Thinkin’ to drinkin’, we offer a rotating round of spots we love.



131 E. First St., Cloverdale

Open Monday-­Thursday, 3pm to 9pm; Friday-­Sunday, 11:30am to closing

For those weary of being sandwiched in at Russian River or waiting vainly for a stool to vacate at Bear Republic, Ruth’s is a revelation. Behold, vacant bar stools abound! The brew list covers all beer bases: Pale Ale, Stout, Wheat, Belgian Triple (ABV 8.75%), and something called Mighty Shillelagh. The menu explores all the many ways that deep-­frying and cheese can compliment each other, making veteran pub patrons feel at home. But there also are half­a­dozen salads and lots of chicken. You can have fish tacos and an Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Stout as I did and enjoy a nice surprise, full of caramelized onions, roasted peppers, fish not so much fried as blackened with bits of interesting stuff. It was pleasantly picante, especially with their green salsa. Go to Ruth’s with a regular—we all know someone from Cloverdale—get one of those free stools, and don’t rush. —D.P.W.

Dempseys Restaurant & Brewery | 707.765.9694

50 E. Washington St., Petaluma

Open daily from 11:30am until closing

Tucked alongside the Petaluma waterfront, Dempsey’s is known for the excellence of its burgers, the pile­-high loft of its stringed onion rings, the insane height of its pork chops, and its flagship Red Rooster Ale, a caramel-
infused, hoppy flower of a drink. With homemade root beer on tap for the kids, a relaxed outside dining area in the front perfect for people­-watching, and a take on comfort food that skews to Asian and Latin flavors, it’s no surprise that Dempsey’s has slid comfortably into its 20th year. Look for seasonal beers and a changing tap roster that swings from IPA to stout, and includes a spin­-inducing 11.25% ABV barley wine. —G.G.

Fogbelt Brewing Co. | 707.978.3400

1305 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa

Open Monday­Saturday, noon to 10pm; Sunday, noon to 8pm

With a background in wine-making, the folks at Fogbelt Brewing Company now aim for a much tougher fermentation process. Because, while it takes a lot of good beer to make great wine, the big secret is that making beer is actually a lot harder than letting some grapes go to juice. Tucked away in an interesting corner of Santa Rosa on freeway frontage property, Fogbelt must be sought out, but once found, rewards the effort. Featuring a seasonal menu made to match the suds, a large bar and outdoor tables, Fogbelt is a welcome addition. —G.G.

Lagunitas Brewing Co. | 707.778.8776

1280 N. McDowell Boulevard, Petaluma

Open Wednesday-­Friday, 2pm-­9pm; Saturday-­Sunday, 11:30am­-8pm

Started in owner Tony Magee’s kitchen in 1993, Lagunitas has become a national leader in the micro-brew boom, recently establishing a taproom in Chicago to lengthen their reach across the country. While we like the Daytime beer for its lucid­friendly 4% ABV and great taste, Lagunitas is known for its IPA, Dogtown, and Little Sumpin’, among other favorites. As eccentric as Magee, who favors the phrase, “beer speaks, people mumble,” is Lagunitas’ Petaluma taproom, with its hillside stage and sprawling outdoor beer garden. Try it on a Saturday afternoon if you can’t remember what it’s like to be in college, as most of SSU fills the place each weekend. Free live music every day ain’t bad, either. Plus, Lagunitas has among the most generous donation program of any brand we’ve ever heard of, period. We’ll drink to that! —G.G.

Petaluma Hills Brewing | 707.776.4458

1333 N. McDowell Blvd., Suite A

Open daily, 2pm to 9pm

Petaluma Hills Brewing is one of a trio of breweries that create a cosmic beer convergence at McDowell Boulevard and Scott Street in Petaluma. Having carved a taproom out of its working brewhouse, it’s not fancy, but has everything you need: a comfortable bar, plenty of tap beer, snacks, and a living room feel. The place was surprisingly full of happy people on the Tuesday afternoon of my visit. (Not drunk­happy, just happy-happy.) This is a good place to discover whether or not you like nitro beers, which are pressurized using a high ration of nitrogen to carbon dioxide, resulting in a creamy texture, smaller bubbles, and a more complex taste profile. Petaluma Hills offers most of their beers in both traditional and nitro brews. Compare and contrast a Big House Blond, for example, in both nitro and CO2. With nitro, you don’t have to fight your way past the bubbles to taste the beer. You decide if that is a good thing. It’s probably my imagination, but I do feel something standing on the corner of McDowell and Scott. It feels like victory. —D.P.W.

Woodfour Brewing Co. | 707.823.3144

6780 Depot Street, Sebastopol

Open Tuesday­-Sunday, 11:30am­9pm

Woodfour features an innovative brew program with a draft beer focus on wet hops when in season as well as farmhouse, Saison, and other traditional styles that change during the year and a bottle program that rivals the Slanted Door in internationality and pure beer­geekiness, but the truth is—we go there to eat. With a bar menu that features homemade scallion potato chips, deviled eggs, house pickles, and smoked trout, that old bowl of nuts or pretzels other joints shell out doesn’t stand a chance. We have an unseemly obsession with their little gems salad and forest mushroom ragout that is nearly an embarrassment to describe in public but probably qualifies as love. Take your favorite beer nerd and enjoy the large outdoor patio on a warm day, the modern fireplace in the chill. And definitely have that salad. —G.G.


Ace In the Hole | 707.829.1223

3100 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Sebastopol

Open Friday afternoons, 2pm to 5pm only

Ace is one of the first artisanal cider brands to break nationally and all credit goes to the hard work of owner Jeffrey House, who has helped to make cider an American drink nearly as fluent to our tongue as it is to his British compatriots. Longtime residents might remember the Ace pub at the corner of Graton Road and Highway 116 before the place was taken over by the Dutton tasting room. The new digs aren’t exactly new—they’re lodged inside Ace’s warehouse in an industrial park just south of the former spot—but the small window of time for visiting makes it seem like a weekly party. Plus, there’s the world’s tiniest English Pub barfront reproduction tucked inside. And a piano! Take off work early this Friday and treat yourself to the unusual pleasures of a midday apple and pear shindig. —G.G.

Tilted Shed Ciderworks | 707.657.7796

7761 Bell Road, Windsor

Open Saturdays, 11am­-4pm

While Scott Heath, a fine artist, and Ellen Cavalli, a writer, didn’t originally intend to go into the cider business, it’s a choice that the rest of us can be glad for. Easterners with a yen for getting back to the land, the couple initially discovered cider simply because they had some apple trees bearing more fruit than they could eat or sauce. They soon came to understand and celebrate that cider, once a beverage quite literally as basic as water to the American diet, can have a range of flavors as complex and lengthy as excellent wine. Using heritage fruit, some of it grown in local orchards whose location they fiercely guard, Tilted Shed’s ciders possess elegance, tannins, and finish. Their new tasting room is a Saturday­only affair and is often closed when the couple attend out-­of-­town events, so check the website before heading up to taste what an apple can do when given the right encouragement. —G.G.

Specific Gravity Cider Co. | 707.823.3964

Nana Mae is the go-­to name for fine organic apple juice, so it was only a matter of time that they branched out into hard cider. Nana Mae’s principal Paul Kolling specializes in dry-­farming heritage fruit all over the county, single­handedly keeping some orchards from being replanted to grapes or McMansions. Together with former winemaker Alison Schneider and farmer Steve Howard, they have just rolled out Specific Gravity, a craft cider that emphasizes the taste profile of the Gravenstein apple, a Slow Food Ark of Taste heritage fruit that gives much of West County its name. Not yet available at a tasting room, Specific Gravity is available at most independent grocers and the team is pouring at just about every food and wine event you’d want to go to anyway. —G.G.


Spirit Works Distillery

6790 McKinley St., #100, in the Barlow, Sebastopol

Tasting room open Thursday­-Sunday, 11am to 4pm

Spirit Works Distillery is a grain-­to-­glass distillery that produces vodka, gin, sloe gin, and barrel gin with both a straight wheat and straight rye whiskey, now able to offer tastings and bottle purchase onsite. Owners Timo and Ashby Marshall met while working as sailors, but soon found their love on land and of land in West County. With Timo’s family having a history distilling sloe gin, the two have taken on the ambitious project of running their own micro-­distillery using organic and local wheat as their base and locally grown herbs and citrus to enliven the gin. —G.G.

Sonoma County Distilling Co.

5625 State Farm Drive, Rohnert Park | 707.583.7753

Tasting room open Wednesday-­Friday, 11am to 5pm; Saturday­-Sunday, tours by appointment only;

The alembic still, a North African invention that is still best made of copper and heated by a live fire, is the basis for the whiskeys produced in this modest Rohnert Park business park. Much of the distillation technique employed has not changed since the 1500s, and the resulting rye and wheat whiskeys as well as the bourbon wouldn’t be unfamiliar to a member of gentry from that century. Hand-­crafted and fairly obsessed over, the spirits are the result of a team that includes brewers who fled the beer industry but bring the same high level of technique to a far different beverage. —G.G.


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