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Brews You Can Use

At Harvest Time, a Beer Can Be Your Best Friend

by Robert Farmer

Wine may fuel the economy in Wine Country. But beer sometimes fuels the wine. Especially at harvest, when winemakers are earning their sweat-equity, the thought of a cool beer at day's end can keep the mind focused. Yes even the locals can get wined to death; so when the grapes have reached their saturation point, its time for a frosty one.
As it happens, Wine Country produces some great beer, too. The region is home to several boutique breweries, where the suds are taken seriously, and the hops harvest is as anticipated as the vine-ripened grape. In fact, the same factors that make Napa and Sonoma ideal for growing grapes provide beer-makers with quality ingredients, too. A survey of some of the area's microbreweries reveals the same craftsmanship and skill that have made wineries famous.

At the Calistoga Inn (www.calistogainn.com), winemakers are known to dip in for a sip of the handcrafted suds from the Napa Valley Brewing Company. This is the first county establishment to brew commercially traded beer post-prohibition. Although it wasn't until 1987 when vats were filling up, the Napa Valley Brewing Company unwittingly renewed a local love for small-batch beers. The main styles from the brewery are wheat ale, pilsner, and red ale, although the brewmaster introduces the occasional porter, stout, or India pale ale (IPA). A true local brewery, some 95 percent of the production is poured through taps at the Calistoga Inn. The Inn's Pub is a popular gathering place for locals. Its well-trod plywood floor and interesting assortment of old beer memorabilia give the pub a true European feel.

Just a bit south from Calistoga is the Silverado Brewing Company (www.silveradobrewingcompany.com), built into a beautifully restored 1895 stone building that originally housed a pre-Prohibition winery. The brewery is on the same property as the Freemark Abbey winery. The restaurant and brewery is surrounded by wineries, and in fact there are more than 60 wines on the restaurant's list. Mee's admirers include local winemakers, who come to sample his ales and classic European-style lagers after the hard hours of harvest time.

In Sonoma County the craft beer has something of a cult following. There are a few great brewpubs countywide, including the Third Street Aleworks (www.thirdstreetaleworks.com) in Santa Rosa has become something of a local institution, taking a craftsman's approach to beer making, and offering about a dozen beers at any given time. A specialty of the house is cask-conditioned ale, a time-tested method found only in the most serious brewer's repertoire. The brewpub itself is large and traditional pub pursuits are all accounted for: billiards, darts, and meandering conversation. .

Also in Sonoma County, the Bear Republic Brewing Co. (www.bearrepublic.com) is an award-winning brewery just outside Healdsburg's downtown plaza in a building designed to show off the beer-making hardware - fermenting tanks are directly behind the bar, creating the impression that beers from the tap are straight-from-the-vat fresh. Here, the hearty-minded winemaker come in for the Big Bear, a dark and malty stout, sweetened with brown sugar and a world away from anything in a wine bottle.