Monday, April 16, 2007

Road trip to San Francisco...

I just came back from a business trip to San Francisco and as usual I tried to squeeze in a little beer research. Before leaving I made a reservation for the free tour at Anchor Brewing Company, a must for all beer lovers (call a few weeks in advance to make your reservation). It was a fantastic tour--stepping inside their 1937 building (they have occupied it since 1979) and seeing their pristine, handmade copper kettles was worth the trip alone (click here for a 360 degree view).

I had a chance to talk to the guides (Lindsey and Dan), a few other employees, and even the owner and brewmaster, Fritz Maytag--yes, he was there on a bright and sunny Friday afternoon and I was told he is there almost every day. As expected, the tour was packed full of interesting details about the brewery's history, but I was surprised to learn that the small staff of less than 60 employees hand produces about 85,000 barrels of beer per year. For some reason I thought they were a much larger operation--probably because of its great reputation and availability. I absolutely love the Christmas Ale and feature it in my beer courses each year. Plan on spending about 2 hours at the brewery. The tour lasts a little less than an hour, but afterward you can enjoy samples at a leisurely pace in their very cool tasting room.

During my pre-trip research I also picked up a couple of great Beer Fly reviews from Beeradvocate. My first stop was the Rogue Public Ale House in Washington Square. Rogue is located in Newport, Oregon, but I was excited to see they had a pub in San Francisco. John Maier is one of my favorite brewers and I was like a kid in a candy store looking at the beer board--Shakespeare Stout, Chocolate Stout, Chipotle Ale, Dry Hopped Red Ale, Morimoto Soba Ale--everything looked so good. I went with the Imperial Younger's Special Bitter (YSB), Glen Strong Ale, and Imperial Russian Stout. All three beers where fantastic. Although the place was packed, Dan Pearson, the Director of Commerce, Culture and Tourism (I love this company!) took the time to answer my questions about the beers and the pub, which opened in 2003. He gave me a sample of Brew 10K, a new beer celebrating 10,000 batches of Rogue goodness. It is a new recipe "using some of the best ingredients John Maier has ever brewed with...Vienna, French Special Aroma, and Maris Otter Pale Malts; Yakima Summit and German Saphir Hops, Free-range Coastal Waters, and PacMan Yeast." It was so smooth and drinkable yet packed a whopping 10% abv. I also purchased a bottle of Issaquah Bull Frog Ale, which I have yet to try, and some cool Rogue swag.

I also took a trip to lower Haight Street on Friday night, the area was jumping. I was really looking forward to visiting this infamous beer bar, Toronado. The place was absolutely packed, but since I was flying solo and playing the role of George Thorogood, I was lucky enough to find a single seat at the bar. Although I love Belgian beer, I was a little disappointed to find that it was Belgian beer month. The board listed some interesting Belgian beers, including Brouwerij De Halve Maan's Brugse Zot, a beer I have never seen in the United States (see the image to the left of my main blog page). I was really hoping to drink some local California beers that I cannot get in Massachusetts and I am sure I would have had even more to choose from had it not been Belgian beer month.

I was excited to see Russian River Brewing Company's Pliny the Elder on the list and made that my first beer. Simply put, the beer was outstanding. It was great to see so many people drinking it, I would have to guess that a dozen or more people on my side of the bar were enjoying it. My second beer was Pliny's little brother, Blind Pig IPA, another fantastic beer from Russian River. These are the first two beers I have tried from Vinnie Cilurzo's Santa Rosa, California brewery--I was very impressed and will certainly have to update my Top 99 Beers.

The bar was full of friendly locals, including a woman named Chungho who introduced me to the bartender, Johnny. He gave me a couple of recommendations and took the time to chat about the beer list even though he was very busy. I also discussed the San Francisco beer scene and baseball with a cool guy named Jason. It might sound corny, but I really felt at home at this bar. I would have stayed there for the rest of the night, but I asked Jason if Magnolia Pub and Brewery, on the upper section of Haight was worth the trip and he suggested that it certainly was worth a visit, so off I went.

Magnolia was much quieter and laid back than Toronado. It is kind of a small intimate space with a bar at the back, so I bellied up and checked out the beer list and menu. I paired a delicious cask conditioned IPA with a mildly spicy andouille sausage, pepper, and onion pizza--the perfect midnight snack! The staff were super-friendly, knowledgable, and very attentive. For a small microbrew pub, their beer list was pretty extensive--too bad I only had time for one beer. I will surely make another trip to the pub on my next visit to the area.

I topped the trip to San Francisco off with an amazing lunch on Saturday at the The Slanted Door (Vietnamese restaurant) in the Ferry Building. I started with a Grapefruit, Jicama, and toasted pecan salad and dungeness crab with cellophane noodles paired with a very smooth Trumer Pils from Berkeley, California. I can't wait to get back to the area, there are so many amazing beers to try.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Beer Blog Friday Number Two...

Here is my contribution to the 2nd Beer Blog Friday--my thanks to Alan at A Good Beer Blog for hosting the event this time around.

I decided to stay traditional and go with Westmalle Dubbel. This beer pours to a thick, marshmallow head that dissipates pretty quickly. The first scent is a crusty bread aroma with touches of peppery spicyness and dried fruit. Pretty well-balanced with sweetish raisin and spiced plum flavors. I have had this beer before, but I was still surprised by the somewhat aggressive carbonation that really makes for an interesting mouthfeel. It is medium-bodied and just a bit dry, but very drinkable. The clove and peppery spicyness peaks about halfway through the glass. I also found some very subtle banana and milk chocolate flavors. The Dubbel is not as complex as the Tripel, but it is still quite good. It leaves just the slightest bit of warming on the back of the throat. I could certainly drink another one right now. I give it a 4.3 out of 5.