You should be drinking more Marin Brewing

In today’s beer landscape, where a homebrewer with a dream opens a brewery every 10 minutes, it’s easy to forget the classics. Like the perpetually award-winning but somehow still underrated Marin Brewing Company. I’m guessing many Bay Area beer fans have never been there, even though it’s been around since 1989.

My first visit to Marin Brewing, 2010

My first visit to Marin Brewing, 2010

Today, I salute them even more than usual for brewing a beer called Not My President IPA. This is a less ballsy move in Marin County than in some other parts of the US, of course…but it does risk pissing off the 1/3 of the county who voted for Trump, and seeing a business risk pissing off anyone in the capitalist swamp that is 2017 makes me smile. Kudos, also, to the beer bars putting it on tap, and to the guy who posted the picture of Toronado’s draft handle for it to a beer group last night. (Spoiler alert: it’s a penis with Trump’s head on it). Marin has had the courage of its convictions for decades, though. Marin and its sister brewpub Moylan’s donated to over 300 charities last year, and have run a breast cancer fundraiser festival for 16 years.

The pub itself is family friendly and approachable. The music is uncontroversial and tends towards classic rock. Sports are on TV. Lots of regulars. There are some dashes of only-in-Marin personality, like the collection of old coaster doodles across from the bar, bike stuff everywhere, and photos of locals…but in some ways, this pub could be in any neighborhood in America. 

Photo by Eric Pietras

Photo by Eric Pietras

However, most sports bar-type suburban locales don’t have beer this good. When I’m trying to convince someone Marin Brewing is good (which I’ve had to do way too often) the easiest argument is 3 Flowers rye IPA. That beer wins medals for a reason. It’s one of the best selling 22-oz bottles at the Marin grocery store where I work, so the locals get it. Maybe the name turns some people off — it doesn’t taste like flowers, dude, it’s referring to hop flowers! I was drinking a glass of cask 4 Flowers (3 Flowers plus another hop) when I decided to finally write this post.

Photo by Eric PIetras

Photo by Eric Pietras

If you like the dark stuff, Pt Reyes Porter never disappoints. If you want a Belgian, you might actually get one (a rarity for a California brewpub). And if you’re one of those beer tickers who needs everything to be imperialized or rare or barrel-aged or have exotic fruit in it…well, Marin does that sort of thing sometimes, (like the beer brewed with Chinese medicinal herbs sourced from Jerry Garcia’s acupuncturist.) And Old Dipsea barleywine is delicious. 

My cat also approves of this beer

My cat also approves of this beer

Marin doesn’t aim to be the king of hop bombs, strong ales, or weird adjuncts. It does all those things, but it mostly provides a friendly neigborhood brewpub that makes me wish, for just a minute, I lived in Larkspur.

Are you going? Cool. There are some daily specials to learn and love, if you’re one of the  4 people in the Bay Area beer scene (other than me) who are actually on a budget.

Monday: Tasty gringo tacos for $2.50

Tuesday: $3.50 pints (do NOT tip your server 50 cents, c’mon now.)

Wednesday: $3 off growler fills, so, $12.

They do a good job of posting taplists and specials on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The pub is located at 1809 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur, CA 94939. Public transit to Marin Brewing is technically possible, but not convenient unless you’re near certain bus stations in Marin County or you’re in SF near the ferry. (I do recommend the ferry option, it’s pricey but fun.) What you could do, if you want to try a ton of beers but not die on the way home, is end your session with a movie at the Cinemark that’s stumbling distance away.

Or just look for Marin beers at smart beer bars. (Hey beer buyers…as of 2015 the wholesale prices were more than fair.)

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Disclosure: We’re not BFFs, but Marin brewer Arne and I run in the same circles and we drank a lot of beers together in Belgium in 2015. I liked Marin a lot before all that. Hey Arne and Betz, when are we getting beers again?!

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The best beer thing I did all year

Let’s just get this out of the way: 2016 sucked, my blog sucked, I sucked. I have reason to believe at least my blog and I can suck less next year. No promises about 2017 in general, but dammit this is a beer blog and we’re not going to talk about that.

Instead I’m going to tell you about my best beer day of 2016, which was in March, but I’m posting about it in late December because SUCK. I’m sorry the name of my blog is becoming increasingly misnomer-ish but it was nowhere near the East Bay either — it was hanging out at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, CA. I got a little bit of special treatment for being In The Industry, but this is otherwise an epic beer day you could have for yourself.

I’m a loyal Sierra fan, even though I too got pretty tired of a certain green-labeled pale ale back in the days when that was the best beer option at almost any neighborhood bar. Sure, I have a soft spot for beer pioneers, but Sierra Nevada also continues to simply get things right while staying remarkably current with their new releases and seasonals. Some of you don’t like Sierra Nevada. I don’t get it but that’s fine. MORE FOR ME.

The tour

I should say I find most brewery tours incredibly boring. Tell me again, marketing intern, the difference between ales and lagers! The Sierra Nevada Beer Geek tour is for the rest of us.

I don’t want to go too in-depth here because I want you to go do it yourself. But I will relay a few of the highlights…

1. It’s three hours long. When they say “geek” they mean it.

2. Your tour guide might actually know more about beer than you do for once. Our tour guide was Byron, who knew what he was doing and seemed to enjoy doing it. Ask him anything. No, really.

This guy. Smart at beer.

This guy. Smart at beer.

3. You’re going to go all over the brewery and see all kinds of cool stuff like brewing equipment so German you can’t pronounce the controls.

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4. You are going to drink beer straight out of the tanks. Maybe twice.

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You also get a t-shirt and a growler…that’s a downside for many beer geeks, who have way too many beer shirts and growlers already, but these are at least cooler looking than most.

When the time comes for you to go up north, book your tour here.

The brewery restaurant doesn’t suck

In fact, the taproom is legitimately good.  The three of us on this trip — all of whom might identify as a “foodie” if the term wasn’t so stupid — ate there for both lunch and dinner the day we got there. Everything satisfied, though I can’t speak to dessert because my friend Jared is a visionary who made a good case for Narwhal counting as a dessert item.

This will likely be your splurge meal, though a Chico splurge meal is a Bay Area Tuesday ($12 burgers, $15-20 mains).

Other bars in town

The bar that felt most like the East Bay — but with everything still being a buck or two cheaper —  was the cool beer bar The Winchester Goose. It sounds like it came out of the Hipster Business Name Generator but the staff and patrons at my visit lacked any of the pretense you’d find at a similar spot in [insert your least favorite Bay neighborhood here]. Founders Curmudgeon and beer soup in a bread bowl, yes please!

Loose in the Goose

Loose in the Goose

Duffy’s Tavern sounded like my kind of place but I’m thinking I was there too early. It strikes me as the kind of place that gets cranking much, much later. Also the kind of place where you wonder upon entering when the beer lines last got cleaned, but my Firestone 805 tasted fine.

Argus sounded like the opposite of my kind of place but came strongly recommended from some locals at The Winchester Goose. Maybe you will have time to try it.

Off the beaten tourist path (you’ll need a car) is The HandleBar, Chico’s first beer bar. (What did I say earlier about loving pioneers?) Solid food, good beer list. As of this writing, go to their website and click on “Events” to see some familiar East Bay beer faces…

The Chico bar I’d most like to see magically transported to my neighborhood was The Maltese. Not a beer bar, but they did have a decent selection, including Sierra seasonals for $4. We also marveled at how affordable whiskey gets the further a bar is from San Francisco. Even the cover band was good (highlight: The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait,” complete with horn section.) As I posted at the time: “brb, moving to Chico.”

And, you know, you can go downtown and see the world’s largest yo yo for no particular reason.

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You’re fun, Chico. I’ll be back.

2016, we will not speak of you again.

Cheers, friends. Thanks for (still) reading.

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Made in Richmond: Benoit Casper Brewing

It’s not easy being a beer nerd in Richmond, a city of approximately 100,000 residents and exactly one bar that rotates its taps. That may change soon, and Benoit Casper Brewing Company — Richmond’s first brewery in the modern era — has been quietly leading the way.

(You should also stay tuned for East Brother Beer Company, a brewery currently being built in Richmond on Canal Street. More on them later).

Benoit Casper Brewing was founded in 2014 by Marc Benoit and Chad Casper (get it?) but it’s okay if you don’t know them yet. Slow expansion is actually their goal, not least because both founders have day jobs and families. “We will be lucky to top 200 bbls this year and 500 next,” said Chad. They hired their first outside employee this year, assistant brewer Tim Clair, and will be adding a 15 bbl fermenter and expanding the cold room. They self-distribute and plan to keep their beer more or less within a 50 mile radius. 

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Benoit Casper beers can be found at more and more beer bars in the area, but the physical brewery, for now, is known mostly to a small group of locals. On my visit, I ran into two neighbors I’ve never actually seen within Richmond city limits before because until now we all had to leave town for beer.

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Benoit Casper already had to jump through hoops to be allowed to brew in its 12th Street location, which is zoned residential. The good news for central Richmond is that, despite the paperwork hassles, they’re moving forward with a plan to open a taproom in the brewery. This should be a wonderful thing for a neighborhood generally lacking in entertainment options outside people’s homes. Selfishly, I’m stoked for a beer place I can walk to in under half an hour, and I’ve got a soft spot for drinking spots near BART stations. 

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So why Richmond? Sure, it’s less expensive than most parts of the Bay Area. But just as importantly for these guys, the brewery is adjacent to the construction company Chad Casper has worked at for the better part of two decades. That is a guy who gets to name a beer Iron Triangle Double IPA.

When your side hustle is next door to your day job...

When your side hustle is next door to your day job…

As a relative newcomer to Richmond (I bought my house in 2013), I’m in the precarious and perhaps hypocritical position of hoping the city can improve in the future without losing what makes it good already. It bodes well that the first brewery in otherwise beer-challenged modern Richmond is a labor of love, not a gentrifying bandwagon jump. I look forward to meeting more of my neighbors over beers soon.

While we wait patiently for the taproom, you can email info@bcbrewing.com to arrange a growler fill or keg fill and meet the crew. Outside the brewery, Point Richmond’s rugby pub Up & Under is the most reliable place to find a Benoit Casper beer on tap. Follow Benoit Casper on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and don’t forget there’s a world north of Berkeley.

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Remembering Lee Shephard

Drinking beer in Alaska in January. Photo by Ann Niemczyk.

Drinking beer in Alaska in January, like a boss. Photo by Ann Niemczyk.

Lee Shephard died on June 10 after an unfair struggle with a rare, aggressive neuroendocrine cancer. We in the beer community knew him as an award-winning homebrewer, master BJCP judge, festival organizer, volunteer wrangler, podcast co-host, drinking buddy, teacher, mentor, and friend.

It’s hard to overemphasize how much Lee taught so many people. Drinking a beer with Lee, you paid more attention. His BJCP classes were epic, unpaid labors of love full of hard science, tough love mixed with consistent encouragement, and extensive handwritten comments. Whenever he sat down at a judging table, both his fellow judges and the homebrewer up for critique were going to come out smarter. Unlike many brewers at his level, he was patient with newbies, generous with advice, and nonjudgmental of your learning curve. He was an actual educator in a world of pedants and know-it-alls.

Facebook is doing what Facebook does after someone passes…exploding with tributes that all but canonize the departed. In Lee’s case, it’s hard to argue with the outpouring. He really was all those things: smart yet humble, sarcastic but kind, hardworking and funloving, discerning yet forgiving, and liked by goddamn everyone.

Another rock star claimed by 2016. My condolences if you knew Lee. Bigger condolences if you didn’t.

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CommonWealth Cafe & Pub to change hands

Some people open a bar or restaurant, hire a general manager, and walk away. Others are so much a part of the business it’s hard to picture it without them. Ross and Ahna Adair, who founded CommonWealth in 2010 with Ahna’s brother Pete Jeffryes, were synonymous with the pub for many people. That’s why Facebook freaked out a little when this was posted on the CommonWealth page on Monday night.

Dear Friends,

The time has come to advise you all, we are stepping aside.

The CommonWealth will live on though, offering all the things you’ve come to know and love. We are simply passing on the torch to our friends, Lizzie Alford and Josh Rosenberg. They have both been regulars since we opened in 2010. Lizzie liked us so much she came on staff two years ago and Josh is a longtime member of the local restaurant community.

Several factors have culminated in this carefully considered decision but we are primarily motivated by what we feel is best for our wee family right now.

We are thrilled that Lizzie and Josh want to keep things going and honor all the hard work and love we have put in. They are an energetic young couple and we have the utmost faith in their ability to carry on the tradition.

When we think about getting out of the biz a wave of nostalgia passes over us and the six years we have spent building this pub flashes before our eyes. It will be bittersweet once the time comes, and no doubt emotional. We have made so many wonderful friends here.

We have been fortunate to find new owners who will continue on with the same care and passion and we feel assured that with your support, this pub will thrive for many years to come.

Cheers! Ahna and Ross

Many responses were some variant of “sad news.” I say CommonWealth Micropub closing in December was sad news. This change doesn’t need to be.

I admit I’m not objective, as I used to work for CommonWealth. I’ve only met Josh a few times but I’ve worked extensively with Lizzie. She’s been in the restaurant industry since she was 15 and is that rare breed of hospitality pro who is both a born server and a smart manager. Relax and trust her with this.

I asked her if anything would be changing and her response was quite clear. “Josh and I have no plans to change the Commonwealth,” she wrote. “We want to save it, to save the atmosphere, the traditions, the comfort food, the good beer. That includes maintaining the current staff and culture. Pub quiz, Burns night, bagpipes, FUTBOL. Futbol fans can rest easy, we’re gearing up for Copa America, and the Euros this summer. Just to be extra clear, NO ONE is being let go or fired in this transition of ownership.”

There you have it. Think of this as a family business being passed to a younger generation. Yes, it’s weird to think of visiting CommonWealth without seeing either of the Adairs, but all the other faces behind the bar (and in the kitchen) will remain familiar.

What’s next for Ahna and Ross? First up, some travel with their daughters. “The only thing we know for sure is we plan to travel to Scotland for the summer once Ruby and Charlotte are out of Kindergarten,” wrote Ross. “I haven’t been home in over 6 years, Ahna didn’t come with me on that trip because she was pregnant so it’s been even longer for her, the girls have never been. There’s a lot of folks dying to meet them. CW has anchored us to Oakland but our families are spread across the globe. We need to go see them.”

Having been behind the scenes at CW, I saw how hard Ross and Ahna work running a business AND raising twins. I’m happy for them, not sad, and I wish them all the relaxation and passport stamps they deserve. Cheers!

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Road trip: HenHouse Brewing’s Santa Rosa taproom

HenHouse Brewing has officially moved out of Petaluma and opened its new brewery and taproom in South Santa Rosa. I got invited to the soft opening, and needed no further persuasion to hop in the car and check it out. Soon, you can too: the taproom grand opening and release of HenHouse’s new sour is Saturday, March 5.

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As originally reported in The Press Democrat, this is a 75,000 bbl brewhouse, with initial production estimated at 5000 bbls. Likewise, there were 7 beers on tap over the weekend but I counted 21 tap handles. It’s going to be fun to watch HenHouse grow into this space. They’ll be filling some of those taps with fun tasting room-only beers from a 2 bbl pilot system.

They’ve got all the brewery taproom bases covered: full pours, small pours (essential at a place you almost have to drive to), growler fills, comfortable and casual vibe. They’ll be putting in more outdoor seating so you can look forward to drinking a HenHouse saison in the sun, as nature intended.

Some of you are skimming down the page wanting more about that sour beer. Okay. Co-owner Collin McDonnell kindly slipped my table a sample of it and I advise you to get excited about HenHouse’s barrel program. Stony Point Sour is “our house Saison aged in a mix of white wine barrels for about two years with Chardonnay juice, strawberries and boysenberries,” said Collin. “We have at least two more definitive beers lined up in the barrel program: saison with Chardonnay juice blended with a lactic fermentation which tastes like sparkly wine cooler peaches, and a barrel aged saison with kumquats. All three are different blends of the same base batch. Going forward, our funky/sour barrel aging program will take on a shape like this: multiple blends out of one batch. It’s a cool way to pull out different aspects of one beer.” Word.

HenHouse is located at 322 Bellevue Ave, Santa Rosa, 95407. The hours will be Wednesday through Friday 4-9pm, and Saturday/Sunday 11am-9pm. You can bring your own food or get chow from Red Horse Pizza on Friday through Sunday. It’s legal to bring the kids. Go get some good beer made by good people.

(Disclosure: I’ve been bullshitting with Collin on Twitter and running into him at bars for a few years now, and he bought my first beer at the taproom.)

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Bobby G’s has been sold

Just when we’ve gotten used to Perdition being closed, there’s another (more subtle, we hope) change coming to the beer spots of downtown Berkeley. Bobby G’s Pizzeria has been sold.

Owner Robert Gaustad explained on the Bobby G’s Facebook page:

“So, with all the rumors flying around about the sale of Bobby G’s Pizzeria, I’ll try to clarify some things.My partner, Heather Kratt, and I, are indeed selling the restaurant and we are currently in escrow. The close of sale should happen sometime between a month and six weeks. I will be here throughout that time, every day as usual, and then I’ll be around for a time after we close to consult if need be.

“We found a buyer who wants to keep the same name and concept of the restaurant and, in fact, wanted to buy it because we are a popular neighborhood hangout with great beer and pizza. The buyers are two brothers with a background in food, beer, and wine, so that’s a great match for this place. More importantly, they are young and energetic. One plan they have is to extend the hours which people have been asking me to do for years. Probably midnight on weekdays and 1am on weekends.

“The two brothers will start working here in early March so our regular customers and our employees will have ample time to get to know them before the close of the sale. I truly hope all our friends we’ve made over the years, as well as our staff, support these two young men. It’s not easy to step right into a busy restaurant and take it over so they will need as much support as we can give them.

“I, for one, wish them all the success in the world and I hope they carry on the restaurant as Heather and I planned it over nine years ago. We wanted to create a relaxing neighborhood hangout with great food, beer, and wine. And I wanted to make sure we had plenty of sports and music available to our customers. I think we succeeded, and as a result have made many hundreds of good friends over the years.

“My main reason for selling is because I have a number of health problems. I used to be a tough young man and now I’m a semi-broken, semi-old man. Nine years of way too many seven day weeks will take a toll on anybody and it’s certainly done that to me. I am truly going to miss all my friends who have been working here and coming in for years. I’m not planning on leaving town anytime soon so I hope I can meet up with some of you in a relaxed state once I’ve taken some time off to try to heal.

“On one hand I’m very excited for this change, and on the other, I’m sad. I’m only 63 (in a couple of months) and I hope I can hang in for at least another 30 years or so. To do that, I need a long break from work, stress, and anxiety. Frankly, I need a Pliny.”

It remains to be seen, of course, what will actually change under the new ownership, but that’s what’s known so far.

A crowd at Bobby G's a few years ago

A crowd at Bobby G’s a few years ago

Remember when the taplist looked like this?

Remember when the taplist looked like this?

Inescapable... ;)

Inescapable… ;)

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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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