Though there are other breweries that have been around longer, Cellarmaker is one of the most highly praised breweries in the city of San Francisco. When I visited recently, I can see why. They have a tasting room in central San Francisco where you can order tasters, pints, growlers, etc. On a Saturday they were quite packed and I could barely find a place to set down my tasters on the ledge by the window. I split my tasting into two separate flights of 4 beers each, with the pale ales and IPAs in the first flight and the dark beers and double IPA in the second flight. Tasters are a little expensive at $2.50 to $3.00 each but understandably they want to push people to order pints, for which they didn’t cheat people by pouring large heads. This is also the city known for high rents so I expect that is part of it as well. The tasting room was fairly noisy and music was blaring, yet I didn’t find that it kept me from chatting or talking to people. They have an interesting wooden fence of sorts on the front of the place that lets in a nice breeze for ventilation.
My first flight included Double Dry Hopped Dobis pale ale, New Beer Smell pale ale, Mo’ Passion IPA, and Pho Momocoe IPA. Second flight included Dank Williams double IPA, Batch 1 porter, Coffee & Cigarettes, and Baby Blamo. All of the IPAs and pale ales were low on the malts as you can be with the alcohol present, with the pale ales and IPAs following the modern style of extracting as much hop aroma as you possibly can from the beers. Double Dry Hopped Dobis was a cloudy yellow and had a bright citrus, tangerine and lemon, flavor with a smooth finish and light bitterness. New Beer Smell was similar though exploding with tropical fruit instead. Both were fantastic and which one you like would depend on your hop profile of choice. The taster board gave accurate descriptions of the flavors you could taste.
Mo’ Passion was a delicious resiny/juicy IPA with hints of mango and medium bitterness. This one was also quite smooth and light on the malts. It is great to see more breweries using South African varieties of hops after tasting how delicious they can be in a beer from Modern Times. I almost got a growler of this one when I left but I chose to go with Dank Williams. Pho Momo Coe is an attempt to make a Vietnamese spiced IPA so besides the hops it includes ginger, lime, and chilies. While I thought everything balanced together nicely, I prefer the more traditional style of the others. Hops were of the juicy/herbal flavor and the ginger came through a lot on the end.
Dank Williams was ultimately my favorite IPA of the bunch. Though it is 8.2% it didn’t seem overly boozy or sweet, just thick, resinous, and super dank. I got flavors of peach on the back, giving it a nice finish. I ended up filling my 2 liter blank growler I brought with me with this beer. When I opened the growler at home it had lost a lot of the peach flavor but was still a delicious dank/resinous double IPA that went down smooth. Batch 1 Porter is one of the more common beers you will find on tap outside the brewery. Though I really like it, I found it was overpowered by the others in the flight. It is a smooth and sweet roasty stout with light vanilla flavors.
Coffee & Cigarettes is one of the more popular beers they offer, and I can see why. It offers a strong yet smooth nutty coffee flavor with a subtle smoke on the back end. It has a nice chewy mouth feel and a bitter finish. On any other flight this might have been my favorite dark beer but then I tasted the Baby Blamo. This coconut stout is really sweet and has a more prominent coconut flavor than any beer of the style I have had before. It has a nice subtle bitter chocolate flavor on the back to finish it off. My husband and I shared a goblet of this before leaving.
If you are in San Francisco and don’t have a lot of time to get out of the city, visiting Cellarmaker is quite easy because it is pretty close to a Bart station. I did not attempt to park there so I can’t say if it is easy to do so. I was very impressed by all of the beers I tasted. They brew a solid lineup of hoppy and dark beers. I was a little surprised that I didn’t see anything from other styles on the menu.
San Diego Beer Week has been around for a few years now. Many other cities do similar things where they have special events for the week. Some people in San Diego think the whole idea is silly because we have fantastic beer available all year round. Still, I found the events to be interesting enough that I am glad to have taken part. All these special events can get quite expensive but even more so if you go to all the bigger festivals and pay for a round trip on Uber. Thankfully I was able to get someone to be the designated driver for most days so that I didn’t drive under the influence.
Day 1 – Alpine and Green Flash Takeover at O’Brien’s Pub
Day 1 of San Diego Beer Week 2015 started at O’Brien’s pub, a place I returned multiple times during the week because it is the closest bar that had special things going on. For Alpine and Green Flash takeover night they brought a bunch of Green Flash Cellar 3 beers as well as many delicious Alpine IPAs. Having recently visited Alpine to taste HFS IPA, I split a pitcher of this fantastic IPA with a friend, though I ended up giving him 2/3 of my second glass because I got him a Flanders Drive from Cellear 3 and he didn’t like it. My husband later joined us and had a glass of Odin’s Raven imperial stout from Alpine that I helped him with. I was surprised they poured this in a pint because it is so strong.
Day 2 – Sour Day at O’Brien’s Pub
I showed up around 2PM at O’Brien’s Pub for their sour beer takeover. At $4 a taster, or $24 for 6 5oz tasters it was an expensive visit (one that would be repeated later in the week) but the beers were quite delicious and I was able to sip them for a while. This is also normal price for sours anywhere you find them. I had the delicious Almanac Valley of the Heart’s Delight (an apricot sour), Karl Strauss Wild Ride, Russian River Supplication (a sour made with cherries and aged in wine barrels) Manzanita Brewing 5th Anniversary (their first ever wild ale), and The Bruery’s Oude Tarte (2013). All of them were quite tasty but I especially liked the Valley of the Heart’s Delight. Both Karl Strauss and Manzanita’s offerings were well-done and tasted like proper sours. The atmosphere at the sour day was nice and calm so I was able to chat with people outside and at some point read without a noisy crowd. I stuck to these five tasters so that I could drive home safely.
Day 3 – Award Winning Coffee Beers at Pizza Port Ocean Beach
In the mid-afternoon on Sunday my husband and I visited Pizza Port Ocean Beach for their award winning coffee beer day, which included their own recent bronze winning Bacon and Eggs coffee stout, Beachwood Brewing’s recent silver winning Pablo Escobeer (a Colombian coffee stout on nitro) and New English Brewing’s recent gold winning Zumbar imperial coffee and chocolate stout. I had a pint of the Bacon and Eggs for the first time that day and it was really delicious, giving me plenty of smooth nutty coffee that also had a nice caffeine bite. My husband really enjoyed the Beachwood offering on nitro as well. Then I ordered a glass of the 18th Anniversary from Firestone Walker (most likely a hold over from a previous barrel-aged event). This was a fantastic beer, blending a variety of different barrel aged beers. We also enjoyed a slice of the brunch pizza that they had along with the beers and it paired really nicely with the coffee stouts.
On our way back we stopped by Alesmith for their barrel aged beer day, which meant a flight of Beer Geek Speedway, Jamaican Blue Mountain Speedway, Velvet, and Bourbon Barrel Aged Speedway. I had heard mixed things about the Beer Geek Speedway in the past but I thought it was quite tasty. Jamaican Blue Mountain was tasting smooth as usual. And of course Velvet is the most smooth of the bunch. I’m still surprised by how fast the bottles sold out when it was put on sale but it is a delicious beer. Velvet is a bourbon barrel aged version of Jamaican Blue Mountain with vanilla added.
Day 4 – Imperial Stout Release at Duck Foot Brewing and GreenFlash 13th Anniversary Beer Release
I visited Duck Foot to start off my Monday for their new Ukrainian Imperial Stout release. The beer had a delicious caramel kick with some dark chocolate notes despite not having any adjuncts added. After our first sip of the taster, we ordered an 8 ounce to share as well. They also released a raspberry version later in the week but I didn’t get around to try that. They also filled six barrels that previously held Heaven Hill Bourbon with this beer for a future barrel-aged release. Based on the delicious base beer, I am very excited to see how this turns out.
Green Flash released their Handshake IPA as their 13th Anniversary beer. This is a collaboration IPA with Alpine. The beer is a smooth IPA with a strong grapefruit flavor. I was glad to see a few other Alpine beers available as well on tap, including HFS, Bad Boy, Hop Box, and their Ales for ALS IPA. I had an 8 ounce of the HFS and an 8 ounce of the ALS IPA. Both were delicious. I really liked the light flavors of the ALS IPA and the solid grapefruit flavor.
Day 5 – Beer and Cheese Pairing at The Winesellar and Brasserie
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this beer and cheese pairing but it turned out to be a mini beer festival of sorts. They had a medium-sized room with five breweries and one meadery and two more breweries outside. In all they had Iron Fist, Port Brewing/Lost Abbey, Saint Archer, New English, Golden Coast Mead, Helms, Duck Foot, and Helix. Each of them was pouring four ounce pours of two different beers in a wine glass we got at the beginning. They also had cheese at each of the different stations that you could grab to eat with crackers to go with your beers.
Some of the highlights of this event for me were the Double IPA from Duck Foot, tasting really fresh that evening, Iron Fist’s Saison, New English Zumbar imperial stout, and the sour mead from Golden Coast Mead. Some friends chose to boycott Saint Archer because of their recent sale to Miller/Coors but I like their coffee brown ale so I had a little of that. The only downside to the event was that they didn’t have much bread available. Some fresh bread showed up a few times during the event but it disappeared so fast I didn’t get much. This was a great little intimate event and I was able to try some interesting cheese and beer pairings.
Day 6 – Fieldwork Takeover at O’Brien’s and Modern Times Takeover at Regent’s Pizzeria
Fieldwork brewing is a relatively new brewery up in Berkeley that was started by some brewers who formerly brewed for Modern Times. I got to visit them recently (my blog post will be coming up soon) and was impressed by their beers so I was glad to have another chance to try their beers locally. I was surprised when I noticed that a good number of the beers were different than the selection they had when I visited the brewery only a short time ago. I don’t know if they brew especially small batches but I really enjoyed the beers I had. I ordered a pint of the Shoreline IPA and a pint of the Gray Wolf double IPA. My husband joined me later and ordered a pint of the Morning Time Coffee Stout.
The Shoreline IPA was quite delicious and had many of the same flavors they described on the board, including citrus and jack fruit. The Gray Wolf double IPA was brewed with Nelson and Hallertau hops and it had a perfect fruity and citrus blend with a surprisingly low bitterness and delicious finish. My husband was satisfied with his Morning Time Coffee Stout. Modern Times brought a ton of beers to Regent’s Pizzeria and I only ordered their Monster’s Park Imperial Stout. It was good and thick with plenty of coffee and chocolate flavors. I was glad to see the massive beer selection at the place in person and will hope to visit them soon to see how the pizza is.
Day 7 – Speedway Grand Prix
The Speedway Grand Prix is something that I have done every year since I tried it the last time they had it at O’Brien’s. Each year they have 12 varieties of Speedway Stout available in 3 separate 2oz flights. I tend to go share with my mom and my neighbor because we each enjoy different flavors and so everyone enjoys what they have. Each year they also ask you to rate your favorite flavors so that they can see what was best received and possibly make that one again in larger quantities. Because the list of the different beers is available below along with my ratings I won’t go into all of the different beers, except for a few that really stood out.
I quite enjoyed the Triple Hammerhead, a coffee explosion of flavor that had a nice bitter after taste. It has a smooth espresso kick. I also really liked the Butterfinger flavor, with the right mix of peanut butter and caramel while not being overwhelming sweet. Peanut Butter and Jelly was really nice with Raspberries added that gave it just the right amount of sweet kick to balance the nuts. The hazelnut was also very smooth and had a nice addition of chocolate that balanced it out. Oatmeal Raisin Cookie and Sour Cherry were my two other favorites. I was surprised by how much the Oatmeal Raisin reminded me of the cookie.
There were also a few special versions of Speedway on tap, including a Pu-Erh tea variety and a separate Autumn blend that didn’t have as overpowering maple flavor as the other maple one. The Pu-Erh was so good I could barely distinguish it from other coffee varieties. The beer has some inherent coffee flavors that are still there without coffee added. They also had Reforged on tap, their anniversary blend of various bourbon barrel aged beers. Others reported that they had different specialty beers if you went on Wednesday or Friday instead. It was really a fantastic experience.
Day 8 – Barrel aged Beer Day at O’Briens
I returned to O’Briens for the last time to have some big barrel aged beers. I tried a number of barrel aged beers but I should have stuck with the ones from more well-known breweries because I was not very impressed by the barrel aged old ale from Widmer and Cigar City or the Rye Ale Sierra Nevada brewed for O’Brien’s 20th anniversary. Both were a bit lighter in body and lacking in the punch of some of the others. What I really did enjoy was the Uncle Jacob’s Stout (a 16.9% bourbon barrel aged beer from Avery Brewing) and Firestone Walker’s Parabola (a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout). If I go to a similar event in the future I would get more Firestone Walker offerings and some Lost Abbey stuff.
Day 9 – Bourbon Barrel Aged Day at New English
New English decided that rather than simply barrel aging their Zumbar imperial stout, they also put their brown ale in bourbon barrels. For this event they had five varieties of brown ale aged in bourbon barrels plus some other things and their Zumbar Imperial Stout aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. Though they had flights available I decided to only try three of the varieties since I had done so many flights this week already. The Heaven Hill aged Brown Ale had a really nice bourbon flavor, a little less sweet than the Woodford Reserve varieties. In comparison the 2013 Woodford Reserve aged version was a lot sweeter and more smooth though it lacked the same bourbon kick. The Heaven Hill aged Zumbar was absolutely delicious. The beer was silky smooth and the bourbon really accented the coffee and chocolate flavors of the beer. It came close to some of the better barrel aged beers the previous day, though it was not as high in alcohol as either of my favorites. I was overall quite impressed by the different ones I tried and very much look forward to having more of that Heaven Hill aged brown ale in the future.
Day 10 – Coffee, Donuts, and Stout at Benchmark Brewing
After the festivities of previous days, I wanted to keep things light. Thankfully Benchmark expected this and planned their second annual coffee, donuts, and stout. They offered a flight with tasters of their oatmeal stout and imperial stout plus a cold brew coffee on nitro and coffee infused versions of the oatmeal stout and imperial stout on cask. This was just the right amount to share with two others while enjoying the donuts they had along with it. Though I don’t regularly eat donuts, I really liked their peanut butter version and the coconut one. Both of the coffee added casks were delicious. They also paired really well with the beers. I preferred the imperial stout version but my neighbor liked the more subtle flavors of the coffee in the oatmeal stout.
I had a really great time with all of these events this week, though I will be taking a few days off to let my body recover after all that. It is hard to pick a favorite event but I think the best few events I visited were the barrel aged beer day at O’Briens, Speedway Grand Prix, and the Barrel Aged day at New English. What can I say? I love the imperial stouts.
Spain seems to be the place where you can find craft beers much more easily than London or Munich. Though every restaurant has beer (usually mass produced lager) and most serve sangria there are a decent number of bars to be found where you can taste a local ipa or other beers. In the area where I stayed alone there were at least four different options for enjoying craft beer from either Barcelona itself or Spain more generally. Local ipas were solid and hit that spot that had been only satisfied a few times in London and Reykjavik.
Before visiting I had only found one brewery, called Edge Brewing. It is run by a couple of Americans and I heard great things about it before visiting. They are only open on Saturday morning by appointment through the website site to visit directly but their beers tend to show up around town with regularity as well. I arrived at the brewery on Friday night based on old information, they used to be open only Friday evening, and was greeted by one of the brewers who was surprised I was there but graciously offered me information about other bars nearby and a few brew pubs. He also provided me two bottles for review. One of those suggestions was Black Lab, which was the only stop I was able to visit, because I wanted to be able to taste the bottles I got from Edge before flying back.
Prior to my visit to Edge Brewing and ultimately Black Lab brewpub I visited a couple of local bars in the Gothic Quarter. One was called La Cerveteca, located at Carrer d’En Gignàs, 25, 08002 Barcelona. They had five taps or so and serve a variety of Tapas. When I visited they didn’t have a ton of local beers on tap so I just had one IPA (Napar Insider IPA) before moving on. It was a tasty citrusy IPA and really hit the spot. I had some nice conversations with some other Americans in the bar as well.
Later that evening I visited another bar called Cat Bar, located at Carrer Boria, 1708003 Barcelona. Cat Bar also serves Vegan Burgers, though I didn’t try any of them. They had more local options available so I got to try some local IPA and Imperial Stout. I would recommend Cat Bar as the first choice of the two bars I visited due to a larger tap list. It appears they also have live music sometimes. I didn’t take notes so I can’t recall exactly what I ordered that evening.
I made my way to Black Lab brewpub and was welcomed by an English speaking owner/brewer who explained the multiple beers and food items. I ordered half pints of three of the offerings and had a banh mi sandwich along with them. Both the pale ale and ipa were very tasty with citrus/pineapple flavors and light malt bills. Their raspberry beer was also fantastic, with a light amount of tartness and a solid fruit flavor. If I had visited black lab sooner I might have taken a growler of the frambuesa to the beach. I was surprised that they both fill growlers and offer beer to go.
The banh mi sandwich was fabulous, served with house cut fries. It had both nice juicy chunks of pork and a creamy pate. The bun was one of the softest I’ve had a sandwich on before and it had a nice kick with a house spicy aoli and some jalapeños. The fries came with a dipping sauce similar to Mexican salsa. I then returned to my room where I had the two bottles from edge brewing, a pale ale and a double ipa. The pale was nice and balanced with a light amber color and some floral hops that weren’t overpowering. It ended with a nice mild bitterness.
The double ipa was aptly named juggernaut. It was a seriously dark amber and resembled an American barley wine more than a double ipa. In many ways it was similar to stone brewing Double Bastard. The beer had a strong hop bitterness and a powerful roasted malt background. It was surprisingly not boozy despite the strong alcohol content and not too sweet. It is definitely worth seeking out if you like what San Diego beer people would call a malt bomb.
Because I had an early morning flight the next morning I didn’t visit other suggestions from the list but I will list them below. The craft beer scene is still in the early stages but many described it as exploding. So if you visit long after this post ask for some suggestions at black lab. They should be able to point you to some places that have opened since this was posted. If you happen to be in a place where the beers aren’t very good you can almost always find some good sangria for fairly cheap. Drinking is a way of life in Spain and Barcelona especially so you often see people drinking in the mornings or during lunch time.
Some suggestions from Edge that I didn’t get to visit:
El Vaso de Oro (A Spanish style restaurant serving their house brewed beers).
Brew Pub Le Sec (a beer bar and brewery with live jazz)
La Bona Pinta
La Cervecita (beer bar with a solid number of taps).
Like most cities in Europe the craft beer focused bars and the breweries themselves are quite a ways from the city center in London. Staying in the city center I didn’t venture out to the breweries that would have taken some lengthy trips out on the tube (London subway) or the bus. Also because I hadn’t experienced much British beer fresh from the source I had to try a few more common local styles. Though I may have been able to find more craft beer in other neighborhoods I think there is something to be said for how available craft beers are in the average bar.
In general many of the British beer hovers around 4 to 5 percent. This can be anything including bitters, ciders, pale ales, ipa, and stouts. I stuck to darker beers (amber color) and they tended to be light body as you would expect with lower alcohol beer. Most of the traditional ipas and pale ales I ordered seemed to be using the hops for bittering not aroma. This lets the beers age better without having to worry so much about freshness. Most were enjoyable without being particularly flavorful or exciting.
The local craft beer I did try was much more tasty because it is using the American style of hops and has a lot more aroma. Both the pale ale and ipa I had from Kernel brewing were very impressive, one on tap and one in the bottle. The pale ale on tap had a delicious citrus aroma and flavor from the citra and simcoe hops. It also had a delightful cloudy orange color to it that I love to see. There are a lot more casks available in London at bars which makes the already smooth beers even smoother. It is common to find quite a few nitro beers including Guinness, which I didn’t think tasted particularly different in London.
Beers were fairly expensive but after Iceland I was glad they were usually around 3.50 to 4 pounds maybe slightly more on occasion. That ends up around typical bar prices in the US. There are so many pubs around that it can be hard to decide where to go. I decided to find places that Kernel brewing listed on their web site as serving their beers thinking it would lead me to fairly craft beer focused bars, though many of them still had fairly limited tap lists and not a lot that I was interested in trying.
Because most of the stouts I found were fairly standard (many places only had Guinness) I was glad when I found a bottle of Old Engine Oil on my last day out on the town. The higher alcohol porter was delicious and nice and thick offering bittersweet chocolate and plum flavors. Though they say London has quite a few breweries now it is hard to find bottles of anything but the big names in shops. When I did find a bottle of the Kernel beer in a local Whole Foods it was quite expensive and sold as an individual 12 ounce bottle. Some people told me that to truly experience English beers you need to get outside of London, and I hope to do that someday. Still, it was fun to spend a few days exploring the beer scene when I was in London.
If you had a different experience in London or think I totally missed the mark, please let me know in the comments.
Second Chance is one of the newest breweries to open in San Diego, and only the third in the small area of Rancho Bernardo, joining Abnormal Brewing and a recent addition to Karl Strauss. The head brewer spent 15 years brewing at Rock Bottom brewery locally before going out on his own. The tasting room is just off Caramel Mountain Road, a quick hop for me, and easy to find. There is plenty of space inside, with many different tables set up for people to sit and/or stand while enjoying their beers. I tasted everything that was available on October 24, 2015 except for the blonde ale. I started with a flight of the English Brown, Red IPA, IPA, and Toasted Porter. I finished with the two specialty beers, the mocha porter and coffee IPA. Tasters are a little expensive, with the specialty beers a whole $3 a taster, but the beers are overall solid.
The English Brown pours a dark amber colored brown. It is very smooth and roasty with a nice dry finish. It has a medium amount of English hops there as well along with some caramel malts, giving it an overall balanced flavor. The Red IPA was quite hop forward, and medium bitter. The hops present grapefruit and apricot with a bitter aftertaste. The beer has a nice clear amber color and malts aren’t overpowering. I found the bitterness a little too strong for my tastes, though it has a nice caramel malt at the back.
The IPA had a nice fruity mango and peach on the nose, nice golden yellow color. Mango and peach come through nicely on the taste without too much bitter. This is more mellow than the Red IPA and fits right in with other local San Diego IPAs. The Toasted Porter had a creamy head and pours really dark. This porter has a nice roasty flavor with a mild coffee blended in nicely.
The Coffee IPA had a mellow coffee flavor that blends nicely with the IPA. I assume it is the same underlying IPA as they had on before. I can still taste the peach and mango from the IPA with it. Though I wouldn’t have thought the flavors would go together they really do. The Mocha Porter has a strong coffee and chocolate flavor but it isn’t particularly balanced. The beer is a little too bitter and doesn’t have much sweetness or roasty. I prefer the regular Toasted porter to this one.
I was impressed by the size of the tasting room and the quality of the beers when visiting Second Chance. They are still early in their operation so they have a ways to go before they get to their full potential. The brewery has a nice open area with plenty of seating and tables for people to set the beers and hang out. They also have a few couches in the front area. There is no air conditioning so it could get hot if it is a really hot day but the brewery generally has nice ventilation when they open both the front and side doors. I will certainly keep up with their progress as they grow to see what they do next.
Update November 2015: I visited Second Chance Brewing again on November 28, 2015 because I heard they had a few new beers. I was able to taste their double IPA and imperial stout that were not previously available. Both were very impressive.
The double IPA was thick and tasty with a juicy mango/tropical fruit flavor. The imperial oatmeal stout was available on nitro and was a nice mix of roasty flavors, a hint of bitter chocolate, and caramel. It is great to see that they continue to come up with new beers. I hope the double IPA will stick around as a core beer.