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East Bay Urban Beer Hike

When we were up in Seattle in July, our friends Chris and Dave told of us of their November plans to visit the Bay Area. These plans included an East Bay Urban Beer Hike. As proud former East Bay-ers, the opportunity to spend a beer day in our old stomping grounds was a chance we couldn’t turn down.

Berkeley's beer landmark...

The planned hike consisted of six stops and covered seven miles, from downtown Berkeley to downtown Oakland. The stops included one brewery and five beer bars, with two of the stops being new to us.

On a chilly, yet sunny Sunday morning, we got a jump on the hike by walking the little over a mile from our Oakland waterfront hotel to the Lake Merritt BART station. Our destination was downtown Berkeley and one of the landmarks of the East Bay beer scene: Triple Rock Brewery.

Single Hop Experience Pacific

Our group gathered at “America’s Oldest Original Brewpub” and prepared for the day’s hike by getting some food in our bellies.

There was collective disappointment that IPAX Ale, Triple Rock’s West Coast IPA, wasn’t on that day. But this disappointment was quickly tempered by the Single Hop Experience Pacific Gem. A 5.2% ABV Pale Ale, S.H.E. was a citrusy, easy-drinking beer to start the Urban Beer Hike.

Crossing the Berkeley campus

The longest leg of the day’s hike, approximately two and a half miles, took us from downtown Berkeley to the Rockridge neighbor just across the border in Oakland. Being familiar with this ground, Merideth and I took the group on the scenic route across the Berkeley campus. We regaled our fellow urban beer hikers with stories about our wonderful university and our own college years. From the Berkeley campus, we hiked straight down College Ave, reaching Barclay’s Pub in approximately an hour.

Enjoying a Moonlight Bony Fingers at Barclay's

Barclay’s was packed with regulars watching the hometown Raiders play the hated Broncos. As always, it was great chatting with old friends.

After ordering a round of beers, our group crowded around the side bar. One of the joys of Barclay’s is that they consistently have Moonlight’s brews on tap. My first beer was the wonderful dark lager, Death and Taxes followed up with the equally wonderful Bony Fingers Black Lager. Our Seattle pair got to enjoy the CME IPA from Oakland’s newest brewery, Oakland Brewing Company.

Auto racing, not bowling

It was a short walk from Barclay’s down to Telegraph Avenue and our next stop, Lanesplitter Pizza and Pub. I assume most people make the same mistake our group did and think the name refers to bowling. Walking into Lanesplitter and seeing the Racing 5 decoration, we quickly realized that our association was mistaken. The theme was auto racing, not bowling.

An unexpected surprise!

Slices of pizza were ordered, as well as a pitcher of Sierra Nevada Celebration. Confusion ensued as the beer delivered was a golden/amber color as opposed to the deep amber color of Sierra’s holiday staple.Tasting the beer, it clearly wasn’t Celebration. Dave took the reigns and went to talk our waitress. After a minute or so, he came back with the keg cap. Much to Merideth’s and my surprise, the beer was our Sierra Nevada California Common!

Six months on, our Beer Camp beer was still drinkable but it did lack the brightness it had when it was fresh. Even so, it was special to have what was most likely some of the last draft pints (we still have some bottles).

The Trappist in downtown Oakland

Once on Telegraph Avenue, it was a straight shot to downtown Oakland. The perfect stop half way on this jaunt was Commonwealth Cafe and Public House. Unfortunately, we arrived an hour after their mid-afternoon Sunday closing time. Disappointed, we proceeded on for the 20 blocks left to our next destination.

Just around dusk, we reached the main artery of downtown Oakland: Broadway. It was only a few more blocks before our group was walking through the front door of The Trappist.

Oakland's own Urban People's Common Lager

Although The Trappist is a Belgian-themed establishment, it was a hometown brew that we came to drink. Our group ordered a round of Linden Street Brewery’s flagship beer Urban People’s Common Lager, a delicious California Common. Unfortunately, the beer didn’t pair so well with the 4505 Meats’ chicharrones.

I followed up my Linden Street brew with another lager from Moonlight, the light-bodied Lunatic Lager.

Beer Rev has a few hoppy beers on...

From The Trappist, it was only a short five block walk down Broadway to our final stop of the Urban Beer Hike: Beer Revolution. I have to admit, for Merideth and I it was our third stop at Beer Rev during our two day trip to the Bay Area.

The previous day was “Hopslosion” at Beer Revolution, where over 40 hoppy brews were on tap. Sunday, the hoppy choices were down to a paltry 30-something beers.

The happy hikers at the finish line

At the finish line, our group drank probably the consensus beer of the day, Drake’s Alpha Sessions. Light-bodied and hopped like their Double IPAs with Citra, Simcoe and German Magnum, Alpha Sessions is a delicious 3.8% ABV session beer. The perfect beer to end a long day of hiking and drinking.

Missing one stop was a disappointment, but our Urban Beer Hike reminded us what a worthy beer destination the East Bay is. Next time, a Berkeley or Oakland only hike is a definite possibility.

View all the images from our East Bay Urban Beer Hike

Map of the six locations

View Easy Bay Urban Beer Hike in a larger map

The Expanded City Beer Store

It’s been a busy six months for new parents Craig and Beth Wathen, proprietors of San Francisco’s beloved City Beer Store. Their latest milestone was the store expansion, taking over the space next door. Prior to the Cal football game yesterday, Merideth and I had the pleasure of taking a quick visit to the new and improved City Beer.

The Pliny Fridge

The new City Beer Store isn’t quite complete, but it’s already a stunning place to drink beer. Fortunately, the expansion has maintained the intimacy of the original, especially with the throng of beer geeks who were there for the soft re-opening. The expanded draft offerings (15 taps!) and beautiful wooden bar are located in the new space. Bottles, refrigerated and shelved, occupy what was the old City Beer, with the focal point definitely being the “Pliny Fridge.” Just as the name implies, it is a fridge full of Pliny!

Congrats once again to Craig and Beth! Merideth and I look forward to being able to spend more than 20 minutes on our next visit to the new City Beer Store.

Following Aussies Around the North Bay

Since it’s our primary mission to add breweries to “The List,” we often overlook old favorites in our efforts to add new ones. So, it’s always nice to beer tour with other people and let them set the agenda. A visit to the North Bay with our Australian friend Todd from beermen.TV and a couple of his friends was a great opportunity to re-experience this beer mecca from a fresh perspective.

Merideth tasting the beers at Elevation 66

Before we hooked up with the Aussies, we couldn’t resist making one quick stop to add a new brewery. Elevation 66 in El Cerrito opened a scant three weeks ago. I’m not sure there is a new brewpub smell, but the long and narrow, bright and shiny space had the distinct feel of being new. The first customers of day, Merideth and I bellied up to the bar for a quick taster set.

Elevation 66 only had three brews of the planned six available. The almost 7% ABV British IPA was a bit strange, our issue mainly being the alcohol content in a “British” version of an IPA. The standout of the three was Golden Age Ale, a 5.5% ABV Golden Ale that was very refreshing on a soon to be hot day. However, the beer with the most promise might be Esther Vanilla Stout. A true session beer at 3.5% ABV, once they get the recipe dialed in, this Stout could be a real winner.

Given the newness of the brewery, I think it’s best to reserve any sort of judgment. But there was enough there to warrant a return visit in several months. Our visit to Elevation 66 was not the shortest ever, but 20 minutes after sitting down, we were back out the door headed to the other side of the Bay.

Mt. Tam Pale Ale at Marin Brewing Co.

Back in the day, when Merideth and I lived in Oakland, I worked in Point Richmond. A few minutes drive across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge was Marin Brewing Company, a place my co-workers and I visited on a regular basis. Those post-work beers sitting on Marin Brewing’s patio were some of my fondest memories of that job.

Until a few days ago, it had been almost 20 years since we visited Marin Brewing. Meeting the Aussie trio a bit past noon, Merideth and I relived those happy afternoons from the last century. While drinking the wonderful Mt. Tam Pale Ale, our group bathed in the sunny Marin weather on the patio. Just like in the old days, our crew joked about the people working out in the gym across the way. There’s nothing like eating fried food and drinking beer while watching someone sweat it out on the stairmaster.

Merideth enjoying Moylan's Kölsch-style beer

Despite its convenient location just off Hwy 101, our one and only visit to Moylan’s Brewery was in 1995. I guess our only defense for not making another visit since is that whenever we pass through Novato, we are always on our way to some place else.

Wednesday I realized what we have been missing. While Merideth drank their very nice Sommer Kolsch Bier, the boys indulged in one of Moylan’s better known and favorite beers, the Hopsickle Triple IPA. It had been several years since I drank the 9.2% ABV well-balanced hop bomb. I think the next time we’re in the North Bay, we just might have to make sure we stop.

I’ll admit that I’m not always the brightest bulb in the firmament. When Todd was planning which breweries to visit this day, I tried to convince him to bypass Lagunitas in favor of Bear Republic, a brewery I like better overall. Luckily Todd didn’t take my advice. Lagunitas was the stop of the day.

The Lagunitas beer garden

Our only prior visit to Lagunitas was in 2008. Back then, the tasting room was in a funky loft above the brewery. I knew they had built a new tasting room but wasn’t prepared for the amazing new setting for enjoying their beer. Despite its industrial park location, the beautiful beer garden was quite idyllic in the California afternoon sun. Throngs of happy beer drinkers were enjoying the Lagunitas brews on what turned out to be a hot day. We opted for a table inside the bright, airy tasting room.

Wet Hop Maximus, the beer of the day

A number of beers were sampled: Czech-Style Pils, Oktoberfest, Hop Stoopid and Fusion VII to name a few. But my favorite beer of the whole day was the wet hop version of Maximus. Wet hop beers the last few years have disappointed me. For the most part, they have been missing that resinous quality that made the beers so special. Wet Hop Maximus harked back to the brews that I fell in love with. I could feel the oily hop resins covering my tongue.

An enjoyable evening at Russian River

The encore stop for our day was, of course, Russian River Brewing Company. As usual, the brewpub was packed and hopping when we arrived mid-evening. We quickly acquired a table and let the fun begin.

After a point, the evening became a blur with beers continuously being ordered and consumed. Pliny the Elder, Defenestration, Supplication, Temptation, Little White Lie were among the great Russian River brews we drank that evening.

With the Aussies catching a morning flight to Denver, the night was ended on the relatively early side. With a full day of drinking fantastic beer, it was probably best that way. An always fun day in the North Bay was made more special hanging out with a few Aussies. Thanks for that, mates!

View all the images from our day…

Our Day at SF Beer Week

Last year, we attended events on all but two days of SF Beer Week. For a variety of reasons, Merideth and I didn’t have it in us to repeat 2010’s hectic schedule in 2011. We planned on only doing one weekend this year, the first. One weekend morphed into one day as we couldn’t find a pup sitter for Porter and Stout.

The main event of the day would be the Bistro’s 11th Annual Double IPA Festival, followed by some beer tramping around the City. The weather forecast, sunny and temperatures in the high 60s, was a cause for some concern. We are some of those crazy beer geeks who like to enjoy themselves at beer festivals. Really nice weather could translate into very crowded conditions at DIPA with long beer lines.

We had one ace up our sleeve, however. Having spent a quiet Friday night at home watching a movie, we would be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Saturday morning. Our plan was to get to the Bistro early while most other beer geeks were still sleeping off their SF Beer Week opening night celebrations.

The line moved quickly

Leaving our car in Fremont, we rode BART to Hayward. We met our friend Renee at the BART station a few minutes past 11am and made the short walk to the Bistro under brilliantly blue skies. Walking past the penned in side street that houses the festival, I saw a short admission line and a few people milling about with beers. Our threesome passed through the pub, exited the side entrance and joined the quick moving line.

First beer at the 2011 DIPA Festival; Russian River's Pliny the Younger

Fifty dollars lighter in my pocket, I was now armed with my taster glass and 10 paper tokens. I already knew what my first beer was going to be but consulted my beer list to find out what number it was. Seeing that it was #48, Renee and I bee-lined to the far tent to get Russian River’s Pliny the Younger. I knew I would have more opportunities during the day to drink this hop-tacular, once-a-year brew, but figured it would be more enjoyable while I was still fresh.

Just like last year, there was much anticipation for that very first sip. Would the Younger still be the elyxir of the Hop gods? The short answer was yes. I should also add “WOW” to my review.

Merideth and Renee

While, Renee and I got our Plinys, Merideth went into the pub to get herself a beer. Not the hophead, Merideth pretended to be at a Wheat beer festival. Drake’s Hefeweizen was Merideth’s beer of choice (To her credit, Merideth did try most, if not all, of the beers that I drank). Merideth’s pint-sized  beers seemed to be the envy of many a person. Was it the person’s natural inclination to be jealous of someone with something larger or were they really wanting to be drinking pints of 10% ABV beers?

After the Younger, I focused on DIPAs that I had never tried before. Hopbombs from High Water Brewing, Kern River, Knee Deep, Sutter Buttes were not only the first DIPAs from these breweries but the first ever beers I tried from them. Drake’s Hop Salad and Bear Republic Cafe Racer 15 were also firsts for me.

58 Double IPAs to choose from...

On my beer list, I rated the beers with a complex scoring system that I devised. If  liked a beer, I drew a smiley face. If I didn’t care for the beer, I drew a frown. Brews not in either of those categories got a straight line drawn next to their listing. I ended trying 15 of the 58 DIPAs available. My favorite brew not named Pliny the Younger was Drake’s Hop Salad. Other beers receiving smiley faces were Triple Rock’s IIMAXX Imperial IPA and Bear Republic’s Cafe Racer 15.

In the official judging, Firestone Walker Double Jack came out on top followed by Moylan’s Hopsickle and  Drake’s Hopocalypse. I didn’t have any of those three on the day. The “People’s Choice” award went to Kern River Citra DIPA, a beer that got a frown on my list. It was one of my last beers so maybe my palate was worn out by that point.

A glorious February day for a beer festival

The weather was glorious! Eventually joined by our friends Philippe and Chris (Devlin to you Seattle folks), our now group of five spent the early afternoon chatting with friends, enjoying the sun and drinking some great beer. It did get crowded early in the afternoon but I never felt I was in the mosh pit of a punk show. And more importantly, the beer lines moved very quickly.

Our group  ran out of tickets around the time I was hoping to head over to the City. So we finished up our last beers, Green Flash Palate Wrecker in my case, and headed back to the BART station.

The almost 40 minute BART ride to San Francisco was a nice break from not only the beer but the bright sun which left a few of us with a pinkish hue. Getting off at Civic Center, we followed a very familiar path down 9th to Folsom Street and City Beer Store. Looking forward to sitting and relaxing with a beer, I was pleased to see that City Beer wasn’t crazy busy. They were doing brisk business but there was no Beer Week event. So it was still manageable. We grabbed one of the high tables.

Merideth drinking a Saison De Lente from the Bruery.

Despite still being a bit hopped up after trying 15 DIPAs, I remained on the hop-side and ordered a Gold Digger IPA from Auburn Alehouse. Merideth had a Saison De Lente from the Bruery.

It had been several months since our last visit to City Beer. Between helping customers, Craig and Beth took some time to chat with us. It was nice to catch up with them. Hopefully, they will survive Beer Week, then the Craft Brewers Conference and make it to their 5th anniversary celebrations.

Still not having enough hops, I pulled out of the cold case a bottle of Firehouse Hops on Rye, a rye IPA. Getting four glasses from Beth, I shared with the table one my favorite recent releases.

A not so crowded Toronado

In the fading late afternoon sun, we departed City Beer for our next destination, the Lower Haight and Toronado. With the presence of Pliny the Younger on Toronado’s beer list, I fully expected the tiny bar to be packed and the staff extra surly. Toronado was busy, but we have seen it much worse. We quickly purchased beers without incident (It probably helped that we didn’t try to buy a t-shirt for a friend). Still not satisfied with my hop intake, I ordered my favorite IPA on cask, Moonlight Bombay by Boat. Merideth ordered Firestone Walker’s Velvet Merlin. We even managed to procure a table in the small back room.

The cask selection at Toronado

My last beer at Toronado (and as it would turn out, the day) I finally ordered a brew that wasn’t a hopbomb. Firestone Walker’s Sticky Monkey, a 12% ABV English Barley Wine, came in a little six ounce pour. Taking a small sip, vanilla notes and barrel flavors dominated this beer. I correctly guessed that Sticky Monkey had to be part of Firestone Walker 14. It’s 29% of the beer. Finding it a bit harsh, I shared the small pour with the rest of the group.

Getting visions of pork belly and Strong Beers in my head, our quintet walked up Haight Street towards Magnolia Pub and Brewery for Strong Beer Month. SF Beer Week is not always glamor and fun. Sometimes there is disappointment. The past three years whether it was SF Beer Week or Beerapalooza, Merideth and I made this walk for Magnolia’s strong beers. I was especially excited this year because I heard there was a Strong Beer flight… and cheese!  I must have looked very disappointed as I walked in and was confronted by hordes of fellow Beer Weekers. The ten person queue at the bar to get a beer discouraged us from trying to wait this one out. We had done our hard work for day at DIPA and Torondao. We turned around and left.

Celebrating the end of our SF Beer Week day with ice cream.

Our beer opportunities for the day might have ended, but we still had one more stop before Merideth and I hopped back on BART to Fremont. Humphry Slocombe, located at 24th and Harrison, was the big hit of the 2010 SF Beer Week with their beer ice cream. They returned in 2011 with more beer flavors and still the best Beer Week deal, four scoops for $5.

Merideth with the beer ice cream stare...

The four flavors during our visit were Giant Smors (Social Kitchen and Brewery), Cappuccino Stout (Lagunitas), Payback Cocoa Porter (Speakeasy) and Sour Stave (Thirsty Bear). Having got a taste for sour beer ice creams when I had the Kriek sorbet in Brussels, I found the Sour Stave the most interesting. But I truly love coffee ice cream so the Cappuccino Stout had to be my favorite. Merideth weighed in with the Giant Smors as her favorite.

Stuffed with ice cream, our day at SF Beer Week was over. We parted ways with Renee, Chris and Philippe to let them carry on with the Beer Week madness. Merideth and I walked the six blocks up to the 24th Street BART station. SF Beer Week was short for us this year, but we still enjoyed taking part in celebrating America’s Original Craft Beer City. Happy SFBW everyone!

View all the images from our day at SF Beer Week