2016 Beer Year in Review

 

 

 

2016 was an incredible beer year.  The most significant change was likely a significant increase in my beer trading, which has opened my world up to countless new and incredible brews.

The Year of Haze

The clear trend of 2016 was the complete dominance of New England-style IPAs.  Mostly, New England is no longer the only place to find these so-called “juice bombs.”

Monkish Brewing (http://www.monkishbrewing.com/) came out of the gates swinging and firmly established itself as the West Coast’s challenger to Treehouse and the rest of the New England haze brewers.  Monkish’s releases became somewhat of a spectacle, with people lining up at 2 AM or earlier for the 10 AM IPA can releases.  Crazy.  Midway through the year Monkish got their own canning line and started randomly announcing releases, quelling the midnight lines but not necessarily making the cans any easier to get.

Fortunately, I have a few different trade partners in the LA Area that have been faithfully sending me Monkish’s killer IPAs.  I cannot say I have gotten every one, but i have been fortunate to get many of their best beers.  In no particular order, my favorite Monkish brews of 2016 were:  Foggier Window, My First Canning Line DIPA, JFK to LAX, Really Real and Atomically.  That said, I can honestly say each Monkish beer I had was top notch.

That said, Monkish is not the only California brewery embracing and succeeding in the Haze game.  My two favorite Bay Area breweries, Cellarmaker (http://www.cellarmakerbrewing.com/) and Fieldwork (http://fieldworkbrewing.com/) are no strangers to the haze.  That said, both have their own unique take on the style.  One thing I love about both of these breweries is that they have their own unique style that is present in almost every one of their IPAs.  It is difficult to describe, but even if I have never had a particular beer from either brewery, I am confident I could determine if it was one of theirs.

Cellarmaker has made a few beers that I consider hybrid East/West Coast brews.  I have written about Ger off my Lawn! before, but every time I think about my favorite beers of the year it comes to mind.  Super flavorful, juicy hazy IPA, but most importantly, a huge hop kick.  It is basically my perfect beer.

Other standouts from Cellarmaker this year include Wicked Juicy and Double Dobis.  I look forward to more killer beers from Cellarmaker in 2017.

My favorite Fieldwork hazy IPAs from this year were King Citra, Broken Clouds, Pulp and St. Monroe.  King Citra absolutely nailed the style, whereas Broken Clouds was more of the hybrid I love.

Two other Northern California breweries that are killing the haze game are Alavarado Street (http://www.alvaradostreetbrewery.com/) and Moonraker(http://www.moonrakerbrewing.com/).  Both have been putting out killer beers, especially in the second half of the year.  Alvarado’s Contains No Juice, Opaque Minds and Vengeful Barbarian were all excellent.

Moonraker is relatively new on the scene but killing it.  They recently started canning their beers and if you can get your hands on them, you should.  I recently visited the brewery and it was also very cool.  My favorite juice bombs they put out this year were the somewhat now-famous Yojo and Dojo, but my personal favorite was the most recent release, The Holy Hermit. I cannot wait to see what they do in 2017.

Overall, I initially did have some hesitancy about the hazy IPA rage.  However, I am now fully on-board.  I can never say no to any of the beers above, or any of the “original” NE IPAs (ie Treehouse, Tired Hands and Trillium).  I am also enjoying many of the other options popping up from all over the country.  The haze game is not going away, and I am OK with that.

Was 2016 the Last Year of West Coast IPA

Nah.  NE style IPAs are still the rage, but there are plenty of fantastic West Coast IPAs still out there and people who love them, like me.  Russian River (ie Pliny and Blind Pig), Kern River, Noble, Highland Park, Beachwood and the local boys (Fieldwork and Cellarmaker) are still cranking out awesome West Coast IPAs.  Some of my favorite West Coasters this year were Kern River’s Citra, Noble’s Galaxy Showers and Highland Park’s Hello LA.

I am hoping that 2017 brings a revitalized approach to West Coast IPAs and maybe some innovations.  With all the great breweries we have I am hopeful it can be done.

Other Highlights from 2016

2016 was not just about drinking great beers, it was also about finding them.  As we traveled the world this year, the influence of craft beer on the rest of the world is palpable.  Years ago, I would not have imagined that a vacation can be centered around craft beer.  Now, however, that is a reality.

In 2016, we were fortunate enough to spend a couple weeks in Italy, a week in Cancun, a week in Sedona/Phoenix, and countless weekend trips, including to Tahoe, the North State and coast.  One thing was consistent on all of those trips, and that was finding local beer.

I was shocked at the growing craft beer scene in Italy (see my posts on that from earlier this year).  The resort we stayed at in Cancun HAD A BREWERY at it!  Arizona was full of great craft beer and breweries.

Conclusion

It is difficult to imagine having a better beer year than 2016, but I will try.  2017 is looking to be a very exciting year for my wife and I, but we will keep hunting down the best beers we can and ways to enjoy them with the beagador Sara.

Happy New Beer!

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Craft Brew in Italy – Part 3

We recently took a 12 day trip to Italy.  Looking back, we should have done longer, but the amount we accomplished in the time we were there was staggering.  Although finding craft brew in Italy was tough, it was not impossible.

Our visit included 3 nights in Venice, 3 nights in Florence, 2 nights in Cinque Terra, and 2 nights in Rome (travel time knocked off essentially 2 days).  We also had a 7 hour layover, which allowed some time to hop into London and get a brew.

In short, Rome had the best beer scene, Florence seemed to have a growing one, Cinque Terre had one good beer bar, and Venice was…tough. I will go through each city in the order we visited.

Rome

Rome was our last stop of beercation 2016. We had somewhat tempered expectations and feared Rome would be too touristy and hectic, and so only had 2 nights in town. However, we were pleasantly surprised.

Rome is an incredible city. The tourist sights are obviously a must-do, but we had what was probably my favorite night of the trip once we got outside the sights.

The first thing we did after our five hour train ride from the coast and checking in the hotel was eat and grab a drink. Options were abound, and Rome clearly had some of the more diverse food options available. We were pleasantly surprised to find many food options we would expect to find in San Francisco. After traveling for two weeks and eating rich and heavy food constantly, we were craving something on the healthier side, and Rome had plenty of options.  We strolled through the Monti neighborhood along Via Urbana and were able to get a decent beer and healthy lunch at a place I now cannot remember the name of or find, doh!

We then proceeding to try and squeeze in all the main attractions we could. Over the next 36 hours, we visited The Roman Forum and surrounding sights, did a guided nighttime tour of the Colosseum, visited the Vatican City and toured St. Peter’s Basilica and up to the top of the duomo (unfortunately the Vatican museums and Sistine Chapel were closed), saw the Spanish steps and Trevi Fountain, went inside the Pantheon, and popped our heads in countless other churches (many of which would have been incredible on their own if you were not comparing to the basilica or duomos we had already seen)

In order of preference, of the “major sights,” my favorites were as follow:

1. Night tour of the Colosseum.  It felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.  We started with a guided tour around the outside of Palantine and Capitole Hills and the Forum, then around and inside the  Colosseum.  We were in a group of about 20, and there were only a few groups allowed in. The night tour was more expensive, and did not include a tour of the Forum, but you can do that separately. The night tour was relaxed and had so many less people. Moreover, you got to see the “underworld” of the Colosseum where the gladiators and animals stayed until they fought. This was only available in the night tour and very cool.

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2. St. Peter’s Basilica. We went to Vatican City on a Sunday so the museum and Sistine Chapel were closed. However, still worth heading over just for the basilica. It is insanely huge and stunning. The artwork and sculptures inside are amazing, but the sheer size of the place is the star of the show. We also went up to the top of the duomo, which was…an experience. We chose to walk (elevator was an extra few Euros but I was ok working off the beers and pasta) but in either event, you had to walk up the stairs of the dome itself. This was intense. The stairs are steep and circle around he dome. For a 6’5″ guy this was brutal. I was hunched over the whole way. Worse, it was hot and claustrophobic. People were freaking out, and the would try to walk against traffic to leave. It was a disaster, as turning around made it ten times worse for everyone. However, when (if) you made it up top, wow.

3. Pantheon. Most people think of the Pantheon and see the exterior.  I imagined it to be out on its own somewhere and you looked at the outside and moved on. I was way off. The Pantheon is in the middle of a walkable and vibrant neighborhood and piazza.  The interior is amazing, with an open ceiling.  Totally surprised by how much I liked it (and it is free!).

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4.  Other worthwhile stops:  Trevi Fountain and the Roman Forum were my other two favorite spots.  The Forum is fascinating.  We did not have a tour guide for this (since we did the night tour of the Colosseum, it did not include the guided tour of the Forum).  Trevi Fountain was beautiful and the highlight of a great walk we took between several sights. (note, the Spanish Steps were being worked on when we were there, so it was underwhelming).

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Nightlife

Somehow, even after walking and sightseeing all day, we made it out both nights in Rome.  Our second night was much more memorable.

The first night saw us cruise around the Via Urbana area.  There were a ton of people partying in the streets and full bars and restaurants.  It was fun, but nothing special.

The next night, we went out in the Trastevere.  Trastevere was about a 15 minute ride from our hotel, away from the typical tourist sights (this was the first time we had taken a cab all trip, mostly because it was raining!).  As soon as we got out of the car, we knew it was our kind of area.

Trastevere contained many small, winding streets filled with bars and restaurants.  We wanted to stop at Ma Cha Siete Venuti a Fà, a well regarded craft beer bar.  Unfortunately, it was packed and as it was pouring, drinking a beer was not a desirable option.  So, we proceeded to Bir & Fud, which was the best beer bar we visited in Italy.

Bir & Fud had pizzas and great homemade chips.  More importantly, they had at least 30 beers on tap, including several IPAs.  It was pretty slammed, but we scored a couple seats at the bar.  Bartenders were attentive and friendly, and the beers were the best beers I had on our trip.  It was a fantastic find on our last night.

After Bir y Fud, we headed to dinner at Grazia & Graziella. Despite the pouring rain, it was packed.  We sat outside under cover and stayed dry.  The servers were having a great time, singing and clearly ready to party.  We loved it.  The food was also phenomenal.  We had a killer salad with buffalo mozzarella, delicious pasta, and this crispy artichoke which was unlike any other fried artichoke I have ever had.  I can’t really describe it, you will just need to go taste it.

Overall, the Trastevere neighborhood was my favorite neighborhood of all the places we visited.  This came as a surprise, as I had heard very mixed reviews for Rome.

Conclusion

Overall, our trip to Italy was the best trip we have ever been on.  The sights were incredible, the food was amazing, the wine was great (and SO CHEAP), and the people were amazingly hospitable.  It is evident beer is becoming more popular, and I would guess by my next trip, there will be even more options.  I am looking forward to that!

Craft Brew in Italy – Part 1

 

We recently took a 12 day trip to Italy.  Looking back, we should have done longer, but the amount we accomplished in the time we were there was staggering.  Although finding craft brew in Italy was tough, it was not impossible.

Our visit included 3 nights in Venice, 3 nights in Florence, 2 nights in Cinque Terra, and 2 nights in Rome (travel time knocked off essentially 2 days).  We also had a 7 hour layover, which allowed some time to hop into London and get a brew.

In short, Rome had the best beer scene, Florence seemed to have a growing one, Cinque Terre had one good beer bar, and Venice was…tough. I will go through each city in the order we visited.

Venice

Venice is kind of insane.  We arrived late night out first night, so in reality had 2.5 days to explore.  For me, that was enough.

Venice is strikingly beautiful.  Literally around every corner you have a completely unique, beautiful setting.  I found this to be especially true the further out you got from the main touristy areas (ie St. Mark’s square).  Maybe this was because there were way less people.

Each day we were there we walked about 16 miles.  To us, that was the way to actually see and experience Venice, as many of the more tourisy things here did not hold much appeal. Part of the reason we put in so many miles simply had to do with the fact that you are constantly lost.  I tend to have a pretty good sense of direction, and can get around most cities within a few hours (I am a bit of a planning nut and so spend many hours looking at maps of where we go), but this was far from true in Venice.  At first, I struggled with the lack of control, but by the second day, this became part of the fun.

We stayed at an incredible AirBnb.  The hosts were unlike any AirBnb host you will find.  They gave us detailed instructions before we arrived, met us at the boat station and walked us to the apartment, gave us a quick tour of the area and detailed instructions on a map of where to go and what to see.  I would highly recommend staying in any of Maurizio’s apartments.  Here was ours:  https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1005660

As mentioned above, Venice was tough for beer.  The  bar scene is fun, just not for beer, especially craft brew.  This is made more difficult by the aforementioned propensity to get lost.  Meaning, even if I could find a place that looked good for beer online, actually physically finding the place was easier said than done.  Given this, we simply walked around and if we saw a place that looked good, went for it.

Fortunately, on day 1, we found Birraria La Corte in the Campo San Polo.  We had not researched this place, but I saw “Birraria” and had to go.  Apparently, this was the first local brewery in Italy!  The building also at one point housed the bulls for the bullfights in the Campo.  There is a huge patio that overlooks the Campo, and the best beer selection we found in Italy.  I had a few Brad IPAs (from Bradipongo brewery, a little north west of Venice) to go with my pizza, which were not bad.  I would absolutely return here if in Venice again (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187870-d793024-Reviews-Birraria_La_Corte-Venice_Veneto.html)

The only other bar we found that had more than the usual Forst, Peroni ot Birra Moretti was the Corner Pub.  We stumbled across the Corner Pub as part of one of our 16 mile death marches.  The Corner Pub was just as it sounds.  We actually sat outside at a little to-go counter and enjoyed a beer just before noon (do not judge, we were on vacation), overlooking some solid scenery.  I cheated, and had an Irish IPA (McGargles Knock Knock Neds IPA) which was OK.  They had a few other beers on tap, as well as wine and a full bar.  Basic food that looked good as well.  https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187870-d1953035-Reviews-Corner_Pub-Venice_Veneto.html

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Birra Italiano #drinklocal #ipa #italianIPA

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Other than these two spots, nothing else really stood out for beer.  I drank a good deal of wine, and bought an IPA in the grocery store to enjoy at our apartment as the gondoliers floated by, many times singing.

One of the more enjoyable things to do in Venice definitely was to enjoy the Cicchetti. Each night we bar hopped, had a few small plates (cicchetti is essentially Venizia tapas)  and tried some interesting dishes (lots of fried seafoody dishes).  You could typically score a glass of wine for 1-3 euros (yep!) and go to a few different spots.  This made for a smaller dinner, which was fine by me.

The one touristy thing we did do that I recommend is a sunset cruise along the Grand Canal on the vaporetti (Water bus).  Cheap but beautiful, and by this time the city has quieted down so we were able to score outside seats and just enjoy the views.

I am not sure if I would have Venice high on my list of places to go back to.  I cannot imagine it in the high season, as even when we went it felt overrun by tourists.  By far, I enjoyed Venice the most after 8 PM and before 11 AM.  The middle of the day is crowded and the charm is gone.  That said, it truly is a remarkably beautiful and unique city.

Florence

We had 3 full days and nights and Florence, but I could have spent way more time here.  Florence was a city I would live in in a heartbeat.  I am a water person.  Since I was about 10, I have not lived more than 15 miles from the ocean.  Florence has no ocean, just the Arno River.  Still, I loved it.

Florence is rich with history and beautiful.  The duomo and cathedral, the Palazzo Vecchio,  Ponte Vecchio, Piazelle Michelangelo, Piazza della Signoria and it goes on.  Yet, at the same time, it is a modern city with great, diverse food, beautiful people and BEER!

We scored again with Airbnb in Florence.  We stayed in the Oltrano (the “other” side of the Arno) about a block away from the Ponte Vecchio.  Our apartment was certainly older, and up a step set up stairs 6 floors up, but my goodness, the rooftop deckS (yes, two rooftop decks) were unreal.  Literally 360 degree views of all of Florence.  All the sites visible, cool breezes, and a brew or glass of wine?  Unreal.  https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1482355

(the pics do not do the view justice)

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Our first stop when we arrived in Florence was Il Mercato Centrale.  This is somewhat akin to the Chelsea Market in NYC or the Ferry Building Building in SF.  The first floor is an assortment of butcher, cheese, olive oil, and pasta shops, with a few coffee shops and a solid amount of produce.  You can walk around and have cheese samples for free, or pay for an olive or balsamic tastings.

The second floor is full of essentially to-go restaurants that you order at the counter and find a seat.  There are a bunch of awesome options.  A place with fresh made cheese and sandwiches, butcheries, a place with all truffle dishes, a vegetarian spot, pasta and it goes on and on.  There is also a bar in the middle with a birreria, and a wine shop.  The bar had a somewhat disappointing selection of beers.  Most of the beers were Birra Moretti, and I ws hoping for more smaller craft brews.  That said, the food made up for it.

The third floor has a sit down restaurant, but the second floor to me was the place to be.

Outside was a large leather and trinket gift area.  Fun to walk around and buy a few gifts.

Close by is the BrewDog Firenze location.  I have had a few of their beers before, but wanted to pop in to see if they had the Born to Die IPA.  Unfortunately, they did not have it on tap, but rest assured, they had a (large) bottle.  It was an astounding $15 euros, but I had to pull the trigger.  It was worth it.  Fantastic, hop bomb with a smooth crisp finish.

Florence has two other breweries, Archea and Mostoldoce.  Give the slew of things we wanted to do and see, we only had time for one, Archea.

Archea actually did not brew the beer on site, and actually brewed it several hours away.  The tasting room was a great little pub, with several of their own beers and a few guest taps.  I actually really enjoyed their Hydra IPA.  The bartender was great, good people inside, and overall a great stop.  Highly recommend dropping in.

King Grizzly was a solid beer bar. Probably around 15 beers on tap, seemingly all or mostly from Italy.  Good scene, good beer options, the kind of place I would go to on the regular.

On our last day in Florence, we hired a private driver to take us down to Siena and then through the Chianti wine district.  No beer, but an absolutely fantastic time.  Lot of wine, great food, olive oil and sites beyond belief.  You can read more about our day on my Tripadvisor review of our driver, who was fantastic.  https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g187895-d4331380-r375836127-Alessandro_Cammilli_Private_Tours-Florence_Tuscany.html#REVIEWS

Overall, Firenze was incredible.  I could write 20 more pages about our time there.  We had a few fantastic meals (our lunch at Liberia Brac was one of the best meals I have ever had – https://www.yelp.com/biz/libreria-brac-firenze).  The David was amazing, the duomo and surrounding area was overwhelming, the Oltrarno neighborhood was lively and welcoming.  If I could only go back to one place in Italy, Firenze was it.

Stay tuned for Part 2, which will recap Cinque Terre and Rome.

 

 

Dog Friendly Brewery Series – North SF Bay Area

I love good beer. I also love enjoying good beer with my wife and dog. I therefore really love doing both together. Unfortunately, that is not always possible (unless done at home). Hence, the following series.

I cannot profess to know every single dog friendly brewery in the state, but I do believe I have a pretty good grip of the best ones in a few different areas, namely SF, the Bay Area and north, and the Central Coast. This series will pass along my knowledge on this ever so important topic.

The third in this series will focus on dog-friendly breweries north of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Lagunitas Brewery

Let’s start with one of the better known craft breweries, Lagunitas.

The Lagunitas brewery is a great stop.  Although it is in an industrial area, once you walk through the gates, it is all brewery and good times.

Lagunitas has a huge outdoor patio filled with picnic type tables.  It is never easy to find a seat, despite the fact that it is pretty huge.  Dogs are allowed anywhere outside.

Weekend afternoons will oftentimes have live music.

Food is good, not great.  Fairly standard fare, essentially nachos, wings and sandwiches.

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Mound of nachos at Lagunitas.

Beers are most of your favorite Lagunitas classics.  IPA, Hoop Stooid, Pils etc.  They typically do not seem to have many “special” releases or harder to find options, but the environment and other classics make up for it.

https://lagunitas.com/taprooms/petaluma

Bear Republic Brewing

Lagunitas and Bear Republic in one day is a good day in my book.

Bear Republic is a short drive up the 101, about 30 miles.

Bear Republic has a decent sized outside patio where dogs are allowed.  Bear Republic is more of a brewpup that Lagunitas, feel more like a restaurant than a brewery.  Little bit tighter squeeze for the dog.

Food is a little higher end with a huge menu.  Something for everyone.

Beers are great.  I am a big fan of Bear Republic so am always happy.  More likely to get something unique or new here than Lagunitas.  Last time for me, it was the Hop Shovel, which was fantastic.

Great place for dinner and a few beers.

http://bearrepublic.com/brewpub/

Anderson Valley Brewing Company

Anderson Valley Brewing Company is a doggie heaven.  The property is huge, including a disc golf course.

Dogs are allowed both inside the tasting room and all over the outdoor grounds.  It takes a few hours for us to get here, so when we finally make it, the huge property is perfect for the pup.

I personally think the Boont Amber is by far their best beer.  Certainly will find some beers at the brewery you do not see in the stores down here.

One of these days I would love to stay nearby to be able to spend the whole afternoon playing disc golf and hanging out, but most of the time we keep driving and spend the night at Mendocino.

(Also, NEED to get to their annual Beer Fest, have had conflicts the last few years)

https://avbc.com/the-brewery/

Russian River Brew Pub

Russian River Brewery, more known for their Pliny the Elder and Younger than the dog friendly aspect.  I will admit, we have never brought the dog here, as most times it is either crazy packed or we are just stopping to stock up on Pliny and Blind Pig for home.  NOTE – apparently dogs have to be leashed outside the gated area, so they cannot be “in” the patio area with you…

Last time I was there was a Tuesday late-morning, so there were plenty of seats out front that the dog could be at.

What else is there to say about Russian River?  It is an experience for all beer nerds due to the cult following they have created.  So, this place is maybe more about the beer than worrying if the dog can make it (sorry Sara!!).

IMG_6275http://russianriverbrewing.com/brew-pub/

Stumptown Brewery

One of our favorite dog friendly weekends is the Russian River.  But, not Russian River Brewery, actually going to the river and staying at a cabin or one of the little inns nearby.

We can go to the river with the dog, take her to wineries, and a few dog friendly restaurants in Guerneville.  So, for going to the wineries all day, my treat is going to Stumptown at the end of the day.

Stumptown is right on the main road, located above the river.  Stumptown has a huge back patio that looks over a grassy area and the river.  People oftentimes pull their canoes/tubes up at Stumptown and grab a beer.

Technically, the dogs are only allowed in a small gated dog area.  I have seen several dogs in there before.  There is a small table you can sit at in the dog area, however it is not an idea place to have to sit (so, if you are not comfortable leaving your dog alone with other dogs, this may not be for you).

Sometimes, late at night or on weekdays when it is not busy, we have had the pup on the balcony with us, but it has to be quiet for that to happen.

The beer is decent, Rat Bastard Pale is my favorite.  We have never eaten there, but the food is basic bar fare.

You come here for the view and because it is the only brewery on the river!

http://stumptown.com/

Marin Brewing Company

Marin Brewing Company is right across the bay from SF.  Located in a small mall in Larkspur, you do not have high expectations as you fight to find parking.  However, once you get through the mall and to the main attraction, you will find a pretty hopping brewery with a ton of outdoor seats.

Again, this falls more under the brewpup than brewery theme, but they do have a great selection of their beers on tap.  They make a few good IPAs, 3 Flowers being my favorite.  They also have some unique fruit beers, including raspberry, blueberry and a peach beer.

Food is good enough, standard bar food.

Sometimes a great way to get out of the City and/or Karl the Fog as you can get there quickly and easily.

http://www.marinbrewing.com/

Iron Springs Pub

The most recent North Bay brewery we visited was Iron Springs.  Iron Spring is in Fairfax, and a great stop on the way home after a hike in the Marin Headlands/Fairfax.

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Pre-brewery hike at the aptly named Lake Lagunitas.

I had never heard of Iron Springs before recently, by finding the brewery online when looking for post-hike beer/lunch.  Now that I have been there, I have noticed it popping up in a few local bars.  This is for good reason, they make some quality beers.

I really enjoyed the Casey Jones Imperial IPA (which has a dog on the label!).  The JC Flyer IPA was also quite good.

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Very impressive flight at Iron Springs.

The food was pretty good as well.  A slightly more varied menu than a typical brewery.  NOthing fancy or too crazy, but a good amount of options.

Definitely a must stop after a day in the North Bay.

http://ironspringspub.com/the-pub/

Again, these are probably not all the dog friendly breweries in the greater North Bay area, but this is a pretty good start for a nice little road trip!  I will be writing an article about dog friendly breweries in the Tahoe/Gold Country area soon!

Let me know if I missed any in the comments.