What’s new in Napa Valley? Some pretty good beer

Fieldwork in Napa.
Fieldwork in Napa.

As we sped through wine country on our way to the city of Napa, we realized that it had been roughly nine or 10 years since we last day-tripped through this part of the state. Not coincidentally, we became completely obsessed with craft beer roughly nine or 10 years ago, and our weekend excursions began to center on breweries and beer bars rather than wineries. And while the adjacent Sonoma County swarms with excellent beer spots, the sleepy Napa County beer scene never held any appeal.

That changed dramatically over the last six months, first with the debut of two new local craft breweries in Napa, both within walking distance of the Fieldwork tasting room that opened in late 2016. Our anticipation only heightened when the long-awaited project from Southern California titan Stone Brewing - a 10,000 square-foot restaurant, taproom and production facility in the historic Borreo building along the waterfront - finally opened last month a few blocks away from the Fieldwork bar at the Oxbow Market.

Located just across the river from the downtown area, Stone Brewing Napa was our first stop of the day. The renovation job on the 140-year-old building is remarkable, with the impressive stone frame largely preserved, while the interior is rich with reclaimed wood. Customers get a remarkable view of the Napa River while sitting in wine barrel chairs on the patio, but giant roll-up windows in the upstairs dining area provide largely the same effect. Whether you care about beer or not, it's worth a look.

In addition to a simple and somewhat underwhelming food menu, Stone offers a substantial beer list that blends old standbys made at its main facility in Escondido with brews created in-house, as well as a few rarities from Stone's other outlets in San Diego, Richmond and Berlin, Germany. Our favorite was one of the Napa-brewed beers, a delicious blonde ale with sour cherries called Vocal Minority, and we also enjoyed the Napa-made Doom Metal Stout and the Jovian Orbit Double IPA.

Only a short walk away from Stone Napa lies Trade Brewing, which debuted in December 2017 in a renovated house across the street from the Oxbow Market. We were greeted with the smell of freshly baked biscuits as we entered the cozy tasting room, which was a new experience in our beer travels, but not an unwelcome one. Hoppy and dark brews dominate the board at Trade, and while the beers were mostly solid yet unremarkable, the Eighty Acre Imperial Stout was a definite highlight.

Thanks to its midtown tasting room, we are quite familiar with the work of Fieldwork Brewing. Its location is similarly small and low-frills, but still a fantastic addition to the Oxbow District, and we couldn't resist buzzing in for a quick flight. We trust Fieldwork probably more than any other brewery in the state, and we once again left amazed by its facility with all types of beers, from a jello parfait sour to a perfectly simple porter.

We closed the day at the urban garden tasting room of St. Clair Brown Winery and Brewery, located a short walk away from the Oxbow. Co-owner Elaine St. Clair studied Fermentation Science at UC Davis, focusing on both winemaking and brewing, and she co-owned and brewed for Napa Ale Works in the 1990s. She focused solely on wines for the last two decades, including the first four years of St. Clair Brown, but in December 2017 she diversified the portfolio by launching a two-barrel nano-brewery.

The St. Clair Brown lineup includes about a dozen beers, but they are made in such small batches that only three beers are available at once. We sampled the Pilsner, the Black IPA and the Belgian Pale Ale on our visit, and we were largely impressed by the clean flavors and overall balance. Beers are poured in an idyllic greenhouse swirling with butterflies, and as we sipped our beers in a lush garden setting worthy of Sunset, it felt like we had fully synthesized the worlds of wine and beer in the city of Napa.

Daniel Barnes is a freelance writer, film critic, craft beer enthusiast and co-host of the "Dare Daniel" podcast. He can be reached at