It's been a while since I posted an update, but now's as good a time as any to give the rundown of our Bay Area trek, which included high-volume beer enjoyment and equally high-volume hanging out with friends & people we didn't previously know.
The weekend started with a trip to, of all places, a German wine bar/coffee house. The shop's owner had an open bottle of wine he wanted to get rid of, and we were more than happy to help him out; we also desperately needed caffeine to get over our 4 a.m. wakeup (or, rather, my wife did, since I'm now apparently used to getting up before 5).
Making our way down the street to sushi, we met up with some old friends and had that most Japanese of sushi accompaniments: sake. For most people, sake is a kind of mysterious liquid, a clear concoction with less character than her European wine brethren but far more character than her European clear beverage kin. I've been intrigued by the stuff since going to Japan, where the sake flowed like wine and Kirin Ichiban flowed like water. (I think all the water was seawater.)
In what must have been the most interesting business plan ever assembled, a combination sake bar/hair stylist opened in Ithaca shortly after I left the place. When my wife and I returned, we tried the sake; we did not try the styling.
What's most intriguing about sake, though, is the way it's made. Rice is infected with a fungus, which breaks down the starches into yeast-digestible form, and the entire wad is then subjected to yeast. This two-step fermentation process seems pretty unique in that it requires two different organisms. It's the lichen of alcohol. (Not to be confused with lichen schnapps, which is just a terrible thing.)
Regardless, our sake that afternoon was not of the finest vintage. We moved on to the evening's festivities, where I finally tucked into my first local beer, a San Jose Hermitage Ryetopia. I have a thing for rye beers -- the added spice of rye gives a little tingle to many otherwise placid brews -- and this was a good example of a rye pale, enough to get me ready for a night of drinking.
The sun dipped, more friends arrived, and we found ourselves at "OG", a nice little joint with a very large selection (in two rooms -- if you go, be sure to check out the back room) of locals. I went first to Drake's 1500 and pulled down a Stone specialty double IPA, a 10+% affair that pretty much killed my wife's ideas of staying up.
Starting with Round 2, the memory becomes fuzzy. I stuck local with a hefty amber ale -- also from a San Leandro brewery -- then went with my brother to get a local stout whose name and flavor both escape me. My last drink of the evening was another San Jose brew, but at that point I was probably best not having it.
Day 2 was about to be a local wine day, but a trip to the airport nixed that plan. Adhering to the 8 hours rule, I didn't drink in the morning, and by the time night came, there was nothing local to be had. We went out to Ricksbar for some mixed drinks, chatted long with a couple Aussies on holiday, then headed straight back to the hotel to pass out.
At the wedding, the beer selection was Drake's 1500, Drake's dry stout, the Berkeley staple Trumer Pils, and Dogfish Head 90 Minute. Obviously, I avoided DFH: what worse way to travel across the country than to drink what you can pick up not just at the store but at a brewpub 2 miles away?
To be honest, I was most excited about the Trumer Pils. Trumer doesn't make much, they don't export, and their brew is known far and wide as a very good example of a pilsner style. It lived up to the hype, too. The flavor is mild, a little grassy and herbal, but not something that will wreck the tastebuds.
Drake's presented a pair of interesting alternatives. The 1500 is a sort of low-alcohol West Coast IPA, with a decent amount of dryness to go with an apparent hop nose. To their credit, though, the people at Drake's didn't allow that smell to overwhelm, which made this far more drinkable than many of those from San Diego. Hop flavor is also not intense, but it's tropical enough to keep the taste on the tongue. If it were available here, I'd buy it regularly.
The stout was similarly well-managed. It's easy to try to make a stout feel robust, and it's easy to go straight for the color, but Drake's seems to have managed that line well, presenting a mildly chocolately, very dark brew with the classic beige head and an assertive but not aggressive roast followed by a dry finish.
I couldn't leave town without slamming through one more pint that evening, in spite of a desire to just fall into bed. Alas, my desire to sleep overwhelmed my normal cataloging of what goes down the gullet.
As much as people talk about West Coast vs East Coast as some sort of stylistic thing, the real differences were in volume of breweries in the Bay Area. OG had at least a dozen local breweries on their board and probably rotates through a dozen more -- their list updates live as kegs are tapped -- without stressing the variety available to them. Here in the DC area, there are maybe a dozen breweries total that are worth keeping on tap; more are coming online every year, but we certainly don't have the variety of styles or overall quality that California consumers expect these days. That's not to say there aren't great breweries out here, rather that it's easier to start a brewery on the East Coast and have it be a modest success despite putting out relatively unrefined beers.
Happily, we're on our way.
Mash out. Spin on.
I love making beer. I love drinking good beer. I love enjoying beer with other people.
Oktoberfest is the trifecta, allowing me to experiment with an Oktoberfestbier, drink that and other local brews, and throw a very large party for no reason other than Octobericity. (So that's a word now.)
This time of year really appeals to me. The weather generally makes me feel like I'm back in the Northwest rather than south of the Mason-Dixon line. The start of leaves changing colors and the shortening days make me feel like we've finally left summer bugs and lawn mowing behind.
As with the last two years, it's also an excuse to have an Oktoberfest party. Each year the flavor changes slightly, depending on weather, attendees, quality of beer, and the state of our house, but every year has been entertaining enough to make a repeat inevitable.
In 2012, we started planning our first Oktoberfest about a month early. I had a couple homebrews to get through, but I had yet to expand the volume to 15+ gallons at a time. The general plan was to do a tasting, where attendees could sample from any of something like 5 or 6 craft beers, as well as drink through my remaining stores from the year. At the time, my youngest daughter was just 7 months old, and our oldest was barely over 3.
We planned on the moonbounce, but the weather didn't cooperate. At all. Instead, I had to buy the biggest tarp sold at Home Depot along with some high-quality rope and string up a makeshift cover for our deck between our oak tree and some closets on our top floor. That was the only way to get all those people comfortably in our space, but it also meant occasionally clearing the pooled water. In spite of the horrible weather, the crowd was large -- and felt larger due to the confinement -- and we had a great time.
Fast forward a year, and with a slightly earlier start date, we held that party during a warm weekend in late-September. Rain didn't hit, I served the variety of homebrew from the basement (still no Oktoberfest!), and the crowd seemed far more fluid, ebbing and flowing as the evening went on to provide about 6 hours of uninterrupted partydom.
This year, we got the house kitted out with a large screened porch, so rain was never going to be a problem. (The tarp may have wept, but it was in the shed, so I could ignore it.) We were lucky enough to have a cold front move through the day before the party, which pushed daytime temps down to a comfy mid-60s and overnight temperatures into the upper 40s.
Something like 30 adults and about half that many children rolled through the house over 5 or so hours. Excellent population variety and great conversation made it an event that hopefully everyone else enjoyed as much as I did.
As a first this year, I also made a specific Oktoberfest. We started the night with 3 cases of that on the deck, plus 3 or 4 commercial cases in case things got out of hand.
I'm often pleased with the beers that I brew, but this one came out dead on, everything I wanted it to be. Its only negative? Slight overcarbonation. But I'll take that with a spectacular Oktoberfestbier any day. And in spite of going through 2.5 cases of beer total, we were still left with a case and a half of the Oktoberfestbier left over.
I can hardly wait for next year's. For now, I'll have to take solace in our copious amounts of leftover beer.
Mash out. Spin on.