Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cowgirl Creamery

A must stop on any of my trips to San Francisco is the Ferry Building, and in particular the Cowgirl Creamery cheese shop. I love this store. I like to walk into the middle of the store and just breath deep for a few moments, taking in all the smells. The cheeses with their varied, pungent aromas give a brief sensory overload.

The shop sells much more than just the signature Cowgirl Creamery cheeses. The cheeses include many famous names, including Pont l'Eveque and Colston Bassett Stilton, cheeses from Neal's Yard Dairy, one of the world's great cheese retailers and affineurs, and many American artisnal cheeses.

I bought Cowgirl's Mt Tam (a rich triple cream cheese), Coolea, an Irish Gouda and an English cloth-bound cheddar (I had the same cheese earlier at Magnolia's) for us to eat later when we got home. The salesperson did not have any beer recommendations to pair with the cheese. I suspected that a good Belgian Golden Ale would have been a good accompaniment, but settled for Sierra Nevada's Torpedo Extra IPA because that's what I had in the fridge. While probably not a perfect match, it held its own against the flavorful cheeses.

If you like the Saint Andre triple cream cheese, you'll love the Mt Tam. It is richer and smoother than St Andre. The Coolea was the first Irish Gouda I have tried, but it compares well to aged Dutch Goudas, and had a nice nutty flavor that to me is a hallmark of quality gouda. If your cheddar experience is limited to Tillamok, an English or Vermont farmhouse cheddar will open your eyes. The cloth-bound cheese had a thick rind, a beige color and a sharp, complex flavor. This is the one cheese that would have been better with a Belgian Golden Ale. I hope to do more beer and cheese pairing research in the near future.
(I took the above photo from the Cowgirl Creamery website.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Buena Vista

We stopped in at a San Francisco institution - er, tourist trap - The Buena Vista, for a night cap last week. The Buena Vista's claim to fame is inventing Irish Coffee. It is in an old building with a massive, long bar and views of San Francisco Bay. Despite its history as a drinking establishment, The Buena Vista had nothing to speak of in terms of beer - a house lager, some A-B stuff and Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale. I find it funny and a bit sad that a famous bar has adopted to the new "short pint' trend, as my SNPA was served in a 14 oz pint. (The picture I took on my iPhone is too grainy and blurry to post.) On a positive note, I tasted the Beer Rovette's Irish Coffee, and it was excellent. The Buena Vista reinforced my opinion that when you go to a place famous for one thing you shouldn't expect surprises outside the renowned item.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Elysian Brewing's The Immortal IPA

I picked up a bottle of Elysian Brewing's The Immortal IPA during my truncated trip to City Beer Store in San Francisco last week. (My browsing was cut short because no one under 21 is allowed in City Beer Store and I couldn't leave my kids out on the street while I absorbed the inventory, but I did leave them out long enough for my glass of Sanctification. Sometimes you just can't compromise.) I wanted a beer not available in San Diego, a beer I had not tried and a beer that was good. I had read on the Beer Retard that he was fond of Elysian's beers, they are not, to my knowledge, available in San Diego and I had never tried an Elysian beer. My choice was sealed when I saw The Immortal IPA - how could a beer with that name not be bold and aggressive. I picked up a bottle for later consumption.

Later, back in the hotel when I opened the beer for a nightcap (and to make the dreadful America's Got Talent more palatable), I read on the label that The Immortal IPA was brewed for Elysian Brewing by New Belgian (uggh). Nothing against New Belgian, but I was not really looking for a beer contract brewed by it. Immortal poured a rich copper with a big white foam. I was looking for a floral, Northwest-style IPA, but did not get one. It was a balanced IPA, but the hops were mild. It was drinkable for sure, but overall unremarkable. I really like Bridgeport's IPA, and it's what I think of when I see a Northwest IPA and was hoping for in The Immortal. With that in mind, some day, maybe I will get to try another The Immortal with a different perspective and have a better opinion of it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

City Beer Store

I visited the City Beer Store in San Francisco earlier this week. It is small but full of beers. Plus, it had about five taps. It is located in San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood. It is on the ground floor of what looked like a new, modern condo building. As you enter the store, you step down into a small seating area with the small bar. The room has shelves of beer and refrigerators full of beer on three walls.

I had to smile when I saw the tap list had two San Diego beers, Lost Abbey's Devotion and Ballast Point's Dorado. I was proud to have two such fine beers representing San Diego. Also on the list was Russian River's Sanctification. I had a tulip glass of Sanctification, and it was a marvelous, sour ale - the beer highlight of my trip.

I searched for a beer that I could not get in San Diego to enjoy later in the evening. The wide acceptance and distribution of craft beers made this search more difficult than I expected. I wanted something hoppy (of course) and something Belgian and selected Elysian Fields The Immortal IPA and a small bottle of Saison Dupont.

City Beer store is a worthwhile stop for beer lovers. All beer stores should have a set of taps. I only wish I had more time to browse the extensive selection.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Magnolia Pub & Brewery

We went to San Francisco for a quick two-day get away this week. After we arrived and got our bags, I was shocked when the Beer Rovette suggested a late lunch at Magnolia Pub & Brewery. Well, I said that Magnolia sounded like a good idea (but inside I was screaming hell freaking yes!). Magnolia was packed in the middle of the afternoon. It had four bitters on tap and six of its seven beers were less than 5% abv. It had a few cask beers that were the same as its draft beers, and a few guest beers. Here is a picture of its list of beers. (Its tap of Russian River's Damnation was dry.)

I had the Blue Bell Bitter and the Beer Rovette had the New Speedway Bitter. These were solid, if unremarkable, beers. The Blue Bell had mild bitterness, with a nice fruity flavor. Too me, it improved as I worked my way down the glass. I could of easily had another. This would be an excellent session beer, with its attractive flavor and its low alcohol. Both beers were served in "no bullshit" 20 oz pint glasses. In the age of short pints, it is good to see an establishment serving the classic British imperial pint.

Magnolia's one big beer was its Belgian-style Tweezer Tripel. (Magnolia wisely served this beer in a 14 oz glass.) I had this toward the end of the meal. It was a yeasty, spicy tripel. There was no mistaking its 9.9% alcohol. It was an almost overpowering beer and it would have been hard to have more than one. Tweezer was good, but I would prefer a less spicy tripel.

This was my second visit to Magnolia. After the first, I felt that the beers were more than decent, but that the food was better. I came away with the same opinion after this meal. The beers are well-crafted, style-true and drinkable. The food is outstanding, which is why the Beer Rovette wanted to have lunch at Magnolia, not to give me material for a blog post. Magnolia's food is farm fresh and a big step up from the typical brew pub. The cheese plate is a must. San Francisco's Haight Ashbury neighborhood is still full of hippie wannabes and vagrants (which are sometimes the same), but is still worth a visit, and a window table at Magnolia is the perfect place to people watch.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

South Bay Drugs in the San Diego Union

The San Diego Union had a nice profile of Joey Bachoua and South Bay Drugs in Imperial Beach about two weeks ago. Any serious San Diego beer knows Joey and South Bay Drugs. Located in a run down strip shopping center just north of the Mexican border, South Bay Drugs is the proverbial diamond in the rough. South Bay Drugs has a great beer selection and is one of the few retailers that sell Alpine Brewing beers. The huge beer selection (check the website linked above) is all Joey, and he has built a sizable web-based beer retailing business.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Tongue Buckler

I hate it when I keep a non-aging beer too long. I bought two Ballast Point Tongue Bucklers last spring. I shared the first with a friend after drinking a few other beers during one of the Lakers' playoff series. Not a circumstance to accurately comment on the beer, other than to say that I remember it as a balanced, malty, hop monster. The second sat and sat in my beer fridge. Procrastination is not good with a 100 IBU beer.

I opened the second tonight and immediately got the aroma of stale hops, not the smell I was anticipating. While the first was rich and balanced, with a strong hop kick, tonight's beer was malty, yes, but the stale hop taste overwhelmed the beer. Its richness was lost to hop degradation. The beer was not completely bad, but it was on its way. There was enough of the original goodness left to remind me that this is a beer that is much better fresh, and not to delay the next time it's released.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens (SBWBG) is the best place in the world to drink a beer. I know that's a bold statement, but I find it hard to believe that any location could top Stone. We visited on Monday for my birthday and it was a great dining experience. The restaurant's design is modern and open, with high ceilings and stone as a prominent feature. It has large ceiling to floor windows / sliding doors that look out on the patio and gardens. The patio has a koi pond and fire pits, mixed in with tables and other areas to sit and enjoy the gardens, along with an outside bar. The gardens, now fully grown, have trails and stones of all sizes, and seating areas that allow you to enjoy a beer. It's the most esthetically pleasing restaurant I have ever visited. It beats Picholine in New York, Farallon in San Francisco or the restaurant who's name long escapes me that was in an ancient building in Dijon, France (but I'll never forget the double-rack cheese cart).

Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens was created with great food and beer as its inspiration. The food has a focus on in-season ingredients from local and organic producers. The farm-to-table philosophy usually results in a pretty darn good meal. From a beer perspective, it has thirty-five taps, less than half are Stone beers leaving an impressive line-up of other craft brewers and brewers from around the world. SBWBG proves that a great tap list and an upscale environment are compatible. Its bottled beer list is impressive, too. I did not count how many bottles are available but any beer aficionado or geek could find multiple gems. The draft and bottle prices are reasonable, with the typical pint $5.

We started with the Stinky Cheese plate that had four distinct cheeses, including a goat, gouda and Stilton. I had an 8 oz Dupont Saison Vielle Provision and the Beer Rovette had Craftsman's Biere de Blanco, a Belgian-style wit. I had seen the Dupont Saison for years but had never tried it. What a treat. It was the near perfect beer for sitting on a patio on a hot summer afternoon. Its flavors of fruit and Belgian yeast paired well with the cheese. For dinner I had the Shepard's Pie, maybe not the best choice on a hot day, but when I see Shepard's Pie I must order it. It was made with tempeh, which is a soybean, and it was delicious. You'd never know it was made without meat. The Beer Rovette had the buffalo burger, which was done to perfection.

I had Lagunitas' A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale with dinner. This is a fruity, hoppy beer that was excellent. I did not even know it was a wheat beer until I linked to BeerAdvocate, it tasted like no wheat beer I've ever had. I was guessing it was a pale ale or a mild IPA. No matter, it was good, as its fruity taste was ideal for a hot day and it had enough hops to keep it interesting.

I understand SBWBG is not for everyone. It's menu is not like any other brewpub and its prices may surprise people. Even walking into the restaurant can be intimidating, because it is immediately clear it's on a different level than other brewpubs. For me to even compare it to other brewpubs is unfair to SBWBG because it's not, its more like a resort - a beer resort. If you're expecting an Oggi's, a BJ's or any other generic brewpub you'll be disappointed with SBWBG. If the food is not to your liking, get a beer and head for the gardens. The beer prices are reasonable and the selection incredible, and there is no finer place to enjoy a beer.