Yesterday marked the official launch of my first book, Teachings From The Tap: Life Lessons From The Year in Beer.
The beautiful sunny weather made the perfect setting to spend an afternoon on the patio at Barclay’s, the place where our beer travel obsession started. Talking about beer travel and signing books was fun, but it was the people who came out to support me that made it special. At one point I realized that I was surrounded by the “old” Barclay’s crowd, including Bill Foley, Dave Swan, Gene Bromstead, and Bruce Paton. It felt like 1992 again and definitely made me miss living in Oakland.
Thank you again to all of you who stopped by and hung out! And a special thank you to Rowdy and Rory for all their help and support. Cheers!
If you missed my book launch, there are a number of other opportunities in the near future to get a signed copy of Teachings from the Tap: May 22-Hollister, CA, May 24-San Francisco, CA, June 5-Sand City, CA, June 9-Monterey, CA, June 21-Seattle, WA, July 6-San Leandro, CA, July 7-Concord, CA, July 22-Oakland, CA. Visit thebeergeek.com to get more information on these events.
I’ll admit Merideth and I don’t get to Big Sur as much as we used to or should. In the past, we frequently drove down the coast to experience Big Sur’s world-renowned natural beauty, go for a hike and then grab a beer or two at one of the local establishments. The desire to visit a new beer bar, Big Sur Taphouse, was a good reason to make a much needed trip down the coast.
Opened in November 2011, Big Sur Taphouse is located near the post office in the Big Sur Center. Its bright interior, done up in mission-style decor with wood and wrought iron accents, provided us with a welcoming reprieve from the dreary fog outside.The seating in the cozy place is mostly communal with long tables and benches. However, for a more romantic visit, intimate seating set off from the main room is available. The first customers of the day, we settled in front of the fireplace to recover from the chilly walk on nearby Pfeiffer Beach.
The copper-clad bar was home to ten draft beers, supplemented by a small bottle selection. It could have been coincidence but California pride was in full force as all the beers were Golden State creations including a house Brown Ale brewed by Firestone Walker. I started with a Green Flash Hop Head Red while Merideth began with one of her favorite Pilsners, North Coast Scrimshaw. From there we moved on to Firestone Walker DBA and the house Brown Ale.
While enjoying our beers, we snacked on a few of the food items from their menu. Like their beer selection, Big Sur Taphouse chooses substance over quantity with each offering on the limited menu sounding as good or better than the last. The Charcuterie platter came with mounds of yummy cured meats and the bruschetta with flavored olive oil was an especially delicious accompaniment. We followed that up with the BBQ Pork Sliders. The pork was very tender but a bit dry for my tastes. I like my bbq pork like my beer… wet.
Merideth and I had a very pleasant time at Big Sur Taphouse. The pub’s atmosphere reflected Big Sur’s laid back nature and the beer and food selection upheld the area’s reputation for good, wholesome offerings. It’s always nice to have choices and Big Sur Taphouse is a top choice indeed.
Relax, grillin’, and chillin’. Three separate words that go great with beer. But put Relax! Grillin & Chillin all together with it and you create a friendly neighborhood bar with an amazing beer selection.
Relax! Grillin & Chillin is conveniently located on Highway 156 between San Juan Bautista and Hollister. You’ve probably even passed it without even considering to stop and check it out. Admittedly, from the outside it appears to be just another roadhouse that one would assume is selling crap beer (it is in the heart of biker country after all). Heck, we must have passed it dozens of times before hearing through the hopvine that they had a great craft beer selection. They’ve even had Pliny The Elder on tap, which is absolutely unheard of in the area!
Relax! Grillin & Chillin is so much more than a bar with good beer, though. It’s a gathering spot for the community. It’s child/family friendly, the staff and clientele are welcoming, they have multiple TVs for the sports lover, and the food is terrific. They even have weekly Brewery Nights and a mug club for the die-hard beer geeks. I’d say that there’s something for everyone at Grillin & Chillin.
On a recent visit, Chris and I enjoyed Drake’s Aroma Coma (draft) and Tap It’s Pale Ale (bottle) with our starter of chicken sliders (fried chicken on small rolls with pickle and BBQ sauce). They have another slider option of drunk burgers with Guinness sauce, as well as other appetizers they call “kickers.” The menu includes the usual pub grub of calamari, chicken strips, hot dogs, burgers and zucchini fries, but there is so much more, including the apricot turkey sandwich with Monterey jack cheese and an apricot spread and a ham and cheese pretzel sandwich.
On a previous visit, a regular insisted that I have the street tacos because the dill sauce on them was amazing. “It goes on everything,” he told me. So this time, I took his advice and had the grilled shrimp street tacos. He was right. The sauce was light and had just the right tang. In fact, owner Chuck Frowein told me that it was after making a batch of his special sauce that he realized he had what it took to open a restaurant. From that, Grillin & Chillin was born. How lucky we are!
We’re even luckier that Chuck has good taste in beer. The tap list on the night we were there included the aforementioned Aroma Coma, Deschutes Black Butte XXIII, and New Belgium’s Lips of Faith Kick, to name a few. And if you can’t decide on one draft beer, you can order a flight of 5 samples for $10. The bottle list was also impressive with Brew Dog’s Sink the Bismarck and Tactical Nuclear Penguin, The Bruery’s Autumn Maple and 4 Calling Birds, plus Firestone Walker’s XV and Batch 23 and Damnation from Russian River.
Years ago, when we moved back to the Monterey Peninsula from the Bay Area, we used to travel forty minutes to Hollister to visit San Andreas Brewing. It was an easy way to get our fill of good craft beer without going all the way to Oakland. Relax! Grillin & Chillin harkens back to those days by bringing craft beer back to San Benito County. Judging by the crowds there every night, the place has obviously filled a niche left vacant when San Andreas closed. With the Monterey Peninsula’s improving beer scene we don’t necessarily have to go as far as Hollister to get good beer anymore, but going to Grillin & Chillin isn’t just about the beer, it’s about embracing everything that’s good about a neighborhood watering hole, whether your from the neighborhood or not.
After a one year hiatus, Merideth and I returned to the Santa Cruz Mountains for our traditional Christmas tree hunt.
Johnson Farm in Boulder Creek was festive on the bright, chilly Sunday morning. Families roamed the little forest searching for the right tree while a crowd on the hill roared in delight as they rolled pumpkins down the hill.
In this jolly atmosphere, Merideth and I set out to find 2011’s edition of our perfect tree. Usually a lengthy process, we almost picked the very first tree that we came across. While not quite perfect, we passed on “Stubby” because picking the first tree didn’t seem quite right. But it was only a few minutes later that we found “Wildwood”, our tree.
Merideth and I broke tradition last year because Boulder Creek Brewing, our long-established post Christmas tree hunt stop, wasn’t brewing at the time. While that might seem trivial, in our minds this opened the doors for an alternative plan. At the time, we were on the quest to reach 600 breweries so we opted to head south where there were breweries to add to the List. While we struggled with the unfamiliar Christmas tree farm, we did get two new breweries that day.
In the subsequent year, Boulder Creek began brewing again. We heard good things about the new brewer and his brews.
Sitting down at the bar, it felt good to be back at Boulder Creek. I started with Dragon’s Breath IPA while Merideth began with Golden Kölsch. Dragon’s Breath was a really nice beer even though it wasn’t an over-the-top type of IPA I usually enjoy. Merideth’s Kölsch-style was wonderfully crisp and flavorful.
The bartender also poured us a sample of Quick Hollow Pumpkin Ale. Made with 175 pounds of local pumpkins, Quick Hollow was subtly spiced and had a really full mouth feel that accentuated the spices. It was even better as the Dreaded Pumpkin, a 50-50 mix with their 7.5% ABV Dreadnought Ale.
In years past, we would have eaten at Boulder Creek as well, but I had a hankering for some German food, so we drove a few miles back down the hill to Ben Lomond and the Tyrolean Inn. The first customers of the day, we enjoyed the warm and cozy dining room to ourselves.
Lunch was a little slice of German heaven in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Merideth had the uber-cheesy Käsespätzle with a Spaten Helles. I chose the Bratwurst, potatoes and sauerkraut with a Weihenstephaner Hefeweizen. We miss Germany!
All that was left was to return home to decorate the tree. With a roaring fire, our favorite Christmas shows playing in the background and Peter B’s Brewpub Hazelnut Brown in our glasses, Merideth and I decorated our perfect tree. Even the dogs got into the Christmas mood, with Porter donning his reindeer ears and Stout sporting a Santa hat. It was a great way to start the 2011 Christmas season.
It’s good to have friends in the right places. Thursday night I had the honor of tapping the second firkin at Peter B’s Brewpub (Thanks, Kevin!). Chris was beer-tending at Post No Bills, so I had Corrie Clark (wife of Peter B’s brewer Kevin) video my firkin tapping debut so Chris could see it.
The beer was the Organic Belly Up Blonde and I was a bit nervous. The mallet seemed heavy, the tap I had to hit small, the angle of the swing awkward. You name it, I worried about it. I was most concerned, however, that I wouldn’t hit it hard enough and I’d end up getting showered with beer. Brewer Kevin assured me that I’d be fine, but I didn’t really believe him. Sure enough, though, he was right. You can see the whole thing on video.
The beer was delicious! I can’t wait for the Hazelnut Brown firkin later this month!