When the owners of a craft brewery put the word Napa in its name you’d be excused for thinking they might just have a corkscrew loose.
Rather than ignore the vineyards that line the hills and valleys around their ‘family and friends’ owned brewery they’ve actually built wine into their business plan.
To find out more I recently sat down with Napa Smith’s President Steve Morgan for a tasting of four of the brewery’s beers that are currently available in Sweden and to discover what it’s like to be the only production brewery in Napa Valley.
Steve, who has a distinguished career in wine and spirits behind him, makes no secret of the fact that wine has inadvertently shaped the way the brewery creates its beers.
“Everyone says that wine goes well with food but we knew beer was every bit as good a partner to great food. That’s why we set out to produce beers that not only taste great on their own but are specifically designed to complement food too”.
Look closely on the labels of any Napa Smith beer and you’ll see this philosophy in print, with a suggested food pairing carefully selected by the brewery displayed on every bottle.
Five years ago to help the brewery establish its new range of ‘food-friendly’ beers Napa Smith’s owners drafted in one of the legends of the US craft beer scene – Don Barkley.
Don started making craft beer back in 1978 at New Albion Brewery, America’s first new brewery since Prohibition. He went on to help found Mendocino Brewing Company and during his 25 years there as Master Brewer became something of an industry icon.
Steve admits Napa Smith beers aren’t brewed to shock. “We don’t have the strongest or most intense beers but myself, Don and the team believe to do the job right we need every beer to have layers and layers of complexity. Balance is the key”.
The brewery currently produces 1.3m litres of beer a year, brewing twice a day five times a week. With new fermentation vessels currently on order that figure is soon set to rise with Steve predicting they’ll need to brew three times a day six days a week just to keep up with demand.
Here’s a breakdown of the Nappa Smith brews I tried:
The brewery’s best-seller back home in California. Multiple malts (7) and 5 different types of hops add those layers Steve was on about. Very smooth and non-typical of the more hop-forward ambers coming out of the USA right now.
Brewery food pairing suggestion: barbecued meats, risotto and dry aged cheese.
Steve’s personal favourite. At 7.2% this is a robust beer with bread and berry highlights smothered in caramel. There’s some dry hopping here but it doesn’t come through quite enough for my liking.
Brewery food pairing suggestion: steaks, burgers and garlic fries.
Napa Smith Cool Brew:
The brewery’s seasonal summer ale. “We dry hop the hell out of it” says Steve, to get an IPA level of hop assertiveness without the bitterness (there’s only 22 IBUs). Little known fact is that a tincture of juniper berries is added at the end of the boil!
Brewery food pairing suggestion: salami, bread and soft cheese.
“The idea here was to brew a great IPA that happened to be organic” says Steve. “We tried 32 different organic hops from 7 different suppliers until we found the mix we were happy with”. It’s Palisade that leads the charge and contributes to the beer’s tingling 75 IBUs. Another little known fact – this beer’s biggest single market is Disney World in Florida, followed by Sweden and then the rest of Florida. My personal Napa Smith favourite beer!
Brewery food pairing suggestion: curry dishes, buffalo wings and aged blue cheese.
*The brewery actually produced around 200 cases of its own wine every year.