Stone Brewing, one of craft beer’s most recognizable brands, will open a new brewery and restaurant in downtown Napa’s historic Borreo building as early as next spring.
“The historic Borreo building is the perfect space for us to put down our roots in Napa,” Greg Koch, CEO and co-founder of the San Diego brewer, said in a release announcing the project. “Not only is it literally made of stone, it’s one of downtown’s most iconic links to the 19th century and a landmark that’s been vacant for the past 15 years.”
The brewery will offer the full line of Stone’s core beers, typically known for their robust hoppiness and strong alcohol, but will also offer unique beers available only in Napa.
“We recognize the high quality of wine that comes from the region and the appreciation that Napa Valley locals and visitors have for fresh, well-crafted drink. We are elated to become a contributing part of such an artisanal town,” said Koch. He has been vacationing in the area for 20 years and has scouted locations in Napa County, including a previous attempt to locate at the Borreo building.
Stone, founded in 1996, is the 10th largest craft brewer in the United States by volume, according to the Brewers Association, a craft brewing trade group, and number 15 even when compared with non-craft brewing giants such as Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors. It is among a handful of U.S. craft brewers expanding in a major play for national and international business. Stone is building a large brewery on the East Coast, in Richmond, Virginia, that should more than double its capacity, and has plans for one in Berlin, Germany as well. That would give Stone the ability, unusual among craft brewers, to reach all 50 U.S. states and all of Europe.
The Borreo building, built in 1877, is owned by West Pueblo Partners, which bought it from the city this year after planners in January approved its request to add a restaurant and brewery on the site. Several possible restaurant plans have been rumored since then, but the exact operator of the brewery has been a closely held secret.
“Our mission has been to bring this historic building back to life as a vibrant, active site, while integrating the river as the center of downtown,” said Michael Holcomb of West Pueblo Partners in announcing the Stone deal. “It is an absolute bonus that it can as serve as a catalyst to Napa’s emerging presence in the beer world.”
West Pueblo Partners is a real estate group based in Napa, headed by John Nichols of St. Helena, and Holcomb and Kevin Teague, both of Napa. The project was designed by a local team: Steve Cuddy and Sarah Marshall from Napa Design Partners, civil engineer Ryan Gregory from RSA+, structural engineer Chris Jonas from ZFA and project manager George Nielson, Nielson Construction.
“After more than two and a half years of working on the purchase, plans, permitting and leasing, we are excited to finally start construction and are even more exited about opening the building to the public,” said Teague. “This will be a great spot for locals and fans of craft beer.”
The Napa facility and the new Virginia plant are Stone’s first breweries outside of San Diego County. The main brewery is in Escondido and there is one small facility in Liberty Station, on the waterfront in San Diego. Company officials say production is maxed out at the Escondido brewery and the Liberty Station operation is too small to distribute widely.
The Napa brewery will produce beers primarily for service in the Borreo building, but it is possible it may produce kegs for a few local accounts, Stone’s Director of Hospitality Steve Robbins said, including the Napa-only specialty beers the brewery will make.
“If you want to get those really cool beers, you’re going to have to go to Napa to get them,” he said.
The one major logistical headache for the new brewery is parking. The Borreo building sits on a narrow triangular parcel wedged between the Napa River, the Third Street Bridge and Soscol Avenue. The small handful of parking spaces on the site will be sacrificed to allow delivery trucks to get supplies into the brewery. There will be a drop-off spot for customers, but no onsite parking.
Robbins said the company is not worried about the lack of parking. They are expecting locals to walk in, and the nature of beer tourism is such that visitors coming to town specifically to visit the brewery are likely to either come by bus or walk in from area hotels and parking garages.
Napa Mayor Jill Techel said the building would have been challenged by parking no matter what use was picked for the site.
“We knew about that with that site,” she said. “We needed to have a destination that people would walk to.”
Stone plans to operate the restaurant in the building, but details are still being worked out, Robbins said. The specialized nature of the equipment needed for the brewery means it will take many months to build and install, so Stone has time to develop details of the food service. They do not, however, plan to partner with an outside chef or food service company.
“We are not looking to have a marquee chef,” Robbins said.
The new brewery vaults Napa into the competitive and lucrative world of craft beer and tourism. Although neighboring counties, particularly Sonoma, are home to nationally and internationally famous breweries, wine-centric Napa County has been relatively slow to embrace the malt-based beverage. The county’s largest brewer, Napa Smith, isn’t even ranked in the top 50 of craft brewers nationally on the Brewer’s Association annual list. Smaller producers, such as Napa Palisades, Downtown Joe’s and Calistoga Inn, serve primarily their own brewpubs and a few limited local accounts.
“We believe this is an untapped sort of market,” Robbins said. “We really like to find areas that are untapped.”
Local business and tourism officials hope the new Stone Brewery will prove to be a major draw for the worldwide market for beer tourism, much as are other Northern California attractions such as Bear Republic’s original pub in Healdsburg, Lagunitas Brewing’s taproom in Petaluma, the Anchor Brewing plant in San Francisco, and the brewery and restaurant complex at Sierra Nevada Brewing in Chico.
Several companies specialize in beer-related bus tours in the San Francisco area, and the Stone brewery in Napa is sure to become a stop for them. Major craft brewers in the region draw tens of thousands of visitors per year in addition to their local customers. The Sonoma County Economic Development Board has estimated that the 23 breweries in that county alone generated $169 million in economic activity in 2013 and supported at least 770 jobs.
Napa Chamber of Commerce President Travis Stanley described the deal as “quite a coup” for West Pueblo Partners, and noted that craft brewing is one of the nation’s fastest growing industries. According to the Brewers Association, independent American craft brewers contributed almost $60 billion and 424,000 jobs to the U.S. economy in 2014.
“The economic impact of this decision by co-founders Steve Wagner and Greg Koch to make us [downtown Napa] a part of their future growth business plan is very significant,” he said.