The Bay Area is large and can often take quite a while to get from one area to another. So while there are some amazing breweries elsewhere, there is a benefit to knowing what you can visit without going too far. My husband’s cousin and her family are in Alameda and we often stay with them while we are in the Bay Area so I visited the brewery on a lazy Sunday during my last trip. If you can’t make it out to Berkeley for Fieldwork or San Francisco for Cellarmaker, the IPAs at Faction are excellent and will satisfy most enthusiasts.
There were so many beers on the board that there was no way I was going to try them all at $2.50 a taster (fairly standard these days). But most of what I tried was quite impressive. I started with the Southern Aroma pilsner, SAPA (pale ale with South African hops), Penske File pale, Norcal Beer Geek IPA, and Cafe Latte. I then got tasters of NZ IIPA, Blitzen IIIPA, Hop Soup IIPA, and the Oatmeal Stout.
The Southern Aroma was an excellent pilsner with a clean dry finish and mild citrus kick. The SAPA had tons of pine and resin with a bitter finish and hints of orange peel. The Penske File had a strong bitter grapefruit kick with hints of pineapple behind that. Norcal Beer Geeks IPA was my favorite of the day. Super smooth and balanced it has notes of pine and resin with some citrus and a mellow bitterness. This is a more classic style IPA but done very nicely.
Cafe Late was a bit strange tasting because it was an older batch but it is also made with cold brew coffee rather than adding coffee beans to the beer. I would recommend trying a splash before ordering a full pint. The oatmeal stout was excellent with a medium body and tons of roast with a smooth mouthfeel. The NZ IIPA was thick and dry without being overly bitter or sweet and tons of fruit notes from the hops. Other double and triple IPAs were similarly well-crafted. The hop soup had more resin and pine notes with a hint of grapefruit and floral notes behind it. Blitzen was a dangerously easy drinking beer for the alcohol and had nice notes of citrus and pine.
While they aren’t yet doing the juicy hazy IPAs you can get at Cellarmaker and Fieldwork, the beers at Faction I tasted were all nicely done and would be plenty to satisfy most hop heads. They have a very unique location out on an old navy hard with high ceilings and a large outdoor seating area and a separately large indoor seating area behind the large tasting room. It has quite an echo and the tasting room gets loud with only a few loud people. I brought a growler of the Norcal Beer Geek IPA to share when I left and my husband’s cousin’s husband really enjoyed it. Hopefully he will return regularly now that he knows what to order.
Come for their wide selection of IPAs. Try the Norcal Beer Geek, my favorite of the bunch.
I got excited about IPAs because of the flavors that hops bring to a brew. More recently I started to notice the difference freshness makes and how quickly the hop flavors fade. Thanks in part to Stone releasing their Enjoy By IPA series, which expects people to drink the beer within a month of release, general beer drinkers are starting to understand how important freshness is. Follow the Enjoy By link for Stone’s explanation of this. But simply having bottles at home that are fresh is only half the battle. You also have to store those beers properly to avoid losing those hop flavors.
I am not going to go on about specific temperatures but I will simply keep things as simple as possible. Refrigerating your IPAs once you get them home in a bottle (like I know you would with a growler) ensures that your beer tastes as good as it did when you brought it home when you open it the following week. This is only half of the battle though. The other part is making sure that you purchase your beers from a shop that stores their beers properly, or go direct to the source.
There are a lot of steps a beer takes from when it leaves the brewery until you find it at your local shop. Thankfully a lot of the big breweries in San Diego that bottle their beers distribute through Stone. Stone takes the necessary steps to ensure that until they drop the beer off at the next step it is properly refrigerated. Read about how Stone explains it on their distribution site. However, you don’t always know how properly the beer was stored by a particular company before putting it on the shelves.
Sometimes finding beers from certain breweries in a shop is a good indication that the shop stores the beers properly. Russian River is known for being very strict about how their beers are kept both during shipping and once on display. Alpine is also strict so if you can find beer from either brewery at a bottle shop you know that they store the beers properly. Alpine has a list of places where you can find their beers on their website. One thing to look for is coolers that don’t have bright fluorescent lights on the beers.
More recently though, I’ve found that it is worth going direct to any local brewery and buying the beer from the source. That way you are guaranteed that the beer you are buying is as fresh as possible and stored properly. Stone has a few smaller tasting rooms where you can buy bottles without trying to park at one of their big restaurants. But for beers from out of state or out of county proper storage makes all the difference and helps ensure that you enjoy the beers as they were meant to be tasted.
In summary, make sure that you keep your IPAs away from sunlight and/or fluorescent lights and that you store them in a cool place. You should notice the difference right away. Because some of the things I discuss here is based on discussions I had on Facebook with fellow beer friends, if something here is inaccurate, please let me know in the comments. If you think I am making a big deal about something that is not very important, also let me know.
If you are interested in some of the science behind how light affects beer, check out this article from Mark Dredge on Pencil and Spoon as well as a more detailed article from someone in The Bruery’s lab.