Top Breweries in Santa Rosa, CA: Why Moonlight Brewing Shines

Santa Rosa, nestled in the heart of Sonoma County, is a paradise for beer lovers like me. It’s not just the scenic beauty that captivates you, but the rich tapestry of breweries that truly makes it a special place. From hoppy IPAs to smooth stouts, there’s a brew for every palate.

I’ve spent countless weekends exploring the local beer scene, and let me tell you, it’s been an adventure worth every sip. Each brewery in Santa Rosa has its own unique flair, making it a haven for those of us who appreciate the craft behind a great pint. Join me as I share my top picks for the best breweries in Santa Rosa, California.

The Breweries of Santa Rosa

Diving deeper into Santa Rosa’s brewing scene, I’ve discovered that each brewery has its own unique flair and specialty. It’s more than just about the beer; it’s about the stories, the ambiance, and the community that each establishment fosters. Here’s a taste of what makes some of Santa Rosa’s breweries stand out.

Russian River Brewing Company is arguably the jewel in the crown of Santa Rosa’s beer scene. Known worldwide for its Pliny the Elder, a double IPA that’s become something of a holy grail for hop lovers, this place is always buzzing. But it’s not just about one beer; their line-up boasts a variety of styles, from sour ales to barrel-aged wonders. The vibe here is all about passion—for beer, for craftsmanship, and for creating a space where everyone feels welcomed.

Then there’s HenHouse Brewing Company, an establishment that prides itself on constant innovation and a commitment to community. Their IPAs are fresh, their stouts are rich, and their seasonal releases always surprise and delight. What I love about HenHouse is their infectious enthusiasm for the art of brewing and their dedication to sustainability and supporting local businesses.

For those who prefer a more laid-back atmosphere, Cooperage Brewing Company can’t be missed. It feels like you’re just hanging out in a friend’s backyard, if your friend happened to be an incredibly talented brewer with a penchant for experimental ales. The intimate setting encourages conversations, making it the perfect spot to while away an afternoon sampling a diverse range of beers, from hoppy to fruity and everything in between.

Lastly, Shady Oak Barrel House brings a funky edge to Santa Rosa’s brewery scene. Specializing in sour and wild ales, Shady Oak pushes the boundaries of traditional brewing while maintaining a deep respect for the craft. The quirky, eclectic taproom is a testament to their creative spirit, and it’s a place where you can always expect the unexpected.

Brewery Specialty Notable Beer
Russian River Brewing Company IPAs, Barrel-Aged Pliny the Elder
HenHouse Brewing Company IPAs, Seasonal Brews Seasonal Releases
Cooperage Brewing Company Experimental Ales Varied
Shady Oak Barrel House Sour and Wild Ales Barrel Selections

Russian River Brewing Company

When I first stepped into Russian River Brewing Company, it wasn’t just the beer that caught my attention—it was the palpable excitement in the air. This place has somewhat of a legendary status among craft beer enthusiasts, and for good reason. Known primarily for their Pliny the Elder, a double IPA that has gained a cult following, they’ve established themselves as a must-visit spot in Santa Rosa.

The atmosphere at Russian River is exactly what you’d hope for in a brewery: lively, welcoming, and saturated with the passion of both the brewers and the patrons. Sitting at the bar, I couldn’t help but strike up conversations with locals and visitors alike, all eager to share their favorite picks from the extensive selection. What stands out about Russian River isn’t just their beer—it’s the community it fosters.

Diving into their beer lineup, it’s clear the diversity of their brews matches the diversity of their clientele. Beyond Pliny, they offer everything from sour ales to barrel-aged treats, showcasing an impressive range that caters to nearly every palate. I found myself particularly drawn to their sours, each with a complex profile that’s as thought-provoking as it is enjoyable.

But let’s talk more about Pliny the Elder. It’s not just a beer; it’s an experience. The balance of hops and malts is executed so masterly that it’s no wonder people line up, sometimes for hours, on its release day. But beyond Pliny, it’s Russian River’s commitment to quality across their entire selection that truly impresses. Every sip I took felt like it had a story behind it, a meticulous craft honed over years of brewing.

Visiting Russian River Brewing Company also offers an educational glimpse into the brewing process. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable, eager to share insights about their brewing methods and the history behind some of their most celebrated beers. It’s this open-door approach to sharing knowledge that makes a visit here not just enjoyable, but enlightening.

Of course, no visit would be complete without indulging in some of their food offerings. Paired perfectly with their brews, the menu features pub favorites with a gourmet twist, creating a full sensory experience that complements the beer.

Bear Republic Brewing Company

After my enlightening visit to Russian River Brewing Company, I journeyed further into the heart of Santa Rosa’s brewing scene, landing at the doorstep of Bear Republic Brewing Company. Instantly, I was captivated by the brewpub’s dynamic atmosphere and the sound of laughter spilling from its doors.

Bear Republic stands as a testament to family values and pioneering spirit, founded in 1995 by the Norgrove family. It’s not just another brewery; it’s a place where passion for craft beer merges seamlessly with a commitment to sustainability and community. Their dedication shines through in every glass, much like the friendly faces that welcome you upon entering.

One cannot talk about Bear Republic without mentioning their flagship beer, Racer 5 IPA. This brew is a true hop lover’s delight, winning accolades and hearts with its balanced bitterness and aromatic bouquet. But it’s not just about Racer 5. The brewery’s lineup is both extensive and impressive, featuring a range of styles from stouts to sours, each crafted with an eye for detail and a flair for innovation.

Here’s a quick glance at some of the reasons Bear Republic stands out:

  • Award-Winning Beers: Racer 5 IPA, among others, has garnered national and international awards, reinforcing Bear Republic’s reputation in the craft brewing world.
  • Commitment to Sustainability: Their dedication to water reclamation and solar energy isn’t just talk; it’s action, contributing significantly to reducing the brewery’s environmental footprint.
  • Community Engagement: Bear Republic actively supports local events and charities, reinforcing its role as a community pillar.

Their brewpub in Santa Rosa offers more than just exceptional beers. The menu boasts a variety of gourmet pub fare, designed to perfectly complement their beer selection. From savory burgers to artisan pizzas, each dish is a testament to their commitment to quality and flavor.

Visiting Bear Republic, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of connection— not just to the beer or the food, but to the community that this brewery has helped cultivate. Like Russian River, Bear Republic emphasizes the importance of quality, innovation, and community, creating an unforgettable experience for anyone who walks through their doors.

Third Street Aleworks

After diving into the stories of Russian River Brewing Company and Bear Republic Brewing Company, I couldn’t wait to share my experience at Third Street Aleworks. Nestled in the heart of downtown Santa Rosa, this brewery has carved out its own unique spot in the local beer scene. Walking into Third Street Aleworks felt like stepping into a live postcard of Santa Rosa’s vibrant craft brewing community.

From the moment I sat down, I was impressed by the sheer variety of beers available. Third Street Aleworks has been a staple of Santa Rosa since 1995, echoing the pioneering spirit of its brewing neighbors. What sets it apart is not just its history, but its commitment to crafting a diverse array of beers. Whether you’re a fan of hoppy IPAs, smooth lagers, or robust stouts, there’s something here that’ll catch your eye—or rather, your taste buds.

Their Flagship Beer, Annadel Pale Ale, encapsulates the essence of what they’re all about: quality, flavor, and a nod to local heritage. Named after a nearby state park, this beer is a hit among locals and visitors alike, boasting a balanced taste that’s just right for any occasion. I found it to be the perfect companion to their incredible pub fare, which, by the way, deserves a mention of its own.

The menu at Third Street Aleworks isn’t your typical pub grub. They’ve taken it to the next level, with dishes designed to complement their beers in ways I hadn’t imagined. From gourmet burgers to artisan pizzas, every item was a delight, elevating the beer-tasting experience and showcasing the brewery’s commitment to quality in all aspects.

Sustainability and community involvement are key themes here, much like at Bear Republic. Third Street Aleworks actively participates in local events and endeavors to reduce its environmental footprint, making it a brewery that not only serves good beer but also does good in the community.

Visiting Third Street Aleworks was a highlight of my Santa Rosa craft beer journey. With its rich selection of beers, delicious food, and commitment to the community, it’s a place that embodies the spirit of craft brewing. Whether you’re a local or just passing through, it’s a must-visit spot for anyone looking to explore the depth and diversity of Santa Rosa’s beer scene.

Moonlight Brewing Company

As I continue my journey through Santa Rosa’s craft beer scene, I can’t help but shine a light on Moonlight Brewing Company. Founded in 1992 by the legendary brewer Brian Hunt, it’s a bit of hidden gem that’s been part of the local brewing world for nearly three decades. What sets Moonlight apart is not just its longevity but Brian’s unwavering dedication to brewing distinctly flavorful and memorable beers.

Moonlight Brewing has always flown slightly under the radar, focusing more on the quality of their brews rather than sprawling marketing campaigns. They’re best known for their Reality Czeck Pilsner, a crisp and refreshing beer that’s become a cult favorite among locals and visitors alike. Despite its modest facade, stepping into Moonlight Brewing feels like uncovering a secret chapter of Santa Rosa’s brewing history, one that’s brimming with passion and a touch of whimsy.

One of the things I love about visiting Moonlight is the genuine, down-to-earth vibe you get the moment you walk in. It’s not just about sampling beer; it’s about experiencing the soul of local craft brewing through the lens of a pioneer like Brian Hunt. He’s often there, mingling with visitors, sharing stories of brewing mishaps, and triumphs that feel like they’ve been plucked right out of a brewer’s fairy tale.

Their beer lineup, besides the illustrious Reality Czeck, features a variety of styles. From the Death & Taxes Black Beer, a smooth, dark lager with rich, malty flavors, to the Lunatic Lager, a light and lively option for those looking for something a bit less intense, Moonlight offers a beer for every palate. They emphasize quality ingredients and traditional brewing techniques, ensuring each pint is a well-crafted work of art.

Moonlight Brewing’s approach to craft beer is a refreshing reminder that sometimes, the best experiences come from the most unassuming places. Their commitment to quality over quantity, community over competition, and passion over profit makes them a pivotal stop on any Santa Rosa brewery tour. Mingling with like-minded beer lovers in their cozy tasting room, surrounded by barrels and the enchanting aroma of hops, is an experience I look forward to every time I visit.


I’ve had the pleasure of exploring the vibrant brewing scene in Santa Rosa and Moonlight Brewing Company truly stands out. Their dedication to quality and the craft of brewing is something you can taste in each beer. Whether you’re a fan of the classic Reality Czeck Pilsner or looking to try something darker like the Death & Taxes Black Beer, there’s something for everyone. I can’t recommend a visit to Moonlight Brewing enough—it’s an experience that encapsulates the spirit of Santa Rosa’s brewing culture. So grab your friends and make your way there; you won’t be disappointed.

+ posts

Ben Rutstein is the publisher of this website, he started traveling to northern California in 2014, and the Santa Rosa is one of his favorite places to visit, from that time onwards he has explored everything from visiting cafes to yoga in parks, local hikes.

He is known to drop everything at a moments notice for a visit to a winery or a visit to a park.

Scroll to Top