Things have been quiet on the CoffeeBeer website. Don't worry, I certainly haven't stopped drinking beer. This most recent silence has been because finally, for the first time since the beginning of the Covid lockdowns, I was finally able to fly over to California to spend a few weeks visiting. Sadly my Long Beach-based mother had passed away during lockdown, so what's left of my tiny immediate family has relocated up to the Central Valley, to the city of Bakersfield.
When I was growing up in Long Beach, we used to think of Bakersfield as nothing more than a hick cowtown that my family drove through on our summer vacations in order to reach more exciting places like the Sierras or the coast of Northern California or Oregon. We might have stopped briefly in Bakersfield, at some roadside burger joint for a quick lunch or even just a cold soft drink, because it was usually hotter than hell on that stretch of Highway 99 and worth a break from our non-air-conditioned car. But I really never knew anything about Bakersfield--until this year.
Originally inhabited by the native Yokuts people, the area didn't change much until the discovery of gold in 1848, at which point settlers of all kinds flooded into Kern County. The original settlement was washed away in 1861 by floods from the Kern River, but by 1873 it was finally incorporated as the City of Bakersfield, named after lawyer and former colonel Thomas Baker. By the 1890s the city had attracted more migrants who worked in the oil industry. Today it's one of the fastest growing cities in California, and it's famous for the Bakersfield Sound which was popularised by local legends Merle Haggard and Buck Owens.
So I guess we were being unfair, as there aren't that many cows in or near Bakersfield. There must have been quite a few sheep during the Gold Rush, though, because a lot of Basque shepherds moved to the area, and there are currently more Basque restaurants in Bakersfield than anywhere else in the country. I admit I did see a few cowboys while I was visiting, especially out at Ethel's Old Corral, but that may be more of a style than anything else. I don't know.
Regardless of my overall impression of Bakersfield, it is certainly a growing city, so as it's 2022, there would of course be some breweries to explore. And naturally I managed to visit a few.
I first stopped into Lengthwise Brewing Company when my uncle drove down from Sacramento for a couple of days to visit me and my sibling group. Unkletom was really confused when we pulled into the industrial park and drove past the long modern building looking for a parking space. I explained to him that this is the type of location where most of California's newer breweries are located. And as we got out of the car, I pointed out the towering brewing vats to the rear of the building.
We entered the main door and walked up to the bar, where I had a taste of Zeus Imperial IPA (9.5%), which seemed to have the taste of pure alcohol. I also had a quick taste of the gorgeous Grapefruit Zeus (9.7%), which was even stronger. Seeing as how I'd only had my morning coffee a couple of hours earlier, I decided to go for a pint of the much safer Citra Simcoe Centennial (6.5% ABV). This is brewed with Citra and Amarillo and dry hopped with Centennial, a nice cool hops combination for the hot afternoon. Unkletom went for a pint of Cerveza de Lengthwise (4.6% ABV), which is a Mexican-style lager.
We crossed the huge room and took a seat at a long communal table. Leaving my uncle to relax and sip, I went back to the bar to see if they might have a different version of their food menu other than the giant board that was sitting on the bar. As the menu is online, which requires scanning a QR code with one's phone, I didn't bother asking if they had a WiFi password so that I could go online with my British phone. But to make things easy, when I gave my uncle a super-brief rundown of the menu, we both decided to have fish tacos.
The tacos were actually really good, traditional style with white sauce and shredded cabbage, and my hoppy Citra was just right, quite satisfying for what I needed. As we sat, sipped, ate, and talked about all things bizzarreally artiological, my pint grew in hoppiness and was wonderfully set off by the tacos.
My second visit was a couple of weeks later with my friend Mistah Rick. He had just arrived to spend the night, as the next morning the two of us would be leaving to go explore more breweries near the California coast. So I suggested we start our Saturday evening with a pint at Lengthwise. It was a pleasantly windy summer evening, so we sat out on the large patio at a tall table. Once again I had a pint of Citra Centennial (6.5% ABV), which I again thoroughly enjoyed, and Rick had a pint of Widthwise (9.7% AVB), a very strong but delicious beer with Yakima Valley hops.
Besides this brewery, which opened in 2016, Lengthwise has two other locations in the city including a pub in Northwest Bakersfield and a gastropub near Cal State University. And besides brewing beer, they roast their own coffee. So I'm sure I'll be visiting some sort of Lengthwise, perhaps depthwise or diagonally, on future visits.
After we shared our pints, including Rick's strong one which made me feel as if my connection with the world was spreading a bit sideways, we managed to walk half a mile to Great Change. Here we sat at the bar and had pints of the appropriately named I'm A Little Hazy IPA (7.0% ABV). A NEIPA brewed with two of my favourite hops, El Dorado and Mosaic, this was most appropriate for my suddenly hazy head. I believe I recall thoroughly enjoying it. Anyway, we walked out -- or perhaps it was more of a sashay or a mambo -- having bought a four-pack of Underwater Giraffe Pale Ale (5.4% AVB), brewed with Idaho 7, Citra, and El Dorado hops, to take back to the house. Fortunately when I awoke the next morning we both felt refreshed and ready for our journey. So we bid farewell to my brother, my sister-in-law, my unofficial brother, and the four cats. I guess the giraffe had already gone home.
- DRAKE'S DEALERSHIP, OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA: On the final night of my five-week visit to California, my friend Mistah Rick and I stopped in here. It was a Wednesday night so we found a space at the bar. Rick went for an eight-ounce glass of Death of the Sun (12.9% ABV), a barrel-aged Imperial Stout with Amburama. "Wow," he commented. "It tastes just like…" "Teen spirit?" I replied. No, what was it? What was that taste? I had a pint of Foraging Raccoon IPA (7.5% ABV), which I recall having had on my prior visit to the Dealership in 2017. And it was just as good as I recall. As we were sipping our drinks, we noticed that tonight's dessert menu was featuring a Crapple Cobbler. It said it was a combination of cranberry and apple, but it did make us wonder. Hopefully that wasn't the taste...
- WALKLEY BEER COMPANY, SHEFFIELD: It was a boring Sunday in June, but at least the seemingly constant wind had died down. My evening was already planned: the Mitchell Cousins zoom, followed by an UberEats pizza for dinner. So in the afternoon I took a long walk across Bole Hill and down around to the end of South Road. And as I passed by this tiny pub and bottle shop I simply had to stop in for a pint. I had an impressively experienced but happily cold cask pint of Weightless Galaxy IPA (4.2% ABV, Redwillow Brewing Company, Macclesfield, Cheshire). This was a very pleasant pint, and it was served in an attractive Abbeydale Brewing Company glass as well. There was just enough room for me to find a place to sit, so I was quite happy.
- TWO SHEDS, SHEFFIELD: I've stopped in here a couple of times since my California trip. It's close to home and it's actually quite a peaceful place for me to sit and write. The first time I visited it was comfortably busy, but the customers seemed like a nice, civilised crowd. I went for a pint of Tropical Fiesta (4.0% ABV, Beatnikz Republic, Manchester). Sadly the brewery was forced to close in April, so this is some of the last supply of this really nice keg beer. As I sipped it I sat at my own table by the door, happily drinking and writing. I started my visit by telling the landlord about my recent visit to plenty of California breweries. (I think I just wanted to make him envious.)
The next week I stopped in again, early on a Tuesday. This time I was the only person in the place. I decided on a pint of Cryo (4.2% ABV, Triple Point Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire), which was again a keg beer, but it tasted so perfect: zizzily hoppy and bright and optimistic. Again I happily sat on my own, writing.
- HALLAMSHIRE, SHEFFIELD: On a relatively warm day I stopped in here and decided to experience my own Quiet Storm (5.5% ABV, Thornbridge Brewery, Bakewell, Derbyshire). This is a single-hopped beer, although I didn't find out what hops were used in this batch. Doug, who recommends beers to me that he thinks I'll like, did recommend this, and he was right: yes, I did! It's strong, though, but cold, and it's nice to have a cold craft beer on a warm day. As I sipped it I spoke about missing ducks, particularly two of the quartet of ducks I keep track of at the Weston Park duck pond. Aramis and Porthos are still there, but Athos and D'Artagnan are missing. They were definitely two pairs, and I'm not sure who were the males and who were the females.
- SAINT MARS OF THE DESERT, SHEFFIELD: I hadn't been to this brewery since it first opened several years ago. That's probably because the taproom was closed for some time during and after lockdown, and also because it's way out in Attercliffe, far away from where I live. But Victoria and I decided to catch the 52 bus one Saturday afternoon. The 45-minute bus ride took us from Crookes, winding through central Sheffield, past the old Castle Market, and continuing through the Wicker, until we finally reached Attercliffe. There we found Saint Mars of the Desert, looking surprisingly busy and festive considering its location amongst abandoned industry. There were children and dogs frolicking amidst the weird downpours mixed with warm sunshine, and it felt very festive. As I perused the menu of wildly experimental craft beers, I was instantly transported back to my recent trip exploring California's breweries.
We sat outside and started with pints of the really nice, hoppy BamBam (5.7% ABV), a New England IPA with Olicana and Azacca hops. Although I'm not used to sitting in a British pub drinking something this strong, it was surprisingly easy to drink and process without me feeling as if I were becoming unwieldily intoxicated. So we continued with half pints of Fruit Stingo (5.0% ABV), one of their series of 100% oak fermented sour beers, this one using blackberries and ruby grapefruit. As we sipped this pleasantly sour brew, it started to rain, and the rain became heavy, which drove most of the garden revellers immediately inside. Victoria and I moved to seats under a canopy with another customer, and I couldn't help thinking what a wonderful brew this was on a wonderful day.
We finally went inside, where co-owner Dann's music was playing, featuring wonderful esoterica like mambo and mariachi. In other words, it was very similar to my own massive eclectic playlist, and I was happy. Vic went for another half, this time of Bagatelle (4.5% ABV), a hoppy brew with 40% wheat and Saison yeast. It was again very nice, but I let her drink the bulk of it. Before we left, I had a fittingly surreal visit to one of the unisex toilets, where the ceiling light would suddenly cut down to low light, then come on full, then back to low light again. I didn't know if this was intentional or just an electric fault, but for my own reasons I was hoping it was intentional.
As we left to walk back to the bus stop, we wondered about the works across the road, over which the sign announced SMALLEST CARROT CO. LTD. Once we were at our respective homes, Victoria texted me with her research into this enigma. Apparently Castmaster Roll at the Eagle Foundry went bust in 2014 and 2015, and someone rearranged the letters on the now-derelict building to read what it now says. So I guess we can stop wondering just who makes the largest carrots.
BOTTLED/CANNED BEER UPDATE (all sampled in California):
- Hazy Wonder IPA (6.0% ABV, Lagunitas Brewing Company, Petaluma, California). Brewed with Comet, Sabra, Citra, and Cashmere, this distinctly yellow brew is a bit too sweet for my taste. But the Cashmere lends an exotic perfume which is pleasant. The can is decorated with a dog with a black eye. I'm not sure who the dog is, but apparently Lagunitas is a very dog-friendly brewing company, so it must be one of their canine regulars. This was a nice beer break after a chaotic evening I spent with my friends in Westwood.
- Citra Simcoe Centennial Ale (6.5% ABV, Lengthwise Brewing Company, Bakersfield, California). I picked this up at the brewery, as I'd just had a pint of it on draft. The can promises "hoppy goodness" and a bold hop aroma with citrus and pine flavours. It's dry hopped with Citra, Simcoe, Centennial, and Amarillo hops. Nice.
- Super Cluster (8.0% ABV, Lagunitas Brewing Company). Quite strong but quite good.
- Fresh Haze IPA (6.5% ABV, Deschutes Brewing Company, Bend, Oregon). With Mandarina, Amarillo, and Simcoe hops, this was a very easy drinking brew.
- Golden Empire Strikes Back IPA (7.5% ABV, Temblor Brewing, Bakersfield, California). This was another four-pack I picked up at the brewery. A New England hazy beer, it's brewed with Comet and Galaxy hops, and as I recall it was very good, fruity yet dank.
- Dankful IPA (7.4% ABV, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, California). As described on the can, this is "seriously hoppy". It's also a very good example of the dank side, and as we sat out on the back patio in the dark, my unofficial brother Kim instantly fell in love with the whole idea of dank. On future visits I will definitely have to seek out dankness in the beers we buy. That's no problem for me, because I'm already a fan.
- 805 (4.7% ABV, Firestone Walker Brewing Company, San Luis Obispo, California). When Kim and I returned to Bakersfield one night from a short road trip, we stopped at a shop to pick up some beer to take home. Sadly they had no more Lagunitas IPA, and the selection looked pretty grim. A young man told us that this was a good beer if we liked IPA. So having no choice, we picked up a sixpack. And I think both of us have to admit it's really awful. If you don't really like hops, you should enjoy this. But why Firestone Walker has created this bland, slightly malty drek, I'll never understand. When Rick and I were later driving all over the Central Coast, we saw billboards advertising this brew. I guess some people will never have any taste.
- Boogie Board Olympics (6.4% ABV, Humble Sea Brewery, Felton, California). This is a double dry-hopped foggy IPA with Citra, Azacca, and Nelson hops, and I chose this in the brewery's Santa Cruz bottle shop because I used to be an avid boogieboarder when I was in my teens. Rick and I drank this late at night while we were sitting in our private patio overlooking the Santa Cruz Pier while listening to the roar of sea lions. It was nice but a bit fruitier than what I would have preferred, and as my stomach was rumbling a bit from overroasted broccoli, I could have used something a bit drier.