It comes as no surprise that wine country is often one of the first things to come to mind when you think of Northern California. With hundreds of wineries from Napa to Sonoma to Mendocino Counties, Northern California has established itself as the leader in winemaking in the U.S.
However, there’s more to the food and drink scene than just grapes. There are a plethora of breweries spread throughout Northern California, many that are just miles from some of California’s top wineries. While the climate and conditions have made it favorable for winemaking, they’ve also made it favorable for growing hops and brewing beer. Today we spotlight some of the best breweries in Northern California.
Anchor Brewing, San Francisco
There are tons of breweries in and around the San Francisco Bay area, but you won’t find any as recognizable as Anchor Brewing. You’ll often see at least one of Anchor’s beers at most local restaurants and bars. That beer is typically Anchor Steam, which is the most well-known brew, dating back to the late 1800s. Nonetheless, Anchor has several different beers that are brewed year-round and a couple that are seasonal.
However, a tour of Anchor can be hard to come by. Public tours are free, but by appointment only, and typically sell out weeks ahead of time. The walking tour portion is approximately an hour followed by a beer tasting. Call weeks, if not months, ahead to schedule your tour.
Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Boonville
Anderson Valley Brewing Company may not be quite as familiar to some as the other breweries on this list, partly due to its distribution, but also because of its location. If it sounds like Boonville is in the boonies, that’s because it is. A stop at Anderson Valley Brewing Company is a good break from wine tasting along the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County.
A tour of the brewery takes visitors on a short 45-minute walk through the brewing process. The tour is just a few dollars and includes a couple samples and discounts for those visitors who like it so much that they want to take some home with them. On a nice day, walk the grounds of Anderson Brewing Company and enjoy a game of disc golf or horseshoes.
North Coast Brewing Company, Fort Bragg
Heading north from Boonville along the Pacific Coast, travelers will pass through Mendocino on their way up to Fort Bragg. North Coast Brewing Company is a notable brewery because it houses a long list of beers that you’ll find in many of California’s best bars. It has also gotten worldwide recognition, being named among some of the world’s best breweries. Some of their most notable beers include Red Seal Ale, Scrimshaw, and Brother Thelonious.
Call ahead to confirm tour availability, as the brewery is currently undergoing expansion. However, there are tastings available for special events at the brewery and across the street at the taproom and grill. The taproom and grill also features special food and cheese pairings with the brewery’s beers.
Sierra Nevada, Chico
This is probably the one brewery that most people are familiar with in California since it has such a large distribution and can be found in many grocery stores and bars around the U.S. Sierra Nevada isn’t located in Nevada, but rather the small town of Chico in Northern California.
Since Sierra Nevada is so large, a tour is more involved than most microbrewery tours. Breweries are free to the public with multiple tours every day of the week. Guided tours are 90 minutes and include an educational tasting of Sierra Nevada’s year-round, seasonal, and limited selections.
Lagunitas is another California beer that is starting to become a household name. A new brewhouse and the recent announcement of a brewery opening in Chicago will only continue to grow the production and distribution of one of California’s premier beers. A free tour of Lagunitas takes guests behind closed doors to the brewing floor, although the completion of the new brewhouse will make a tour even more comprehensive.
Afterward, enjoy tastings from Lagunitas’ beer menu and on a nice afternoon, enjoy a couple drinks in the beer garden. Unlike many breweries, Lagunitas also has a small food menu for enjoying drinks with. The brewery’s gift store includes apparel and accessories like koozies, mason jars, and vintage shirts.
- Spencer Spellman