Napa’s beer scene has grown again, this time by 14 taps, seven beers (to date), two co-founders and one new taproom, the blue-collar-tinged Trade Brewing.
Opened in November at 731 First St., two blocks east of downtown, the Trade taproom now serves not only as a gateway to the lively Oxbow District, but as the latest play in an ongoing bid among local brewers to impart craft beer credibility on a region far more synonymous with wine.
Both the site and timing of the new taproom illustrate progress to that end. Set mere steps from Fieldwork Brewing, which opened last year, and the historic Borreo Building, site of Stone Brewing’s forthcoming Napa outpost that is now said to be opening in early 2018, Trade makes the fourth taproom to open in Napa since 2015, preceded by Palisades, Fieldwork and Tannery Bend Beerworks. The latter opened earlier this year just south of downtown on Coombs Street.
Indeed, while working to open up shop, Trade co-founders Derek McClintick and J.B. Leamer held meetings at Fieldwork and have since welcomed their brewing neighbors to the new site.
“It’s one of those things where the more there are, I think it’s better for everyone,” McClintick reflected in the Trade taproom. He and Leamer are joined in the venture by business partners Julian Webster, Jeremy Sill and Tim and Mary Beth Herman.
The space of Trade is simple, an unhurried, deliberate ode to manual labor and part-reference to Napa founder Nathaniel Coombs, a carpenter. Mallets, hatchets and hammers were among the few wall ornaments hanging above an L-shaped bar where a lone couple chatted up the bartender on the Monday afternoon after Thanksgiving, an echo of ‘90s rock in the air.
A purveyor-sourced menu of bar snacks, salads and paninis is equally uncomplicated. Most importantly, so is the beer.
The frank philosophy of Trade, Leamer offered: “Why overthink it?”
Chalkboard slates mounted on a wooden backdrop offer a blonde ale named Bricklayer, a saison called Loose Fuse, a Belgian pale ale dubbed Swing Shift, the Ten Penny brown ale, and of course, IPAs Mallet and Hatchet. The latest addition is the Pile Driver Double IPA, bringing the choices to seven as of late November.
With enough room to grow to 14 beers, the team’s end game is to have six or seven staples complemented by seasonal and experimental brews. The beer is brewed not on site, but in a shared facility in Vallejo using a 15-barrel system and a “pretty standard” brewing process, said McClintick, the founding duo’s “beer nerd” with more than 15 years of home brewing behind him.
Though McClintick lauds the experimentation he sees across the industry today, when it comes to the beers of Trade, an everyman’s appeal takes priority.
“I kind of looked back on when I started drinking beer and why I started drinking beer and what draws me to craft beer,” he said. “And a lot of it is just classic beer, like classic styles of beer. Beers that are brewed, I don’t want to say ‘by the book,’ but beers that are very approachable by anyone.”
Simply put, “We want a beer that everybody wants to drink.”
Of course, he adds, that’s not to say the team won’t be experimenting down the road. “We absolutely will. But I think our goal was to just make really good beer. It didn’t have to be necessarily some beer that you’ve never had before, right?”
So far, simple seems to have had the appeal its founders are after. Debuting at the Napa Valley BBQ and Beer Battle in September, the brewery put its Bricklayer blonde ale and Hatchet IPA up against Bay Area beer heavies Lagunitas and Bear Republic, as well as Fort Point, Heretic, Napa Palisades, Tannery Bend and Napa Smith. Today, the trophy for crowd favorite sits above the taproom bar.
“Our beer was amazing,” Leamer held. “And we’re hometown people, so I mean, why not us?”
Meeting in 2013, the pair first partnered to open JAX Diner, also on First Street several blocks from Trade. With a shared focus on downtown and McClintick introducing Leamer ever more to the world of craft beer, the idea for a brewery surfaced, both said, at a time when Napa’s taprooms were few and far between.
“We knew there was a big following for craft beer in Napa,” McClintick said. “People were being underserved.”
Prior to the Trade taproom, a larger vision was put forward in 2016 when the development group that owns the property put in a pre-application with the city for ‘Foxbow,’ a 134,000-square-foot concept that would see the property host two four-story buildings straddling the Wine Train tracks, sporting a hotel, condominium units and retail space, topped off with a pedestrian sky bridge, pool and roof deck.
Leamer, who was the applicant on the proposal, said the group still plans to develop the collection of parcels.
In the meantime, curious beer seekers will have one more stop to make downtown, while the shared vision of Napa as an eventual craft beer destination gains one more toehold in reality.