How do they do in California? (Also Las Vegas); Part 2

 

Part 2 of my West Coast jaunt covers some pretty inspiring breweries. I was definitely excited to see and drink them first hand. Maybe I need to write a post on what learnt...?

 

San Francisco/Bay Area

Widely considered to be one the most culturally diverse cities in the world, San Francisco is great place to hang out and try some beer with the locals. If I said that your regular dive bar would have Anchor Steam Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale and Lagunitas IPA as fresh as can be, what would you say?  I would say ‘yes please’. Drinking these beers fresh is inspiring. They were each pioneers in the craft brewing industry and the beers show a finesse and balance that is close to perfection. And you can find them at any old dive bar. Throw in some of the newish local guys at Speakeasy and a few from Russian River if you are lucky and there you have the tap list at almost every place in San Francisco.  Mix this in with the many entertainment areas: The Haight (the remnants of hippy San Fran), The Mission (the Latino section) and The Castro (the gay neighbourhood), and you get a town where every night out will definitely be different but enjoyable. 

A brewer at Anchor rinsing his sample stick after testing the boiling wort in the kettle.

A brewer at Anchor rinsing his sample stick after testing the boiling wort in the kettle.

Visiting Anchor Brewing has been on my unwritten bucket list ever since I first read about their story. It definitely didn’t disappoint. They were the original American craft brewery. The first post-prohibition brewery to dry hop beer. The first brewery to use Cascade as an aroma and flavour hop. The first brewery to produce an American IPA.  From the white embroidered overalls that every employee wore to the completely manual (not to mention beauuuuuutiful) copper brewhouse. The traditional process of open fermentation is followed by krausening into horizontal tanks to lager and condition each beer for many weeks. Every aspect of the company humbly points out their handcrafted ethos and traditional roots. Their attention to detail across the business was inspiring. Book the tour well in advance as it sells out. Check out their beautiful Chirstmas beer labels. Each year a tree is hand drawn by the same artist.

If you get sick of SF then you have Oakland just across the bay with its own slew of delicious beer, new bars and new ideas – how about a bike track that leads you to 10 urban wineries in a day?  

 

Chico, Petaluma and Santa Rosa

These truck do some great work for Sierra Nevada and anyone who likes beer.

These truck do some great work for Sierra Nevada and anyone who likes beer.

If Anchor was the biological father of craft beer then Chico’s Sierra Nevada Brewery was the stepfather that was just as responsible for it’s upbringing. Travelling to Chico has been has been at the top of my unwritten list for a while too. I was lucky enough to be given a great tour showing me the inside workings of Sierra Nevada and, if it is possible, I am even more impressed than ever by their commitment to getting great beer into the hands of customers in the best way that they possibly can while using smallest amount of resources. It is remarkable that they have been able to grow to such a large scale and yet not compromise on anything. 

I love a mural in a brewery. So much character at Lagunitas.

I love a mural in a brewery. So much character at Lagunitas.

Down the hill from Chico and sitting within 30 minutes of each other are Russian River in Santa Rosa and Lagunitas in Petaluma. Lagunitas are credited with having popularized IPA by using theirs as their lead beer in 1995. They have always played a little against the rules but it has paid off for them and they have a great culture because of it. They have recently merged with Heineken but the injection of multination capital (required to expand to a third production facility in Southern California) does not seem to have changed their rebel attitude.

Russian River, on the other hand, are lucky enough that they are not growing in capacity because they don’t want to. Their IPA, Pliny the Elder, is notoriously difficult to find in bottle or on tap with some people saying there is a 3 year wait list to get a Pliny tap at your pub.  I sampled more than few of the 30 odd taps that are split between two sides of their taproom blackboard. The left of the board being American and hoppy styles and the right being the Belgian and sour hybrid styles. I learnt what a pluot was from tasting it in one of their brilliant sour beers (google search pluot it's pretty cool.)

 
Hydration is key when sampling great beer.

Hydration is key when sampling great beer.