CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Three San Francisco Pubs
Cellarmaker, 1150 Howard Street, San Francisco, California
Bartlett Hall, 242 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco, California
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.