Blue Frog Grog
By Bobby Bush
So new that it wasn’t on any of my brewpub finder lists, Blue Frog Grog and Grill
opened in Fairfield, California in December 1999. Not far off the freeway on my cruise
from Sacramento to San Francisco - the northern route - I found this neighborly brewpub
beside Marie Calendar’s (they have common ownership) in a hyperactive shopping center.
Accompanied by a Moody Blues tune, aptly played by a pianist at his baby grand, I took
my place at the long bar and ordered up a sampler tray. Served in miniature frozen mugs,
the beers were decent for such a new establishment.
The brewpub’s Blue Frog name was borrowed from a song by Peter, Paul and
Mary, though the beers escaped similar name embellishment. Cloudy gold, Hefeweizen
was lemon drenched with sour finish, while Blonde Ale was malty with slight bitter
closure. Pale Ale was hoppy from the get-go, while the Red should have been called an
IPA- hoppy good. The last brew was the best of the batch. Oatmeal Stout was full of
roasted malt richness, appealing and filling.
Energetic open kitchen, three large dining areas, one with a cozy fireplace, Blue
Frog was an unexpected and pleasant find. While there I learned that my next intended
spot, Grizzly Bear Brewing in Suisun City was closed “temporarily” for two weeks for
remodeling. Let’s hope that information is accurate.
Time for one last stop that night, this one not too far from my hotel in South San
Fran. Located in the center of suburban San Mateo, Chalker’s Redbird Brewing has
been operational since March 30, 1999. Owned by the Chalker’s Billiard Club company,
Redbird moved into the same space in the 1930s-era Merkel Building that once belonged
to Barley & Hopps, an upscale but defunct brewpub dating back to its start in 1994 that
fell due to bad management, among other problems.
I noted a few changes since my last visit in 1995 or so. Sticking with the script,
two pool tables occupied space once reserved for dining on the main floor. Due to
California’s no-smoking regulation, the upstairs cigar room was converted into a private
party room. First come, first serve, the enclosed and highly ventilated room is available
for $10/hour. State law does not apply to private parties. Clever.
And the beers, brewed by ex-Golden Pacific brewer Alec Moss, are nice.
Hefeweizen is mellow with a tint of clove. Clear gold, Pilsner was a little too malty
though it made a late but swift bitter stab. Caramel exuded from Amber Ale, while the
smooth cask English Brown Ale was even bigger in maltiness. The bitterness of IPA
evacuated quickly, leaving an unexpected malty taste. Coffee flavor embodied Blackbird
Stout and the seasonal Snowbird Ale, sans spices, was pungently hopped yet presented a
sweet aroma. It’s great to see the beautiful old building get another chance at the
Next day, on our way to play tourist, we headed toward the Embarcadero and the
Wharf. But first we sought out San Francisco’s newest brewpub. Not far from Twenty
Tanks Brewing Company on the southern part of the peninsula, it took longer to find
parking than it did the building. [Unfortunately, Tweny Tanks lost its lease and closed
after ten years on June 2, 2000]. Housed in an oddly partitioned building that once served
as a Hellman’s Mayonnaise factory, Potrero Brewing Company is a welcome oasis in a
rough, scary industrial neighborhood on the western slopes of Potrero Hill. The brewpub
started operation in May 1999.
“The perfect escape from the chaos of a hectic urban lifestyle,” or so their story
goes, Potrero has an upstairs room with pool tables, tons of TVs and a rooftop patio. The
main level has an L-shaped bar, spicy nuts and plenty of dining room. In the kitchen Chief
Chef Sharna Rose oversees the preparation of Potrero’s Contemporary American brunch,
lunch, dinner & bar foods, such as Lamb, Mahi Mahi, Bolanaise and Brisket. And in the
brewery, Master Brewer James Renfrew works his brewcraft.
Of Potrero’s six beers, the dark, milkshake rich Porter and strong Dunkelweizen
were my personal favorites. The IPA needed more bitterness. Golden Ale, Amber and
ESB were nice but uneventful. The casks for both beer engines were unfortunately dry.
Potrero Brewing is off to a credible start. See www.potrerobrew.com for more
(Follow along. Next Stop: Steelhead Brewing).
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush