A 2010 California Beer Adventure: California Wine Country
Mendocino Brewing Company
We left Boonville with the Santa Rosa, California area in our sights. Our route took us through Hopland and right past Mendocino Brewing’s Ale House. Driving through this three block roadside town, you couldn’t miss the 100 year-old brick building that was the first brewpub in California. (They no longer brew at this location) As you walk through the door you first see the classic handcrafted oak and brass bar. As you look around, you’ll see the original ornamental stamped tin walls. (Because that what the style of the time.)
If you’re looking for food, they only serve Hot Dogs and Polish Sausages. Apparently they had a kitchen at one time, but had to close it back in aught three. Now, the primary focus is on the beer. (As if it always wasn’t?)
Red Tail Lager - amber lager that is crisp and hoppy with a hint of honey.
Blue Heron Pale – something was off here, it tasted like hot dogs.
Red Tail Ale – a smooth malt flavor with a dry hop finish.
White Hawk Select IPA- sweet aroma, sweet malt flavor and a floral bitter hop finish
Black Hawk Stout Irish - dry and crisp with a robust roasted malt flavor. I would have preferred it on nitro.
Unique (ok not sure the name of this beer) – very crisp and light with a nice hop bite. Dangerously easy to drink at 8% ABV.
Bear Republic Brewpub
The stay at the Mendocino Ale House didn’t last too long. Hunger was setting in, and we still had 30 miles to go before our lunch stop. It wasn’t long before we drove into the eclectic downtown of Healdsburg, found a place to park next to the town square and set out on foot. We found ourselves walking down a tree lined corridor to the back of a newer building right of the main street. There, we found it, Bear Republic!
What a great brewpub. It was very open and had an industrial feel. There was a large bar with stainless serving tanks behind it. The brewery was out in the open with a “Racer 5” car door above it. There was plenty of cool, air conditioned seating in doors. Outside, there was a wonderful patio area, where we enjoyed the warm weather.
The menu was full of hearty pub food, with plenty of healthy options. Maybe it was the warm weather, but we both craved salads. The Santa Fe Chicken for the lovely LushC, and the Shrimp Louie for myself. You know, I think that was the first Shrimp Louie I’ve ever ordered, and I enjoyed it. Oh yeah, it’s not all about me, LushC’s salad looked great too.
As we often do, we got a sampler to taste all that they had on tap. Oh boy, was it a great sampler with thirteen of their delicious beers. LushC and I passed the four ounce tasters back and forth, savoring each.
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Before getting back in the car, we walked around Healdsburg for a couple of hours, checking out their unique shops and galleries. It really was a great small town that seemed very friendly. I can easily see us returning and staying a night or two to really get a feel for it. (And of course to go back to Bear Republic)
Our next destination was the centerpiece for this vacation; two nights glamping in safari tents at Safari West. Tucked into the hills near Santa Rosa, this wildlife park offers visitors up close encounter with Giraffes, Capetown Water Buffalos, Cheetahs, and many other African mammals along with birds from around the world. They offer tours of their park in Korean War era US Army transport trucks modified with seats above the cab, where you can get eye to neck with a Giraffe, as well as private behind the scenes tours where you get to feed and pet a few of the animals. (We petted a porcupine) To get the true safari feel, they offer safari style tents, complete with bathrooms, where you can sleep and wake to the sound of the animals. They also have daily lunch and dinner buffets. Sure, it’s a little cheesy, but it is the closest you can get to a safari in Africa, without leaving the States. LushC wanted to feed Giraffes on her birthday and by all means I was going to make it happen!
What were our thoughts of Safari West? First of all, both the Safari Adventure and the Behind the Scenes Tour were very fun and well worth it, thanks to the super informative guides. LushC got to feed the Giraffes as well as a Porcupine, Warthogs, and various other animals on her birthday.
The tents were very large and comfortable (at least ours was), except the bathroom didn’t have heat. (Really needed it in the morning) We had a great deck with a table and chairs where we could sit out and enjoy the animals. Our particular tent was right next to the pond, where they feed the catfish every night at 8pm, which got loud with all the oohs and ahhs and screaming kids. We just ended up joining the fray. I guess the catfish were cool, but we were more excited about the bats buzzing everyone. (Surprisingly very few noticed them).
We had dinner the first night, and don’t recommend it for the price. The food was edible but bland, and it cost $29 each. We’d recommend stopping at a store deli like we did the second night getting some salads and deli meats, a bottle of wine, and enjoying a picnic on the deck. (They didn’t have bottle openers in the tent, yeah and it’s wine country. We were able to borrow one from the Café though)
If we had it all to do over again, we would have probably just stayed one night, getting there early enough in the day to the Safari Adventure, then check into our tent to relax and eat our picnic, then wake up early the next day for the private tour and then leave after breakfast.
Russian River Brewing Company
After our tours for the day, we were ready for lunch, and headed into town (Santa Rosa, CA). LushC, the angel that she is, let me guide us to the Russian River Brewpub for lunch. I don’t think she minded too much since the pub was fantastic!
The place was packed, which meant it was real loud, but the Grunge mix jamming through the speakers made us feel at home (Soundgarden and Alice and Chains). We had good timing and two folks left the bar as we walked by, allowing us great seats at the massive bar.
Pizza is the specialty of the house (after the beer). It looked and smelled great! I went instead with the meatball sandwich and oh boy was it good.
Looking up at the beer menu, I didn’t know where to start. We asked our very informative bartender about a sampler and how many samples it included, and he said, “ALL of them”. Excellent, our decision was made, a sampler it would be. Talk about a massive sampler tray, it included a lucky thirteen tastes. Of them all the Perdition was our favorite.
Odd Blonde – crisp and malty, good on a summer day.
Redemtion- Belgian style blonde – light and crisp with a cake Belgian Yeast flavor.
Perdition Beer de Sonoma – golden colored, nice malty smooth flavor with a hint of Belgian yeast and a slight nutty flavor. I liked it!
Damnation- Strong Golden Ale – light golden colored, very smooth with a citrusy sour finish.
Sanctification – Citrusy tart with a cool-aid packet taste. This beer has a big following, and I didn’t mind it. I’m starting to get the hang of the sour beers.
Porter – Dark malty and chocolaty, excellent!
Russian River IPA – big, sweet and very hoppy!
Flying Pig IPA – drier than the Russian River IPA with distinct pine hop flavor
O.V.L. Dry Irish Stout on nitro – smooth roasted malt and chocolate with a dry finish. Yum
Pliny the Elder – big sweet and hoppy just like you’d expect. A legend!
Supplication- Belgian Sour Brown aged in Pinot Barrels – sour with not a lot of malt character, it just doesn’t do it for me.
Consecration- Dark sour aged in Cabernet Barrels – instant pucker factor, but a little sweeter and more malt character than the Supplication. Both of us liked this.
Temptation- Sour Blonde aged in Chardonnay Barrels – Light and crisp, per LushC, “A nice toasting beer, a nice alternative to champagne”.
Lagunitas Brewing Company
When we left Russian River, LushC surprised me, and said that we should go to Lagunitas Brewing. Seventeen miles later we were in Petaluma and turning into the industrial park where Lagunitas resides. As you park and look around the area doesn’t look like much, but just past the arched gate an oasis awaits you. Tucked between the buildings there is a massive outdoor beer garden with plenty of sunny and shady seats. When you go inside, you enter a much smaller area, with a great three sided bar surrounded by pub tables.
The place was packed. The crowd was exactly what LushC though it would be. Everyone was wearing flip flops, shorts and had a laid back beach vibe (all in a GOOD way). There was not a seat to bad outside, so we claimed a table near the bar.
Although we weren’t hungry we glanced at the menu, which was full of tantalizing sandwiches, salads, and appetizers. As the waitress passed with other patrons orders, we couldn’t help to notice that the food looked great too. If you want something to munch on why you drink, they do provide FREE Pretzels and Peanuts. (Mrs. Prickle our porcupine friend from earlier would have been happy).
LushC was a lot more impressed with Lagunitas in person than she thought she would be. She’s always wants to like their beers, but they just don’t suit her (their beers are just usually too big). After this great experience, she has a much better impression of Lagunitas.
Lil Something Wild – a big sweet wheat beer with hints of Belgian yeast and a pine hop finish. What LushC thinks of when she thinks of Lagunitas.
Censored Copper Ale – malt and caramel flavors balance perfectly with the hop finish. As LushC said, “That’s good, I like that”
Almond Joy – tastes and smells like an Almond Joy; a great dessert beer. “Oh that’s really good, very sweet, but good”, LushC.
Cappuccino Stout Bourbon Aged - A stout with lots of chocolate and coffee overtones that has a slow bourbon flavor build up. Per LushC, “I love that. It’s like a nice after dinner cocktail. I have to say, I’ve had a lot of bourbon aged beers, and I like this the best.”
Pilsner -clean crisp American style pilsner.
New Dogtown Pale – malt backbone with a hop kick at the end. “Wow, that’s good!”, LushC exclaimed.
IPA- sweeter than the Pale and surprising the Pale had more of a hop presence, but it was still good. I got to say, I like it better on tap than in the bottle.
Fusion II Dark malted IPA - Aroma of dark roasted malts. It had very good flavor, but really more of a sweet brown than a dark IPA.
Calistoga Inn Restaurant and Brewery (aka Napa Valley Brewing)
Unfortunately, the time had come and our vacation had reached its end. We packed up our rental car, checked out and began our drive through Napa Valley to the Oakland Airport. The first town we came to was Calistoga, most known for its mineral water. We easily found parking downtown, and checked out a few of their cute shops. We walked through a few of their neighborhoods and parks, and then found ourselves at the door of the Calistoga Inn and Brewery. Since it was lunch time, we decided to stop in and check it out.
Wow! It was a great peaceful location. The seating was right above the river (creek?) with lots of shady trees. It was so serene to sit there one a beautiful day, listen to the birds sing, while drinking good beer and eating a great meal. We’ll have to come back, and possibly stay at the Inn.
Kolsch - Bright, refreshing, and crisp; a great Kolsch.
Wheat Ale American Unfiltered – Kind of citrusy, but not much flavor. If you go light, stick with the Kolsch. (Maybe it needs a lemon?)
Red Ale – grainy, not as much caramel flavor as expected. Not as sweet as a red should be, but okay, LushC likes grainy flavors so “it was in her wheel house” .
Porter - sweet and malty with a hint of chocolate in the finish. A little more carbonated and a lighter bodied than the average Porter, which is good for the climate. It was pretty darn tasty.
The drive to the Airport was un-eventful, which is good. We passed by all the massive wineries in Napa, which made those in Anderson Valley look so much more charming. Eight days in this wonderful area of California wasn’t enough. We hit some great breweries, but we missed a few too. It sounds like another Good Beer Trip will be in order.
FTC Info:This is not a paid advertisement. Good Beer Trips paid for everything except the peanuts and pretzels at Lagunitas.