West Bay crawl with Beer By Bart

It happens to the best of us: we move just a little bit further from the big city in our region, and we stop going there as often. It had been some time since I’d tried any new drinking spots in SF, and it had also been a while since I’d run into Gail and Steve of BeerByBart.com. So we saved a date for me to meet them on their side of the tunnel and check out some new (to me) spots.

I was out for drinks, not blog research per se, so these are first impressions of places I’ve been to once. For more details, I’ll link to Beer by Bart. I mean, duh.

Stop #1: Fort Point’s brand-spanking-new Ferry Building bar

I didn’t even know this place had opened yet. I’m a fan of Fort Point beers and I’d actually long wondered why the Ferry Building didn’t have a notable beer option amid all its other tasty offerings. This is a small spot on the outside of the building that will delight tourists (you can borrow a growler with a deposit!) and also pleased me. It’s a convenient, central location to have a beer while planning the rest of your day. They even had a beer I hadn’t tried yet, the rye-packed Treble Hook.

Dig that wall of cans!

Dig that wall of cans!

Details: Fort Point Beer Company

Stop #2: Local Brewing’s long-awaited bricks and mortar

Back in 2011, I met these cool women, Regan and Sarah. They were trying to open a brewery, and in the meantime were participating in homebrew/nanobrew-type events and pro-am’ing with Thirsty Bear. I seem to remember they had a nice porter.

Last year, they pulled it off. Local Brewing Company is open in SOMA not far from the ballpark and 21st Amendment. They had 16 of their own beers pouring on my visit, with half pours and sample sizes available, thank goodness. I really appreciated the variety of styles available because I’m the type of dork who exclaims “OH MY GOD THEY HAVE A BROWN ALE NOBODY MAKES A BROWN ALE ANYMORE” loudly in public. The black lager was even better. Yep. I like this place. Worth the wait.

Regan may co-own the place but she's not too good to bartend a busy Saturday!

Regan may co-own the place but she’s not too good to bartend a busy Saturday!

Details: Local Brewing Company 

Stop #3: Black Hammer and Pacific Brewing Laboratory’s artsy taproom

I remember Pac Brew Labs from back when they were called Clara Street Brewing and gave away their beer in a garage. (I promise this entire post won’t be dedicated to making myself feel old.) I don’t remember the whole story of how and why they teamed up with the Black Hammer folks, but Burning Man was involved. Isn’t it always, in San Francisco? 😉 I thought I might not be cool enough for the room, but it was a very comfortable spot. Special attention was paid to the sound system and decor, but they didn’t slouch on the beer, either. I tasted a Black Hammer berlinerweisse and a couple of dark beers from Pacific Brewing Laboratory (was Squid Ink always this good?) Thumbs up. And the sign on the door instructs you “just pull on the hammer and everything will be okay,” which is awfully deep after a few beers.

Pretty lights, interesting beers

Pretty lights, good beer

Details: Black Hammer/Pacific Brewing Laboratory

Stop 4: Hogwash, the latest upscale beer and sausage place

We were attacking the snack bowls at Black Hammer with enough vigor that I suggested our next stop have a square meal at it. Gail and Steve recommended Hogwash even though they’re vegetarians. So I figured this place ought to be good, and it was 30 taps good!

Hogwash is exactly the type of place you want to know is there when you’ve got an old friend staying in the city center for business, or family visiting who want to do San Francisco-y things downtown. It’s right near Union Square. Remember when the only decent beer option downtown was Gordon Biersch? Now you’ve got what I can only describe as Hog’s Apothecary West (with more housemade sausage and without the big mains). Good beer, good hog, and even a couple of veggie options. The beet appetizer was fantastic, btw. Go ahead and avoid the 54-ounce goblets of beer and the (perhaps facetious) suggestion of keg stands with a tableside keg of Cuvee des Trolls.

This is the new San Francisco normal

This is the new San Francisco normal

Details: Hogwash

Stop #5: Bartlett Hall to see what Wynn is doing

Bartlett Hall is the type of big fancy whatever that I would normally avoid, especially on a night it’s full of TVs and people yelling. Thing is, they’re upping their beer game, and hired one of the area’s most promising young brewers to do it. Wynn Whisenhunt’s homebrew was better than plenty of commercial beer when he was barely legal to drink any of it, so I’m excited to see him driving the beer at Bartlett Hall, or anywhere. There were five house beers on the menu: a hoppy session beer, the obligatory brewpub blonde, an IPA, a barleywine (they were out, sob sob) and a chocolate/coffee/vanilla/milk porter. Whoa! All were well done but the IPA disappeared most quickly from both couples’ samplers. I’m starting to see a future where all the big fancy whatevers have quality housemade beer. A girl can dream…

Whoooooo! Go sports!

Whoooooo! Go sports!

Details: Bartlett Hall

Stop #6: Dirty Water, the beer place in the Twitter building?

Four people who’ve never even called an Uber walk into a bar in the Twitter building…and half of them tweet about it…the new San Francisco contains multitudes. In this case, it contains a multitude of beer. Yep, this gets expensive, but whoever chose the taplist is not fucking around. And, as much as you want to make fun of a nice restaurant in the Twitter building (or make fun of yourself for drinking at the bar there), the staff was wonderful and we had a good time. Everyone there seemed to be having a good time even if most of them, I’d guess, hadn’t already been to five bars that day. Thank goodness for half-pints.

Since I was already doing a fish-out-of-water routine, I didn’t even punch Steve when he uttered the immortal words, “Let’s take a selfie.” Moral of the story: going outside your comfort zone can be fun, especially if the area outside your comfort zone has dozens of taps.

Actually pretty great group selfie stolen, appropriately enough, from Beer By Bart's Twitter feed

Actually pretty great group selfie stolen, appropriately enough, from Beer By Bart’s Twitter feed

Details: Dirty Water

Stop #7 are you kidding me, OK one more, so let’s go to a bar in a movie theater I guess

There were a few more options for the rest of the night, and the one I leaned most strongly towards was “go home and sleep for 12 hours.” In the end I chose to nightcap at the bar in the new Alamo Drafthouse. If we’ve got a ton of beer options in sausage halls, good beer brewed on premises in touristy restaurants, 52 beers on tap downstairs from a ton of techies’ offices, and a quality brewery setting up its taproom in the Ferry Building, it would seem that the theme for SF right now is BEER EVERYWHERE. So why not a movie theater?

It’s not the first moviehouse in the area to offer good beer, but it is the latest. Yeah, they can definitely stop putting glasses in the fridge, but that cold glass of Faction Pale tasted real nice to my fatigued palate anyway. When I lived in Germany, my favorite movie theater offered only Becks, and that was GERMANY. It’s a brave new world.

Is this some stock market reference or what?

Is this some stock market reference or what?

Details: Alamo Drafthouse

On most days, I’d rather drink in a dive or a neighborhood pub than a slick downtown spot or a movie theater or even the Ferry Building — but how fabulous is it that good beer lists are everywhere now? Or, as I tipsy Tweeted from BART shortly before a stranger threw up on my shoes:

The future of SF beer: not every place is my people, but all people will have great beer.

Fingers crossed.

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OMG, Fieldwork crowlers!

You can now get a freshly-filled 32-ounce can of Fieldwork beer to go. It’s the brewery upgrade that launched 1000 Instagrams.

*sniff* It's so beautiful...

*sniff* It’s so beautiful…

As you probably know if you’re reading a beer blog, a growler is a 64- or 32-ounce jug of beer to go, usually glass but sometimes something space-aged like stainless steel. They’re great for having a a few more beers at home (ie away from your car keys) after a brewery visit, or for bringing a bit of the brewery home to someone who couldn’t come with you to the source. Brewers worry about growlers due to oxygen, carbonation, and sanitation concerns.

Enter the crowler, a growler in a can. The consumer benefits of crowlers are the same as the benefits of cans over glass: lighter, more portable for you active types, opaque (light is bad for beer), and less breakable. I can neither confirm or deny that we dropped our crowler the minute we got it into our house and it merely bounced. Drawbacks are also the same, notably that aluminum mining is horrible so please recycle your cans and crowlers every time.

I’m probably more excited about this than I need to be. I already own a 32-ounce growler and I’m not exactly the type to bike my beer to the top of Mt. Tam. But it’s so fun to watch them get filled!

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As a former bartender at a place that often filled up with camera-toting beer tourists, I am so, so sorry that I filmed this guy while he was just trying to do his job. More proof that the crowler has magical properties. 

If you haven’t been there lately, also know that Fieldwork has expanded its food menu.

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So get yourself to Fieldwork soon for a good beer, a pie, and 32 ounces to go.

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The Cooler is coming to San Leandro

Who ever thought “San Leandro is a beer town now” would be old news? Though I diligently wrote nothing last year about 21st Amendment or Cleophus Quealy opening San Leandro breweries (oops), I’ll start this year right by telling you about the town’s next notable beer destination.

The Cooler will be a downtown taphouse owned by exactly the type of guys you want owning such a place: Arne Johnson of Marin Brewing (one of the few people in this region for whom the title “brewmaster” does not seem overblown), Eric Keyes (who has been both a chef and a front-of-house manager), and Jeff Botz (maybe best known in our circles for his tenure at a BJs Brewhouse location that actually sounded great). Don’t panic: Arne will be an owner, not a manager, and will not be leaving his position brewing for Marin.

Photo by Betsey Hensley

Jeff, Arne, and Eric. Photo by Betsey Hensley

The bar will occupy a spot that has been vacant for several years and used to be a lighting store. It’s too soon for pictures, but they’re using the same architect that worked on Faction, Rare Barrel, Cellarmaker, Harmonic, and Santa Clara Valley Brewing, so I’m guessing it will look fantastic.

The Cooler’s tap model is unique. Rather than trying to have as many beers on tap as possible a la every other beer bar in America, on most days they’ll use 25 or so of the 40 taps available. This might be confusing to the average drinker who thinks more is always better, but has several benefits that will immediately make sense to bar industry folks. First, when a tap takeover rolls around, they can easily go up to all 40 without taking any beers offline. (Partial kegs are the bane of any tap takeover at most bars). Also, if a bar opens for business with 40 kegs hooked up but only 25 of them pouring, kicking a keg is no problem even on the busiest night, as you can choose the best option from among the 15 back-up kegs without stopping to move a keg or clean a beer line. “In the end we will do whatever guests want,” volunteered Jeff, “but that’s the plan going in.”

Drinkers are definitely going to like one part of The Cooler’s strategy, which is to pour beer from self-distributed breweries in Southern California that are not as often seen up here. They’re not the first or only serious beer bar owners to make road trips for kegs, but all three are from the San Diego area and still have family there, so they’ll be able to do make these field trips a regularly-scheduled part of the business. They’ll be buying their own kegs and putting the bar’s name on them, and will drop the kegs off clean at the beginning of each trip then pick them up full after visiting their families. This way, the breweries don’t have to worry about sending their own kegs to an out-of-the-way market.

In addition to the taps, they’ll have a bottle fridge (singles, not six-packs), craft soda, cider, and a couple of wines poured out of a temperature controlled cooler. All beer will be cold-stored. Schwing!

But don’t take my word for it that this bar will be rad — ask Nathan Smith, who is both literally and figuratively a rock star homebrewer, and master cicerone beer pro Nicole Erny. They spoke at The Cooler’s conditional use permit hearing as neighbors who, like Drake’s Brewing, settled down in San Leandro years before this recent wave of beeriness arrived. “I couldn’t be more thrilled to have a high quality multi-tap in the downtown area of San Leandro,” said Nicole. “This will really round out the already awesome draw of our three breweries and Harry’s Hofbrau.”

“I look forward to spending some money at The Cooler,” agreed Nathan. “Things are looking up in the deep east bay flatlands. Stop by soon before the urban lumberjack dudes show up.” Ha. (But he’s right.)

The Cooler is going to be at 1517 East 14th Street, nice and close to the BART station, with ample street parking. They’ll have bar snacks but are not licensed as a restaurant, so it will be 21+. As with every bar project in the history of time, there have been delays, but they hope to open in April. I will be eager to BART there and check it out even though I live all the way the hell up in Richmond. See you there.

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Disclosure: I’ve been running into Jeff Botz at beer festivals since what seems like the minute I moved to the Bay Area, and Arne Johnson and I might have had approximately 600 beers together in Belgium last year.

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Drake’s Dealership ups the ante for Bay beergardens

No disrespect to the other great outdoor drinking spots in Oakland and the rest of the Bay Area — and there are many. But Drake’s Dealership may be the new standard for what we think of when we say “beergarden.”

I was invited to a media/friends preview, so my experience was colored by knowing a lot of people there and not having to pay. It’s notable, though, that a bunch of jaded beer insiders were still impressed. I heard a lot of “this really is beautiful” and “I can see why this took them so long” and “I didn’t know it would be this BIG.” When the sun set I think the collected group might have made Instagram explode.

Just another crappy day in the Bay Area

Just another crappy day in the Bay Area

The space, the parts and service department of an old Dodge dealership (hence the name) seats hundreds but will probably still be crowded a lot of the time. In contrast to the vibe at Drake’s brewery, which they proudly call “more gritty than pretty,” this is a spot for the hip Oakland of now. Which means some people may find it too cool for regular consumption, but even those people have occasional out-of-town guests to impress, right? And if your friends love beer, you can be sure you will be invited to gatherings here. A lot.

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Don’t call it a brewpub (no beer is brewed onsite) but this is very much a beer destination and not just another pretty face. The early days featured all Drake’s beers, but in the future the 32 taps will include guest breweries. The following Drake’s beers are intended to be on tap year-round, forming a crowd-pleasing base for an otherwise rotating taplist: Oaklander Weisse, Hella Helles, Hefe, Blonde, Amber, Red Eye, 1500 pale, IPA, 7×70 IPA, Denogginizer double IPA, Nitro Stout, Black Robusto porter, and Drakonic imperial stout. Beers are a reasonable $6 for 20 oz or 12 ounce glasses, depending on style and strength, and 4 ounce pours are available for $2. And yes, they fill growlers (starting next week), as well as selling six-packs and bombers of bottled beers.

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Like the beer list, the food menu covers many bases…burgers, salads, fries, snacks, and some really tasty wood-oven pizza. Mains are mostly in that moderate $10-14 price range the Bay Area does so well, though the duck leg confit sounds worth every bit of its $18.

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Drake’s Dealership is at 2325 Broadway in Oakland, a short walk from 19th Street BART, at the back left of the massive new Hive complex. What do you mean you haven’t been there yet? Get going! Bring the kids, bring the dogs (outside only), hell, bring your gluten-free friend for wine on tap. You can follow the Dealership on Facebook.

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Beer, equality, and a lot of rainbows

Yesterday was a good day for Americans who are not homophobes. I’m only 40, but that’s old enough to look at companies officially celebrating gay rights and think “times have changed” (for the better, of course). Yeah, you could get all cynical about brands “using” a historic civil rights moment…but the people *I* know who do beer social media were just as happy yesterday as anyone else.

Here are some highlights, gathered from Facebook.

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Hog’s Apothecary updated its cover photo…

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Rosemunde adjusted its logo…

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Linden Street Brewery shared this image from Oaklandish

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And a bonus picture of Fieldwork’s Alex and Marcela in their pride month t-shirts. Some proceeds from the shirts and Fieldwork’s ginger IPA Oakland Pride released earlier this month went to OurSpace, the East Bay community center for LGBTQ youth.

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Happy Pride, Bay Area!

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Keep an eye on Fieldwork Brewing

I’m late on this one — not just because the beers have been pouring since February, but because I like putting my next-big-brewery predictions in writing early. Here it is: get excited about Fieldwork Brewing in Berkeley.

handy-dandy beer book with all the technical details in it. Almost as tasty as the beers!

handy-dandy beer book with all the technical details in it. Almost as tasty as the beers!

It’s possible you’re already psyched on at least one of their beers that have been rotating through the Bay Area for the last few months. I work at three bars, and I’ve watched Fieldwork beers like Canopy pale ale, Chocolate Milk Brown, and Farmhouse Wheat go pretty fast. And then there are those great IPAs…

Before Fieldwork, founder Barry Braden co-owned a restaurant in San Diego with a good beer list and frequent events. You may know head brewer Alex Tweet, formerly of Ballast Point and Modern Times, as the guy who put grapefruit in your Sculpin. His professional brewing career started when Ballast Point invited him over to brew a commercial-sized batch of his homebrew Indra Kunindra, a stout with cumin, curry, cayenne, coconut, and kaffir lime leaf that tasted way better than I just made it sound.

I sent Barry some questions and it turned out to be one of those email exchanges you can publish almost as-is. (West Berkeley brewery people seem to be good like that.) Thanks Barry for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this!

Q. How big is the brewhouse currently? Seems like you’ve got room to expand? 

A. 25 bbl system with 260 bbls of fermentation capacity. We can expand our fermentation capacity to over 700 bbls if people like what we are doing.

obligatory shiny-new-tanks photo

obligatory shiny-new-tanks photo

Q. What brought you north to the Bay Area in general and Berkeley in particular? 

A. I grew up in the East Bay and wanted to move back to the area since my family are all here. We looked at buildings all over the East Bay, but kept coming back to this building in Berkeley. The city is ground zero for all things “local” and we were just very excited to locate the brewery in Berkeley. Our building is in an up and coming part of West Berkeley and it was affordable at the time for what we wanted to do. The city has gone above and beyond to welcome us, and we have had tremendous support at all levels of city government.

Q. Are you eventually going to settle into a flagship or some year-round brews, or will things always rotate?

A. The plan is for a little bit of both. I think variety is what people can expect from us for a while. The rotation at the moment is simply driven by what’s going on in the hop market. Our big hop contracts begin in 2015 (for 2016 delivery), so we are working with what we were able to contract for 2014. We are unable to make the same hoppy beer all the time, however, we can rotate hoppy beers through the rest of the year and bring back favorites. For example, batch two of Burning Daylight IPA will be released next week and batch two of Chisel IPA is being brewed next month. We expect Farmhouse Wheat and Morning Time Breakfast Stout to be year-round beers and we may get there with Chocolate Milk Brown based on the response to this brew. 

Q. Can you tell me more about your plans for wild/funky/sour beers? 

A. We are brewing some “tart” beers this month and are ramping up the sour program. It will be an ancillary part of the brewery and beer lineup, and we are very excited about it. Alex is passionate about these styles and I can wait to taste the results.

Q. You recently expanded the hours at the taproom. Any other changes in the works?

A. It’s a great question. People seem to be enjoying the beers and the brewery is growing quickly. It’s everything we can do to keep up with the pace at the moment. We are going to keep our nose to the grindstone and concentrate on getting more beer out to people here in our own backyard and see where the winds take us.

[Finally, I made a dumb joke about “rock star brewers” and asked if he could tell us more about the Fieldwork team other than Alex, who’s already gotten a lot of media attention. Little did I know…]

A. We have been fortunate to attract some amazing individuals to the company. Mark Maigaard is leading sales in the East Bay for us. He literally was a “rock star”– seriously, look him up :-). Josh Olenberg-Meltzer spent the past couple of years as a brewer at New Helvetia in Sacramento before moving down here to join us. He has proven to be an excellent complement to Alex. We knew our Taproom Manager, Finn Parker, from San Diego and we were ecstatic when he told us he and his spouse were looking to move up here. He has been glue for us these past few months since opening. Brian Fulk — well, you know Brian Fulk [yep, old friend from my homebrew club] — serious, but funny guy. Knows beer and brews beer. A really great representative and leader in the Taproom. Our Taproom team of Brian, Marcella and the two Matts are first class individuals who are passionate about beer and it shows in their interactions with our guests. It really is an amazing team for such a young company.

Doesn’t that make you want to go to the taproom if you haven’t already? I thought so.

The Fieldwork taproom boldly (for America) has no TVs, which is right up my alley. Instead it offers board games and occasional live music. You can stand up at the bar or sit down at a table inside or outside. Food options are currently large soft pretzels and meat pies. Beers are available in full pours, half pours, and sample size, and they fill growlers — bring a clean, logo-obscured 64- or 32-ounce growler or buy one there. The brewery is kid- and dog-friendly, and maybe if you’re lucky you can meet Barry’s dog Hannah while you’re there.  

Fieldwork Brewing is located at 1160 6th Street in Berkeley, at the corner of 6th and Harrison. Hours are 4-9pm Monday and Tuesday, noon-9pm Wednesday and Thursday, noon-10pm Friday and Saturday, and noon-8pm Sunday. It’s not the greatest trip for BARTers but it’s convenient by AC Transit #72 and seems popular with cyclists. Follow Fieldwork on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

good girl...

good girl…

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Rosamunde #5 now open on Telegraph Ave

Remember how excited we all were in 2012 when we first heard that San Francisco sausage institution Rosamunde was coming to Oakland? It landed in Old Oakland and there was great rejoicing, even by vegetarians (seriously, those vegan sausages are solid). Now the sausage ‘n’ beer mini-chain continues to widen its East Bay reach with a new location in Temescal, a neighborhood mysteriously low on good beer options.

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A little history: Rosamunde’s first site was its small food-only space next door to beer bar Toronado on Haight Street, which opened back in 1998. Getting a sausage there and bringing it into Toronado is still a classic San Francisco experience.  In early 2010, a second location opened near 24th Street BART in the Mission and this one served beer on-site. A Brooklyn outpost came along in fall 2012, and Oakland’s first Rosamunde opened in January 2013 inside Swan’s Market.

Food at all the locations is similar: tasty, tasty sausage and various toppings. (Example). The atmosphere at this location seems to maximize efficiency, not lingering. Service, as always, is at the counter in an orderly line. You’re reading this blog, though, so here’s what you really care about: an example of the rotating taplist.

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Disclosure: a friend of mine buys the beer for all the Rosamundes, but look at that taplist…no bias necessary to think it’s awesome.

This is a pretty great development for Temescal residents who like good beer, as well as providing an affordable, quick meal-out option in an increasingly fancy part of town. I’ll swing by when I’m in the neighborhood. Rosamunde Temescal is at 4659 Telegraph, half a mile from MacArthur BART. It’s in soft-open mode now and the grand opening party is June 11.

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Whole Foods Dublin loves beer

There’s a new Whole Foods opening today in Dublin, and plenty of other writers can tell you about the food options and/or make fish-in-a-barrel jokes about the prices. I’m here to tell you about the beer situation…which, by the way, seems reasonably priced for this area.

Stolen from Whole Foods Dublin's Instagram

This guy knows what day it is. Stolen from Whole Foods Dublin’s Instagram

I got filled in by Whole Foods beer/wine/cheese expert boss type Jared Shoupe (official title: “associate team leader,” which is shorter but not as fun). The new store, in addition to 24 feet of beery retail, will include a taproom called Dublin Vine. It’ll have 12 rotating beer handles, 3 wine taps, and 50 wine bottles available by the glass. You can also buy any beer bottle off the shelf and bring it to the Vine to enjoy with no corkage. “The wine focus is more local than most,” said Jared. “The beer focus is just cool stuff, but a lot of cool stuff is local.” Indeed.

The first time I had some beers at the Whole Foods taproom in San Francisco, I was surprised how little it felt like drinking in a grocery store, and the Dublin set-up also sounds pretty nice. There’ll be outdoor seating with space for 100, a firepit, and a stage for live entertainment. The indoor bar area should fit 64.

And you can eat there because…wait for it…it’s a Whole Foods. The taproom menu actually sounds appealing: salads, wings, cheese and charcuterie plates, pizza, noodle bowls, and sandwiches. I’ve long thought more drinking establishments should offer noodles.

Here’s the opening day taplist:

  • Ale Industries Cherry Kush (Jared, a former Ale Industries bartender, made this the first beer poured through the draft system)
  • Almanac Golden Gate Gose
  • Calicraft Chez Panisse
  • Drake’s Omega Session
  • Faction Anomaly
  • Faction Pilsner
  • Finn River Black Currant Cider
  • Headland Point Bonita lager
  • Mission Creek Off The Rail IPA
  • Mission Creek Punch List pale
  • Oakland Brewing Company Fly Trap
  • Tahoe Mountain Mars Hotel

Dublin Vine is at 5200 Dublin Blvd and will be open from daily from 10am to 10pm. If you’re coming from out of town to do a Dublin beer day, note that Whole Foods Dublin is walking distance from BART and quite close to 580. You can follow it on Facebook or Instagram.

 

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State of the blog 2015

For a blog called “East Bay Beer,” I’ve certainly done nothing but write about Belgium lately. Sorry.

There are a lot of things going on these days. Breweries and bars are opening too fast for me to keep up. I still haven’t been to Cleophus Quealy, for god’s sake, and they opened last year! There are several big beer events this weekend and I haven’t written about any of them, and I promise I really meant to. You should go to Fieldwork’s grand opening and/or Triple Rock Firkin Fest today, by the way.

Such a good event, but...couch...

Such a good event, but…couch…

Part of it is that I’m busy. As some of you know, I have bartending/serving shifts every week at Albany Taproom and I’ve also started running all the beer stuff (I hate the phrase “beer program”) at the CommonWealth pubs. It’s exciting times to be in charge of the beer list for a pub everyone loves and a brand new one that’s starting to get attention. Ordering beer for a living (and complaining when the order is screwed up or the keg is broken or or or…) is actually more complicated than it sounds, and new responsibilities at work always throw me for a loop for a while because I like feeling like I already know everything 😉 Plus I live in Richmond, and the price I pay for bargain housing is a bad commute to everywhere south of, say, El Cerrito.

Gratuitous picture of Micropub food stolen from Stephen Loewinsohn of the East Bay Express

Gratuitous picture of Micropub food stolen from Stephen Loewinsohn of the East Bay Express

So right now, a lot of my beer drinking is tasting small quantities at one of three bars I work at. When I get a day off the last thing I want to do is hit a bar or a brewery tasting room. This is probably how most beer blogs die: bloggers start off all gung ho, then get industry jobs and drop the ball.

But! I do have time to do this! I don’t have kids and my house doesn’t need *that* much work. I mean yeah, I work 6 shifts a week, but I seem to have plenty of time to watch Inside Amy Schumer and look at Facebook. I just need to spend more time doing this blog thing I actually do enjoy when I get A Round Tuit. So I think I’m going to go over to shorter format pieces for a bit, dropping in on various drinking spots in the East Bay both old/taken-for-granted and new/shiny. I will also try to finish some projects I started, mostly beer history I don’t feel qualified to do (but no one else is doing it).

To reward your patience, my 8 loyal readers, here is a hilarious picture of me from the year I started writing about beer. I’ve been doing this too long to stop now!
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The pleasant surprise: Ghent

When I was in Belgium 14 years ago, I only spent an afternoon in Ghent. Mistake. This time, our group chose Ghent mainly as a convenient base for excursions to West Flanders, but everyone wound up loving it on its own merits. There’s no bragging-rights breweries or world famous bars here, but there were also no real clunkers. It’s a place with a good local flavor, and man is it pretty.

See?

See?

Ghent really loves its food and drink. It’s a student town and on weekends the streets are lively until quite late, but not in a rowdy American frathouse way. I’d hazard a guess you wouldn’t go too wrong choosing watering holes at random, but here’s what I did:

Oudberg: This is restaurant/cafe street beloved by both tourists and locals. If you continue up the street and a bit to the right, it becomes Sleepstraat, the main Turkish street in town. Non-beer note: I eat so many Turkish kebabs whenever I’m in Europe it’s ridiculous, and if you need vegetarian food the Turks have your back on that, too.

Aba Jour: My husband and I broke off from the group one night and had date night at Aba Jour on Oudberg, where the food was a little splurgey but delicious — beef stew in Rodenbach and Westmalle Dubbel, are you kidding me? The bartender was also our table server and he was happy to talk beer with us. Based on my choice of Ellezelloise Quintine, he confirmed that I liked bitter beers (though Quintine isn’t what a Californian would call bitter) then recommended a new beer, L’Arogante, for my second. At 45 IBUs and fresh, I think this was the hoppiest beer I had in Belgium. Good stuff, nice place, cool staff…if they’d been open later I would have returned the next night.

I'm going to be a witch riding a mash paddle next Halloween

I’m going to be a witch riding a mash paddle next Halloween

‘t Velootje: Also on Oudberg, I tried to go to Velootje (the bicycle bar) but it was jam packed to the point we could barely get in, let alone make it to the bar. My friends had better luck later in the night. They said they were greeted at the door by a man who looked like Santa Claus and jokingly asked them if they were the police before letting them in.

What's the secret handshake?

What’s the secret handshake?

Brouwerj Gruut: Just south of the center, the one brewery within Ghent city limits is an odd duck in that it makes only gruits. You may not be blown away by them amid all the other world class beers at your disposal, but flights are available so you can try them with minimal commitment. My husband, who’s homebrewed some good gruit in his time, was enamored of the brown, while I preferred the golden strong. If any strike your fancy, bottles are easily found in local grocery stores. The location of this brewery, like most things we saw in Ghent, was fairly central. Ask your server about the giant mural on the wall — the shirtless guy is supposed to be the mayor.

Dulle Griet: It’s on a main square and there’s a gimmick — no, you won’t be the only tourist in here. The gimmick is that the house beer only comes in a large, outlandish glass that is ostensibly so irresistible to thieves the server takes one of your shoes as a deposit then sends the basket of shoes up out of reach with a flourish.

Shoe basket! So whimsical! Okay, it's kinda cute. Photo by Betsey.

Shoe basket! So whimsical! Okay, it’s kinda cute. Photo by Betsey.

Trollekelder: Another one of those delightful traditional basement-y pubs that seems like it hasn’t been dusted in 100 years. Trying to find your way to the restroom and back from the basement serves as a de facto field sobriety test.

Waterhuis an de Bierkant: Partially pictured in the first photo in this post, it’s in the middle of everything and practically obligatory. A few house beers, including one they steer the “ladies” towards (sigh). There’s a sister restaurant next door where things got a little silly…

De Planck: This bar is a canal boat. They could serve Natty Lite and people would still go. Fortunately, there’s good beer on the boat. It’s located outside the tourist area so you’ll be more likely to see, you know, actual Belgian people and stuff. It’s a nice enough walk that will help you justify a beer or two.

Brouwzaele: Now that you’ve had beer on a boat, you are a stone’s throw away from another good watering hole. Dig the bar made out of a huge copper brew kettle!

Hot Club de Gande: A jazz club, not a beer bar, though the beers on offer were just fine. And by “just fine,” I mean “you’d be stoked to see these and pay at least twice in any jazz club at home.” Unless you hate music AND beer you should probably come here. 16588445829_ea69392e22_z That one brown cafe that’s in none of the books or blogs: I had mine and you will have yours. The locals are there. They will all look at you when you enter. Some of them will be drinking a lowest-common-denominator like Stella and just as many will be drinking, say, Duvel. It’s dark and the music isn’t the worst pop music in history as it is in so many European bars. Drink your Duvel or whatever and wonder what it would take to sell your house and move to Belgium. Thanks, Ghent. Til next time…16587041818_1de8850732_z

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