The State of American Craft Beer – Northern California

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With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.

For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. The fifth state we’re sipping from is The Golden State, California. Now, in all fairness, tackling this state isn’t like taking on the rest: California is the most populous of the 50 States, it has a GDP that would rank about 7th or 8th in the world, according to the CCBA the state houses roughly 554 craft breweries – which increases roughly 20% per year, and It’s the foundation upon which craft beer came to be in America today. The bulk of the state’s breweries are found in the population centers in the Bay Area, the Central Coast and Metropolitan Los Angeles, and San Diego. As of 2013, the state ranked 1st in total production (2.9 Million Barrels), 1st in economic impact ($4.7 Billion), 1st in total breweries and 19th in breweries per capita, according to the Brewers Assocation.

Given the sheer girth of the state’s presence among the national craft beer community, we’re going to break California up into three regional articles – with some history for each and add in a few more breweries per region… because I mean seriously, over 544 fucking breweries? That’s crazy.

Northern California History

Just like Alaska, the history of brewing in California coincided with the huge population boom that came about as a result of the Gold Rush. In 1849 the Adam Shuppert Brewery, located at the corner of Stockton and Jackson in San Francisco, was the first to officially operate in the state. By 1852, San Francisco had grown to 36,000 people and housed 350 saloons, which quickly became 800 saloons, fed by 24 breweries in 1860.

Anchor-old-breweryIn 1896, the state’s most famous brewery was officially born in San Francisco and given the name Anchor Brewing by its founders Ernst F. Baruth and Otto Schinkel Jr. Now there were a number of other breweries in the region between the gold rush days and after the prohibition era, but none was more important than Anchor, especially after it was purchased by Fritz Maytag in 1965, who began bottling and distributing Anchor Steam Beer in 1971. 

Within the next 5 years, Maytag had effectively created the brand’s four other flagships: Anchor Porter, Old Foghorn Barleywine, the Christmas Ale, Liberty Ale. The latter of the four, created in 1975 to commemorate of Paul Revere’s famous ride, was a revolution all its own as it featured the use of the Cascade hop strain, thus becoming the first modern American IPA and an archetype for the West Coast IPA.

Meanwhile in nearby Sonoma, Jack McAuliffe, inspired by Maytag’s success with Anchor, started up the country’s first modern microbrewery by opening New Albion Brewery in 1976. Three years later, Ken Grossman, a homebrew supply store owner in Chico, kick-started the birth of Sierra Nevada Brewing by creating a uniquely American take on the Pale Ale style, eventually spreading this big hopped vision of a new craft beer movement. Everything in the state and country changed from here…

More NorCal Brewers We Like and You Should Seek Out

21st Amendment Brewery logo21st Amendment  (San Francisco, CA) – Opening the same year as the baseball Giants new ballpark (2 blocks away) in 2000, this medium sized brewery has led the craft can movement with a wide-variety of award-winning brews, in artfully colored packaging. We’re big fans of their rich Monk’s Blood, Back in Black and He Said collaboration with Elysian.

FiftyFifty Brewing (Truckee, CA) – Located just down the road from the State Park memorializing the ill-fated Donner Party, this small batch brewer has breathed life into the North Tahoe area with their amazing Eclipse series of wine, whiskey and Bourbon barrel-aged imperial stouts.

Lagunitas-LogoLagunitas Brewing (Petaluma, CA) – Founded in 1993 by Tony Magee, one of the industry’s great characters, they continue to be one of the fastest growing brewers in the country after opening a Chicago facility in 2014 and now stand 5th in craft beer sales. Their IPA, Little Sumpin Series and Brown Shugga are just a few of our many favorites.

Bear RepublicBrewing (Cloverdale, CA) – Established in 1995, this popular purveyor of one-of-a-kind brews like Racer 5 IPA and Hop Rod Rye has been rewarded often for their efforts, most notably in 2006 as the Small Brewing Company and Brewer of the Year by GABF. They’ve grown quite a bit since…

RarebarrelThe Rare Barrel (Berkeley, CA) – One the newest and most in demand beers on the west coast today, these 2013 upstarts have already won gold medals at GABF and WBC in 2014 for their excellent barrel-aged sour creations. We were lucky enough to briefly touch base with head brewer Jay Goodwin this year at CBC and are looking forward to what they bubble up next.

Russian River Brewing (Santa Rosa, CA) – In production since 1997, head brewer/owner Vinnie Cilurzo is not only credited with inventing the Double IPA style, but his brewery is also a craft beer mecca for the annual release of Pliny The Younger, a Triple IPA considered by many to be the best beer made. Their production facility remains relatively small, keeping their big barrel-aged sours and IPA’s in high demand nationwide.

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