Beer Safari: Petaluma, California

Most craft beer fans justifiably think of Lagunitas when they think of Petaluma, California, and indeed, a visit to the Lagunitas Taproom and Beer Sanctuary is a rewarding pilgrimage for faithful. A visit to this year’s annual Lagunitas Beer Circus is worthy of its own blog entry. On a recent trip to this historic Sonoma town, The Brew Sirdar and friend decided to forgo the obvious visit to Lagunitas and instead turned our gaze to a few other facets of the Petaluma beer scene.

HenHouse Brewing Company came to our attention at the aforementioned Beer Circus with the interesting offerings of a powerful Belgian golden ale and flavorful oyster stout. A request to visit the brewery was politely declined, their lease agreement precluding public visits, but Colin at the brewery directed us to Ray’s Deli and Taps to sample HenHouse beers on tap.  A little online research tells me that HenHouse is a labor of love for three brewing partners intent on carving their own niche in the local brewing scene by doing some unusual brews. They have been distributing locally since January, having some bottles available at a few Petaluma stores and draft beer at Ray’s and Taps. Although we didn’t get to talk to the brewers  in person, The Brew Sherpas love their beer and their story and wish them success.

Ray’s Deli and Tavern

Ray’s Deli and Tavern (900 Western Ave.) is an unpretentious deli/bar combo a little off of the beaten path. Although not far from downtown, it is unlikely that a casual traveler would happen upon the place. It proved to be a great find, however, and will definitely be a destination on the next trip to Petaluma. The deli is on the east side of the space, and we were happy to learn that we could wait for and eat our sandwiches in the tiny, cozy bar on the west side of the space. I enjoyed a turkey melt paired with a draft Henhouse Golden Ale, and loved them both. The Golden Ale was strong (11% ABV), sweet, estery, slightly phenolic, with a full-bodied creamy mouthfeel and a slight bitter bite on the finish. I also decided to sample the HenHouse Oyster Stout, a beer that really opens up only after it warms, at which time it has a great balance of a mild roast coffee/dark chocolate flavor, modest hoppiness, slight minerality, and the merest hint of sourness (lactic acid?) for a very satisfying whole. Both beers were winners. Other draft offerings included Lagunitas’ IPA, Undercover, Little Sump’n Sump’n and Little Sump’n Wild, Anchor Porter, Stone Arrogant Bastard, North Coast Scrimshaw, and Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale. The atmosphere was friendly, intimate, and casual – a great place to either start a beer safari or to while away some comfortable hours with a friend.


Taps Restaurant and Tasting Room (205 Kentucky), while relatively new on the Petaluma beer scene, is a serious beer bar. Located below the historic Petaluma hotel, Taps boasts two towers of remarkable draft offerings, including several hard-to-find treasures, as well as an extensive list of bottled beers. They also have a couple of beers on the firkin at any given time- one of which during our visit was Firestone’s huge and complex Double Double-Barreled Ale. Although we didn’t eat there, the food that we saw looked great. Apparently, the hot dogs are the house’s signature dish. On our visit, The Brew Sherpa and his companion tried the Anchor Zymaster #2 Mild, Port Anniversary Ale (a personal favorite!), Speakeasy Vendetta IPA, Firestone’s Wookey Jack, and a small sample of the Double DBA. Bartender Anne was friendly and knowledgeable with a great beer palate, and the overall vibe was of friendliness and welcome. Although their website is frustratingly unhelpful (it would be nice to know what is on tap prior to a visit), it’s a great and obvious destination for any craft beer fan.

View of the river from Dempsey’s patio.

Although we didn’t have the time to patronize Dempsey’s (50 East Washington) on this particular visit, it would be remiss not to mention this stalwart of the Petaluma beer scene. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in Petaluma, Dempsey’s serves up fine food and an array of its own handcrafted ales in a beautiful riverfront setting. The Brew Sirdar has certainly enjoyed an afternoon or two quaffing beers on the patio.

Some of the taps at The First Edition
…and the rest of the taps at The First Edition









Our final destination of the day was The First Edition (1420 E. Washington), a full service bar which always has some interesting beers on tap including a Lagunitas beer on cask. Having acquired the business in 2010, owners Tony and Fletch have steadily upgraded the bar while still maintaining its neighborly atmosphere. The First Edition has a lively music scene (with an outstanding open mic night) and with its recent expansion and six steel tip boards has solidified itself as the premiere darts bar in the North Bay Area. There is nothing that The Brew Sirdar enjoys better with his beer than a game of darts.

First Edition co-owner Tony Scott in the darts area of the pub

Next time you are in the Bay Area on your own safari, take the time to check out what is happening in the Petaluma beer scene besides Lagunitas.


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