Back during SF Beer Week I was able to try a beer from a brewery I had yet to sample. It was the IPA from Calistoga Inn. I rather enjoyed the beer and was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from Rex of the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce inviting me to the brewery to sample the beers and take a tour of the facilities. I can never turn an opportunity to drink beer, so my wife and I packed up the baby and headed to Napa County.
Calistoga Inn and Brewery is located on the main strip in “downtown” Calistoga. The setting is quite quaint, but be prepared to hunt for parking. We found ourselves parked in the neighborhood along side the brewery. This seemed like a common practice though as plenty of foot traffic was headed to and from the main street. Inside you’ve got classic pub decor with a touch of Napa Valley coming in the way dining tables to the right, which feel a little out of place. There are taps pouring the Calistoga beers and 3 flat screen with sports playing. I sat there for a moment taking in everything when I caught my host Rex at the bar. He was with brad, the head brewer Brad Smisloff.
Brad lead the tour of the small on-site brewery that was squeezed into a former windmill. They operate on a 7 barrel system using direct heat, as opposed to the standard steam heated systems that many brewers use today. Talking to Brad I discovered he was actually a Computer Science major that turned to the world of brewing following the dot com crash. After working out of a homebrew shop he moved on to Cambridge Brewing for 3 years before heading west and eventually settling in Calistoga.
Having the opportunity to peak at what was going on, I asked Brad what special brews might be making the taps soon and he drew us a sample of an Oatmeal Stout that was about ready. There is nothing better than fresh beer, and this stout was thick and delicious, very milkshake-like, as an oatmeal stout should be. He also had a barleywine going, but this was only a half batch thanks to a kettle full of hops and malt. Sadly, the level of the brew was below the sampling port, so no early taste of this one.
With the tour all done, it was time to get to the taps. On tap for the day were their 4 regulars, a pilsner, American wheat, red and porter. I was surprised the IPA wasn’t a year-round selection as it was a beer I really liked. In addition to the IPA and year rounds I was able to sample their saison and dubbel. At the end of the day, I was impressed by the full line of beers. The wheat and red were my least favorite of the day, but seem to be brewed for a wider audience. My personal favorite was the porter, which was creamy and chocolatey. Even my wife commented on the beer on our way home, hopefully this will be enough to bring her back out to Calistoga.
With the tour over, it was time to head home. Sadly, you won’t be able to find Calistoga beers away from the brewery thanks to their type 75 license, but you can bring home your favorites in bottles at the bar. Brad and Rex were great hosts and I look forward to coming back at some point. Talking to Brad, you really pick up on how close knit the brewing community is. Brad mentioned receiving help from Lagunitas in the form of yeast for the saison (from their farmhouse saison) and hops from Brian Hunt when the little cones were in low supply. These are some of the things that make the craft brewing scene so special and warrant a mention for their good deeds.
Speaking of good deeds, I want to thank Septillion.net for the photography. The images are far better than the ones taken on my little digital camera, which is sadly misplaced at the time. Check out the slideshow below for a full recap of the tour.
One final note, in honor of my friend William Brand, I took up the note pad this day while on the tour. I have to say, I like it, and will probably stick with it.