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Bloody hell, there’s a lot of good alcohol in California.
So, starting in San Diego – the modern home of the IPA! A city with well over 170 breweries to choose from, and fortunately (or unfortunately depending on which way you look at it!) for Mike, it just so happened to be his 30th Birthday while we were in town, and we had some awesome friends in tow for most of our California road tripping.
We began in Coin-Op Arcade in North Park, walking distance from our AirBNB. A great start to make us jealous of the availability of craft in the US vs the UK.
As the name suggests this is an arcade (with Pac Man, pin ball and Tekken), but this one just so happens to be over-21s only, and served 12 different choices for draft craft beer! Happy days! So it was an easy choice to spend some time here, especially as who can resist the urge of a beer pong arcade game?? Seriously, if you like old arcade games and craft beer this is the place for you in North Park. It was practically a tribute to Elusive Brew.
Stone Brewing, was our first full on Californian brewery tour. It puts into practice the American definition of craft being under 6 millions barrels a year. The 9th largest brewery in the US, the size and scale of what they were up to was a site to behold.
Their bargain basement $3 per person group tours at Stone Brewing World over in Escondido gets you a free glass & 4 tasters, so whether you want the history of the company or not… it’s worth doing! We did of course & got the history of the “Arrogant Bastard Ale” & how they have progressed into one of the biggest craft breweries in the USA/the world today. The site they are operating out of is very different to any of the craft breweries we have visited before…they have a full gourmet restaurant, separate bar area and gardens to enjoy, as well as a merch shop bigger than many breweries in the UK (I mean who doesn’t want a branded brewery hammock), it was obvious the business model here is a little different, and the scale of the operation is certainly much bigger than we have become used to.
AleSmith was our next stop – the masters of ‘imperial’ and all things barrel aged was our second stop of the day, and with a similar, but much more personal tour (at a pricier $12), we were showed around behind the scenes into the barrel ageing program, the hop room – again, an area of a very successful and high output brewery that is considerably bigger than most complete brewery plants back home.
Anyways, after the tour it was time to sample – top tip, if you love the barrel aged stuff, check out the Anvil and Stave barrel aged “speakeasy” tasting room. As it was Mike’s bday, they custom blended a special barrel aged beer just for us. That was pretty damn sweet.
As this was mid Mike’s 30th celebrations….it was at this point where everything started to get a bit blurry so our details of our visit to Pure Project are as hazy as a NEIPA!
The delicious juicy hazy pale ale “Murklands” we sampled here was an absolute belter, and the décor is really cool too. A very small place, especially in comparison to the other breweries we had visited that day – but worth a visit all the same. We expect big things to come from these guys!
Moving further North, over in Torrance, Los Angeles, the guys at Monkish have been brewing up a huge amount of buzz about their beers recently, and as we happened to be in town and they just so happened to be releasing new cans while we were there, we dutifully took a trip down there to see what the fuss was all about.
Since it was a Friday afternoon, we weren’t prepared for the number of people that would be heading down aiming to get their hands on “Spock It”, a deliciously juicy, murky IPA.
When we joined the queue, there were already 150 people waiting in line ahead of us (fuss fuss fuss), which was definitely a first for us UK beer geeks! The good news – we got hold of these limited release beers and they were fantastic, and the atmosphere in the brewery was pretty awesome too.
These guys are certainly doing something right and the IPAs they are churning out are by far some of the best we have tasted recently.
A short walk from Monkish is Smog City, a family run brewery tap offering a rotating cask tap, as well as 14 keg taps, with some heavy influence from classic British styles, and particularly known for their coffee porters. The setting was cool, and very similar to the classic drinking in an industrial space layout.
Of course, we visited heaps of other breweries in our time in LA, soaking up the beer scene as well as hitting a few speakeasy cocktail bars with friends, but moving North again we made our way up, ready to explore San Fran & the Napa valley.
We stopped in to visit Alex, co-founder and manager of the brewery operations at Fieldwork Brewing Co in Berkeley, San Francisco. He gave us an awesome tour of the site, and was really quite inspiring to listen to how he had started being in sole control of the beers that they put out, but gradually over time, handed responsibility over to his team of brewers, and with recent great success in retaining the ‘People’s Choice Award’ at the Track 7 IPA Invitational .
The set up was really slick, and way more in keeping with what we have come to expect – industrial style tables and seats showing lots of the classic metal and wood that many breweries these days get so right. The best bit about these guys is they have tap rooms in Napa and Sacramento, as well as beer obviously being available from the brewery in Berkeley.
Some of the best sours we had on our trip were from the Rare Barrel, a sour beer specialist who stuff their beer into as many barrels as they can get their hands on and produce some amazingly funky and incredibly well balanced and crushable sours! Yet another San Fran brewery tap room that lived up to the expected industrial style set up.
The bonus addition of the most comfortable sofa we have sat in, since we left our own living room behind in August 2016. The small things!
We indulged in Solidarity Forever, a pink boots society collaboration, the Home, Sour Home and Across the Sea. All were pretty fab. The Rare Barrel is a must stop if you are into sours, with 8 taps of their own brewed beer available, plus a further 8 taps for guest beers.
Another great stop in San Fran was Cellarmaker and it was a much busier affair than The Rare Barrel. We could hear the crowd from halfway down the block – a good sign in our opinions! There was nowhere to sit, the food truck outside was unbelievably enticing, and the 12 tap beer list was a decent mix. We sampled Taco Hands, Evil Spread and Coffee & Cigarettes. Having to pick between the three is difficult, but Evil spread is a monstrous 14.7% imperial hazelnut chocolate stout that blew our socks off! A growler full would be enough to end a night before it’s even begun.
Onwards North again and this time we were heading to the Pliny mecca – Russian River Brewing Company.
To people in the know, the small town of Santa Rosa, just north of San Francisco, is a bit of a beer pilgrimage, that attracts a healthy number of beer nerds on a daily basis. This is particularly the case in February, with the annual release of one of the most coveted beers in the world – Pliny the Younger.
Yes thats right, we were off to Russian River of course! As we were on our way to the Napa and Sonoma valleys for some wine tasting, it was only right to drop in and sample. We had set up a little session and tour with the guys at RR and Chris, our travelling beer geek chum who you may remember popped up in CPH, came with us too. It was obvious what the first beer was going to be, but no sooner had we glanced at the beer board that a challenge was set… “we have to do the whole board here, we can’t leave before we sample everything!” so… that’s exactly what we did over the next 5 hours – on any given night there are usually upwards of 18 beers on tap. It’s fairly evident that this became a dribbly evening, but fuck… it was totally worth it!
Let’s back track a little… after the intrigue of desperately wanting to taste fresh Pliny for years and struggling to even find a slightly old bottle that had made it to the UK in a mate’s luggage.
Fresh Pliny, as was expected, absolutely excellent! Served tank fresh, and perfectly balanced – proper treat. Moving through the list we hit the sours, Consecration, Sanctification etc. on to the classic European styles and back through to a last helping of Pliny before we made it a night. Jake, the floor manager and Brandon, our server, took great care of us – cheers guys, really appreciated the hospitality!
Russian River done, we headed over to the Napa valley, ready for an about turn in focus, ready to drink some big, bold Cab Sauvs.
Ah California wine. Sunshine, rolling hills and vineyards as far as the eye can see, and for us a brief break from the beer.
With 1,200 vineyards in this state alone, if California was a country, it would be the 4th largest wine producer in the world. Yikes! The size of Cali and the immense variety of terrains & weather patterns means that they can pretty much grow anything on the right piece of land – from epic Cab Sauvs to buttery Chardonnay’s there is something for every wine drinker here.
We walked in with good reviews preceeding the visit and shortly discovered why. Annette and Martha, the lovey ladies who run the tasting room are loud, crazy and not at all really what you get from your average wine tasting room hosts. This makes for a super enjoyable experience (especially if you hit them up closer to the end of the day after a few glasses of wine!)
We indulged in a preview of Annette’s food and wine pairing course that you can partake in here – always drinking but always learning!
Fine food, fine wine. Surely a winning combination?
We really enjoyed their earthy chardonnay and deep rich zinfandel as well as heaps of other wines along the way including a few Californian bubbles – I’m not sure how but we spent nearly 3 hours here and didn’t even buy a bottle!
Overall, California is an absolute winner for beer, wine & just general holiday larks.
We had an absolute blast and were hosted with true American hospitality. This was a mere taster of the few fun weeks we had here before we finished off with a cheeky trip to Vegas.