Santa Rosa Named Microbrew Capital of the United States

For Sonoma County beer lovers, there's no place like home.

Could Santa Rosa really be the microbrew capital of the United States?

Portland has more breweries, and the highest-rated beer made in the United States currently comes from a small town in Iowa.

But there is no better place in America for craft beer than Santa Rosa, according to a new interactive database that ranks local beer scenes by measuring the quality of beer produced in a community and the number of craft brewers it supports.

The conclusion, published this week by an online journal of data visualizations named The Pudding, of all things, is sure to set off arguments in pubs across the land.

“I guarantee you there are a whole lot of other cities that would argue that point,” said Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner and president of Russian River Brewing Co., which produces two of the top 20 beers in the world, according to RateBeer. “We’re not that big, we don’t have a lot of breweries, but I think it’s cool.”

The Pudding database ranked cities across the country that had at least five microbreweries and brewpubs with three beers or more reviewed by RateBeer, an online hub for craft beer enthusiasts. To calculate its total score, the interactive website based 80 percent of each city’s ranking on the quality of its beer and 20 percent of its ranking on the number of establishments, but users can adjust the quality/quantity ratio.

San Diego, Denver, Anchorage, Alaska, and Portland, Oregon, rounded out the top five beer cities in the online database, which gained widespread attention Thursday when the New York Times highlighted the website in its California Report.

“When you boil it down to a weighted blend of quality (beer ratings) and quantity (breweries in proximity), Santa Rosa tops the list,” database author Russell Goldenberg wrote.

When quality and quantity are weighted equally, San Diego is the top microbrew city in the nation and Santa Rosa drops to fourth place, behind Denver and Portland.

If quality is excluded, Santa Rosa still ranks 12th in the nation, based solely on the number of craft brew establishments clustered within a 20-mile radius.

The top five local breweries listed in the database were Russian River, Bear Republic Brewing Co., Shady Oak Barrel House, Moonlight Brewing Company — now part of Lagunitas Brewing Co. — and Cooperage Brewing Company. All are located in Santa Rosa except Bear Republic, which operates a production facility in Cloverdale and a brewpub in Healdsburg.

“It’s pretty amazing isn’t it?” Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, said of the designation. “It’s gratifying to be recognized as a center for excellence in craft beer.”

Stone pointed to the economic impact that craft beer brings to Sonoma County. The two-week 2016 release of Russian River Brewing’s coveted triple IPA, Pliny the Younger, brought nearly 10,000 tourists to the county and generated $4.88 million in economic activity, according to a study by the Economic Development Board.

In 2013, the craft beer industry in the county generated $169 million in economic impact, according to the most recent study by the Economic Development Board. With the industry continuing to grow, that number is now around $225 million, Stone said.

The designation of microbrew capital of the U.S. was welcomed, yet not entirely supported by local brewers.

“I’m very excited about it,” said Steve Doty, brewer and owner of Shady Oak Barrel House, which specializes in sour ale. “At the same time I’ve seen a lot of better beer scenes, with more varieties and styles.”

For Doty, Oakland and Portland are the best beer destinations in the nation. Cilurzo’s favorite city for microbrews is Philadelphia, with Seattle and Portland also on her list.
But neither Cilurzo nor Doty reject the praise bestowed on the city where they brew their beer.

“I’m hoping it keeps momentum going,” said Doty who plans to open a taproom at 420 First St. in Santa Rosa in the coming months. “Fingers crossed.”

To view the Pudding craft beer database click here.