What Should You do in Wine Country? Drink Beer!

What better way to wash down a day of wine touring than with a tall pint of cold beer? At least, that’s how the GuideAdvisor’s team felt recently while touring with guides in Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley (such as Frieda Lewis and Jenny Toomer.) Actually, it would be more accurate to say that’s how I felt. All the guides we met were extremely friendly, approachable and down-to-earth but there’s a certain decorum one must have while visiting so many beautiful cellar doors with their fine mahogany and looped Loreena Mckennitt tracks. You’re not about to pony up to a wine tasting table and start spouting off random facts about your favourite hockey team or commenting about the nice legs on that specific (insert gender here) person over there. Instead, conversation trends towards the “legs” in your glass and other tasting notes. (For more about the inappropriate use of the term “legs” while wine tasting, check out our How Not To Wine Tour post.)

Napa and Sonoma Valleys are famous for their vineyards but there’s a well-known quote amongst the area’s wine makers that goes, “It takes a lot of great beer to make great wine.” Which is why some good craft brewers have opened up shop here in the past few decades. To date, there aren’t any dedicated guides that just concentrate on beer tours in this region but you can certainly ask ones such as Derick Martin of Concierge of the Valley to organize a custom trip for you. Which is a good idea because tours of some of these places can only be done by appointment. Here are some breweries and bars worth checking out:

Murphy’s Irish Pub

My favourite place to unwind after a hard day of wine touring is Murphy’s Irish Pub in downtown Sonoma. This place is the real deal: a cobbled lane-way leads you to a darkened, wood-panelled building where ancient Guinness ads and other old-school bar paraphernalia adorn the walls and patrons talk sports while nursing pints of Boddingtons. During my last visit a pop quiz contest broke out and teams of swillers had to answer questions such as “Who is Obama’s Secretary of State” and “What animal is on the Canadian nickel?” (Despite being two pints in, I managed to get that question right at least.)

Norman Rose Tavern

Moving over to the other valley, the Norman Rose Tavern is one of the only gastropubs in downtown Napa and has an inviting feel with its barnwood-paneled walls and comfy, padded booth chairs. There is a revolving menu of approximately 30  beers on tap and in bottles, including the coveted Back in Black from San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery and seasonals like my personal favourite Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ from Lagunitas Brewing in nearby Petaluma.

Silverado Brewing Co.

St Helena’s Silverado Brewing Company is worth checking out for the architecture alone. It’s housed in a castle-like 115-year-old building (formerly the Freemark Abbey Winery) and is one of the oldest remaining stone buildings in the valley. Its beers are anything but ancient, though, and we recommend getting comfy in their rustic taproom and enjoying the six-beer sampler. (We think you’ll find the sweet Meebock, named for head brewer Ken Mee, particularly tasty.)

Calistoga Inn & Brewery

The Calistoga Inn, built in the 1800s, became Napa County’s first commercial brewer since Prohibition when it launched Napa Valley Brewing Co. in 1987. Four principle beers are brewed here including the Calistoga Wheat Ale, Pilsner, Red Ale and Porter. Other seasonal beers are also available at certain times of years including the German Kolsch, Blitzen IPA, Belgian Pale Ale and Dugan Oatmeal Stout. Definitely have a good book you a tour so you can check out the water tower-turned-brewhouse out back.

Downtown Joe’s Brewery

A riverfront brewpub in the heart of Napa, Downtown Joe’s has a bustling after-hours scene and live music most nights. There are nine house brews here that are regularly rotated and one of the favourites includes the Tail Waggin’ Amber Ale, named for patrons who shake their tail feathers here on weekends.

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