If you’ve been following the “beer media” for a while, you’ve probably noticed a spate of articles about “Beer in Wine Country”, almost exclusively centered around first-class Sonoma and Marin county brewers like RUSSIAN RIVER, LAGUNITAS and MOYLAN’S. Trouble is, if you’re actually from around here, you know these guys aren’t really brewing rebels laying down stakes in the heart of wine country. They’re in downtown Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Novato respectively – hardly the heart of wine country; rather, these are three larger cities near by the real grape-growing towns of Napa, Calistoga, Oakville, Yountville, Sonoma and Glen Ellen. Alcohol palates may be a little more refined up here, and thus the beer had better match the quality of the wine, but this whole “look at these guys going up against the dominant winemakers” hoo-hah is a bunch of malarkey.
You want a real beer brewer making it happen in the heart of the Napa Valley wine mecca? Try the CALISTOGA INN & BREWERY, a hotel and restaurant who’ve been brewing their own beer in downtown Calistoga since 1987 (!). Whenever my wife & I are up here trying new wines, I’ve cast a wistful eye over at this place as we’ve driven by – well, the other night, while looking for a dinner, I finally got her to bite on the idea of setting our family down for a spell here. “Kid-friendly”, I think were the words I used. It worked. I’d ordered a pint of beer before we’d even sat down.
The first up was the CALISTOGA RED INDIA PALE ALE, which is just about exactly what it sounds like – an amber-colored, muy hoppy IPA. The menu said it was the result of a local homebrew contest – I guess the person responsible for this won a contest, and thus got to brew the beer at the pub/restaurant. I really enjoyed it. It poured a deep, deep red, had lots of juicy hops, and unlike a lot of strong beers, this one actually tasted really good nice n’ cold. As it warmed, I liked it slightly less, but hey, it was surprisingly good & would be the one I’d pick again if I made it back here. 7/10. I just had to try the tripel next, imaginatively called CALISTOGA BELGIAN TRIPEL. You know what? This was nothing like any tripel I’ve ever had. More like a “spicy amber ale” – really spicy and biting, in fact, but not hoppy. Seems like someone was really groping for a category to throw this one in, but it was only slightly less enjoyable than the RED IPA. 6.5/10. I’m telling you folks, once you’re done trying the best wines America has to offer (I'm talking about you, Vincent Arroyo), you could do a lot worse than to top things off with a meal and a couple of beers here. Good on ya, Calistoga.