Sonoma’s Henhouse expands without sacrificing quality or local roots
Approaching Hen House’s new, expanded brewery and tasting room in Santa Rosa, I heard frogs. I found this somehow reassuring, mainly because I like the sound of frogs. Country-fresh clichés aside, I knew I was assured of a quality experience – as co-founder Collin McDonnell puts it, “We care about beer freshness, so we designed a brewery around it.”
The fairly sparse taproom won’t win any awards for interior design, but is unpretentious and fits with the industrial space and environs. As with any brewery or eatery, the proof is in the product, and the copper-topped bar spanning the length of the space is a fine surface on which to begin evaluating what’s on tap, aided and abetted by the friendly staff.
My palate tends to gravitate to hops, so my initial two glasses were two hoppy pales in the Stoked series: Stoked on Citra (5.8%, 14 oz, $5.00) and Stoked on Motueka (5.7%, 14 oz, $5.00).
Citra has a grassy nose and, like everything I sampled, is clean and fresh. There is dankness, lemon, apricot, and some tropical fruit (one of the beertenders described it as “lemon candy weed”). Motueka is packed with flavor, with melon, green tea, and lemon/lime citrus. All Stoked beers use the same base recipe, but are dry-hopped differently, serving as a showcase for the hop. Both are excellent, tasty pales with great flavor and no lingering bitterness and are, in my opinion, “sessionable” — proving once again that it doesn’t take an IPA to serve as a hop showpiece.
Highlighting “underrepresented beer styles,” Fresh Pots! is a 7.4% coffee saison (14 oz, $5.00), made with 30 pounds of ground coffee beans, so there’s no way that’s not going to be predominate in the nose. The bitterness and darkness of the coffee balances excellently with the slight funk of the yeastiness. Saison was originally made by French farmers for their workers; Like Sonoma itself, saisons have, in McDonnell’s words, “a beautiful agrarian history.”
Triple Crown (6%, 8 oz, $5.00) is a nicely-balanced blackberry sour that’s not too tart. Light copper in color, six pounds of strawberries were added to the boil. The presence thereof was not something I sensed in the final product, but berry delicious nonetheless.
It’s clear that HenHouse chooses quality folk to be behind the bar: knowledgeable, friendly, and engaging (I was regaled with a hilarious story about a terrifying encounter with a Jerusalem cricket on the premises). It’s a jovial place, with both local regulars and those traveling from further afield. Formed by Petalumans loyal to the local economy (the tanks for the expanded-capacity brewhouse were sourced from Healdsburg rather than China), Hen House is a pillar of the by now not-so-small Sonoma beer scene, as well as the Bay Area.
There is the head of a big chicken painted on the eastern wall of the taproom. As well as a nod to Petaluma’s poultry heritage, I believe this to also be a representation of Big Chicken Double IPA, whose (modified) return many await with a plucky eagerness.
Free popcorn. Bottles to go. Red Horse Pizza trailer on premises Friday through Sunday. No public transportation.
322 Bellevue Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95407