From the West: Beer Adventures Begin

When we both lived in Portland, it took several months for Hokie and I to realize that we lived in the same building. In fact, we didn’t realize it until one day on Twitter, we had been talking about beer and where we lived. Somehow, Hokie deduced that we were neighbors. From this, a friendship in beer was born. Unfortunately for Portland, Hokie had to move to the west coast, but fortunately for PTV, he’s joined the writing staff to give us his take on what the U.S. West Coast has to offer in the world of craft beer. Everyone give a warm welcome to Hokie.

Let’s face it, moving to a new part of the country can be quite the transition. Finding yourself in a new city, with a new job, surrounded by new people takes some getting used to. However, there is one new aspect to living in California’s East Bay that didn’t take a ton of effort to adjust to, and that is the beer. Though I moved from arguably one of the best beer cities in New England, the North West has blown me away. It seems that each time I saddle up to the bar of a newly found watering hole, the options on tap and bottle lists include a few beers unknown.

In the paragraphs below, I’ll do my best to share with you my exploration of the bars and beers found in North Oakland and Berkeley. This is by no means a comprehensive report and I look forward to sharing more adventures from the East Bay, San Francisco and Northern California in the near future. Enough blathering, on with the beers…

As I head north from the Rockridge BART station on College Ave in North Oakland, I peer into what appears to be a subterranean beer bar with a healthy amount of taps behind the bar. I’m supposed to be meeting someone for lunch, but I figure one beer won’t be too much of an issue. As I enter Barclay’s Restaurant & Pub, I realize I’ve stumbled upon something special. With thirty beers on tap and no hard alcohol to be seen, I know I’m in good hands.

The first beer that’s set in front of me is a Drake’s Brewing Kewl Hand Luke, and lucky for me this IPA is on cask. The beer has a very bright golden color, and being hand pumped, has a thin white head that dissipates quickly. There is a light floral character on the nose which disappears once it touches the tongue. Without much malt to speak of, this beer’s bitter bite runs the show. I sense a bit of fruit in there, but nothing overly definitive. Taking another sip, I note the beer has a very light body and doesn’t feel as though there is much alcohol content. Having learned that my lunch date has been pushed back several hours, I decide on a plate of the house style, english cut chips to accompany my drink. This proves to be a good choice as the beer’s bitterness acts as a great palate cleanser, leaving my mouth slightly dry.

Knowing I now have a bit of time to kill, I decide to try one more from the draft list. I settle on Humboldt Brewing’s Hemp Ale. As you may guess, this brew has a special ingredient, the seeds of the hemp plant. With a dark, but very clear appearance, this American brown is great follow-up to the hoppy smack of the Kewl Hand of Luke. The malty, roasty sniff leads gracefully into the earthy and burnt malt flavor of the beer. At 5.7% ABV, this hemp brew has a decent heft to it, but not too heavy. As the taste slowly fades, a slight bitter tinge creeps out from the hops, previously masked by the maltiness.

Flash forward a few weeks, and I find myself sitting in the Pacific Coast Brewing Company. While I’ve heard mixed reviews around town about the place, one can’t argue that they’ve been kicking ass and taking names since the late 80’s in the craft beer realm. Their tap list is a mix of house and local brews, and causes a bit of hemming and hawing. On my server’s second attempt to get my order, I’ve decided to forgo the in-house offering for a San Diego Country Session Ale. This lovely sipper is a collaboration between Stone Brewing, Ballast Point and the very talented (and lucky!) homebrewer, Kelsey McNair (a.k.a. North Park Beer Co.). With a reddish-golden color, my pint is topped with a thick white head which takes its time fading. The beer’s hop-forward, floral nose doesn’t require me getting close to enjoy the aroma. On the first sip… holy hoppy! Both bitterness and hop bouquet flood my tongue, but retreat fairly quickly. With a low malt taste, a light body and a 4.2% ABV, this is a beer I could see myself truly sessioning with.

As I alluded to earlier in the post, this is merely the tip of the proverbial beer tasting iceberg for the region I now call home. I have already lined up several other beer bars for sessions and I’m in the midst of planning a tour of three to five breweries in Northern California. If there are any PTV readers who are curious about a specific brewery, beer or bar out here, please let me know and I’d be more than happy to plan an investigatory voyage. In addition, if any readers are new to the craft beer scene and have any questions, please feel free to contact me. I’m by no means an expert, however, I’m always willing to do some digging to learn more about beer.

Until next time, drink respectfully and have fun.