• An "Innsider's" View of Napa Valley

Quenching your Beer Quest

(Beer Blog Part 2)

Notwithstanding the new found popularity of tap rooms, nanobreweries, micropubs, and the surge of craft beers from all corners, there is one old-school proprietor in Napa that debunks the beer craze as just the newest cool fad.

In this instance, one has to start with a downtown stalwart, who has been serving their own beer since the 1980s: Downtown Joes.

Downtown Joes

902 Main Street (3 blocks north of the Inn)

Situated in one of Napa’s historic buildings, the location has been a gathering of the men-folk from the late 1800s. It was here in the 1980’s an heir of the Hamm’s Brewing dynasty decided that the time of micro-brewing had arrived and set up a seven barrel system in the old Oberon. (It was in 1983 that California began to allow breweries to start selling beer on their premises.)

That system is still in place and usually keeps 10 taps going with a couple of constant selections, and several seasonal offerings. There are three guest taps, and a full bar and restaurant to back up the beer drinking and sports watching. Ideally situated on the Napa River and Veteran’s Memorial Park with a large patio, this place is popular with the al fresco visitor crowd and the locals who you will find propped up at the bar every Friday night.

The wheat beers are the highest sellers, and IPAs are super popular. While the brewmaster would like to do a sour, there’s not been one on the list in recent history.

Why beer drinkers like it:

The old copper brewing kettles handcrafted by master coppersmith Fred Zaft of San Francisco are a cool reminder of the history, and sit just around the corner of the bar. The 30 recipes are well-known by the locals who have a habit of noticing when the brewmaster decides to get creative. Here you will find porters and stouts on tap year round.


  • Full restaurant, bar and pub
  • Cannot fill growlers
  • Large outdoor area
  • Sports and live music
  • Youngest and newest brewmaster at 22: J.J. Fittipoldi (apprenticed under Colin Kaminski)
  • Opened 1988
  • Locally owned


Fieldwork Brewing

At the Oxbow Public Market (6 blocks from the Inn)

Fieldwork is only about the beer. Their Napa location is in the Oxbow Public Market and consists of a long regular bar, a standing bar, and a nice sized outdoor patio. They don’t serve food – though there is plenty nearby, and they are only open when the Oxbow is which usually closes around 8 or 9 pm.

This tap room typically has 20 to 25 beers that change rapidly. Their philosophy is that they want to get people the freshest beer, and it is unusual to see a beer on their list longer than 2 weeks. They have 25-barrel system, and have released some beer in bottles, but that is rare. It’s a very new company, but has exploded on the scene with 5 taprooms opening in Northern California in the space of two years.

Why beer drinkers like it:

The broad selection of beer by the company is a huge hit with those that love variety. The current recipe list is 150 and growing and covers many styles from lagers to sours. Besides being able to fill growlers, Fieldwork offers 32-ounce cans.


  • Variety of food in the Oxbow
  • Growlers and crowlers filled
  • Nice patio available
  • Games available to borrow
  • Open seven days a week
  • Brewmaster: Alex Tweet
  • Opened fall 2016
  • Bay Area owned, multiple locations


Carpe Diem

1001 Second Street (3 blocks north of the Inn)

This is the surprise on the list. When you enter Carpe Diem, there’s a small bar (with a great happy hour) and a nice restaurant for date night. Off in a separate room there’s a nod to the historic speakeasy that was once located onsite. At first glance, the beer is not what will grab your attention, and in fact you might pass over the eight taps and order a cocktail or wine from their robust list.

If you do, however, you might miss an interesting talent in owner and chef Scott Kendall. Scott grew up brewing with his father and is all self-taught when it comes to making beer. Since he is also the restaurant’s chef, he offers a very sought after beer pairing dinner series from December to April.

Why beer drinkers like it:

Kendall’s beers are all grain and he has created his own mill in the basement of the speakeasy where he makes the beer. Some of his hops are locally grown in the restaurant’s garden. You will find hoppy IPA type styles, and sours are among his favorites. Of the four taps for Carpe Diem, you might also find a blonde or a wheat. Kendall ages his beer in old wine barrels.


  • Full restaurant and bar
  • Cannot fill growlers
  • Small outdoor area
  • Brewmaster (and Chef) Scott Kendall (onsite)
  • Opened 2010
  •  Locally owned


So when you are ready to tap out after a day of wine tasting, a long cold one just might be the thing. As is frequently quoted around Napa, “it takes a lot of beer to make good wine.”

Melodie Hilton

View posts by Melodie Hilton
Director of Marketing and PR for the Napa River Inn, and long-time Napa resident. Hilton started her career as a journalist, working many years covering food, travel, and news.
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