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Blue Frog Grog

January, 2000

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 brewpub business.

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 information.

(Follow along. Next Stop: Steelhead Brewing).

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

© Bobby Bush

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