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Who's on First

Shady Oak Barrel House pours sour with quiet power

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When Santa Rosa's hottest new craft brewery releases a new beer this week, you won't have to wait in a line that wraps around the block to get a taste of it. You might be challenged to even find the block.

Shady Oak Barrel House occupies an enviably capacious space on a street in Santa Rosa that, despite its high-ranking ordinal number, has been largely forgotten by time and redevelopment. Staunched by the freeway, sandwiched in between the Santa Rosa Creek and the mall, old First Street lives on in a one-block stretch that, incredibly, allowed an upstart, startup brewery to set up a taproom that officially opened for business on Black Friday, 2018.

But I didn't have any trouble locating the spot, since I'd already been shown in by the side door last fall while on—full disclosure—some business.

Story goes like this: I had some wine grapes hanging on the vines after a first pick and hated to see them go to waste, so I placed an ad for home winemakers. No luck, except for this quirky brewer: Steve Doty wanted some grapes to co-ferment with his wild-yeast-fermented beers.

When I looked around the yard at delivery, I saw no de-stemmer machine, and despaired at how Doty was going to get the grapes off the stems. By hand, he replied. I felt bad for the guy—I'd done this before with maybe 50 pounds of Grenache grapes, and I'd vowed to never, ever do that again. But Doty happily said he'd put on some tunes and bring in some friends, and get it done. Now that's dedication to the craft. But there's more.

In the cellar, Doty explained an odd contraption parked there: it's a coolship, a stainless steel sort of mystery ship that Capt. Doty tows to sites around Sonoma County on still, cool nights during winter—as that's the best time to capture wild yeast—to create a beer of true terroir. A coolship is a kind of post-brewing trap to acquire all the "bad," souring yeasts that most modern brewing is dedicated to keeping at bay.

Shady Oak's current offerings range from a tangy gose to a sweet, floral sour IPA, a bourbon barrel-aged dark sour that speaks of boozy cola, and finally a grainy, not-sour-at-all amber IPA because, as Doty says, "everybody's got to sell a cheeseburger."

Shady Oak Barrel House, 420 First St., Santa Rosa. Open Wednesday–Friday, 3–9pm; Saturday–Sunday, noon–9pm. Shady Oak is participating in Santa Rosa Beer Passport FeBREWary celebration, Feb. 1–28. 707.575.7687.

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