I'm nearly finished with my September California brewpub tour and will return next month to reviewing some new Sheffield venues. But for now it's a gem of a spot right in my home town of Long Beach.
My friend Mistah Rick and I visited the original Smog City in Torrance a year earlier, so when I found out they'd opened a second outlet in Long Beach I was very interested. It was on the final day of my visit that I shanghaied my mother's carer (and my figuratively adopted brother) Kim from his duties for a couple of hours to go out for a pleasantly hoppy diversion.
So we hopped (sorry) onto the freeway (not literally) and headed north to Bixby Knolls to find the craft-food-and-drink inspired enclave called SteelCraft. Having grown up much closer to the ocean, I never ventured into North Long Beach very often, and the only thing I really knew about Bixby Knolls was that it is home to the Virginia Country Club and to all the people who can afford to live around a country club. And one of Long Beach’s two Spanish missions, Rancho Los Cerritos, is also located here. The area is named after the Bixby family whose ancestors first came to California during the Gold Rush and who became land purchasers and developers. The family played a large role in the development of not only Long Beach but Seal Beach, Los Alamitos, Bellflower, and the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Located off Long Beach Boulevard just south of Bixby Road, SteelCraft is sort of an outdoor arcade of street food providers including Smog City Brewing Company and Steelhead Coffee. The inner core of this open-air enterprise consists of large picnic tables in the centre and counters with stools around the perimeter, which is where we sat. It was nice and cool on this hot day, mostly because there was a late afternoon breeze. Mariachi music was emanating from the speakers, obviously in reference to the fact that they were advertising Oktoberfest festivities -- although the fresh air was missing the aroma of fresh hot tortilla chips that us Californians always associate with the genre. Perhaps for the holiday they were going to put out bowls of pretzels with German mustard, guacamole, and salsa. After all, it’s a multicultural world.
Our first round consisted of pints of Smog City IPA Hoptonic (7.3% ABV), brewed with a really nice mixture of Citra, Simcoe, and Centennial hops. Having a pint in a pint glass was very exciting to us, as we'd been drinking out of cans and bottles of craft beer on my mom's patio for the past few days.
For my second pint I had a taste of Death By Hops IPA (9.4% ABV). Triple dry-hopped with Galaxy, Mosaic, and Simcoe. Brewed with a double whammy of hops, I could definitely taste the high alcohol -- and as I needed to think straight to be able to pack and get ready for my morning flight I decided to go for a safer pint of Hoptonic. Kim had a pint of Sabre-Toothed Squirrel (7.0% ABV), a medium-bodied hoppy amber ale. It was quite pleasant and unfortunately too drinkable.
Considering this was a Wednesday afternoon well after lunchtime and a bit early for an evening meal, there was a surprising number of people sitting around having pints. They were all younger than us, so it wasn’t like they were retired. Perhaps they were a mixture of students with no classes or assignments and young craft-beer-loving entrepreneurs who could work whenever they wanted. What lucky devils...
- WELLINGTON, SHEFFIELD:
On a recent Sunday afternoon visit I had a taste of Edge American Pale (4.3% ABV, Raw Brewing Company, Stavely, Derbyshire). I was hoping for something typically American in the hops arena. It was all right, but it was just a bit tame for what I've experienced from Raw beers. So the two of us went for pints of Klikitat (4.2% ABV, Neepsend Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). Brewed with Citra, Simcoe, and Mosaic, this is a very nice brew with a most interesting taste. The bar staff thought the name was invented by the brewer, but with my Pacific Northwest life experience I was quite sure Klikitat was some Pacific North West tribal name.
Checking it out later, Klikitat is actually a PNW tribe, a Shahaptian people who were active in trading. The name is said to derive from a Chinookan word meaning "beyond," in reference to the Rocky Mountains. The Klikitat, however, call themselves Qwû'lh-hwai-pûm or χwálχwaypam, meaning "prairie people". I can't really see how this beer has any relation to the Rockies or the prairies, but it's still mighty fine.
- TAP & TANKARD, SHEFFIELD:
After an after-work Xmas meal with my workmates Catherine and Christine at the ridiculously crowded Benjamin Huntsman, I suggested we move next door to this pub for a more quiet and conversation-friendly pint. I went for a pint of Island Time Session IPA (4.5% ABV, Shipyard Brewing Company, Portland, Maine). I was impressed by the extremely interesting hops, reminiscent of a bit of tropical bark. The image of a barking palm tree came to mind. I was surprised to discover that what I had assumed was a cask ale is actually a craft beer from a brewery in the US. Apparently Shipyard has been collaborating for the past twenty years with the Ringwood Brewery in Hampshire, having started off brewing Ringwood's Old Thumper for the American market. Since then the collaboration has grown, with an interest in supplying the UK market with American-style craft beers.
- RUTLAND ARMS, SHEFFIELD:
Regardless of the recent ownership takeovers and the gradually veganism of the food menu, this pub always has a great selection of local cask ales, all in excellent condition -- and it also seems to be the only pub I've been to in months where you can get Blue Bee ales. Just before the holidays I stopped in here with my workmate John for a couple of pints, and I went for my old hoppy favourite, Reet Pale (4.0% ABV, Blue Bee Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). And was I disappointed? Nope, never! John went for a pint of Ekuanat Red (4.7% ABV, Blue Bee). Surprisingly dark in colour, this had a super bitterly hoppiness, like a surprise night raid of hops bombardment. Based on Warrior hops, the American hops Ekuanat used to be called Equinox.
- HALLAMSHIRE HOUSE, SHEFFIELD:
On a recent visit I had a pint of Holloway (4.0% ABV, Thornbridge Brewing Company, Bakewell, Derbyshire). Brewed with Galaxy and Cascade hops, this was pleasantly bitter.
- PRINCESS ROYAL, 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.
- COBDEN VIEW, SHEFFIELD:
Over the Xmas break this pub has been featuring a local seasonal ale, Dr Morton's Santa's Helper (4.1% ABV, Abbeydale Brewing, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). As with most of the Doc's beers, the pump clip relates a long rambling story which says absolutely nothing about the beer. It's pale with zingy hops and a distinct dose of some sort of spice. (I think ginger but Andrew leans toward mace.) I think it's quite tasty for these frigid mid-holiday afternoons when the streets are deserted and we're sick and tired of our month-long colds. Yes, a hell of a lot more enjoyable than LemSips.
BOTTLED BEER UPDATE:
- Voyager IPA #3 (5.6% ABV, Abbeydale Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire): This beer is brewed with a combination of Galaxy, Lemondrop, and Centennial hops. Lemondrop was a new one to me, so I had to find out about this surprisingly appealing hop. Apparently it's an offshoot of Cascade, but it does seem to be distinctly lemony. My bottle of Voyager was lemony, refreshing, and really pleasing, perfect for easing a head cold. In fact, this is an excellent brew! I shall definitely go back to the shop and buy a few more of these for my home enjoyment.
- Melba Peach IPA (5.2% ABV, Thornbridge Brewery, Bakewell, Derbyshire): Surprisingly yummy and super-hopped with US hops, as with the Voyager I would go back and buy this again. As I sipped I was reminded of the Pyramid Apricot Ale that my neighbour Lou Anna and her sister Celia used to drink back in Seattle. Our bottle bin was always full of a mixture of bottles of my Flagship Red Ale and their Pyramid Apricot Ale.