SANTA ROSA — Glancing around Fogbelt Brewing Company's taproom, big trees might seem like the dominant influence. Paintings of Redwoods adorn the walls, and the staff shirts — emblazoned with the Fogbelt forest logo — reflecting a menu that's likewise full of tree titles. A chalkboard maps out the locations of each beer's arboreal namesake along the West Coast fog belt, where coastal fog settles and some of the world's tallest Redwood trees are rooted. However, it's not the trees that make Fogbelt what it is. A sense of camaraderie pervades the brewery as a host of regulars fill the bar, chatting with bartenders that were once merely customers as well. A stack of board games sits beneath the television, giving the room a homey atmosphere, despite the stylish industrial fixtures. Although Fogbelt is not quite two years old, they've already established a loyal following. It's easy to see why everyone knows each other so well: Fogbelt's location on Cleveland Avenue is intimate, the taproom adjacent to their brewing space. The entire brewing operation consists of just one small room with five tanks, two of which are open tops. Glass windows afford curious onlookers a front-row view of the process. "When you're at a bar, it's cool to be able to see — even if nothing's going on — what they're working with," says Trevor Martens, one of Fogbelt's assistant brewers. "Like, this came from right there." You can watch as the brewers make their beer and, as of recently, bottle it. Keeping it fresh — hand-bottling in small batches In early October, Fogbelt began bottling their brews for the first time, producing limited run beers to be sold just feet away in the taproom. At the moment, Fogbelt is limited to hand-bottling a keg at a time, but the result is something special. Each keg yields about seven cases of twelve 22-ounce bottles, each slightly unique due to the nature of manual processing. Oxidation is a huge factor when hand bottling — especially for hopped-up beers like their double IPA — so they're careful to purge the bottles with CO2 before filling them with a basic bottling machine. Each bottle is hand-labeled, filled and capped right there in sight of the bar, before being boxed and promptly carried into the other room for retail. Quantity dictates what's available; Fogbelt rotates their beer varieties between the taps and the bottler to ensure a variety is available both on draft and in bottles. So far, they've bottled kegs of their Screaming Titan Double IPA, Hyperion Red Ale, Armstrong Oak and Bourbon Infused Stout, and Fresco Del Norte IPA, the latter made with fresh Sonoma County hops. Fogbelt showcases Sonoma County's rich agriculture by growing their own hops on a half-acre lot in Dry Creek. They use as much of their own hops as possible when crafting rotating seasonal brews; their Treehouse Saison, for example, uses 100 percent fresh hops from their hopyard up the 101. The property is also home to a garden that yields fresh produce for their food menu, which offers only locally sourced ingredients. Fogbelt's commitment to the area's ag heritage — Sonoma County was once a hop haven in addition to its history as a wine- and apple-growing region—is unsurprising, considering the owners' backgrounds. A brewery based on creativity that keeps expanding Founders Remy Martin and Paul Hawley are both sons of Sonoma County vintners. They began brewing together in 2004 in New Zealand, where they worked the grape harvest. After discovering they couldn't buy beer after their graveyard shift, they began making their own. When they returned to the States, Martin continued studying brewing at UC Davis, while Hawley worked at his parents' Dry Creek Valley winery. But their catalog of homebrew recipes quickly expanded and they started acquiring second-hand equipment, like recycled dairy tanks, to brew on a larger scale. One of their current tanks was salvaged from a mistaken delivery to one of their father's wineries. What was supposed to be a stainless steel fermenter was actually a seven-barrel brew kettle; this queen bee of their brewing setup is still in use to this day. Martin and Hawley's personal catalog eventually evolved into Fogbelt's four flagship brews: Lost Monarch Wit, Atlas Blonde, Hyperion Red, and the Del Norte IPA. In addition to the core four, Fogbelt usually has ten to fifteen rotating seasonal brews, as well as other odd projects. Their sour Methuselah has been barrel-aging in their back storage area for nearly a year and a half. Fogbelt also recently collaborated with Sonoma Ciders to create a Berliner Weiss-style wheat beer, a tart, sugary beer that utilized Gravenstein apple juice in the brewing process. Assistant brewer Kolaan Busbice credits this kind of innovation to the friendly, supportive relationships and sense of community amongst North Bay breweries. "It breeds creativity," he says. "Everyone's got each others backs up here." To accommodate this kind of enterprise, Fogbelt has an expansion in the works that will hopefully secure more space inside for brewing and bottling projects, as well as a new beer garden. In the meantime, however, you can enjoy the brewery's intimacy and as Busbice notes, "Look out for us on your local tap handle."
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