Beer (credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Some beers are best enjoyed over the summer, such as a refreshing pale ale with a low alcohol content. But as cooler weather arrives in the fall, richer, darker and sometimes spicier beers are favored, with seasonal or year round choices like pumpkin ale and American Strong Ales. With the largest collection of craft breweries in the entire Bay Area, here is a brief look at five of the best craft beers to enjoy in the North Bay.

Bear Republic Brewing Company (credit: Randy Yagi)

Big Bear Black Stout
Bear Republic Brewing Company
345 Healdsburg Ave.
Healdsburg, CA  95448
(707) 894-2722

Of all of the phenomenal handcrafted brews from this multi-award winning microbrewery, one truly exceptional choice is the Big Bear Black Stout. Bearing an ABV of 8.1 and a bitterness rating of 55, this American Stout has a bold and roasted caramel malt flavor balanced with the Centennial and Cascade varieties of domestic hops. None other than the Beer Advocate considers the Big Bear Black Stout a world-class brew and has awarded it with a very impressive score of 92. This assessment is supported by a nice collection of industry awards, including a Gold Award from the World Beer Cup, the so-called Olympics of Beer. The popular Healdsburg brewpub offers this amazing choice on draft and in 22 ounce bottles.

Lagunitas IPA (credit: Randy Yagi)

Hairy Eyeball
Lagunitas Brewing Company
1280 N. McDowell Blvd.
Petaluma, CA  94954
(707) 778-8776

One of the Bay Area’s most celebrated breweries offers several of its most popular beers year round, like its Imperial Stout and its flagship offering, Indian Pale Ale. But other exceptional brews are only offered during certain times of the year, such as the Hairy Eyeball Ale, a rich and thick American Strong Ale sold only in October and December. In production for more than 10 years, the “hangover-halting beer” has an ABV of 9.4 and a rating of 56.7 IBU. This popular seasonal ale is available on tap or sold in 22 ounce bottles. The fifth largest craft beer producer by volume in the country, Lagunitas recently opened a third brewery in Southern California and even more recently, partnered with Amsterdam-based Heineken.

Hopageddon Imperial IPA
Napa Smith Brewery
1 Executive Way
Napa, CA  94558
(707) 254-7167

Unlike neighboring Sonoma County with more than 20 craft breweries, Napa Valley only has just a few spots to enjoy a handcrafted beer. Still, despite its small numbers, all of Napa Valley’s tap rooms are superb, with Napa Smith Brewery arguably the best of the select few. One exceptional item served year round is Hopageddon, an Imperial Oak-Aged IPA featuring a striking fiery orange hue. This extended dry-hopped ale has a caramel taste with slight citrus-like notes and tops off with a white wisp of foam. Excellently paired with fresh fish tacos and atomic buffalo wings at the onsite taproom, this recommended brew has 9.2 percent alcohol with a bitterness of 144 IBUs. Napa Smith Brewery is the only production brewery within the magical Napa Valley.

Russian River Brewing Company (credit: Randy Yagi)

Pliny The Elder
Russian River Brewing Company
1812 Ferdinand Court
Santa Rosa, CA  95404
(707) 545-2337

Russian River Brewing Company is world-acclaimed for its year round and limited release labels, especially the Pliny the Younger Triple India Pale Ale. This pub draft has drawn a cult following, with passionate beer lovers camping out the night before and long lines the day of the limited release, since it’s only available for two weeks in February. But this creation named after an ancient Roman lawyer bestowed with a perfect score from Beer Advocate also has a close relative that’s available year round. Pliny the Elder is a slightly bitter, copper-colored Double India Pale Ale with 8 percent alcohol that’s available as a pub draft and bottles. And just last year, this brew won a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival. Another limited release label is the Blonde Ale known as Francoise For A Cure, sold as a pub draft and bottles only in October.

San Quentin’s Breakout
Marin Brewing Company
1809 Larkspur Landing Circle
Larkspur, CA  94939
(415) 461-4677

Named with a comical twist to the infamous Bay Area federal penitentiary, this selection from Marin Brewing Company is a rich malty beer with a roasted malt and a hint of chocolate flavor. With ingredients like German Northern Brewer hops and roasted and black barleys, this “ultimate stout” has a noticeably black hue with 7 percent alcohol and 45 total IBUs. San Quentin’s Breakout is served at the lively pub with a spacious outdoor patio either in 16 ounce draft or 22 ounce bottles. Among the 40 beer awards, this dark stout has acquired over the years are two golds at the World Beer Championships and a gold from the World Beer Cup.

Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on