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 only visited two breweries in my time up in Calgary because the more interesting part of Calgary is the nearby Banff National Park where there are two small breweries, one in Canmore and one in Banff that I’m sure are great compared to the macro beer you can find in most of the convenience stores but also nothing exceptional. Out of the two breweries I did visit in Calgary, one was fairly disappointing and the other was exceptional and quite impressive. WIld Rose Brewing is a larger brewery and sounded like they had some interesting beers but I finished about half of the total tasters because some were not for me. The smaller brewery, The Dandy Brewing, was excellent almost across the board and set my bar so high that when I went to breweries in Seattle the following day, some of the hyped breweries, while solid, didn’t live up to the same standards.
At Wild Rose I tried 8 tasters. Of those, half were tasty. The Velvet Fog was a really tasty beer of half wheat and half pilsner malt that was crisp and delicious with lots of nice notes of spice and citrus while keeping everything very balanced. This was one of the best beers of the bunch and I expect it is quite popular. The Electric Avenue was a fairly standard lager with some floral hop notes. Cowbell Kettle Sour is a tasty light alcohol sour with lots of fruit, citrus, and lime, with a strong tart finish. The lime comes on strong from the use of lime leaves. The Wraspberry ale was not very tasty at all and while it had some smooth raspberry flavor it also often tasted like cough syrup. It might be better mixed together with the kettle sour.
The Barracks Brown was also not really my thing. Brown ales in general tend to be lacking in flavor and this one was also strongly smoky. The IPA was fairly standard old-school bitter-forward IPA with a strong malt backbone. As it warmed up it exhibited some solid darnk and resinous qualities. Alberta Crude was a solid porter with a good amount of roast and some bitter chocolate. The Maibock was way too sticky sweet, exhibited notes of over ripe fruit and rasins and was quite boozy in the finish. I did not drink much of this. The other two seasonal beers, the Session Pale and Belgian Pale were both tasty versions of the style. The Session Pale has some solid galaxy hop flavors and the Belgian Pale exhibits lots of spice notes from the Belgian Yeast.
While about half of the beers were disappointing, the highlights were nicely done and would be worth a stop to try the highlights listed below if you are in the area and need some tasty beers. The Velvet Fog would be perfect to fill in a growler for you to take with you out into the mountains.
Cowbell Kettle Sour
The Dandy Brewing
More recently I have been a much bigger fan of small breweries and The Dandy was a good example of why. Though they seem to have already out grown their fairly small tasting room, the wait wasn’t terrible and the beers were delicious. I tried a taster of everything they had available and had a pint of my favorite after I finished because it was so tasty. I also enjoyed meeting with a number of locals at the bar and hearing about their experiences.
The English Pale was the most juicy English style ale I have ever had and was super fruity with tons of apricot from the hops and some smooth caramel malts at the back. My husband even liked this one and he rarely likes anything besides stouts. The Oyster Stout was smooth with a nice mix of caramel and roast, a solid stout, though not as complex as the Alberta Crude at Wild Rose. The Hawkeye Pierce single hop pale was super juicy and not bitter with notes of grapefruit and melon. This and the English Pale were favorites for me and many of the other people around as well.
The saison was nice and earthy with fruity notes and tons of flavor for the low alcohol. The Fusion Extra Pale was nice with floral hops that balanced nicely with peach and melon. The English Summer Ale is an interesting companion to the English Pale, really smooth with notes of floral hops and hints of peach. The TZE IPA was the most bitter of the bunch but had some light citrus kick to it. It is a solid IPA as well.
Everything at The Dandy was tasty with the highlights below that were extra impressive. They clearly have learned the modern way of making delicious juicy hoppy beers and just to make clean flavorful beers. I’m excited to see what they come up with in the future and I can see they will make some great things.
Hawkeye Pierce Single Hop Pale
English Summer Ale
In San Diego most new breweries aren’t going to get very far without an IPA unless they focus exclusively on sours and wild ales. Burning Beard has been open for a few months and has already attracted a large following thanks to a solid lineup of hoppy beers and a punk vibe that comes through in the beer names, the logo, and the music played at the tasting room. Located in a small industrial area just outside the center of El Cajon, and not too far from the 52 freeway, on a busy day you will likely find yourself parking on the street but once inside you are greeted by the smiles of the various beertenders who all know their beers and are led by Shannon Lynnette, whose involvement as tasting room manager instantly signals to her friend and fans that the beers are going to be awesome. Many locals know her from her time at Alesmith.
Side note and disclaimer: I was not charged for the eight tasters that I will discuss in this post thanks to the awesome hospitality of Shannon and the newest member of her team. However, I will be giving them the same treatment as I would any other brewery. I have not been in any way obligated to give them a positive review.
This was actually my second visit to the brewery, after I made the drive out a month earlier only to realize my cold left me unable to smell and thus unable to experience the hops they pull off so well. Though I couldn’t experience their beers that day, trusting Shannon’s recommendations and a super fresh IPA I came home with a crowler (32 ounce can to go) of their Hopmata IPA. A few days later, when my senses had returned, I opened the crowler and posted on Instagram, “Delicious IPA with tangerine notes and super sticky and dank, very impressive IPA.” At the time when I opened the crowler the beer had been only on tap for four days and the freshness was noticeable. Some responded to my post on Facebook and indicated that they preferred the Dankness Visible IPA and I can see why and will explain below now that I have tried it.
On this most recent trip I stuck mostly to the hoppy beers with the exception of the saison and the imperial stout. The coffee stout they have was out at the moment, which was the beer my husband preferred when we stopped by the first time. I tasted the pilsner, rye pale, ESB, Circle of Hops pale ale, saison, Dankness Visible IPA, Hopmata IPA, and Insoc imperial stout. Starting a tasting with a pilsner I have rarely experienced one so flavorful and delicious. To me there are two things that set apart a good pilsner, one is the clean pilsner malt and the other is the right amount of hop character to balance it out. This had both with notes of fruit and floral hops that balanced nicely with the slightly sweet pilsner malts. I later ended up ordering a pint of this beer before I left.
The rye pale was a solid pale with notes of tangerine, lemon, and melon from the hops and a nice mild bitterness on the end. The ESB was super smooth and delicious with a great caramel malt backbone and a light apricot hop flavor that is detectable but stays back to avoid overpowering the rest. There are a handful of local breweries that have impressed me with their ESBs but Burning Beard joins the group. It is no surprise to me that this beer recently won first place at a beer festival. Circle of Hops is the more traditional pale of the bunch, offering a chewy malt backbone and with hops primarily providing bitterness with some dank and sticky character coming in at the end. Of these first four, the pilsner and ESB stood out for me though many people around were really digging the Circle of Hops.
The saison is super fruity with notes of banana, pineapple, and ripe tropical fruit with just a light funk behind it all. The beer had none of the traditional pepper or earthy notes that can sometimes make a saison. Before I describe the two IPAs I should note that the Dankness visible was noticeably the fresher of the two so that gave it an edge at the time. Both IPAs have distinct hop profiles that may appeal to different people. The Dankness Visible is super dank and has lots of pine and resin notes. I really enjoyed the balance of flavors here and the hops were strong and in your face without making the beer too bitter. The Hopmata IPA is more fruity and sticky with notes of mango and tropical fruit and a slight wheat malt flavor to it. This one was a bit more bitter of the two but still a very tasty IPA.
The Insoc imperial stout is primarily bitter and roasty with notes of dark fruit dominating. I tend to prefer more chocolate or coffee notes in my imperial stouts and more sweetness so I wasn’t too big on this. My husband, who also prefers more chocolate and coffee in his stouts wasn’t huge on this one either. It is clearly well made but not the type of stout I would order much of. After tasting my 8 tasterts and sipping on a pint of the pilsner, I was ready to head back home so I picked up a crowler of the Dankness visible to have in a few days. I don’t usually do a lot of growler fills with breweries but I can see myself stopping by when I’m in the area fairly regularly to bring home some of their delicious IPAs. It is nice to see a small brewery offering crowler fills since you don’t have to worry about bringing your growler with you to stop by for beer to go.
I should also note that while I really enjoy Burning Beard, they are most impressive for their hoppy beers. They do have a few tasty Belgian style offerings as well as the stouts and are working on some sours so that eventually they will truly have something for everyone. For a brewery that has been open only a few short months they clearly fill a void for the locals in the area who filled up the place as early as 4PM on a Thursday. The place does have quite an echo so when it is crowded it can be difficult to hear the music under the roar of all the talking but it doesn’t get so loud to make it uncomfortable and they do have a section of outdoor seating if it gets to be a problem. They also regularly have food trucks during the evenings so keep an eye on their Facebook page to see if a food truck interests you.
One of the interesting things about the Beer Bloggers’ Conference was getting us to write about beers as we taste them. But for those of you who weren’t following along on Twitter, lets take a look at how this looked to someone following the feed.
Getting ready for some live beer blogging. Hope it keeps things interesting. #bbc14#craftbeer
The Lost Abbey Deliverance was an amazingly delicious beer. It combined two different styles of beers and had one of them aged in bourbon barrels. If you want a chance to drink those bourbon-barrel-aged beers at home this might be worth the extra high price.
Rough draft brought their session ipa. Nice to compare to green flash session. #bbc14#craftbeer
The Mexican Hot Chocolate style stout really tasted very different than all the other stouts Stone has put out so far. Stone brought this for us in their modern-looking growlers you can now get at the tasting room. This collaboration beer will be available in 22oz bottles in stores starting September 8, 2014.
Rogue brought a marionberry beer for us to try. Not really grabbing me right now. Thick malt flavors. #bbc14#craftbeer
We were blessed with so many breweries showing off their bourbon barrel aged beers. I have seen this becoming popular lately but I am not sure that you can easily go back to more subtly flavored beers after something so strong.
If you enjoyed my post about live blogging, consider following me on Twitter where you can see all the photos I take on Instagram and possibly catch my next live blogging attempt.
Main Street brewing has been around even less than Brassneck. They opened in June of this year so they had only been open a month when i stopped by. They weren’t as crowded as Brassneck but still had a good number of people around when I stopped by. Main Street differentiates themselves with their four casks. Unlike most breweries that can only have one beer on cask at a time, they have room for four different casks. I tried the pilsner, session IPA on cask, brown ale on cask, southern hop IPA, and brown ale on tap.
The pilsner was pretty much what you would expect from the style. The Session IPA on cask had some added Australian hops. It was a nice light citrus beer. The brown ale on cask was very delicious, perfectly smoothed out for an easy-drinking beer. I compared it with the tap version thanks to someone sitting next to me and noticed immediately the added bitterness and hop flavor from the tap version. The regular brown ale had just enough hop flavor that it was pretty much a delicious ESB. I ended up ordering more of this one once I was all done.
Finally, the southern hopped IPA was pretty mellow with a light amount of bitterness and some small citrus flavors. It was a bit lighter on the flavor than I might expect from a 6.5% IPA but it wasn’t bad. I still preferred the brown ale with the perfect balance of malts and hops and overall great flavor.
Main Street’s four casks help draw people back into the brewery regularly. Casks tend to only last two days before they have to be taken off so with four different casks, there are many ways they can mix things up to get people to keep coming back. I was not expecting to like the brown ale so much but I am always glad to find a brown ale that hits the right flavor profile. Considering the how short this brewery has been open, it was quite impressive. I hope they stick around.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post indicated that the brewery was older than Brassneck but they were in fact opened more recently. Thanks to Mike for commenting and clearing that up.