Berryessa makes Visit California list of top breweries to visit

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WINTERS — Berryessa Brewing Co. has been named as one of Visit California’s top 10 “Destination Breweries” in the state.

Lori Nicolini Miller, who started Berryessa with her husband, Chris Miller, and two partners in 2011, said the brewery experience is about more than the beer.

“For us, when we moved down here, we had a (young) son and wanted to be able to bring him to the brewery,” Nicolini Miller said. “That was important to us.”

That is why she said there is an emphasis at Berryessa Brewing Co. on being family friendly.

“I think if you are passionate about what you do, people can see that,” Miller said.

Her background is in fine dining. She said she has always emphasized that high-end standard, but applied to a casual environment.

Visit California, a Sacramento-based nonprofit tasked with promoting the state’s attractions, obviously took note, stating the “family friendly taproom offers tastes, flight, and pints in a lovely rural setting. On weekends, beer lovers from all over fill the shaded patio to enjoy fresh beer, live music and beer-friendly food-truck fare.”

A flight is a collection of samples of various kinds of beers for tasting – and over the years the company has brewed more than 150 different choices, ranging from familiar lagers to the hoppy IPAs to the rich, dark stouts.

One of the most popular choices is the national award-winning Whippersnapper, an English-style dark, yet mild, ale.

“On any given day, there are six to 12 on tap,” Miller said.

Right now that includes some seasonal IPA offerings, and the brewery’s annual Fruity Rebels, a collaboration with the Celarmaker Brewing Co. in San Francisco.

“When we use fruit, we use local fruit, and when I’m talking about local fruit, I’m talking about mostly Winters,” she said.

It did not take long before musicians were asking about playing the venue, and that has added to the atmosphere. Saturday had an Irish folk sound in the air.

Nick Hallahan is more of a double-IPA kind of guy, but tried the Fruity Rebels. He liked it, describing it as smooth and without an overpowering citrus flavor.

“I work in Silicon Valley, but I’m pretty much here every weekend,” Hallahan said of Winters, where his wife, Laura, lives. Her father, also a Winters resident, was with the couple Saturday at the brewery.

“If I see something new I will taste it . . . but I tend to stay with what I like,” Hallahan said.

Carl Macy of Sacramento was at Berryessa for the first time.

“My buddy found this place when he was going up to the lake,” Macy said. “He told me I had to come and see this place, and I think it’s pretty cool. It wasn’t what I expected. And the beer rocks.”

Liz Harrington has been working for the Millers as a bartender for four years.

While there was a good crowd Saturday, and growing by 2 p.m., she said in the spring and summer there are often lines already forming by the time the taproom opens at noon.

Saturday’s crowd was a mix of families and small groups of young adults. There were a handful of couples, ranging in age, with a few singles checking out what was on tap.

And if beer is not the drink of choice, there is a wine-tasting room next door that shares the same outdoor patio area – and the same name – though it is independent of the brewery.

Hallahan said he used to live in Seattle and the place reminded him of some of the craft-style breweries there. So he was not surprised to learn that Berryessa Brewing Co. has its roots in Washington beer-making.

Like all the employees, Harrington lives in Winters. Local artists have helped the Millers with their label, and an employee at the local hardware store helped build the taproom, which opened in 2012.

Chris Miller said he prefers it that way, and he is training his brewers the same way he learned: hands-on in a relaxed environment.

“We want long-term employees,” Nicolini Miller said. “That’s what we strive for.”

Chris Miller started his career washing kegs at Pacific Rim Brewing in Seattle. He quickly moved up the chain and made a mark as a brewer, winning a number of World Cup brewing medals and becoming head brewer for Snipes Mountain Brewing Company in Washington’s Yakima Valley, which is well-known for its hops.

He and his wife then moved to California and opened Berryessa Brewing Co.

“This is one of those dream-come-true stories,” Nicolini Miller said. “It was just a friend of a friend, and he was interested in starting a brewery.”

The Millers took a trip to Winters, met with Dan Martinez and fell in love with the area. So they formed the partnership, which includes Santiago Moreno, and Berryessa Brewing Co. was formed.

Chris Miller said the business has quadrupled in sales since it opened, far better than he expected.

“We’ve set goals and we have just blown right though them,” Miller said.

He said he remains cautious about creating any kind of top-shelf vision for the future.

The company also sells its Double Tap Double IPA and its Propaganda Pilsner to select retail outlets and bars – 300 accounts in all.

In addition to Berryessa Brewing Co., the Top 10 destination list includes Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, North Coast Brewing Co. in Fort Bragg, Moonraker Brewing Co. in Auburn and Russian River Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa.

Rounding out the list are Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, Firestone Walker Brewing Co. in Paso Robles, Beachwood BBQ & Brewing in Long Beach and Huntington Beach, Breakwater Brewing Co. in Oceanside and Stone Brewing in San Diego.

There are 850 breweries that are members of the California Craft Brewers Association, including Blue Frog and Heretic Brewing Company in Fairfield, Ruhstaler in Dixon and Napa Smith Brewery & Winery in Vallejo.

While Berryessa Brewing Co. is in Yolo County, Visit California in September 2016 also featured attractions ranging from Six Flags to the Suisun Valley wineries in Solano County. The organization also brought a contingency from its office in Japan to popular Fairfield locales such as Jelly Belly Candy Company in July of that year.

Know & Go

  • Berryessa Brewery Co. is located at 27260 Highway 128 in Winters, less than 5 miles west of Highway 505 – about 15 minutes from Vacaville and 40 minutes from Sacramento. Brewery hours are from 3 to 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and from noon to 6 p.m. on the weekends.

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