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GB and BJ's

June, 2000 By Bobby Bush

The last two destinations on this day-and-a-half trip to Los Angeles were both new brewpub chain establishments.

On the north side of downtown Burbank, Gordon Biersch opened their doors in February 1999. Part of the 12 brewpub chained started in Palo Alto in 1988 by Dan Gordon and Dean Biersch and recently acquired by Big River Breweries of Chattanooga, this huge brick structure, with corner positioning on a busy city street, fit the GB mold to perfection. And thatís good. One exception, this brewpub building was constructed from the ground up, so itís better than perfect as far as the typical GB facility goes.

An open kitchen, outdoor patio, banquet rooms for private parties, striking yellow/black place setting accented with black napkins, Creole and more traditional entrees preceded by an impressive appetizer menu, high ceilings and a 20 minute wait for a table on a Tuesday night. Hectic was the action as I squeezed in at the bar for a glass of Dunkles. This dark, semi-sweet and pungent lager was brewed to company tradition. That tradition is well founded and unvarying: German-style beers, all lagers except the summer seasonal hefeweizen and an occasional alt, brewed to meet Reinheitsgebot, the ancient Bavarian purity law which allows only water, grain, hops and yeast. You wonít find funky fruit or spiced beers here, just stylistically correct lagers like Marzen, Golden Export, Blonde Bock and the seasonal Fest bier. All served at a vast island bar, hops vines drying overhead. One complaint- and itís a typical peeve of mine -the beer was too cold to enjoy properly until it warms a bit.

At least in food and beer, the Gordon Biersch success story is legendary. And the Burbank facility will just get busier. A hotel is planned for the lot across the street.

And just a few miles northwest off the 101 is a new BJís Pizza Grill Brewery in Woodland Hills. A link in the Boulder-based BJís chain, this barn-like building, constructed of brick, stained wood and suspended, glaring television monitors, began brewing in March 1999. Judging from the ten house beers on tap, it was obvious that BJís is making significant strides toward attaining GBís status as a purveyor of fine beer.

As do most brewpubs, BJís deals primarily in ales. From my sampler tray, I started with the clean, sharp kolsch-style BJís Brewhouse Blonde and tried only a sip of the banana ester, yeasty Harvest Hefeweizen. Piranha Pale Ale, winner of a Ď98 GABF bronze medallion, was red in hue with a pronounced bitter finish and aftertaste. Jeremiah Red took a Ď96 sliver for the chain. At 7.1% abv it was strong with a slightly sweet character. BJís Special brew of the night was Pilsner. Light bodied with mucho hops effect, it was a very satisfying Czech-style lager. Bock worked its deep gold color and malty nature succinctly, while Nutty Brunette was an American Brown, sweet foretaste followed by a short bitter end. Another seasonal, Juniper Rye began with a sweet floral announcement giving way to a tangy, cider-like sensation. With a smooth nitro mouthfeel, PM Porter harbored complexity in the form of caramel, chocolate and molasses tones promoting a sudden harsh conclusion. Tatonka Stout- available in forced and cask condition -was Imperial in style. Strong at 8.3% abv, its smooth, tempting body presented a harsh, roasted finish. The cask version, definitely smoother, was full of dark, dark chocolate milkshake notes with a more bitter finish. Either way, Tatonka Stout was a meal in a pint glass. Hmmm.

Hosted by brewmasters Alex Puchner and David Mathis, BJís conducts a monthly Beer Appreciation Night. Fourteen bucks covers beer samples, handouts and raffle ticket. Recent seminars have covered a variety of topics, including ďTrappist & Abbey-style Ales of Belgium,Ē ďIntroduction to Beer EvaluationĒ and ďLocal Microbrewers Night.Ē Sounds like the kind of school that I might like to enroll in.

BJís is all about good beer.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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