Thursday, June 19, 2008

NorCal Trip Roundup

I hope this post serves as a "what-to-do" and "what-not-to-do" when on a Northern California Beer Trip.

Monday Night- Day -1
I picked up my friend Brian, The Baltimore Beer Guy, at Union Station in the evening after work and we headed home to get ready for our trip in the morning. Since he had never had a Russian River beer I decided to get my sours out and put together a little tasting since I wasn't sure if any would be available up at the brewpub. What started with a simple lineup of Temptation, Sanctification, Supplication, and Beatification quickly mushroomed into a hell of an experience as I decided to get out a Lost Abbey Vertias 003 to try. Since that is made partly with Cuvee de Tomme I decided to get a bottle of that out for him to see what it tasted like on its own. Then lastly it was time to consume the bottle of Lost Abbey Veritas 001 that the good folks at Lost Abbey let us hand-bottle during the Barrel Tasting last year. This was probably the best lineup of beer I've ever had at one time and the nice surprise among the bunch was how good the Veritas 003 was. It is honestly what I wish every Strong Belgian type dark ale could mimic. It was very hard to describe other than really sweet with a bit of fruit, yet not cloying at all. It went down easier than probably most beers I've had. After that we finally got some sleep for our early departure.
Pictures -

Tuesday - Day 1
We left Southern California at around 8:30am and made great time getting up to the world famous Toronado in San Francisco at 2pm with only one stop in between. Being a weekday afternoon it was actually more crowded than expected with most of the bar seats taken, but we were able to grab the last table available. It would probably be considered a light crowd for the regulars. The big tap board was easy to navigate and it took me a whole 5 or 6 seconds to make up my mind that I wanted a light, crisp, refreshing Moonlight Reality Czech Pils, ranked as the #51 beer in the world on Beer Advocate's Top 100 imperial stouts list (think about that for a second). It certainly did hit the spot and the beer sausage with mild chilis and spicy chili was a great compliment. We stayed for another round, this time I ordered a beer I'd never seen before- Firestone's Lil' Opal Saison (pictured left). It definitely had a lot of the saison thing going on and was interesting, although I liked Reality Czech better.
We left after our second round and went straight to Santa Rosa to check in to our hotel and then walked over to the Russian River brewpub. This was the second time up there for my friend Steve and I, but the first time for our friends Adam and Brian. I just stayed with my Summer hop kick and had the RR IPA, Blind Pig, and Pliny the Elder before we called it a session and headed over to Third Street Aleworks. Third Street was a quick stop as we ordered 1 sampler between us and a couple appetizers and killed it all in a short time. After a long day we headed back to the hotel and turned in, since there really isn't anything to do in Santa Rosa after midnight.
Pictures of day 1 -

Wednesday - Day 2
We first went The Flavor Bistro, a really nice little restaurant in downtown Santa Rosa. We arrived when it opened at 11am and the beer of choice here for myself was another Reality Czech Pils. Brian went with the Moonlight Bombay By Boat IPA I believe. Needless to say, Moonlight makes some great beers, so if in Northern California you have to seek them out, and one of the best places is at The Flavor Bistro who has about 7 or 8 moonlight beers on tap.
After that early lunch we took off and headed 15 miles north to Healdsburg to visit the Bear Republic Brewpub. We are very familiar with their big 4 beers you see around here- Racer 5, Hop Rod Rye, Red Rocket Ale, and Big Bear Black Stout. I didn't expect them to have 13 beers on tap though so that was awesome. We got 2 samplers between the 4 of us and went to town. The standout in the bunch to me was the Rebellion IPA, an all-simcoe hopped IPA. It was bursting with that awesome simcoe smell and flavor. They also had a black witbier called Black Mamba which took me by surprise because I had previously only seen this style once before brewed by our local The Bruery.
When we finished at Bear Republic we thought it would be a good idea to switch things up and hit a winery, so we chose "J," also located in Healdsburg. They make really good champagne... er sparkling wine... that's how I knew about them but my friend Steve knows more about wine than I do so he was quite familiar with them. This stop was really fun but it was the beginning of a turn in the wrong direction. After that we went to two other wineries- Longboard and Kendall-Jackson. We finished with some food at the Healdsburg Pub & Grill where I had a very refreshing Alaskan IPA. That trio of wineries just killed me though, I was asleep in the car on the way back and asleep for a couple hours at the hotel after that. Somehow the guys got me to muster up enough energy to get back out to the Russian River brewpub that night though. Here I started with a Fleurette- a beer they brewed with Italian brewer Agostino Arioli. It is brewed with violets, roses, some black pepper, and some other stuff... none of which I could taste any of. I just didn't like this beer... it didn't taste like anything to me. So I moved onto and finished the night with the super hoppy and always refreshing Blind Pig IPA.
Pictures of day 2 -

Thursday - Day 3
I woke up this day with a headache thanks to all that wine that I'm not use to. Rule #1 I'd like to pass along- When planning a beer trip, just stick to beer (and water)! That's the last time I ever throw in wine on a beer trip. We got up and went over to The Flavor Bistro again and I had another Reality Czech Pilsner, which didn't help the headache much.
At about noon we took off down into the bay area because we had to drop our friend Adam off at the Oakland airport in the evening. This wasn't really my ideal situation since it's hard for me to be away from where I'm staying (ie home, a hotel, or whatever) for an entire afternoon and evening. Thanks to the genes I inherited I'm moderately anemic with a form that is not treatable so I get tired pretty easily (ok, that's about all the sympathy I want). Well this outing for our Thursday was a bit draining on me. So already having a headache and feeling tired due to not sleeping well I was already falling behind. We went from the Flavor Bistro to Lagunitas, but got there at 1:30 and the only time they are open is at 3pm for a tour and tasting. So we left and went to Moylan's where I had their cask ESB- easily the worst beer I tried this week. In general, Moylan's beers don't really excite me, although I do like their Hopsickle. After that we sotra started in with the time-filling activities... hitting up Fisherman's Wharf for some seafood, then 21st Amendment Brewpub for a Watermelon Wheat. I want to think all the beers I had on this day were not that good because I was I wasn't in peak form, but Watermelon Wheat is also another letdown. It tastes just like a standard wheat beer when you take the watermelon wedge off the rim of the glass. We had a round there and left to take Adam to the airport. After the airport we went to a newer Belgian beer bar in Oakland called The Trappist. This was a stop I was very excited about this week and it lived up at least in atmosphere. I had a Moonlight Working For Tips, which was interesting- a dark kinda beer brewed with redwood tips. It wasn't my favorite beer in the world, but it was interesting. My next beer was the Linden Street Common Lager, from the Linden Street Brewery in Oakland. Again, didn't impress so much. Keeping with the disappointments, we split a couple bottles of Duchesse de Bourgogne which was so overpoweringly sweet it wasn't funny. Lastly we found one that could not be ruined by it's predecessors, Fantome Printemps. That was a very good saison. Fruity, belgainy, light, refreshing, and funky with notes of my feet after a long day's work... all that good stuff.
Pictures of Day 3 -

Friday - Day 4
Ideally, on our last day, we would have just stayed around Santa Rosa, maybe gone up to Bear Republic or even Anderson Valley but for some reason we decided to drive to a winery that was a little over an hour away for some overpriced tasters and cheese plates. Gotta admit, the place was cool... a nice structure with a great view. But I shoulda remembered this was a beer trip. The trip was already taking it's toll on us and the 2+ total hours of driving in the morning here wasn't that great of an idea. Thankfully there is that little thing called the Russian River Brewpub to revive the spirits. The rest of the day concluded with much Pliny the Elder and pretty much everything else on their menu. I came home pretty light, with only 3 growlers- one each of their IPA's (the Pliny of which has already been exhausted).
Pictures of Day 4 -

Saturday - Day 5
We had to drop off our friend Brian at his parents Hotel in Buellton, and thankfully that was only about 1 block away from the Firestone taproom so we stopped in for some lunch and pints of the tasty Union Jack IPA. That pretty much concluded what was a pretty good trip. Overall I would have liked to have laid low and drank at the Russian River brewpub more often, but you live and learn I guess. It was still a fun trip with some good memories, and I calculated that I consumed just over 300 ounces of beer during the trip.

No comments: