California Craft Beer Proves That Craft Beer Can Flourish in Fremont

California Craft Beer is proof that good beer can overcome daunting adversity. 
Located on the fringes of Fremont, California Craft Beer has to work extra hard to attract the attention of beer distributors more inclined to spend their time cultivating the already robust beer market to the north in Oakland and Berkeley, and in the south, where they pursue the wallets of thousands of affluent, underserved beer drinkers in Silicon Valley and San Jose.

Moreover, the Fremont bottle shop and 16-tap pub exudes neither boutique beer bar charm nor gritty divvy-ness—traits that typically characterize successful pubs. It seems more like a beer store with a small bar added on almost as an afterthought. Homey touches, such as Kathleen Martin’s eye-catching murals, rescue the pub from industrial sterility.
Despite those drawbacks, California Craft Beer does have a couple of things going for it: Thirsty beer lovers parched for a local pub where they can enjoy a brew among their friends and neighbors, and a hard-working beer manager on a mission to bring them the best beer possible.
Almanac Brewing, which makes its beer not far away at Hermitage in San Jose, took over the taps at California Craft Beer on Thursday, Dec. 5, and the place was packed with a mixed crowd happily enjoying four small-pour tasters of some of Almanac’s recent creations: Golden Gate Gose, Bourbon Sour Porter, Smoked Chipotle Stout, Single Origin IPA, and especially the sublime Farmer’s Reserve #3 (not included among the tasters but available on tap).

Local brewery tap takeovers and small-pour tasters seem to be regular features at California Craft Beer, as beer manager Thomas Sparks gently nudges local drinkers in the direction of some of the current trends in craft beer, particularly beers aged in barrels and exposed to wild yeast.
The clear winners among Almanac’s offerings were Farmer’s Reserve #3 and Golden Gate Gose, a puckerish German style wheat beer. As in many great beers, balance is the key, and with unpredictable microbes in play, things can easily get out of whack. Which is what makes a beer like Farmer’s Reserve #3 so remarkable. It’s puckerish tart, but not overly so, and suggestive of fruit without being fruity-sweet. On the other hand, the wild yeast seemed to have hijacked the porter in the Bourbon Sour Porter, and we were hard-pressed to detect the characteristic roastiness that should have balanced the tartness.

Experimentation is the name of the game in craft beer these days, and happily Fremont’s  California Craft Beer is blessed with an aggressive beer manager who is unwilling to settle for ordinary beer.


Rate Beer’s Ales for Autism Benefit Showcases the Many Flavors of Beer

Imagine a craft beer event that doesn’t particularly celebrate hoppy beers. Then imagine none of the craft beer lovers in attendance complaining even a little bit.
At Rate Beer’s second annual Ales for Autism: Beauty From a Barrel benefit on Nov. 10 at SPUR, hops took a back seat to bugs, specifically the beneficial microorganisms that “infect” beers and give them their funky, sourish flavor.
New brewery Sante Adairius of Capitola continued to impress, with two of its American “wild” ales: Cask 200 and West Ashley, which won the drinkers poll for best beer of the event. Despite very limited production, Sante Adairius is quickly earning a word of mouth reputation for well-balanced funky beers. 
Co-owner and brewer Tim Clifford modestly aspires to claim a place on the bottom rung of the American wild ale category pioneered by the likes of Russian River Brewing, The Lost Abbey and the Bruery, among others. He’s already well on his way.
From the East Bay, the eagerly anticipated Rare Barrel served notice that it, too, is a funky brewery to be reckoned with. Shadow of Her Eyes (third place) and SKUs Me whet our beer appetites for the grand opening in Berkeley, which should be before the end of the year.

Enigmatic Moonlight Brewing of Santa Rosa chimed in with a hop-less beer, but it wasn’t a “sour.” Instead, Moonlight’s Previous Life Herbal Ale had a more herbaceous quality. It was a pleasant sipper and not surprisingly a change of pace from an iconoclastic brewer.
Why would a Pasadena brewer haul four kegs of beer all the way to San Francisco? According to Craftsman Brewing founder and owner Mark Jilg, sour beers don’t yet get much love in LA, at least not yet. This was good news for us beer lovers because Craftsman poured some of the cleanest, tastiest beers of the night: Angelino Weiss, Cave Art, Honesty Ale and Cirrus. 
My personal favorite, honestly, was Craftsman’s Honesty Ale, a delicious American wild ale. Angelino was a puckerish take on the Berliner Weissbier style. LA’s loss was clearly our gain.
Making an even longer trek was Wicked Weed of Asheville, N.C., which graced the event with bottles of its delicious Serenity, a 100% brettanomyces farmhouse-style fermented ale, as well as a cocktail tribute beer. Wicked Weed’s Old Fashion is brewed with sweet cherries and orange zest, then aged for four months in a whiskey barrel.

Perhaps the most sought after (and limited) beer of the evening came from rapidly rising Prairie Ales of Tulsa, Okla. For the Ales for Autism event, Prairie brought bottles of its imperial stout, Bomb. This version, aged in rum barrels, earned the name Prairie Pirate Bomb. Along with the rum, you can taste espresso, chocolate, vanilla beans and chile peppers.
Rate Beer’s event was indicative of recent Bay Area beer trends toward the sorts of flavors—puckerish sour, dried fruit, booze and hints of who knows what—that are imparted by bugs and barrels rather than hops. That’s not to say that hops are all of a sudden passé in beer, but just that the vast range of this versatile beverage continues to expand at the hands of today’s beer-making wizards.


Mikkeller SF Brings Craft Beer to the Tenderloin

For such a well-respected brewery, Mikkeller’s beers are all too often bewildering in their inconsistency. Beer Geek Brunch Weasal (right), a big oatmeal imperial stout, adroitly balances hints of coffee bean, roasted malt and subtle back-of-the-palate bitterness to delightful effect. Every sip is an enduring pleasure as the beer warms in the glass, revealing ever more complex flavors and nuances. The 10.9% abv is barely noticeable in this well-constructed gem of a beer.
On the other hand, another imperial stout, Black 2011 (below), starts off boozy (18% abv) and goes downhill from there, until by the time you reach the bottom of the glass, all that’s left is a hot alcoholic mess.
Inconsistency is to be expected from this daring Danish gypsy brewing company, which makes beer all over the world, but it does present a dilemma for beer drinkers. How do you know if the Mikkeller beer you’re pondering on the tap list or eyeballing on the beer store shelf will be worth its relatively high price, or even drinkable?
The new Mikkeller Bar in San Francisco helps make those decisions a lot easier. The spacious bar/restaurant at 34 Mason St. presents a stark juxtaposition with its seedy Tenderloin/Market Street surroundings. Once past the velvet rope outside, Mikkeller SF is sleek and modern without feeling cold or aloof. A lot of the credit goes to the servers, who are knowledgeable and helpful without being stuffy, condescending or pretentious. They will help craft beer newcomers satisfy their curiosity with an appropriate beer and at the same time steer more experienced drinkers to something unusual that will pique their palate. If the beertenders detect hesitation, they are quick to suggest a sample sip to make sure that customers enjoy their beer.
Along with eight beers from Mikkeller, the 42 constantly rotating taps recently featured such local brews as newly opened Faction’s Fall IPA, Drakes’ Expedition and Firestone Walker’s Pivo Pils. However, the emphasis is clearly on Belgian-style craft beer from the likes of Nogne O of Norway; De La Senne and De Ranke of Belgium; and New World brewers like Allagash and Dieu du Ciel. Beer-friendly food, including a variety of house-made sausages, is available to complement the beer.
Mikkeller’s beers are pretty much the opposite of popular American-style lagers, which are irrefutably consistent yet uniformly bland and tedious. Mikkeller’s beers might be maddeningly erratic, but when they hit the mark, you are reminded of why you love craft beer all over again. Great craft beer comes not from rigid consistency but from the freedom to experiment and take chances, even if it doesn’t work out every time.


Victory at Sea: Brews on the Bay Just Gets Better

The annual Brews on the Bay celebration of local beer, held by the San Francisco Brewers Guild, has in 10 years risen to the short list of the most enjoyable only-in-San Francisco parties. 
Held this year on Saturday, Oct. 19, Brews on the Bay combines some of the best aspects of San Francisco: the most pleasant mid-October weather; postcard-worthy vistas of the bay, the Golden Gate and Bay bridges,
Alcatraz and downtown; some of the tastiest beer San Francisco breweries have to offer; and a large and mostly well-behaved throng happily rubbing elbows with the volunteers who keep the WWII Liberty Ship, the S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien, in tip-top seaworthy shape. Music from the city’s own bluegrass band, the rollicking Brothers Comatose, further elevated the event. 
Good beer, good people, great weather, an outstanding venue, and good-time music again proved an unbeatable combination.
A total of 16 breweries poured scores of beers for some 1,500 partiers and volunteers on the ship. 

Onboard for the first time were Cellarmaker, which opened its doors a couple of weeks ago on Folsom Street, and newcomers Pine Street and Headlands Brewing. Cellarmaker made a puckerish splash with its Petit Sour with Peach and a very respectable porter.

The Brothers Comatose were also making their maiden “voyage” on the historic vessel docked at Pier 45. “It’s the first time we’ve ever played on a ship,” observed guitarist and vocalist Ben Morrison, just as the ship rocked a bit from the wake of a departing ferry boat. Morrison previously worked at Thirsty Bear Brewing.

Many beers stood out, but Almanac’s new seasonal, Golden Gate Gose, was in a class by itself. Keep an eye out for that one. Also outstanding was Social Kitchen’s New World Lager, made with New Zealand hops.

Special congratulations go out to the San Francisco Brewers Guild and Executive Director Brian Stechschulte and the volunteers, who seem to top themselves every year; the security personnel that maintained order under sometimes trying circumstances; and the volunteers from the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien, who didn’t seem in the least put out sharing their amazing ship with all of us beer lovers.