Napa’s newest beer maker is as rooted in its home city as the names of its brews – concoctions like Coombs, which is both the street where the brewery is located and the saison pale ale topping the menu board inside.
Opened on March 18, the Tannery Bend Beerworks is a unique haven for Napa’s craft-beer mavens: a homegrown maker of classic ales and pilsners as well as an experimental lab for unusual and exotic varieties, tucked into a snug 1,500-square-foot space in a once-industrial neighborhood.
With an L-shaped bar and stools on one side, beer-making tanks on the other and exposed wooden roof beams above, the nanobrewery at 101 S. Coombs St. is designed for no more than 1,200 barrels (37,200 gallons) a year and 39 customers at a time. Yet Tannery Bend totaled more than 600 customer receipts on its opening day, leaving it scrambling to keep up with higher-than-expected demand.
“We ran through seven barrels on the opening weekend – we weren’t quite ready for that,” admitted brewmaster Matt Cromwell on Wednesday as the warm aroma of cooking malt suffused the taproom. “So we’re playing catch-up right now.”
The busy start for the pint-size taproom has taken some of the sting out of a delay that pushed back its debut by nearly a year. Complications with federal licensing frustrated hopes of opening Tannery Bend in the spring of 2016, according to Rodde, who co-owns the brewery and the Oenotri restaurant with his wife Lauren Duncan.
With their belated opening, Rodde, Duncan and Cromwell are sticking to their game plan of flexibility and adaptability – and keeping up an atmosphere as relaxed as the taproom’s artwork of cornhole board-and-bag sets painted with quotations from “There Will Be Blood,” “The Big Lebowski” and other movies.
“In the last year, the model has stayed the same; we believe in direct-to-consumer, small-batch craft goods that are fun and experimental,” said Rodde of Tannery Bend, which opens from noon to 8 p.m. from Wednesday to Sunday. “We want to experiment, to be open to doing different things.”
Among Tannery Bend’s notable departures from the norm has been a porter flavored with candy-cap mushrooms, button-like fungi that impart a dark sweetness similar to maple syrup. In the planning stage is a ginger beer with 8 percent alcohol content, an excursion into the increasingly popular “adult” versions of classic sodas.
“The baseline knowledge of beer is really high now,” said Cromwell, a Napa native who previously worked at Napa Smith and Silverado Brewing of St. Helena. “You’re not sneaking up on people the way you would have even five, 10 years ago. And it’s easier to bring up to speed people who’ve already built up an appreciation for wine.”
Although Rodde, Duncan and Cromwell have no ambitions for grocery-store sales or the other trappings of national-brand fame, their brewery’s brisk start – and the increasing profile of local taprooms like Fieldwork and the upcoming Stone Brewing branch on Third Street – has the team already planning for more production tanks later this year and expanding its footprint in 2018.
“The idea of Napa beer is appealing to a broad audience,” said Rodde, “and we want to get it to the people who enjoy it.”
On Wednesday, Tannery Bend’s intimate confines filled up by 5:30 p.m., attracting not only newcomers but customers already making repeat visits to sample the Yajome India pale ale or the Bancal Belgian-style winter ale.
“We were completely thrilled to know a craft beer location was coming here,” said Daphne Risso, one of several in the early-evening crowd to arrive at the taproom on foot. “… These folks are local, so that’s what makes this even more special. They definitely get my vote.”
Adrien Halpin, making his third visit to Tannery Bend in the company of two friends, praised the spicy but “not too boozy” character of his glass of saison ale – but added the value of the new brewery may lie as much in enlivening its neighborhood as much as the beer scene.
“It’s awesome; I think downtown, especially the riverside, is premium real estate,” he said as he, Carly Inhof and Kristen Boelen unhurriedly worked on their pints on a patio in front of the taproom. “It’s good to have a lot of small, neighboring communities, than to have everything concentrated on one strip.”