Downtown Napa’s beer scene is going mobile. Starting June 18, local breweries will take to the rails aboard the Hop Train, the Napa Valley Wine Train’s new bid to tap into the rising tide of craft beer popularity here.
Pouring for the beer train’s inaugural ride on the 18th is Napa Palisades Beer Company, the first local brewery to partner with the Wine Train.
“We notice that a lot of people want to do something that isn’t just wine-related,” said Rebekah Weeman, business development manager at the Napa Valley Wine Train. “There’s this whole culture of people here that want things to do that are related to beer. And craft beer, local craft beer, not just any beer.”
Palisades co-owner Chuck Meyer said when the Wine Train approached the brewery about the concept around six months ago, “It seemed like a no-brainer.”
While its own cars are off the tracks for renovations, the Wine Train leased rolling stock from C.R. Railway, including two open-air cars. “It gives us more versatility,” Weeman said, “and you know we’re all about reinventing the wheel.”
The company built a full bar into one of the open-air cars, along with benches and wine barrel tables. Capped by a roof, the space is essentially windowless. “I call it the land yacht,” Meyer said. “It’s like a patio car.”
Plans are for the Hop Train to run every Monday, with a regular price of $75. Locals and members of the wine industry can take the two-hour jaunt for $50.
Trips start with check-in at the Napa Wine Train at 5:15 p.m. and a departure time of 5:45. The train rolls up the valley alongside vineyards and Highway 29, going as far as Rutherford before returning to downtown Napa. The price of admission gets riders two beers and a choice of bites from the Palisades menu. More beer can be had at happy-hour prices, Weeman said.
The three beers being poured for the first ride are among Palisade’s flagship brews:
— the Loco IPA, a citrusy, tropical beer made with Citra, Mosaic, Amarillo and Centennial hops;
— the Little Loco Session IPA, a lighter, less alcoholic take on the Loco, using the same cast of hops;
— the 1849 Gold Rush Red, brewed with Chinook hops and close in alcohol to the Little Loco.
As the Hop Train chugs on throughout the summer, the lineup is apt to change, Meyer said. “So if you take the train twice, you’ll get to taste some different things.”
The brewery opened in downtown Napa in 2015 and churns out beer either at its location at 1000 Main St., or in Windsor in Sonoma County. However, the owners recently signed a contract for 807 Soscol Ave., where it plans to open a multi-million-dollar brewery, tasting room and distribution center.
Once the site is up and running, Meyer said, “That’s going to become our main brewery.”
With about 50-60 accounts between Napa and Sonoma counties today, the brewery has gained a healthy distribution among restaurants and stores throughout the area.
“One of the reasons why we’re building the brewery is so we can keep up,” Meyer said. “We actually hold back selling beer to make sure we have enough for our own location and we feel like there’s room to grow. That’s kind of the game plan — to get as much out as we can so people know where we are and come visit us when we build our brewery.”
As far as the Hop Train goes, the plan is for other breweries to partner up and tap their beers as well, Weeman said. “We want to be able to offer the public a variety, not just Palisades. But right now we want to get it going with them.”
Other local breweries could eventually include Tannery Bend and Trade Brewing, she speculated. “We may even bring in Pliny the Elder once in a while. There will be a few surprises. We’ve got quite a bit of interest in this.”
The Hop Train is not the Wine Train’s first foray away from its namesake beverage. The company has sought other ways to entice riders, rolling out themed cars like the Tequila Train, which debuted last month for Cinco de Mayo with plans to return for National Tequila Day in July and Day of the Dead in October. A Cigar Train is also in the works for an open-air car, Weeman said, and may hit the tracks in August.
“We wanted to have a space where we could provide more options, like music,” she said, referring to the Blue Note Express, which sprung up in one of the open-air cars last year and features a live band aboard the train.
“We think that today, in the world that we live in, with all of the development, we have to have versatility,” Weeman said, “because we need something for everyone.”