Category Archives: California

Kicking Off Festival Season in Paso

Due to a beer schedule conflict, we missed the inaugural Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival last year. Hearing many good reports from the first edition, Merideth and I didn’t want to miss the second installment. Mainly because we would never hear the end of it from Fran.

Glass waiting to be grabbed.

On a very warm early Saturday afternoon, Merideth and I, plus our friend Carlo, climbed out of our comfortable, air-condtioned vehicle at the Paso Robles Event Center. As we walked the length of the long line to find our spot at the back, we stopped and chatted with a few friends along the way. Despite the heat, the crowd was animated and chipper, patiently waiting for the opening bell.

These days, Merideth and I appreciate more and more a well-run, well-organized festival. For us, a hallmark of such a festival is how quickly the eager beer drinkers get to drink beer. About a half-hour before opening, the gates were opened, tickets were checked, programs and glasses were handed out. Once through we were held in a pen waiting for the top of the hour.

Like many people, we perused the program while waiting to be freed. With the heat, Merideth and I knew we were going to drink as much session beer as possible. Flipping the pages, we identified all the sub 5% ABV beers we might want to try.

The line for Dark Lord

A few minutes early, the festival opened. Like Christmas shopping mothers after cabbage patch dolls at Walmart, the crowd surged towards the Three Floyd’s booth at the back of the festival grounds. OK. I exaggerate a bit. It was more of a calm rush with an orderly queue forming. By the time we walked in, it stretched across the festival grounds.

I have to admit, I don’t get the Dark Lord mania (Yes, I have tried it). With so many great beers to drink, waiting in a long line in 100° heat for close to a fifth of the festival for one beer doesn’t make sense to me. There was one positive aspect of the Dark Lord craze for the rest of the festival goers. It kept a large number of people out of circulation. Once it blew, queues appeared for food and breweries that didn’t exist previously.

A lot good beer at
the Firestone Walker Invitational…

While in the pen, we also identified our first beer, Nebraska Brewing’s Apricot au Poivre Saison. Conveniently one of first booths, we quickly each had a pour of what would be my beer of the day. I love beers brewed with black pepper and spiciness of the Saison played very well with the pepper bite.

We spent the next couple of hours doing laps in the expansive festival grounds, coveting shade, misters and the big vineyard fans. Eating and drinking along the way, we would occasionally halt our wanderings to talk with friends. Recommendations for food and beer were usually exchanged and the typical response was “Is there a line?”

Here are some of my favorites beers at the festival:

  • Apricot au Poivre Saison / Nebraska Brewing
  • Zwickelbier / Trumer Brauerei
  • Paradise Road Pilsner /Figueroa Mountain Brewing
  • Saison / Funkwerks
  • Cabrillo Kölsch / Golden Road Brewing
  • Small Talk / Triple Rock Brewery
mmmm….. cupcakes….

The food maybe was the highlight of the day. Included in the price, the fare wasn’t your normal festival deep-fried and sugar-laden food. Local restaurants and caterers provided a cornucopia of wonderful small plates to enjoy while sampling the beers. Highlights included avocado ice cream, pull-porked sandwich, beer-infused gelato, Moroccan chicken lettuce wraps, and a yummy Paella. But the stars were the beer cupcakes, four flavors to choose from. Merideth and I tried all four, several times each I think.

A little past the half way point of the festival, we decided to call it a day. We were enjoying the beers, the food and seeing friends, but the heat was getting to us a bit. Admittedly, I was also tired of rubbing elbows with so many sweaty people. We traded the bustle of festival for the cool and quiet Barrelhouse Brewery tasting room.

We heard a lot of hype about the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival and kudos to Firestone Walker for living up to it.

View all the images from our day in Paso Robles…

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…

Bring on the Hops!

San Francisco Beer Week is upon us again. Gone are the gonzo days when we participated almost every day, making a multitude of trips to the Bay Area from our home on the Monterey Peninsula. Now, Merideth and I pick a few events to attend. And the event I will always choose is the Bistro’s Double IPA Festival.

A busy day at the Bstro

Merideth and I have always had a brilliant plan for the Double IPA Fest: show up right at the start when everyone else is still hung over from the opening night. We have the run of the festival for a few hours until mid-afternoon. However, as testament to the draw of SF Beer Week, we arrived at the Bistro a little bit before 11am to find the line already out the front door.

Adjusting to the fact that our plan no longer seemed valid, we joined the line. It moved fairly quickly and in no time I had in my taster glass my traditional DIPA Fest first beer, Pliny the Younger.

The cool morning transformed into a warm, sunny afternoon under brilliant blue skies. Hayward’s blocked off Main Street was soon packed with beer geeks, all enjoying the uber-hoppy brews.

Traditional first beer of the day: Pliny the Younger…

Eighty-two hop monsters were available to sample, including 23 Triple IPAs. I managed to drink 15 of them. My highlight brews were:

  • Pliny the Younger, Russian River Brewing
  • Double Tap IPA, Berryessa Brewing
  • Hop JuJu, Fat Heads
  • Citra DIPA, Kern River
  • The Roustabout, Societe Brewing

As for awards, Societe’s The Roustabout took gold for Double IPA, followed by Firestone Walker Double Jack and Pliny the Elder. Triple IPA was won by Pliny the Younger with Boneyard’s Notorious and Knee Deep’s Simtra coming in place and show. Kern River’s very popular Citra DIPA was the people’s choice winner.

Congratulations to our friends at Hollister Hills Taproom and Brewery for making their Bistro debut!

It was a great day of hoppy brews, sun and friends. Can’t wait for 2014.

View all the images from the Bistro…

Happy Birthday to Me

Waking up in San Diego on my birthday was pretty awesome. Having all day to further explore the beer scene before our evening flight home was extra icing on the cake.

Sunday morning walk at South Carlsbad State Beach

With a few hours to kill before our first brewery stop, we decided a walk on the beach would be a nice way to start my birthday. South Carlsbad State Beach, only a few miles from our hotel, was a hub of activity when we arrived mid-morning. Joggers crowded the trail on the bluff above the beach and surfers filled the water waiting to ride that next wave. With the temperatures already approaching 80° F, we enjoyed a romantic birthday stroll up and down the beach.

View all the beach walk images…

Societe Brewing

With its reputation, I expected Societe Brewing to be busy when we arrived just after opening time. But the spacious, modern tasting room was surprisingly empty. Then, we remembered the NFC Championship game began at noon. Except for a quartet that arrived while we were sampling, we had the TV-free Societe pretty much all to ourselves.

The barrel room at Societe

There was so much detail in the large, open tasting room. The impressive wood, stainless and tiled bar was what we noticed first. Picnic-style tables filled the space and barrel-inspired art adorned the walls. The glass-encased barrel room with impressive stacks overlooked it all.

Before getting down to trying their beers, we settled the most pressing issue. Was the name pronounced “society” or the Cartman-esque “socie-TAY”? Somewhat to our disappointment, our bartender told us it was was the former, not the later.

Merideth enjoying The Harlot at Societe

Having Russian River Brewing in its pedigree, my expectations were higher than at any other stop that weekend. And Societe did not disappoint from the first beer, 10/19 O’Brien’s Anniversary. A  light-bodied. 5.6% ABV, all Chinook brew, Merideth and I, in a rare occurrence, agreed it was the beer of the trip. The next three samples, the Apprentice, the Pupil and the Harlot, two IPAs and a Belgian-style Extra Pale Ale, were also excellent. The two IPAs were boldly hopped with the malt playing second fiddle very well. By the time we reached the two heavy hitters, The Widow, a 9.2% ABV Belgian Dark and The Butcher, a 9.8% ABV Imperial Stout, we were in love. But with a plane to eventually catch, we needed to move along.

Flight at Rough Draft Brewing

Our next stop,  Rough Draft Brewing, was also sparsely populated despite a couple of TVs showing the 49ers-Falcons game. The narrow industrial space was dominated by the bar on one side and the brewery on the other. The couch area looked particularly comfy but Merideth was quite enamored by the succulent rock gardens at each of the large tables. We set up camp at one of those.

Enjoying the Session IPA at Rough Draft Brewing

From almost a dozen beers on tap, we chose a five flight sampler ranging from a Belgian-style Blond to a Belgian-style Vanilla Stout. Since it was my birthday, I chose three IPAs to go between those bookends. Merideth identified the light-bodied Blond, with spicy yeast notes, as her favorite. Frontal Labottleme IPA and Hop Therapy Double IPA, at 90 and 94 IBUs respectively, had the hop presence that I expected from a San Diego brew. But my star was the aptly named Session IPA. At 4.9% ABV and 43 IBUs, the Citra and Simcoe hops gave the brew a wonderful nose and flavor. Since it was my birthday, I treated myself to a pint.

Last brewery of the trip… Hillcrest

On a trip that at times felt like a grand tour of San Diego County industrial parks, it was nice to finish up our trip in San Diego proper. Located in the hip neighborhood of the same name, Hillcrest Brewing was a fabulous way to bring my birthday trip to a conclusion.

The “world’s first out and proud LGBT brewery,” the bright and open brewpub occupied a prime corner location along University Avenue. Sitting in its sunny and warm patio, we watched the people come and go, up and down the bustling thoroughfare.

Flight at Hillcrest Brewing

With suggestive names like Banana Hammock and Crotch Rocket, it was fun to go through the menu and have a good laugh. But there was more to the beers than sexually suggestive names. Though I have to say, Banana Hammock should have been a Hefeweizen not a Scotch Ale. From the flight, Merideth chose the perfect beer for the day, U-Hawl Hefeweizen. I continued my hop centric mood, enjoying Hoppy Endings, a 7.2% ABV IPA hopped with Summit and Columbus.

Enjoying pizza and beer in their beer garden on a warm January afternoon, Hillcrest was one of the highlight stops of the two day trip.

What a great weekend in San Diego. Happy Birthday to me!

View all the images from our second day in San Diego…