In the Bay Area, trying to keep up with the plethora of great beer spots opening seemingly on a daily basis is surely madness.
But why should I let that stop me?
Drake’s Dealership, Oakland
I’ve managed to make it to a few of these, but yikes!
I gotta say, though, I’ve never, ever felt as instantly comfortable as I did when I first walked into Drake’s Brewing’s new Oakland outpost, Drake’s Dealership. It’s Uptown, in a collective of shops, restaurants, and art galleries called The Hive.
The nondescript, off-street entrance opens to a spacious, comfortable beer garden, complete with tree-trunk stools, gravel, a canopied seating area, and small stage for entertainment. The space was formerly a Dodge dealership, and hints of its former life are still painted on the brick walls, from the Dodge 1500 truck ad in the beer garden to the Sales and Service sign above the bar.
The warmth continues inside, with wooden tables, stools, and a fireplace. I settled in at the bar and got to work on the massive beer board.
The Dealership doesn’t do flights, per se, but offers four-ounce pours of everything, so in effect you can create your own. I focused on the limited in-house specialties, such as the Rye Robustito Session Porter, the Anatidaephobia Black Saison (!), Rockridge Honey Farm Brown, War Pigeon DIPA, and finished with their Draconic, a silky Imperial Stout.
If you weren’t aware, a Drake is a male duck. Naturally, the duck theme continues through the menu, from Duck Confit to duck-fat fries to my lunch selection, Poutine with “double-duck gravy.”
Rich, warming, and comforting, just like the beers and the place itself.
Mare Island Brewing Company, Vallejo
Beer with a side of history. I so dig that.
Mare Island Brewing Company (MIBC) is on the Vallejo waterfront, steps from the ferry terminal. While sipping your sampler, you can watch the passengers coming and going, or look at the historic buildings across the channel. You might notice a row of identical shed-like structures. These were coal sheds, to store the coal used for fueling the Mare Island Shipyard. One of these sheds will soon be their actual brewery (their beers are currently made off-site).
This place exudes a sense of, well, place. From the tables made from reclaimed wood, to the tap handles custom welded by Mare Island welders, to the historically named brews, it is all about Mare Island here. Their website itself is a lesson in local history. Check it out and be educated.
I ordered the sampler, which was of course terrific. However, one of their core beers was unavailable, so I was offered the Farragut’s Farmhouse Saison as a substitute.
Farragut’s Farmhouse is aged in white wine barrels prior to release, and normally isn’t offered as part of the sampler. I was given the original, pre-aged version, which was wonderful. Bright, crisp, and tangy.
Of course, I HAD to order the fully aged beer to compare. I mean, what kind of investigative reporter would I be if I hadn’t? Journalistic ethics REQUIRED it!
To be honest, I really didn’t have a preference. I loved the tartness of the “starter” Saison, but I also appreciated the toastiness and depth of the Farmhouse. Each great in its own way, but it’s always fascinating to taste different versions of the same beer next to each other.
As I mentioned, MIBC is steps from the Vallejo Ferry. Maybe the more adventurous could do a Ferry Crawl? I dunno, maybe start with beers and lunch at MIBC, perhaps ferry over to Alameda and catch Faction Brewing (and possibly St. George Spirits and Rockwall Wine Company, as well).
Just saying. Might make for a fun day.
Hopwater Distribution, San Francisco
Had some time to kill between an afternoon show and dinner, and the missus was kind enough to indulge me with a stop at Hopwater Distribution, a newish taproom not far from Union Square.
When we arrived, there were several people milling about outside. Dammit, they weren’t open yet??
We stood there for maybe 30 seconds or so, figuring out a Plan B, when Fate smiled upon us and the proprietors opened the doors.
Now, I’m pushing 50 (okay, maybe a couple of years to go), so I’m about as un-hipster as you can get. I head into any place in the City with some trepidation. But I must say, as the space filled (quite quickly after the doors opened), I appreciated the mix. All ages, genders, and several ethnicities. It was all good.
And I dug the aged industrial look. You gotta know where it is, as they’ve kept the dilapidated old Key Club sign from the ‘50s out front, and other than small neon signs in the windows, it might not be easy to spot.
Once you’re inside, the copper bar, brick walls, tall ceilings, and hazy front wall of windows welcome everyone.
The 31 taps are all California, and mostly Northern. And I gotta be honest. Aside from wanting to check out another new (for me) taproom, I had an ulterior motive with this stop.
It was Henhouse Big Chicken DIPA release weekend, and Hopwater Distribution was one of the places pouring it.
And yowza! Ultimate freshness (it was kegged and tapped the day before), bursting with hops, and not a trace of harshness. Nice, nice, nice!
FYI, speaking of Henhouse, their brand-spanking-new brewery and taproom is under construction and should open shortly in Santa Rosa. (Remember what I said about keeping up…?)
I mentioned the wife earlier. She does NOT like beer, so any beer joint I drag her to HAS to offer alternatives. Fortunately, Hopwater has a small wine list, so she enjoyed a Gloria Ferrer Brut sparkler. She was happy, therefore I was happy.
BTW, this is how cool my wife is. For my birthday, she bought me a VIP ticket for Sierra Nevada’s upcoming Beer Camp festival in the City. She’s going, too, as a designated driver. She’s willing to just hang around while I drink beer for a few hours. Then drive my beery ass home.
I defy you to find a truer expression of love than that.