My husband gulps some Cabernet Franc and declares it “tasty.” We are in the Tri-Cities wine country in Washington state and other guests are sipping their wine and describing its characteristics in elegant prose.
Each of the big wine countries in North America also offers up a good helping of breweries―and the good news is that you don’t have to search very hard to find them.
It was at this point that I wondered if it’s possible to drink beer in wine country. Sounds like an oxymoron, but don’t beer drinkers get a chance to enjoy their preferred beverages, after their oenophile partners have dragged them around tasting rooms all day?
The answer is yes. Each of the big wine countries in North America also offers up a good helping of breweries―and the good news is that you don’t have to search very hard to find them.
And forget yourselves for a moment―think of the wine makers. Despite what Hollywood and romanticized books and articles will have us believe, for many of them, there’s only one thing that hits the spot at the end of the day and that’s a nice cold beer.
In fact, as many brewers pointed out, the saying is that it takes a lot of great beer to make good wine.
The logical place to start with any discussion of wine in this continent is the most illustrious wine country, Napa Valley.
Both Napa and Sonoma counties are peppered with breweries, and one of the best known is Downtown Joe’s American Grill and Brewhouse in the town of Napa. “People come to the valley and want to taste wine but their whole life is not wine,” said Colin Kaminksi, the pub’s brewer. So, they typically come at both ends of the wine-tasting day, he said―for breakfast and for a change of pace after a day in the vines.
Situated in a historic building on the banks of the Napa River, Downtown Joe’s offers seven regular draft beers, the most popular being Tail Waggin’ American Amber and Lazy Summer American Wheat, and an eighth beer that rotates. The specials tend to depend on Kaminski’s whim―“if I want to explore a different hop, malt or style,” he said. “And that way, I can decide if that element becomes part of one of our regular ales.”
The pub is more British style than American, a very social place where everyone interacts. There’s regular live music and outdoor patios.
Thirty miles to the north, in Calistoga, is the Napa Valley Brewing Co., the Calistoga Inn Restaurant & Brewery.
Here there are four beers on tap: an American wheat, a pilsner, a red ale, and a porter. The wheat and the pilsner are the best sellers in the summer, while the red ale is a heartier winter drink. The porter, according to head brewer Brad Simisloff, is consistent throughout the year and ages very well. Simisloff also rotates in three to five other beers regularly, so there are always seven to nine tap offerings.
“I’m fascinated by the history of beer styles and how they came about so I’m as authentic as I can,” he said. As an example, he uses Belgian malt for his Belgian-style beers and abbey-style yeast.
He also has fun playing around with his tripels, adding flavors like orange peel and grains of paradise, a seed that is spicy with a little fruit. “I make all the spices subdued, however, so they’re just an aftertaste,” he pointed out.