North Bay Brewery Tours was first formed in February of 2010 by three local home brewers / craft beer enthusiasts James Holt, Robert Watkins, and Ron Holt.
We were well aware of the world-class beer being produced locally but we started to notice a trend; beer geeks were coming from far and wide to Sonoma County just to visit our favorite local breweries. Now everybody knows that Sonoma County is famous for its wine but when our breweries started taking home medals year after year, the word got out: There’s some damn fine beer being made in these parts. Sure the wine is good, don’t get us wrong, but we want to revise the familiar moniker of ‘Wine Country.’ That’s why our official motto is…
“Welcome to Craft Beer Country”
Call it what you will, but to us this is Beer Country.
Outside of the area you could get some local flagship beers in bottles (or sometimes on draft) but there is a whole world of smaller batch seasonal and experimental beers that rarely left the various tap rooms. Not to mention some hilarious industry stories, fun locations, and the rag-tag band of beer-crazed misfits that pour their hearts, souls, and eclectic personalities out every day all in the name of the perfect pint.
You just can’t bottle the experience of tasting beer fresh from the source, poured by beertenders dedicated to their craft, in the beer garden / restaurant built specifically to create the optimal conditions for drinking that beer.
Unfortunately the breweries are spread out and back then the only option for getting to more than one in a day was to designate a driver and carpool or hire an expensive taxi service. Plus if you were not already a craft beer geek, how are you supposed to know things like Where to go? How to get there? What to order? What’s so special about this craft beer stuff? How is it made? Can I make beer at home?
This, we realized, was a problem we could solve. We were already regular fixtures at the local breweries, had a huge passion for craft beer, and were born and raised in Sonoma County. Why don’t we start a business where we can drive people to all the best beer spots; teach them a little about craft beer, how it’s made and the local history; and generally have the best job in the world for a craft beer fanatic.
How hard could it be to start a bus company anyways?
Answer: Like most things in life, it’s a lot harder than you think.
We three being an enthusiastic, stubborn, and probably a little bit tipsy lot decided to go through with it anyways. First we scratched a little money together to buy the buses. Then we drank some beer (or as we like to call it, “Research”). Then we learned all about the bus industry with the help of our first hire and still lovely bus driver Jeannie (who has been in the industry a long, long time and seems to know everybody and every road in California).
After a year of saving, working, and doing tons more “Research,” we had all our necessary permits in order and were ready to roll. We officially launched to the public in April of 2011.
That first tour we had a group of friends, family members, and exactly 2 full-paying passengers who found us through Google. We had a blast! There’s no greater feeling after over a year working your butt off (on top of other full-time jobs) than to have that first customer prove that someone other than your mom thinks this is a good idea.
It wasn’t long before summer was in full swing and we were selling out brewery tours weeks in advance.
It’s been a wild ride ever since with plenty of ups and downs, working for little to no pay, and reinvesting everything back into making this business great and showing our customers a great time. Our general marketing strategy is simple:
- Show customers an awesome time on our brewery tours
- If we’ve done our job, your positive word-of-mouth will take care of the rest
So far that strategy has been working. Most of our new business comes from people who have been on a tour before, or they are friends with someone who has been. Many people want to come back for a special occasion or with a different group of friends. Others call us up for private transportation for all sorts of events. Long story short, we love our fans!
2016 And Beyond…
2013 is already shaping up to be our best year yet! We’ve got big plans for the future, but here are some recent highlights:
- We just opened our first brick & mortar office (and moving that filing cabinet out of our bedrooms)
- We just launched a new website with a more streamlined ticketing system (yes, this is the new website)
- We just launched the Bay Beer Blog so that we can provide our fans with tons of great beer news, reviews, and industry info to tide them over until their next tour with us
- We are remodeling our second bus with a brand new kegerator (so it matches the first one)
- We are meeting with several new breweries and planning new tours (so you’ll have to come back soon!)
If you haven’t been on one of our tours yet, well what are you waiting for? Just click that big red button on the right to see our upcoming tour dates. You can also check out our Services page for general information or to get a custom quote for private transportation.
If you have been on one of our tours, stay tuned because we’re just getting started! There are new public tours in the works or you can always schedule a private tour anywhere you like. Be sure to check the Bay Beer Blog for regular content, sign up for our mailing list (on the right) for news, or follow us on Facebook / Twitter.
We really appreciate each and every one of you for being a part of our business and the greater craft beer movement. We absolutely cannot thank you enough for all of your support!
If you have questions about ordering or scheduling, or even just want to talk beer over a cold one, please don’t hesitate to call us any time.
Ron, James, & Rob