Why we're here...

Beer culture is coming of age. At any store, restaurant, bar, or friend's house you can now find at least a few good brews. In fact, there seem to be so many new beers, breweries and bars it's difficult to separate the good, the bad, and the mediocre.

If you're going spend $10 on one beer, what should you buy? If you're going to drive 2 hours to check out a brewery, what's worth your time? If you're going to plan a Friday night, what has a good selection and friendly atmosphere? We're here to help you answer these questions.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bear Republic Brewery

Bear Republic Brewery & Restaurant is located just off the main square in Healdsburg, CA. The brewery was founded in 1996 by veteran homebrewer Richard G. (Ricardo) Norgrove (who is also the Brewmaster), his father Richard R. Norgrove and both their wives. The mom is a greeter and hostess, the father is a barteneder and Ricardo's wife is the accountant. This brewery is a Must Have It.

Healdsburg is about an hour north of San Francisco along the 101, or about two hours west of Sacramento. The fastest way from Sac would probably be 80West  to 37 West to 101 North. But that all depends on traffic on a given day. However, if you're not in a hurry there are plenty of ways to get over there that offer beautiful drives through the Coastal Range and Napa Valley.

Bear Republic's most famous brew is probably Racer 5 IPA, but there line-up also includes Red Rocket, Big Bear Stout, XP, Pete Brown Tribute and Hop Rod Rye and many, many other limited release and seasonal.

While at the brewery I tried these beers from the tap:

Racer 5
Thick,sticky white head that leaves nice lacing as it dissipates. Color is an orange hue. Aroma is a big blend of citrus; grapefruit, lemon and pine. The taste follows the great aroma; an abundance of tropical fruit citrus followed by a biting and lasting hop bitterness. Slight floral and spice presence with a mild malt backbone. Just very very well balanced and absolutely phenomenal. Medium bodied with a clean flavor. Great session beer that drinks incredibly easy for something that has an ABV of 7%. This is a Must Have It.

This beer is available year round in any store that hosts craft brews in North Cal. Six packs should be between $8-$11.

Red Rocket Ale (American Amber)
A dark brown color with amber tints with a thick, but small head that sticks around while you drink and leaves some really nice lacing. The aroma is pine, citrus, caramel and nice toasty malts, it's a very complex and rich. The Very compelx, it takes awhile to distinguish all the flavors.The mouthfeel is medium to full bodied with healthy levels of carbonation.  Overall, this is a great brew and great example of an American Amber/Red, which often times is not done very well. Again, this is a Must Have It

Hop Rod Rye (IPA)
Hop Rod Rye as an American IPA with, as you might see, rye. The color is dark brown with a decent off-white head that fades but still leaves good lacings. The aroma is a mix of spicy rye, ctirus and pines hops, and sweet caramel malts. The taste spicy and bitter, but with a strong notes of sweetness that cuts through the hops and the rye. The finish is bitter and enjoyable. It has a thick body with light carbonation. This is just a well crafted beer. I can't believe I'm giving another Must Have It. However, if you're not into hops this probably is not for you. If you're a hop head, this is a unique experience.

Big Bear Black Stout
The color is opaque black with a thick milk chocolate head that dissipates quickly and leaves minimal lacings. The aroma is bitter chocolate, espresso, roasted malts and maybe some nuts. The taste is very good; bitter chocolate and roasted nuts up front, has a smooth malty oak like finish. It is medium to full bodied, creamy, medium high carbonation. This is a Try It. This is a well crafted stout, but as Bear Republic has so many other great beers, if you need to miss something, this might be one.

Double Rocket Imperial Red (Double IPA)
The color dark  brown with a thick, off-white head that leaves no lacings.The arome is sharp pine and earthy hops with caramel sweetness and cirtus hops notes. The taste has even sharper pine and citrus hops but is offset by the smoky sweetness.This body is medium thick, decent carbonation and definitely warming from the alcohol. Not sure if I could have more than one of these with an ABV of 9.2%. I would Skip It. This isn't a bad beer, but there are better examples of this style - Double Bastard from Stone. Its thick, strong and is definitely a session beer. I would give it a try at some point, but no need to rush.

I ordered wings from the kitchen and the one way to describe them is "awesome!!" with two exclamation points.

I visited two other breweries on this trip; Russian River and Lagunitas. A far as a space, I preferred Bear Republic. I liked it's patio, its location to downtown Healdsburg and the nice stream that ran just out back. The staff was very friendly and the food great. If you're going to make a trip to a Sonoma brewery, choose Bear Republic first.

Overall Bear Republic's brews are very well-crafted, their kitchen very tasty and the brewery itself is just comfortable.

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