Northern California Finally Has a Craft Beer Guidebook

In 2007, when I settled in the Bay Area, I couldn’t believe the region didn’t have a trusty guidebook for a Midwestern expat like me. Northern California is the cradle of the craft beer industry, which made the omission even more dumbfounding. I already knew about Russian River, Lagunitas and a handful of other breweries, but what about the rest, and most importantly, where could I find their beer? My frustration, in part, led to this very website.

Thankfully, Cameron + Company, based in Petaluma, has stepped up to the plate by publishing the Northern California Craft Beer Guide, which will hit store shelves around July 10. The book’s author is Ken Weaver, and his wife, Anneliese Schmidt, provided the photography. They apparently spent months traipsing through breweries, bars, bottle shops and restaurants to gather information that fills nearly three hundred pages. Strenuous work I’m sure.

Before I carry on about the book, in the interest of full disclosure, I need to divulge a few secrets. I consider Ken to be a good friend. Beer writers travel in a very small circle and he’s been a big supporter of my efforts here. In fact, he mentions this website in the book and I did receive a copy at no charge. So although I’m making every effort to be objective, these associations “could” leave me slightly biased.

The book begins with a foreword by Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing, and then proceeds to break the northern half of the state into five digestible regions stretching from Santa Cruz to the Lost Coast. In each section, Weaver identifies five beers to try, the existing breweries, noteworthy bars, bottle shops, restaurants and homebrew supply stores. He also provides a brief summary of each location and their vital statistics, such as location, directions, hours and web address. If it’s a brewery, the brewmaster is identified along with the founding date, if they ship only draft, bottles or both, and more.

Don’t expect detailed maps on par with Google. Although what’s included is quite elegant, they’re simply designed to illustrate general locations. You have a computer or smart phone right? If you’re disappointed, then maybe you’ll be happy with the book’s collection of symbols indicating whether a venue offers food, growlers, serves cask beer, sells bottles to go or even if the beer is organic. All of the above is the majority of the book’s content, but there’s more.

Littered among the seemingly endless listings, Weaver has crafted a number of short topical essays. Some are educational, like cooking and pairing with beer, while others identify important beer festivals. He also identifies 18 different beers throughout the region that “embody their style well.” For example, North Coast’s OId Rasputin is the featured Imperial Stout and Russian River’s Temptation epitomizes the Sour/Wild Ale.

Last but not least, Schmidt’s photos are a wonderful complement to the tome of information. They capture the overall character and spirit of the industry, the beautiful minutiae of the brewing process, a rainbow of brand advertising, cozy bars and the surrounding landscape.  Most importantly, they’ll inspire you to travel and search out great beer.

Like most guidebooks, the Northern California Craft Beer Guide is a snapshot in time, so don’t be surprised if the latest nanobrewery isn’t featured or some info is already outdated. Beers come and go, brewmasters change jobs and sadly breweries close. Despite this problem, the book is still a solid resource. You might discover a new brewery, bar or bottle shop, and at the very least, it can help you plan a great beercation. By the way, Weaver is happy to accept reader corrections at www.northerncaliforniacraftbeer.com, so future editions are accurate as possible.

If you would like to pre-order the book, learn more about its creators, or take a more thorough peek inside its pages, head over to Amazon.com. Weaver and Schmidt will also be hosting a variety of book signing events throughout the Bay Area in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled on our calendar for more details.