I’ve been a fan of 101 North Brewing Company for many years and have had the pleasure of working with them several times at various restaurants and events in the North Bay, so when I was considering brewers to chat with about fermentation and the craft beer industry in Sonoma County, I knew Joel Johnson would be the guy to talk to. 

freshly poured beer samples on drain tray

Joel started home brewing at a young age (before he could legally drink), and dove right into his brewery education as soon as he was eligible. He had always wanted to be in the beer business with his brothers and best friends, but while they were off completing their educations, Joel immersed himself in the industry until the time was right for them to open up something on their own. Joel’s first brewery job was at Bear Republic, where he was able to cut his teeth, learning about aggressive and hoppy IPAs. He eventually landed the position of head brewer and worked there for several years. Joel described his experience at Bear Republic as invaluable, and that when brewers spoke, he shut his mouth and listened. After a few years as the brewer at Mount Saint Helena Brewing Company, Joel’s father reminded the brothers and friends about their childhood dream to open their own brewpub. 

“We asked friends and family for money to start the business and everyone was really supportive. It didn’t take us long to raise the money to buy our brew system and find this space. We’ve always found the money when we needed it.” 

lineup of 101 North's beer bottles

The team settled on the name “101 North Brewing Company,” after a night out drinking and loved it! It was important to everyone involved that the name resonated with their roots and the people who inspired them to go out on their own. It was important to Joel that his beers took a step back from bitter and overly hoppy, to a more balanced product, where the flavors could really shine. Heroine IPA became that flagship beer for the brewery, becoming an instant success, especially for foodies looking for an IPA that wouldn’t disrupt the flavor of food. 

When it comes to creating new beers for the brand Joel’s process revolves around complimenting ingredients. He is often inspired by how creative other brewers in the area are, especially ones much younger than him. He often gets a specific ingredient in his head and then creates a beer around what flavors would compliment that ingredient. 

close up of sample valve and manway on fermenter

Production and quality control are also really important to Joel and most brewers. We talked a lot about the struggles brewers go through when transporting brews from tank to kegs and bottles. Making a beer that tastes great as soon as the brewing process is done is essential but making a beer that also tastes great after it’s been bottled, shipped out of state, placed in a warehouse and eventually into someone’s fridge is also essential. 

“Sometimes I throw a case of beer in the back of my truck and just drive around with it for weeks and weeks. I’ll take one out, refrigerate it and then pop that baby open. If it still tastes great after being heated and cooled, heated and cooled, then I know my beer can stand up against anything.” 

The tap room is the newest addition to their business. While the brewery has been in full swing for several years, it was always the plan to open up a store front. The taproom doors opened in April 2016 and have as many as 8 beers pouring at a time. 

old truck with 'tap room open' sign

It’s not often you find a successful business run by both family and friends, living out their childhood dreams together. Plus, they have an endless supply of beer! Life is pretty sweet for these Petaluma Natives. The taproom is open Wednesday through Friday, 4pm-9pm, Saturdays 12-9pm, and Sundays 12-8pm. 

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