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…
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
It has become a November tradition for us to travel down to the southern part of the Central Coast to explore what is new in their beer scene. This year, we took the opportunity of Merideth being off work on Veteran’s Day to make the journey to San Luis Obispo County to visit two new breweries.
On a rainy morning, we piled Porter and Stout into the car and headed south. Wanting to make the day a family outing, our first stop was a park in Pismo Beach to walk the dogs. Unfortunately, my research turned out to be faulty. What I thought was an off-leash park, turned out to be a leash-only park. My mistake was compounded by a light rain beginning to fall. After a short on-leash walk, Porter and Stout looked very disappointed as we bundled them back into the car.
It was a short ride from the park to downtown Pismo Beach. This was our first time in the city center of this well-visited tourist community. Pismo Beach Brewing is conveniently located on a side street a block from the main drag.
The cozy tasting room was sparsely populated. Merideth and I grabbed a seat at the granite-topped bar in front of the TV so I could watch the USA v France soccer match.
There were six beers to sample in their taster set. From several sources, we had heard Pismo was having brewing “issues” and this came out as a distinct “house”flavor in the beers. Both Merideth and I found this flavor to be a bit odd, especially in the lighter-bodied beers. For me, the IPA was the most drinkable, as the nice hop bite overtook the house flavor.
I certainly hope Pismo works out their brewing issues because I took a liking to the place. We’ll give them more time and make another visit in the future.
Tap It Brewing, located next to the San Luis Obispo airport, was the second stop on our outing. Walking into the small tasting room, we were greeted by the friendly bartender. Explaining that we wanted to watch the soccer match, she led us from the front room to a much larger orange-colored space that included the brewery and a bevy of orange-colored tables. Merideth and I found a seat in front of the big TV and set down to watch the second half of the USA v France match.
Tap It had two beers on, a Pale Ale and an IPA. They were very enjoyable with a similar citrus hop character. Of course, the IPA was my beer of choice.
The star of our Tap It visit was the very friendly brewery cat. As soon as we sat down, the cat jumped up on our table to check out our beers. Within a minute, the cat was purring on my lap. I felt bad for Porter and Stout, who were sitting out in the cold car.
At the end of the match, we finished our beers and bade farewell to our new kitty friend. It was time to begin the journey home. Our trip to San Luis Obispo County was short but it is always a fun experience seeing what our Central Coast brethren are up to.
View all the images from our Central Coast outing…