Before this year’s Beer Week gets too far in the rear-view mirror (i.e.: I forget what I did), here’s a brief rundown of the events I attended.
First, a quick word about tasting notes. To be honest, I don’t really do them anymore. For all the beer I’ve had over the years, my palate just isn’t sophisticated enough. Other than vague generalities (balanced! smooth! malt backbone!), I can’t do each beer justice.
I can knock myself out crafting the perfect assessment, but everyone’s palate is different, so what’s really the point? From now on, most likely I’ll only make note of what’s most prominent and/or unusual for the style.
Besides, trying to describe something as I’m sitting there drinking it distracts from the enjoyment of it. I’d rather just take in the beer and the place and paint an overall impression of the experience. Were the beers enjoyable? Was the vibe welcoming and fun? Was the food and service up to par?
Laziness on my part? Perhaps. But I’m tired of worrying about it. Instead, the bottom line anymore is — were the beers (and food) good, were the people nice, and was it a great place to hang out, relax, and enjoy everything?
Single/Double/Triple IPA Firkin Flight, Triple Rock, Berkeley
Now, IPA flights are great enough. When you can try a brewery’s Single, Double, and Triple IPAs, even better.
When all three are pulled from casks — sign me up!
Coming here was a bit of a reunion of sorts. Hadn’t ventured to this venerable spot in a couple of decades, at least. Time has only added to its charm. The brewiana-covered walls, the air of beery civility — the place speaks of the tens of thousands of pints proudly poured there over nearly 30 years.
I arrived to an already crowded bar shortly after the 11:30am opening. Fortunately the three firkins were positioned on the bar in such a way that one corner seat was tucked in amongst them. I settled in and got to work.
The featured IPAs were the IPAX (single), Hop Salad (double), and Nod’n’Smile (triple). Great beers, all. The Hop Salad was probably the most hop-forward of the three. But what I really couldn’t believe was how smoooooooth the Nod’n’Smile was. The touch of sweetness at the end muted whatever alcohol kick it had.
The 9-oz. pours were perfect — enough to thoroughly enjoy each one while still being able to leave under your own power.
A tasty Asian-marinated Salmon sandwich was the perfect pairing. The marinade tang mirrored the bitterness, while the fatty fish cut through the alcohol. And the service was wonderful. Although I was nearly hidden amongst the firkins at the bar, the very busy staff kept an eye on me and made sure I wasn’t neglected.
Cask beers are, of course, the best. And a chance to taste several in a flight is a delight. This was wonderful, and I hope they do similar events in future Beer Weeks.
Barrel-aged Beer Fest, The Trappist, Oakland
This was my first visit to The Trappist, and I loved it immediately. But be warned — if you’re claustrophobic, this is NOT the place for you. The front bar has barely enough room for stools, a walkway, and standing-height ledges along the back wall barely wide enough to hold your beer.
The whole place is kind of a horseshoe. Walk past the front bar and the space widens a bit, with long bench seating along one dark-paneled wall, and the bathrooms on the opposite side.
Hit the back and open a door, and a small beer-garden is outside. Otherwise, hang a right to find more small tables and some stools along the dark back corridor.
Reach the end of that hall and hang another right. You’re heading back toward the front of building now, and the space opens up with several more tables and light filtering in from the front windows. This is the back bar area.
The odd and sometimes cramped shape of the space meant for long lines at the bars (more so at the front bar). But, as I’ve found at countless beer events, participants were cheerful and patient. And as a newbie, I quickly picked up the procedure.
Lines formed at the END of each bar. You don’t squeeze between people sitting at the stools. Study the printed menu while you wait, make sure you’re at the correct bar (the menu was divided into Front and Back Bar sections). Get the routine down and plan accordingly, and you will have a very pleasant experience and rarely have to wait long holding an empty glass.
First up was the Gigantic Brewing Pipewrench IPA, aged in gin barrels. That was a first for me, and the gin made for a more tangy, citrusy experience than most IPAs I’ve had. Really nice.
Next was Fieldwork’s Viking’s Lament Imperial Porter, aged in bourbon barrels with licorice and vanilla beans. I was a bit reluctant as I’m not a licorice fan, but to my delight the vanilla and bourbon flavors were much more pronounced, with the licorice providing just a bit of bite at the back end. Quite good.
Finally (and I couldn’t do any more if I wanted to) was Drake’s Barrel-aged Drakonic. This was just straight-up, in-your-face Imperial Stout time, with a bit of maple from the bourbon barrels. Subtle, it’s not. But still very delightful.
Overall, if you can deal with a lot of people in not a big space, it’s a great place to enjoy quality beer. I’ll have to return on a non-event day.
Dogfish Head Tap Takeover, Gott’s Roadside, Ferry Building, SF
A bonus stop after wandering around Super Bowl City. We got to the spectacle right about opening time on the first day, and boy, are we glad we did after seeing reports of the crushes of people on the days right before the game. Took us about 10 minutes to get in, and the crowds were very manageable.
And kudos to Speakeasy for getting some taps at the beer concessions. Nice to see some local beer represented.
Anyway, after checking the scene for about an hour, my wife was kind enough to agree to lunch at Gott’s. Now, I adore Gott’s as it is (although it’ll always be Taylor’s Refresher to me), but throw in some rare beers from one of the most off-the-wall breweries on the planet, and you’ve got yourself a deal!
And wow, did they have some hum-dingers available, including a couple of 17% monsters. If you’ve been to Gott’s, you know it isn’t conducive to pouring samples, so unfortunately flights were not available.
I opted for the Pennsylvania Tuxedo Pale Ale, brewed with spruce. A pretty straight-toward (for them) Pale, with the spruce adding a bit of spice.
I had to try one of the monsters, so I braved the Higher Math, a golden strong ale made with sour cherry juice and cocoa nibs.
At this point I must confess, and I may have to turn in my beer-lover’s card for this, but I do NOT like sour beers. Just can’t do them. Almost invariably, they are too puckery for me and wind up tasting like not much more than beer-flavored vinegar. I know, I know. I’m thinking of getting counseling.
Thankfully, that was not the case here. The cocoa took enough of the sour edge off to where it tasted pretty much like chocolate-covered cherries. Worked very well. And BTW, the 17% was NOT in evidence. Yes, it’s a sipper, but a light-on-its-feet one. Very dangerous.
I enjoyed these with one of my favorite meals off all time, anywhere — the Ahi Burger. You ever been asked what your last meal would be? This would be mine — a huge slab of rare Ahi with Asian slaw and Wasabi aioli. Normally I’d say with a Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc (I defy ANYONE to find a better food/wine pairing), but these Dogfish Head beers would work just fine, as well.
And with that, another Beer Week is in the books. Again, it’s friggin’ amazing to live in an area with so many hundreds of fantastic events to experience, and I’m thankful I got to enjoy a few. Until next year, then.