One of the (few) perks my day job offers is birthdays off. The last few years I’ve taken advantage of the free day by hopping on mass transit and heading to some new (to me) beer joints. As the pace of openings shows no signs of slowing, there’s no shortage from which to choose.
This year’s stops — Bartlet Hall and Local Brewing, both in the City.
To be honest, I was a bit trepidatious about this one. Bartlett Hall (named for Washington Allon Bartlett, the City’s first mayor) is a full-on restaurant, with a full bar, just off of Union Square. It’s too easy for house-made beer to be an after-thought, or worse yet, an affectation, at places like this.
The usual touches apply here — padded leather barstools and banquettes, rich hardwood tables, the men’s-den swank accented by the pop of the brightly-lit bar with sleek marble top. Luxo-pub.
The selection didn’t exactly put me at ease — only four house brews were available. “Great,” I thought, “just make the minimum to make it look like you take this seriously and have at least somewhat of a selection.”
Did I mention two of the four were IPAs?
So, I started into the sampler set, and…
What’s that they say about books and covers?
The Bartlett Blonde was solid, if not spectacular. Straightforward, easy to drink, nice to order if you’re with a group and want to think more about the conversation than what you’re drinking.
The IPAs, though, were intriguing, and the highlight of the flight. Hop Sounds was the brash, bigger brother of the two. More hop spice, pepper, and grassiness.
Pio Pico was a bit more streamlined, refined, and zesty, full of citrus, with a clean finish. Both were nice, in their own ways, and it was heartening they offered two very different, and quite good, examples of the style.
The Dark Bullitt Chocolate Coffee Porter, unfortunately, was disappointing. Too much chocolate, not enough coffee. I can say it would make a terrific beer float. But on its own, it was just too sweet. Great chocolate cream flavor, but the finish was just too sticky.
The food was tasty, as well. The meatball small plate came with three, bathed in a rich Marinara sauce. The “side” of fries was a meal in itself, piled high in a bowl. Added bonus — two aiolis for dipping, as well as ketchup. Very good, all around. Although, as is my weakness, I could not stop eating the fries even though I should have.
Good thing it was a 25-minute hike to the next stop. I could use it.
My timing was perfect, I got to Local just as they were opening the giant roll-up door.
One thing I love about brewery tap rooms — you gotta seek them out. They aren’t in typical retail areas, shopping centers and strip malls. Mostly they’re in light-industrial, mixed-use areas, which is the case here. This lightly-traveled block of Bluxome, complete with head-in parking, is quiet and subdued. A nice contrast to the high-traffic main thoroughfares.
Although I was the first there, it filled quickly. The tall industrial space is warm and friendly, with sleek, low-profile stools, dark wood tables and bar, and oversized local photos adding a sophisticated touch.
I took my seat at the bar, got my generous six-beer sampler, and started in.
My overall takeaway — distinct, unique beers, very well executed.
The Bernal Equinox Belgian Pale was a great blending of both worlds, the Belgian twang enhancing, but not overwhelming the Pale hops. The Bluxome Black Lager was light on its feet with an interesting nutty streak (kind of like me, except for the light-on-my-feet part).
The Outer Sunset was hard to wrap my brain around. Billed as a Dark Saison, the competing components almost left a sour impression, in a good way. Tart and musty at the same time.
The Let’s Get Tropical Pale Ale was the most intriguing. A Pale Ale on Nitro, it was an interesting twist on the New England-style IPAs the kids are drinking these days. The lack of carbonation muted the spice and let the citrus flavors really shine, while also giving a bit of heft and richness. Very unique, and enjoyable.
The Sutro Tower Stout (also on Nitro) nailed it. As solid a stout as you will ever find — roasty, rich, bitter, and oh-so smooth. This should be in the dictionary for how to brew a stout. I could drink several to combat the usual SF chill.
And with that, another birthday’s in the books. So thankful of having the gift of many, many beer spots to explore so close to my home. Looking forward to the next one, and to finding many more before then!