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Steelhead Brewing

January, 2000

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 Fisherman’s Wharf.

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

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