Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Writing This Ship: Part 10 - Going back to Cali

Click picture for a full gallery of Bay Area beer (and more!) pictures

Now these Writing This Ship entries are gonna start showing their age. This one comes from almost exactly two months ago when I landed in San Francisco for a week. In my eternal quest for sharing and sharing in a timely manner, perhaps this is a good point at which to apologize to those of you not on social media. Not apologize for you, since I understand the desire, maybe the need, to limit your exposure and time spent there.

Yet, while I don't often get around in the most timely fashion to writing up the impressions and loading up pictures here at The Brew Lounge, I do use Facebook and Twitter (and ever-so-occasionally Instagram) to share stuff nearly immediately from my stumblings around the beer world. I say that I'll get better at syncing up the multiple platforms with a coherent and consistent approach, but whom am I kidding? After over 11 years of this, I suppose at this point I'm an old dog just trying to keep up with all the tricks.

Anyways, back to the left coast. Before my work week began, I only had Sunday to indulge in the tasty way of life that the Bay Area provides, so after an early morning flight and a quick drop-off and check-in at the hotel, I managed my way around Giants/Phillies baseball crowd and Pride parade mayhem and hopped on the BART train over to Berkeley where I met up with family and a Philly transplant friend. It's been too long since I've been in Berkeley; the last time was in the last pre-opening days of the Sierra Nevada Torpedo Room. Do you recall the pictures I shared from the behind-the-scenes visit that I made? That was, if I count correctly, three years ago.

That was also the timeframe of The Rare Barrel's early days. First up on this Sunday afternoon was finally a first visit to what has become a deservedly sought-after brewery (or shall we say fermenter/ager/blender?) in the west side of Berkeley, a little more than a mile from the center of Berkeley along Shattuck Avenue. Actually, The Rare Barrel has wort brewed for them off-site and has an ample parking lot and tasting room fronting the blending and barrel-aging facility just off Parker Street between 8th and 9th Streets. I can imagine, though, that on bottle release days and bad weather days and days when there are no baseball games, parades, or other summertime activities, that the parking lot and tasting room might feel rather small, but, hey, that was the benefit of my first impression being made on a Sunday afternoon, the day after a bottle release....while there was a baseball game across the Bay....and a parade....and beautiful summer weather blanketing the region.

A visit to The Rare Barrel is a comfortable one with doors that open wide to the parking lot and soft leather couches that consume you as you consume. This is a sour beer joint, there's no mistaking that it's the business model, and the beers on tap ranged from those that got some help from tart cherries, raspberries, and grapefruit to cucumber and mint. One small plates of food is available and from what I understand the grilled cheese sandwich is delicious. Don't, though, come with a ravenous hunger looking for a full meal.

And select bottles are available to go, as are growler fills. The bottles tend to be priced a bit on the high side - $30 per 750ml bottle is not uncommon - though club members receive discounts. Considering the overhead and process supporting their business model of barrel-aging beers (not to mention the resulting quality), the price is somewhat easier to swallow (pun sort of, but not really intended).

After a few very, very nice beers and one average one, we slipped out and on up the street approximately a mile to Sierra Nevada's Torpedo Room. Per my earlier comments, this was my first visit since they officially opened in late 2013 - and the spaced turned out to be exactly as I envisioned. When we arrived, we were the only customers, but within ten minutes every seat in the modest space was filled. The staff said that it is pretty typical of a Sunday afternoon, especially considering they don't have televisions.

The Torpedo Room seems to be exactly what they were shooting for - an opportunity to enjoy a very wide ranging selection of Sierra Nevada beers three hours from their home in Chico, Calif. Plus, it's a chance to get an education about the beers and the processes involved in creating them which was evident from my first questions about Southern Peppers that were eagerly and insightfully answered. It is, in case you're wondering, a very refreshing 8.3% ABV beer (no, that's not a contradiction) brewed with lemongrass and pink peppercorns.

Now getting into the late afternoon hours, we had one more place on the itinerary and the effect of getting up at 4:30 a.m. eastern time and a six-hour flight was beginning to take its toll. I left the Torpedo Room with a little treat that caught my eye - the Hop Salt which was described to me as the seasoning used on the fries back in the restaurant at Sierra Nevada HQ in Chico.

Up the road another mile in Berkeley and we found ourselves at the last stop on this Sunday afternoon triple play - Fieldwork Brewing Company. Actually didn't know much at all about these guys until Colleen Rakowski from Free Will Brewing Company gave them an enthusiastic thumb's up from a visit just a few weeks earlier. The brewery apparently also gets a big thumb's up from homebrewing legend Mike "Tasty" McDole, a longtime friend but one I hadn't made any prearrangements to bump into as we did to add another fun element to my first afternoon in the Bay Area.

My first impression of Fieldwork Brewing Company was the airy atmosphere woven into the Northwest Berkeley neighborhood. Plenty of bikes, kids, and dogs scattered around communal tables both inside and outside. A wide diversity of beers on the menu in addition to a (obvious?) focus on hop-centric brews like IPA and others. Like at The Rare Barrel, you may not come to Fieldwork for a gut-busting satisfying meal. But you will come for savory meat and vegan pies and other small plates of food that go nicely with a few beers.

If I had a food blog, I'd share with you the countless places in San Francisco where I enjoyed all my usual stops for breakfast, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, ice cream, and barbecue. I'd share with you that I still came home 1.5 pounds lighter than when I left because during five days I logged 33 miles of walking. But let's stay focused on the beer.

During the week, I managed to find my way over to City Beer Store for my requisite stop. A couple hotel room beers plus several more to bring home in addition to the Rare Barrel beers already procured. It was also a Tomme Arthur night direct from Lost Abbey/Port Brewing near San Diego and only a few weeks removed from seeing him during Philly Beer Week. Great visit to City Beer Store - it really is where you go when you want bottled beer to go, while also stopping to taste a few, when in the city proper.

My walk on that particular night of visiting City Beer Store took me on a few more miles first for ice cream, then tacos, followed by a couple nice beers and local beer chatter at Pi Bar, before I found my way to "the other location" owned by City Beer Store owners, Amnesia Beer & Music Hall. Okay, "other location" may not be exactly an apt description because the two places couldn't be much different from each other. But, one of my favorite live music venues in San Francisco got a bit of a beer upgrade when the Craig & Beth Wathen purchased it a couple of years ago. So for me it was the pleasure of some bluegrass on Valencia Street and a few good beers to pass the time before I headed to Zeitgeist for one (or two) last beers. What a fantastic and comfortable backyard-style hangout Zeitgeist still is.

Oh, hey, back to gloss over of Pi Bar. Been a couple of years since I last dropped in on this excellent spot for (mostly) local beers and great pizza. And being the numbers guy that I am, of course you can imagine my appreciation for their opening time each day - 3:14 p.m. Always dependable to find not just Russian River, but uber-local and excellent beers like Death & Taxes from Moonlight Brewery.

Another family meet up found me sharing an outdoor firepit in adirondack chairs at the relatively new Drake's Dealership in Oakland. Think basically of an old car dealership with the much of the roof removed that accommodates maybe 75% of the seating in this al fresco setting. Nice to see the long time Bay Area brewing fixture of Drake's with another location - and on rapidly expanding area of Oakland (Uptown neighborhood) to boot. The pizzas that came out of the oven were about as perfect as you could ask for - Cubano and Uptown for the record - and a great mix of ol' reliables such as the 1500 and Denogginizer on the draft menu along with specialities that bring the special like War Pigeon (8% ABV imperial IPA), Cocoa Caliente (8.4% ABV bourbon barrels and chocolate), and Wandering 'Possum (solid 5.0% ABV Pale Ale). The Tears Of A Sisserone (8.5% ABV mint and cinnamon malt liquor)? Well, that was just downright interesting and one of the best named beers I've come across in a while.

Whole Foods. How do you expect me to work Whole Foods into this getting-to-be epicly long entry? The friend Kevin that I mentioned from Sunday's meetup in Berkeley? Well, he brought a crowler of Punch List Pale Ale (6.2% hop-forward pale) from his local Whole Foods - apparently the only of the store's locations in the country with a brewery. The brewery is called Mission Creek and reportedly is turning out some very well made beers. I certainly couldn't argue with the Punch List as it became my last night in the city hotel room beer as I closed out a bunch of work and packed to travel home.

But was that it for beer? Nah, of course not. After my last day of work, I set off on a five-hour jaunt (remember all the walking that I mentioned? this one was a 4.7 mile sojourn) to fill me up with sights, sounds, and tastes to take home with me on the dreaded red-eye flight.

First up was oysters at Hog Island in the Ferry Building marketplace. Of course accompanied by a 21st Amendment Hog Island Oyster Stout. Then, inspired by the beer and the nearby Gandhi statue, I kept on walking over to 21st Amendment where one beer turned into three plus conversation with a fascinating guy named Rich. I'll save that still-untold story for another day. If I've said it once.....there's no other place I found it as appropriate to garnish the rim of my glass with a piece of fruit than at 21st Amendment while enjoying a Watermelon Wheat.

Those three 21A beers meant the next stop at Thirsty Bear would have to wait until next trip. I did have the time, though, to stop inside the new MOMA and its gift shop. Need to spend more time there next trip. Looks incredible.

The last stop, finally, which as become somewhat of a tradition (nah, let's call it a habit) was at Mikkeller Bar for my last beers and meal. Still doing quite well in their, shall we say, gritty location in the Tenderloin neighborhood just off Market Street and around the corner from the Powell Street cable car turnaround, it now takes maybe two hands and a foot to count the number of times I've stopped in for what is consistently a great lineup of beer (both theirs, locals, and from around the world) and an equally well-matched food menu.

For me this time, it was an incredibly satisfying plate of Chimichurri Flank Steak with sauteed broccolini and fried red potatoes that was washed down by a spectacular Alvinne Wild West BA French barrel-aged Belgian Sour. Yup, still thinking about it months later.

For next time, I'm already counting on some more new places that need to be added to my itinerary such as the new East Bay locations of 21st Amendment and Faction. Though, this will remain a standout trip for sometime, I suppose, as the number of new spots for me visited outweighed the number of mandatory repeat visits.

Whoa, hold the presses! Somehow I'm not surprised that with all that went down in this one particular week in the Bay Area, that I'd miss something - a completely accidental visit to Bartlett Hall Brewing Company just off Union Square. Accidental as in I know nothing about it, not even its existence. But, here I was for a couple quick short glasses and a bowl of shishito peppers. It's a huge, comfortable place, just off the hustling and bustling touristy streets of the area. Good place to get away from it all. The Brown Ale, the IPA, and a taste of the Barleywine all proved out decent to recommend. Plus they do a Mint Chocolate Porter because, well, of course. Until my next visit, I'll chalk them up in the "return visit" column.

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