On our way back from our Bend trip we met a friend in Portland for breweries and I had heard some great things about Commons Brewing, which is really close to Basecamp and Cascade. I really like Basecamp but you have to either buy a flight or a pint and can’t do single tasters, which is annoying. We also visited a small brewery in the area called Baerlic before we left but Commons was the only one I tried a ton of different beers. Commons focuses on farmhouse ales and wild ales and none of their beers we tried were very sour but they were all quite delicious.
I tried the Three Point Six, a hoppy session ale with Brett, Boysen, a strong dark farmhouse ale with boysenberries, the Pumpernickel Rye Saison with cardamon and caraway, the Barrel Saison, an open fermented saison, Myrtle, a tart farmhouse ale with merridian hops, a Biere de Garde, Khthonias, a barrel aged flanders dark with hazelnuts, and Cerise Noir, a dark farmhouse ale with sweet and tart cherries.
The three point six was delicious and super smooth with tons of fruity hops, very flavorful for the low alcohol. I would have ordered a larger one of this after we finished the flight but my husband arrived with food and they don’t allow outside food. The Boysen was very nicely balanced with the fruit coming in nicely and a mild tartness. It finished with hints of wine and bready malts. I’m not sure I paid attention when I ordered the Pumpernickel Rye Saison because I don’t usually like that flavor but it was tasty. It seemed like a lighter bodied version of a Belgian Winter Ale with the spices mostly subdued and not overpowering the rest of the beer.
The Barrel Saison was funky and smooth with some earthy notes and mild spices. This one was also really nice and one of my favorites. The Myrtle was tart and fruity with delicious balance and a mild tart kick at the end. I didn’t get much hops from this one though. The Biere De Garde was very tasty with smooth bready malts and a nutty finish. The Khthonias came on strong with wine and lots of dark fruit though the hazelnut wasn’t very noticeable. I really enjoyed the smoothness and the solid wine. The Cerise Noir tasted more like a brown ale with cherries. It had a super light body and the cherries were fairly subtle but as it warmed up it got more tasty.
For a smaller brewery I was very impressed by the farmhouse ales at Commons. It is a great brewery to have so close to Cascade. I would have stayed longer if they would have let us bring in outside food but then we didn’t check with them before deciding to bring it by because we ordered the food while we were at Basecamp.
Three point six
Biere de Garde
I visited Bitter Brothers with a friend recently, and we both agreed about the most impressive beers in the bunch, which surprisingly were not the IPAs. Though the IPAs were all tasty, some less popular/common styles were among our favorites. We tasted the Berliner Weisse, Session IPA, ESB, Dunkelweizen, coffee porter, Amarillo IPA, and North West style IPA. Bitter Brothers is easy to find right off Morena Blvd in an area not yet surrounded by a ton of other breweries.
The Berliner Weisse was a smooth mix of ginger and grapefruit with a mild tart finish. It had a bit more flavor than the typical new brewery version of the style and a lot of subtleties as well. The session IPA has a nice mix of pineapple and grapefruit with a strong bitter finish. I found this one a little too bitter for what it was but I enjoyed it a little more after it warmed up. The hops come on nice and strong for sure. The ESB was super smooth and flavorful with a nice balance of caramel malts and apricot from the hops. It had a lot more flavor than most local versions and we left wanting more.
The Dunkelweizen was also quite impressive with a sweet plum taste and smooth sweet banana and molasses finish. Both of these styles are quite difficult to execute well and often local ESBs are flavorless or Dunkelweizens are too sweet or lack balance. Neither of these beers had those problems. The coffee porter is available on draft and nitro but I asked the bartender which she preferred and she suggested the draft, so we had that one. It was quite tasty with a strong nutty coffee flavor and a medium body. The taste was almost like a cold brew coffee.
The Amarillo IPA was super fruity with flavors of mango and tangerine. It is a solid version of the local style, low on the malt bill and very hop forward. The North West IPA is the amber color beer you see. It was nicely balanced and bursting with herb and pine hops with notes of sage and a strong bitter finish. They were both enjoyable IPAs though neither of us was craving these as much as the ESB or coffee porter. The IPA you prefer will depend on your preference for hop flavors. Thankfully the North West IPA did not taste like a lot of the boring old-school Portland IPAs that rely too heavily on pine hops.
For a brewery that has only been open a month or so, we were both quite impressed by the beers. Come visit Bitter Brothers with a friend and share a few tasters.
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.
Before traveling to Iceland I had heard that the food and drinks were both quite expensive. One thing to keep in mind though is that they don’t expect you to tip so it is not too bad. One reason the craft beers are more expensive is the alcohol tax that is higher on higher alcohol beers. So the double ipa and imperial stout are served in 200 ml pours at most places.
I visited all 3 bars on my list inside Reykjavik. Mikkeller was the most expensive as to be expected. Sometimes it was 1400ikr for a 200ml pour or about $12. Mikkeller does not serve local beers but Norwegian beers and other imports. The selection is nice and at least given the price they are used to giving you a splash to taste a few before buying. Ironically I ended up ordering a beer from the US because they had recently finished a tap takeover featuring breweries from the Midwest.
Other bars serving local beers were more reasonable depending on what you bought. Two Reykjavik bars focus on serving the beers of two Icelandic craft breweries. So while you can’t visit the breweries directly you can order flights (though they are so expensive I would suggest sticking with the pints). Microbar primarily serves beers from Gaedingur brewing and they had a very delicious west coast style ipa that very much hit the spot. This one was 1200IKR for a pint, which is about $9.50
Just down the street is Skúli craft bar, another local bar, this one primarily serving beers from Borg but also offering other guest taps as well. When I visited there my husband and I together had a delicious imperial stout (brewed by Borg), milk stout (from Mikkeller), and saison (also from Borg). The saison was nice and crisp herbal and fruity with thyme added. It had a light honey flavor on the back. This reminded me of some of my favorite saisons brewed in the United States and really hit the spot. Prices here made me appreciate the prices at Mikkeller in Bangkok. Needless to say I didn’t drink a ton of beer while I was there because of the prices.
I would absolutely suggest anyone who visits Reykjavik go to both Microbar and Skúli craft depending on the style you like. They are both very close to each other. Google knows where Microbar is but gets the location of Skúli a bit wrong. The best way to get to Skúli from Microbar is to go out the south entrance and turn right, then look to your left for the Skúli sign. Visiting these bars is also the best way for someone to try some beers from the smaller breweries without leaving Reykjavik. Elsewhere you will find plenty of mass produced lagers and occasionally beers from Einstok, one of the larger Icelandic craft breweries, including their toasted porter, white ale, and pale ale. Ironically it is probably cheaper to buy Einstok beers in the stores in the US but it is still nice to order a few while in Iceland. The pale ale was nice and lightly bitter, featuring plenty of English style hops.