Day 3 of me and my partner Sam’s brief trip to the Bay area and the 17 beers I drank there. Day 2 detailed our trip to the new Mikkeller Bar SF. Day 1 detailed our experience in an anarchist commune and my realization that west coast beer drinkers are spoiled rotten.
Imagine a sleepy seaside town, tucked away at the foot of a hill, hugging a natural harbour, the kind of place you’d stumble on while hiking along the Mediterranean. Little houses are lined up in rows wherever the landscape permits, pressed together and painted in pastels, bleached by the salt water and the wind. Except that this particular little town never ends. It goes on for miles, maintaining the architecture and sea-worn look but sprawled in every direction. You could walk for hours through the hills without escaping this town. Also, it’s just been invaded by pirates. That’s what San Francisco felt like to me.
Our final night in town was more traditionally touristy. We rode the street cars, ate out, and went down to Fisherman’s Wharf. On our way, we stopped in North Beach, where we had Tony’s delicious pizza, some of the city’s Francisco’s consistently excellent ice cream, and a pint at Rogue’s local pub.
Rogue, despite being a huge, successful and diverse brewery, dedicates half of their tap list to other breweries, while Mikkeller’s tap list is only about a quarter Mikkeller beers. I don’t know any other business that happily stocks and promotes the products of their competitors. The brewing industry uniquely understands that diversity is a good thing; that having more competition benefits everybody.
Rogue Dry-Hopped Red – A little disappointed in this. I knew I’d be getting a hoppy beer, but this one is hoppy to the point that I can’t tell that it’s a red. The malt is almost completely covered up by the hops, so that, despite the colour, it tastes more like an IPA. It’s a good IPA though, so I still enjoy the glass to the end, managing to pick out a little bit of toasty maltiness when I squint and tilt my head just the right way.
Anchor Liberty Ale – Tastes like a damn good ale. Anchor is one of the only American craft breweries to pre-date modern craft beer, having been founded in 1896. If this and Anchor Steam Beer are any indication, they continue to make quality, true-to-style beers to this day.
Sierra Nevada Autumn Brown – One of Sam’s favourites, malt-forward, very nutty and toasty, keeping an eye out for it in Melbourne.
Cismontane Marea Roja – Finishing off the trip with something pricey, a Flemish Red Ale from a California brewery I’d never heard of. A Flemish Red Ale, one of my favourite beer styles, is a Belgian sour brewed with darker malts, aged, then blended with a younger beer a bottling. Typically more rounded than your usual sour with residual sweetness from the malts. This unfiltered Californian take on the style is not exceptional, especially considering the steep price tag, but shows promise.
When I hosted a beer tasting for family and friends, my sister made a comment, referring to an impending trip to Chicago: “How am I supposed to drink shitty American beer now after tasting all of this?” Many enthusiasts fall victim to the Craft Beer Bubble and forget that, to the average person, it’s still a very strange concept to think that Americans make some of the world’s best beer. The late great British beer writer Michael Jackson (look him up, he was on Conan once) called it the “most interesting beer scene in the world” – and judging from my brief time in San Francisco, I’m inclined to agree.
Americans, or at least Californians, should consider themselves lucky for their exposure to such a high-quality, diverse beer culture. It’s easy to assume that everyone has access to this kind of variety, that complaints that shelves are stuffed with IPAs and barren of anything else are unfounded, that a good sour beer isn’t too hard to find. Many of us elsewhere aren’t so lucky, so don’t take your good fortune for granted. Drink up!