It’s just beer

Owners of The Chico Taproom support communal aspects of craft beer

Claire and Willie Matthews enjoy the fruits of their beer business.

Claire and Willie Matthews enjoy the fruits of their beer business.

Photo by Howard Hardee

Chico Tap Room
2201 Pillsbury Road, Ste. 114

Willie Matthews acknowledges that there is real snobbery in the world of craft beer, aficionados who like to pick apart a brew’s head or mouthfeel. As the owner of a beer bar, he certainly doesn’t begrudge anyone who gets really, really into it, but he personally likes to keep everything in perspective.

“It is just beer,” he said. “It’s just kind of a fun thing where you get to come hang out and be with people. It doesn’t have to be about the beer.”

The social and communal aspects of the craft beer scene are what really appeal to Matthews and his wife, Claire, who own and operate The Chico Taproom in the Almond Orchard shopping center. In that spirit, they’ve been hosting regular beer/yoga nights on Tuesdays ($20 includes the session and one beverage), game nights and creative tap takeovers, including one called Beer by Women coming up on Friday (March 2), a celebration of Women’s History Month “featuring six beers brewed, influenced or owned by women.”

“We don’t have Wi-Fi, so people actually have to talk to each other or play Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots or Jenga or Cards Against Humanity, which is refreshing to see,” Claire said. “There’s nothing worse than having a group of six people sit down and look at their phones. Beer is community; beer is talking; beer is having fun.”

The couple met in Chico and helped run a 32-handle craft-beer bar and restaurant in Pacifica before returning here to buy a home and start a business of their own. The Chico Taproom opened last May, and it’s since been quietly building a base of clientele.

Over the past 10 months, the owners have learned a lot about the local beer market and what their customers want. For example, when they first opened, the draft list leaned toward relatively rare beers that had never been poured in Chico. But as it turned out, most of their customers were looking for their personal favorites from places such as Fall River Brewing Co. out of Redding/Mills River, and Sacramento’s New Glory and Moonraker breweries.

“So, we’ve kind of balanced that,” Willie said. “We’ve been showcasing beers that don’t normally run in Chico, but also getting the beers people have been asking for.”

To that end, they put a brewery suggestion board in the hallway. As long as it’s financially feasible, they’ll bring in the beers and breweries customers want. That’s the whole point. Willie says he has no interest in brewing beer himself, because he finds satisfaction in showcasing and supporting other people’s hard work.

“I have nothing but admiration for the people who do it, because they’re artists,” he said. “What they’re making is really an incredible product, and the passion and knowledge they bring to it is just really impressive. But with the way the craft beer scene is, I really like being a retailer, being able to bring in all these different breweries and seeing the variety. Some people are really pushing the envelope with different ingredients and styles.”

If craft beer is art, then The Chico Taproom is a gallery. The place has 40 rotating tap handles and a huge wraparound bar with enough space for as many chairs. True to the name, the taproom makes a point of featuring locally made beer and cider, including from small, local outfits that have popped up in Chico over the last couple of years—Lassen Traditional Cider, Secret Trail Brewing Co. and Waganupa Brewing—as well as breweries operating throughout the greater North State.

But, again, it’s not all about the beer. As a couple, they’ve been working at balancing their personal lives with the around-the-clock demands of being business owners.

“It’s kind of like when you move out of an apartment to your own house, and all of the sudden you can’t call your landlord to fix everything,” Willie said. “We’re trying to adjust our schedules so we don’t burn out.”

“Or go insane,” Claire added.