Two weeks in and Sonoma County’s newest “picobrewery” (a fancy way of saying really, really small brewery), Petaluma Hills Brewing, is off to a strong start, owner JJ Jay says. Since getting the final go-ahead from the feds earlier this month, he’s brewed about 60 barrels of beer (that’s about 1,860 gallons) and already he’s sold 17 percent of his inventory. “I think that’s pretty good,” he said of the launch, though he admitted he had higher hopes for the number of bars and restaurants that would pick up the beers right away. Several had expressed earlier interest, but have lately said they were not able to stock the beer for the moment. Still, about 11 places in the county are serving the beer and he hopes to increase the number of accounts to around 30 by the end of the year.
He’s launched with three of his planned nine beers: East Side Bitter, his take on a malty English-style pub beer; Porterluma, another English-style beer, this time a traditional porter; and the Big House Blonde, a light, spicy Belgian-style blonde. The names, he said, are all in some way an homage to Petaluma, where the beer is brewed. “Big House Blonde” is, in fact, a reference to Casa Grande, but “I didn’t feel right naming a beer after a high school, so I went for the English translation.”
Most of the locations where the beer is on tap (no bottles yet) are in and around Petaluma – TAPS, Speakeasy, McNear’s and the like – but the ESB was a hit at Santa Rosa’s Toad in the Hole pub because it fit so nearly into the bar’s English pub style.
“It was easy for us” to add the beer to the rotation, owner Paul Stokeld said, “because our customers know how to drink a pint of bitter down at the pub.”
The beer is a little hoppier and more American than the classic British bitter, also known as a mild, Paul said, but it still captures the malty, easy-drinking vibe of its traditional cousin. Toad in the Hole is preparing to tap its second keg of the stuff.
One thing that isn’t going so well for Petaluma Hills is its plan for a tap room at the brewery, at 1333 N. McDowell Blvd., across the street from Lagunitas. JJ says he’s been having trouble getting the permits through the city, so he won’t even venture a prediction on when the tap room might come through.
In the meantime, however, he’s trying to expand his tap presence around the county and he is considering which of his beers to brew next. Most likely, he’ll fire up his brown ale, possibly followed by his planned Belgian Tripel, his strongest beer at around 7.7 percent alcohol by volume. Looking toward next summer, he is hoping to introduce a mild and drinkable pumpkin beer. Pumpkin ale is usually thought of a fall seasonal, but JJ wants to see if he can sell it as a refreshing summer brew.
For the moment, JJ is not even bothering to do an IPA. “I don’t make an IPA because everyone else is making them,” he said. “I love them … but I didn’t want to do what everyone else is doing.”
- Sean Scully