CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> 3 North Bay Area Pubs

Previous Pint Pleasures - October 26, 2013

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Elevation 66, 10082 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito, California

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Little Star Pizza, 1175 Solano Avenue, Albany, California

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Mill Valley Beerworks, 173 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley, California

I realise I was reviewing Scottish pubs last month, and here I am back reviewing California pubs. Next month Pint Pleasures will be back in Scotland, and then we'll finish up in California for 2 more months. And then it's back to Yorkshire and Derbyshire. I know it's a bit confusing, but I do have an impressive backlog of pubs to write about, so just keep your seatbelts fastened.

Last spring, on my first night in the Bay Area, my friend Mistah Rick and I met our friend Lou Anna at a brewpub in Rick's original Bay Area home, El Cerrito. Founded by refugees from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, the small city of El Cerrito was originally called Rust after its first postmaster. In 1916 the name was changed to the much more appealing and less abrasive El Cerrito, which means "little hill".

Elevation 66 is so named because it is 66 feet above sea level. Opened in 2011 by four partners, the pub hosts exhibits by local artists. There are 12 microbrews available, including 6 of their own brews and a rotating selection of guest beers.

The three of us sat at the bar and decided to try Elevation 66's own brews. Rick had a pint of White Rabbit Double IPA (8.5% ABV). Served in a small glass, this was intensely hoppy but extremely alcoholic, with the vapours that hit the nose smelling highly flammable. Lou Anna and I had pints of East Bay IPA (6.5% ABV). This is very nice in a slightly soapy sort of way -- if you can imagine a pleasantly hoppy soapiness, that is. If you can't, try it anyway because it's nice.

We sat and sipped our pints and talked about elderly parents' belongings, plumbing nipple rings, robocalls, and all the other things a trio of old computer-geek friends would talk about.

Next we moved on down the road and into the city of Albany for another pint and something to eat. Another small Bay Area city, Albany started life in 1908 after a group of women who protested the dumping of Berkeley garbage in their community armed themselves and confronted the garbage-dumping wagons, which retreated without complaint. Shortly thereafter, the town was incorporated as the City of Ocean View, and a year later the name was changed to Albany.

Along the main drag we stopped into Little Star Pizza. Although this is a pizza joint rather than a pub, they do serve some good microbrews. Lou Anna and I had pints of Racer 5 IPA (7.0% ABV, Bear Republic, Cloverdale, California), a classic California IPA that I've enjoyed on several previous occasions. Rick went for a pint of Evil Twin (6.8% ABV, Heretic Brewing Company, Fairfield, California), which is a good solid well-balanced brew. Both of these beers went very well with our tasty vegetarian pizza with its pleasantly crunchy crust.

A few days later, Rick and I took off for a 2-day tour of the counties north of San Francisco. After we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge which was typically enshrouded in fog, our very first stop on the way up towards Sonoma County was in ever-trendy Marin County, in the city of Mill Valley. Located on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais not far from the Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley feels as though it's never stepped out of the hippie feel of the 1960s, and we could almost smell the patchouli as we parked the car and walked down to the Mill Valley Beerworks.

This is the second of the two CoffeeBeer establishments we visited on this trip, as the Mill Valley Beerworks features not only microbrews but also coffee drinks from Blue Bottle Coffee, the Oakland-based roaster that offers a wide variety of ultra-fresh beans.

The place comprises two large rooms, with the room on the left more like a coffeehouse. We entered the darker high-tech righthand room and sat at the bar where we could chat with the bar staff and enjoy some variously flavoured tasters, mostly of Mill Valley's own unique brews. The barmaid served us a bottle of water and two glasses before we even ordered a beer. How nice for cleansing the palate between herbal tastes. This is an excellent idea more brewpubs should take on.

Our tasters included Botanical #4 (4.6% ABV, Mill Valley Beerworks), brewed with yerba santa, a Pacific Northwest herb also known as consumptive's weed as it is sometimes used to treat upper respiratory conditions. The resulting beer is quite weird with a taste one wouldn't expect -- or particularly desire -- from a beer. Our next taster was Morpho (6.0% ABV, Cervecería MateVera, San Francisco, California) which has a reddish colour which stems from the hibiscus used in the recipe. It's also brewed with bay leaf and yerba mate, making this another coffeebeer, although it tastes more like an herbal tea. Next up was Porcelain White IPA (7.0% ABV, Mill Valley Beerworks) which was a nice IPA but a bit too strong for the pre-noon hour.

We finally decided on half pints of Anagram IPA (6.5% ABV, Mill Valley Beerworks). This is a nice classy hoppy IPA. The hops of all of the Mill Valley beers we tasted are of the light velvety fizzy character as opposed to zappy or zippety hops. (Perhaps I should start my own hops-tasting glossary.) They were served in honest glasses with 40cl lines. After a tasting journey through the herbal laboratory, it was nice to settle on a very drinkable IPA with no pretensions. So what is the anagram? PIA? PAI? API? AIP? IAP? A GRAN PIANA?

We had a final taste of Olde Scoutter's Barleywine (9.5% ABV, Bear Republic Brewery, Cloverdale, California) which smells very caramelly. But it's an adult caramel taste, bringing to mind the Werther's commercials. It has a sweet background that doesn't linger.

During this session I learned some new beer-tasting terms: bretty (short for brettanomyces, a yeast that in the wild grows on fruit), barnyard, and horseblanket. I nearly expected some cowboys on horseback to come sauntering in, their spurs a-jingle-jangle-jingling.

Mill Valley Beerworks has a bare industrial feel with no signs or clips on the taps -- just a beer menu on the bar and tables. The beer choices are half Mill Valley brews and half guest beers, mostly European. They even have Old Speckled Hen.

A visit to the unisex toilet is a must, if only to see the antique "Additional Towel System" manufactured by the Sunset Towel Company, complete with an ankle-level mirror so you can admire your shoes.