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Napa Smith represents
At Napa Smith, Don Barkley is making an admirable stable of beers

As the consumer market for craft beer continues to grow, expect to see more and more brewers jumping on the bandwagon

The newest to hit town is from Napa, Calif. Napa Smith Brewery sits just south of the undisputed wine making capital of North America.

That’s not that odd. Just west of Napa, in Mendocino County, hops was the agricultural tour de force for decades. Happily, many of those vineyard owners are now replanting hops again – to fill a growing demand from extraordinary craft brewers that are popping up all around them

I don’t know where Napa Smith gets it hops, but its scored an outstanding brewer. Don Barkley started making craft beer in 1978 at New Albion Brewery, America’s first new brewery since Prohibition. He went on to help found Mendocino Brewing Co., where he became an icon in the industry creating such legendary beers as Red Tail Ale and Eye of the Hawk.

At Napa Smith, Barkley is making an admirable stable of beers. The wheat beer is the weakest in my opinion, although my palate is more atoned to classic European wheats. Still, I found that across the portfolio, Barkley delivers wonderful balance and a character that make these exceptional food beers.

The Pale Ale is true to style, unlike so many PAs that are really IPAs – at least in terms of robust hoppiness. The Organic IPA kicks up the IBUs – and placates the folks looking for a true organic brew.

What shone for me was the Amber Ale and Lost Dog Red Ale. Each poured beautifully in the glass and then stood strong in the flavor department.

The Amber Ale is sweet and malty on the nose and then cascades gentle hops character on your palate. Lost Dog, which pours a deep copper color, is a bolder beer – still balanced but with more bite and less sweetness. This one would be a perfect companion for a bowl full of hearty winter stew.

The December issue of Wine Enthusiast will name Napa Smith one of its Top 25 Beers of 2010. This fledgling West Coast brand will need that kind of push, regardless of how good the beer is, to gain shelf space –and consumer confidence – here on the East Coast.

Your palate is the best judge – Napa Smith Brewery is certainly a newcomer that’s worth knowing.