Bierfestens Best 10 Craft Beer Spots in California..

Posted on July 18, 2011


It has taken several months and several attempts  for me to find the time and energy to write this post. Though now in the middle of a Detox as posted in the previous post, I want to post my thoughts on the California adventure. I traveled with my trusty sidekick the drunk Lawyer, and somehow we manage to travel well together. We flew Qantas direct to San Fran to coincide with the Craft Beer week Festivities, though we didn’t go any of the conference talks. After spending time up north my trip was broken up with a quick visit to Vancouver for a few days to visit friends and the beer geeks such as Vaneast where I dropped off some Pliny fresh from Russian River and then I flew to San Diego. 21 Days of Beer Drinking Liver Pounding Fun!

So this will be a countdown summary of the top drinking places on the trip. Some were brewpubs, some where industrial sites, some were bars, and anything else we found along the way. Your views may differ but though every experience is different we definitely tried to learn as much about the beer, surroundings and locals as possible.

1. Beer Revolution – Oakland

This place was only found while we were on the subway and met the brewer boys from Upright Brewing in Portland that had come from the Craft Brewers Conference and its easy to spot Beer Nerds in San Fran this week as they were everywhere. The boys helped us get to Beer Rev as we certainly didn’t know where it was, nor wanted to go to Oakland.

It was a huge Deschuttes night

The night we were there it was a Deschuttes Night with Abbyss and Black Butte.  It was a cool bar on the wrong side of the tracks, but only blocks from Oakland Police Station! In real terms it was a 10 minute walk from Oakland City station, and there was nobody on the streets, which was a bit weird but we had a group of Aussies and Portland locals in Oakland finding a bar.

THe bar itself is a cool little hole in the wall place that I wouldn’t have found if I had tried, with about 40 taps and a massive bottle list in the fridge, it was amazing selection.

2. Hamiltons Tavern – San Diego

This place is definitely my kind of bar. The night we arrived it was during a Sierra Nevada event and we got seats at the bar. Though late in our trip and we were only aiming to stay for a few, our bill was high as we wanted to try everything before heading up the road to Toronado SD. I often say if I lived in SD I’d definitely live near the proximity of this bar. Oh yeah whats the fucking deal with Public Transit in SD, that Bus never came & nor did the Taxi so some drunk patrons gave us a lift up the road.

3. Monks Kettle – San Francisco

This was the bar we hit on our first night in San Fran, and I think 2nd Night so we had a few experiences here. Many local go here for the food, and some beer people say its expensive for beer, but when you get great clean taps with good service its a high mark establishment. My drunk lawyer mate thinks this is the best pub in the world due to having Abyss on tap, but we both appreciated the glassware, and quality of the range of beer available. On the 2nd night I was behind some people in seats at the bar and ordered my beer only to have the guy in front of me look up, and it was a quite drunk Daniel Knibbs from Vancouver BC. Very crowded and hard to get a seat at

the bar, but well worth the effort. We also ran into an assistant brewer with my favorite Chicago Brewery Goose Island, so I could talk his ear off my love affair with Bourbon County Stout.

4. Churchills Bar – San Diego / Escondido

From the outside this pub looks like a dump. There is a Boddingtons sign in the window and its situated near a Strip Mall street in an area of highways. We both almost kept driving even though we heard good things about this pub and it was recommended from others during the trip. We parked and both looked at the tap list and agreed it was HOTEL worthy. We then drove to a nearby hotel for the night, dumped our stuff and headed back to the bar.

I ordered a Deschuttes Mirror Mirror that came in a Pint Glass!! and it didn’t taste right, and when I asked the waitress she stated its fresh, and asked for a taste, so I obliged and she stated that’s how it is out of the keg, and I realized very different to the bottle. It is an English Pub with great beer and I can see why many down south Rave about the bar. It comes close to Hamiltons for me, but Hamiltons is more grungier to me and my style.

5. Lagunitas – Petaluma

My travel companion was in Portland on this day that allowed me to travel out of San Fran again, via Marin Brewing, Moylans and then arriving in Petaluma. After checking into the quality Inn or whatever hotel is nearby the brewery I pretty much ran to Lagunitas to have their beer from the source.  It is definitely a bizarre setup as its a shed attached to the brewery that is has the packing and shipping of palattes in full production. You sit at the bar or at a picnic table, but my preference is the bar, and order a beer that is served in a Jam Jar. There is no finesse about the place but the beer is sensational. I had a great time and its definitely one of the fun drinking haunts in California. The Cask version of Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial stout is still one of my standouts. Yes and I purchased my DOG merchandise.

6. Russian River Brewery – Santa Rosa

The Russian River beer board

This is probably the only place that we had on our list as a MUST DO. Yes we met MRS Vinny (Nat)  as we call her and we had a great night there where I ran into the brewer from Scottish Brewer Jamie from Fynne Brewery at the bar. The reason we went is for the Double IPA Pliny on Tap, and in the vein hope that Pliny the Younger is served. There were several IPA’s on including a single estate IPA that is only available from the brewery. Pliny is a great beer without doubt, but having it fresh on tap is the reason for the trip. They also had on Consecration, Mortification, Sanctification and any other beer that ends in ‘ication’. Those expecting Imperial Stouts are going to be disappointed but those who want Belgian beers with various flavour profiles and IPA’s such as Bling Pig & Pliny are going to enjoy this beer stop. The big surprise to us was it’s a very working class bar in a town that works in the wine industry of the area. Most regulars are friendly and I suppose the jealousy of them having RR as their local bar is pretty cool.

Pliny in Belgium Goblet

*On a side note we also discovered about PLINY in the right glass ware. It is served in your stock standard pint glass but we poured it into a Belgian glass to try and smell more of the hops, and it is a different beer altogether. Much like Wine, Beer too can taste different from various types of glass ware. * Goblets were our secondary accessory while in these types of bars.

6. Neighborhood Bar – San Diego

This bar was a small one near the ballpark PETCO field. We were not really expecting that much other than a quick stop in to have a drink as their tap list was not that massive for California standards of around 10-15 taps. We walked into what seemed like a Wine Bar except it was a Beer bar with an outstanding selection. They appear to have most beers on the list that cover the best of the categories, and also serve the beers in the correct glassware. *(See Note Above- Re:Pliny)*

They served Pabst in the cans with a note on the menu saying that ‘Its still a crap beer from CAN but its Trendy & Hip to drink it, which we thought summed up our views. Pabst is what your dad’s dad used to drink.

7. Toronado – San Fran

This turned out to be headquarters for the Craft Brewer Conference attendees after sessions and on the two nights we were there, it was filled as it usually seems to be. On the first night we arrived I ran into the boys from St Augustines Vancouver and Bar Volo from Toronto.

Bathroom @ Toronado SF - Yes it is that bad!

Walking into Toro’s it was packed as expected and they had their usual Russian River beers on tap that helped to make me miss a flight about 2 years ago now, when I lost track of time and yeah I missed my flight to Sydney from San Fran. But Toro’s to me is my starting point bar, its the ‘First’ love kind of girl you will always have affection for. Yes its filthy, rude and there is nofood, but who cares this is one of the great institutions of American Beer!

8. Bear Republic – Healdsburgh

Our aim was to enter the bar for a few beers before heading north to hit Anderson Valley & North Coast, but we ended up spending a night in a great little brewpub in Wine Country.

Enter the Bear Cave

So I wrote a post after visiting this pub, after my prior post discussed the lawsuit. This post is somehow my biggest page on my CRAP blog, as I suppose everyone wants to know what happens when 2 breweries in the craft beer scene go head to head. I definitely had a negative view of Bear going into the visit, but after spending the night drinking all the beers and having one of the bar managers give us a lift back to the Hotel (I think to get us out of the bar ) we definitely left with a view that Bear had the right ot protect their trademark Bicycle and Red Racer had in fact infringed upon it.

Bear Taster Tray

So enough Legal Mumbo Jumbo Doc, what was the beer like?  yes Racer 5 was great on tap as it was super fresh and the Red Ale was definitely a pick. We initially started with 2 tasting trays and then knew which beers we’d order pints of.

9. Pizza Port Brewing – Ocean Side San Diego

Okay this is where I think I tasted my fair share of San Diego IPA’s that have helped define the US Style so well. I first tasted their style while at GABF a few years back and I loved the Salt Water taste of it. I am not a brewer but I have swam enough in the ocean to know what Salt water tastes like and when made into a hop driven almost salty IPA that is what you have with Pizza Port IPAs’. Each of the different sites had about 40 taps, with their own beers and other guest taps.

So I never talk about food in pubs or bars but god fucking damn are the Pizza’s from this place great! they are made with REAL toppings and the dough doesn’t leave you bloated like most pizzas. I’m not going to search for Pizza photos from my trip, but Yes the Pizza is good from here. So we learnt that they use the yeast from beer making to make the dough, as do so many of the Pizza Beer places that seem to have spread across San Diego.

10. Alesmith & Ballast Point – San Diego

These two breweries are not Bars, but drinking places that are worth visiting. Alesmith is in an industrial wasteland town in the middle of nowhere and Ballast has a bar & Homebrew shop. These two breweries in my opinion are producing two of the best IPA’s in the US for different reasons.Without question the IPA in San Diego is the countries best.

Alesmith – firstly our GPS got us there and we were confused looking around the carpark of business units trying to find the brewery, but we did and they were open on the weekend for tastings. It is $1 sample for their beers and the regular Pale Ale X was one of the simplest and best Pales either of us had ever tried. The Speedway Stout and IPA’s were phenominal and definitely changed my view of what beer could be or should be. I bought 6 of each for my bags to take back to Australia!! they all made it safely thankfully.

Ballast Point – The homebrew shop in San Diego but the University was where we ended up on our first beer stop in SD, and our last as we headed north. The Scalpin IPA is your typicall Seawater SD IPA and we loved it. I think in SD we bought about 3 growlers of it at different times, as we found it refreshing, and just so big and hoppy but salty. If  I say salt one more time shoot me. I bought home 6 of the Ballast Point IPA’s as well.