Friday, 24 February 2012


Our trip to San Francisco is over now, but I wanted to blog about our trip to Oakland on Saturday night after the Barleywine Festival. You would have thought that 20+ barleywines would have been enough, but after a pint of mild at Magnolia (albeit one that was served carbonated and icy cold – I let it warm up a bit before I got into it) and a nap back in the hotel room, we were ready to go again.

If you’re not familiar with the geography of the Bay Area, San Francisco and Oakland sit on opposite sides of the Bay, linked together by the Bay Bridge (a much longer and more impressive structure than the Golden Gate, I reckon – after all, it just seems to link the city to some fishing villages in the North Bay… great.). You can drive between Oakland and San Francisco by land, via San Jose, but it takes a long time. The reason for that long-winded lesson is that as it was President’s Day, the Bay Bridge was closed for repair, so the trip to Oakland was either a long drive or another ride on the BART. We chose the latter.

Oakland is a big city in its own right – less glamorous and affluent than SF, and we were warned that it was a bit edgier at night too, which was borne out by a loud and aggressive argument that seemed to be raging across the road when we got out of the BART station. Just to be on the safe side, we kept our heads down and walked quickly.

We were headed for Beer Revolution - ten blocks from the BART, on the other side of the freeway and next door to, of all things, a vegan soul food restaurant. Of all the bars I’ve been to on the trip, Beer Revolution felt the most instantly familiar – busy and bustling atmosphere, a terrace for al fresco drinking, fridges full of bottles that you can browse like the Cask Pub and Kitchen in Pimlico… There was even an absolutely hammered patron doing her best to annoy her fellow drinkers (at one point she told me I wasn’t the King in Oakland, which was at least accurate) – just like home!

Part of the charm of the place is its idiosyncratic nature. When they first opened, they started with four taps, but with time and success they’ve added new lines all over the place – as a result, you can never tell where your beer’s going to be poured from, with taps on the side of the bar, the front, the back – everywhere. Tonight’s beers were billed as an ‘LA Tap Takeover’, with a few kegs left over from their Bruery showcase on the Friday night. I’ve tried The Bruery’s tasty Saison Rue before and liked it, so I went for their Burly Gourd – billed on the boards as a milk stout with spices. What I got was a slightly peppery, cinnamon flavour and an oddly syrupy character instead of the smooth sweetness that you usually get from a milk stout. I’ve subsequently looked on their site and they refer to it as more of a pumpkin beer… I’d go along with that – it’s definitely nothing like any milk stout I’ve ever drunk!

The incredible tap selection at Beer Revolution - spot the piecemeal-added taps!
When you come to a place with more than 40 beers on tap and hundreds of possibilities in the fridges, the temptation is often to stick with breweries you know or to work through countless tasters before you settle on something. So for the next beer, I took a recommendation and ended up with a pint of Golden Road’s Point the Way IPA. I’d never seen their beers anywhere before, but was really impressed by the subtlety of this. It had the big citrussy hop aroma that you would expect from a Californian IPA, along with a little bit of blackcurrant, but it was much lighter in body and with a slightly creamy roundness to the bitterness at the end - not so much as to make it all too bland though. The Golden Road website claims that ‘New Zealand hops’ are the key – I’d guess at Nelson Sauvin in the pint I had – and I would happily drink this again. I think sometimes the temptation for brewers is to go more extreme with IPAs – massive bitterness, double IPAs, triple IPAs, round after round of dry-hopping – but in this case, to use a cliché, a little bit less gives you more.

After an hour or so of debating what to take from Beer Revolution’s fridges, I settled on a bottle of Evil Twin’s Biscotti Break – a porter made with coffee, vanilla and almonds. And yes, I am aware that it was brewed in Scandinavia, but I’ve never seen it in London and I love his beer. Mel gifted me one of the craziest things I’ve seen all week – Oskar Blues Ten Fidy, a 10.5% imperial stout sold in a can. Even writing that makes my mind bend. I look forward to cracking them back in London.

Finally, Mel’s friend Andrei shared the night’s piece de resistance with us – a Swiss sour called Abbeye de Saint Bon Chien 2010. As I’ve mentioned previously, my knowledge of sours could fit onto a postage stamp, but this was wonderful – bit of a funky aroma, slightly dry, clean gooseberry-type flavour, and very refreshing. As close to, say, an Austrian Gruner Veltliner wine as I’ve tasted in a beer. I must drink more sours in the coming year if they’re as good as this.

Brasserie Franches-Montagnes' Abbey de Saint Bon Chien 2010

I’m glad we went to the trouble of coming all the way over to the East Bay – the chance to sample a new brewery’s drinks should always be taken - I’ll be looking out for more from Golden Road in the future. If you ever happen to be in the Oakland area, give Beer Revolution a visit.


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