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A visit to Russian River Brewing’s new Windsor campus

Wrapping up my Winter Break vacation and taking advantage of a sunny day in between bouts of rain, I hopped in the car and made the 1+ hour drive north check out Russian River Brewing’s new digs in Windsor.

Maybe “digs” doesn’t quite convey the feel of it. The place is huge.  Sitting on a 10-acre site, the building alone covers 85,000 square feet.

Even though it is an industrial plant -which includes not only the brewhouse, but also kegging, canning and bottling lines- it is, to an amazing degree, centered on the visitor experience.

First of all, unlike downtown, the Windsor site offers 2 acres of free parking, including electric vehicle charging stations.

Guests have a choice of four different areas.  Most immediate to the parking lot is a  lounge from which visitors can relax and from where to start on their tours. Next to it there is a large gift- and bottle-shop. There is also a tasting room offering 5-oz pours of a selection of RR’s brews and walk-up growler fills.

The heart of the guest area, however, is the 195-seat pub. It is itself divided into two main areas -one with pub-style seating, with tall bar chairs and tables, and one with more of a dining room arrangement. There is also a lounge area surrounding a round fireplace.  The whole thing is open, airy, and well-lit, with plenty of natural light.  In the back, there is a glassed-in bay that will one day house a pilot nanobrewery in full view of pub patrons.   It is all very comfortable and well-done, but I think regulars would miss the intimacy of the 4th Street pub.

The tap list is still somewhat abbreviated compared to what what can be had at the old 4th Street pub, but the bulk of what’s offered is what has been actually brewed on the premises. (Tip: Don’t bother asking about the “Procrastination”. I’m sure you can guess why.)

Russian River offers two types of tours. One, is the free self-guided tour, which ventures down a long hall from the guest lounge and allows one to view the production process from brewing to bottling.

The second option is the $15, 1-hour guided tour. This one allows one to get more intimately acquainted with the brewing process, from being able to look into the lab, stroll amongst the kettles, peer down into the open fermenters, and more. Three beer tastings and a souvenir goblet are included.

The the addition of the 75-bbl German-built brewhouse, Russian River has quadrupled its total brewing capacity, up from the 25-bbl system at the Santa Rosa pub.  They have also installed a several open-top fermenters, and a number of 75-bbl and 300-bbl closed fermenters.

In addition, the guided tour takes one beyond the areas visible on the self-guided tour, into the barrel house and to what is quickly coming to be regarded as the sanctum sanctorum of the Windsor brewery.

Beyond the already-fabled wood door (an Ebay find, it turns out), lies a room paneled in unfinished, soft pine wood. In it, rests the koelschip (or coolship), an open vessel in which hot wort (unfermented beer) is allowed to cool naturally, exposed to the ambient air and to the wild microflora allowed in through the open windows.

The hope is that in the long run that flora will colonize the wood in the steamy room, allowing Russian River to develop a unique “house flora” much like Belgium’s old lambic breweries have done.

Of course, we’ll have to wait another year or so to see what flavours the koelschip contributes to the beers that are now being passed through it on the way to the barrels.

Barrel-Aged 2017 Christmas Ale from Anchor Brewing (2018 Release)

At the end of November, courtesy of the brewery, I attended the release of Anchor Brewing’s Barrel-Aged 2017 Christmas Ale at an event held in the Brewery’s tap room and brewhouse on Potrero Hill in San Francisco.

The event included small bites, and a vertical flight of four years’ of Anchor Christmas Ale – 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018- in addition to a taster of the featured barrel-aged beer. (It was crowded so I didn’t get to try the 2018, but the 2017 and 2016 aged well. The 2015, not so much.)

I did make sure to try the barrel-aged release, and I came away with a couple of bottles of it; one of which I have opened and am drinking tonight.

The Barrel Aged 2017 Christmas Ale was created by aging the 2017 Christmas Ale in bourbon, red wine, and brandy barrels, and then blending them. It has 10.3% abv and 30 IBU  (the original, unaged, version had 6.7% abv and 40 IBU).

It is a dark ale. Dark, dark brown, almost like a really dark cola, but with a hint of green to it.

It smells smooth, not alcoholey -which is a good sign, considering that it is pretty high in alcohol.  There is a bit of dried fruit in the nose, a bit of aroma of fried bananas.

It is malty, and a bit sweet, with flavors of vanilla, raisins, dark cherries, red wine, maybe a bit of port. There is just a hint of roastiness and barrel char.  Hop bitternes is quite moderate, with a slight note of evergreen.

As the beer warms,  some of the vinous character dissipates, and a bit of dried apricot starts to show up.

It is very pleasant. It has good body but is not too heavy; not cloying at all. It goes down smoothly, and is pleasantly warming. A good choice for this cold winter’s eve.

 

Upcoming releases of Resilience IPA

 

As Resilience Butte County Proud IPA comes out fermentation, breweries all over are preparing release events in the coming weeks, including a number of  breweries around the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Fieldwork Brewing Company already released their version (hazy, of course!) on December 6th, and Altamont Beer Works in Livermore poured theirs on the following day.

Monk’s Cellar Brewery and Public House, in Roseville started pouring theirs today.

Del Cielo Brewing, in Martinez, and Shadow Puppet Brewing Company, in Livermore,  will each start pouring Resilience IPA at 4 pm on Wednesday, December 12th.

On Saturday, December 15th, Martinez’ Five Suns Brewing will release their version of Resilience in time with their one-year anniversary party, and it seems that Sierra Nevada’s own Resilience IPA will also be on tap on Saturday, at Jack’s Taps in Pleasant Hill.

On Wednesday, December 19th, Calicraft Brewing Company will be having Sierra Nevada’s Resilience IPA on at the Calicraft tap room in Walnut Creek.  However, Blaine Landberg, Calicraft’s founder and owner, has taken thing one step further, and, on the 22nd, will be holding a “Resilience Day” and pouring Calicraft’s own Resilience IPA “5 Ways”: Classic, POG, OPM, Coffee, and 2 firkins!

 

UPDATE (12/12):  I’ve got word that Drake’s Brewing Co., in San Leandro, is pouring Resilience today. New Helvetia, in Sacramento, is doing the same, starting at 4 pm; so is Grillin’ and Chillin’ Alehouse in Hollister.

Danville Brewing Company, in Danville, is releasing its version of Resilience IPA on Thursday, Dec. 13th.

The Bistro, in Hayward, will be serving Resilience starting on Friday, Dec. 21st.

Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant in Campbell will hold a release party for Resilience IPA, in conjunction with the Santa Clara County Firefighters union, on December 28th.

 

Blue Oak Brewing Co. (San Carlos, CA)

I found Blue Oak Brewing more or less by happenstance.  Liz and I were at the south end of the SF Peninsula, and having finished an errand, we decided to treat me to a beer before making the long trip back home.  We turned to the AHA‘s Brew Guru app and it led us to Blue Oak.

Blue Oak Brewing is the brainchild of Alex Porter, who is the owner, brewer, and (when we were there) bartender.  He opened the brewery almost two years ago. Most of that time, I surmise, it was sharing space with the cidery nextdoor, but in September, Porter expanded into a larger adjacent space and made it into the current taproom.

The space is set up on an open floor plan, appointed with tables and barrels to sit at, in addition to the bar, with a trio of fermenters tucked into one corner.

As for the beers, Porter’s got a good mix of IPAs, Belgians, kettle sours, and fruited beers on tap.  When I was there this weekend there were twelve beers on tap. Not bad for what seems to be essentially a one-man operation on a 7-bbl brewhouse.

I opted for a flight of Cordilleras Kriek, Brother Joshua, Junipero Citra, and Ginny and the Giant Peach.

The Cordilleras Kriek (5% abv, 2 IBU) had a nice sourness with plenty of cherry flavor. It was little sweet in the mouth, but finished surprisingly dry at the back end. It was my favorite by far. I would’ve taken home a crowler of it, but it’s only served by the glass.

Junipero Citra (5.6%, 25 IBU) is a saison brewed with juniper berries and coriander, and dry-hopped with Citra hops. It tasted piney and citrusy, and was quite effervescent. I did take home a crowler of this one!

Brother Joshua (7%, 18 IBU) is a nice, dry, Belgian dubbel. Quite enjoyable.

The only one of the set, that was a bit of a disappointment was Ginny and the Giant Peach. It is 6% abv kettle sour fermented with white peaches. It was nicely sour, but the peach flavor was not very strong and it was also somehow hollow, like it dried out too much. There was a nice funkiness to it, though.

It just goes to show that, although San Francisco and the East Bay tend to get a lot of the buzz, there are other corners of the Bay Area brewing scene that are well worth exploring .

 

 

Blue Oak Brewing Co.
815 Cherry Lane
San Carlos, CA 94070

www.blueoakbrewing.com

Gilman Brewing (Berkeley, CA)

Over the weekend I stopped in at Gilman Brewing, on Gilman St, in Berkeley.

The space is fairly cozy. One is greeted by the taproom immediately upon entering, in a small, low-ceiling foyer, leading onto a passage backed by a long standing bar pushed up against the backside of the fermenters.  However, above there is a two-level deck overlooking the brewhouse, with a selection of tables and bar stools.

Off to one side there is a game room, with corn-hole, and -I think- a fussball table.

It was my first time there, and the staff were very helpful in steering me toward good beer selection

s for my flight.  I tried  (clockwise from top center, in the picture above) La Ferme Noire (dark saison with brett, 7.7% abv), Old Rusty (Belgian golden strong, 8%), Pineapple Jardin (Belgian golden sour, 5.8%), Cheval de Fer (limited-release dry-hopped Belgian saison, abv not specified), and Fuzzy Dice (hazy IPA, 7%).

I liked all the beers, but I was kind of rushed and didn’t take notes, so I can’t remember details of all of them.  Fuzzy Dice was good, I do remember that.  So were Cheval de Fer and Old Rusty, but, for me that day, the real standouts were the two sours.

Le Jardin is a kettle sour, which means that it was soured with lactobacillus before the wort was boiled.  It is dry, and mildly tart, not puckeringly sour, which makes it a good “gateway” into the world of sour beers.  That it was then fermented with Belgian yeast strains adds pleasant complexity to the flavor -some citrus, stonefruit, ….  It is no wonder that I liked it, as I am partial to both, sours and Belgian-styled beers.

Pineapple Jardin is Le Jardin with the addition of a half-ton of fresh pineapple per batch. So, take what I said above about Le Jardin and picture that with the sweetness and tartness of pineapple, with loads of pineapple flavor on top of that, and you’d be getting the picture.

 

 

Gilman Brewing Co.
912 Gilman St.
Berkeley, CA

gilmanbrew.com

 

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