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Flights Beer Bar

Central California

Taking a self-guided craft beer tour of the East Bay

This self-guided tour is from the second day of a five day craft beer tour I took in February. Day one consisted of visits to Bakersfield, Fresno and Turlock which provided breweries to stop at along California Highway 99. This segment of the tour can be picked up along Interstate 5 or Highway 99.

The breweries and brewpubs visited on this leg of the trip are Main Street Brewery in Pleasanton, Jack’s Brewing Company in San Ramon, Drake’s Barrel House in San Leandro and Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma. While the first three locations are considered part of San Francisco’s East Bay, Petaluma is definitely not part of the East Bay, but you should not let that get in the way; as you follow the rest of the tour it will make sense. All of the photos and the review of these locations can be found at http://craftbeerguy.com/main-street-jacks-drakes-lagunitas-russian-river/.


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Craft breweries along the 101: From Paso Robles to Agoura Hills

Day two of our craft beer tour started where we left off, Paso Robles. We knew that Firestone Walker would be a definite stop as the visitor’s center and brewery store would provide brews that we could not obtain at the taproom the previous night. Not wanting to appear too eager, we decided to see what else was available in Paso Robles that was open and new to us. We had places we wanted to revisit, like BarrelHouse Brewing, but no one seemed to open before 2:00 and I did not have that kind of time to spend in Paso that day. Tanya found the Downtown Brewing Company brewpub on her phone, so we headed over there only to discover that they were currently in a transition as far as brewing is concerned. Apparently they were brewing off-site but are preparing to begin brewing there; but that will not happen for another three months. They appeared to have a nice tap list but the same could be said for pretty much any bar I noticed in the area. We said farewell and headed back over to Firestone Walker’s visitor’s center.

While the Paso Taproom Restaurant offers many great options; we really wanted to pick up a few bottles that were not available at the taproom, such as XVII Anniversary, Parabola and Lil Opal. We were also able to sample a couple beers that we did not have time to try the night before. I do not think you can tell just how massive the Firestone Walker operation is after dark. The taproom/restaurant and the visitor’s center is maybe half of the operation. When walking around the facility we discovered several more large buildings including their Keg Shed, a shop for equipment repairs and hidden around the back, their brewery store. The store sells things like hats, shirts and home brewing equipment; it also houses a large cold box that is like the Holy Grail of Firestone Walker. Beers you cannot find elsewhere will be found back here; I highly recommend checking it out. We grabbed a couple bottles of Bretta Rose to bring home. Continue reading

Craft beer from Buellton to Paso Robles

Earlier this week my fiancee and I decided to take an overnight craft beer trip to visit some of the breweries and brewpubs that we missed when we did our tour back in February. The reason was two-fold; one was that I had some reward points from La Quinta Inns that were going to expire and my fiancee has developed an affinity for barrel-aged beers and there were a lot at Firestone Walker that she wanted to sample and purchase. Who am I to deprive her of such deliciousness; after all, happy wife, happy life.

We started off by heading to Solvang Brewing Company, a brewpub located in downtown Solvang. It has been a couple years since I went there but at the time they were just opening and were not yet brewing their own beer. I figured it would be a good stop because we could try some new brews while getting some food at the same time. When we do these craft beer tours we rely a lot on the Internet and there is nothing that irritates me more than to discover that a brewery has ignored the importance of the Internet. Especially since California is a craft beer destination; simple matters like ensuring the correct information is listed on Google Places as well as correct information on their websites. The reason I mention this with Solvang Brewing is that Google Places said they did not open until 5:00 PM whereas the Solvang Brewing website clearly stated that they are open seven days a week from 11:00 AM until 2:00 AM. I was more than a little irritated when we arrived around 1:00 PM to discover that on Wednesdays they do not open until 4:00 PM! It will probably be a while before I give them another chance. Continue reading

Taking a self-guided craft beer tour of California Highway 99

This particular self-guided craft beer tour will be a five (5) part series that covers a visit to 22 production breweries and brewpubs between Los Angeles and Santa Rosa. Let there be no mistake, there are far more than 22 craft breweries in that geographical area but we had a set amount of time. It was another of those “so many beers, so little time” situations. When I set out from LA there were three basic routes to take; I could drive Interstate 5 which is definitely the fastest route but the desert is a barren wasteland when it comes to craft beer. Taking US 101 up the coast takes significantly longer than I-5, but there are barrels and barrels of beer all along the way and if time is of any importance, there are far too many distractions. The third option and the one I opted to take was California Highway 99. When I opted to take 99 I knew the drive would take a little longer, but I also know that I would be able to find some craft beer along the way. This particular route was set going northbound, but you can easily reverse the map provided below and plug in your own starting point.

The locations visited on this leg of the self-guided craft beer tour were Lengthwise Brewing in Bakersfield, Full Circle Brewing Company in Fresno and Dust Bowl Brewing Company in Turlock. You can find the photos of the three locations at http://craftbeerguy.com/lengthwise-full-circle-dust-bowl-brewing/.


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Breweries of California’s Central Coast

Sunday we arose to another drizzly morning and a desire to get home by day’s end. Since it was a Sunday the availability of brewpubs in the immediate area was limited and we did not feel like waiting around for them to open so we headed south. There were a lot of breweries to choose from in the area and we decided to check out BarrelHouse Brewing Company, a microbrewery in Paso Robles. I have to say, of the 19 breweries and brewpubs we visited over the course of five days, BarrelHouse was the nicest aesthetically; and they had some wonderful brews.

BarrelHouse Brewing is getting ready to celebrate their first year of business, but the quality of their brews certainly seems to indicate that they have had lots of practice. We ordered a flight of all eight beers, ranging from their BarrelHouse Templeton Session Style Ale Kölsch to their BarrelHouse Harvest Ale Spiced Brown Porter. I have to say, all of their beers were well done with their unfiltered IPA being my personal favorite. Tanya liked them all so much that she purchased bottles of everything they had available. When I looked at the information about their upcoming one year celebration I am tempted to head back up there. We had a very nice time there.

After loading the beers in the trunk and the dogs in the car we headed off to Dunbar Brewing, a microbrewery in Santa Margarita. One of my cousins has a nephew that works there and I was looking forward to trying out their brews. As it turns out, Dunbar Brewing recently went through some renovation and they had none of their brews available. Luckily, they had a pretty nice guest tap list in the interim so I got a Matt’s Burning Rosids, an Imperial Saison created by Stone Brewing Company in honor of Matt Courtright, an employee that recently died due to an accident at the brewery. It was quite tasty, I am sure Matt would have enjoyed it. Everyone at Dunbar seemed quite friendly, but this trip was about sampling beers brewed at the brewery itself, so we will have to return later. Continue reading

San Francisco Beer Week 2014 February 7-16

When I agreed to go up to Santa Rosa for Drew at Decoding the Craft, I really did not know or realize just how many events were going on at the same time as the Pliny the Younger release at Russian River Brewing. There was the Double IPA Festival and the San Francisco Beer Week 2014 (SF Beer Week 2014) started on Friday, the day of the Pliny release. I would have liked to go into The City to check out some events, but it was always raining and it would not be fair to the dogs to deal with city life in the rain. It was decided that we would do our own SF Beer Week 2014 tour; we just stayed on the other side of the bridge.

Since we wanted to start off with a destination that included food, we started off at Marin Brewing Company, a brewpub in Larkspur. I will admit, I was a little apprehensive at first because my limited experience with them wasn’t very positive; but when Tanya read the menu from their website we decided to head over there. I do not know if it is because it was raining or the weekend or it is just always like that, but parking was pretty difficult. I saw a sign for free valet, but with the dogs I did not think it would go over well. They are located in what I would describe as a boutique shopping center; as it was raining, I did not exactly look around, so just my first wet impressions.

The place itself is huge and looks pretty upscale. We got a flight to share and I was immediately glad we made this stop; their flights offered a wide selection from their Broken Cherry sour ale and E.S. Chi spiced beer to their San Quentin’s Breakout Stout and Brass Knuckle Double IPA. They all ranked from good to amazing; the food was not bad either. We should have ordered more chili. Continue reading

Pliny the Younger release & exploring Santa Rosa & Sebastopol

I heard there was this drought going on up here; I even saw signs along the highway asking me to “Pray for rain!” I am not sure how long it is going to last but it has been raining non-stop since we got here and the residents up here seem to be enjoying it. It has made for an interesting challenge taking external photos with water coming down at every angle. Anyway, Friday morning was the Pliny the Younger release at Russian River Brewing and because of friends I was able to get in with the first group of Pliny fans and I got my 10 ounces of the 2014 Pliny the Younger. I also got to meet some good people and participate in the atmosphere that only an event like day one of a Pliny release can generate. There was a long line of people that wound around two blocks a couple hours before we could come in. It was cold and wet but people seemed very eager to get their taste. I hope they did.

After I had my beer I went back to get Tanya and we went off exploring the area for breweries we had never heard of. Our first stop was Woodfour Brewing Company, a brewpub in Sebastopol. While it was a little difficult to find, it was worth the wet walk. We had a nice flight that ranged from everything from a Berliner Weisse and Sour Farmhouse Ale to a stout and an Imperial Black Ale. They have only been open six months but had a good selection.

A few hundred feet across the way was a microbrewery tasting room, Warped Brewing Company. Warped Brewing was one of the few tasting rooms we have come across; as most breweries are opening brewpubs, apparently for the tourists . . . or zoning. I guess it depends who you ask. It doesn’t take long to figure out these guys like their video games. As far as the beer, the tasting room has only been open four weeks but owner/brewer Noah has been brewing for a while and owns a local restaurant. They currently offer three quality beers; you should check out their Orbital Outrage if you get the chance. Continue reading

The Road to Pliny

A couple weeks ago I was visiting Smog City Brewing when I got into a conversation with a guy, Drew Murphy, that I learned was in the process of putting together a project, Decoding the Craft, which is essentially going to be a series of video documentaries on the craft beer scene. His plans include visiting various craft breweries and brewpubs around the United States and Europe; as well as filming various craft beer events. The next one that he wanted to cover was the Pliny the Younger release at Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa. He was looking for a backup photographer and it turned out he was somewhat familiar with me and my photography work. One thing led to another and it was decided that I would come up to Santa Rosa for the Pliny release. Over the course of time, issues started to arise and several of the people initially involved backed out. I decided that I wanted to help Drew make this happen so I committed to going up to Santa Rosa, no matter what. On Wednesday I left L.A. and headed up California Highway 99 and found several nice breweries and brewpubs along the way. This morning we started day two of our journey in the rain as we headed towards the coast.

Our first stop was Main Street Brewery, a brewpub in Pleasanton. Main Street Brewery has been open for 18 years, which means that their beer styles are more old school than the typical “West Coast” hoppiness we find so much in Southern California. We enjoyed a salad while there, it was pretty good. While there we asked for some recommendations of other locations we should visit and were directed to The Hop Yard in San Ramon. As it turns out it is a gastropub, and while they had a very nice tap list, this weekend is all about going to the source. We decided to move on and found ourselves at Jack’s Brewing Company, also in San Ramon.

Jack’s has two locations; the sports bar and pub in San Ramon with the actual brewery and tasting room being in Fremont. We had just eaten so we shared a flight of some very well-rounded brews; I may have to consider stopping by their tasting room on the way home. Since it was getting into mid-afternoon and we still had a few hours of travel ahead of us we worked our way towards San Leandro and the famous Drake’s Barrel House. Drake’s Barrel House is the tasting room for Drake’s Brewing and definitely worth the stop. They have lots of their specialty beers that you are not going to find at any bottle shop or gastropub in the South Bay area anyway. It was there that I got my 1,000 badge on Untappd with their Jolly Rodger 2012 (Bourbon Barrel Aged). It was a very good stop. While I was there I happened to run into South Bay local craft beer drinkers James and Lisa; we had seen each other around local breweries, but had never really talked. Craft beer brought us together in a way that would pay off later. Continue reading

Craft breweries of California Hwy 99

Since I was going up to Santa Rosa for a project about the Pliny the Younger release, I decided to leave a little early and see what craft beers I could discover along the way. I could have taken the easy route and gone along the 101 but there are so many quality brewers within the first 200 miles I would never make it on time. Instead, I decided to travel up CA Hwy 99 through Central California. I do not really travel Hwy 99 much so I did not know what to expect. I decided that my first destination would be Lengthwise Brewing, a brewpub in Bakersfield since it is a couple hours out from the beach and some food would be a good thing. We tried a flight and really enjoyed their Harvest Moon Wheat Ale (although not sure why they added the lemon slice) and Kern County Crude Porter. They also brewed root beer which was quite tasty. They gave me a taste of their new Zeus Imperial Ale which was a very smooth Double IPA; I had to get a bottle. We also had a chicken salad that was great. I don’t know the name, but had artichoke hearts with it and was big enough for the two of us. It was a great start for our journey.

A couple hours north we found ourselves at Full Circle Brewing Company, a microbrewery in Fresno right off the 99. Full Circle has been around about 15 years and is probably Fresno’s best kept secret. I could go on and on about what a great time we had there, the 12 different brews on tap going back to 2006, the meads and the hospitality but suffice it to say, you owe it to yourself to stop by and check this place out. The owner and head brewer Bill will tell you all about beer and its history and beertender Kenny will ensure you have a great time. It really was a highlight of the day.

Another 100 miles north and we ended up in Turlock and Dust Bowl Brewing Company, another brewpub. This was a really cool location with a lot of history about the Dust Bowl and the migration of farmers to Central California. I’d like to go back just to check it out for the history aspect. We got there a little before they closed so the kitchen was not available to us, but the beer was. I let their manager Nick put together a flight for me as they had too many choices and not enough time. Their Hops of Wrath IPA was definitely the best IPA of the day and made for a good ending to a fun day. Continue reading

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