CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> 4 East Bay Pubs

Previous Pint Pleasures - March 2, 2003

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Triple Rock Brewing Company, 1920 Shattuck, Berkeley, CA, USA

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Cato's Ale House, 3891 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA, USA

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The Starry Plough, 3101 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA, USA

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McNally's Irish Pub, 5352 College Avenue, Oakland, CA, USA

Since I was forced to spend this winter in Southern California, far away from England, I decided to fly up to the East Bay to see in the New Year with my friend Mistah Rick. One of our first stops was Triple Rock, which I had visited on previous trips. Like Bigtime Brewery in Seattle and the now-defunct Twenty Tanks in San Francisco, Triple Rock has a pleasant retro sort of atmosphere, with big wooden tables and old-stye beer advertisements adorning the walls. Since we were seeking out cask ales we opted for the day's selection on the handpump: Black Rock Porter. Although I normally don't go for porters it was a cold rainy day, so a dark beer seemed appropriately comforting. Black Rock is a classic Pacific Coast porter with a vertical dark flavour, reminiscent of tar in a good Pacific wave. Believe it or not, I don't mean this negatively; this is simply a nostalgic reference to growing up on the beaches of Southern California. After a day spent bodysurfing in the slightly murky waters of Huntington Beach and Bolsa Chica, we would often find traces of tar on our feet as we washed away the salt water and sand. Back in the 1960s this seemed as natural a part of life in Southern California as having achy lungs on a smoggy day. Fortunately the air is cleaner nowadays, but the Pacific still has its share of tar.

And this was a pint of real ale, a welcome treat in a land of fizzy beers. Sadly an American football game was blasting from the TV. Why, oh why not real football? When so many of America's sports fans were undoubtedly anticipating the Superbowl, there I was longing for a good World Cup match...

We began our New year's Eve celebration at Cato's Ale House, which was hosting a party with DJs, dancing, appetisers, and a spread of various toys and fruit on the bar. Cato's features 23 taps including 1 selection on the hand pump, 2 on nitro, and 1 hard cider. As we sipped our first pints of the lovely and bitter Twist of Fate on the hand pump we amused ourselves by arranging the Slinkies, toy cars, and tangerines in festive arrangements accented with Play-Doh sculptures and Silly Putty eggs. The serious young man standing next to me contributed a sort of Play-Doh Buddha to watch over the scene as we donned our tiaras and tooted our paper horns. By this time we were ready for our second pints, which were of E.J. Phair IPA. After the Twist of Fate, the IPA seemed very sweet! But, after all, is fate not sweet, especially on the eve of a new year?

Although we were tempted to see in the year at Cato's we decided at the last minute to take BART over to the Starry Plough, where they were featuring live music described over the phone as a "blues band". I'm afraid I can't recall the name of this band, but blues they definitely weren't. Oranges and turquoises, perhaps, as they seemed more like a Grateful Dead-inspired mainstream Celtic band. But oh, how I longed for a proper Celtic band like the Pogues-inspired St Bushmill's Choir, with whom I celebrated New Year's several years ago in Seattle. But alas, this is a different millennium and a different city. At least we enjoyed our pints of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale.

Although it isn't a pub, we rounded off our evening at the wonderfully tacky Alley (on Grand in Oakland) where we sipped martinis and listened to the regulars croon around the piano bar. Ah yes, now this was entertainment...

On New Year's Day Evening we decided to round off our celebration at McNally's Irish Pub. This is an inviting pub with a very friendly bartender and a nice roaring fire. Although it's supposed to be an Irish pub it has a strangely typical English feel. We started off with celebratory shots of Glenmorangie aged in Port Wood. Andrew and I happened upon this accidentally in Sheffield some months ago, when we thought we had ordered shots of regular 10-year-old Glenmorangie and ended up with a much more expensive but immensely more spectacular whisky. This is a true celebration of a single malt, so promising and hopeful -- that's the only way I can describe it. The bartender raved about it as well.

Appropriately we followed our shots with pints of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale as we watched a small group of people play bumper pool. The jukebox was pleasing as well, offering a fine selection which made me homesick for my local in Sheffield.

And here we are, well into the New Year. In fact it's already a 2-month-old year. And it's shaping up to be an intense year, with not that much to celebrate. That's why it's important to always continue the search for good beer. After all, we have to have something to celebrate...