West coast postcard: Wish you were (drinking) here

As I mentioned recently, J and I have been away on a combination vacation and work trip to the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle. We managed to have some nice adventures in food and drink. I’ll be posting about the former soon, but without further ado, here’s a look at some of the best sipping and quaffing we enjoyed.

Farmers’ Reserve No. 1 from Almanac Beer Company

Friends we were visiting (thanks, E & V!) took us to a fantastic little beer shop in Mountain View, California called Jane’s Beer Store. Although they were all out of the sour beer I was seeking from Russian River Brewing, I did manage to snag another local bottle that I had read about online and was very intrigued by. Almanac Beer Company—founded in 2010 by former homebrewers and dedicated to highlighting local ingredients and making beers that pair well with local, seasonal foods—have a line of “Farm to Barrel” specialty beers. Here’s their description of Farmers’ Reserve No. 1:

Our first California wild ale is brewed with a blend of Cabernet & Muscat Grapes from Alfieri Farms, Concord grapes from Hamada Farms and plums from Twin Girls Farm—all located in the fertile San Joaquin Valley. Aged for over a year in used wine barrels, this sour ale blends rich flavors of the 2011 autumn harvest with farmhouse funk.

It was everything that crazy description promises and more! If you enjoy sour beers and are in the SF Bay Area, seek this one out. For opinions on both sides, check out Jay H.’s takes (both pro and con) at the Beer Samizdat blog.

Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Calabaza Blanca from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales

It took a trip to California (and the helpful staff of Jane’s Beer Store) for me to discover a fine Michigan craft brewer. Here’s how Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales describes their lovely Calabaza Blanca:

Aged in large oak casks and refermented in the bottle, Calabaza Blanca is a Belgian Biere Blanche. Spiced with orange peel and coriander, you’ll find it refreshingly tart, with a wonderfully dry finish.

It was delicious! I can’t wait to seek out their beers here in Madison.

Hell or High Watermelon Wheat from 21st Amendment Brewing

After enjoying our time in Mountain View, J and I spent a day in the city (i.e., San Francisco), which started off with lunch at 21st Amendment Brewing. I didn’t love their veggie burger as much I hoped, but I was very pleasantly surprised by their brilliantly named Hell or High Watermelon Wheat. When beers start to feel gimmicky and in danger of tasting like soda pop, I get wary. But, I decided this was my best chance to give this brew a try, and I’m really glad that I did. It was refreshing and flavorful and shockingly well-balanced—or at least as well-balanced as a beer served with a wedge of watermelon could ever hope to be. I can imagine loving an icy cold one (or more) of these on a hot summer day.

Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

BRUX Domesticated Wild Ale, a Russian River and Sierra Nevada Collaboration

After our California adventures, we headed to Seattle. If it took a trip to California to discover Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin, it apparently took a trip to Washington for me to discover Cali’s BRUX. I splurged ($24 = yikes!) and ordered it during our second trip to The Pine Box (another excellent name; it’s housed in the chapel of a former funeral home). As Natalie reports at Russian River’s blog,

BRUX was brewed in Chico (at Sierra Nevada) and will go through their distribution channels, which will, of course, greatly increase your chances of getting a couple of bottles. BRUX is a “domesticated wild ale”, or an ale fermented with Belgian yeast, finished by a secondary bottle fermentation with Brettanomyces bruxellensis.

Josh Jackson has a nice and spot-on review at Paste; here’s a taste: “The citrus hop profile stands out with a bready richness underneath, meaning you don’t have to appreciate Belgian sours to enjoy this beer…. [It] is a more subtle, well-balanced Belgian-style golden that goes down easy with plenty of flavor and 8.3% ABV.” For a second (also glowing) review, see what Gary Dzen has to say at Boston.com.

Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Belgian Strong Dark from Pfriem Family Brewers

I’ve so far focused on some of the beers that I discovered during this trip, so I thought that I should close with one that J truly loved. On our last night in Seattle, we stopped by Brouwer’s Cafe for food and drink. Our bartender was great, and when J was ready try another of their 64 (!) tap beers for his second round, he suggested J try the Belgian Strong Dark from Pfriem of Hood River, Oregon. As their website puts it, “you don’t have to speak Flemish to appreciate the bold, complex flavors of fig dipped in dark chocolate, ripe fruit and toffee in this immense Ale.” J’s favorite imported beer is the St. Bernadus Abt 12 (which Brouwer’s also had on tap), but J said he liked this one even better, since the sweetness in the Pfriem was turned down a notch or two compared to the St. Bernardus.

Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Et cetera

Believe it or not, these have been just some of the highlights of our trip. Others include fine beers from Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery, both in bottles and on tap; lovely craft cocktails—some featuring local spirits and other local ingredients—at Seattle’s Local 360, Knee High Stocking Company, and Skillet Diner; and, as I mentioned yesterday, some fantastic coffee at Seattle Coffee Works. Even though it’s good to be home, this recap already has me jonesin’ to head back to the West coast!



  1. Little Sis

    Oh how I miss the days of the combo work/vacay trips to that part of the world. Might be worth job hunting just to create that possibility again. Thanks for the reminder of good times.

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