Monday, February 21, 2011

San Francisco - Beers and Beer Week

An amazing coincidence occurred with our trip.  Somehow we planned it so that part of it overlapped with the beginning of San Francisco beer week.  I have no idea how that happened.  I totally didn't look it up before we decided on dates and then convinced Jo that it was a good idea.  See, just a big coincidence!  Or I'm totally lying.  Whatever, stop looking at me like that.

While we managed to make it to a couple events, there were a bunch of other places we went as well.  After getting back from Sonoma and all the breweries, Jo and I visited her sister's neighborhood and, lucky for me, that included a trip to the Toronado.
The Toronado is a very well known bar in San Francisco.  They always have a great draft list with a lot of variety.  While they don't serve food, next door is a sausage place called Rosamunde and they let you bring your sandwich back to the bar.  Very convenient although the lines are probably super long when the Toronado is even a little busy and I'm pretty sure, given its size and popularity, it gets incredibly busy most nights.  We arrived around 2pm and it was already sort of busy but we managed to grab a table in the back corner.  The only issue I have with the bar is that it lacks any sort of descriptions of the beers.  Since breweries like to be cute and name their beers in absolutely useless ways, this is a big drawback to trying to find stuff to order.  However, they had a beer I wanted to try that I knew by name so it wasn't a big deal for my first draft.  That beer was Moonlight Death & Taxes.
I talked to a few of my beer friends before going to San Fran and all of them said I had to try stuff from Moonlight.  I didn't know why, but I never need a reason to try something new.  Had a nice roasty nose.  I got roast and a tiny bit of vanilla with a slightly bitter finish.  Tasted very clean.  It's listed as a Euro Dark style on beer advocate but it tasted similar to a porter to compare it to a more well known style.  Very enjoyable beer.

Since I had to wait a while for Jo to come back with the sausages, I needed to find a second beer to order.  This is where I ran into the issue with the lack of styles since I wasn't familiar with most of the beers.  Luckily my phone worked and so I found one to order.  The decision was tough but I went with the Ninkasi Vanilla Oatis, an oatmeal stout made with vanilla.  Ninkasi is a brewery in Oregon and not available on the east coast so I thought it was a good decision to get something I can't normally try.
Starts with some slight vanilla notes in the aroma.  The vanilla in the first sip though is a huge flavor bomb which overpowers everything else in the beer.  If you like vanilla, the beer is pretty tasty at first.  However, as you work your way through the glass, it become nearly cloying.  Both Andy and Jo thought it was a little gross from the beginning but it took me about 2/3rds of the glass to get tired of it.  I'd compare it to Southern Tier's Creme Brulee actually.  A 10oz glass would have been just about perfect but a full glass was just too much.

That was it for the Toronado even though there were a bunch more beers I could have tried.  Later that night, we tried to go to a Sierra Nevada beer week event at the PiBar but it was wall to wall humanity in there so we gave up quickly.  Our travels led down the street to a place called B Cubed or B3.  While their beer list wasn't extensive, it was still pretty good and I was finally able to try Stone's black IPA, Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale.
Big citrus nose.  Initially get some chocolate roast which is quickly replaced by a citrusy hop flavor similar to the aroma.  As I drank more, the bitterness slowly built until it was the only thing left.  It was manageable, but definitely a little overpowering for me.  I can see why people like this one though as it had everything you expect from a black IPA but for me I couldn't imagine drinking a full 22oz bottle of it.  On a side note, the food at B3 was really good although the serving sizes were a bit big (not a bad problem to have, just pointing it out).  My burger was incredibly tasty and the fries were cooked really well.  Definitely a great place to go.

After dinner, we went to the other location of the Rosamunde, the sausage place I mentioned earlier.  This one is a restaurant in itself with tables and a draft list.  The food is the same and the ordering is the same, but there are tables and an actual inside.  Since I was stuffed, I thought a sour would sit relatively well so I went with a Rodenbach Grand Cru, a Flanders Red Ale.
Smelled mildly tart but nothing crazy.  Tasted tart up front with some mild apple juice notes following.  Sort of one dimensional I guess but tasty and not too filling after a big meal.  Hit the spot for what I was looking for.  As a side note, Jo ordered a Russian River Consecration and enjoyed it quite a bit.  My influence is finally affecting her!

The last stop on our beer trip (damn, not beer trip.  Uhh, normal vacation with only a few beer events!) was on Sunday for lunch and that was the Social Kitchen & Brewery.  The atmosphere was very nice, kind of industrial.  They had some neat lamps made of beer bottles and upstairs had a huge glass window view into the brew house.
While they seem to usually have normal strength (around 5%) beers, this year they are participating in Strong Beer Month with Thirsty Bear Brewing and Magnolia Brewing which meant all of the beers (except one) were above 8%.
Since it had too many beers to choose just one, I of course got a sampler.  I didn't skip the Kolsch because of its lower ABV, it just wasn't in the sampler.
From left to right, they are: Double Doozy IPA, White Thai Affair, Big Lebowski White Prussian, Big Muddy Weizenbock, and The Giant S'More.  While the names were really great, the real star was their descriptions which were hilarious at times.  Of course, I don't have them written down so you'll just have to go there yourself to read them.  Sorry!

The first was their double IPA, Double Doozy.  Hoppy nose with a lot of citrus with the first sip following that trend.  A tiny bit of sweetness follows but it finished very bitter.

Up next was the White Thai Affair.  Not sure on its style, but lets consider it a spiced beer.  It's made with lemongrass and the aroma definitely follows.  Very floral with a lot of herbal notes including ginger and again lemongrass.  Unique and pretty good.  Very reminiscent of Nodding Head's Monkey Knife Fight, another beer made with lemongrass.

After that was the Big Lebowski White Prussian, a dark beer of sorts with coffee.  As expected, the nose was all coffee.  However, the coffee was pleasantly mild throughout with a flavor that was more cream and sugar than black.  Does that make sense?  I hope it makes sense.  I think what helped was the base beer was very tasty as well and played off the coffee notes.  Definitely one of the best coffee beers I've had in a while.

Up next was the one I really wanted to try before visiting Social Kitchen, the Big Muddy Weizenbock.  I love the weizenbock style (if you haven't had Schneider Aventinus, run out and get a bottle now because it is fantastic) and this one was quite good.  Lots of banana notes in the nose from the German yeast.  Caramel, toffee and bananas all appear in the first sip and continue throughout.  Really tasty.

The last was the Giant S'More.  This was a Imperial Belgian Milk Stout I believe.  Some roast in the nose with light roast, some sweetness and hints of the Belgian yeast (bananas and cloves) coming through in the first sip.  I'm guessing in a full glass the Belgian notes would build but in a sampler they were a nice background to a tasty milk stout.  Another good one.

All in all, the beers at Social Kitchen were pretty fantastic.  While I thought the double IPA was bitter, it's par for the course for the style and other people would still like it.  The others were all quite delicious to me.
The other cool thing for me about going to the Social Kitchen was that I thought I'd finally get to meet Bryan Kolesar from the Brew Lounge in person.  I originally asked him for advice on when to show up for the Dock Street release of their imperial stout Prince Myshkin and his advice worked out really well.  After that, we've gone back and forth a couple times about some events in the Philly area but I was never able to make it out to them.  So why not try to meet up all the way across the country?  The timing worked out and I finally got to meet him and chat for a bit.  Turns out he's incredibly nice (and like a half foot taller than me) and willing to talk about just about everything.  He has a number of years of experience in the Philly beer scene and a lot of stories as a result.  I'm definitely going to try to meet up with him again on the correct coast as I enjoyed talking to him.

The only other thing we did relating to beer was getting beer ice cream at Humphry Slocombe.  For the beer week, they were making some ice creams using beers from the area as a base.  There was an unfermented malt & honey that was pretty tasty and then a couple others made from beers from Magnolia and the Social Kitchen.  The weirdest one was probably the barleywine ice cream made from Magnolia's Old Thunderpussy (yes, that's really the name of the beer.)  Sort of a sweet ice cream finishing with a tangy barleywine edge and it was a bit odd.  I love ice cream though so I still managed to finish it.

So that's about it for our beer travels in San Francisco.  Great visit and a great time.  I may have missed one or two things but considering I wrote four massively long posts, I think I covered plenty.  It is a great beer city and has some awesome brew pubs in the surrounding area and I can't wait until we visit again.  No matter what I'll definitely do my best to go back to Russian River but next time I am going to try to also check out Magnolia Pub and Brewery and probably go back to the Thirsty Bear Brewery.  I'm sure there are a bunch of other great bars that I missed out on as well which I should find.


  1. Great posts, Rich! It's fun to read. It was good to check out some of the beer week events. Thanks for sharing.

    On Thursday, I went to Triple Rock brewery in Berkeley. They had Monkeyhead or something. It was super crowded. You will have to check out some of the Oakland/Berkeley places next time.

  2. Did you bring Andy? Monkey Head is an Amber / Red Ale so she probably would have liked that. Pretty funny.

    And yeah totally we should check out some of the other areas. I haven't looked too much outside of San Fran but there are probably some great places in the surrounding areas.