Category Archives: Monterey Bay

Our Local Beer Scene: Valley Greens Gallery

As you know, the Monterey Peninsula has its fair share of art galleries; not that Chris and I are into that sort of thing. Or so we thought…

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Beer and art in Carmel Valley village

Several years ago, Valley Greens Gallery opened in Carmel Valley Village. Full of funky urban artwork, we mostly drove past it wondering what the heck it was and how it would ever survive in the Village, a place where every other storefront is a wine tasting room (and that’s no exaggeration!). But when we heard that artists/owners Leah Fusco and Neil Kirkpatrick wanted to add beer and cider to their gallery offerings, we knew we had to do our part to help the gallery survive. Nothing like having a good beer spot walking distance from your home.

The addition of beer came out of Leah and Neil’s love for the stuff (they own a bar in Birmingham, Alabama), as well as a desire to serve beer and cider at the art classes and private functions offered at the gallery. Add alcohol and even the self-proclaimed worst artist in the world begins to feel like Picasso or Van Gogh. Beer, art, and friends–what a wonderful way to pass a few hours!

Now you don’t have to wait for an art class or hold your own private function. Beer, art, and friends can be enjoyed at any time the gallery is open. A mellow alternative to the bar a few doors down that has been a Village staple for decades, Valley Greens Gallery is like going to a friend’s house for a few beers before heading home.

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Enjoying beer and art

Seating 7 at the bar, it is very likely you will run into someone you went to school with. And by school, I mean elementary school. But whether or not you have known each other your whole lives, the bar becomes one big conversation about miscellaneous stuff–the artwork, beer, local events, and even a bit of good-natured Village gossip. Everyone is welcome and you never feel like that loner at the end of the bar drinking alone. Leah is almost always behind the bar with her broad smile, 3 taps, numerous bottles, and sometimes a few bar snacks. Valley Greens doesn’t serve food, but bringing in your own is certainly allowed.

So, the next time you come out to Carmel Valley Village to enjoy the sunshine, be sure to stop by Valley Greens Gallery, located at 16A East Carmel Valley Rd. Hours are Tuesday-Sunday 11am-late evening. Be sure to tell Leah that Chris and Merideth sent you!

Our Local Beer Scene: Alvarado St. Brewery & Grill

It’s been a while since we were able to highlight developments in our local beer scene. Thank goodness the long wait is over with the opening of Alvarado Street Brewery & Grill in Old Monterey.

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The newest addition to the Monterey beer scene

Right up the street from Peter B’s Brewpub, Alvarado Street Brewery is a great addition to the Monterey Peninsula beer scene. Located in the renovated Regency Theater building, it also includes a small outdoor seating area with a great view of all the action on Alvarado Street. Inside, the marble counters and long, narrow shape give the place a sleek fancy feel, but don’t let that fool you. Alvarado Street is a comfortable and casual brewpub with an exciting menu and awesome beers!

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Unfltered Minesweeper IPA

Head Brewer, JC Hill, stays very busy, with an average of 8 different house beers on at any given time. And I do mean different. JC has already introduced dozens of beers since the place opened in May. The IPAs have, of course, been a big hit with the likes of Minesweeper, a dank brew made with Citra and Chinook hops (7.2% ABV) and Duane’s World, a 7.5% American IPA with Nelson and Amarillo hops, leading the way.

But while JC definitely knows his way around the hops, that’s not all he has to offer. A variety of Belgian-style beers have rotated through, including the Bixby Belgian Blonde (5%), Alvarado Street Table Beer (3.9% Belgian-style tafelbier), Grains of Wrath (6.8% Belgian Farmhouse) and Doc Brown (5.8% American Brown brewed with Belgian yeast).

One of the things I enjoy most about Alvarado Street is that there is something for everyone. The beer list, which also includes guest taps and bottles, is always varied with everything from IPAs for the Hopheads, low alcohol beers for those taking it easy, and German-, Belgian-, and English-style beers for a more international flare.

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Bright salads are one of the highlight the food menu

The food is also fantastic, ranging from small bites and fresh salads to flatbreads and larger dishes. I especially love the Mac-n-Cheese with white cheddar, brie, broccolini, and leeks (especially when I remember to ask for the addition of bacon!). The Artisan Cheese and Salumi plate also offers a substantial portion suitable to share before a main course. The flatbreads are tasty, with the Duck Ham (pineapple, gruyere, pickled chili and hoisin sauce) being a house favorite. Chris and I like the Butcher’s Bacon & Egg with a nice blend of cheeses, a Flander’s Red Ale tomato sauce and a fried egg on top. Admittedly, I have never had one of the larger plates, choosing instead to create a full meal from the small bites and salads. However, the desserts cannot be missed. The fresh and fluffy Beignets are terrific and be sure to ask for a spoon to finish off the bitter chocolate ale sauce.

Be forewarned, Alvarado Street Brewery & Grill’s reputation is growing and it is usually quite busy. With a knowledgeable and friendly staff, the bar is always a good option. Otherwise, be patient. It is well worth the wait. It can also be a bit loud in there, making it the perfect spot for socializing with friends and watching the game with fellow sports enthusiasts.

With the addition of Alvarado Street, I guess Chris and I can no longer call our home a beer backwater. Welcome to Monterey, the new California beer destination.

Cruzin’ the Coast

Going on beer hiatus brings with it a certain amount of heartache. Usually, it’s because we miss out on some really cool beer events. During this year’s hiatus, a couple of new breweries opened near us. Luckily, our yearly beer-free month didn’t make us miss out, only delay, our first visits to these great new breweries along the Highway 1 corridor in the Santa Cruz area.

Highway 1 Brewing. Aptly named

The first stop on our outing was Highway 1 Brewing Company in Pescadero. The opening of this brewery seemed to come out of nowhere. No buzz beforehand. No waiting with baited anticipation for opening day. Jeff Page, the brewer/owner, later explained it to us. The whole endeavor came together in just six months. With speed like that, there wasn’t any time to get the word out. But make no mistake, this brewery would definitely live up to any hype a PR marketing firm would have built had there been time.

The view from the bar at Highway 1

An hour and a half from our house, the views along Highway 1 north of Santa Cruz are gorgeous. And so is the view from the brewery. Although it’s on the other side of the highway, the views of the Pacific Ocean are unimpeded and the large front windows allow the beautiful scenery to come through. Wherever you sit at Highway 1 Brewing, the bar or restaurant, you’ll be delighted with what you see. Even the cars driving along the road proved to be only slightly distracting.

Beer…

This husband and wife operation (Jeff does the brewing, while Melissa oversees the kitchen) is cozy and inviting. In addition to the great beer, the food and the wooden interior reflect a comforting, welcoming feel. On the day of our visit, Highway 1 Brewing had 3 of their own beers on tap and several guest craft beers. I especially enjoyed the Knuckle Down Brown, with its smooth milk chocolatey flavor. With no IPA on tap, Chris opted for a pint of the Pepper on the Rye, a 6.1% malty rye brewed with peppercorns. The peppercorn flavor was forward without being overbearing, giving it a spicy flare. We also tried the Rock Queen Pale, described on the menu as a “pale ale with an overdosing of Centennial hops.” All of the beers were very well done and very tasty.

Lunch…

A bit too early in the day for a full meal, I chose an appetizer of beer battered green beans with spicy aioli. Wow! Had my mother prepared these when I was a kid, I would have definitely eaten more veggies. Chris enjoyed his chile verde pork street tacos, which also looked very good. I really wish I had been hungrier, though, because one item on the menu stood out like no other: Hop-Fried Chicken, buttermilk marinated chicken infused with whole cone hops. I guess that means another visit is in order. Next time I’ll go on an empty stomach.

Conveniently located right on Highway 1 just north of Año Nuevo and the Pie Ranch, it’s easy to make a whole day of going to this brewery. There’s no tweeting in real time, however, because there’s no service up there.

Discretion Brewing

Making our way back south, our next highly anticipated stop was at Discretion Brewing in Soquel. We had two people on our KRML radio show from the brewery, Dustin and Michael, during our beer hiatus which just built the anticipation more.

All shiny and new

Set back from 41st Avenue, the building just screamed new. And not in a bad way. I especially like their motto (“Wisdom. Wit. Kindness. Beer.”) and the logo of a man with gears crankin’ inside his head. This, is a thinking (wo)man’s brewery!

The exterior is a vibrant red color and the soon-to-be re-opened outside seating area is just to the left of the entrance. A permitting issue misunderstanding caused the closure, but they are busy rectifying it. I look forward to having Porter and Stout join us out there.

Inside, we found a bustling tasting room. Thankfully our friends Sean and Fran from Hollister Hills Taproom & Brewery had arrived earlier and saved us some seats at the bar.

Sample flight at Discretion Brewing. Extra credit for muffin tray

We started out with a flight of 5 beers. While all the beers were very good, I quickly discovered it was a Brown kind of day for me and I ordered a pint of Song in Your Heart, a 4% British-Style Mild Brown Ale. The German-style Pilsner, Shimmer Pils, was also at the top of my list at Discretion. Chris was happy as they had an IPA, Uncle Dave’s Rye IPA to be exact, coming in at 7% ABV.

Beers with friends at Discretion

I would be remiss if I only talked about the beer at Discretion because the food was also amazing! They partnered with Main Street Garden & Cafe to develop a menu of up-scale, small plates made from fresh, local and organic ingredients to pair with the beer. Sitting near the kitchen, we watched as bowls full of Chili (served with cornbread) and succulent-looking bangers went by. We tried the Pilsner-battered halibut fish bites. Served with arugula, avocado, radish, and blood orange, it was a fresh, light take on the pub standard fish and chips.

With multiple people behind the small-ish bar, the service was attentive and friendly. My only complaint is that they were temporarily out of growlers, so I was unable to buy one of the Brown. Last I heard, however, Discretion Brewing is back in the growler business. I think that calls for a return visit.

The happy family at Sante Adirius

Not finished with our beer day, the four of us decided to make a stop at Sante Adairius on our way back to the other side of the Monterey Bay. We’ve written about them before and I could go on for days about my love of Sante Adairius, so I won’t go into it again. But I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed my Bernice Batch #3 and my absolute favorite of theirs, Joe Chavez. It was a dog-filled afternoon, with Porter and Stout joining several other pups in the tasting room as Chris sipped on his 831 IPA.

Easily located along Highway 1, these three breweries made the perfect beer tour route. Whether you’re a tourist or a local, cruzin’ along this coastal beer trail is fun and relaxing, indeed!

View all the images from our day…

Strong Women Brew Strong Beer

Women making beer is really nothing new. Centuries old, actually. But, twenty or so years ago when I first got into craft beer, female role models in the industry were far and few between. Heck, I really didn’t even have any female friends to drink beer with!

The glamour part of brewing (photo by Ivy Villegas Borges)

Decades later, women are becoming increasingly more visible in the craft beer community: girl beer geeks, homebrewers, professional brewsters, journalists, judges, and Cicerones. And it’s about time we celebrate this!

The weekend before last I had the pleasure of joining a group of women at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing’s Strong Women Brew Day.  Listed as an SF Beer Week event, the goal of the annual gathering is to encourage women to take up homebrewing and carry on the tradition that strong women drink strong beer.

The day started with a tasty continental breakfast with the brewers. Participants connected with friends and perked up with some freshly brewed local coffee as the brewery’s co-owner Emily Thomas welcomed us and told us about the day. While we were all lollygagging around, Maggie, Emily’s sister and one of SCMB’s brewsters, started her brewday. The work must go on after all!

Learning to brew

Out in the beer garden, Nicole Todd, an SCMB brewer who also sits on the board of Seven Bridges, the local homebrew co-op, commenced her home brew demonstration. This was no stand around and stare at the homebrewer demo, though. Women crowded around Nicole asking questions along the way and scribbling furiously in their notebooks. With no plans to become a homebrewer, I occasionally left Nicole’s presentation to watch Maggie brew inside.

Mid-day, we were treated to a healthy (very Santa Cruz-esque) spread of cheese, fruit, hummus, tahini and pita bread. Samples of Santa Cruz Mountain’s brews also started making it through the crowd. In addition to tasting their regular line up (Wheat, Amber, Pale Ale, IPA, Brown, Stout and Porter), we were also treated to a couple of seasonal beers.

Valentine’s Day release Love Potion, is a beautiful ruby-colored ale brewed with rose hips, hibiscus, and raspberries. Weighing in at a very drinkable 5% ABV and with just a hint of sourness, it was my favorite of the day. Another seasonal offering included in our sampler was Singular Sensation, a single hop amber made with the new organic hop Rakau. A tasty brew with a nice hop flavor (and without the bitterness), it was an easy drinking 6% ABV.

We wrapped up the day in the early afternoon with a big round of applause to ourselves. A day hanging out at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing with a group of intelligent women serious about beer and brewing was a treat indeed. Be sure to put Strong Women Brew Day on your SFBW calendar for next year. I know I will!

A big thank you to Emily, Maggie, and Nicole for hosting a great day!

View all the images from the brew day…

Our Local Beer Scene – Hollister Hills Taproom and Brewery

As we gear up for the holiday shopping season, I’m reminded of the importance of supporting small business owners by shopping local. This year, I am happy to report that we have yet another local option when it comes to craft beer: Hollister Hills Taproom and Brewery in nearby Hollister.

Merideth with Sean and Fran Fitzharris

Joann Kim and Chuck Frowein, proprietors of Grillin & Chillin, teamed up with friends and homebrewers Sean and Fran Fitzharris to open a small taphouse and brewery with a cozy neighborhood feel. Hollister Hills is definitely compact, something the owners hope to change in the near future, but what they do with the small space is amazing!

Plenty of beer choices at Hollister Hills

There are 37 guest taps plus housemade beers and sodas. Over several visits to “H2B” (as Sean and Fran refer to it), Chris and I have tried Sean’s Hillside IPA (6.5% ABV, 65 IBUs), Red Beard Amber (5.5% ABV), and  Easy…Like Sunday Morning Blonde. We even got a sneak peek taste of a wheat beer made with chamomile and agave. H2B is breaking new ground, as rumor has it that an IPA has never been brewed in Hollister before now.

For only having been open for a month and a half, the beers are solid. Just like any new beer establishment, it often takes time to adjust to the brewing system and iron out the kinks. I’m confident that the brews at Hollister Hills will get better and better as they settle in.

Simple, delicious, beer-friendly food

The food is great, which is always a plus in my book. No fried pub food here, the H2B menu includes carving boards (meat, cheese, deli, and Mediterranean), pressed sandwiches (my favorite is the Turkey Cranberry), a variety of salads, and daily soups. Pizzas and chili dogs were recently added to the menu, as well. They also have snack items like a soft pretzel and nachos. I especially like the flavored popcorns, both savory and sweet are available. The lemon pepper popcorn is the perfect beer snack!

The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. Beer geeks and beer novices alike are  welcomed with open arms and even non-locals will feel included, especially when seated at the bar. Hollister Hills Taproom and Brewery embodies the spirit of “Drink Local” and it’s sure to become the community’s gathering spot.

View all the images from Hollister Hills…