Just a few images from my visit to Faction Brewing in Alameda on June 3rd.
Monterey Coast Brewing Co., is located about 10 miles inland, in downtown Salinas, and has been around for at least a dozen years. Until recently it was Salinas’ only brew-on-premises establishment open to the public. (Monterey’s Alvarado Street Brewery now has a production facility in Salinas with an attached tap room.) The brewpub is actually located in what was originally a bank, and later was a gun smith’s and armory, below the studios of a now long-defunct public radio station that I worked at while in high school. Thus, I have a fondness for the place, and have lunched there on several occasions.
The restaurant has a simple, old-fashioned wood bar with a over a dozen taps, backed up by what looks like four or five 10-bbl fermenters.
A curious detail I noticed on my latest visit is that the mash tun has two manways. It appears that the orientation of the original one must not have allowed enough space for comfortably removing the spent grain given its proximity to the nearby wall, and thus a second manway was cut into the tun.
I’ve always enjoyed the food there, and when they say on their website that it is “where the locals eat”, it is no mere marketing or exaggeration.
Of course, the main reason I chose to dine there when I’m in Salinas is to support a local, independent brewer. Which, brings us to the beer:
Monterey Coast Brewing has a modest lineup of eight house beers, ranging from a pale ale to a stout. Given that they only sell the beer on premises ($7 32-oz growler refill on Thursdays!), it is probably prudent that they keep the number manageable.
On this visit, I ordered a flight for the first time, tasting five of their beers. This horizontal sampling allowed me to discern a notably similar character in their brews. I expect that the brew staff has perhaps been harvesting the yeast from one brew for use in the next, and that, over time, it may have evolved into “house” strain.
I’ve never found their beers to be outstanding, but always enjoyable, albeit with a few allowances –for example, the IPA doesn’t fully deliver on the “heavily hopped…intense and complex” character promised in the description. One’s most solid bets, I think, are the pale ale, the porter, and the stout.
Monterey Coast Brewing Company
165 Main St.
This is an image that I came across online. It’s an early advertising poster from the Backus & Johnston Brewery Company in Lima, from back when telephone numbers in the city could be counted in the double-digits.
The poster remarks that the brewery -which started as an ice company- possessed a “magnificent” ice facility imported from the U.S.A., and that it’s beer-making equipment was “the best and largest in South America.”
Most notable, however, from a consumer standpoint is the variety of beers made by Backus & Johnston back then: Pilsen, export, lager, märzen, stout, and a dark beer labeled “Gato Negro” (black cat).
Decades later, their production had grown massively, and the company itself had expanded into a near brewing monopoly -the Unión de Cerverías Peruanas Backus & Johnston- having absorbed other breweries throughout the country. At the same time, despite the expansion in the number of the company’s brands and volume, the beer variety shrank. By the turn of the century the only ones that had survived were the pale lager and a dark lager.
In the past decade, however, the company has started to break out of that straight jacket, albeit cautiously. It has used its Cusqueña brand to float a few “special” beers: Cusqueña Trigo (pale lager made with a percentage of wheat), Cusqueña Quinoa (made, obviously, with some quinoa), and Cusqueña Red Lager. It has also dipped its toe into the “top shelf” market with Abraxas, a beer it describes as a “super premium” and sells for 400% of the price point of its regular beers.
Today I made my way over to Benicia to try the offerings at Brüehol Brewing.
Brüehol Brewing was established in Benicia in 2014 by Mark Keller, Mark Ristow, and Steve Nortcutt, but opened its tap room only three weeks ago. I was eager to get there because Mark R. and Steve used to be homebrewers in the same club as I -the Diablo Order of Zymiracle Enthusiasts (DOZE). Both of them are highly skilled brewers, and it shows in the beers they are producing at Brüehol.
It is relatively rare for small craft breweries to produce lager beers. In part it is because of the time involved –while a lager rests -i.e. lagers– it takes up valuable fermenter space that could be turned to producing a couple of ales. However, it is also because lagers, specially pale lager styles, are unforgiving of mistakes. They don’t have the roasty, malty flavor character or hoppiness to counterbalance any flaws.
It takes a bit of courage to make a lager a part of one’s brewery’s regular line up, and Brüehol offers two of them: a Gold Rush Helles Lager, and Old Capitol Pilsner.
Both beers are very good. The helles was light and clean, and the pilsner was appropriately malty while maintaining the lightness of body that characterizes the style. I dare say that they are two of the best craft lagers that I’ve tasted in the area.
The other beer I tried was the 5W-30 Black Ale. It has hints of caramel or toffee in the nose, and coffee and chocolate in flavor. Despite its looks, however, it is not a stout, but truly just a black ale. Like the other beers its name is an homage to Benicia, in this case to its history (and present) as a refinery town.
Currently, Brüehol is producing about 10 barrels a month, running double batches on a 3-barrel brewing system. Steve told me that in a few months, however, they expect to expand their output by gaining the ability to brew and ferment on a 10-barrel system. That would also free the guys up to be able to produce more special occasion or one-off brews on their pilot system. There are plans to add a couple of ciders, and several more ales to the taps.
If you’re in Benicia Brüehol is well worth looking up -just be aware that the tap room is not downtown but over on the east end of town.
4828 East 2nd St
I recently visited Triple Rock Brewery in Berkeley for the first time. Considering how long I’ve lived in the Bay Area, how much time I’ve spent in Berkeley, and that the brewery has been around since 1986 -making it one of the earliest modern microbreweries in the area- it’s just ridiculous that I had never made it there before.
The main taproom is a pretty inviting place -dark wood, classic-style booths and furniture, and friendly staff- and the brewing process can be observed through a large window that looks in on the brewhouse. There is also a larger space off of the main room, which was opened last year. It has more of modern feel, with more stained cement instead of wood and several large TV screens.
I arrived at lunch time, just as the place started to get busy for the lunch crowd. As I enjoyed my food and beer I chatted with the fellow sitting next to me at the bar. He’d moved to the Bay Area in the 1988 and had been a regular at Triple Rock whenever he had found himself living in Berkeley ever since.
I ordered myself a flight of samplers, the selection of which I left to the server’s choice. She poured me Mildly Politic (Pale Mild Ale, 4.5%), Belgian Spring Bier (6%), Oatland Ace (IPA, 6.7%), Black Rock (Porter 5.4%), and Finnegan’s Whistle (Dry Irish Stout, 4.5%).
They were all good, but I’ve got to say that Oatland Ace was my favorite of the flight (at center in the above photo). It’s made with oats three ways -flaked oats, golden naked oats, and oat malt- and big taste of Mosaic hops. Just lovely.
Also deserving special mention is a tasty, chewy Old Ale: Her Majesty’s Crush with Figs (pictured at top of the post).
This beer -brewed in collaboration with Moylan’s Brewing Co.- comes in at 9% and is warming without evident alcohol, and the fig character comes in nicely. I just really liked it.
After all that time, I finally made it there, and I’m glad that I did.
Triple Rock Brewery & Ale House
1920 Shattuck Ave