What was it that food scribe Michael Pollan told us we should be doing in his most recent dietary dictum? "Drink weird stuff, mostly fermented, not too much"? Here's the place to get started on that.
It doesn't seem so long ago that the very notion of a "fermentation bar" would have sounded lavishly precious, possibly poisonous. In Portland, Ore., in the 1990s, my latter-day hippie neighbor showed off the exotic, glistening bacterial monster he kept in a jar in his kitchen. He said it was a "mother," and that it would divide and multiply, like a hairless tribble. Was it . . . moving? It seemed vaguely risky to drink the brew in which it stewed. Yet today, kombucha is so mainstream that Healdsburg tourists drift off the street and order it up on tap ($4)—made by Windsor's Revive—with nonchalance.
If anyone has questions, bar manager Jordan Lancer (pictured) is there to answer them. Good thing, too, since the gleaming taps behind him are not topped with readable logos, instead being minimalistically labeled with stamped-tin dog tags. Lancer, an avid fermenter, has his own crock of kombucha secreted away on the modular shelves that line the walls.
At SHED, which is billed as a "modern grange," the dream of the 1890s is alive, too. One may stock up on provisions at the "larder," shop for a hand-tooled spade and catch up with neighbors over a refreshing beverage whose popularity only lately reversed a century-long waning, all in a light-filled space that feels as if you've stepped into a Sunset magazine spread. A new awning makes the small deck overlooking Foss Creek the spot to be.
SHED Shrubs ($4) are sweetened vinegars—haymaker's punch—like lemon rice wine and purple sage champagne vinegars, topped with soda water. Popular with workers "coming off the fields" over the centuries, they're nonalcoholic, as is creamy, nondairy kefir from Sebastopol's Kefiry ($4). Think of dry hard cider ($5) from Murray's Cyder of Petaluma as a European-style "sidra," and you may enjoy its funky phenols all the more. Available by the bottle, Heidrun Meadery's Sage Blossom mead ($25) is a noseful of decayed summertime, with a cidery, clean finish.
Happy hour bites like deviled eggs, cheese platters and pizzas are available; beyond the taps, there are beekeeping kits, pith helmets and the swaying branches of an old walnut tree to stare at while socking away a big 20-ounce pour of Calicraft Buzzerkeley ($7)—no game screen here. Just drink local brews, not too much, and keep away from the sharp harvesting implements.
SHED, 25 North St., Healdsburg. Open daily, 7am–7pm. 707.431.7433.