Looking for the best breweries in Northern California? If you’re raring for a fizzy glass of ice-cold brew, you won’t find any shortage of craft breweries in this sun-drenched region. NorCals love their beers so much that it’s a multi-billion dollar industry, and beer is revered just as much as wine is venerated in its bustling wine country.
Travelers planning to go pub-hopping are in for an alcohol-laced treat. There’s a place to guzzle ale no matter where you are in California, with roughly 92 percent of the state’s 39.5 million citizens living within 10 miles of a brewery. California currently has more craft breweries than any other state in the country.
What’s better, these spots are manned by beer aficionados who can school you about beer styles, brewery information, and beer history (with no guarantee that you’ll be sober enough to remember them).
The bad news: There are more than 300 breweries in Northern California, so you’ll have your work cut out for you. The good news: I’ve whittled down the choices to just the best and most popular breweries with stellar reviews and awards so you can consider these spots a must-visit when you’re pressed for time! Ready to start your beer-laden adventure? Here are the best breweries in Northern California.
Russian River Brewing Company
Location: Santa Rosa, California
In this cement-walled warehouse facility adorned with vintage metal beer signs and burlap sacks, there may be close to 20 craft beers written on the blackboard. The line outside the door indicates that beer is the star of the show in this cult-like establishment.
The main draw of Russian River is a triple IPA called “Pliny the Younger” which is only available two weeks of the year. If you’re not lucky enough to be around when it’s served, you can try its forefather, Pliny the Elder which is available year-round.
The pub’s menu of pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and bar chow won’t disappoint. A forewarning: there are no reservations here so come early if you’re visiting after work hours or on weekends.
Almanac Beer Company
Location: Alameda, California
Almanac was founded in 2010 by Jesse Friedman and Damian Fagan, two former homebrewers who wanted to create distinctive seasonal brews using local Northern California products. The company has a partner brewing arrangement, which means they don’t currently have their own brewing equipment.
Summer 2010, Almanac’s debut beer, is a bottle-conditioned Belgian-style golden ale aged in Sonoma Zinfandel barrels with blackberries from Sonoma.
The beer was so well accepted that the company proceeded to produce and release quarterly brews for the following two years until they were able to quit their day jobs and devote their whole time to the company in 2013.
Almanac’s fantastic beers include everything from delicate oak-aged lagers to subtle barrel-aged sour beers, rich stouts, and IPAs. If you’re going on a craft beer road trip in Northern California, you shouldn’t miss this place!
See Related: Best Breweries in San Diego, California
Sante Adairius Rustic Ales
Location: Capitola, California
Looking for great beer? People travel from all over the world to sample Sante Adairius Rustic Ales’ unique California craft beer. Here, something new is constantly in the works as they urge customers to go beyond their usual beer preferences (don’t forget to try their weird and wonderful sour beers).
The establishment, a tiny seven-barrel brewery located south of Santa Cruz, was founded in 2012. Adair Paterno and Tim Clifford are the brewery’s two founders, the latter of whom is a member of the now-defunct Bay Area Brew Crew, a home-brewing group that spawned a number of renowned brewers (including Almanac). Sante Adairius is greatly influenced by Belgian brewing customs.
The annual RateBeer rating site and app named the craft brewery among the top 10 best breweries in the world in 2010. Thousands of people annually voted for Sante Adairius to be ranked on the list.
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Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
Location: Chico, California
Sierra Nevada, home to the incredibly popular Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, was one of the first craft brewers in the US. It began in 1979 with only scrap metal and outdated dairy equipment while self-distributing its brews. The company’s trademark Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is now the country’s second-most popular craft beer.
This brewery is an excellent choice if you’re searching for a spot to unwind and dine after a long tour. Guests flock to the taproom all day for the establishment’s best-selling Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and delectable gastropub fare.
The open kitchen whips out burgers, wood-oven pizzas, and fish-and-chips laced with Pale Ale in record time. The United States Environmental Protection Agency recognized the brewery as the “Green Business of the Year” in 2010 for its sustainable activities.
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Cellarmaker Brewing Company
Location: San Francisco, California
Going on a girls night out in San Francisco? Cellarmaker is a laid-back taproom and brewery that serves some of San Francisco’s finest beer and pizza. Rather than manufacturing the same portfolio of beers all of the time, this popular brewery makes small batches of experimental brews on a regular basis.
Cellarmaker Brewing Co. focuses on local distribution, which allows the brewers to forego the usual notion of a predetermined production schedule and flagship beers. This allows them to experiment with various barrels, hops, grains, and yeasts on a regular basis.
Cellarmaker creates some of the city’s most delicious hop-based beers. That means a lot of IPAs, but their wheat ales and pilsners are also delicious with their well-loved pizza. There are also bottled beers from other places, as well as a small but well-conceived wine list available by the glass or bottle.
Patrons may order beers in 5oz tasters, half pints, pints, and 1 Liter and 64oz growlers to take home at the tasting room in San Francisco.
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Location: Oakland, California
Ale Industries, a popular brewing company with a variety of unique drinks, is located close to Fruitvale Station. Morgan Cox and Stephen Lopas, the company’s founders, use sustainable and environmentally friendly brewing practices such as water conservation and barrel aging in several of their products. Their casual taproom is packed with die-hard fans and beer connoisseurs.
The owners are passionate beer makers who used to spend their time brewing at E.J. Phair and at home, before forming Ale Industries.
The company just recently relocated to a larger brewing facility in Oakland, which includes a taproom. Here, locally handcrafted, authentic beer is the name of the game. On tap are barrel-aged beers, sour beers, spontaneously fermented beers, and good old-fashioned IPAs.
The company utilizes zero fossil fuels and promotes a carbon-neutral operation with the use of a biofuel boiler, electric forklifts, and a biodiesel truck.
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Anchor Brewing Company
Location: San Francisco, California
Welcome to one of the best Northern California breweries. While the beer is great, this location is also historically significant.
Anchor Brewing Company traces its origins back to the California Gold Rush, where it stagnated for decades until Frederick Louis “Fritz” Maytag acquired it in 1965 and gave it a fighting chance.
Anchor, which is now owned by a company led by former Skyy Vodka executives, continues to make top-notch artisan beers. The craft brewery is recognized for launching the craft beer industry in the United States.
The taproom is located in a large warehouse with a wide screen that plays sports channels in the rear. There are a number of picnic tables to sit at as well.
Anchor Public Taps, the company’s pilot brewery and pub, serves flights, pints, and growlers and has 19 Anchor beers on tap. They offer various specialty brews that are exclusively available at the brewery, in addition to the typical suspects.
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Drake’s Brewing Company
Location: San Leandro, California
Drake’s Brewing Co., one of the top-rated breweries in Northern California, is also one of the state’s oldest craft breweries with a history dating back to 1994.
The company began as Lind Brewing in 1989, named after the company’s founder, Roger Lind, and started as a wholesale-only kegged beer vendor.
If you enjoy quality beer, you won’t want to miss out on this hipster hangout. Beer fans cram into the brewery’s taproom, which was formerly a Dodge factory, to drink GABF award-winning brews like 1500 American Pale Ale and Denogginizer Imperial IPA.
Drake’s tasty hop-infused drinks aren’t the only thing that draws admirers from all across California. Dark beers like Black Robusto Porter and Drakonic American Imperial Stout in particular have developed a devoted fanbase.
The majority of the barrel-aged beers are only sold at the taproom, and growler or keg fills are not frequently accessible for these variations.
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Lagunitas Brewing Company
Location: Petaluma, California
The Lagunitas Brewing Company is a brewery in Northern California notable for both its unconventional adaptations of traditional beer genres and its cheeky attitude. Tony Magee created it in Lagunitas, California, in 1993.
The brewery rapidly outgrew its first home in rural West Marin and is now headquartered in Petaluma, California. Lagunitas is one of the country’s fastest-growing craft brewers. Its beers are widely available, with 32 states now carrying them.
Lagunitas beers can now be found in almost every store in the country, but even if you don’t like beer, it’s worth visiting their Petaluma taproom.
They have a large outside patio with lots of big tables, live music, and nice weather is pretty much assured as you’re a long way from the city. If you enjoy beer, they provide a wide selection on tap, ranging from ordinary pours to exclusive releases.
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North Coast Brewing Company
Location: Fort Bragg, California
North Coast Brewing Company, a forerunner in the Craft Beer movement, began as a small brewery in Fort Bragg’s historic town on California’s Mendocino Coast in 1988.
Mark Ruedrich, the brewery’s founding Brewmaster, has established a great reputation for the brewery which won more than 110 prizes in national and international contests.
Some of the company’s most popular brews are popular on the West Coast, including the Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, Red Seal Ale, Brother Thelonious Abbey Ale, Scrimshaw Pilsner, and North Coast Steller IPA. These outstanding beers are now offered in 48 states, as well as in Europe and the Pacific Rim.
North Coast now produces 17 year-round and seasonal beers, as well as a variety of barrel-aged and reserve beers. Many of those brews are available on draft at the brewery’s Mendocino Coast taproom in samplers and pints. Delicious pub fare and stone hearth pizzas are available as well.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Palo Alto, California
The Rare Barrel
Location: Berkeley, California
The Rare Barrel is a brewpub and sour beer brewery in Berkeley that creates only sour beers. The brewery exclusively manufactures sour beers that are matured in oak barrels for a lengthy period of time, with all of their offerings aged on wood for six to 36 months.
The endeavor is being spearheaded by Jay Goodwin, formerly of Orange County’s famed The Bruery, as well as his father Brad Goodwin, and friend Alex Wallash.
Brettanomyces yeast and Pediococcus bacteria and/ or Lactobacillus are used to ferment their brews. Lactic acid and acetic acid are produced by Lactobacillus and Pediococcus bacteria, respectively, making the beers sour and acidic.
The Rare Barrel now manufactures its beers in small batches that can range from one to ten oak barrels in volume. The brewery’s on-site tasting area is a place where single-barrel experiments may be shown.
The Founder’s Club program, which offers members with unique access to select the brewery’s limited releases, is likewise maintained by the Rare Barrel.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Burbank, California
Berryessa Brewing Company
Location: Winters, California
Berryessa Brewing Co. brews world-class beer in Winters, a quiet, rural hamlet known more for orchards than trendy breweries, only 40 minutes from Sacramento.
Chris Miller, co-founder and chief brewer, began his career at Pacific Rim Brewing in Seattle, where he swiftly progressed from keg washing to brewing.
He relocated to California with his wife, Lori, to create Berryessa Brewing after creating a name for himself as the head brewer for Snipes Mountain Brewing Company.
Through Miller’s efforts, the brewery has earned a position among the best craft breweries in Northern California since its launch in 2011. From the Mini Separation Anxiety IPA to the award-winning Whippersnapper English mild, Miller aims for balance and complexity in all of his brews.
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Speakeasy Ales and Lagers
Location: San Francisco, California
Speakeasy Ales & Lagers has been bringing amazing beer to the people since 1997. The company was founded in 1997 by a small group of homebrewers in San Francisco who wanted to honor outstanding beer and the city’s rich heritage during the prohibition era.
Forest Gray, the company’s president and founder, began with a single legendary brew, Prohibition Ale.
Speakeasy now produces a wide range of award-winning beers, including Big Daddy IPA, Payback Porter, Double Daddy, Scarface Imperial Stout, and many others, which are marketed across the West Coast and other key U.S. markets.
Marin Brewing Company
Location: Larkspur, California
Marin Brewing Company, Marin County’s first microbrewery and bar, opened its doors in 1989. It’s known for its welcoming atmosphere, award-winning high-quality ales, and hearty pub-style food with patio seating. For both families and craft beer enthusiasts, the brewery is a favorite eating destination in Marin County.
Arne Johnson, the company’s Brewmaster, has been brewing high-quality ales using all-natural ingredients on-site. He maintains the restaurant stocked with award-winning traditional beers lovingly named after local landmarks such as Mt. Tam Pale Ale, Pt. Reyes Porter, San Quentin’s Breakout Stout, and Eldridge Grade White Knuckle Double I.P.A.
Arne also innovates with unique new beers like the E.S. Chi Herbal Tonic Beverage and Orange & Black Congrats Ale (crafted as a celebratory ale for the World Champion San Francisco Giants).
See Related: Free California Travel Guide
Cerveceria de Mateveza
Location: San Francisco, California
Woods Cervecera is a tiny, experimental brewery in San Francisco’s Mission District that was inspired by a rustic Argentine estancia and is where Woods MateVeza IPA was born.
The teeny-tiny pub has seven taps and serves a modest bar fare. Small amounts of fresh, unique beers are made on-site and at the bigger brewing plant in Oakland, and served in this tiny brewpub. The amazingly tasty empanadas are a must-try!
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