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Bill's and Jack's

August, 2000

By Bobby Bush

Buffalo Bills Brew Pub started business in 1983 and is the nation’s second oldest operating brewpub, after Grant’s Yakima Brewing in Washington State. I first visited this Hayward, California - 15 miles south of Oakland - establishment in 1990. It was rough, to be nice, but the iconoclastic beers brewed by founded Bill Owens, an even more irreverent, opinionated and unusual (read: straight-laced) man, made it the singular place to drink great beer in the pioneer days of California microbreweries. A victim of his own success, Bill sold the brewpub around 1994 to pursue other interests in the field of craft brewing.

Even though the new owners have given Buffalo Bills a thorough cleansing and redecorating, not to mention a full menu, the small bar on B Street cannot deny its heritage. The collapsed tank is gone but the big woolly buffalo head still peers from above. And the beers remain true to form, upholding the legacy. White Buffalo was the requisite beginner’s drink with Buffalo Brew the next step up to a pale ale. Nearly full-bodied, Buffalo Special Bitter had a warm fruity flavor with bitterness only in the aftertaste. At 6.5% abv, Tasmanian Devil, also served on cask, was a strong, cloudy gold ale punctuated with sour/bitter finish and aftertaste. Almost black in hue, Belle Hop Porter was topped by a brown frothy head. Taste sensation began with chocolate, chased by roasted malt middle with a faint hint of cinnamon and a dry, short hop finish. Very nice. Unfortunately, Alimony Ale - “the bitterest beer in America” - was not on tap. In addition to their own beers, Buffalo Bills also provided a good selection of guest beers, including Sierra Nevada’s Summerfest, Lind’s Zatez and Moonlight’s IPA.

The facelift, complete with tented beer garden, did not change history or memories. Buffalo Bills is still the mecca for California beer aficionados.

We had time for one more Bay Area brewpub, this one about ten miles south toward San Jose. The town of Fremont once sported a unique brewery called Brewpub-On-the-Green. It fact, it bordered a golf course. Beers were mediocre until, sometime in the early 90s, Bill Owens (yes him) was brought in as a consultant. The beer improved. New owners changed the name to Fremont Brewing Company, but eventually sold the establishment to land developers around 1995. It happens all the time in California- the property was worth more than the business would ever make in profits. But Fremont, I learned, now hosts another brewpub. Jack’s Brewing Company Sports Pub & Grill opened for business in January 2000 in a former Bob’s Big Boy building. Their shopping center locale fits the sports theme well. As do the beers. A tart, no-lemon Hefe and a nice, somewhat estery Wheat started the line-up, which was quite extensive for such a young brewery. Raspberry Wheat was oily, slightly sweet. Copper-colored Amber offered a caramel taste and short finish, while Pale Ale was very fruity with punctual hops near the end and a bitter follow-up. IPA had slick mouthfeel and sweetly fruity flavor rushed by floral hops and almost enough bitterness.

Brewer Mike Peasley worked for a “San Jose microbrewery” (Gordon Biersch?) before joining the Fremont team. Jack’s owners, Erica and Kurt Steadman, definitely have a Gordon Biersch background. They’re joined by partners Krisy and Greg Wallace. They’ve turned this pedestrian building into an engaging establishment. C-shaped, dark stained bar welcomes guests. Tile floor, outside dinning in a wrought iron fenced courtyard, the smell of delicious garlic fries, one of many selections from an exhaustive appetizer list and plenty of televised sports. Jack’s may be on to something big.

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

© Bobby Bush

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