Turn off of St. Helena Highway onto Dowdell Lane, then take your second right onto La Fata street. This will lead you right to the front door of Mad Fritz, a craft brewery in beautiful Napa Valley, California.
To celebrate my father’s 59th birthday this past August 2019, my whole family piled into the car and made our way north from our home in Woodside, California, to Napa Valley for the weekend. We were lucky enough to stumble upon Mad Fritz during our search for a brewery in a mainly wine-producing region. As we pulled into the parking lot, the aroma of plentiful amounts of fermenting yeast and grains acted as the welcoming committee. Following the pleasant smell, our first sight as we walked into the tasting room were two tables constructed out of barrels that were once filled with the bubbly liquid that led us here in the first place. These beer barrels were the base for the rounded-off granite table tops that supported our five tasting glasses and an ample supply of Mad Fritz beer, waiting for us to quench our thirst, liven our taste buds and create an unforgettable experience.
Nile Zacherle, founder, owner and head brewmaster of Mad Fritz, greeted each of us with a firm handshake and warm smile that showed teeth stained by red wine from his work at wineries throughout the Valley earlier that day. He followed up by apologizing for his swollen eye he’d earned during a mountain bike ride the day prior. You could tell this guy was enjoying life just from his physical appearance alone, but it was the back and forth conversation that followed during the next two hours that would solidify this initial judgement. Nile and his wife Whitney had created something so unique and creative in the founding of Mad Fritz Brewery.
The motivation for the realization of Mad Fritz was due to the fact that there was little to no beer in the marketplace that emphasized the practice of origin beer — the process of growing, brewing and selling the end product all within the same region. This idea originated from Nile and Whitney’s backgrounds in wine making. Within the wine industry, a great deal of significance and specific characteristics are prescribed to a wine based upon the geographic region in which the grapes are grown.
“The thought process then became, why not have this be the case for beer too?” shares Zacherle.
So, Zacherle set out to make an origin beer utilizing the resources of his local community. Water sourced from local Napa Valley reservoirs. Craft malted single variety barley. Locally grown organic hops. This pooling of specific resources established a creative process that consistently kept environmental sustainability in mind as well.
“Mad Fritz is not only a product,” says Zacherle. “We rely on a certain level and quality of services and a well-practiced vocation to consistent attention to detail. Both service and product ultimately contribute to the Mad Fritz experience.”
Speaking on the origin brewing practice further, Zacherle also mentions how in any business “there needs to be a sense of why.”
“That’s the core and soul of it,” he adds. “For Mad Fritz, our soul is making beer with a sense of origin, an authentic home that impacts the strength of our local community, and ultimately our customers’ experience with our beers.”
Zacherle points out that a critical component for the ultimate success of Mad Fritz was understanding that they may never be mainstream.
“Mad Fritz consumers are all over the map,” he explains. “They are the retired. They’re in their 20s. They all just really like good beer.”
After 25 years of home brewing, Nile and Whitney Zacherle decided to begin the process of turning this passion for brewing beer into a professional business. By 2014, they found a space in St. Helena, California, that would house the equipment needed for their custom brewing system. The name for the brewery, Mad Fritz, originates from a mix of Nile and Whitney’s two children’s names: Madeleine (Maddie) and Frederick (Fritz). Each beer label also incorporates fables that tell youthful stories to accompany the tribute to their children. You can find beers named “The Jupiter and The Camel,” a Pilsner style lager, “The Satyr and the Traveler,” a house malted pale ale, or “The Lion and The Other Beasts,” a grissette ale, along with countless others.
Nile and Whitney have thoughtfully created an intimate setting at Mad Fritz that is welcoming to both beer experts and new beer lovers alike. If you are ever in Napa Valley, make a point to stop by this passion filled origin-based brewery.
Photos by Eric Castro and Jeff Bramwell.