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…

The Bistro’s 15th Annual IPA Fest

Planning a relaxing Saturday, a friend who wanted a copy of Teaching from the Tap suggested we meet up at the Bistro’s IPA Festival. Getting another copy of Merideth’s book out into the world and a hophead’s dream day sounded like a win-win situation to me. Relaxation could wait until Sunday.

Hoppy, hoppy beer…

This was our first IPA Festival. But having been to their Double IPA festival on several occasions, we already had our routine set. Preferring the early bird schedule, we arrived at opening time, joining a handful of people on the enclosed street-side pen that housed the gathering. Our plan was for a few hours of fun, leaving mid afternoon when the crowd swelled.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what a team player Merideth was. Not being a huge IPA fan, she volunteered to be the designated driver for the day allowing me to indulge in all the hoppy goodness. I will sure return the favor when we go to a festival that I don’t care for the style.

A lot of work to do…

All the familiar hops (and some unfamiliar) were represented in the over three score beers pouring. Amarillo, cascade, chinook, citra, columbus, nugget, simcoe, and warrior were a few of the hop varieties that made this a very popular day on the Bay Area beer calendar. Not expecting to try them all, if my check marks were accurate, I did manage to drink fully about a third, or 20 of hoppy elixirs.

Despite the beers being all IPAs, there was a wide variety of flavors represented, from floral to piney to citrus.

A very happy hophead…

According to my notes, where checkmarks became stars for brews I liked, my favorites were:

  • Drake’s Aroma Coma IPA
  • Fat Heads Head Hunter IPA
  • Russian River Hopfather IPA
  • Sante Adairius 831 IPA
  • Sierra Nevada Floral IPA
  • Triple Rock Greenhorn

I must really like the ‘C’ hops with Cascade, Citra, Centennial, and Columbus making numerous appearances in the brews listed.

In the official judging, Fat Heads Head Hunter IPA took home its second Bistro gold medal. Silver and bronze went to Ballast Point’s Sculpin followed by Triple Rock’s Greenhorn. The People’s Choice award went to the beer I voted for, Drake’s Aroma Coma.

Another great day at the Bistro…

View all the images from our day at the Bistro…

Firkin Excellent!

The 10th Annual Firkin Fest was held this past weekend at Triple Rock Brewery in Berkeley. Benefiting the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation, the festival drew an enthusiastic crowd of cask beer fans. For Merideth and I, this was our first ever event at the Berkeley beer institution.

Cask beer ruled the day at Triple Rock

Joined by Kevin Clark, the brewer at our local Peter B’s Brewpub, his wife Corrie and our friend and contributor, Renee Brincks, we arrived at Triple Rock just after the festival opened. Admittedly, I was a bit worried that the cozy brewpub would be wall to wall people. It did get crowded at times, but was never unmanageable. In the end, it was an enjoyable afternoon of hanging out with Bay Area friends and drinking good beer.

There were 25 gravity firkins on hand, including Kevin’s 40 Acre Pale Ale. Over the course of a long afternoon, Merideth and I managed to try almost all of the brews.

A good day in Berkeley...

My star was the GABF Gold Medal winning Three Flowers IPA from Marin Brewing, which brewer Arne Johnson admitted was five flowers in this incarnation. Merideth singled out Erin Go Bragh, an Irish-style Stout from Oakland Brewing Company, as her favorite. At 3.9%, it also gave her an opportunity to support Lew Bryson’s Session Beer Day.

Other notable brews included…

  • Drake’s Gold, Drake’s Brewery
  • Hopsickle, Moylan’s Brewery
  • Magnum P.A., Iron Spring Brewery
  • 40 Acre Pale Ale, Peter B’s Brewpub
  • O.T.I.S., Firehouse Brewery
  • East Bay IPA, Ales Industries
  • NZ Hop Riot, High Water Brewing
  • Twist of Fate, Moonlight Brewing

View all the images from our day at Firkin Fest…

A Day of Celebration in the East Bay

Prior to our trip to Australia, Merideth and I made a run to the Bay Area to purchase beers to bring with us as gifts. As luck would have it, our beer errands turned into a celebration of East Bay beer.

Our day in the East Bay coincided with this year’s release of Drake’s Hopocalypse Double IPA. The release party at their San Leandro brewery was the first stop of the day.

Hopocalypse Day at Drake's Brewery

Arriving late morning, Drake’s Barrel House was already quite busy. Even the outside seating was full, despite a bit of chill in the air. Several long lines formed at the bar and business at the bottle sales table was brisk. The large and enthusiastic crowd affirmed my belief that Drake’s brews some of the best beer in the land.

Besides a regular draft version, Hopocalypse was also served from a cask stuffed full of Citra hops. As an added bonus, Drake’s debuted a Triple IPA version, Hopocalypse Black Label. Our chosen line moved fairly quickly and soon enough Merideth and I were proud owners of a glass of each special brew. (Merideth, being the rebel she is, also brought a Dunkel Wilson to the table.)

Hopocalypse Double IPA on cask

Expecting an explosion of hop flavors, the cask version was delightfully mellow for a brew at 9.3% ABV and 100+ IBUs. It was well-balanced with subtle, yet assertive hop notes on both the nose and taste.

Black Label Triple IPA, with an ABV bumped up to 12.5%, was similarly well-balanced. The hops were even more muted than it’s Double cousin with only a slight alcohol taste. Both beers were dangerously drinkable considering their respective alcohol contents.

As we were finishing our beers, we noticed that the crowd at Drake’s had thinned out considerably. Then we realized everyone had the same plan as ours.

The beer was flowing at Beer Revolution

All the people who beat us out of Drake’s were now at Beer Revolution to celebrate their second anniversary. Negotiating the crowd inside to get to the bar, I marveled that this was the most crowded I had ever seen Beer Revolution.

Worried that I only had one shot at getting beers, I ordered a smorgasbord of brews: Firehouse/Highwater collaboration St. Eve’s Belgesque Goldish Strong Revolutionary Ale, Almanac Winter Wit, Marin Saison de Revolution and Cantillion Kriek.

A bevy of celebratory beers...

We joined a large crowd on Beer Revolution’s outdoor deck, all enjoying the glorious February weather. Despite being at one of the best beers bars around, the day really wasn’t about the beer. Our afternoon was was spent chatting with good friends and celebrating Fraggle and Rebecca’s achievement. Congrats to them on another year of delivering fine beer to a thirsty community!

View all the images from our day in the East Bay…

Within Sight of 700

As the 700 brewery milestone began to appear on the horizon, Merideth and I starting thinking about where we’d like the magical moment to happen. With a trip to Australia in February already scheduled, it was a pretty easy decision. That simple decision had consequences, however. In order to make it possible for us to meet that goal Down Under, we needed to be in the 675 range by the time we left. Hence, the six-hour journey on Thanksgiving weekend to add just two breweries to The List.

Blue Frog Grog & Grill in Fairfield

Merideth and I unsuccessfully visited our first destination, Blue Frog Grog & Grill in Fairfield, years ago. Returning from a trip visiting friends in Northern California, we unfortunately arrived well before the pub opened. We decided to wait but thinking about the long drive home, my impatience got the best of me. We ended up continuing on our way before opening time.

On this drive up, I began to worry that impatience could get the better of me again. Being Thanksgiving weekend, I had visions of Blue Frog’s mall location being a hub of gridlock for miles around. But failure a second time just wasn’t an option. Thankfully, the beer gods looked on us favorably this day and the mall seemed deserted when we arrived late morning.

The taster set at Blue Frog

Taking our customary seat at the bar, we ordered the taster set. Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed to learn that their IPA and well-known DIPA were not available. Being a complete professional, however, I sucked it up and moved on to the five beers offered to us.

Merideth enjoying the Blue Frog Red Ale

Ranging from a light-colored Hefeweizen and Blond Ale to the seasonal Oktoberfest and Irish-style Stout, it was a familiar brewpub lineup. The two standouts were the Blond and Red Ales. The unexpected assertiveness of both these brews, while not satisfying my IPA craving, was a pleasant surprise. Both were hopped well beyond what we expected from the usually mild styles.

My lunch was delicious. The thick cut ham on my sandwich had the comforting feel of eating Thanksgiving leftovers. Merideth also enjoyed her pulled pork sandwich.

We’d like to thank Brewmaster Nick Campbell for the gift bottles of the DIPA and 10th Anniversary beer. We look forward to trying them soon.

A short 20-minute drive away on the outskirts of Napa was our second and final stop of the day. Located in a business park, Napa Smith Brewery’s brand new tasting room shares a building with Bourassa Winery. We bucked the trend of most entering and chose beer over wine.

The taster set at Napa Smith

I thought I was very familiar with the Napa Smith lineup as their bottled beers are quite prevalent in Northern California. Much to my surprise, however, there were eight beers to try in the sample tray. Besides their standards, including the GABF silver medal winning IPA, the samples included a Wheat, Amber Lager, Red Ale and Imperial Porter.

The belle of the ball, Hopageddon

The star of the show was the unique Hopageddon. The Imperial IPA, weighed in at 9.2% ABV and 144 IBUs. It’s distinct flavor came from a combination of being wet hopped and aged in Chardonnay and Cabernet barrels. Its hop character was conversely pungent and subtle. There was a hint of Chardonnay and a slight tannic quality. Certainly one of the most interesting brews I have tried in a long time.

Finished at Napa Smith, it was time for the three-hour drive home. We only spent a little over an hour total at both breweries, but adding two breweries brought us closer to our 675 target. Stay tuned as we begin the countdown to 700…

View all the images from our day…