Napa Valley Craft Beer & Breweries

Breweries are making their mark in an area famous for its wine

It's pretty much impossible to say "Napa Valley" and not immediately think of wine. The area is certainly known for its mastery of the grape, but it's home to another scene that's been brewing up some buzz: beer.

Though winemaking has been productive in the region since the late 1800s, the beer scene has been going strong for three decades. Ever since the Napa Valley Brewing Company was established in 1987, beer production has steadily grown. Now, artisanal breweries are crafting everything from top-notch IPAs to ambers, wheats, pilsners, porters and more, making Napa a playground for beer lovers. Need more reason to visit? Here are four.

You can brewery-hop on foot.

Just like you can join those busloads of people bouncing from one vineyard to the next, so too can you brewery-hop. And it's actually easier; after all, Downtown Napa alone is home to several breweries, all walkable within a half-mile stretch. Try Downtown Joe's Brewery & Restaurant, which is housed in a 19th-century building and known for its British- and West Coast–style ales. Meanwhile, Fieldwork Brewing Company, located in Oxbow Public Market, offers a rotating selection of local craft beers, and Tannery Bend Beerworks, Napa's newest brewery, just expanded into a larger space. There are more to come: Stone Brewing is set to open a taproom and 10-barrel brewery later this year, and St. Clair Brown Winery will dabble in beer production with its forthcoming microbrewery.

There are plenty of microbreweries—and one nanobrewery.

Over the years, beer lovers' obsession with independent, inventive brews has led to a nationwide boom in microbreweries (producing less than 15,000 barrels a year). Recently, though, even more specialized nanobreweries (producing less than 2,000 barrels a year) have burst onto the beer scene. Of the few hundred located throughout the country, Napa is home to one: Hop Creek Pub, which opened in 2015 and creates just 100 barrels of beer a year inside a befittingly tiny 100-square-foot space.

Because winemakers bring a certain je ne sais quoi to beer production.

A good winemaker is an expert at sourcing ingredients, fermentation and aging—and at tweaking these variables to achieve creative results. Just swap grapes for grains and add hops and water to the yeast, and you've got the foundations of a great beer. "The traditional beer-making process is about producing the same product every time, and you only change as the trends changes," winemaker Nile Zacherle, who has developed high-quality stouts, IPAs, lagers and porters at Mad Fritz in downtown St. Helena, says. "Coming from a winemaking mind-set, you focus on not making it the same every time, but rather on creating a unique personality for the beer. That comes from an expertise in things like ingredient sourcing and varietals, and will ultimately make a beer stand out."

Because Napa's fine dining scene is becoming beer crazy, too.

You always hear about wine's ability to accentuate an extravagant dinner (hello, The French Laundry). But these days, beer also has a seat at the table—and some of the most decadent tables in town at that. The Restaurant at Meadowood, which has three Michelin stars, serves two custom beers from Mad Fritz; Morimoto Napa offers 10 local and imported beers, including four under chef Masaharu Morimoto's label; Ca' Momi Osteria, an upscale Italian restaurant, pours beers brewed right on-site; and high-end wine bar Carpe Diem offers beer pairings with its shared-plates menu, plus proprietary beers from Carpe Diem Brewing Company.

Jordi Lippe-McGraw is a freelance writer covering travel, food and wellness, and is also an avid truffle lover. Follow her on Instagram at @welltraveler.