In which I go with Sean on his pre-wedding trip to San Francisco and Santa Rosa to drink some of the best beer in the world (isn't California great?!).
Monday night in Fremont, a warm, gardenia smelling city that reminds me of my childhood trips to San Jose. It's March and the air is already warm by 8 a.m. A jump across the bay to SFO and we're into the city. We've picked up Paul, Sean's cousin. He's a soft-spoken beer judge, humble tome of knowledge and Germanic brew-wizard.
A few circles around the block and we're parked in the hotel garage. Immediately fire alarms are going off. A soothing, calm male voice suggests we use the stairs- not the elevator- to return to the first story. No one down there looks concerned and the elevators are running so we unload on the ninth floor and fill the sink with beer. Then ice. I begin to wonder if we should heed the voice that joins us in our room. As we leave, the maid beams. "Juss a tess!"
Magnolia Pub and Brewery for lunch - bratwurst and sauerkraut. A pint of cask 'Cole Porter' and another of 'Stout of Circumstance'. The pub is bright and airy and mellow. A good start to the day. I've already decided to try and replicate the appetizer Sean orders. Candied dates stuffed with goat cheese, wrapped in bacon. mmm. Also, scotch eggs, which I'm amazed haven't caught on here on the west coast.
OK. Amoeba, which takes a good while to browse through and I still don't feel like I saw even half of it. The comm system chirps, "Attention Amoeba shoppers: if you lost your string cheese, it's at the information counter." At least I found some Patton. Spoon's good too. Maybe not ga ga ga good, but good. We learn the McDonald's bathroom gambit.
As the buzz wears thin we walk to Toronado, the unlikeliest best bar in SF. It's packed at 2 p.m. and it only gets busier. We swoop a table from a fellow wearing an early 90s Arcata Oyster Fest sweater and it's on.
My guilt for going into a dark bar on a nice warm day is quickly assuaged by the maelstrom of Toronado. It's a dark, loud bar. The mellowest band on the jukebox is .38 Special - which I play - along with Waylon and... something else. Most of the day we listen to Mastodon and QOTSA, which is somehow perfect.
There are hundreds of tap handles, stickers, autographed magnums and other paraphernalia. This place is legendary, and they know it.
I order an Alagash White, Double Hefeweizen, Bombay by Boat, an IPA whose name I've forgotten and... I'm still pretty sure I'm missing one - we'll never know. Sean orders a $35 bottle of Lost Abbey's Cable Car. It's an American Wild Ale, and it's sour like nothing I've ever had before. It's indescribable but it's heavenly.
My in-the-trenches seminar has begun and it's the best way to experience beer. I may not remember most of the details, but I'm developing a palette, experimenting and exploring. Life is good.
Sean introduces himself to the owner of Moonlight Brewing, who also happens to be delivering the beer (that he personally brews) to the bar. Talk about a one-man-band. By the time he carries his keg into the back, there's a glass of beer waiting for him at the end of the bar.
We leave with a healthy volume of beer in our guts. The sky is yellow with high streaky clouds. We get our picture taken in front of the bar. Apparently, I've forgotten how to smile.
Taxi to the 21st Amendment Brewery for dinner. I have two pints of their pale ale. It's good, but the pub is bright, loud and clean compared to our afternoon haunt. It's nice, but it feels gentrified and sterile. Sean mistakes imperial ale for "period ale," and our hostess pretends not to notice.
Bellies full, we're in a cab back to the hotel. Our cabbie mistakes us for gay bachelors, and roars through yellow lights. Cabbies on the east side of SF drive too fast.
Back at the hotel, I drink a tall can of Surly Bender - "the best beer in a can." Paul falls asleep with an empty can in his hand while Sean and I try to decide which $14.95 movie to order. Luckily we both fall asleep before charging anything to the room.
I wake up bright and early. Sean and Paul have been up for an hour at least, but 8:30 a few days after spring forward is good for me. Breakfast at the hotel ends at 9:30. We show up at 9:40. There's an above average diner around the block. A toothless gentleman wearing thigh-high white socks, pink crocs and camo shorts paces the sidewalk. I'm pretty sure he's the definition of "don't give a shit."
We spend a couple of comfortable hours in the car. From 580 south of Oakland I see an Old Crow tag daubed across a corrugated steel rooftop. We dodge around a smoking truck on a frontage road. We are not city folk.
Santa Rosa Travelodge: about what you'd expect. It's a great place to sleep, especially since it's only a few blocks from the Russian River Brewery. This is Sean's Eden. It's a damned shame he ate so many hotwings last night. He is physically incapable of appreciating his favorite beer. I start with Pliny the Elder, their double IPA. It's hoppy, slightly sugary and delicious. Then Redemption, a blonde Belgian. Happy Hops pale ale. Rejection Belgian black. AUD blonde. I now know what IBU and ABV means. Pliny the Elder again. I now know what a Randall is.
The Danish Dynamite, Sean's brother-in-law, eats an entire 16 inch pizza, then declares it disgusting. He will go on to eat an enormous sundae minutes later.
The Flavor Bistro makes me yearn for urban, sophisticated cooking. Lamb roast for $18. It's tender. I drink more Moonlight Brewing Company: Misspent Youth, and Lunatic Lager. I love lagers. We go back to the hotel satiated and drink Cazadores.