Beer class of ’14: The Hop Grenade

It’s been quite a year for new beer spots opening up in the East Bay and beyond, and it’s time for me to start catching up! First, let’s visit The Hop Grenade.

Downtown Concord suddenly has the makings of an awesome bar crawl. We’ve talked about The Pig & The Pickle, E.J. Phair has a new brewer worth checking out, and the long-awaited Hop Grenade opened this summer.

Screenshot 2014-10-27 at 12.02.00 PM

That logo will look familiar to fans of The Brewing Network and its beer podcasts. In addition to being a rather kick-butt bar, The Hop Grenade is also the site of The Brewing Network’s new studio. The place is the brainchild of Brewing Network guys Justin Crossley and Scott Moskowitz, plus Scott’s mom Kim and dad Marty. Giants fans in particular might also recognize general manager Kevin Callahan from his stint at the Public House.

The first thing you’ll notice is that this is a pretty nice-lookin’ bar, complete with ample outdoor seating and table service.

Stolen from The Hop Grenade's Facebook page

Stolen from The Hop Grenade’s Facebook page

The TVs over the bar display the beer menu — and social media mentions and Untappd checkins, if you’re looking for 15 seconds of fame. The Hop Grenade is one of the first spots in the East Bay to use DigitalPour, a real-time beer menu that shows not only what’s on tap but relatively how much beer is left in each of the 21 kegs. You can check it out on your phone before you even walk into the bar. Don’t get so distracted by the nifty technology you overlook the bottles (available to go or for on-site drinking).

Screenshot 2014-10-27 at 11.38.53 AM

The Hop Grenade’s license is such that there is no wine, but minors are allowed. Families seem to congregate mostly in the outdoor area.

The Hop Grenade has some bar bites such as flatbreads and pretzels, but for a full meal you can head next door to EJ’s, wander down the street to check out The Pig & The Pickle’s new chef, or bring in food from outside (I recommend Taqueria Los Gallos around the corner).

Speaking of food, The Hop Grenade is running occasional Beer & Cheese School nights hosted by their server Paul Klevan, who knows his beer and cheese partially due to a long history with Whole Foods. Details are on the events page.

The Hop Grenade and all the other downtown Concord beer spots mentioned in this post are walking distance from BART. If you must drive, may I suggest the nearby movie theater for a few hours of sobering up? Because there are going to be a LOT of beers you want to try.

The Hop Grenade is at 2151 Salvio Street in Concord. It’s open Sunday-Wednesday 11:30am-11pm and Thursday-Saturday 11:30am-midnight. Follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

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Road Trip: Berryessa Brewing

For a beer blogger, I’ve been kind of a shut-in for the past few weeks um months er two years. When I do get out into beers bars I don’t work at, one of the breweries I’ve been consistently enjoying is Berryessa Brewing. (website) (Facebook) Though I like tasting beer at the source, I’d never been to Berryessa’s brewery in Winters until this weekend, even though the taproom has been open since…*google*…2012. I suck.

Berryessa Brewing’s taproom is pretty much your dream beergarden, partially because Yolo county rent isn’t exactly what we’re used to in the Bay and the place is huge. Also because Berryessa’s beer lineup doesn’t have a loser in the bunch, only some styles you may like more than others. They even make two of my personal least favorite beer styles, California common and Baltic porter, surprisingly enjoyable. Their wet-hop beer, Freshie, may be the bestest, least chloryphyllin’ harvest brew this side of Yakima. Their double IPA, Double Tap, avoids all the usual DIPA pitfalls such as being a boozy, sticky mess and their session IPA, Mini Separation Anxiety, is so much more than the bitter water so many west coast breweries are bandwagoning up on lately. And bless any Americans that can provide me with a fresh English mild or legit Belgian Pale Ale, let alone both.

Basically, I have a jaded California beer palate. If you do too, a trip to Winters may be what you need to wake it up again.

Cheers, bitches. Photo by Eric Pietras.

Cheers, bitches. Photo by Eric Pietras.

One of the best parts of Berryessa’s tasting room is also one of the worst: imperial (20 ounce) pints of any beer style for $5. Toto, I don’t think we’re in San Francisco anymore. Fortunately, Berryessa makes several fantastic low-alcohol beers. Unfortunately, unless you’re intrepid enough to park your car downtown then walk or bike two miles back to it (I am!) or can find an Uber driver to come to a town of population 7000, someone in your group is going to have to drive a car after this trip to rural beer heaven. They do offer a sampler flight, so that’s great, but my one request to the powers that be would be a serving size somewhere in between a thimble and a bucket. In the meantime, remember three imperial pints is the same as five 12-ounce bottles. There’s a food truck to help keep you from death and $10 growler refills so you can take home the higher-intensity stuff (she says, thirstily eyeing the growler of Double Tap in the fridge).

I was there on a sunny and stupidly hot Saturday (Winters: more than 100 days of the year with highs of 90F or more!) and the place was fairly packed. An at times long but always orderly line moved efficiently — the one time I timed it, I got to the front in 6 minutes. My hatred of waiting in line for beer is well-documented but even I can’t get mad about that. The bartenders seemed to know what they were doing and I wish there’d been time to chat. And hey, the ghost of Bob Ross was behind the bar.

Hoppy little trees!

Hoppy little trees!

It was an appropriate atmosphere for the happy-looking kids running around — bonus multitasking points to the bearded dad in the Sriracha shirt dancing to the band with his two tots while drinking beer — but without giving off that unfortunate I’m-drinking-at-a-nursery-school vibe that family-friendly spaces sometimes inspire. You can bring your dog, too.

Even this mediocre photo can partially convey why this taproom makes for a very nice afternoon

Even this mediocre photo can partially convey why this taproom makes for a blissful afternoon. Plus my husband is cute.

Bonus: Berryessa Gap Winery is such a literal stone’s throw from the brewery that I accidentally wandered into it checking my voicemail. If you’ve got that person in your life who prefers wine to beer, split the day in half and everyone’s happy. (No time for wine on this visit, but I’ve sampled some of their bottles in the past and was well pleased.)

If you like good beer and occasionally leaving your house, a drive to Berryessa Brewing is an awfully nice way to spend some of your weekend. And, sorry service industry folks, it must be a weekend: taproom hours are Friday 3-8pm and Saturday/Sunday noon-6pm. I got there from Richmond in barely an hour, but you’re in for a longer haul if you live in, say, San Leandro or Livermore. You should still go. Bring sunscreen and a hat. Enjoy.

Dusk settles on the tipsy, happy people of Winters, CA

Dusk settles on the tipsy, happy people of Winters, CA

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“Beer Curmudgeons” kicks podcast ass

Twitter can be a gargantuan waste of time, but there are a few beer people who make it less of a giant sucking sound. Two locals raising the bar are Collin McDonnell, a brewery owner asking all the right questions about the state of the beer union, and Sayre Piotrkowski, a publican who has been known to tweet the sort of industry criticism I only have the chutzpah to type and delete. I didn’t know the world needed them to do a podcast, but it did.

The pilot episode of The Beer Curmudgeons podcast is under an hour long and definitely worth a listen if you have an interest in beer beyond drinking it (and if all you want to do is drink it, that’s cool too, you’re keeping many of us in a job). Episode #1 tackled the question of IPA from a historical and — dare I say — philosophical angle.

Sayre and Collin game out of the gate strong by interviewing two beer veterans, Drake’s head brewer John Gillooly and Cicerone program head Ray Daniels. I won’t spoil it for you, but John gives an overview of the last two decades’ evolution of hops in the commercial brewing, and Ray looks at it from a more bar/consumer standpoint. It’s informative, informal, and entertaining.

Despite the “curmudgeon” title and the critical eye, these guys are not shock jocks or haters. They’re musing on the present and future of beer because they care enough to have given it a lot of thought. On the flip side, I didn’t find it at all pretentious, but then I’ve got a “Philosophy & Ramblings” section on this blog myself.

I don’t often have the listening skills for podcasts (or books on tape or –unfortunately for me in college — academic lectures). But I’ll be eagerly tuning into this one if they keep it up. I recommend you do the same.

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Dear beer community: Slow your roll?

This has been on my mind for a while now (those of you who think I’m a big ol’ ball of uncensored opinion have no idea what I hold back!) I keep thinking “now’s not a good time for this” but I could find a reason not to publish it every day forever and that’s no way to live. So, here is my latest jumbo think piece. I’d say “like it or not” but I don’t particularly “like” it myself. It’s not all rainbows and kittens and free samples here in the beer blogging world…

—–

We’re a country founded by Puritans, and in some ways it still shows.

Once, just out of curiosity and a behavioral double-check, I took an alcohol use survey online. It asked me my age and gender. I answered the questions honestly and it came back with an alarmist “YOU DRINK MORE THAN MOST WOMEN YOUR AGE!” message. Well, okay…is it saying much to say you drink more than most 30-something women? Aren’t most of them too busy being moms to go to the pub? Many of my female friends are pregnant or breastfeeding right now, and I’m not.

I tried another quiz, this time from a different English-speaking country (I believe it was England, but it could have been Australia). It did not ask my age or gender. I answered honestly. It shrugged and said I was a social drinker and as long as my health was okay to not sweat it.

Where am I going with this? I think an effect of our culture is that the Americans who’ve claimed some sort of alcohol as a hobby — be it beer, wine, whiskey, other — get unjustly criticized and scrutinized by people outside their hobby world. I know I’ve endured stupidity like “you make your own beer? are you an alcoholic?” and worse. People who share a hobby often find each other, but beer people have even more incentive to band together: we understand that our enthusiasm is not the same as a disease, and it’s also not what you saw in that Beer Fest movie. The beer community is pretty much a judgment-free zone where consumption is concerned. You can have a beer with lunch without raising eyebrows (never mind that a beer with lunch is standard in many countries). You can post a photo of fancy beer on the Internet without anyone thinking it’s weird. You can have a breakfast beer on a special occasion like a yearly beer fest without getting handed a pamphlet.

Problem is, there’s a difference between “I understand that having two beers a day doesn’t make you Arthur” and “having 6 beers a day seems normal to me.” There’s a difference between “it’s Boonville, who wants a breakfast stout?” and drinking starting at 9am on a random Tuesday. There’s a difference between beer being an interest and beer being your only interest.

How can we as a community share a passion for something that CAN be harmless…but also not encourage people who are hurting themselves? I have no answers, but we can start by talking about it instead of sweeping it under the rug.

Let’s start with weight, because that’s not a loaded topic at all…

Alcohol has calories
Obviously, beer has calories. But as with most things weight-related, people overreact in one direction or another.

  • People drink light beer, or no beer, to save calories. Blech.
  • Well-meaning people exclusively blame beer for any non-skinny person’s lack of skinniness. (“You could lose so much weight if you gave up beer!” is something I’ve heard more than once. Hey, who says I even want to lose weight?) Thing is, many people who are into beer are epicureans in general and are also into food — beer has calories, sure, but so does BBQ and tacos and cheese and….
  • Of course, not all beer people have equal enthusiasm for beer and food. Whether they’re trying to save calories or have something else going on, this forms the basis of another overreaction for some. I’m tired of hearing people justify skipping meals because “beer has food value but food has no beer value” or “eating is cheating.” It’s not funny and it’s not healthy.

In the end, you can lose weight (if you want to! and not everyone does!) by drinking fewer beers or drinking smaller portions of them. You can also lose weight by exercising and eating healthier. Your weight is really none of anyone else’s business. But if you have an existing health issue that is exacerbated by your weight, and you’re still not cutting down on beer, that’s something to think about. It’s true that overweight people can be healthy. It’s also true that some medical conditions are going to go a lot easier on you if you lose a few.

The game-ification of beer drinking is not good for every personality
Untappd is fun. I use it. But I don’t agree with giving out rewards for drinking a sheer quantity of beer. If you’ve got a competitive streak, getting badges is going to encourage you to drink too much. It’s an unpopular opinion and I’m not going to dwell on it, and I’d be the last person to blame a silly phone app for anyone’s unhealthy decisions, but if you’re drinking more beers just to get an online cookie then uninstall that shit.

“I need to slow down” isn’t the same as “I need AA” (except when it is)
I think some beer enthusiasts are afraid to admit they’ve been drinking too much because it seems like such a slippery slope. We’ve tied in “drinking too much” with “problem drinking” with “alcoholic” with “needs to never drink again.” I believe it’s a spectrum, not a binary.

I think of it this way: sometimes I go through periods where I eat too much, because it’s fun and it’s easy to do and it makes me feel good when I’m stressed. Then I gain a few pounds and I realize I should back up and eat right again. That doesn’t make me a compulsive eater. That doesn’t mean I need a support group. It means I’m an adult taking responsibility for my behavior. (That said, compulsive eating is a real condition, and should not be ignored or minimized if you have it.)

My relationship with alcohol — another substance that’s enjoyable but not physically addictive — is remarkably similar. Sometimes I realize I’ve been drinking too much, because it’s fun and it’s easy to do and it makes me feel good when I’m stressed. Then I gain a few pounds (or have an ugly hangover) and realize I should back up and drink right again. That doesn’t make me an alcoholic. That doesn’t mean I need a support group. It means I’m an adult taking responsibility for my behavior.

That said, alcoholism is a real condition, and should not be ignored or minimized (or joked about or celebrated) if you have it. And that’s where the beer community trips over its dick.

If you can’t eat like a healthy person or you can’t drink like a healthy person, maybe it’s time to do something about it. Maybe it’s Overeaters Anonymous or maybe it’s just a nutritionist. Maybe it’s AA or maybe it’s just…a nutritionist (or Moderation Management). I suspect most of you know, deep down, whether you’re killing yourself or not.

And if you’d never hassle an obese person for eating a healthy, reasonable portion of food in front of you — and I hope you wouldn’t — let’s also be careful teasing drinkers for cutting back. Let your friend get the half-pint, the water, the session beer, the root beer, in peace without joking or name-calling or exhortations to drink more. You don’t know what’s going on, and either way, 7th grade-level peer pressure is best left in 7th grade.

“Everything gives you cancer” vs “Stop drinking or die”
Eggs are good, eggs are bad, eggs are fine. Carbs are bad, carbs are fine, now gluten is bad. Coffee’s bad, green tea’s good, caffeine’s bad, coffee’s good but only if you’re a man…fuck it, I give up.

Joe Jackson was basically right: everything gives you cancer, if you count “everything” as “living on this toxic planet.” So yes, drinking beer increases my risk of breast cancer. So does living on earth. So did, I suspect, growing up in a town where a disproportionate number of my classmates’ parents seemed to get tumors when I was in school. I’m not going to give up a delicious beverage because it might piss off the wrong cell someday. Driving a car is hazardous to your health, and I do that, too. You gotta live.

But if you have an already-existing health condition that drinking is going to make a whole hell of a lot worse?

THEN STOP FUCKING DRINKING.

There’s no good way to segue out of that so I just will
This concludes the first and, I hope, only installment of Tough Love With East Bay Beer. Please do believe that it comes from a place of love, not of shit-stirring or paternalism. Take care of yourselves, friends. Peace out.

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Save the date: FraggleFest 2014

Someday, I will write an epic post about Fraggle and file it under “Beer history.” For now I file it under “it’s complicated” and “too soon.” But I would like to tell you about an event that he bloody well should have been at.

First, some background for those who don’t know. Fraggle — the one-named Oakland institution known to most in the beer community for co-founding Beer Revolution and being seen at pretty much every beer event ever — had a massive stroke at the end of June. It was like a neutron bomb hit Facebook: a fund was set up for his medical bills, fundraisers were planned, frequent updates were posted. We thought he’d be facing a long, tough, expensive rehab. Instead, on July 3 we found out that he had too little brain function to possibly survive. He was pronounced dead on Saturday, July 5.

Fraggle-BW

At Beer Revolution’s 1-year anniversary party, February 2011. Photo: Brian Stechschulte (http://www.alloverbeer.com/lend-hand-fraggle/)

Ale Industries was in the middle of a fundraiser at its Fruitvale brewery when the news broke, and the assembled group toasted him with Underberg shots (a Fraggle favorite). Commonwealth Cafe in Oakland went on with its fundraiser already planned for the next day — an emotional, raucous roof-raiser of an Irish-by-way-of-the-East-Bay wake.

There’s one more planned fundraiser that will march on as a memorial, FraggleFest 2014 at Linden Street Brewery on Sunday, August 24. It’s an apt venue, as it’s somewhere Fraggle worked and helped out both before and after his time at Beer Revolution, and he and Linden Street’s Adam were close. Some details are being shrouded in secrecy for the element of surprise, but it’s looking like a helluva beer fest and punk show, worth attending even if you never heard of Fraggle before just now. All the details are here.

This will be a large event and volunteers are needed. Email Marlene at mlsironi@gmail.com if you are interested in helping out. Give your email address, phone number, and whether you have beer pouring experience.

One last thing: Fraggle was an organ donor. Some of his donations reportedly saved several lives last week and others went to medical research. If this inspires you, and it should, register here.

To be continued, someday.

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Imagine a brewery here. Part 4: Temescal

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the adventures/frustrations of tracking down old East Bay breweries is trying to nail down the exact locations. Phone books and other documents of the pre-Prohibition era often gave only intersections (or less). Sometimes we could narrow it down to a corner and sometimes we took our best guess. Once, we guessed, then stumbled on some hard proof!

Kramm’s Anchor Brewery: Shattuck & 49th/50th

I’d read that Anchor Brewery (no relation to the one we know today in SF) had been at the corner of 49th & Telegraph in Temescal.

49thShattuck

Photo credit: Eric Pietras

Lacking any additional info, we guessed it was where the post office is now.

Photo credit: Eric Pietras

Photo credit: Eric Pietras

Eric took some pictures, then got a spidey sense about heading a little bit north and found this!

Photo credit: Eric Pietras

Photo credit: Eric Pietras

THERE WAS MUCH REJOICING! It turns out the brewery was actually located where this row of ticky-tacky dwellings is now.

Photo credit: Eric Pietras

Photo credit: Eric Pietras

That plaque is the only historical marker we found while searching for the area’s bygone breweries. Who do we petition to get a plaque in every one of these locations? So many projects, so little time…

Anyway, “Anchor Brewery” is difficult to google for all the obvious reasons — to make it more confusing, most of the breweries of that time made steam beer™. (Here’s a groovy blog post on that subject). But we do know a thing or two about “Kramm’s Anchor,” partially because the Kramm family was a hot-ass mess.

First, the beer community in the early 1900s was a small world, as it arguably is today. George Roehm worked at Anchor before founding Independent Brewing Company. Beer baron Joseph Raspiller invested in six breweries and Anchor was one of them. Finally, Anchor was one of the four breweries to merge and become Golden West.

As for the family drama, let’s start with Charles Kramm Sr., an immigrant from Hannover, Germany. He owned the Oakland Brewery with his next door neighbor Joseph Dieves. (More on Oakland Brewery later). Most reports place the founding of Kramm’s Anchor at 1894, but Charles Sr. died in 1892, of bowel cancer, at 56 years old, so I’m thinking the brewery must have come before that. He left a wife, Augusta, and four sons.

Charles Sr.’s widow Augusta was the turn-of-the-century Oakland equivalent of tabloid fodder. She remarried a mining industry guy, Anthony Simons. Her sons liked to say he married their mom for her brewery fortune, and son Henry got arrested in 1897 for socking his stepfather. (The straw that broke the camel’s back? “Henry and his brother Charles called at the Simons house and asked to see their mother. Simons told them that the ‘person’ for whom they were looking was away. To hear his mother spoken of as the ‘person’ angered Henry” and POW. Settle down, son…) After that, stepdad Simons went off to Alaska for 8 months to try and make some more money, and when he got home Augusta slammed the door in his face and told him off.

So, in 1899, Anthony Simons filed a “sensational divorce suit” against the brewery widow, charging her with cruelty and desertion. It might not have helped that she commissioned and installed a bronze bust of the late brewer Charles Sr. in her house the same month she got remarried. (Creepy…) Simons also accused the sons, then between 16 and 22, of being “physical giants” who conspired against him.  “The trial of the suit promises to create a stir in the German colony,” said the San Francisco Call.

Charles Sr.’s  “giant” sons stayed involved with brewing. His son Joseph Kramm brewed at Anchor until 1902 then bought the plant and helped run it until 1910, when he co-founded the Golden West mini-empire. Charles Kramm Sr’s son and Oakland city councilman Charles Kramm Jr. also got involved. All four brothers co-owned the brewery and it seemed like Charles Jr. and Joseph had the most involvement, at least until Charles Jr. died of tuberculosis.

Councilman/brewery owner Charles Kramm Jr. Photo credit: Oakland Wiki

Councilman/brewery owner Charles Kramm Jr. Photo credit: Oakland Wiki

Oakland Wiki says “After [Charles Jr’s] death, his widow and executor of his will sold Anchor Brewery to Augusta Simons [Charles Jr’s mom, Charles Sr.’s widow] for about $18,000. It appears he had already mortgaged the business to her and that the business was insolvent. No one else would buy it.” This was 1900-1901.

The brewery somehow lasted another 10 years as an independent entity before getting folded into Golden West. It would appear Augusta sold/gave the brewery back to son Joseph Kramm at some point, probably 1902. It was all over by 1911, so the photo at the site labeled “1918” is, in the end, a little less exciting than it could be.

Augusta married a third time, getting hitched to her first husband’s former bookkeeper at the brewery. Some people never learn.

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Free beer review: Ninkasi at Corners

I’m rocking the suburbs, just like Ninkasi Brewing did…

For today’s edition of the Free Beer Review, let’s talk beer dinners. If you’re the type of drinker who goes to beer dinners in the Bay Area, you’d probably say that six paired courses for $65 is a relative bargain. Based on attendance I’ve seen at Ninkasi Brewing events, I’d say the Oregon-based brewery has a lot of local fans. So a six-course Ninkasi beer dinner for $65? BART accessible to boot so you can get sloppy if that’s how you roll? Why wasn’t this sold out?

Because it was in Walnut Creek, not the beer-soaked playgrounds of SF or Oakland.

*sad trombone*

Well, all the better for me, because at the last minute the nice people at Ninkasi treated me to one of the remaining spots. (I know, with friends like these, any suburb can achieve instant greatness). I’d been meaning to check out the site of the dinner, Corners Tavern, because several of their awesome staff drink down the street at my workplace Øl. What a fine excuse to finally go!

I was mostly just having a good time rather than taking legit notes, but in defense of The Other Side of The Tunnel, here’s (roughly) what you missed:

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1) hors d’ouveres with Pravda Bohemian Pilsner: this was a new beer to me. Czech style pilsner isn’t a go-to style for me, but it was real nice to have one that hadn’t suffered from 6000 miles of shipping. The appetizers were of the fancy charcuterie and pickles variety, most if not all house-made. I am a fiend for pickles and cured meat but “Pace yourself,” went the self-talk. Five more courses (and beers) to go.

2) roasted asparagus and cabecou goat cheese, radish, pickled onion with Spring Reign Pale Ale: this was the first course that sent me to google (“cabecou?” Ok, I am not a cheese expert) and the first pairing that sounded wrong but totally worked. A west coast citrus-and-weed bomb of a pale ale wouldn’t make sense here, but the more gentle flavors of Spring Reign played surprisingly nicely with the asparagus. But really, you had me at “asparagus.”

3) lamb tartar, preserved lemon, olive, creme friache with Believer Double Red Ale: cowboy up, Walnut Creek, yer gittin’ some RAW LAMB! This is not your mother’s suburban restaurant. This course was hearty enough to punch Believer — which was tasting fantastic — right back in the face. Possibly the highlight of the meal for me. a) it was delicious beyond belief and b) I enjoy any meal that carries a credible threat of foodborne illness.

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4) charred yellowtail in its own broth with gently cooked spring vegetables with Total Domination India Pale Ale: I like yellowtail, though I’ve most often experienced it in cheap sushi. I like vegetables. I like IPA. I like being four beers in and chatting with cool people. What were we talking about again?

5) veal short rib braised with Parmesan, black trumpets, and peas with Tricerahops Double India Pale Ale: focus! you’ve got two more courses and they’re going to be fucking insane. This course exemplifies why fancy restaurants give small portions: any bigger a serving of something this rich and your mouth might explode. Throwing an IPA down my gullet with it kept me from total palate collapse.

6) chocolate and vanilla stout tart, granola, stout anglaise with Oatis Oatmeal Stout: I am Thanksgiving full. I am tipsy. I cannot possibly eat or drink any more. Oh. Yes I can. While the previous few pairings were based on contrast (fat vs. hops), this one was based on sweet chocolately harmony. Oh man.

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I’d forgotten that I do really enjoy beer dinners, especially the part where you’re geeking out on beer and food with like-minded people. But it was time for a week of simple home cooking after this. And yes, I’d love a ride back to BART, because I can barely walk.

If you’re not too cool to eat at a tablecloth restaurant down the street from a Maserati dealership, do yourself a favor and have yourself a meal and a beer at Corners sometime. They made magic with this beer dinner, including one pairing that won me over for a beer I previously hadn’t liked. (I ain’t tellin’.) And if you want to stop by Øl afterwards and tell me what a great beer blogger and all around delightful human being I am, hey, I won’t stop you.

You can follow Ninkasi Brewing on Facebook and Twitter and Corners Tavern on Facebook

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The year Ale Industries changed everything

When I arrived at Ale Industries’ new Oakland brewery space last week, owners Morgan Cox and Stephen Lopas were red-faced and squatting in the brewing area. Though we hadn’t set a specific time for my visit, I arrived at a momentous moment: they were making the final steam pipe connection for Ale Industries’ new biofuel boiler. The guys whooped a little at the completion of the task, then Morgan started to offer me a handshake before realizing his hands were covered in grease.

2014 may go down as the year Ale Industries changed (almost) everything, but the DIY ethic running through the brewery is the same. These are the folks who moved a commercial brewery from Concord to Oakland, one piece at a time, in a pick-up truck. The place that employed me last year bottling beer homebrew-style, with a counterpressure filler and a butterfly capper. The brewery whose new Concord taproom was mostly built by staff and friends. I suspect Morgan and Steve will always be willing to grab a toolbox and get in there, but they’ve also got bigger plans.

The Fruitvale Fermentation Factory is underway

Ale Industries had a good few years in the former EJ Phair space in Concord, in the same complex as MoreBeer. For various reasons, however, it was time to go. After a few locations near Jack London Square didn’t pan out, a space in Fruitvale did. They’re now in an old 6000-ish square foot factory at 3096 East 10th St.

Look at those high ceilings!

Look at those high ceilings!

The building has been around since at least the early 1900s, and has had past lives making things like tin brackets and license plates. It’s surrounded by the lofts, studios, and other factories of the Jingletown community. “Jingletown” sounds like a name made up by real estate agents afraid to say “Fruitvale,” but it’s been the name for this district within the Fruitvale neighborhood since most of the residents were Portuguese cannery workers. It’s going to be a fun place for an art-loving brewery to be. For one, some of the neighboring artists build big, bulky sculptures that are hard to display in a traditional setting, but they can be simply forklifted into a brewery.

The brewery is being divided into four quadrants. Obviously, there will be a brewing area and a fermenting area. One quadrant will hold barrels, lots of barrels — good news for fans of Ale Industries’ sour projects. The last fourth of the brewery will be a bar (we’ll get to that in a minute).

The desk, forklift, and hand-me-down Beer Revolution kegerator won't be there forever

The desk, forklift, and hand-me-down Beer Revolution kegerator won’t be there forever

And let’s not forget the new bottling line! As I said on Facebook when it was unveiled, “When I’m an old beer geek I look forward to the ‘I bottled for Ale Industries back when it was all by hand’ story. I may add that the walk to Detroit Ave was uphill both ways and snowy.” Three cheers for technology.

All I want for Christmas is a bioenergy flamethrower

Ale Industries has long employed biofuel to run the trucks that deliver its beer, not to mention Morgan’s house and his wife’s vehicle. One of the things they’re most psyched about in the new space is their biofuel boiler. While it’s impossible to know what every brewery on earth is doing, Ale Industries just might be the only brewery brewing this way.

Call it “biofuel,” “bioenergy,” or “biodiesel” — it usually starts with used vegetable oil that can be scored from restaurants. Basically, the boiler combusts vegetable oil to create steam to boil the wort. “It’s basically a huge flamethrower,” said Morgan. A carbon-neutral, clean-burning flamethrower. I’d say “economical,” but while biofuel is cheaper than traditional fuel, the boiler itself was expensive.

Morgan and the long-awaited green boiler

Morgan and the long-awaited green boiler

Rye’d Piper and burritos are in your future

The Fruitvale brewery is still a work in progress, but later this year it’ll be a place for growler fills, pints, music gigs, and art showings. They’re also tossing around the idea of having speakers come in to talk beer (with accompanying beer tastings, naturally).

The nearby Aloha Club claims the longest bar in Oakland, so Morgan said the Jingletown Jazz Room (the aforementioned fourth quadrant of the brewery) plans to have the second-longest bar in Oakland, in the second production brewery in post-Prohibition Oakland, at the second-coolest place to drink a beer in Oakland. The first post-Pro brewery in Oakland was Linden Street — what’s the first-coolest place to drink a beer in town? Morgan smiled and shrugged. “Up to you.” Fair enough.

Ale Industries will later pick up its old Concord practice of inviting food trucks to the brewery — both Fruitvale-based trucks and the newer guard trucks like Fists of Flour they’ve grown to love. In the meantime, there’s an excellent truck, El Novillo, parked a stone’s throw away in the parking lot of a sit-down restaurant. Ask for green onions along with your salsa and jalapenos.

The Fruitvale BART station is ridiculously close, but if you must drive, BART can probably still help you out with its parking lot, which is free after 3pm and on weekends and cheap other times. I can’t tell you how comfortable to be in this or any other neighborhood, but I will say if you are accustomed to urban areas such as SF or other parts of Oakland, you probably won’t find this part of Fruitvale intimidating (unless you’re scared of tacos).

Take BART!

Take BART!

Meanwhile, back in Concord…

Ale Industries moving its brewery to Oakland was bittersweet: Morgan is raising his family there, Steve spends a lot of time there, and it’s an exciting place to be right now. But they didn’t want to leave their Concord taproom regulars in the lurch. Enter The Pig & The Pickle Ale Industries Marketplace. The crew wanted it open in time for SF Beer Week, but having seen the space in December and January I was a little skeptical — plus, how many times have we heard “by SF Beer Week” as an (unmet) goal before? Surprise! They did it.

Steve and his girlfriend April hustling hard to build The Pig & The Pickle in January

Steve and his girlfriend April hustling hard to build The Pig & The Pickle in January

The goal is to make this a Concord showcase for what Ale Industries is doing in Oakland, plus offering locally-produced and sometimes house-made pickles, charcuterie, bread, and other goodies. Think one-stop shopping for a picnic with a growler and easily transportable chow. As of this writing, it’s all guest taps and bottles while the Oakland brewery gets up and running, but Ale Industries beer will be back on tap as soon as possible. In the future look for 8 taps, always a Two Rivers guest tap for your cider-loving friends, other guest taps if space allows, and bottles.

The Thursday open mic nights at the Detroit Ave brewery are now a thing of the past, but The Pig & The Pickle has picked up where the brewery artists’ markets left off with local art on the walls and a Meet the Artists night in mid-March. Manager, bartender, and all-around ass-kicker Maureen Gibe feels strongly about supporting local creative types — and seems to know every human being in Contra Costa County — so I expect cool things from this space.

This pallet-turned-planter may be Ale Industries in a nutshell

This pallet-turned-planter may be Ale Industries in a nutshell

The Pig & The Pickle is at 1960 Concord Ave, next door to the Old Hang Out and an easy stroll from EJ Phair and the future home of The Hop Grenade. There’s a little parking in the back but it’s also walking distance from Concord BART. For now, it’s open Monday – Thursday 4-10, Friday 3-10, Saturday 12-10, and Sunday 12-8. Hours will be extended to weekday lunch later on (and, disclosure, I’ll probably start pulling a shift there at that point).

February, before the AI beer ran dry...

February, before the AI beer ran dry…

I’ve seen the future, baby, it is thirsty

Even though the new brewery isn’t even fully functional yet, Ale Industries is looking ahead to its next one. “I see this as a five to seven year answer,” said Morgan. He envisions moving the stainless steel part of the operation into a bigger space later and keeping Fruitvale as a barrel-aging facility. The beer is doing well in Oregon and Southern California, and getting more beer to those markets and others is a goal (as is keeping Bay Area accounts happy, of course.) In the meantime, they have interesting projects in the pipeline like brewing a house beer for Burma Superstar.

We’ll have to wait and see what the next decade of Ale Industries holds. For now, Concord and Fruitvale are getting that much more beery and fun.

Follow Ale Industries on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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Oakland beer ads, 1890s

First off, if you’ve been enjoying my beer history tidbits, you’ve got to check out what my friend Brian is doing over at BygoneBeer.com. Those old beer labels and drinking postcards are a trip!

Today’s local beer history comes to us from reader Aram Cretan of Oakland brewery-in-planning Federation Brewing. I haven’t run into this guy in a year; I love how beer history brings its relatively few devotees out of the woodwork. I enjoyed his email so much I’m just going to quote it in its entirety as a guest post. Enjoy this page (literally) out of 1890.

“I’m an Oakland history geek myself, and reading Beth Bagwell’s book sent me scrambling not just to the Oakland History Room at the library, but to the fantastic Betty Marvin, whose office in the rear corner of the Planning Department is just overflowing with awesome stuff–books, newspaper archives, plat maps, possibly some bodies. I actually had a permitting question for her, but after quickly dispensing with the boring stuff, we got down to the business of pinning down the exact location of the church my great-grandfather had been the pastor of (demolished, as were so many wonderful things in Oakland, for a freeway.) While I was poring over old phone books, she found the attached newspaper clipping, from the Oakland Daily Evening Tribune, Wednesday January 15, 1890.

OakTrib_1890_1_15

(click to zoom in)

“On the bottom right, there’s an ad for Kramm and Dieves Oakland Brewery, corner of Telegraph and Durant, which is now Berkeley. They claim to be the largest brewery in the county, an important distinction when contrasted with the ad further up the page for John Wieland’s Celebrated Lager Beer, which claims to have produced 122k barrels in 1888. (I presume that’s not a 31gal BBL, because that would be crazy.) John Wieland’s Lager was later produced by Pacific Brewing and Malting in San Jose, which was at the time known as San Francisco Breweries or perhaps Fredricksburg Brewing Company. (http://www.taverntrove.com/brewery.php?BreweryId=1906)

“You might also note that the DRUNKENNESS caused by all of this beer can be Positively Cured by administering Dr. Klaines Golden Specific, and that Hood’s Sarsaprilla seems to have pioneered the “Head On! Apply Directly To Forehead!” approach. Love these old newspapers.”

Thanks Aram! Look for Federation Brewing as soon as the Oakland commercial real estate gods smile on ‘em.

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Why I don’t call it “craft beer”

There’s a reason this blog isn’t called East Bay Craft Beer. Part of it is that I’ve been around long enough to remember when beers I liked were called “microbrew,” and if I’m still running this site in 15 years I don’t want to have to change the name. But beyond my big-picture musings about the evolution of industry jargon, “craft beer” is generally not a phrase I use. Increasingly, it’s not a phrase I like.

This isn’t an assault on anyone with “craft beer” in their organization name, Twitter handle, etc. Caring if you use the phrase “craft beer” would be quite a self-inflicted first-world problem. This is an explanation of why I don’t often use the phrase “craft beer” and why I’d like to see our language and beer culture evolve past the point where it serves any purpose.

So what do I like to call it? “Beer.” Here’s why.

“Craft” has become an unregulated marketing term, not a real adjective
Any restaurant can call itself “authentic.” Similarly, though it’ll result in uproar on the Internet, anyone can use the word “craft.”

Exhibit A: Everything Sold At The Yankees’ New “Craft Beer” Stand Is Owned By MillerCoors, And Half Of Them Aren’t Actually Beers

Abracadabra! You're craft beer!

Abracadabra! You’re craft beer!

The closest thing we have to an “official” definition of craft comes from the Brewers Association. They’ve (several times) changed the definition of “small” and more recently changed the definition of craft to include some popular adjunct lagers. Does this latter move make Yeungling better than Budweiser? No, it does not. The Brewers Association does a lot of great work for the industry, but craft or crafty or who cares.

Some say a different definition of craft would help. Personally, I’d rather ditch the word than regulate it. I’m done with the amateur beer industry sport of arguing about what “craft” means.

Why should I have to change my name?
In the movie Office Space, the character Michael Bolton (“no, it’s just a coincidence”) is asked why he doesn’t go by “Mike” instead of “Michael.”

He replies, “No way. Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks.”

I call it beer. I don’t see why I should change it, because my beer doesn’t suck. (Not all macro beer sucks, and some craft beer does, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.) Belgian and German and English beer of all styles existed long before American beer culture got screwed up by Prohibition and our beer ceased to have flavor for decades. Trappist monks didn’t need to call it craft and I don’t think we do either.

I like to be specific
What do you like about “craft” beer? That it tastes good? That the brewers and/or owners are our friends and/or neighbors? That it’s “small”? (or smaller than a company you don’t like?). That it’s creative? That it’s family-owned with a succession plan in place? That it has ethical business practices? Does it need to be low-budget and DIY? Does it need to be strongly flavored or high in alcohol? “Craft” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I like to say exactly what I like about a beer instead of using a blanket term that implies that an entire business category is better than another. “Local,” “small” and “yummy” aren’t perfect either, but they get closer to an actual description.

Lessons_from_the_Hundred-Acre_Wood_-_Use_Your_Words

It sounds like an ad
I know, time is money and sometimes you’ve got to take a shortcut to get your point across succinctly: “20 craft beers on tap,” “craft brewed in [insert city here],” whatever. But I find that most of the time you need a quick soundbite, it’s an ad. If I’m giving free advertising it’s going to be for a brewery or beer I like, not for an entire business sector.

I can’t speak to what the value of the word “craft” is for a brewery or a bar that has a brand involving that word. I only know that as a bartender I’ve never once been asked if a beer is craft or not, and as a consumer the phrase “craft beer” does not roll trippingly off my tongue. I’m gonna ask my husband if he wants to grab a beer after work, not if he wants to grab a craft beer. And I personally enjoy writing the way I speak.

Wishful thinking
There’s a bit of utopianism going on when I call both Natty Lite and 3 Fonteinen Gueuze “beer.” For too long in America, “beer” mostly meant one flavor. I think we should get that word back and have it mean all flavors. When most Americans think “beer,” they think the lite yellow stuff that still dominates the market. I want to do my part to change that. Won’t Joe Macro Drinker be more likely to try one of our beers if we don’t make it sound all fancy and different?

It’s yet another image problem beer has but wine doesn’t. Wine is generally called “wine.” It’s subpar (or perceived to be subpar) wine that gets an adjective, like “cheap wine,” “box wine,” “jug wine,” or “chateau de screw top.”

And in 100 years we’ll all be dead anyway
In short, I’ll know what you’re talking about it if you call it beer. I think I’ll also know what you’re getting at if you call it craft beer (or microbrew). We could argue about it all day, but enough of this and let’s drink one! Cheers.

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