Napa is famous for its wine.
But wineries in Napa aren’t very fun. They’re filled with old, miserable, rich white people. They’re stupidly expensive. Most require reservations. Some treat you like shit as soon as they realize you’re not signing up for the wine club.
That’s why I traveled all the way to wine country, USA to visit the breweries: not the wineries. Napa has a surprising number of breweries. Most are in the city of Napa itself. There’s also one bonus brewery in nearby Sonoma and another brewery in St. Helena, in the heart of wine country.
For contrarians like me, here are the best six breweries in wine country, Napa, California.
Tannery Bend Beerworks
Tannery Bend is located a few blocks outside of downtown Napa in an industrial-looking part of the city, a historic place where they used to run tanneries. This is a crucial advantage for Tannery Bend because it’s one of the few places in Napa that doesn’t seem dominated by tourists. It’s a local crowd, but it’s a crowd that’s also friendly with visitors.
We’ve been to Tannery Bend Beerworks for trivia multiple times. It happens every Tuesday at 6:00pm. First place gets a gift card. The rest get nothing. The questions are fair. People aren’t overly competitive or obnoxious. Unlike many other breweries, the trivia is independently run: they haven’t outsourced to Geeks Who Drink, King Trivia, or any of the other trivia companies seeking to capture a slice of the lucrative bar trivia market.
Tannery Bend Beerworks makes some great IPAs. Try the Yajome IPA. If you pronounce it “Yeah-JOAM” like I did then you’re going to look like a tourist. It’s more correct (and way more fun) to pronounce it like “yeh homey”.
Located in what appears to be a former residential home, Trade Brewing makes great beer while also serving up some delicious paninis.
There’s a comfortable bar. A TV. Very friendly staff. Good specials ($10 panini and beer specials on certain days).
The beer selection is surprisingly diverse. It also seems to change frequently. Whatever type of beer you like, you should be able to find it here. The last time I was there, there were Belgian ales, porters, stouts, IPAs, double IPAs, blondes, and saisons.
Fieldwork Brewing is based in Berkeley, California. They have several locations across the Bay Area. They opened a spot in Napa’s trendy Oxbow Market.
The way people from Napa talk about Oxbow Market, you would think that every stall gives out complementary steak and wine. They’re obsessed with this place and rarely shut up about it.
Oxbow Market is a collection of shops, restaurants, and bars all gathered under one roof. It’s cool because you can go there with friends and everyone can grab different food and eat in one place – just like any normal market anywhere in the world.
Anyway, I’ll give Napa residents (Napains? Napa-ers? Napians?) a pass with Oxbow Market purely because you can walk around the market with alcohol.
Along with Fieldwork Brewing, you can grab a drink at Napa Valley Distillery, the Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant, Hog Island Oyster Co., and a couple other places inside. And then you can stumble across the street to Trade Brewing.
Stone Brewing is a huge brewing company based in San Diego (specifically, Escondido). Their beer can be found all across California and the United States. They’re not a locally-owned independent Napa brewing company.
However, Stone Brewing does have a kick-ass location right on the Napa River.
They took over the old Borreo Building, originally built in Napa in 1877 when it was a booming river city funneling shit down the river to the Bay Area.
If you want to feel like you’re drinking beer in a castle, go to Stone Brewing.
Today, the Napa location is a great place to stop for a cheeky pint. However, they’re also known for some pretty fine dining. You can order salmon, steak, and burgers while sipping great beer and staring out at the Napa River.
The Napa Stone Brewing location is surprisingly large. Upstairs, you’ll find a conventional bar. Downstairs, it’s more of a dining atmosphere. They also host events.
Napa is filled with boujee restaurants where you can spend $100 on appetizers and wine. Downtown Joe’s, despite being located in the heart of the city, is a surprisingly normal restaurant, bar, brewery, or grill. They brew their own beer. They have a great happy hour. They have lots of TVs. They have NFL Sunday specials. There’s live music. You even get a decent view over the Napa River.
If you’re looking for decent bar food, good beer, and an easygoing atmosphere in a city that sorely needs it, then Downtown Joe’s is worth a visit.
St. Clair Brown Winery & Brewery
The first time we went to St. Clair Brown Winery & Brewery, we spent like $40 CAD on two drinks. This shit isn’t cheap.
But St. Clair Brown has things like local’s night on Thursday, where they slash prices in half. So that helps.
St. Clair Brown describes itself as a nano brewery. They don’t brew a lot of beer. The beer they do make is expensive. You’ll pay $7 to $8 USD for a small pour (10oz). The pours are even smaller than an already-tiny American pint (10oz instead of the usual 16oz in America). I guess that’s the cost of high-quality ingredients.
The location is also kind of neat. It’s beside the train tracks on the edge of downtown Napa. There’s a garden and a comfortable outdoor seating area. Staff is friendly. Napa wine valley Tour buses with drunk bachelorette parties come here. It’s best to visit on a sunny afternoon.
Mad Fritz Brewery and Malthouse
Mad Fritz Brewery and Malthouse is located up Napa Valley in St. Helena, so it’s not technically a brewery in Napa, CA. I also have not yet visited Mad Fritz, so that’s why it’s under this section. This beer is priced at $22 USD per bottle. The packaging is beautiful. It looks more like a wine bottle than a beer bottle. I can’t wait to head up to the Mad Fritz Tap Room tasting room.
Napa Smith Brewery
Napa Smith Brewery is located on the northern edge of Vallejo, about 20 minutes south of Napa, CA. Again, it’s not technically a Napa brewery. However, it is a brewery with ‘Napa’ in its name, so I’ll give it an honourable mention. I have not yet been to this one – but it’s on my list.