Critics' Corner

"GO West young beer drinker"!
San Francisco and Pints North BP Blitz.

By Nick the Baltimore Beer Trekker


1ST Campaign--- "GO West young beer drinker"!: San Francisco and Pints North BP Blitz.

My name is Nick and like you I am slightly obsessed with great beer and all that goes with it. Ever since I went to Portland Oregon for the second time (this time over 21) and drank a case of Henry Weinhard’s Reserve, with my brother and pop (before the east coast ever heard of it), I knew that my days of Molsen Golden and Red Bull were numbered. A trip to McMenimans’ didn’t hurt either. To many on the Eastside, this whole brewpub, microbrewed beer thing seems like an overnight libation, but the West has been quietly brewing some of the best beers in the world for over 10 years. We have all read about the San Francisco Brewing Company BP since 1985 or you may have heard of a regional brewery now reaching the east by the name of Steelhead. Well I have been reading about how "GREAT" the beers were past the Rockies and decided it was time to taste them for myself. I do not rely on professional critics or (dare I say it) Mike Jackson, although I respect their palates. Call me crazy but I think that tasting a beer and forming my own opinion is better, after reading about someone else who has the time and budget to taste it for me. I think that’s the point of beer critics everywhere---Go Taste It For Yourself! I consider myself a beer enthusiast -not quite at "Geek" level. Now I will give you my regular guy opinion ( I have made about 3 homebrew batches that were "OK" and I have read too much brewnews). That is why I am not going to get into the grainy details of what each beer’s ingredients are or the OG or the "nose" etc. etc. unless a beer just stands out over all the rest. I just want to give you some good suggestions should you have the opportunity to visit the San Francisco area. Many times I only drank the standard 6-8 once samplers as I had to stay sober. That’s the trouble of beer trekking alone, and a taxi would have cost more than the rental!! Here it goes:

DAY 1 (* = one star on a four star scale)
I arrived in San Francisco (SF) on a Saturday afternoon with my Web search results in hand, checked into a downtown youth hostel, jumped into my rental car and was off to my first stop by 2pm. (I cant lie, I was officially on business but that was only from 8-5, M-F)

TWENTY TANK BP--SF: 7yrs young, great atmosphere in the warehouse/club district. Motto- "OH Boy! This Is Good Beer" My very first pint in SF (of.?..I stopped counting after 50!)-- Oktoberfest ** , Nitro IPA **** hoppy!, Bowser’s Brown -5 malts & chocolate flavor ***, Mello-glow Pale Ale*, Kinnikinick Standard Ale *** some believe the word means marijuana, and Red Top *** "Its so darn good, your taste buds will be dancin’!!" Also-free taste of the just made Spicy Gumbo--Wow, but I need another Red Top to wash it down.

THIRSTY BEAR BREWERY AND RESTAURANT SF near Moscone Center since 1996 home of, I believe, the only BP with a tapas menu in the US. Very new and trendy. 5:40pm& only $3.50 for six tasters. Polar Ale*, Golden Vanilla Ale***, Valencia Wheat-Belgian style**, Brown Bear Ale**, Meyer ESB**, Kozlov Stout***,& pint of the Brown just to be sure-- a little growing up for this cub is in order but good overall.

Last stop for the night.

BEACH CHALET BP SF at the ocean end of Golden Gate Park, actually shares an old public beach house (early 1900s) with the Park Service display area (1st fl). Very unique 2nd floor BP/restaurant that has fab views of the Pacific right across the road! Endless Summer Cream Ale *, Churchyard Ale**, Essex ESB*, ESB-hand pump*, Oktoberfest*, Pacific Porter* Look for Chris (asst. brewer from Pennsylvania) to be making waves at a future GABF but not quite there yet.

Sunday-no day of rest for this beer man.

SAN FRANCISCO BREWING CO. SF Chinatown since 1985. The first BP in SF since Prohibition and one of the first in US-- pretty famous to say the least. Many GABF medals. The location has been a bar since the early 1900s and Jack Dempsey used to be a doorman before he became the well known boxer. Decor was very nostalgic with palm ceiling fans, plenty of cherry wood, brass, mirrors and a small porcelain tiled trough at the base of the bar for a spittoon and possibly other body fluids. A throw back to times when women were not "allowed" to belly up with the boys. Albatross Lager**, Emperor Norton Lager**, Andromeda Wheat***, Shanghai IPA****, Alcatraz Stout**** Wow, this BP has set the standard for the rest of my mission.

STEELHEAD BP (of Eugene, Oregon since 1990) SF Fisherman’s Wharf, started this year. Extremely trendy decor and clientele, but great location in the heart of the fish market area. Very diverse menu to cater to the throngs of tourists that pass threw. I was a little worried because of the new smell that the beer would be immature, but what a surprise to learn that only experienced brewers allowed behind the glass. Cream Ale***, Hefeweizen**, Steelhead Amber (1991 GABF Gold-Scottish Ale Cat.). Bombay Bomber IPA****, White Dog Pale Ale****, Pier Post Stout****, Razzmatazz**, 2 hand pumps, 12 single malts. Great beers, great views- make time when your down at the Wharf!! Other locations in Irvine and Burlingame.

GORDON BIERSCH SF right under the Bay Bridge- great view of the Bay, but I have been to the GB in Las Vegas (another Beer Trekker story to come) and the beers were exactly the same, so I decided to bug out early and save some cash. Would highly recommend a stop for true German style beers that have given GB a reputation for greatness. Several locations within the US.

Sunday night--Rest...Check into hotel, work,---Monday night:

WILLOW STREET BP San Rafael about 10 miles north of SF New this year. This place was nice. Decent beer -I had a 5 beer sampler, but I was with a group of friends and the conversation was too interesting to worry about the beer. If any of it was worth noting I would have. A little too bistro/ boutique style with an emphasis on the menu and not the beer, but the food was very good. Overall*

MOYLAN’S BREWERY AND RESTAURANT Novato north of San Raphel. Since 1985. From the web page: "Brendan Moylan expected his plan for a classy brew pub near Vintage Oaks in Novato to be the toast of the town. Novato planners quashed those hopes, heeding a citizens' group that says it's a terrible idea to put a pub in an area where children congregate. Moylan, 34, who co-owns Marin Brewing Company in Larkspur, said he saw a void in Novato and wanted to fill it by opening his own place. "It's just one of those crazy dreams. The first pub worked out real well and this type of business is a real fun business and Novato really needed a fun place for people to go and relax and get a beer and get something good to eat," Moylan said. The good news is that "we" won and Moylan’s started brewing in 1995 and I have to say "What a place!" Built on the parking lot of a strip mall this BP is very impressive with high loft ceilings with beer cans and brewania everywhere. A long bar with the usual brewhouse behind it. IPA***, Kilt Lifter Scottish Ale****-7% abv, hic’up!, Irish Red Ale**& Dry Stout****, ESB***, Celts Ale**, Kolsch***. Great food too. Two separate trips to this place were in order!

Now down to the original Moylan creation. I think its Wednesday.

MARIN BREWING CO. Larkspur just across the Golden Gate off 101 N. From the web- Since 1989 this full-mash 14 barrel (434 gallon) brewery system consisting of a Brew Kettle, Combi-tank (Mash Tun and Hot Water Recovery Tank), 9 Fermentation Tanks (14 barrel Unitanks) and Eight 7-barrel Serving Tanks with an annual capacity of 3000 barrels has been producing GABF medals faster than you can chug a Old Dipsea Barleywine! Brendan has been a home brewer and a member of San Francisco's homebrew club, the San Andreas Malts, for six years. In the last ten years Brendan has obtained an in-depth knowledge of the brewing business. I mention all this because this BP, nestled between a taco joint and a sushi bar (another first I’m sure) in a strip mall, has produced over 11 GABF medals making it a MUST STOP if this was the only place north of SF you could visit. I would also vote it home of the one Stout I would have on a deserted island! (All apologies to Guinness) Mt. Tam Pale Ale***Bronze 1989, Stinson Beach Peach Ale**, San Quentin’s Breakout Stout**** Gold 1989, Old Dipsea Barleywine**** 8.6%abv and Silver ‘89&’90, Hefe Doppel Weizen**** 7.7%.abv

Friday--If you have never been to Halloween in SF, I recommend you put it on your list under Mardi Gras in New Orleans--one big freak show with microbrews flowing into the streets from every pub!!

PYRAMID BREWERY and now PYRAMID ALEHOUSE connected to the end of the brewery!!! Berkeley just east across the Bay from SF. The first barrels of Pyramid rolled out in September 1984 in WA. The Alehouse in CA opened in January 1997 and the brewery supplements production for the Seattle location and the original location in Kalama, Washington. I could die with a smile and foam on my face after going to this Mecca of craft brewing made out of stainless steel, glass, and the unusually decorated and designed awesome alehouse that boosted what appeared to be a never ending line of taps, a great menu, and a hugh gift shop for souvenirs of this wonderful shrine to good beer. I think I counted 15 taps but it could have been more---all filled with the best Pyramid has to offer. EXTRA BONUS!--Thomas Kemper lagers from Seattle, the ‘sister’ of Pyramid was also on tap. My task was clear and unfiltered, but I dove in with the first 8 samples sitting down with 200 of my new friends. Hefeweizen***, DPA****, Best Brown****, Porter**, Stout**, Wheaten Ale***, Pale Ale****, ok ok you get the point- it was beer bliss. Time for the Kemper’s--Amber Lager***, Hefeweizen***, Weizen Berry**, Belgian White****, Honeyweizen***. As I finished sample after sample I looked to my right a gazed through HUGH glass walls into the very large tanks and piping and pallets full of malts etc and tried to spot the one pipeline that brought the nectar to the taps. I asked the tap puller if I could nose around but tours were over for the day. That was ok because he figured I would try to tap into the line with an IV...something only the brewmaster can do.

TRIPLE ROCK BP (luckily only a few blocks away, same owners as 20 Tank) Since 1986 as small pub with seating for about 90-100 tucked into a storefront block near the University. Winners of several medals. Large collection of old CA brewania. Pinnacle Pale Ale***, Titanium****, Bug Juice*, Red Eye Wheat**, Honey Brown****, Dragon Milk Stout****, Stone Stout***, Tombstone ESB*** Dare I say I saved one of the best for last! As I finished my last beer I looked up on the wall and saw an old tin beer sign that read "Its Lucky When You Live In America---Lucky Lager" How true it is... No wonder all these Berkeley students walk around naked!!

Ok one last stop

MT TAM BREW HOUSE--Marin County’s only Brew on Premises located in downtown San Rafael. I smelled this place before I saw it! Met the owner and his dad- homebrewers who outgrew the kitchen. Local laws allow tasting and off-premise sales so I indulged in a few samples at the urging of the owner who was impressed that I came 3,000 miles to visit his BoP. We all drank and talked and reflected out loud on all the stops I had made. I think we all agreed that beer can truly bring different people peace etc....

That’s 11 brewpubs and 1 BoP in 7 days!
Thanks for reading!
Nick the Baltimore Beer Trekker