You get asked that all the time, right?
“If you’re ever stranded on an island, what (fill in the blank) would you want with you?”
But no one ever asks WHAT island you’d like to be stranded on.
Probably someplace tropical, right? Like Maui or Guam or Jamaica?
Because, quite simply, Alameda has everything the drink connoisseur would ever need to survive.
But, as usual, I was here for the beer.
There are a few places I would call “destination” breweries — places you would take your beer-minded, out-of-town guests because of their fantastic brews and/or facilities.
Drake’s Dealership would be one. Stone’s beautiful new Napa outpost is another. And I’m counting the days until I can visit Russian River’s brand-spanking-new Windsor facility.
Faction Brewing is also on that list.
There are very few spots of any kind in the Bay Area, let alone beer places, that have the stunning, panoramic, postcard views Faction can boast.
Situated on the north-west end of the former Naval Air Station (NAS) Alameda, nothing but old abandoned runways stand between Faction’s back patio and knockout views of San Francisco and the bay.
I’m a native and even I was taken aback.
Roger Davis, a Bay Area brewing veteran of more than two decades (mostly at Drake’s Brewing in San Leandro and Berkeley’s Triple Rock), offers more than 20 beers. You can build your own sampler or, if going through the entire list seems a bit daunting, order a pre-selected flight of the day.
IPAs are well represented, of course. But with that many taps there were choices aplenty — a pilsner, amber, wit, several Belgian styles (including a grisette), a porter, a couple of stouts, and happily, many pale ales, which aren’t so easy to find these days.
One of the stouts was their mind-bending Anomaly Milk Stout.
I know white stouts are a thing, but I had never come face-to-face with one.
My advice — don’t think, just drink.
Your eyes and your mouth may not be able to sync it up, but it is delicious. Just close your eyes and taste. Body might be a touch lighter than a typical stout, but the roasted coffee and bittersweet cocoa are there.
Acreage abounds at Faction. The massive back patio features several decks, space for food trucks, an additional bar, corn hole, etc.
And as you might expect from a former helicopter hangar, there’s oodles of room indoors, as well. Plenty of space to expand the current 20-barrel brewery as needed, plus an adjacent additional seating area adorned with festive, in-progress murals.
With too many beers to try and mind-slapping views (have I mentioned those already?), I easily could have called it a day right here.
But my itinerary beckoned.
THE RAKE AT ADMIRAL MALTINGS
My next stop was about a 20-minute walk from Faction, through the still-mostly-deserted NAS.
It felt like a movie set. Or maybe armageddon.
Block after wide-open block of concrete, empty office buildings, and abandoned hangars. I almost expected to see Wall-E foraging around for plant-life, although he would have found plenty in the weeds popping up through the cracked pavement.
After wandering through this surrealistic time-scape, I heard the sound of civilization again as I neared Admiral Maltings.
Until recently, most of the “craft” in the craft-beer movement focused around the ever-expanding variety, and growing locations, of hops.
Malt, conversely, was mostly either imported or sourced from the few malting facilities scattered around the U.S.
They wanted to bring the concept of “terroir”, so crucial to the story of wine, to beer. Why couldn’t locally-grown and malted barley make beers that could “taste” of California?
They were also smart enough to include a tasting room pouring beers made from their malt — The Rake.
The Rake is a taproom unlike any other. I’ve been to many a brewery where you can sip the end result while looking at the tanks and equipment that made it possible.
But I’ve never sat at a booth looking into a room that looks like a giant sandbox.
The malting floor.
From their website:
“Floor malting is a disappearing art, revered by brewers around the globe. We gently turn our malt on the germination floor by hand. It creates flavor components no other method can replicate. Fresh malt from our kiln tastes unlike malt produced by larger, industrial malting facilities.”
And the common thread of beers having at least some of the malt come from that giant sandbox makes for a fascinating tap list, a curious cross-section of styles from breweries all over the state.
For the sheer uniqueness of the experience (and the beers), The Rake is a must-stop.
Fortunately, since by now I had done a bit of sampling, my last destination was just a short stumble away.
Right next door, in fact.
ALMANAC BEER CO.
Almanac began its life embracing the “craft” of craft brewing. Their slogan, prominently featured on their labels, is “Farm to Barrel.” They made their reputation on very small batches of labor-intensive, usually fruited, almost exclusively barrel-aged, sour beers.
They also did not have their own facilities, not even a taproom, choosing instead to contract brew at other locations.
After opening a proper taproom/restaurant in The City in late 2016, they finally opened their own brewery with adjoining taproom in Alameda in early 2018.
They’ve managed to create a warm, convivial, family-friendly atmosphere in a 30,000-sq.ft. former hangar. Wood-planked walls around the bar and long, richly-stained communal tables offer a warm contrast to the shiny tanks in back.
An arcade area, complete with Pac-Man and pinball, adds a playful, family-friendly touch.
As Almanac has moved from contract-brewing to their own facility, the product line has also evolved.
While the barrel program is still, of course, front and center, they’ve adapted to the market with their Fresh Beer line — IPA heavy, with a lager and a couple of stouts on my visit.
They also now offer cans, which I took advantage of to take home my only souvenirs from my island excursion — one each of Side Hustle, a hazy, dry-hopped IPA, and Vibes, a decidedly non-hazy, dry-hopped pilsner.
With that, since I wasn’t fortunate enough to actually be stranded, it was time to head home.
Aloha, Alameda. ’Til the next “threeee-hour-touuuuur…”