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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.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Berryessa Brewing Company’s Chris Miller

Owner/Brewmaster Chris Miller
About 25 minutes west of Sacramento, an award winning, Seattlite Brewmaster has setup shop. He brings a taste that can only come from years of working in Yakima Valley and an experimental nature honed with pragmatism. On the side of a narrow road, among fruit trees, northern California's next great brewer is hard at work.

Chris Miller, brewmaster for the Berryessa Brewing Company, invited me out to one of Northern California’s newest breweries and a sneak peak at it’s future.


Chris, a native of Seattle, Washington landed his first brewery gig in 2004 working for Pacfic Rim Brewing, where he learned the basics and then some. It was the “then some” that landed him at Snipes Mountain Brewery as their brewmaster in 2008. Snipes was located right in the middle of Washington’s Yakima Valley, the famous hop growing region. Given control over recipe development Chris began leaving his own mark.

Chris won bronze with his Coyote Moon British Mild, which he had changed from the original recipe. He also won the Yakima Fresh Hop Ale Festival with his own fresh hop beer, "Harvest". In a state with many established breweries and accomplished brewmasters, this is no fall feat. The Fresh Hop then went on to win Silver at the 2010 World Beer Cup.

With this success, Chris looked to open his own brewery and continue to develop his award winning styles and new ones. In March 2011, Chris left Snipes Mountain and started up the Berryessa Brewing Company. The brewery shares a large, former fruit packing facility with the established Berryessa Gap Vineyards.

Chris will be opening up the tap room in mid-February 2012 at the brewery.

If you have never had the pleasure of driving route 128 through Winters, around Lake Berryessa and down into Napa, it’s a beautiful drive. Orchards and farms line the route until you begin to climb the low mountains to Napa County’s largest lake and Monticello Dam that created it.

Taken far enough, the route will take you into the heart of Napa Valley and past the world renown Culinary Institute of America and right out to the Pacific Ocean. But before all that, in the middle of fruit orchards, on the rim of the Sacramento Valley, in the shadow of the Pacific Range, you will find the Berryessa Brewing Company and brewmaster Chris Miller.

In my conversation and time talking and tasting his creative brews, its easy to see not only the passion, but the creativity and intelligence Chris has for brewing: from discussing the different types of obscure  brettanomyces he is excited to use, to his methodical approach to trying new ingredients.

Chris is your northwesterner; short, scruffy beard; down-to-earth; a good storyteller; and a love for the band Phish.

The brews I’ve tasted in local watering holes and at the brewery, introduce a brewing style that strikes a balance between the new, the experimental and the familiar.

Common Sense, Berryessa’s take on the California Common beer, has the familiar flavors and feel of the common or steam beer (think a fresher Anchor Steam), but the use of Pilsner malts takes the beer in a different yet enjoyable direction.

Nightshade a 5-rye dark ale, has the feel and taste of a porter but with a distinct rye flavor. Chris uses an old technique of dying the beer. He uses dark rye to turn what would a Pislner colored beer, into a dark porter color. He is bourbon barrel-aging some of this, I had a sample and it boosts the flavor up a notch.
Fresh Hop IPA, this IPA has HUGE fruit hop aroma and flavor with a subtle bite and maltiness. If you've had Deschutes Hop Trip, you will love this.

Sunset Over Berryessa Brew Co.
These are great samples of what Chris and Berryessa will bringing to northern California.

Lucca's, the Shack, Dad's Kitchen, Davis Beer Shoppe, Village Bakery and Restaurant (Davis), usually have the Fresh Hop on tap. The Davis Beer Shoppe also has cask nights and the Common on tap.

7 comments:

  1. Just had a taste at the Spanish Fly in Sac. Very impressive brew!

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  2. Great brews and brewmaster!

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  3. Had the five taster flight plus the Cask Double-Tap at the Davis Beer Shoppe on 28FEB for the Cheese & Beer tasting event.

    Everything was spectacular, and the Porter was possibly the best I've ever had.

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  4. Came home with a fresh Growler of Pliny from Russian River and put it head to head against a fresh pint of Double Tap, and Double Tap clearly won! So I loaded up a couple of Growlers of DT and took them up to friends in Oregon and let the Hop Snobs give their take.. I believe Holy Sh*t was the response, they couldnt believe it came from Cali! I'm impressed with all of Beryessa's Brews.. I can gaurantee Chris and this Brewery will be one of the big boys in the near future...

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