It was astonishing when the number of American craft breweries hit the 2,000 mark last year, a milestone 40 years in the making. But when the dust settled in June and the craft brewers trade association took its next tally, the total stood at 2,538.
Two more breweries probably opened while I was writing that last sentence.
California has more breweries than any other state -- double the number of Washington, the next closest -- and the numbers continue to accelerate. Another two dozen breweries opened over the past year in the Bay Area alone, and 60 more are prepping for opening day across Northern California.
With so many choices for where to enjoy a beer, and whose beer to enjoy, we're shining a light once more on just a few of the new breweries around the Bay Area, five "new kids" making bocks, pilsners, pale ales, porters and IPAs.
Discretion Brewing, Soquel
This family owned brewery has deep roots in the area. After founders Rob and Kathleen Genco's son Lars began homebrewing and sharing the enjoyable results with his parents they began talking seriously about opening their own brewpub. Michael Demers, their head brewer, grew up in the nearby San Lorenzo Valley and was the brewer at Boulder Creek Brewing for nearly 15 years before joining the Genco family on the project. Dustin Vereker rounds out the group as "Chief Beer Ambassador."
Duck inside the tall red building that houses the brewery and taproom, which are open daily, and you'll find a labor of love. Everything has been built from scratch, including the long wooden bar and the handmade log benches in the garden. Pull up one of the blue chairs in the cozy tasting room and start sampling -- you can try small tastes of half a dozen beers, the small glasses corralled in tin muffin pans -- or order by the glass. Discretion offers food too. The taproom has brought in Main Street Garden & Cafe to do the menu, which includes a Good Faith Strong Ale Chili and Fogline Farm pork sausage made with Song in Your Heart Mild Ale.
The beers: With an undeniably great name, Uncle Dave's Rye IPA is my favorite Discretion. The satisfying IPA pours a bright ruby amber color with a vegetal nose of onions and grapefruit aromas. There's a touch of heat and tart spices in the flavor profile, balanced with bready malt character. I also like Demers' Song in Your Heart, a low-alcohol brown mild with great malt character.
The details: 2703 41st Ave., Soquel; www.discretionbrewing.com
Freewheel Brewing, Redwood City
After lamenting the lack of real U.S.-made ale, four friends decided to do something about it. The quartet included British-born Paul Krausa, who knew how ubiquitous cask-conditioned ale was on the other side of the pond, his biotech colleague Malcolm McGinnis, Gary Waymire and Larry Bucka, friends who met on the parental sidelines of a lacrosse field.
Armed with a Ph.D. in biochemistry and 20 years experience in homebrewing, McGinnis interned for a year at San Francisco's Magnolia to learn more about brewing cask beer. Krausa moved back to England to collaborate with some experts -- Ironbridge Brewery in Telford and Green Jack Brewery in Lowestoft -- so they could starting brewing authentic English cask ale in Redwood City. The result is part brewpub, part beer garden with a suitably British-U.S. menu of fish and chips, steak and stout pasties, burgers, and ale mac and cheese served daily.
The beers: Freewheel's Green Jack Hybrid Bitter is brewed as a more restrained English-style IPA, but with American hops varieties, including Cascade, Centennial and Willamette. It has the aromatics of an American IPA, albeit more subtly, with tangerine and marmalade aromas. And like all cask beer, it's smooth and still, allowing the flavors of the beer to shine. The Ironbridge Wenlock Stout is great too, with rich malt character.
The details: 3736 Florence St., Redwood City; www.freewheelbrewing.com
Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, Capitola
The first time I met Tim Clifford, he was helping Moonlight Brewing's Brian Hunt harvest his small hopyard. Back then Clifford was a co-owner of the Seven Bridges Cooperative homebrew store in Santa Cruz and an avid homebrewer. Now the talented brewer has launched a place of his own with his wife, Adair Paterno. Sante Adairius Rustic Ales opened its doors last spring on an admittedly hard-to-find access road just off Highway 1 in Capitola.
You may take a wrong turn, but keep going. The drive is worth it when you discover the modern, rustic chic tasting room. The tables are made from wooden barrels and the chalkboard displays an extraordinary number of beers. Unless you're a regular, there's no way you could try everything Clifford brews, but it's tempting to give it your all.
The brewery is open only limited hours for now -- 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 1 to 7 p.m. weekends -- but as more people discover the small tasting room each week, that may change.
The beers: Brewed with Brett, the Brettanomyces yeast, Clifford's Saison Bernice is a terrific, tart, refreshing farmhouse beer with citrus and spicy notes. Its Brett-less doppelganger, Saison Anais, is brewed with spelt. It's very spicy and zesty, with a honeyed sweetness and a dry finish.
Details: 103 Kennedry Drive, Capitola; www.rusticales.com
Baeltane Brewing, Novato
One of the Bay Area's smallest new breweries, this modest 3-barrel nanobrewery and tasting room is the work of brewer Alan Atha, who turned his homebrewing hobby into a second career. He's taken the same experimental spirit, which makes homebrewing produce such interesting beer, and transferred it into a commercial setting. The result is very distinctive beer, with inventive twists on traditional styles. Some of his beers are Belgian-inspired, others are unique.
He's also created a cozy tasting room, designed to keep people engaged and interacting. Tables and chairs are made from recycled materials and a bench seat in the window is a comfortable spot to take it all in. It feels less like a commercial establishment and more like going to a friend's house for a beer in his rec room. Baeltane is open daily except Mondays.
The beers: Baeltane's beers are so individual, it's tough to choose favorites, but his Rumpelstiltskin, an Imperial IPA made with New Zealand hops, easily gets my vote. The Meritage Session IPA, a low-alcohol hoppy beer, is a close second.
The details: 401B Bel Marin Keys Blvd., Novato; www.baeltanebrewing.com
Faction Brewing, Alameda
Rodger Davis is a veteran of the Bay Area beer scene, where he has long been known for his big, hoppy beers. The IPA he designed for San Leandro's Drake's Brewing won a gold medal in that category in 2002, and he was an early proponent of barrel-aged beers. After graduating from the Siebel Institute of Technology, the big brewing science school in Chicago, he moved to Northern California in 1997. He's been brewing ever since, at Triple Rock as well as Drake's. Now Davis and his wife, Claudia Pamparana, formerly of 21st Amendment Brewery, are opening a brewery of their own, the only one on the island of Alameda. You'll find Faction in Hangar 22, a 32,000-square foot former airplane hanger, next to the St. George Spirits craft distillery.
Davis is a great brewer and I fully expect that Faction will become one of the East Bay's destination breweries. The first Faction beers will be available in a matter of weeks. First up: A pale ale for charity, part of the Ales for ALS campaign, followed by an IPA. Faction will have an IPA available year-round, but will change the hops with the seasons.
The beer book
During the 18 months Bay Area News Group craft beer columnist Jay Brooks spent working on his latest book, "California Breweries North," a guidebook to more than 160 breweries from Santa Cruz to the Oregon border, dozens more new California breweries opened. Writing the book, he says, was a bit like shoveling while it is still snowing. The new book is due out from Stackpole Books next month. Preorder it on Amazon.com.