Like the temperature, the east bay's craft beer scene is on the rise.
Tips from Berkeley’s Ashley Routson, author of The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer: An Unpretentious Guide to Craft Beer.
by Rachelle Cihonski
1. Where do I start? How can I tell if a beer is going to be light or dark?
Know your basic beer styles: Porters and stouts are darker; anything with the word pale will range from straw yellow to deep orange; a pilsner will be yellow or golden; and a traditional Belgian means the beer will typically be hazy, whether it’s light or dark.
2. Bottle or draft?
Draft is usually fresher and comes directly from the keg. Kegged beer gets that extra mix of CO2 the moment it’s released, which means extra carbonation, making it seem crisper and more refreshing. Kegs also keep out the stuff beer hates: light, heat, and oxygen.
3. So does a lighter-colored beer mean I’m saving calories?
Calories have nothing to do with the color of beer. In fact, a lot of dark beers are low calorie. For fewer calories, choose the beer with the lowest alcohol content since it takes more sugar to create more alcohol.
4. What does it mean when a beer is “hoppy”?
Hops are primarily known for their bitter, mouth-numbing, palate-drying effect—but they also have the ability to impart some unique and interesting flavors into beer.
5. Help! I’m a wine drinker. What do I order?
A Belgian beer: They often have a fruitlike tendency. If you like white wine, go for a Belgian witte. It tends to be drier on the tongue, with fruity flavors. If you like red wine, try a Flemish red or Belgian dubbel.
Find the new beer bar that's right for you.
by Kristen Haney
Caps and Taps
Opened: March 2013
Vibe: Mellow drinking at the picnic-style benches but with lots of opportunities for beer nerds to geek out over hard-to-find local brews.
Who goes: After-work warriors and middle-aged locals who’ve made it their de facto hangout—with or without their significant others.
Bonus: Buy Your Friends a Beer program, tracked on a chalkboard wall.
Dublin, (925)248-2139, capsandtapsdublin.com.
Diving Dog Brewhouse
Opened: October 2014
Vibe: If it’s busy, order a pint from a recognizable California brewery. Save grilling the beer-tenders for slower nights: When they’re slammed, they veer toward impatience with wishy-washy patrons.
Who goes: First-daters trying to break the ice, groups of bearded guys in various shades of plaid flannel, and overflow from the Fox Theater on concert nights.
Bonus: Guided on-site group and individual brewing sessions.
Oakland, (510) 306-1914, divingdogbrew.com.
The Good Hop
Opened: June 2014
Vibe: An off-the-main-drag beer bar and bottle shop that brings in limited edition brews from across the country, with quick service and few crowds.
Who goes: Twentysomethings who insist they’re trying to escape the hipster crowd while dressed in oversized glasses and skinny jeans.
Bonus: The impressive refrigerated Wall o’ Beer in the back.
Oakland, (510) 338-6598, thegoodhop.com.
The Hop Grenade Taproom and Bottle shop
Opened: July 2014
Vibe: Bright and friendly, with loads of outdoor seating, plus a digital menu that tracks when hard-to-find kegs are getting low.
Who goes: Young parents able to hook a babysitter, beer buffs with the requisite beards to match, and
a refreshing number of women interested in hops.
Bonus: Live recordings of The Brewing Network’s radio shows.
Concord, (925) 332-7354, thehopgrenade.com.
Sierra Nevada Torpedo Room
Opened: November 2013
Vibe: Floor-to-ceiling windows and taster pours of small-batch beers, which promote discussion with the well-versed and talkative bar staff.
Who goes: Beer neophytes lured in by the location, groups of grad students, and relaxed parents with no problem letting their kids wander around inside while they sip.
Bonus: Growlers for taking hard-to-find Sierra Nevada beers to go.
Price: $1.75–$3.50 for four-ounce pours, $3.50–$5.50 for eight ounces.
Berkeley, (510) 647-3439, sierranevada.com.
Three Sheets Craft Beer Bar
Opened: November 2014
Vibe: Like drinking in a friend’s noisy, 3,000-square-foot garage, with corn hole, shuffleboard, sports on TV, and a retractable back wall that rolls up to welcome food trucks.
Who goes: Couples who can convince their teens to be designated drivers, and jock types who live for the thrill of winning at lawn games.
Bonus: Free wi-fi for anyone who needs to “work.”
Dublin, (925) 361-5724, threesheetscraftbeer.com.
Oldies but Goodies
Percent of people who correctly pronounce Walnut Creek’s ØL Beercafe and Bottle Shop.
Number of signatures on the walls of Tap 25 in Livermore.
Years that Livermore’s Schenone Building, which now houses Beer Baron, has served as a watering hole.
Belgian knickknacks lining the walls and nooks of The Trappist in Oakland.
The number of beers you have to drink to be added to the House of Lords at Barclay’s in Oakland.
An estimate of the number of people who have drunk 100 beers to get their names on the wall at Pete’s Brass Rail and Car Wash in Danville.
Acres owned by Pleasanton Hop Company in the early 1900s, which inspired the name for Pleasanton and San Ramon’s The Hop Yard.
The rough number of cans on the wall at Livermore’s First Street Alehouse—the largest publicly displayed beer can collection in the U.S.
Sample from the source at these suburban taprooms.
by Kristen Haney
Altamont Beer Works
Livermore | Locals, often with dogs or kids in tow, come in droves to the brightly colored tasting room—especially on weekends, when a food truck specializing in BBQ or dumplings sets up outside. Order a flight of up to six samples, and sip the beers across from a mural of Altamont Pass windmills. (925) 443-2337, altamontbeerworks.com.
Order this: Hella Hoppy Double IPA.
Black Diamond Brewing Co.
Concord | You won’t stumble upon this brewery located in a business park off Highway 4, but the tasting room feels more cozy than industrial, thanks to wooden paneling, hidden brew equipment, and a steady stream of locals. Mix and match tasting-size pours from the mirror-backed bar for a customized flight, or settle in with a 16-ounce mug, and catch the game on two TVs. (925) 356-0120, blackdiamondbrew.com.
Order this: White Witch IPA.
Eight Bridges Brewing Co.
Livermore | Inside this family-run brewery, equipment takes up the back two-thirds of the high-ceilinged building, and a roomy tasting area—complete with light-up beer signs for sale—occupies the front. Order a tasting paddle of four beers, and try your hand at one of the old-school board games while you drink. (925) 961-9160, eightbridgesbrewing.com.
Order this: O’Beardsley’s Stout.
E.J. Phair Brewing Company
Pittsburg | This brewery features an expansive taproom with comfy couches and two indoor barns for sequestered drinking, plus the occa-sional live music night. While the 14 taps have traditionally been the main draw (grab a sampler of five), a new wood-fired oven churns out can’t-miss organic pizzas with house-made crusts and sauces. (925) 427-7204, ejphair.com.
Order this: Silly Horse Session IPA.
San Ramon | At this relaxed taproom off Alcosta, select a pint or flight of four samples of the 10 house brews—many named after East Bay landmarks—and bring it to the outdoor seating area. Or post up at the L-shaped bar, which was made by the owners from reclaimed wood. (925) 327-0700, schubrosbrewery.com.
Order this: Inverness Wee Heavy bourbon-barrel–aged Scottish-style ale.
Working Man Brewing Company
Livermore | This tiny microbrewery’s tasting experience is all about the extra touches: the small, curved wood bar trimmed with hammered copper, plentiful hooks for purses, and wood-burned tasting paddles that fit your choice of four samples. You can also pick up a leftover bottle of Sauced’s Dirty Little Pig: Working Man makes the beers for the Livermore BBQ restaurant. (925) 269-9622, workingmanbrewing.com.
Order this: Vision of Confluence Belgian Quad.
—Mess with the flight order: Your paddle is arranged so you don’t kill your tastebuds.
—Eat the provided snacks: They help cleanse the palate between beers.
—Spit out the beer. There’s no spit bucket for a reason.
Alcohol by volume, or how quickly it will get you drunk. High ABV beers also tend to be sweeter.
A generic term for a 22-ounce bottle of beer.
Pronounced brett-TAN-oh-MY-seize, it’s a wild yeast that adds complex, funky flavors to beer—ranging from tropical fruit to barnyard.
International Bittering Units. Basically, the higher the IBU (found on menus and sometimes on beer labels), the more bitter the beer is going to taste.
Draft beer that is carbonated with a mix of carbon dioxide and nitrogen (versus all carbon dioxide), and served through a special tap to produce a thick and creamy head. Think Guinness.
A lighter beer typically low in alcohol, such as Altamont Beer Works’ Left Coast Session, that’s sometimes referred to as a “lawnmower” beer for its thirst-quenching, easy-drinking properties.
A Belgian-style spiced wheat beer that’s unfiltered, with a pale, cloudy appearance.
Four industry insiders on the east bay brewing scene.
by Kristen Haney and Katie Henry
• The Grande Dame of Publicans, former owner of Lyons Brewery Depot.
Where: The Growler, Danville
Q: How has the local beer scene changed since you started?
A: I used to have to teach everyone who came into my pub about craft beer. Now, there is a whole new generation of beer drinkers that has never seen a Bud in a fridge. They are learning from their parents, who learned from me, and they are teaching their kids.
Q: What about this area makes it a great place for craft beer?
A: Now, there is such a demand for craft beer, and not just in pubs. If a restaurant wants to be in demand, they have to have a good beer list. But the real heroes are the brewmasters. There is a passion that has been reignited.
• Founder of The Brewing Network, co-owner of The Hop Grenade.:
Where: The Hop Grenade, Concord
Q: What’s been most rewarding about opening in the East Bay?
A: The response from the people. People were literally standing at the door waiting for us to open. And it’s mostly locals, which is great. The biggest compliment I get is when people come in and thank us for helping to bring a great beer scene to Concord.
Q: What’s a trend you’re excited about?
A: Session IPAs. For a long time, everyone was making the biggest IPA they could, but now, a lot of those brewers are using the same hop techniques to make a more “sessionable” beer. So now, you can get a 4 percent beer with a lot of hop character.
• Founder of the East Bay Beer blog, beer director for the CommonWealth pubs.
Where: CommonWealth Micropub, Emeryville
Q: Why do you think the East Bay is seeing more beer bars and breweries?
A: I think that’s just the mainstreaming of good beer. That person who’s not some kind of foodie or beer nerd is starting to realize that beer isn’t just that fizzy, light, skunky stuff you drank in college.
Q: Have you seen more women getting into beer?
A: There are certainly more women consumers of beer than there used to be. People sometimes ask me, “What can we do to get women to drink more beer?” And I say, “Just make good beer, and wait.” Because it’s happening on its own.
• Cofounder of and brewmaster for 21st Amendment Brewery.
Where: Jupiter, Berkeley
Q: What’s been most exciting about the local beer scene?
A: Consumers becoming more concerned about where our food and beverages are from, and who makes them. There are now so many unique opportunities in this industry, with craft beer becoming an everyday beer for people.
Q: Why did you decide to move 21st Amendment to the East Bay?
A: With the growing demand for our beer in the marketplace, we decided to start up our San Leandro brewery. We’re excited about opening here in our backyard, and San Leandro has been very supportive.
Try these five can't-miss offerings from local breweries.
by Kristen Haney
1. Trumer Pils
Trumer Brauerei (Berkeley)
Calicraft Brewing Co. (Walnut Creek)
Drake’s Brewing Company (San Leandro)
4. Home, Sour Home
The Rare Barrel (Berkeley)
5. Hop Cuvée
West Coast Ale
Bison Organic Brewing (Berkeley)
Ones to Watch
Calicraft Brewing Co.
• Already a big player on the local scene for its buzz-worthy beers, Calicraft hopes to open a tasting room in Shadelands by the end of 2015. A bocce court and a solar-powered beer shed are due to follow in 2016. calicraft.com.
• This upcoming zombie apocalypse–themed brewery is headed by three husband-and-wife teams, and will feature a 10- to 12-tap tasting room pouring doomsday-named beers when it opens in late summer. Bring your own picnic, or visit one of the rotating food trucks while sipping on a Zombrew IPA or Nightshade, a bourbon vanilla stout. epidemicales.com.
Farm Creek Brewing Company
• Slated to open in early summer, this family-owned brewery offers a laid-back atmosphere in an off-the-beaten-path location on Pine Street, with a seven-tap (to start) tasting area right next to the brewing equipment. When up and running, the brewery will have the capacity to produce more than 124,000 gallons of beer a year. farmcreekbrewing.com.
Night out on the town? Try these food and beer pairings.
by Kristen Haney
1. The Dock
Pair this: Foie gras mousse made with Chinese five spice, garlic scapes, cider vinegar, and golden raisins, served with twice-cooked buns.
. . . with this: Crooked Stave St. Bretta Autumn, a sour witbier fermented with 100 percent brettanomyces and aged in large oak casks with blood oranges. Oakland, (510) 338-3965, thedockoakland.com.
2. The Growler
Pair this: Spicy lamb sliders in the Spanish Moroccan tradition, with fried onion straws, a sweet slaw, and a spicy harissa aioli, served with hand-cut Belgian-style fries and a side of citrus gremolata.
. . . with this: Fieldwork Brewing Company’s Torrential Double IPA. It contains a mix of three kinds of hops and is very fruity and bold, but still extremely drinkable. Danville, (925) 984-2706, growlerpubdanville.com.
3. The Pig and the Pickle
Pair this: The Banh-Mi-Torta Hybrid Adventure: Berkshire pork belly, chipotle aioli, bacon mayo, cucumber, pickled cumin carrot, and cilantro on a torta bun.
. . . with this: Ale Industries’ Cherry Kush, a tea beer with tart cherry. Concord, (925) 566-6979, aleindustries.com.
4. Hog’s Apothecary
Pair this: A platter of three house-made sausages (pictured: goats are delicious merguez, infidel curried pork sausage, bratmobile bratwurst) and pretzel with mustard.
. . . with this: The sausages each come with a paired brew. (Pictured: Berryessa Brewing Company’s Whippersnapper mild ale, Social Kitchen and Brewery’s Bad Moon Spell schwarzbier, and HenHouse Brewing Company’s Free Agent pale ale.) Oakland, (510) 338-3847, hogsapothecary.com.
Demystifying the to-go beer containers with Aaron Furtner, alehouse manager for Walnut Creek’s Pyramid Alehouse, which offers severely discounted growlers and fills on Filler Up Fridays. pyramidbrew.com/alehouses/walnut-creek.
What is a growler?
It’s just a refillable container, typically 64 ounces or two liters.
What’s up with the name?
One theory is that back in the late 1800s, people would carry their beer in pails back home from the pub, and as the beer sloshed around, it created a rumbling sound as CO2 escaped from the lid.
Where can you get a growler? Where can you get it filled?
You find them at a lot of different breweries with taprooms, but now beer bars and restaurants are starting to offer them.
I hear there are a lot of rules about filling them…
It used to be that breweries couldn’t fill growlers they didn’t sell. But now all you have to do is have a sticker or growler tag over any outside brewery’s logo, and make sure it states the name and location of the manufacturer, the name of the beer, the ABV if above 5.7%, and the net contents.
Any other rules?
We do have to list ABV and the beer name on there, and we also shrink wrap the top so it’s considered a sealed container in a car.
What are the advantages of a growler over bottles?
Fresher beer—often draft beer tastes the best. On top of that, the growlers are cheaper than bottled beer, and you’re able to get stuff that has some limited availability.
How quickly should you drink the beer?
Not all growlers are created equal, but we recommend drinking an unopened growler within seven to 10 days, and once opened it should be consumed within 36 hours.
Does it need to be stored in the fridge?
Since we’re pouring it cold, it should stay cold. When it goes up severely in temperature, it can create some off flavors.
Are there certain beers that don’t work well in a growler?
They definitely do not make sense for on nitro beers. It’s not going to be that product that you’re looking for.
What’s your favorite Pyramid beer for a growler?
The Outburst Imperial IPA is great for year-round sharing, but when the H7 Imperial IPA comes back in early June, that’s my hands-down favorite.