Outside of our beer travels, I rarely go out of town. My house husband duties keep me around the homestead most of the time. Merideth, on the other hand travels for work. One of her trips is to Sonoma County in Northern California. The home of craft brew icons Russian River and Bear Republic, Sonoma is a hotbed for great beer.
Lately, Merideth has been feeling a bit lonely on her work trips. To alleviate this, we discussed me sometimes accompanying her when she is out of town. Recently, a business opportunity gave me the chance to join Merideth in Sonoma.
The cure for a three plus hour drive was a lunch meeting at Russian River Brewing Company. It was my first time at Russian River since the Pliny the Younger release to kick off SF Beer Week. Thankfully, it was a little less crowded on this day.
The Plinys, Belgian-inspired, and barrel-aged beers might get all the press but the joy of visiting the Russian River brewpub is drinking the lesser known gems from the brewery. Happy Hops, a hopped up golden-colored ale, was a nice way to start the day.
After my meeting, I had a free afternoon before Merideth arrived in town. My original plan was a bike ride from Santa Rosa to Sebastopol to visit Hopmonk Tavern. This would be my first visit to Hopmonk, a beer bar, restaurant and music venue owned by Dean Biersch of Gordon Biersch fame.
Unfortunately, mother nature thwarted my grand plans for an afternoon of sun, exercise and beer. Scattered showers and gusty winds were forecast; not really my idea of a pleasant bike ride.
I took the short drive from Santa Rosa. Walking into Hopmonk, I noticed a few people scattered around the restaurant. There were plenty of open tables, but I took my normal seat at the bar.
Hopmonk has 15 taps, which includes a couple of house beers, plus an extensive bottle list. But I was there to try only one beer; the Hopmonk Kellerbier. An unfiltered lager, Kellerbier is my ‘go-to’ choice when I’m in Bavaria. I had first tried Hopmonk’s version a couple of years back at a beer festival in Santa Rosa. At that time, I called it ‘exceptional.’
On the second go around, it wasn’t quite as I remembered it. Not as hoppy, it wasn’t as ‘keller’ as I recalled. Still, it was a very pleasant beer to drink while reading a book and listening to the locals gossip.
Next, I headed up to Healdsburg to see what Bear Republic had to offer. A busy bar awaited me as it was “Bear Apparel” day where customers sporting their Bear Republic colors got $2 pints. I found one open seat at the bar and took it.
In honor of National Cask Ale Week taking place in the UK, I took the opportunity to have a pint of XP Ale, their Pale Ale, on cask. A wonderful beer. And of course, I couldn’t resist a pint of brewery-fresh Racer 5, as well. I’m still floored by Racer 5 every time I have one; especially a super fresh pint at the brewery. The hop aromas and flavor were absolutely to die for.
The main reason for the trip to Healdsburg was to meet up with Kevin McGee of Healdsburg Brewing. The newest addition to the Sonoma County scene, Healdsburg is part of the growing nano-brewery movement. [A nano-brewery is a small brewery where annual production often is measured in gallons, not barrels.]
Normal working guy by day, Kevin commercially brews beer for the local market in his free time. In a land of big, hoppy beers, Kevin is wisely trying to be different. His brews are of the traditional English variety and served on cask.
I had hoped to try Kevin’s beer on this trip, but the main outlet for his beers, a restaurant in Healdsburg, was closed. Kevin was nice enough to meet up with me after work to chat over a pint. After an afternoon of ‘me’ time, it was nice to have someone to talk to. More important, he brought me a sample of his two current brews.
[Merideth and I tried the two beers, McGee Green Beer, a Pale Ale and the IPA several days later at home. Both were very nice. In Healdsburg, look for them at Affronti.]
After hours of flying solo, it was finally time to return to Santa Rosa and meet up with Merideth. Reunited with my favorite beer drinking companion, we finished our day where I started; at Russian River.
As I filled Merideth in on my meeting and afternoon adventure, we enjoyed a few beers, Russian River Porter for myself and Aud Blonde for Merideth, and dinner. Of course, I couldn’t leave without a pint of Pliny the Elder.
As I drank my pint of Pliny, I was already planning to return with Merideth over the summer. I still want to get that bike ride in.