Sonoma County has recently seen a sharp increase in craft beer makers opening alongside well-established producers, helping a region synonymous with wine tap more into a business with brewing demand across California.
[caption id="attachment_72269" align="alignleft" width="360"] Petaluma's 101 North Brewing recently increased capacity and inked a deal with Morris Distributing. (image credit: Eric Gneckow)[/caption]
In recent months, a number of startup breweries have emerged while the big three -- Lagunitas Brewing, Russian River Brewing and Bear Republic -- mull over plans to expand or increase capacity.
Startups in the past year include St. Florian's Brewery and Old Redwood Brewery in Windsor, HenHouse Brewing and Petaluma Hills Brewing in Petaluma, and Beltane Brewing in Novato. That's in addition to at least 15 others that have opened across the North Bay in recent years and Ukiah's Mendocino Brewing, a publicly owned company started in 1983 and now the nation's 34th largest beer company.
Perhaps the largest of the recent entrants in the local beer market is 101 North Brewing Co. It started operations in Petaluma roughly two years ago but recently began picking up steam with its signature Heroine IPA.
The brewery officially opened to the public and for distribution about seven months ago in a warehouse at 1304 Scott St. in Petaluma. It's just blocks away from Lagunitas, which earlier this month was ranked by the Colorado-based Brewers Association as the nation's sixth-largest craft brewery and 13th-largest beer company overall based on 2012 sales. Craft breweries make less than 6 million barrels annually.
[caption id="attachment_72270" align="alignleft" width="360"] 101 North Brewing brewmaster Joel Johnson helps an employee brew a test batch of red ale. (image credit: Eric Gneckow)[/caption]
A recently installed fermentation tank will enable 101 North to increase production significantly, according to Brewmaster Joel Johnson, who previously developed award-winning suds for Bear Republic, which has breweries in Healdsburg and Cloverdale and is ranked as the country's 34th-largest craft brewery.
"We've been opened for seven months, and it looks like we're on track to do 1,000 barrels in our first year," Mr. Johnson said. "We were producing about half of that just three months ago."
With the new tank, Mr. Johnson projects the brewery will be able to increase production to 3,500 barrels per year, which would put it at No. 6 on the Business Journal's list of local breweries.
"We're basically Lagunitas in our early stages," said John Brainin, a co-owner at 101 North, referring to its neighbor's humble beginnings in West Marin that eventually saw it move to Petaluma to become one of the nation's largest craft brewers. Mr. Brainin said Lagunitas has been supportive of it and other local breweries, and there's more revelry than rivalry among the burgeoning bevy of North Bay brewers.
In addition to increasing capacity, 101 North has increased its visibility throughout the Bay Area, inking a distribution deal with Petaluma-based Morris Distributing, Mr. Brainin said. And the brewery recently became clients of accounting firm Burr Pilger Mayer, which also counts Lagunitas as a client.'Good time to be a brewer'
The growth for 101 North, along with the spate of new breweries, reflects increased interest and demand in high-quality local beers across California and the U.S. The Bay Area has recently become a breeding ground for breweries, particularly in San Francisco and Oakland.