytag inspired a new generation of brew masters who have spread out across the city (a great reason for you to explore the city too). Head to Haight-Ashbury for cask-conditioned brews at local favorite Magnolia Pub; in the hip and diverse Mission District, sample experimental brews using yerba mate, a South American herbal tea, at Cerveceria de MateVeza. In South Beach, 21st Amendment Brewery (known for its Brew Free or Die IPA, gets especially lively after Giants baseball games at nearby AT&T Park. Two of the city’s edgier up-and-coming neighborhoods have notable breweries: 16 beers on a rotating tap at Triple Voodoo Brewery in Dogpatch, and Speakeasy Ales & Lager, tucked between the scruffy-hip neighborhoods of Bayview and Hunter’s Point.
If you’re venturing across the Bay Bridge to East Bay, you’ll land in another hotbed of craft brewing, with standouts including Linden Street, Drakes, and Pacific Coast in Oakland, as well as the enormous Pyramid Brewery & Alehouse, the under-the-moon beer garden at Jupiter, and the roudy-good-fun of Triple Rock, all in Berkeley.
The sunny south has become a magnet for craft beers
Microbrewing has caught on big time in San Diego, with more than 85 craft breweries throughout the region. The tidal wave began with innovative brewers like Stone Brewing Company and Karl Strauss. Now, it’s craft-y all over San Diego – in pubs, restaurants, and in the breweries themselves (many offer tours). And in a growing trend, San Diego’s chefs are starting to design beer-pairing menus or foods featuring local brews. Some breweries now offer their own eateries. Stone Brewing’s World Bistro & Gardens is a stellar example. San Diego’s brews and brewers haven’t gone unnoticed, earning international recognition. AleSmith Brewing Company and Ballast Point Brewing Company are two microbreweries that have been lauded. And you don’t have to go to a brewery to taste these world-class beers: many eateries, such as Hamilton’s Tavern in South Park, offer an array of local brews.
San Diego is also home to the famous San Diego International Beer Festival! Here, beer-lovers toast the world’s hottest brewers with a cold one at this craft-brew bonanza, the largest event of its kind on the West Coast. Sample your way through more than 400 varieties of beers, meads, and ciders from nearly 200 breweries. While local brews are well represented, there are more than a dozen countries represented here.
The thriving San Diego County craft-brewing scene certainly holds its own against the world’s best. Local winners have included Pizza Port Carlsbad, a previous winner of the festival’s prestigious top choice for breweries. There are five tasting sessions, while stage presentations look at all things beer: home brewing, how to judge beers, and even pairings with chocolate. Browse for beer-making gadgetry and ingredients, talk to brewers, and dine on great food.
Organic brewing in wild settings of the North Coast
The North Coast’s evocative coastline and foggy, redwood-studded interior is a perfect setting for a local brew. And from Boonville to Eureka and everywhere in between, beer is waiting to be sampled, starting with Mendocino Brewing Company, which began in 1983 in aptly named Hopland. Visit its alehouse in Ukiah for a sip of its famous Red Tail Ale; also check out Ukiah Brewing Company, “America’s first organic brewpub,” for one of its dozen or so organic brews on tap in its pub. Just south in Booneville, Anderson Valley Brewing Company has been satisfying locals since 1987, especially with its Boont Amber and Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout.
On the coast, Fort Bragg’s North Coast Brewing Company, founded in 1988, is a must-stop, especially for award-winning Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout. Humboldt County’s lumber-industry past is immortalized by in Eureka at Lost Coast Brewing and in Fortuna at Eel River Brewing: both are housed in the remnants of old lumber mills.
The world-renown Mendocino Crab, Beer and Wine Festival lets you dive into over a week’s worth of all-you-can-eat crab feeds, winemaker’s dinners, wine competitions, crab cruises, cooking classes, and family-style cioppino feeds at this regional celebration of the North Coast’s bounty. Restaurants, inns, B&B’s, winemakers, and artisanal food purveyors join in the fun, offering seafood specials and events throughout the county, from the coast to Mendocino County’s inland valleys.
The City of Angels goes big time with craft beers
Compared to other parts of California, Los Angeles took a little longer to fully join the craft revolution. Now, it’s on board big time, with hip taprooms throughout the region. Start in East L.A. at Eagle Rock Brewery, opened in 2009 and arguably the city’s first major player. It has now a neighborhood-y outpost on Colorado Blvd., too, serving its signatures brews such as Stimulus Coffee Belgian Amber and Manifesto Witbier with some surprisingly sexy dishes (pork cheeks with pearl onions and celeriac; Cornish hen with potato, radish, and nettle chimichurri). Next, sample what’s on tap—and see what’s on the walls—at Angel City Brewery, also known for displaying local artworks in its airy, gallery-like space. Head to leafy Glendale (a favorite address for celebs) to visit the pub-y atmosphere at relaxed Golden Road. North of the city in the Conejo Valley, follow locals to Ladyface Ale Companie. And south of L.A., discover a trio of outstanding craft brew finds: El Segundo Brewing (in El Segundo), Monkish Brewing (in Torrance), and Belmont Brewing Company, founded in Long Beach in 1990.
Après-ski or après-hike, chill out at high-country taprooms
“Welcome to altitude.” That’s the slogan of Mammoth Brewing Company in Mammoth Lakes, one of the kick-back-and-relax taprooms and beer pubs dotting California’s mountain country. After a wintry day carving the moguls or riding in the terrain parks, or hiking a granite trail in summer, these craft breweries in the High Sierra are the perfect place to chill out with a cold one. Mammoth Brewing uses local ingredients, such as wild elderberries and hops grown near the White Mountains to the east, to flavor its signature beers. Sample the results in the tasting room or at picnic tables outside.
In the mountain hamlet of June Lake, just north of Mammoth Lakes, June Lake Brewing offers a full suite of beers in its high-elevation taproom. Try a creamy, slightly spicy Alpers Trout Pale Ale, or Hutte Double IPA, proclaimed “a goliath of beer.”
The Lake Tahoe region has almost a six-pack-full of microbreweries pouring ales, stouts, pilsners, and more. In Truckee, enjoy the brews and relax in the restaurant at FiftyFifty Brewing Company (be sure to try the oak-bourbon-barrel-aged Eclipse Imperial Stout). In Tahoe City, Tahoe Mountain Brewing and Brew Pub offers free tours of its brewery. At the California-Nevada border on the lake’s south shore, Stateline Brewery & Restaurant is practically at the bottom of the Heavenly Gondola, making it a popular après-ski hangout.
The state’s capitol more than holds its own in California’s “beer rush”
With hundreds of craft breweries across the state of California, it’s no surprise that Sacramento, the state’s capital, has its own artisanal beer scene, including the annual Sacramento Beer Week festival. Rubicon Brewing Company got it all started back in 1987; visit its downtown pub before or after touring the nearby State Capitol building. Hoppy Brewing Company draws a young crowd from nearby California State University at Sacramento. The taproom of Track Seven Brewing Company is also known as a hub for food trucks, often parked on the street out front. At New Helvetia Brewing Company, try the multiple-award-wining Homeland Stout. Finally, head northeast of Sacramento to the town of Folsom and Lockdown Brewing Company, self-proclaimed (with a tongue-in-cheek nod to singer Johnny Cash) as the “home of the Folsom Prison Brews.”)
Premium beers in premier wine country
In a region known for internationally acclaimed wines, craft beers don’t typically come to mind. Well, now they should, especially in Sonoma County. First stop is the appealing town of Petaluma, where brew masters at Lagunitas Brewing Company have gained a huge following, and multi-state distribution. Taste why at the company’s in-town taproom; favorite brews include a classic IPA, plus Little Sumpin Sumpin and Hop Stoopid ales. Another Sonoma County notable is Russian River Brewing, with 20 of its beers, including legendary Pliny the Elder double IPA, served in its Santa Rosa taproom. Expect a crowd; this brew has gained cult-like status. Some breweries want to make sure you don’t go hungry: Woodfour Brewing Company, in boho-chic Sebastopol, pairs fine foods like heirloom beans and braised pork belly with its own beers. Guerneville’s Stumptown Brewery pours three of its own brews as well as guest beers, ales, and stouts from other parts of the state. In swanky but friendly Healdsburg, where in-town wine tasting rooms abound, hang out with winemakers (yes, they drink beer) and other locals at Bear Republic Brewing Company. Raise a pint in nearby Napa Valley at Napa Smith Brewery, also know for its “Grateful Dog” barley wine.