East Bay Beer Goes To Belgium: Don’t want to be an American idiot

<long boring frequent-flyer-mile-oriented story deleted> so I was the first of our group to arrive in Belgium. I figured I’d walk around, have some beers, enjoy the silence.

I’d planned on declaring “vacation” and “birthday week” and whatever other justification necessary to start drinking beer at Old Belgian Guys Are Drinking Beer O’Clock (which is like 10am at the latest). However, I couldn’t bring myself to enter a bar today until well into the afternoon.

Not everyone here knows me so let’s lay it out:

  • I normally have no problem with walking into a bar by myself (or seeing a movie by myself or whatever)
  • I normally laugh off the awkwardness and difficulties inherent in trying to communicate with someone with whom you share little or no language
  • Normally the disorientation of travel is all part of the fun

I don’t know why I wasn’t feeling it on Saturday. I didn’t actually enjoy myself until the third bar (and not because I was tipsy — it was hours and hours after the second bar). Part of it was that Bar #3 had an actual bar, which is far less weird for a solo drinker than pulling up to a table by yourself. It also increases the chances that someone will strike up a conversation with you, which someone did. But most of today’s problem was in my own headspace. Man, French is hard, foreign countries are hard, picking a beer is hard!

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WAH WAH FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS. For goodness sake, I used to work at a Belgian-heavy beer bar, I even knew most of the beers on the menus.

Then it occurred to me that how I experience solo bar-going on a bad travel day must feel similar to the intimidation some people feel at a specialty beer bar. Maybe it was good for me to walk around all day feeling the full force of my social awkwardness and functional illiteracy in both French and Flemish. This is how some of my customers feel when they walk into one of my workplaces and look at the beer list.

What I’m saying is, I’ll try to remember today next time a customer gets flustered and blurts out something like “I don’t know! A pale ale or a hef or whatever! Just pick me something! I’ll drink it!”

In other, better news, I am in love with Moeder Lambic. More on them later.

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East Bay Beer goes to Belgium: Day 1, passport control

Passport guy: Vacation?

Me: Yes

PG: Just you traveling today?

Me: Yes

PG: Staying with friends?

Me: I’m meeting up with the rest of the group tonight and tomorrow

PG: How long, I’m guessing two days?

Me: Actually we’ll be here until March 9

PG: *suspicious look*

Me: We’re here to drink all your beer

PG: ha ha! You can try!   * stamps passport*   You know, Belgian beer, it is not like Budweiser

Me: Oh, I know!

PG: Or the other one, Blue Ribbon…

:)

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Piggin’ out at Sau & Brau 2015

SF Beer Week has been over for a week now, but I sense some of you are still recovering, so I don’t feel bad that I’m still recapping. It’s okay if you pour yourself a glass of water while we do this.

Let’s talk about Sau & Brau 5. With food from one of the few New Oakland restaurants as delicious as it is cool (Chop Bar) and beer from a brewery with a little something for everyone (Drake’s), you know you’re going to have a nice night.

(Disclosure: I’ve paid my way into Sau & Brau in the past and found it totally worth it, but I got offered a media pass this year and I’m not dumb.)

The calm before the storm. Photo: Ann Niemczyk

Drake’s didn’t invent the pig roast, but they sure have gotten the formula down to a science over the years. This event is so good I’ve seen a pregnant woman go for the pork and a vegetarian go for the beer.

Both of them, and many others, also go for the people. Sau & Brau has become somewhat of an SF Beer Week staple for many. It brings out the old-timers you hardly ever see at a beer event and the barhoppers you see at seemingly every beer event, as well as newcomers discovering how good a time they can actually have in increasingly beery San Leandro. It sells out faster and faster every year.

Happy people! Photo: Ann Niemczyk

Happy people! Photo: Ann Niemczyk

Sau & Brau also gets bigger every year, partially because Drake’s keeps expanding. Employees get in the pig line last, but they do (except for the vegetarians) enjoy the swine along with you. Not a bad job perk.

I hesitate to say it also gets better every year, because it’s always been pretty damn good. But I’m running out of superlatives here. Whole hogs, good veggie sides so you can feign healthfulness, and a huge variety of beer…what else do you need to know?

Here’s the advice you should refer to next year if you decide to go:

Bring some cash: Your entry to the event is pre-paid, but you do want to tip your bartenders, right? Right.

Relax: Get in line when your section is called and don’t bother trying to sneak into line early — there will be plenty of food to go around. I totally neglected to get a table this time so I got in line late with employees. It was fine. There were three pigs this year and I saw staff putting away leftovers at the end of the night.

Chop Bar's unflappable staff dishing out the food for hours! Photo: Ann Niemczyk

Chop Bar’s unflappable staff dishing out the food for hours! Photo: Ann Niemczyk

Also, unless you have a hollow leg, don’t go too nuts trying to get your money’s worth from the unticketed first hour of the event. Every year, there are people trying to give away excess beer tickets towards the end of the night. You’ve got Hopocalypse and barrel-aged beers available, you may not need as many tickets as you think.

Drink water: There was plenty of palate-cleanser available, along with clean cups, and the bathroom situation was as good as a beer week bathroom situation is going to be. (There were two indoor bathrooms available and extra portapotties outside for those who valued speed of access over indoor plumbing).

If you want to make sure you get tickets next year, follow Drake’s on Facebook or Twitter (which you should probably be doing anyway) so you can see when they go on sale.

Who's that asshole in the yellow shirt? ;)

Who’s that asshole in the yellow shirt? ;)

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SF Beer Week, Drinking In An Indian Grocery Store Edition

If you want proof that good beer is possible in any setting, look no further than Bottles Beerzaar in El Sobrante. A former project of the folks who brought you the Beer Baron’s Livermore Saloon and Perry’s, Bottles is under new ownership but still rocking a large beer selection inside a strip mall Indian market.

Or as the beer buyer’s business card says: “Samosas, saris, and shit-tons of suds.”

When you arrive at Bottles, it’s easy to think there’s been some mistake. But if you keep strolling through the food, you’ll find fridges full of beer bottles on the left and a small bar on the right. On the Thursday of SF Beer Week, the bar was packed with locals enjoying Track 7 beers out of Sacramento.

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The SF Beer Week event brought out some new faces, but if you’re sitting at the bar at Bottles you’re most likely a regular — someone who lives or works in El Sobrante, Richmond, San Pablo, or around. There’s a lot of customer overlap with Elevation 66 and my workplace Albany Taproom, the only other real beer options in the area. We’ve got some fun neighborhood bars up here where BART fears to tread, but not too many places that are going to tap, as Bottles has recently, Cellarmaker/Berryessa Fruity Rebels or Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin.

All the beer guys here put in part-time hours as a labor of love. This may never be a destination bar for someone in SF or even Oakland, but if you happen to drop by, everyone is more than happy to share their clubhouse with you. And as befits this part of the Bay Area, one of the last havens for normal working stiffs, this is craft-or-whatever beer without an ounce of pretension, attitude, or what-can-we-get-away-with pricing.

In the end, Bottles is one of those quirky places that shows there’s still some flavor left in the Bay Area. If you walk in at 2pm on a Tuesday, don’t expect anything other than bottle shopping, but as the week goes on and the hour gets later it has potential to become a nice neighborhood gathering spot. It’ll get even more appealing if the plan goes forward to have a more official cafe with hot Indian snacks and meals available…for now, people can and do buy food off the shelf and out of the fridge to go with their beer.

I wish there was a good public transit option, but that wouldn’t be very West County. I’ve walked the two miles from my house (not pleasant) and taken the bus (okay). But with 4 ounce tasters available for $2, you should be able to stay sober here.

Next time you’re in Les Claypool’s hometown, you can stop by Bottles at 3550 San Pablo Dam Road to buy some beer to go at very competitive prices and maybe sit at its semi-secret bar. Follow them on Facebook to see what’s on tap.

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Good times at the SF Beer Week opening gala

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Ah, the SF Beer Week opening gala: the one time every year I turn into the stereotypical beer blogger asking for free shit. I scored a media pass again this year, and here’s what stood out.

My plan failed within an hour. The festival is roughly organized into SF, North Bay, South Bay, and East Bay. I was going to do this thing without leaving the East Bay — you know, sort of like how I live my real life — but I kept getting distracted. I also neglected to take a single photo, but these are better than mine would have been anyway. My other plan was to bring a burrito and lots of water, so at least that plan succeeded.

My first Fort Mason festival! (No, really). While I didn’t love the lengthy public transit trip from the East Bay to Fort Mason, the place worked out nicely. It was loud and full — duh — but I didn’t feel cramped, and there were even enough bathrooms! (Side note: men may disagree, as the line for the men’s room was the longer one. Odd, since appreciation of good beer in this region usually seems quite gender-balanced to me. Is the gala an exception?) There were plenty of food vendors and dump buckets, and everything was easy to navigate, even for a first-timer to the venue. Good job, organizers.

The inevitable Pliny the Younger discussion: I was already inside on my media pass when the doors opened to the public at 6pm, and the swarm of people moving towards the Russian River station like fast zombies was a sight to behold. (Three cheers for the event staff on hand to manage the line). Here’s the thing about Younger at the gala, though: it’s going to be mostly consumed during VIP hour by media, brewers, and sponsors who are less excited about it than you are but figure “there’s no line, so why not?” By the time you get to the front of the line –which Celebrator writer Mike Pitsker aptly joked was big enough to have its own area code — it’ll probably be gone. That’s okay. The other RR beers pouring at 6pm were Supplication (I mean, seriously! we are so spoiled here!) and Russian River’s award-winning pilsner, which I heard nothing but raves about. There will be other chances to get Younger, or some other triple IPA that’s just as good.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the North Bay… Marin Brewing was pouring Brass Knuckle, another fine entry in the extreme hops category. I personally was even more excited about Al’s Not Here Man, a smoked lager. It was a collaboration with Al from Russian River but, Al couldn’t make it to brew day, hence the name. Move Bamberg a little higher up the bucket list, but in the meantime we have Larkspur.

Beyond the Bay: I keep hearing about the promising, growing beer scene in Sacramento, and one name that comes up a lot in these discussions is Track 7. One of the pleasant surprises of my night was their chocolate peanut butter milk stout, which I tried out of morbid curiosity but wound up liking a lot. Their Panic IPA, though I was wrestling with hop fatigue by then, also went down nicely. With a tasting room just a few light rail stops from the Amtrak station, I see a train trip in my future.

Don’t write off Trumer at beer festivals. Yes, Trumer technically only makes one beer, the delightful-when-fresh Trumer Pils. For this party, they brought out a version of the pils with citra hops added. Fun!

The award for Most Impressive Pour With No Line goes to… North Coast, who was serving 2011 Old Stock. Amazing. Not the smartest choice for me, at that ABV, but amazing.

I said this last year too, but: barrel-aged Calicraft beers. Forget everything you think you know about Buzzerkeley until you’ve had it in a zin barrel. Calicraft also brought some non-traditional, low-alcohol (!) meads with fruit that I expect to become crowdpleasers as the weather turns warm.

Sneaky fruit beer: I asked for the story behind High Water Pono Pale Ale and was told it was brewed to celebrate owner Steve Altimari’s first vacation with his wife in years, a recent trip to Hawaii. I sipped, then asked if the tropical fruit profile was all southern hemisphere hops. Answer: there’s Mosaic, but also fire-roasted pineapple. Another surprise from the people who made a beer that tastes like s’mores.

A win for the gypsy brewers: Bison was pouring Whiskey Thief, a collaboration between them, High Water, Pine Street, and Uncommon. I was expecting one of those barrel-aged beers that tastes so much like whiskey you might as well just be drinking whiskey — not this time! Whiskey Thief is a scotch ale with smoked malt and heather, no barrel needed. Slainte!

I’m tired of hops now. I like IPA, but so many breweries focused so hard on aggressive, West Coast-style beers that I was burnt out by the end of the night. I get that for some breweries, that’s the strength of the house and they’d be silly to bring anything else. I also know it’s SF Beer Week and if this area is known for anything beer-wise, it’s big American hops. The gala is a chance to win the hearts and livers of some of the region’s more serious beer drinkers, and you’ve got to give the people what they want. I appreciated the breweries that brought non-hoppy options, though. At one point I bemoaned a lack of lower alcohol options that weren’t session IPAs, and apparently at that point I should have gone to the Freewheel table. I enjoyed their bitter so much at Perdition the next day I had two. (And yes, bitters have plenty of hops, but in that balanced English way.)

This really is a pretty great festival. I now remember why it sells out fast every year. I wish I had the alcohol tolerance to have tried more, because the quality and quantity of choice was insane. Best of all for impatient people like me, there are now enough breweries represented that you can avoid beer lines entirely if you want to. I’m sure whatever Cellarmaker and Rare Barrel were pouring was fantastic, but I was just as happy to try new breweries and revisit ones I hadn’t sampled from in a while, and sometimes even have time to chit chat with the person pouring. Even with no plan, or a plan that breaks down, you’ll have a good time at this fest.

Thanks to the SF Brewers Guild for the pass, but more importantly for a great night for a whole lot of people.

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Coming soon to Walnut Creek: Farm Creek Brewing Company

Picture what a craft brewery tasting room in upscale Walnut Creek would probably look like. Now picture the tech guy/homebrewer who’s opening it. No offense, but you’re probably wrong on both counts.

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Farm Creek Brewing founder Randy Janinda isn’t your average SF computer dude who discovered beer last Tuesday. Twenty years ago, he got married and started a family when he was 17. While most of his peers were still probably still goofing around, the young father joined the Air Force and quickly got involved with hardcore-sounding units like this and this. Kind of puts the stress and responsibility of starting a business as a 30-something into perspective, no? After the military he did various types of computer work, including computer security jobs that paid him to break into banks to expose chinks in the armor. He and his family later moved to California for him to work for a then-small company called Twitter — maybe you’ve heard of it.

Meanwhile, he started homebrewing about 10 years ago, mostly because the process fascinated the problem-solving part of his brain. Neither he nor his wife Heather were beer drinkers then. She still isn’t, but she’s the one who’s always encouraged him to brew a batch even when he didn’t feel like it. When the Janindas moved to California and didn’t know anyone out here yet, that gave Randy more time to get deeper into beermaking. He joined the DOZE homebrew club and raised his beer to medal-winning levels.

In 2013, after years of at-home discussions and visiting more than 50 breweries to take notes and ask questions, the Janindas announced they were starting a brewery of their own.

The long road to Farm Creek

It’s not unusual for a brewery to take years to open, and to have twists and turns along the way, and Farm Creek is no exception.

For one, the part of Walnut Creek zoned for a brewery was in an inconvenient location, plus owners didn’t seem to want a brewery in their buildings. The Janindas found an auto glass business moving out of its building and snatched up the spot, but because the area wasn’t zoned for a brewery they had to get a Conditional Use Permit from the city. Randy describes this as an “illogical and broken” process, and he’s not the first brewer I’ve known who’s had problems with it. He persevered, and after months of waiting and thousands of dollars, Farm Creek got its hearing and its permit was unanimously approved.

Next stop, contractors, architects, and more approvals from the city and county. It was also time for Farm Creek to get some bigger-than-homebrew equipment. They’d planned to build everything themselves, but would up with a combination of new and used equipment. “Our main challenge with the used equipment was the amount of time we spent searching and how fast you have to get to a decision,” said Randy — fast as in “hours.” He contacted a small Canadian brewery, Fernie Brewing Company, within minutes of their equipment ad being posted and flew to Canada the next week to brew with them on the system and ultimately buy it. “Next we learned about the shipping industry, customs, and border brokers,” said Randy. “Hindsight, I’d still go with this purchase as the price was right and the brewery supports us as we are installing and brewing.” They decided on new fermenters and brite tanks.

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Canadian kettles on their way to their new home. Photo: Murray Pask

A true family business 

The Janindas are 100% owners of Farm Creek Brewing Company, a literal mom-and-pop business. The outdated stereotype is that brewing wives either tolerate or “support” their husbands going pro, but Randy is quick to say his wife Heather “is seriously the sole reason this thing even exists.” She’s designing the taproom and has the tough job of making it welcoming and cozy even though it’s inside a factory. She’s also been active with branding, beer naming, social media, and QA tasting, and she’ll be bartending when the taproom opens. “People may end up liking my beer, but they always end up loving Heather,” said Randy.

The Janindas have an eye towards creating a business they can pass down to their kids and grandkids, and the young ones are already getting in on the act. Their 18-year-old daughter recently helped clean the brew system and will work in the brewery until she leaves for college later this year. Their 8-year-old son tries to help with every manual labor job and wants to sell everyone in the world a Farm Creek t-shirt. They’re hiring one of their nephews in March. Their 20-year-old son is in the Army so he isn’t around much, but turning 21 the year your family opens a brewery sounds pretty cool.

The Janindas in front of their brewery building

The Janindas in front of their brewery building. Photo: Kim Statzer

The “Farm” part of the brewery name hearkens back to previous generations of Randy and Heather’s families. Randy’s family in Florida raised cattle and pigs and grew pine trees for a paper mill. Heather’s family had a farm in upstate New York that grew Christmas trees, made maple syrup, fixed tractors, and grew corn. The “Creek” part is for their adopted community of Walnut Creek. Randy freely admits there are less expensive, easier cities to do business in, but it was important to them to reinvest in the city where they live and are raising kids.

What to expect

Farm Creek Brewing Company will open in March if all goes well. It will be a production brewery with a 15-bbl brew system and several 30 bbl fermenters, and the taproom will be open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. As befits the name, the taproom atmosphere will put a touch of the farm in a town better known for high-end shopping — “not hipster, mason jar, faux rustic,” said Randy, “but genuine care and craftsmanship and pride and simplicity rustic.”

The beer will be largely European styles with American twists: beers you can enjoy several of with food, not experimental craziness or mega hop bombs. They’ve been working on seven beers: a standard American lager brewed with ale yeast so it’s ready faster, an American pale ale (I’ve tried that one, it’s nice!), a Scottish 80, a sub-4% amber with rye and a bit of smoked malt, a foreign extra stout with barrel aging potential, a wheat beer with rye, and a double IPA. Randy has already adapted his brewery plans enough times, however, to know any of those could change.

Farm Creek will be at 1415 Pine Street in Walnut Creek, not far from BART, downtown, and other local beer options like Øl Beercafe and Sunol Ridge. Follow its progress on Twitter or Facebook.

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Beer class of ’14: The Good Hop

A new beer bar? Cool. A new beer bar being opened by a veteran local brewer? Okay, now I’m really paying attention.

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The Good Hop opened in June, on Telegraph in Oakland. It’s close to the ever-hip Uptown drinking district, but just far enough north of it (across the street from my favorite Korean supermarket!) to stand apart. It quickly became a regular spot for beer lovers in Oakland and beyond. On one of my recent trips there, I joked that it must be Industry Day, based on all the beer reps sitting at the bar after their daily runs. One of them told me every day is an industry day at The Good Hop. That’s usually a good sign.

Kickstarter backers (like me) got their name painted on the floor. Fun…

The 16 taps tend to lean American/west coast but there’s plenty of variety. Tap takeovers and release parties happen regularly, with breweries like Ninkasi, Golden Road, and Line 51. The bottle selection, aka the #wallofbeer, also covers a multitude of styles, breweries, and price points. There are snacks, but the focus is on beer…if you’re looking for a meal, you’re welcome to bring your own.

Did someone say “wall of beer?” Yes.

The detail that gets me the most excited — partially because I know how annoying and expensive it is to pull off — is that every beer in the place, keg or bottle, is stored cold at all times. It’s the sort of decision you’ve got to be a beer professional to make, which brings me to the staff. Owner Melissa Myers brewed in Colorado before moving to the Bay Area to brew at Magnolia, Ross Valley (which became Iron Springs), and Drake’s. Local word of mouth for Melissa and her beers is overwhelmingly positive. Other familiar Bay Area beer faces here include general manager Jeremy Wanamaker and bartender Monte Cano, beer rock stars in their own rights. The Good Hop family is so close that shortly after opening they all got tattoos of the bar’s logo. Gotta love it.

Melissa recently returned to her brewing roots after a six-year hiatus and served her own beer at her own bar for the first time. Thanks to her friend Steve at Independent Brewing (more on them in a future post), she was able brew a batch on a commercial system and serve it at The Good Hop. The Mighty Hopscotch was a Scotch ale with no peated malt (Melissa doesn’t like the stuff) based on a beer she used to brew at Magnolia. Since I just moved to the Bay Area in 2009, this was my first Melissa Myers beer, and now I’m ready for more.

Melissa will also be running beer education classes, with the first one focusing on beginning beer drinkers. If you’ve got someone in your world who needs to understand your hobby a little better before SF Beer Week takes over your life, this might be a good gift.

So…education, proper handling of the beer, good selection, knowledgeable staff, nice owner, convenient public transit access…yeah, I like this place. I’ll see you there.

The Good Hop is located at 2421 Telegraph Ave in Oakland. It’s an easy walk from 19th Street BART and is also near many bus lines. Hours are 3-10pm, closed Tuesdays. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram

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Beer Class of ’14: Perdition Smokehouse

The rumblings started in February. Chuck Stilphen — co-owner of Trappist, ØL, Trappist Provisions and Mikkeller SF — was opening a place in downtown Berkeley, this time with Mikkeller executive chef Michael O’Brian. I heard a lot of reactions like, “Cool, a Trappist in Berkeley!”

Not quite. Perdition Smokehouse, which opened its doors in June, has a different flavor than Chuck’s other bars. You can bring the kids, the beer list leans American, and it’s more bright and airy than dark and cozy. What it has in common with its more European half-siblings is a beer list that will make you lose your mind.  You can see the most recent taplist here. Many beers are available in either 10 ounce or 16 ounce pours, with prices on my most recent visit ranging from $3.50-10 for 10 ounces or $5.50-$7.50 for 16 ounces. There are also “growler hours,” where growlers are used as pitchers for on-site consumption. (Only breweries can sell growlers to go in California).

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Hey! It’s beer.

While I can claim some regional expertise on pizza, subs, and Mexican food, I don’t pretend to know anything about barbecue. I enjoy eating here, but I’ve learned that people from other parts of the country have very strong opinions on barbecue, so talk amongst yourselves. For what it’s worth, a friend once asked about the origins and an employee produced a handwritten list of sources ending with the declaration “no factory farms.” The entire menu, minus rotating lunch specials, is here.

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Soon to be fuel for smoky goodness

While there are only four seats at the bar, there is ample seating indoors and out. Vegetarians (and anyone who doesn’t like their beer to smell like BBQ) can almost entirely escape the delicious meaty smells by going outside. There are even sometimes a few taps open back there, and servers check in on you.

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There have been many failed restaurants and bars at this address, but none of them used the space out back (or had 43 beers on tap).

Perdition has been a great addition to a neighborhood that was already drowning in beer options I like. It’s quite close to Downtown Berkeley BART and a lot of buses, but good luck finding parking nearby. You’ll probably want to walk off all that beer and meat later anyway.

Perdition is at 2050 University Boulevard in Berkeley, near the intersection with Shattuck. It’s open noon-midnight during the week and noon-1am on Friday and Saturday. Follow them on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook

 

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Beer class of ’14: Hoi Polloi

South Berkeley has long had some fun drinking options: Irish pub and music venue the Starry Plough and neighborhood karaoke bar Nick’s Lounge spring to mind. And the beer at those places, because we live in Northern California, is better than it needs to be. There was nothing you’d call a beer bar until this year, though. And that’s where Hoi Polloi comes in, bringing new beers to the not-yet-completely-gentrified (thank goodness) area around Ashby BART.

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Hoi Polloi Brewpub & Beat Lounge (not a name that made me want to visit, but bear with me) is tiny. Thus, I’ve only stopped in at off times like weekday afternoons. I imagine it gets packed. On the bright side, you will have ample opportunity to meet the neighbors. I gather Hoi Polloi turned on a TV for the World Series, but generally the entertainment is mellow, classic hip-hop that seems hand-picked. Occasionally a DJ comes in to spin vinyl. It’s a cool spot, but relaxed enough that an unhip person such as myself doesn’t feel out of place.

On my visits, there have always been two house beers available on a rotating basis. They tend towards the lower-alcohol side of the spectrum. English, American, German, and Belgian styles all get their turn on the board. My favorite so far has been the English brown ale, but I can’t begin to keep up. It all comes out of the back of the bar on a 3 bbl system that owner Viet Vu put together with a little help from a friend who can weld. He’s often behind the bar and always happy to talk beer with nerds and neophytes alike.

This won't be what you'll get, but it gives you a rough idea

Old photo for a rough idea of the guest tap philosophy

The ten guest taps ensure Hoi Polloi’s spot as the most serious beer option in the neighborhood, and round out the list if you’re not feeling the house-brewed styles of the moment. The list is local/California focused and there’s a cider tap, some wines, and non-alcoholic options to keep everyone happy. Prices are fair to low for the area.

There’s no kitchen, which means no meals (obviously) and no one under 21. The staff (ie, owner/brewer Viet or his brother) will be happy to make you some popcorn, and you can bring in food from outside. Getting something next door at Easy Creole, which has no alcohol license, is an obvious choice.

Life advice from the Hoi Polloi restroom

Life advice from the Hoi Polloi restroom

Hoi Polloi is at 1763 Alcatraz, a prime location for those times you’ve needed a beer after dealing with Berkeley Bowl.  It would also be very easy to tie in with a trip to The Rare Barrel, which is less than two miles away. Follow them on Facebook and don’t drop the beat.

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A second CommonWealth is (still) coming to Emeryville

CommonWealth Cafe & Public House has become such an Oakland fixture it’s hard to believe it’s only been open since 2010. News came down earlier this year that it was expanding…by going smaller. CommonWealth’s owners Ross and Ahna Adair are opening a second location, CommonWealth Micropub, in Emeryville in the teeny-tiny former home of Cafe Biere.

The sun shines on Ross Adair and his new family business...perhaps a little too brightly ;)

The sun shines on Ross Adair and his new family business…perhaps a little too brightly ;)

I thought “micropub” referred purely to the size of the place, but it’s also a British concept we don’t really have here. A micropub is usually a community-oriented one-room pub with a focus on beer and conversation — no bands, no sports, no pub quiz. Wikipedia explains, “The basic premise is KIS, KIS – Keep ISmall, Keep ISimple.” Interestingly, they do not all have a physical bar. (In the UK, micropubs serve mainly cask beer, but that wouldn’t make sense here.)

Sounds great, so where is it already? Well, if you know anything about opening bars, you know the finish line is going to move a few times and render your initial timeline useless. The Emeryville CommonWealth ran into that in spades — it was supposed to be open months ago. I pestered co-owner Ross for updates until he took me on a tour of the space at 3986 Adeline.

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Let’s just say there was some “deferred maintenance” on this spot, dating from Cafe Biere’s time and probably various decades before. From plumbing emergencies to ADA-compliant bathrooms to a million little things that needed to come up to code, the place turned into a fixer-upper. It further slowed things down that Emeryville is a small city, with some relevant municipal employees working only part-time.

But it’s happening, one project at a time, and it’s getting done right. In addition to structural repairs you’ll never see, the space will also have amenities like railed-off outdoor seating and a bike corral.

CommonWealth Micropub will be recognizable as part of the CommonWealth family but will also differ from the original in several key ways. It will have a similar look and feel — Ross joked that they had so much wallpaper left over they had to open a second pub. Employees you know from Telegraph will be on staff on Adeline. The goal is to make it feel homey from the start, not shiny and new. Like CommonWealth Cafe & Public House, it will be a neighborhood spot that happens to have Scottish ownership and influences, not a “British pub” per se.

The differences? There will be no bar (remember that’s fairly standard in UK micropubs), table service, and a different menu. You’ll find high and low tables, with benches and barstools, plus the aforementioned outdoor seating and some ledges for standing drinkers to lean on. Constraints on the kitchen at the Oakland CommonWealth have prevented them from doing some things such as deep-frying that are now on the table for Emeryville. And, like pretty much every pub in the UK, this pub’s menu will include Indian food. It will not have a cafe aspect and will open later — nothing’s set in stone yet but they’re talking about daily from 4-11pm, adding weekend brunch later.

Ross thinks they’ll have room for 11 taps — “same as a soccer team” — which seems more than generous for a space that only seats 25. He’s considering a mix of beer, cider, maybe a nitro tap, maybe one wine on tap, maybe a hand pump if they can find room for it. There might not be bottles as storage space is tight. There will likely be fewer classic British beers available in Emeryville than in Oakland, since there are so many new breweries opening locally that CommonWealth wants to support.

In a final nod to keeping it local, two of CommonWealth’s cooks are renting the apartment upstairs. Talk about the best commute ever!

So please be patient a couple of months longer, and then maybe again while you wait for a table, because I think this is going to be pretty cool. For updates on both locations, follow CommonWealth on Facebook or Instagram.

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