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Your Beer Fortune

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Cellarmaker, 1150 Howard Street, San Francisco, California

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Bartlett Hall, 242 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco, California

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Monk's Kettle, 3141 16th Street, San Francisco, California

During my recent trip to California, on my side trip to Oakland I was happy to learn that we'd be including San Francisco in the weekend. It had been quite a few years since I'd been to "The City", and the last time we only passed through in the car -- driving over the Golden Gate Bridge, of course.

On Saturday afternoon, after having lunch in Berkeley with my old friend Alan, Mistah Rick and I parked the car at the nearby BART station and took the train to San Francico, debarking downtown. We headed south into the SoMa (South of Market) neighbourhood, a former warehouse district that encompasses the Mission District and South Beach and has become very trendy in the past few decades. Our destination was Cellarmaker, a brewpub specialising in experimental beers. The small exposed-brick tasting room with a large L-shaped bar was crowded, as all the pubs we visited over the weekend turned out to be, but to be fair it was just a few hours before Saturday night. The tasting room doesn't offer much in the way of decor except for a beer list on the wall and a massive Casablanca-style industrial fan on the ceiling. A partially buried sign on the old brick side wall reads "Park Diagona". And if you look very carefully, hiding in a ceiling beam toward the back is a little family of mostly hat-clad ducks.

As Cellarmaker specialises in aromatic hoppy beers, I felt in my element and decided on a pint of Laces Out (6.8% ABV), with 55 IBUs of bitterness and brewed with Citra, Centennial, Amarillo, and CTC hops. Was it a coincidence that I ordered this beer today? As laceless as I usually am, preferring snapped, zippered, and pull-on shoes and boots, I happened to be wearing my sneakers with the long laces. Whatever the reason, I thoroughly enjoyed the grapefruity hops taste and found this very, very drinkable indeed. Rick had a pint of Maximum Joy (7.2% ABV), brewed with American Simcoe, New Zealand Nelson Sauvin, and Cascade hops and with 70 IBU. I could taste mostly the Simcoe, with its cat-pee character somewhat neutralised, and also the tawny grey of the Nelson Sauvin which usually tastes black to me.

We still had some time to kill before our next rendezvous, so we split a pint of Imperial Coffee & Cigarettes (10.9%), a smoked porter brewed with nearly two pounds of coffee per barrel (from local roasters Sightglass), and also a bit of German Beechwood Smoked Malt mixed with English malts. Considering we were in a pub called Cellarmaker, this porter has an appropriate taste and smell: it does actually taste like coffee and cigarettes. Inspired by the thought of coffee and cigarettes in a cellar, we sat and sipped and talked about Steven Wright and Roberto Benini, which led to talk about Jim Jarmusch, and on to Aki Kaurismaki, politics, relatives, "I Did A Stupid Thing" as an art statement, and finally infinity. Before we left I bought a Dank Williams t-shirt for a souvenir.

Our next stop was the other side of Market Street in San Francisco's Union Square. Bartlett Hall is a gastropub and in-house brewery which also features barrel-aged cocktails and California wines. The head brewer received his education at the Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology in Chicago and also at the Doemens Academy in Munich, preparing him to brew both West Coast and international styles of beer. As Vicky, who we were meeting, was yet to arrive, Rick and I sat at the bar and ordered two pints. Sadly I can't remember what exactly we had, as we'd had a few pints before we arrived here. But a beer list I found for them online is full of wonderfully named IPAs: JaJa Juice, Loady Friends, Acute Curiosity, Three Green Men, etc. So I'm sure we picked something accordingly amusing.

After Vicky arrived we moved to one of the long large high tables for our meals. Again I can't remember what we ate (I have the feeling I may have had either the mahi mahi tacos or the roasted Portobello sandwich), but I do remember it was good. And I'm sure Rick and I had another pint of whatever it was we were drinking.

The next morning, after spending the night at Vicky's house in Menlo Park, we returned to San Francisco, to the San Francisco Center for the Book in the Mission District, to attend the 14th Annual Roadworks Steamroller Print Festival. At the festival we met up with noted Bay Area bizzarreal artiologist Unkletom and watched the Buffalo Springfield steamroller, brought down from the town of Willits, make giant relief prints of local artists' works as it rolled noisily over sandwiches of protruding inked surfaces and art paper. It was explained to us that this type of printing is one of the oldest methods of printing book illustrations, although I do have a bit of trouble imagining how they managed to drive a steam roller into your average printer's shop.

The inside exhibit was equally interesting, featuring all sorts of traditional printing processes and demonstrations. But a couple of hours of exhibits and demonstrations can easily work up a thirst, and it was Unkletom who suddenly announced he wanted a pint.

So we left the festival in search of a proper venue for beer and food. Heading down 16th Street we stopped at the Monk's Kettle. Having opened in 2007, this pub specialises in local and Belgian brews and features 28 craft beers on draft as well as one offering on the hand pump.

We sat at the corner table by the front window and perused the menu. I had a taste of I'd Floccs Wid It IPA (7.1% ABV, Alvarado Brewery, Monterey, CA), which was a bit like sticking my nose in someone's sweaty armpit. When Rick tasted it he recoiled and said, "Unnh!" So I went for a pint of Way Chill Vibes (5.4% ABV, Cellarmaker Brewing Company, San Francisco, California) which was very light with bubbly hops, refreshing, and a good post-steamroller first pint of the day. After the second sip I got that Mwoooh! Galaxy-style hops heaven rush on my palate. Rick had a pint of Farmhouse Saisson (5.5% ABV, Benoit-Casper Brewing Company, Richmond, California), which imparted an interesting combination of sweetness and hoppiness.

After we got our pints sorted out we ordered some lunch. Rick and Vicky split the gravlax Benedict, Unkletom had the deviled eggs, and since I was still a bit full from breakfast and hadn't been eating many salads on this trip, I went for the kale salad. Tom's deviled eggs, which he thought would be a light lunch, was indeed light: it consisted of one small egg on a plate, period. In contrast my kale salad was a massive load of kale piled so high on the dinner-sized plate it was impossible to approach it without scattering kale leaves willy-nilly, and through which it was difficult to find the tiny bits of promised feta and hazelnuts. Needless to say I offered some of my salad to the others, especially to Tom who appeared hungrier than one egg's worth. I think I definitely got my allotment of kale for the next few months.

The Monk's Kettle is located two blocks east of the 16th Street BART station, which made it very handy for us to get back to the East Bay. I wish I could have experienced more of San Francisco's beer offerings on this visit, as there are countless good places to check out all over the city. But at least I got a sample.

Speaking of handpumps, when we left Bartlett Hall the night before and drove down to Vicky's place in Menlo Park, Rick and I stopped for a final pint at Freewheel Brewing Company in Redwood City. Although it's hidden away in a suburban strip mall, the place was surprisingly empty for 10:00 on a Saturday night, with only one customer besides the two of us. This place specialises in "English-style" cask-conditioned ales, so I was looking forward to a taste. When we approached the bar and saw the list of California-style craft IPAs on the right side and "English-Style" cask ales on the left, I asked, "So which cask ales are hoppy?"

"Oh, these are English-style cask conditioned ales. English ales have a very mild taste that isn't hoppy, so if you want something hoppy you should pick one on the right side."

I stepped forward and looked him directly in the eye.

"I've lived in England for 18 years," I said firmly, "and I've been writing online about English cask ales for the same amount of time. And I love the really hoppy beers, and so do many of my cask ale-drinking English friends. There are tons of microbreweries who specialise in extremely hoppy beer, especially in Sheffield where I live."

"No, English ales are not hoppy," he insisted arrogantly. I stared at him in disbelief, turned to Rick, and said "So whaddya wanna do?"

"There's a couple of beers in Vicky's fridge," he said, loud enough for the barman to hear. "We could walk back and drink those."

"Sounds like a great idea."

And we turned and walked out. It's a shame, because this place sounded promising, and they probably have some really good beers. But with an attitude like that, why waste our time? There are plenty of other hoppy fish in the sea.

PUB UPDATES:

  • PRINCESS ROYAL, SHEFFIELD: Even though the "Prinnie" is located quite close to us, it's been awhile since we've been in. So one Sunday afternoon we decided to pay a visit. As some friends were playing snooker in the back room, we took our pints of Harley (4.3% ABV, Welbeck Abbey Brewing, Welbeck, South Yorkshire) back there to join them. The pump clip now says this old favourite of mine is brewed with orange blossom and honey, so that seems like a new recipe. I was expecting my friendly hoppy copper brew, but this struck my tastebuds as sour. Could this be a seasonal variant, perhaps for Halloween, meant to be supped while surrounded by scanty people in scary comb-over orange wigs?

  • BROTHERS ARMS, SHEFFIELD: One Saturday on the spur of the moment we headed across town to have a pint at this fine pub. When we pulled up we were surprised by all the parked cars snaking all through the neighbourhood. We're the Brothers having a beer festival or something?

    Inside we were surprised to find just a normal Saturday afternoon crowd, and the barman told us that there was a football match on at Bramall Lane, and the parked cars were spillovers from fans who were unable to park closer to the ground. We were relieved they hadn't all piled into the pub because the bar was more immediately accessible.

    We first had a taste of Yulu (3.6% ABV, Siren Craft Brew, Finchhampstead, Berkshire). Called a "loose leaf" brew, this reminded me of tea, although Andrew detected cucumber, which is not to either of our tastes. So we ended up going for pints of Jarrulo (4.0% ABV, Pictish Brewing Company, Rochdale, Lancashire). Yeah, this was much more to our tastes: bitter and hoppy. We sat at a side table under a chalkboard advertising the pub's own cocktail creations. Sadly the custom-constructed jukebox is currently "retired", as it kept breaking and finally fell onto a customer, so they now have a fairly decent playlist providing background music.

    From the window out onto the main deck we could see a gorgeous pink and blue sunset, which nearly made us forget about the fact that as soon as the Blades match was almost over most of the fans would be returning to their cars and leaving, creating a massive traffic problem. So we quickly drank up our pints and left ahead of the mob.

  • GARDENERS REST, SHEFFIELD: After Pat and Eddie retired, there was a big fundraising appeal to keep this fine waterside pub open and run by the community. Recently we finally made our first visit since the pub was taken over by the community investors. As we were deciding what to have, the woman standing next to us at the bar told us the DV US (3.8% ABV, Deeply Vale Brewery, Bury, Greater Manchester) was hoppy, so we went for that. Described as a "session ale, it had a very bitter hops character that cleared the palate of boredom we were experiencing. It was around four o'clock on Sunday afternoon and the place was absolutely heaving with customers, and a ukulele combo had just finished performing in the conservatory. Yes, the Gardeners is alive and kicking again.

    The next week we went back with our friend Mike. He had a pint of Eagle of Darkness (5.0% ABV, Eagles Crag Brewery, Todmorden, West Yorkshire), a porter with quite an interesting taste. Andrew thought it was something like anisette or possibly chicory. Since my mother grew up in Oregon, I had to go for a pint of Mt Hood (4.5% ABV, Great Heck Brewing Company, Goole, South Yorkshire). Brewed with Mount Hood Hops, it had a pleasant fruity hops flavour.

  • HILLSBOROUGH HOTEL, SHEFFIELD: One recent weekend we stopped in and had pints of Red Star IPA (4.5% ABV, Tollgate Brewery, Calke, Leceistershire). Described as a modern IPA with Stellar finish this is a very interesting! Brew, with caramelly malt, a dark and dirty bitter, and a hint of sweet. It was a nice change from our usual hoppy pints, and it had an appropriate taste for the cold windy November day, reminding me it was about time to figure out where I stored my gloves. I felt like our visit was a reprise of our last visit, when the crowd of family-oriented people were all saying goodbye to each other as we sat down. The same here today: everybody was saying goodbye to each other! I don't know why they say goodbye, because we say hello.

  • SPRINGVALE, SHEFFIELD: After work one day we met here for pints of California Steam (4.3% ABV, Tollgate Brewery, Calke, Leicestershire). Described as a West Coast inspired craft lager, this is a cask ale, obviously. And it's quite good.

  • HALLAMSHIRE HOUSE, SHEFFIELD: One day after work I stopped into this pub for a pint. I really wanted a pint of something less than 4.5% but was uninspired by the only two choices of Wild Swan or Brother Rabbit. The landlord finally talked me into a half pint of Session Rye IPA (5.7%, Thornbridge Brewery, Buxton, Derbyshire). I did have a taste of Sammo Pineapple Pale (5.9%), brewed with Galaxy Hops which tempted me; but it wasn't as wow!-ish as I was expecting, and so it just wasn't worth the risk of slightly stumbling home. After all, it's a downhill-uphill-downhill-uphill walk home down a narrow pavement in parts and I prefer to be cautious, even though it only takes seven minutes. My half of Session Rye was really interesting, with that reddish eye character to it (although not particularly red in colour).

  • CLOSED SHOP, SHEFFIELD: Just a few days ago I stopped in after work and had a pint of Stainless (4.3% ABV, Stancill Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire) for only £2.50. And on Friday afternoon it's only ££2.00. And it was in fine condition. Will have to remember this...

BOTTLED BEER UPDATE:

  • Twisted Grapefruit IPA (5.3% ABV, Belhaven Brewery, Belhaven, Lothian, Scotland): This is another craft beer that comes in a can, which appears to be the trend with grapefruit brews. It's not overly grapefruity, but just zingy with a grapefruit top. It's exciting after a very dull day at work.