Thursday, September 19, 2013

Northern California Round 2

After visiting Northern California several years ago I went again this summer. I wanted to finally give a quick summary of the experience.

I visited 4 breweries, 2 large nationally known ones and 2 small brewpubs.

In retuning to Russian River it was obvious that craft beer is alive and well in this country, maybe even too alive and well. People were streaming out of the place carrying full cases of Pliny the Elder and the wait to be seated was over an hour, even middle of the day on a Friday! When we were finally seated we were told it would be another hour wait if we wanted to do a tasting so we passed on the flight and each grabbed a Belgian beer.

With two sour beers and two non-sour strong Belgians it was a nice mix of what RR offers, minus the hoppy Americans. As always great stuff, maybe too great.

Rather than sit around for the hour while we waited to be seated at RR we decided to walk a few blocks to Third Street Aleworks for lunch and a tasting. While the food was excellent (I had a wild boar sausage) the beers were lackluster with all seeming to be an American variant (amber, blond, IPA, pale ale, steam beer, etc) while none were awful some seemed to miss the mark with the others being mainly boring examples of the style. At least we were able to get a seat, food and tasting flight in no time.

Continuing our Sonoma brewery journey we visited the very large (and again very crowded) Lagunitas. Here we ordered 4 more beers, none of which I have seen available and with styles ranging from Brandy barrel stout to a farmhouse ale. All were interesting and enjoyable but, similar to RR, the overcrowded space and uncaring service staff didn't make for as enjoyable experience as it could have been.

One unexpected stop was Magnolia in San Francisco. This brewpub was, like most of these places, super packed and provided pretty good beer. Beers here were fairly expensive however, especially compared to most brewpubs in my area which have cheaper pints than bars. Overall, alright but not good enough to merit a return.

The only bars worth mentioning which we visited are The Monks Kettle and La Trappe. The Monks Kettle continued the theme of small, cramped and pricy. We shuffled into tiny spaces at the bar enjoyed our beers and split. La Trappe on the other hand had plenty of space and we enjoyed several beers from their great menu and some nice Belgian food as well. Only downsides were that the service was quite slow and not very knowledgable. Would happily go again.

I drank too many wines to remember (to the point that I slept through the 4th of July fireworks). I enjoyed the "castle" tour and tastings. Despite how touristy, cheesy and pretentious the location is, the wines are reasonably priced and fairly good. We also did an excellent food and wine tasting/pairing session at Raymond after Castello. I highly recommend both as fun introductions to wine and the wine/tourist industry that is Napa. The trip certainly added a new spark to my desire to make a wine.

While there were many other drinks consumed and hundreds of other activities enjoyed I'll keep it to these for now...and throw in a picture from one of my hikes in Yosemite.