Last weekend Bay Area on Tap had the opportunity to attend the annual Holiday beer dinner at Pacific Coast Brewing Company at 906 Washington Street, talk to the proprietors about the event at the long tenured brewpub and hear about some of the new developments in the brew house from the new head brewer.
Held each December, the event is now in its 25th year. It’s interesting how much the city, and this neighborhood specifically, has developed during that time. My first time visiting was a little short of a decade ago and the change is dramatic even in that time. Not only was Pacific Coast the only beer centric location in the neighborhood, it was really one of the only restaurants of any note in what was a nearly dead part of town. Now, not only has the local beer scene blossomed with places like the Belgian beer themed Trappist and the beer-friendly Rosamunde Sausage grill both virtually next door and other standouts just short walk away, the area has also recently become home to several interesting restaurants in recent years. All of which has helped turn PCB into part of a suddenly attractive Old Oakland eating and drinking circuit.
A constant amidst that metamorphosis has been this event at the comfy Old Oakland brew pub. In its current incarnation, the event is an eight course, fourteen-beer dinner. With hearty fare that included broiled salmon, mussels, lamb stew and prime rib matched to a beer list with an average ABV over 10%, it was enough to make certain all parties walked away in a festive mood. The menu included some special beers from Pacific Coast like their 2013 Holiday Double IPA and 25th Anniversary Dirty Scarecrow along with standouts from other brewers like Sante Adairius Anaïs Saison and Drake’s Brewing Jolly Rodgers Imperial Black IPA.
Among the highlights of the afternoon was the opportunity we had to spend some time with Pacific Coast’s new brewmaster Paul Wichelmann. The Minnesota native had been a Pacific Coast employee for a time in the late 90’s and returned to take over the head brewer position in July after stints brewing at both Pyramid and Trumer in Berkeley. One of the first, and probably the most significant, changes Paul made upon taking the reins was to switch the brewery from an extract system to full grain, which was completed back in August . Although the regular offerings in Pacific Coast’s lineup have always had their loyal fans, the use of the extract system hadn’t always gone over so well with some beer geeks, who sometimes would choose to stick with the pub’s always interesting selection of guest taps. We recommend all give a second look at their house beers now as early results from the new system have been very good. With that big change out of the way, Paul got to work injecting some new styles into rotation including a recent collaboration with Line 51 Brewing on a massively hoppy Black IPA dubbed Coast Liner and a new IPA called Red Herring, which plays with the concept of an IPA in both malt and in the choice in hops in a way we believe will go over very well. The brewery is also set to get into barrel aging their beers and currently have some Maker’s Mark barrels on deck for future projects. If this weren’t enough to keep him busy, Paul has also recently started his own beer brand called Lucky Devil Brewing, which will focus on Belgian styles including a Belgian Pale Ale, a Saison, a Dubbel and a Tripel. Watch for it to hit Oakland area beer bars in the very near future. With Oakland’s oldest existing beer institution making big moves and interesting new players constantly joining in, it continues to be an exciting time to be a beer enthusiast in the East Bay.
The highly anticipated Berkeley taproom from iconic craft brewer Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, of Chico, CA, has now officially opened to the public. Dubbed the Torpedo Room, the 16 tap glistening steel, glass and wood facility is located at 2031 4th St. Bay Area on Tap had an opportunity to check them out on the first day of their soft opening and we were very impressed with what we found.
The tap list on our visit consisted of several rather obscure, small batch, specialty beers (at least one of which we had never even seen before) and a smattering of familiar favorites. In the interest of encouraging visitors to explore the variety of styles they produce, the Torpedo Room sells their beer in flights of four small samples roughly equal to one pint of beer total. Among the more exciting elements about this new location is that they will offer growler fills, adding another high quality beer-to-go option in an area that hasn’t seemed to have quite enough to cover demand. For me at least, this is one of the foremost reasons this is such a welcome addition to the East Bay beer circuit.
The Torpedo Room will also host beer tasting classes, beer launches and other fun events. The initial hours are listed as 11 am to 7 pm Tuesday through Thursday and 11 am to 8 pm Friday and Saturday. Hours may expand as they move forward so keep an eye on their website for details.
Bay Area on Tap had a chance to sit down with the man behind Line 51 Brewing, PT Lovern, at his Oakland home last week to chat about the upcoming launch, responsible drinking, and to geek out about all things East Bay.
As East Bay natives and AC Transit veterans, the “Line 51” bus route (which runs from Rockridge BART, through downtown and uptown, and on to Fruitvale BART) is a familiar one to us at Bay Area on Tap. We had to be curious though, why Lovern chose it to represent his beers. He explained that not only is it the line he and his drinking/brewing buddies (known as the Booze Brothers) often used to get to and from the better beer bars here in Oakland safely, he also chose this name because he felt it was important to advocate using public transit when imbibing, especially since some of his beers are on the stronger side. In addition, the name helps add some specificity to the place where he lives, crafts his recipes, and where his beer will be available at launch. PT plans to start by distributing his beers at establishments on and around the 51 bus line and grow his business from there. In the course of this strategy, he’s chosen not to limit himself to bars already established as beer geek destinations. After all, adding a few good craft beers on tap is all it takes to turn a decent local bar into something truly awesome. Line 51 seems primed to do just that.
The first beer to launch will be a hoppy red ale dubbed Red Death IPA, it’s name a subtle reference to a work by Oakland’s most well known novelist. Lovern related that he had been experimenting with red malts for years and found that an assertive hop profile could really help anchor the malt character for a bold, yet pleasantly balanced, ale. At 7 percent ABV and a healthy 70 IBU’s this one moves firmly into the IPA category, a style PT says he found to be in high demand when he started asking bar goers in the area what types of beer they’d like to see more of. Early in 2013, Line 51 plans to release a second offering called One Inch Punch. Most will recognize this as a shout out to the technique made famous by Bruce Lee, who opened one of his first martial arts studios a stones throw from PT’s home. We had a chance to try this one as well, and were impressed with how well the hop complexity shined through on a 6 percent 51 IBU beer. We were also lucky enough to sample some of the exciting offerings Line 51 has slated for release slightly further down the line. We’ve been asked not to leak any spoilers quite yet, but expect some highly enjoyable beers built on adventurous recipes with a lot more clever Oakland cultural references.
PT’s local pride is evident not only in the names of his beers but is obvious after only speaking with him a few minutes about the city where he lives. Although for now his beers will be released through a partnership with San Jose’s Hermitage, long term he’d love to open up a production brewery of his own right here in Oakland if his beers are as well received as he hopes they are. The thirsty people of Oakland won’t have to wait long to get their first look at Red Death IPA. There are two release parties this week, Tuesday the 13th at Cato’s Ale House 3891 Piedmont Ave at 5pm, Wednesday the 14th at Ben & Nicks Bar and Grill 5612 College Ave at 7pm, and a third at Kerry House 4086 Piedmont Avenue on the 24th. Get on a bus, get on BART, and get in line. We’ll see you there.
The outer East Bay area continues to be one of the fastest growing craft brew regions around with this weekend’s official launch of San Ramon’s Schubros Brewery. Bay Area on Tap recently sat down with President Ian Schuster and Brewmaster Mike Johannsen at ØL Beercafe inWalnut Creek to talk about beer, brewing, and starting a responsible business.
Exposed to a variety of beers while living abroad both with the Navy and during his studies overseas, Ian Schuster had long dreamt of opening a brewery. He reflected fondly on drinking English ales in London and aged Barleywine while in Tokyo. Beer’s food pairing properties in particular got Ian’s attention, something that plays a major role in the beers Schubros will be producing. Ian continued his homebrew hobby over the years while working in marketing. After hearing about his passion for beer and brewing, a mutual business contact introduced Ian to Mike Johannsen, a veteran of the food and beverage industry including time at the world renowned Firestone Walker Brewery in Paso Robles, CA. Mike took a more domestic route to better beer than Ian did, supplementing his homebrewing habit with early craft beers like Pete’s Wicked Ale, Red Hook ESB, and Henry Weinhardt’s. The “core four” beers Mike will be brewing at Schubros seem to be influenced by both men’s tastes, with a nod to the traditional and just a little modern California craft beer adventurousness.
The first beer to be released will be Mike’s take on an American Pale Wheat Ale called Nicos American Wheat. When we suggested this might be a good beer to convert drinkers of sub par big brewery produced wheat ales, Mike was quick to point out this beer was very different, combining the crisp refreshing nature of the style with a touch more complexity and body. Most notably, he mentioned the unusual and exciting choice of including rye as part of the grain bill to add a subtle spicy character to the beer. The second beer to be released will be their 680 IPA. Keeping in mind the food pairing focus of this brewery, this 6.2% ABV 50 IBU ale is designed to have plenty of hop character but be balanced enough to pair with a variety of foods without completely overpowering them. The final two beers that will make up the core four beers are still being decided but one of the candidates is a sweet stout called Diablo Dark. We had a chance to sample this beer during our interview. Brewed with English ale yeast, the stout has wonderful caramel notes with hints of chocolate and a mellow roasty finish. Mike tells us this beer was designed to pair with a specific dish a friend had developed: a quinoa and bacon cupcake with stout frosting. Despite being brewed for such a specific purpose, Mike and Ian found the beer to be very versatile, pairing well with a variety of foods and pretty damned good by itself. One thing both Ian and Mike seemed very excited about is their upcoming Passport Series, which will explore the more avant garde, internationally inspired, beers. Berliner Weiss, Barleywine, and Imperial Stouts were mentioned as possible styles they may venture into.
Schubros is governed by what was described as their three core values: Community, Responsibility, and Quality. The community aspect is reflected in the fact that 1% of 680 IPA sales will be donated to schools and parks, 1% of Nicos Wheat sales to environmental causes, and 1% each of the other two yet to be determined core 4 styles to rotating charitable causes. Responsibility was the main reason they’ll be canning their regular offerings. Much thought went into the decision, including a study done at St Mary’s College to look into the benefits of cans vs. bottles. The study found cans to be the better choice for the environment but identified a lingering perception problem; that despite the many world class breweries that now can their products, canned beer was seen by some as an inferior product to bottled beer. Despite this and the high investment costs associated with canning, they decided cans were the right thing to do. Responsibility also affects decisions made at their San Ramon location including the use of LED lights and other eco-friendly building materials.
The brewery will be keg only at first, with their Nicos Wheat launching at the Danville Fine Arts Faire June 16th and 17th and the 680 IPA hitting the market in July. They’ll start with distribution mainly in theSanRamonValley before expanding into parts of the 925 area code. Later this year canning will begin and growler fills should be offered at their San Ramon location.
More about Schubros at: http://www.schubrosbrewery.com/
ØL Beercafe a beer bar and bottle shop located in downtown Walnut Creek. They offer 18 taps and hundreds of bottles of finely crafted beer. http://beer-shop.org/
The Bay Area’s craft beer community continues its recent growth spurt with the launch of Calicraft this May. Several weeks ago Bay Area on Tap had a chance to sit down with founder and head brewer Blaine Landberg at his Walnut Creek home to talk about the new brewery and sample his beer before it hits the market.
A native of Willows, CA, Blaine grew up in a family of home brewers. Even though he was too young to actually try any of the beer his family produced he remembers fondly watching family members come up with whimsically named beers like the kangaroo themed ‘Roo Brew. He decided at the age of fourteen that he’d one day start his own brewery. He later started home brewing himself including time brewing in his dorm at UC Berkeley while studying Business Communication in a Consumer Society. As he watched the craft beer movement bloom, he observed it took four things to be a successful brewer:
1) A good product
4) An understanding of the retail market
While Blaine worked on the first part in the course of his home brew experiments, he found an opportunity to work on the rest when he entered the job market. In 1999, Blaine joined Honest Tea. Although there are differences in distribution of tea and alcoholic beverages, he accumulated valuable knowledge of how to get a distributor to move product from the warehouse to the retail marketplace and also got to be part of that fledging business growing from a small start up to a successful company. As his business and brewing expertise grew over the years, he finally decided he was ready to make the move from hobbyist to professional brewer.
The first beer we had an opportunity to try was The Cali-Cölsh, a take on the Kölsh style native to Germany. In what we were to find was a pattern for Cali-Craft’s beers, this is a mash up of the traditional with just the right amount of local flair. The beer features a Kölsh yeast strain from Cologne Germany, California select malt and a blend of German Noble and American Crystal hops. The Crystal hops are fairly similar to the spicy Noble varieties to which they owe their parentage but add just enough additional intensity to justify the “Cali” part of the beers name. Even with these tweaks, the beer really delivers all that one would expect from the style. A good Kölsh is hard to come by, most of the more enjoyable versions we can remember were either home brews or were shipped in from other areas. We’re very excited to have a fresh local version around for summer.
Probably the boldest and definitely the most hop forward of Calicraft’s initial releases is Oaktown Brown. For this big brown ale the brewer uses California grown Cascade hops and adds French, Hungarian, and American oak cubes during fermentation. We had an opportunity to sample tea brewed with oak from each region separately. The kaleidoscope of smoke and vanilla notes had us wondering momentarily whether we were at a beer tasting or a Scotch tasting. Tasting the elements of the beer separately really enhanced our appreciation of its complexity and helped us to get an idea of why each type of oak was included. This one is a good bet to get the attention of hop heads and whisky drinkers alike.
The final beer we tried is also the one that Blaine says he feels may be the future of his company. Blurring the lines between beer, mead, and wine; Buzzerkeley is a strong blonde ale split-fermented with both Belgian ale yeast and Champagne yeast and includes a whopping five lbs of star thistle honey per keg. Before trying the beer we had a chance to sample the honey, which is from the brewers own bee-keeping operation in Northern California. The honey ferments very clean and adds relatively subtle honey flavors that fit in almost seamlessly to the overall flavor profile of the beer. Blaine noted just that a few decades ago the beer drinker and the wine drinker were generally separate demographics. These days the lines are much less distinct, it’s very common for the craft beer drinker to enjoy a good glass of wine and vice-versa. He sees this beer as a potential option for these crossover drinkers. He may be right; we’ve since had the chance to bring a sample of Buzzerkeley to a party and it was a big hit with people with a very wide range of palates, including wine drinkers.
Blaine started partner brewing his beers at Hermitage Brewing in San Jose the beginning of April. Kegs and bottles of Calicraft should start showing up around the San Francisco Bay Area in May. Longer term, he hopes to move production to the Shadelands area of Walnut Creek, complete with a tasting room where he can try test batches, one offs, variants, and also do some beer and cheese pairings. Blaine adds that these future plans are things he hopes to do “if” his new brewery is successful. From what we’ve tasted so far we have no doubt it will be.
A producer of fine ales since 1989, by now it’s no secret to local beer lovers that San Leandro’s Drake’s Brewing Company crafts a great beer. What all may not know yet is they opened a barrel house and tasting room last June and have been doing some exciting new things there recently. Bay Area On Tap recently took the opportunity to visit both the barrel house and brewery and in the process had the chance to chat with several members of the Drake’s staff over a few beers.
Our visit started with a tour of the barrel house and brewery guided by Kelsey Williams, Community Manager for the brewery. We were told that when former Drake’s brewer Rodger Davis, now at Triple Rock in Berkeley, started the barrel aging program back in 2007 there were only 6-10 barrels going. Right now they stand at about 170 ranging from whiskey to wine barrels. From the barrel room we continued to the production brewery to take a look at the fermenters, grain silo, and kegs getting ready to be shipped. Drakes distributes in California only, currently only to the Bay Area and parts of Southern CA. Soon they’ll expand to the Sacramento market, something they seem excited about. We’re certain Sacramento folks will be excited as well once they get a taste.
As we left the brewery and returned to the barrel house tasting room we were offered some 1500 Ale, long a favorite of ours. This version was served on cask and brewed with Zythos hops. The cask program at Drake’s is headed by Alex Nowell, one of several talented brewers on staff. We were met in the barrel house tasting room by Drake’s current head brewer Brian Thorson. We have been huge fans of what’s been happening at Drake’s since Brian has been on board as head brewer. Brian advised us that he had spent several of his early working years in the computer science industry and found it didn’t suit him. “It’s much easier to put in a long day when you love what you do” explained John Gillooly another member of the brew staff. We had to ask Brian if there was a conscious decision made under his watch to expand from their excellent standard beers like the IPA and 1500 Ale to ales such as the incomparable Aroma Coma, the aptly named Hopocalypse, and award winning barrel aged sours like Brette Davis Eyes that have had beer geeks salivating recently. According to Brian the answer was simply increased capacity. Now that they have the space and time, they simply brew the beer styles they want to drink. It’s not at all a coincidence these line up with the palates of us rabid beer geeks. By their own admission the brewers themselves are also geeks.
As something of a surprise treat, we had the opportunity to chat with John Martin, owner of Drakes Brewing since 2008 and owner of Triple Rock and Jupiter Brewpubs in Berkeley since the days of way back. In fact, his 26 years at Triple Rock make him the longest standing craft brewery proprietor we can think of now that Fritz Maytag, long time owner of the seminal craft brewery Anchor Brewing Co, got out of the beer business. Since the main focus of our site is the unique culture behind the craft beer industry in the Bay Area, we couldn’t resist the chance to pick the brain of such an integral figure in the history of bay area craft beer. When we asked how John got into the business he told us that he heard about a case study while in college stating that small breweries couldn’t succeed, and from and economic standpoint, had no reason to exist. When California’s first brewpub opened in Hopland, CA in 1982, John, who had homebrewed previously and had a restaurant background, and his brother Reid decided to get in on it as well. Together they opened the now iconic Triple Rock Brewpub in downtown Berkeley in 1986.
From that time on, brewpubs started shooting up in many other places and met with various levels of success and disappointment. Distribution from the handful of microbreweries around at the time also met with mixed results, region by region. When early craft brewers from the Pacific Northwest started to distribute in Southern California for example, they found it comparatively difficult to make inroads compared to Northern California. As John stated “it takes time for palates to be elevated”.
The Bay Area seemed to be among the early adopters in the craft brew phenomenon for a number of reasons. Among them was our attitude of support for the local, which drew us in to the early local brewpubs to try the new and interesting beers offered there, readying us for flavorful beer from other areas when those became available. It seems there were also other elements in the early Bay Area craft beer scene that made it different than other parts of the country. Per John the culture of teamwork and cooperation in the local industry was helped along by the fact that our area had beer festivals earlier on than some other regions. If you meet up with your “competition” enough in a positive, celebratory, environment it’s easy to get to know and like one another. This helped prevent the animosity we’re told existed in some places early on. Drakes still embodies this cooperative spirit, helping out up and coming brewers by allowing them to brew at their facility while they get their own operations off the ground. For example, Steve Altimari’s Highwater Brewing currently has their home at Drakes, and Almanac and EJ Phair have also brewed there in the past.
So what’s next from Drakes? We got Brian to share that some of their fantastic barrel house only beers should be seeing bottles soon, possibly as soon as the end of the year. First up are likely to be their heavier whisky barrel aged stouts and some of the lighter wine barrel aged sour ales. A little closer on the horizon a beer called Hopocalypse Black Label, a Triple IPA, will be available 02/04/12 at the barrel house. Just ahead of San Francisco Beer week. Mark your calendars, I know we have. Cheers!