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.
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.
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.
4. You are going to drink beer straight out of the tanks. Maybe twice.
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!
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.
You’re fun, Chico. I’ll be back.
2016, we will not speak of you again.
Cheers, friends. Thanks for (still) reading.