By Bobby Bush
With a couple of hours to goof off in San Francisco’s Wharf Area, we stopped in at
Steelhead Brewing Company, a must-visit in this all-too-commercial tourist trap area.
The original Steelhead opened in Eugene, Oregon in the early 1990s. In addition to great
beer and food, Steelhead is known for it head brewer, Teri Fehrendorf, one of America’s
first female brewmasters. Her Pacific Northwest flair in beer is shared with other
Steelhead brewpubs, located in the southern California city of Irvine, south San Francisco
suburb Burlingame, where the facility goes by the name Steelhead Brewing at
Burlingame Station in honor of the nearby train depot, and in this newest of the four at
Noting the availability of Bayfront Blonde, Hefeweizen, Steelhead Amber and
Beach Street Porter, we skipped to the head of the class and chose Steelhead’s two cask
conditioned ales. Bombay Bomber IPA was good, but not elegant, while Big Holiday Ale
bestowed a huge Scotch Ale maltiness adorned with a variety of unidentified spices. It
had a festive aroma and thick but smooth mouthfeel with hints of cinnamon and
cardamom. The immediate aftertaste was dry, instilling a still-thirsty effect which gave
way to a cloying semi-sweet taste.
After doing the proper tourist thing- buying chocolate at Ghiradelli’s, we decided
to tour a San Francisco landmark. In business since 1932, dark and danky Jack’s Bar
provides respite from mundane beers. This beer friendly multi-tap room offers 101 beers
on draft. For the slower winter months, that number is reduced to 68 by the closure of
Jack’s second bar, located near the entrance. Imports and micros abound, with emphasis
on seasonal selections. Among the myriad tap handles we saw beer from Lagunitas, Red
Hook, Sierra Nevada, Full Sail, St. Stan’s, Deschutes, Widmer, Anderson Valley, El
Toro, Gordon Biersch, Anderson Valley and Anchor, just to name a few. Be sure to
add Jack’s to your San Fran destinations.
Across the Bay, the next day, we enjoyed dinner at Pyramid Alehouse in
Berkeley. The original Pyramid opened in Washington State in 1984 as one of America’s
initial micros. The company merged with lager brewery Thomas-Kemper in 1992. A
Pyramid Alehouse was established in Seattle in 1995. And this Bezerkeley location began
operation in January 1997.
This gigantic place was bustling, noisy. Scanning about 15 tap handles, we looked
for seasonal or unusual beers since I had just visited here a year ago. At 6.9% abv,
Pyramid Snow Cap Ale was deep ruby in hue. Its malty flavor and lack of bitterness was
suggestive of a much stronger barleywine. Thomas Kemper Iron Tub Porter was a dark,
malty porter done lager style. Pyramid 5,000 Year Ale, limited to nine ounce servings
because this real barleywine packed 9.2% abv, had a mild but sweet-and-sour taste.
Expresso Stout, available in nitogenized and regularly carbonated versions, was a
wonderful coffee, mocha beverage. Pyramid’s DPA - Draught Pale Ale - served nitro,
was exactly what an English (note I did not say Real) Ale should be, while Best Brown
presented a malty facade. Its thin body could not provide proper mouthfeel. The
orangish-gold Thomas Kemper Auction Block Lager pushed feisty malted barley flavor
with a subtle, lilting hop bitter finish. Mason Jar Marzen, another Thomas Kemper
German-style lager, was fruity in mouthfeel and too hoppy for style, but nice nonetheless.
Behind this huge restaurant and bar is a well-equipped, though grossly
under-capacity, microbrewery. Stainless steel fermenters, at 250 barrels each, are
everywhere. Boxes of Thomas-Kemper soft drinks, in flavors like orange, black cherry,
rootbeer and cream soda, are stacked among pallets of bottled beer ready for shipment.
The message needs repeating: drink more beer.
Pyramid Alehouse has a great company store, where hats, jackets, boxer shorts,
glasses, beer and more can be purchased. I found a long sleeve t-shirt that had been dyed
green in a bath of Washington-grown Nugget hops, an ingredient used in Snow Cap Ale.
If dry conditions ever persist, I can always eat the shirt for sustenance.
(One more stop: Walnut Creek).
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush