Beer! Beer! Beer!

The Oakland Beer Scene Makes the Headlines



     In case you hadn’t heard, Oakland is back. Once one of the biggest beer-brewing capitals in the country until Prohibition took it all away, for the last few years Oakland has emerged as a hophead’s paradise and the location of some of the best beer bars in the state (if not the country). Here’s a roundup of some of the latest headlines.

Linden Taproom Opens, Reduces Distance from Brew to Tap to Within 5 Meters  

   The current golden boy of the Oakland brewing scene is Linden Street Brewery’s Adam Lamoreaux, who has been a vocal champion of bringing local industry back to the city and is proud of his upstart’s role in helping re-establish Oakland’s place as a brewing hub. Linden HQ is a historic brick building next to the tracks between Jack London Square and the Port of Oakland, with a large parking lot that often hosts beer festivals, fundraisers or a handful of mobile food vendors (El TacoBike, Fists of Flour Pizza and Guerrilla Grub are regulars) serving visitors on Friday and Saturday nights. 

     Linden’s new taproom, which took over the living-room-cum-office off the main brewing area in the beginning of December 2011, has been a longtime project of Lamoreaux, who is still looking to expand into other areas of the building. Visiting the taproom is the best way to try Linden’s new hot-weather favorite, Town Lager, described by the staff as “What Pabst tasted like before Prohibition.” Town also has the distinction of being the beer delivered on Linden’s delivery bike. For details about the taproom, visit the Linden Street Brewery’s Facebook page (the website is rarely updated), or swing by 5–8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from noon–8 p.m. Saturday.

     Linden joins the jewel of San Leandro, Drake’s Brewing, in opening an onsite imbibery. Drake’s Barrel House opened in June 2011, next to its brewery, which is cleverly tucked in behind a Walmart, McDonald’s and Payless ShoeSource (you could drink Coors, but why?). The Barrel House, a former Caterpillar warehouse, had been used for — what else? — storing the barrels of beer set aside for aging. When the owners realized they had outgrown the tiny tasting room and bar that served the crowds at their wildly popular first Friday events, they moved in and expanded. It has some small-batch beers you can’t get anywhere else, plus more than 20 taps (not all Drake’s), rotating seasonals and barrel-aged beers. It comes complete with church pews in case you need to get your nap on.

Oakland’s Nicole Erny Becomes the Latest, Youngest and Only Female Master Cicerone in the U.S.

     Of the 11 people who took the fiendishly difficult Master Cicerone exam in November 2011, there were three retakers, but only one who passed. The exam, which is the beer industry rough equivalent to wine’s Master Sommelier designation, is given every year by the Chicago-based Craft Beer Institute and tests aspirants’ knowledge of beer styles, making and history over two grueling days of exams, 10 hours of essay writing, two hours of orals with beer industry veterans and two hours of blind tastings. The one newly-minted MC also happened to be the youngest in the certification’s history, and the only female: Oakland’s Nicole Erny. Erny began her career at The Trappist and worked there for three years learning the craft before taking off on her own to take the exam. 

     Today she takes her knowledge on the road, hosting events that often involve the pairing of beer and food, something she thinks sounds intuitive but can actually be difficult to get right. Where wine pairings often focus on the acidity and tannins that come from the fruit, beer has the opportunity to complement the food because it is food: In many ways brewing beer is not unlike baking, complete with wheat and other grains, yeast, sugars and heat. “There are flavors that are similar to and resonate with food flavors,” Erny says, “like German doppelbock tastes like bread, so if you pair it with something you’d eat with bread, like cheese, it goes well. Hops can put forward flavors like citrus and cilantro, for example, that really resonate with food.” 

     This can add complexity to the pairings, though, says Erny. “Beer and food pairing is more approachable, but it’s not easier. It takes a fair amount of talent to put them together. Some courses fall on their faces because the body of the beer doesn’t stand up in the right way to the food.” 

     Erny says that growing up in wine-centric Northern California she was nevertheless attracted to the burgeoning craft beer industry because it was in its infancy, whereas wine had already happened. “All these breweries are new. Beer is happening now, and the craft beer industry is one of the only bright spots in the economy.” In fact, says Erny, with more people becoming savvy about craft beer, and willing to pay more for it, not only are restaurants beefing up their beer lists, but brewers are also able to take chances on more complicated (or time-consuming) formulations. “This is good for the industry because it allows talented brewers to produce products they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise because it would be cost-prohibitive. To stage a beer for two years in a temperature-controlled room is expensive, but it allows brewers to make really interesting beers.”


Oakland Brewing - Begins Production - Trifecta Completed

     Despite an often frustrating and unusually bureaucracy-laden effort to get its brewhouse near the Embarcadero waterfront operating, the somewhat-audaciously named Oakland Brewing partnership began turning out several small-batch beers in February 2011 that are available at a few locations in Oakland, including Barclay’s, Southie (next to Wood Tavern), Ben ’N Nick’s on College, and of course Beer Revolution. Oakland Brewing is the third brewery in Oakland to open, after Pacific Brewing and Linden Street (though it is, for now, contracting brewing at several breweries similar to the way Dying Vines is brewing at Linden Street). Its several colorfully-named and well-received brews include the CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) IPA; Andy’s Big Red Ale; and Sticky Zipper IPA — one of the earliest releases that Oakland Brewing occasionally brings back and is looking into bottling, according to partner Steve McDaniel. Les Joues Roses (“Rosy Cheeks”) is another festive, spiced Belgian-style ale that is one of Oakland Brewing’s most popular. 

     Oakland used to be a brewing town until the late 1950s, and thanks to an ardent beer-loving population, second only, perhaps, to Portland’s, it is starting to reclaim some of its golden glow. 

Dying Vines - Revives English Session Beer Tradition

     Like many diehard homebrewers, Kellen Alcala dreamed of going bigger. A full-time employee at Berkeley’s Oak Barrel Winecraft, which sells homebrew supplies, and a member of the Bay Area Mashers homebrew club, Alcala has been homebrewing for several years. He has even won several local competitions for his beer, which tends to be lower alcohol (around 4.5 percent or less alcohol by volume, or ABV) in the tradition of English “session” beers. While American brewers have been tending toward “bigger” (higher alcohol) beers that are hoppier and darker than their forebears, Alcala preferred the challenge of making beers that were just as flavorful, but didn’t flatten you out after a couple pints. Many of the stronger craft beer styles, like India pale ales (IPAs) can be in the 9 percent range, though most average closer to 6 percent (Budweiser, by comparison, is 5 percent. But of course, it’s made of rice. Which might make it technically a sake.).

     At a Bay Area Mashers meeting in 2010 held at Linden Street Brewery, brewmaster Adam Lamoreaux told the group that he was interested in contract brewing if any of the homebrewers had a tried-and-true recipe and wanted to get a distributor’s license (the regulations are complicated). Alcala perked up. Together with his father, Richard Greenwald, an aircraft mechanic and electrician, and a partner, Benjamin Mosher, Alcala turned out his first beer, Dee’z English Mild, a malty brown ale named after his wife, in December 2010. Shortly after that came the Old Brick Bitter, a full-bodied English style pale ale, with a 4.5 percent ABV, Hop Candi, following shortly after. 2012 should bring another IPA, and perhaps a barleywine (their first high-alcohol offering) by the end of the year. Alcala, who still works full time at Oak Barrel, is busy, but is happy his brewery, Dying Vines Brewing, is taking a shot at a time when craft beers are exploding. “I knew it was going to be a lot of hard work, but like anything else I see what’s happening and seeing the groundswell.” The beer is available at Commonwealth Pub on Telegraph, Gather Restaurant in Berkeley and Monk’s Kettle in San Francisco. Check out Dying Vines’ Facebook page for the most up-to-date locations.

This Just In - A Good Time Can Still Be Had by All

     If you missed SF Beer Week and the 2012 East Bay Brew Fest in February, don’t despair — even though you did totally miss out on a sudsy week of SF/EB Area beery. boozy fun, including: beer samplings, double IPAs, blind tastings, food pairings (beer with oysters, cheese, seafood, sorbet, grilled cheese sammies, etc.), beer-based cocktails, brewery tours, a chocolate-and-beer fest, a beer run, a bière-bike crawl, a beerwalk, breakfast, brunches, lunches, dinners and beer battles. You could even make your own beer and drink beer to raise money for good causes. All in the name of good quality craft beer.

     Pyramid Alehouse in Berkeley was ground-zero for the EBBF, but events were plentiful throughout the East Bay during the entire week. Those in the game were Barclay’s, Beer Revolution, Bobby G’s Pizzeria, Drake’s, Jupiter, The Trappist, Triple Rock Brewery and Trumer Brauerei.

     Beer-lovers can continue the brewfest on their own, of course, at all those places or at Pyramid brewer’s dinners on March 28 and April 25 (and May 30 and June 27, too). It’s $45 for a three-course dinner with three “perfectly paired” beer selections and includes tax and gratuity. Meanwhile, near Lake Merritt at the Terrace Room, chef Devon Boisen continues to host his One Fermented Evening, a dining series that celebrates good brew and good food. It usually happens on the first Thursday of the month and costs $40. Bottoms up!

Man Opens MacArthur Garage Brewery & Bar in Garage
Lays Claim to First Nanobrewpub in Oakland

     If I had a dollar for every time I’d had a few drinks and leaned over to my friend and said, “We should totally brew beer and set up a bar in my garage,” I’d give the money to Kevin Christensen, who two years ago actually did it. MacArthur Garage Brewery is right up the hill from the Grand Lake Farmers Market in a small detached garage where Christensen, with the great indulgence of his wife and the help of some donated couches, kegerators, taps and a florist’s refrigerator, has set up a dispensary for the products of his enthusiastic homebrewing — currently a black ale, an India pale ale and a pale ale. He began homebrewing in 1994 with a college sociology professor who taught him the basics of stovetop brewing, but largely left it behind when he moved to Oakland to work as a campaign strategist for the labor union AFL-CIO. A couple years ago, Christensen bought an all-grain homebrew system and began tinkering, with delicious results. Now when he decides to open the Garage Brewery, he opens the garage door, throws on the strings of holiday lights strung along the ceiling, and rolls his 4-year-old daughter’s be-tasseled bike behind the bar. Open for business.

     Never straying far from his labor roots, Christensen is working on a plan to source all the ingredients for his beer locally and laments that one of the key ingredients in beer, malted barley, is distributed only by Big Agra. He’s working on a plan to source all of the ingredients for his beer locally — hops, grains and yeast, along with the barley. “In the old days, malt houses were attached to breweries; now there are only a couple micro malt houses in the U.S.,” he says. Like many in Oakland’s small but fervent brewing community, he is nostalgic for the long-bygone days when Oakland was the state’s beer brewing capital, before Prohibition wiped out the industry here and it was more than 50 years before Donald Gortemiller and Steve Wolff opened Pacific Coast Brewing Company in what is now Old Oakland. And like most, he thinks the city can support a far bigger local brewing scene.

     Wander into Beer Revolution or Commonwealth Cafe or any of the other Awesome Beer Bars on a weeknight and you’ll see what pent-up demand looks like. On largely deserted blocks, both, and yet try to find an empty seat. Ever. There is certainly room to grow. “Some people say it’s a competitive market, but look at San Diego, or Denver, or Portland. There’s a brewery or brewpub on every corner, and they’re all successful,” Christensen says. Even one man and a homebrew setup can summon a hundred people, when he kicks on the music and his buddy James, the Fists of Flour guy, comes by and make pizzas. Might be time to clean out the garage.

     Check out the MacArthur Garage Brewery & Bar Facebook page for updates,

The Art of  Food and Beer

     For those of us who consider beer one of the essential food groups, it doesn’t seem that difficult to develop a successful food and beer pairing — after all, we do it ourselves, with no formal training, something just shy of seven nights a week. But for those who know a lot about the literally thousands of craft beer variations now available, there are many factors to consider when deciding what kind of beer goes with a particular item on the menu. American craft brewing is still in its infancy, and while there are established styles that go back as far as mead, their boundaries are being pushed by innovative brewers and curious beer drinkers, making the styles more like broad categories now than strict definitions. The field is so wide open in fact, with brewers inventing new styles all the time by varying ingredients and brewing and fermentation methods, that the newest-minted Master Cicerone, Oakland’s Nicole Erny, says “we’re in a period now where the terms are being developed.” That is, we don’t even have accepted terms yet to describe what we’re drinking.

     One local chef who has made a name for himself developing beer dinners and consulting on beer and food pairings is Bruce Paton, the “Beer Chef” himself (; visit the website for upcoming beer dinners he’s hosting). Paton, a former chef at the Claremont Hotel and executive chef at San Francisco’s Cathedral Hill Hotel, says that while he “has yet to find a food that’s not beer friendly,” there are still a few rules of thumb when developing a beer list to go with food.

     First, start with lighter beers and work up to the darker, hoppier or stronger beers. Second, when planning the menu, you don’t want one to overpower the other, and so “a really assertive beer needs a really assertive food.” Or simply put, matching “like with like,” where heavier foods call for beers that can stand their ground. Pilsners and ambers with salads, porters and stouts with meats, for example, and IPAs work especially well with spicy foods. Third, because Paton tends to feature the beers of a single brewer at a dinner, he starts with the beer first and develops the menu. This is where it helps to be a chef. “I was a beer drinker long before becoming a chef, and since becoming a chef I have a file cabinet in my head of flavors and can put out easily what will go well with a beer.”

     For the rest of us who might need a little help (or an excuse to drink a pint with each course), keep an eye out for beer-and-food pairing dinners at Bay Area eateries. Many restaurants have added beer-food pairing suggestions to their menus. Even Homeroom offers up suggestions on which of its impressive collection of local drafts goes best with the more than 10 mac and cheese varieties on the menu. Just don’t fill up too much  — you’ve got an IPA on the way.  


Awesome Beer Bars in Oakland

A word of advice: These are the most awesome beer bars in Oakland; they are not meant to be crawled or hopped. Get a driver or a BART ticket, or put on some walking shoes, because if you’re a beer drinker, you’re about to get hit over the head with Hopsomeness. To see all the ABBs on a map, visit

Barclay’s Restaurant & Pub
With 30 rotating beers on tap and its own beer club that graduates you into the House of Lords, Barclay’s is one of the Bay Area greats. Don’t let the exterior resemblance to neighbor Cartridge World fool you; inside is pure imbibery.
5940 College Ave., Oakland, (510) 654-1650,

Beer Revolution
When it opened in February 2010, Beer Revolution owners Rebecca Boyles and Fraggle (Mark Martone) were taking a risk: City Beer was a hit in San Francisco, but was there enough of a serious beer drinking market in Oakland to sustain them? With 47 taps and 500ish bottles in stock, this “specialty beer bottle shop and tasting bar” has become the epicenter of the East Bay’s craft-beer drinking culture.
464 Third St., Oakland, (510) 452-2337,

Ben ’N Nick’s Bar & Grill
A block from the Rockridge BART, a great beer selection, wood paneled interior and windows open to the street, and legendary mac and cheese make this one of the best neighborhood pubs in the East Bay. 
5612 College Ave., Oakland, (510) 923-0327,

Cato’s Ale House
The moment you want to shed all pretension and demolish a pulled-pork sandwich with chili cheese fries and threeish best-of pints served ice cold in a supportive, caring atmosphere, head to Cato’s. Give thanks the sunlight doesn’t penetrate too far inside. 
3891 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, (510) 655-3349,

Luka’s Taproom & Lounge
Anchoring the northern edge of Uptown, Luka’s occupies an excellent corner space at Broadway and Grand and boasts the second-best collection of Belgian beers on tap. A comfortable meat-friendly menu with must-order fries makes this 100-decibel standby an easy choice when friends come into town. 
2221 Broadway, Oakland,  (510) 451-4677,

The Trappist
Find a beer lover who doesn’t grow misty when talk turns to the Trappist, and I’ll show you a beer lover with a long weekend ahead of them. Twenty-five rotating taps, an enchanting, old-Europe interior and an expert, friendly staff conspire to anoint this stanchion of Old Oakland “Favorite Bar Ever” for too many converts to count.
460 Eighth St., Oakland,  (510) 238-8900,

CommonWealth Café and Public House 
Commonwealth is one of the least-kept secrets in Oakland: packed four across the oaken church pews at night, but daylight and Sunday brunch find a more relaxed — some would say civilized — approach to toasties, shepherd’s pie and somewhere north of 14 carefully curated taps. Commonwealth is a treasure on a quiet stretch of Telegraph.
2882 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, (510) 663-3001,

… And one for the road

Ledgers Liquors
If you want the best beer selection in the Bay Area to go, it’s not BevMo. It’s Ledgers Liquors on University in Berkeley. They claim more than 999 beers in stock, but I say there’s at least one more bottle of beer on the wall. Don’t let the liquor-store exterior fool you; inside is all liquid gold. 
1399 University Ave., Berkeley, (510) 540-9243,

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