With a half-dozen microbreweries producing insanely good craft beers—Eye of the Lager, anyone?—Yolo County is becoming one of California’s capitals of beer touring
“Beer,” Trent Yackzan says, “is an emotional beverage.”
Yackzan is sipping one of his beers at his Sudwerk Brewing Company in Davis. And it only takes one sip of Sudwerk’s Cascaderade IPA or Big DIPL to realize that he is right. Beer is an emotional beverage, and the emotions it stirs most strongly are happy ones. Joy, exhilaration, delight —it would take a million emoji’s to fully express the pleasure you feel when drinking a really good glass of beer.
There’s no better place to experience all the pleasures beer brings than in Yolo County. Over the last few years, Yolo has nurtured small breweries that produce some of the best craft beers in California—a half-dozen hospitable spots where you’re guaranteed to taste great beer and have a good time.
DAVIS’ SUDWERK: WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
The birthplace of Yolo County craft beers is Sudwerk, about a mile east of downtown Davis. It was here, in the late 1980s, that two local beer fans, Ron Broward and Dean Unger, pursued their dream of brewing German-style lagers following the five-century-old rules of Reinheitsgebot—the purity law that limited beer ingredients to malted grains, hops, water and yeast. They did it so well Sudwerk became one of the leading breweries of the era.
Flash forward to 2016. Now Sudwerk is owned by two Cal Poly grads, Ryan Fry and Trent Yackzan—with Trent being the grandson of founder Dean Unger. “I used to come here all the time as a kid,” Yackzan says. “The aroma of the brewery brings me back to my childhood.”
But the new Sudwerk is being a lot more adventurous with its beers than the old. “Redefining the American Lager” announcing the awning out front of the brewery. That’s exactly what Fry and Yackzan are doing in the new facility they’ve christened The Dock—the former loading dock where they’re brewing up strikingly inventive beers. (The adjacent Sudwek Restaurant, which had been under different management, recently closed.)
“We just started experimenting with crazy recipes,” says Yackzan. That’s how they came up with Big DIPL, brewed with rare, aromatic galaxy hops from New Zealand. And with the Rye of the Lager, spiced with German rye. (Feel free to sing the Survivor song as you drink the lager.) And with Fünke Hop Farm, an American wild ale aged in petite syrah wine barrels. They’ve also produced an updated version of the Helles Lager, the original German-style brew Sudwerk was known for—but now made with Pacific Northwest hops and dubbed California Dry Hop Lager. It’s become one of their biggest sellers.
Visitors can taste the beers, traditional and cutting edge, in Sudwerk’s umbrella-shaded patio. Brewery tours are offered, too. “We’re becoming a real community hub,” says Yackzan. “A lot of locals hang out here. It’s so great to have people coming here to try a beer they’ve never tried before.”
Sudwerk may be the first, but it’s not the only microbrewery in Davis: Three Mile Brewing Co. pours traditional German Hefeweizen and Belgian Saison (among other beers) in its taproom on G Street. Also, check out the newly opened Dunloe Brewing and Super Owl Brewing.
TO BEER-FINITY AND BEYOND
Davis isn’t the only Yolo County beer meca. Two smaller towns, Woodland and Winters, have emerged as must-sees for suds fans.
Woodland is home to an excellent craft brewery. Located in downtown’s memorably named Dead Cat Alley (which sounds scary but is not), and housed in the former press room of the Daily Democrat newspaper (look close and you can still see ink on the concrete floors), Blue Note Brewing Company has earned deserved fame for its stouts, porters, IPAs and seasonal beers—and for its proud claim that it’s not merely a microbrewery but an artisan Nano-brewery, where every beer is hand-crafted.
Now for one last Yolo County beer stop, this time in Winters. Stop into Berryessa Brewing Company on any weekend afternoon and you’ll likely see throngs of people lining up to grab glasses of brewmaster Chris Miller’s House IPA and Propaganda Pils to take to the picnic tables out front. There’s usually a food truck in the immediate vicinity. There’s usually a really good band. There’s usually a nice breeze to balance out the warm sun. And, of course, there are the beers. Is that a recipe for a perfect afternoon? You bet. Also, check out the newest editions to the Winters brew scene, Hooby’s Brewing (also featuring a tasty waffle menu) and Green River Brewing & Taproom (visit their self service beer wall).
A SELF GUIDED TOUR TO BEER TASTING IN YOLO
Visit Yolo has just published the Yolo Craft Beer Map & Guide, highlighting local breweries, restaurants and annual beer events. The comprehensive guide includes a map showing every location people can visit to try the abundance of craft beers throughout the cities of Davis, Winters, and Woodland. Request your free copy of the Yolo Craft Beer Map & Guide today.
YOLO COUNTY BEER TOURING
Three Mile Brewing Co.; 231 G St. Suite 3, Davis; www.threemilebrewing.com; (530) 564-4351.
Sacramento Beer Train. www.sacramentorivertrain.com/experiences/beer-train/; (800) 866-1690
Blue Note Brewing Co.; 750 Dead Cat Alley, Woodland; www.bluenotebrewingcompany.com; (530) 358-4677.
Berryessa Brewing Co.; 27260 Hwy 128, Winters; www.berryessabrewingco.com (530) 795-3526.
Dunloe Brewing Company; 1606 Olive Drive, Davis; www.dunloebrewing.com (530) 231-3502
Green River Brewing & Taproom; 4513 Putah Creek Road, Winters; www.greenriverbrewingandtaproom.com (530) 441-2337
Hooby’s Brewing; 9 East Main Street, Winters; www.hoobysbrewing.com (707) 761-3343
Super Owl Brewing; 1260 Lake Blvd, Davis; www.superowlbrewing.com (530) 746-5992
UPCOMING BEER EVENTS
Peter Fish is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. He worked as a senior travel editor for Sunset Magazine for many years; his more recent work has included contributions to San Francisco Chronicle special travel sections.