Day 1 of me and my partner Sam’s brief trip to the Bay area and the 17 beers I drank there. Day 2 details our trip to the new Mikkeller Bar SF. Day 3 contains my final thoughts on San Francisco and some words about how west coast beer drinkers are spoiled rotten.
It was 2:30 in the morning on Saturday August 3rd, 5:30am by our internal clocks, and we were just told that Oakland airport had run out of cabs.
“There is a shuttle service though.”
“And how much more will that cost me?” I replied, rather ungraciously.
“Where are you going?”
“The Vulcan, in San Leandro.”
“29 dollars for the both of you.”
My partner Sam and I got into the van. The driver took the scenic route, spinning around residential corners and up and down highway ramps to show us the most dank and seedy parts of Oakland – or maybe not, maybe that’s just how the whole city looks. We drove down San Leandro, lined with sweat shops and fenced-off overgrown parking lots, searching for something that looked even remotely like a place where someone could live. In the shadow of the Roll Up Bicycle Shop, I saw the telltale, impossibly tall silhouette of our host Leigh.
“Five years almost to the day!” he says as I hop out of the van, referring to our time in Vilnius, Lithuania, a lifetime ago. I introduce him to Sam, who was not yet in my life back then, and he shows us into The Vulcan.
The Vulcan is an old warehouse complex converted into the most surreal, mazelike series of lofts populated (and decorated) by the strangest of Oakland’s arts community. It’s like an attempt at some anarchist’s psychedelic vision of utopia. Walking through the series of hallways-cum-galleries, connecting verdant courtyards seemingly at random, Sam and I mark our path through the complex with squares of bright orange tape, like we’re wandering through a forest.
Leigh takes us to Alameda for breakfast. We walk in to a café off the main drag and, as usual, the beer selection is the first thing I notice. Flying Dog Oyster Stout, Shipyard IPA, Lost Coast Brown, Trumer Pils, and Drake’s Hefeweizen and Pale Ale – and this is in a tiny breakfast place. A similar place in Canada, if they had any beer at all, would carry Bud, Molson, Coors, and maybe a Miller, Keith’s or Corona thrown in for the illusion of variety.
And thus began my first-hand experience of how America truly is a land of great beer.
Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ – A lovely hoppy wheat beer. It reminded me a bit of Montreal, where it’s standard practice to put wheat into any and all beer styles. It would be hard to find a Montreal IPA better than this, though.
Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale – I’ve had the original, but the oak takes it to a whole other level. I never realized how much a very hop-forward beer would benefit from the oak, but it turned a “meh” IPA into one of the best beers I had in California.
Drake’s Lanesplitter Lager – Lanesplitter Pizza’s house beer. It was the cheap choice on the menu and I got it because I wanted to know if even the cheap stuff in California is delicious. It isn’t. The pizza was good though.
New Belgium Fat Tire – One of the best selling craft beers in the country, so something I had to try. I was disappointed though; it’s got a nice biscuit-y character but was a bit watery. There are much better amber ales in the same spirit out there.
21st Amendment Back in Black IPA – Stupid name, ugly label, but a good beer. Black IPAs in Canada have been consistently disappointing so far. This one wasn’t.
Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA – I had this once before, in a small 4oz plastic cup at the Mondiale de la Biere in Montreal, along with the 60, 75, and 120. This one was my favourite, so I had to try a proper serving of it. I wasn’t let down; it’s so thick and juicy, full-bodied and intensely hoppy. A 4oz plastic cup has more flavour in it than a full pint of most beers.