Most of Chicago’s craft beer loyalists are probably aware that the illustrious Lagunitas Brewing Company traces its roots back to a small city just north of San Francisco, but that little nugget of information will undoubtedly surprise plenty of casual drinkers.
Indeed, the potent Little Sumpin' Sumpin' and tasty Lagunitas IPA you order so often are not, in fact, produced by a hometown brewery. That being said, there’s no reason to feel ashamed of your Chicago pride — our city played a pivotal role in the success of the flourishing beer company’s nationwide expansion.
During the last week of 2018, we carved a day out of our holiday vacation in San Francisco to pay the brewery’s birthplace of Petaluma — and, of course, the famed original taproom — a visit.
“Hurry up, it’s almost 4:20”
A conversation with a San Fran local we befriended over a beer (naturally) helped set our Petaluma Day agenda when he casually revealed that the taproom begins its live music session each day at 4:20 p.m.
The time, clearly an ode to the brewery’s affinity for pot, instantly became our target ETA, and we nearly hit it. After settling into the Hotel Petaluma downtown, we took a Lyft to the brewpub itself, a mile or so north of the main drag, getting in just before 5:00.
Upon arrival, we could only say “wow.”
Atmosphere and Staff
You’re greeted by a massive outdoor area with a sand floor, a serving hut, and an array of wooden picnic tables and barrels. Once you navigate through this sanctuary, you’ll find yourself in an expansive enclosed tent of sorts, designed with transparent panels and decked out in vibrant, colorful streamers and decorative string lights. It’s lively and fun, reminiscent of a big beer circus or a giant backyard party.
Servers bustled to and from the indoor bar, which sits adjacent to the circus room, taking orders and dropping off plates of food and pints of freshly brewed beer. At the same time, the talented duo on stage ran through a mix of well-known favorites and some quality original tunes as well. The service, the beer, the food, the environment — everything was top-notch.
A narrow hallway stemming from the bar/tent area leads to an impressive swag shop, where you’ll find just about any Lagunitas-related piece of merch you could ever dream up. My advice: make sure to bring your self-control, or you’ll definitely head home with more than one alcohol-fueled purchase.
Unfortunately, I’m unable to produce a run-down reviewing the various styles available, as we eschewed the whole taster approach for simply sipping a couple brews we knew we’d enjoy:
- Novel Pulp: We both started with this fresh New England, which was exclusive to the Petaluma taproom. When in Rome. It’s hazy but not syrupy, and wheaty and smooth. Plus, it apparently features an experimental hop called HBC 431, though I won’t pretend I could detect its presence amid the beer's hop profile…
- Born Yesterday: A one-off wonder version of the New Dogtown Pale, Katie was already a big fan of this unfiltered, multiple hop-infused brew. It tasted good in Chicago, but it tasted great in California.
- Super Cluster: I assumed this daunting Imperial IPA was a limited release until I found it on a list of their year-round offerings. Aptly described as a mega ale, it teeters on the edge of becoming noticeably boozy, but I thoroughly enjoyed the one pint I ordered.
Katie and I agreed: Lagunitas Petaluma is the coolest taproom either one of us has ever visited, period.
It’s located in Sonoma County, which, technically, is wine country. But this strikes me as apropos, since great beer and great wine share a lot of common attributes — one being their ability to enhance an already outstanding experience.
The original Lagunitas taproom is exactly that: an outstanding experience. The delicious beer is just a bonus.
Did you assume Lagunitas was the only brewery we visited on our trip to the west coast? Au contraire, my friend. Here’s a quick one-sentence synopsis of our other destinations:
- Bartlett Hall: More downtown restaurant than brewery, it scores points for being open on Christmas night, and the house-brewed hazy hit the spot.
- Cellarmaker Brewing: Compact and somewhat cramped, this artsy, highly-rated taproom reminded me a bit of some of the breweries I visited in Asheville, with a big open-air window giving it an indoor-outdoor feel. We sampled some hits and some misses.
- Black Hammer Brewing: Our favorite San Fran spot. In addition to its powerful IPA, we both fell in love with Growler, the brewer’s dog who sits on a barstool like the regular he is.
- ThirstyBear Brewing: Organic beers and Spanish tapas — it sounds like an odd combo, and I guess it is. It was nearly empty the night after Christmas, but the beers were solid and the seafood paella was bomb.