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Your Beer Fortune

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Drake's Barrel House, 1933 Davis Street #177, San Leandro, California

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Novel Brewing Company, 6510 San Pablo Avenue, Oakland, California

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The Good Hop, 2421 Telegraph Avenue #102, Oakland, California

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Drake's Dealership, 2325 Broadway, Oakland, California

Another year has zoomed by, and I have just completed another visit to California. Stationed at my mother's house in Long Beach, I flew up to the Bay Area for a long weekend to explore some breweries and pubs with my always willing friend, Mistah Rick. After Rick picked me up at the airport on Friday we headed up to Oakland where he lives. And on the way we stopped in San Leandro for our first craft beer experience of the weekend.

Located on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay, the suburban city of San Leandro developed from one of California's ranchos, and it has a high population of Portuguese and Hawaiians. It's notable for being the birthplace of both film maker Russ Meyer and actor Lloyd Bridges.

Drake's Barrel House is located in an industrial part of San Leandro, in a former Chrysler Dodge factory and serves as Drake's Brewing Company's taproom and retail store. The tasting room is in an old warehouse, set among the barrel and packaging storage area. This is where the brewery was originally back in 1989, thanks to the dream of founder Roger Lind and his friend John Martin. The Barrel House opened in 2011.

We decided to start our tasting weekend on a sour note. I first had a taste of Too Many Candles (5.8% ABV), a wine barrel-aged sour blonde. Y-y-yeah! Not bad! But I decided to go for a pint of the dry hopped Brett Davis Eyes (5.8%), another sour blonde. Wow, there's a lot going on in that glass! Those eyes, those eyes…Rick's pint was Brette Set Go! (5.3% ABV), a sour blonde which left a nostalgic smell in my mouth. Perhaps it was a pool room or a basement full of cigar smokers. It's definitely an atmospheric beer. As we sipped our pints we admired the scorpion/antelope-shaped foam that formed on the side of Rick's glass.

For lunch we ordered a sandwich from the Duck Truck Food Kitchen van parked outside. We split a Moon Over Mi-Yami, a sandwich made with sweet potato and goat cheese on a crusty baguette. It was just right for a late lunch before a dinner date with a friend. Before we continued with the day's journey we decided to split a second pint of Kick Back (4.3% ABV). This is a session IPA with really nice hops. Don't let the "session" and the low-ABV-by-American-standards throw you. Yum!

As we sat inside the tap room we discussed the history of Drake's Brewing Company. Originally called Lynn's Brewing, the original logo was of a sailing ship in honour of Sir Francis Drake. Now they tend to feature plenty of ducks on their signs and logos.

Our next stop was thematically planned by Rick, as I published my second e-novel earlier this year and am currently working on the idea for my third. The Novel Brewing Company is located in the Golden Gate neighbourhood, where Oakland meets Berkeley and Emeryville. The story (excuse the pun) is that brewer Brian Koloszyc had wanted to write the Great American Novel, but he became sidetracked by brewing. So he ended up opening a pub with a distinctly literary theme. Books line the shelves on the walls and the beer flights are served on real hardback books that have been drilled out to hold four glass stems and then lacquered. Art is displayed on the walls as well, and when we visited the exhibiting artist was Sebastian G Hyde with his drawings of animal skulls, and the legendary Los Angeles band X was playing in the background.

We sat at the bar, which is made out of old wooden typesetting drawers, and ordered a beer flight of 4 selections which was served on an aforementioned book. The first of the four was Loop You Inn (6.8% ABV), an IPA brewed with lupulin powder. Although it imparted intensely bitter hops, for some reason it made my chronic dry eyes and dry mouth feel so much better. As I discovered later, lupulin is the active ingredient in hops, and it can act as a mild sedative by reducing anxiety and stress. I recall years ago when I drank tea made out of fresh hops buds, and I got that same effect. What added lupulin powder does to beer is to intensify the hop flavour and aroma, and it certainly succeeds in doing this.

The second leg of our flight was The Land Between (6.8% ABV), a hoppy Belgian-style Saison brewed with a rich yeast. This was very Belgian, "très Belge" or "zeer Belgisch", depending on where you happen to be in Belgium. The third choice was The Blue Ginger (3.4% ABV), described as a blueberry ginger kettle sour ale. It was very rosé in colour and very drinkable. It wasn't very sour at all, with a subtle ginger zing rising gradually on the palate. This would be a perfect barbecue beer, sort of like a wine cooler -- perhaps best consumed with the Caesar salad course and well before the steak and salmon steaks. The final part of our flight was Morning Paper (5.4% ABV), a coffee porter brewed with Ubuntu coffee. It had a good roasty coffee character. In fact, I could see a pint of this for breakfast, or at least with a croissant. Yum.

As we sipped the various flights of the day I composed a short story on a beer mat, as the beer mat requested. And then a couple walked in with a child and also a dog on a lead. How civilised, I thought, just like in a British pub. And when I went back to use the toilets I spotted a large photo gallery of dogs posted on one wall, so this must be a regular occurrence. America definitely needs more pubs like this.

Moving on from our novel pub experience, we headed over to the KONO District and the Good Hop. Basically a shop offering over 600 canned and bottled brews for sale, the Good Hop also features a bar with 16 rotating taps.

We stood at the bar and first had a taste of Mad Badger (6.0% ABV, Morgan Territory Brewing, Tracy, California). Although brewed with Amarillo, Chinook, and Cascade hops, this was a bit too sweet for my taste. So in keeping with the beastly theme we both went for pints of Animal IPA (7.0% ABV, Fort Point Beer Company, San Francisco, California). This beer seemed most appropriate for this trip, as I've been sleeping with a varied assortment of cats, and Rick and I are both cat (and animal) people.

After a brief stop at Rick's flat to freshen up and feed the cat, we headed to downtown Oakland to meet my friend Alan for dinner. As the street parking is challenging in this area, Rick dropped me off and went off in search of a parking space. I walked through a large paved alleyway, and in the rear on the left side I found Drake's Dealership. Opened by Drake's Brewery in 2015 in a former Dodge dealership, this gastropub consists mostly of a huge open-air beer garden, with a few smaller inside rooms including the bar. As it was Saturday night and the place was packed, and also as a host at the door was taking table reservations, I put my name down for our party. Then I waited outside, watching for both Rick and my friend Alan.

After about an hour -- during which time Rick finally showed up and Alan texted his apologies -- the two of us went inside to the bar where we found 32 beers on tap. There's a handy growler station by the bar, and one customer was ordering beer to take home. Rick and I ordered two pints to share. Keeping to the animal theme, one was Foraging Raccoon (7.5%), which is just a good hoppy IPA with a bit of skunkiness. Perhaps it's a confused raccoon. The other pint was Get Stupid Hazy IPA (7.13%), described as an "almost New England-style IPA". This is one of those woohoo! beers, brewed with Warrior, Amarillo, Mosaic, Vic’s Secret, Citra and El Dorado hops. I'm familiar with four of these hops, but could the Vic's Secret be creating that biological smell? Skin? Arms? Legs? (By the end of the pint we had both settled on the smell of Juicy Fruit.)

We were finally seated in the front of the beer garden, and then it took another twenty minutes to have our order taken. Fortunately neither of us are the frantically starving types, and we were enjoying our pints. We had decided to share a wood-fired Elote Pizza, topped with corn, poblano chile, cilantro, and lime, and a Trendy Salad made with gouda, gooseberries, and candied pecans. The pizza was excellent and the salad was very nice. Unfortunately we were seated close to the DJ station, and the choice of music was not only too loud to converse over, but also surprisingly hideous.

At this point I discovered my mobile was nearly dead from overuse on this first day of my Bay Are beer tasting visit. So it was back to Rick's house to recharge and get ready for another full day of tasting.

PUB UPDATES:

  • SPRINGVALE, SHEFFIELD: One afternoon, a few months before my California trip, I couldn't believe I was sitting in the Springvale having a very decent pint of Deception (4.1% ABV, Abbeydale Brewing, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). Will wonders never cease? We met here after work on a Monday just for the hell of it. Holly and I met here before a gig, and I was surprised to discover they had Farmers Blonde and Barnsley Bitter on two other handpumps, and one hand pump that had just gone off. So on this particular occasion they had three great choices, and not a sign of the dread Doom Bar. The place has a slightly different feel from the old days, with big booths in the front by the window, new paint, a red pool table, and a shelter outside on the back deck.

  • SHEFFIELD TAP, SHEFFIELD: As I was waiting to catch the train to Manchester Airport to begin my American trip, I stopped in here to have a quick half. When I spotted the Pogo (4.0% ABV, The Wild Beer Company, Evercreech, Somerset), brewed with passion fruit, orange, and guava, I had to have a taster, as I am a lifelong Pogo comic strip fan. But it was a bit too fruity for me, so I went for the Grifter (4.3% ABV, Bad Seed Brewery, Malton, North Yorkshire). Brewed with Comet, Chinook, Columbia, and Cascade hops, this was a gorgeous start to yet another adventure. The pub was crowded, which seems to be the case on Saturday afternoons, but not overcrowded and rowdy like I've seen before.

  • BEN & NICK'S, OAKLAND: On the last night of my Bay Area visit last month, Mistah Rick and I stopped in here fairly late and had tastes of Soul Style IPA (6.8% ABV, Green Flash Brewery, San Diego, California). The hops were very smooth but pleasant, with that taste of the intriguingly interesting. We went for a pit of King Citra IPA (8.0% ABV, Fieldwork Brewing Company, Berkeley, California). There was that locker room smell again, which I am starting to suspect is a result of the El Dorado hops. Don't let my description put you off, though, as it gets better as you drink it. It was surprisingly cloudy, but some American craft beers tend to be.

  • TRAPPIST, OAKLAND: We moved on from Ben & Nick's to the Trappist for the last pints of my Bay Area tour. We first had tastes of Waves West Coast IPA (7.3% ABV, Mikkeller Brewing, Copenhagen, Denmark), which is pleasantly smooth like waves in which you'd like to splash around. We were hoping for the dramatic Hokusai effect promised on the sign on the wall, but the waves just weren't that big. As another sign featured Marilyn's skirt being blown, I suppose the waves were just strong enough to do that. We then had a taste of Seven Year Blonde (8.5% ABV, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Hood River, Oregon), brewed with Calypso hops. It was disappointing. I was hoping for Harry Belafonte at the very least.

    Next was a taste of Mastodon Mother Puncher Wild IPA (6.6% ABV, Mikkeller Brewing). Named after a local "heavy rock" band, this was a bit heavy on the senses: sour and fruity, and somewhat funky. We settled on splitting a pint of Ales for AIS Dust IPA (6.3% ABV, Bare Bottle Brew Company, San Francisco, California). This is simply a pleasant hops-punch IPA, with relaxing "hops dust" from lupulin.

  • BALLAST POINT, LONG BEACH: On my recent visit to Long Beach, California, I met up with my old friends Mary and Toep at this great Long Beach pub. We sat out on the side patio in the setting sun where I had a pint of Habañero Sculpin IPA (7.0% ABV, Ballast Point Brewing Company, San Diego, California). With the sun shining brightly from the horizon, I enjoyed the wonderful heat sliding down my throat along with that typical Sculpin IPA taste. Mary had a pint of Grapefruit Sculpin IPA (7.0% ABV, Ballast Point), which was great, just as I remember. Toep had a pint of Victory at Sea on Nitro (10% ABV, Ballast Point). An Imperial porter, this tastes like dessert: a luscious vanilla chocolate stout. We all liked it, so it wasn't too sweet or rich.

    A week later I paid a second visit with my old Young Moderns bandmate Lisa, where we were surprised by a third bandmate, bass player Jamie. My first pint was another Habañero Sculpin IPA, even zippier this time, and my second pint was Pineapple Sculpin IPA (7.0% ABV), as I've really been on a pineapple kick lately. (Pineapple juice is great with gin, tonic, and a lime slice.) We chatted about our old band, what we're all doing now, and jobs, as one does.

  • COBDEN VIEW, SHEFFIELD: Recently I've enjoyed a few pints of Speculation (4.0% ABV, Abbeydale Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). With the beer clip featuring pictures of playing cards, this is an easy drinking pale and hoppy beer. What more can I say?

  • CLOSED SHOP, SHEFFIELD: One afternoon after work I had a pint of Session IPA (4% ABV, Bad Seed Brewing, Malton, North Yorkshire). Brewed with Aracaris, Bravo, and Cascade hops, this beer is unfined and unfiltered. I was unimpressed the first time I tasted this, but I got a better impression this time. Yes, it's got that mwumph!. Yes, it's a fine pint. Yep, yep, yum. Is that technical enough?

  • HEAD OF STEAM, SHEFFIELD: The other day after work I stopped in her for a pint with my workmate John. My pint of Rat Attack (3.8 $ ABV, Rat Brewing Company, Ossett, West Yorkshire) was a bit cloudy, but it was also ice cold, so perhaps that's why. It was dry hopped, and the hops tasted good at the end of yet another shitty work week, so I drank it anyway. We did move on to another pub for our second pint, though.