by Frank Sumrall
A collaborative effort occurred between farmer, maltster and brewer within Sonoma County. Working with its partners, Seismic produced a beer made from ingredients, which were grown and processed within 12 miles of each other, the first of its kind in the county since the historic Grace Brothers Brewery of Santa Rosa officially closed in the 1960s. The festbier, named Sonoma Estate, releases in October and is one reason Seismic stands alone in terms of quality, care and a persistent effort to go the extra mile in terms of brewing perfection. A distinct style of beer, festbier is traditionally served at Munich's Octoberfest.
Napa and Sonoma counties are well known for its wine, but it's no secret this area is also home to great craft beer. Nestled into the thriving, ornate community of The Barlow in Sebastopol, Seismic Brewing leads the way in eco-friendly business practices. "Some of the goals we set for sustainability and water consumption were pretty aspirational," says Andy Hooper, brewmaster for Seismic Brewing. "The result of that is we are sitting well below half of the industrial average for water use." Hooper credits the area Seismic operates in as Sonoma County has fully embraced and supported eco-friendly business practices.
This level of dedication makes Seismic the perfect fit for Sonoma County. "I really feel like the Sonoma County ethos is to pay closer attention to the things you're consuming," says Hooper. "People like to know the story behind the goods they purchase. So for a brewery, like ours where we have a focus on ingredients, we have an audience who's paying attention to that, and it resonates with them. That's what Sonoma County provides."
Seismic has endured its struggles within the area. Alongside having to operate amid a seemingly annual fire season with employees displaced from their homes, the Sebastopol flooding in 2019 heavily damaged the building. "This facility was under construction when that flood took place. There was three feet of water in here," says Hooper. "With my fishing boat in the bed of my truck and a few of my maintenance members, there were minimal things we could do to try to save anything. We then decided to pivot and help our neighbors right across in The Barlow." Hooper and his team transported flood logs from storage to install them on other business' doors, alongside a trash pump to help to scrub everything.
Through trials and tribulations, Seismic has found its footing as one of the premiere local breweries in the area under the watchful eye of its brewmaster. Hooper starts the tasting with a flight of beer, and the first on deck is Liquifaction. Made in a Kölsch style, it's an old-world beer known for its subtly understated flavors of malt and fruit. There's a distinct San Francisco sourdough character to add a modern twist to the traditional Kölsch beer.
The second tasting is the Alluvium pilsner, a staff favorite once the workday is done. Inspired by the traditional pilsners of Northern Germany, Alluvium is brewed with 100% California grown and malted barley. Its crisp, clean finish is a hallmark of a German Pilsner.
Next in line is the Megathrust, an IPA for those who love a concentrated hop flavor. Each hop is loaded with essential oils as the beer bursts with flavors of mango, pineapple, papaya and tangerine alongside hints of pine.
The last tasting is the boldest, The Big One. Limited release and only available on draft, it's a rotating series of double IPAs, making this beer vary slightly in taste with each edition. Each iteration has new hops, new malts and new brewhouse procedures. This current version features Azacca, Cashmere and ldaho7 hops. Pineapple and guava, as well as a pinch of cannabis and pine, are the dominating flavors.
There's a lot of access to the brewing industry, according to Hooper, where someone competent in running a small business wit a small amount of capital can successfully open a craft brewery. Vastly different from the wine industry, where the entry into the world of wine starts and ends with access to land. This difference means a lot more turnover in the brewing business.
"We're a younger company. But considering most of the breweries in the United States are less than three years old, that actuallykind of makes us the old guard,"
says Hooper. A fairly young brewery, the expertise inside the looming walls channels old-world beer with modern practices to forge one of the best local brews in the North Bay. Seismic is here to stay as a staple of Sonoma County.