A few years ago, the Barlow in Sebastopol would not be on anyone’s list as a go-to destination in Sonoma County for beer aficionados.
While Woodfour Brewing Co. has carved out a niche at the outdoor shopping complex for almost five years with its highly regarded sour beers, nearby Warped Brewing Co. closed after failing to attract customers.
But things have changed in the upscale retail, arts and restaurant district, which is buzzing with new energy — and a distinct flavor of barley and hops.
The 220,000-square-foot complex, which previously housed an apple processing plant, has finally leased all of its retail space. It will include a future taproom for Seismic Brewing Co. of Santa Rosa, the upstart brewery led by Christopher Jackson of the famous Sonoma County wine family. Also joining the taproom lineup is Golden State Cider of Sebastopol, making a product that large marketing firms also include within the beer category and, in fact, is the second most popular craft style category behind India pale ales (IPAs). Both taprooms are slated to open by year’s end.
They will join Crooked Goat Brewing Co., which has become one of the county’s most popular taprooms since opening almost two years ago by offering a wide array of flavor-infused beers from pineapple IPAs to vanilla bean stouts. In addition, Community Market also has a popular taproom in the complex that features local beer and cider as well as occasional musical performances outside on its lawn.
“The concentration is great,” said James Holt, co-owner of North Bay Brewery Tours of Rohnert Park, which shuttles tourists and Bay Area residents around to local breweries on its half-day tours. “It’s making it a destination and not just a venue.”
To be sure, the Barlow still features three winery tasting rooms and an exclusive lounge for customers of Kosta Browne Winery, producers of a cult pinot noir. Spirit Works Distillery also has distinguished itsel with its craft whiskey, gin and vodka.
But the full lineup at the Barlow is likely to draw a lot more beer lovers to the district, located on the city’s east side next to Highway 12.
All of the taprooms will be housed within a short walking distance from each other. The HopMonk Tavern — and its popular beer garden — also is nearby and is easy accessible from the Joe Rodota Trail and West County Trail used by bicyclists.
The city of almost 8,000 people, long proud of its reputation as a progressive, counterculture hub — touted by its “Nuclear Free Zone” sign at the city’s entrance — is gaining a new image as a regional beer mecca, brewers said.
“I think it’s a destination spot,” Jackson said.
He noted brewers at The Barlow all feature different beer styles. For example, Seismic’s second most popular beer is a light-bodied kolsch and it also offers a pilsner besides some IPAs. Seismic has kept a regional footprint since reaching the market last year, producing about 5,500 barrels annually.
“I think the diversity of style and flavor will be great for the local customer,” he said. “We are living in a golden age (for beer).”
Woodfour owner Seth Wood agreed. “If you have a group of five people and one or two of them really love sour beer ... we are going to be able to grab them,” he said.