The Quest for the Holy Grain - Best Brew Pubs
California

 

 

 

 

 

Costa Mesa

Davis

Escondido

Oceanside

Petaluma

 

 

 

San Francisco

San Marcos

Santa Rosa

Vista

 

 

Lagunitas Brewing Company
1280 North McDowell Blvd.
Petaluma, Calif. 94954
707.778.8776

Lagunitas Brewing Company.
Lag-Unitas. A Baltimore connection if there ever was one. And the 2016 Preakness shows Exaggerator as the winner on a big screen in the corner.
I sip a Sumpin' Sumpin' and my companion has a Dogtown Pale.
Every seat is taken, the din of happy quaffers is deafening.
“Why do we keep coming to such popular places?” he asks.
Beer has changed. My dad drank at a stag bar. Google it if you do not know the term.
Lagunitas in Petaluma, home of Charles “Peanuts” Schultze and the world's arm wrestling championship, is part farm (grain silos loom in the background), part performance venue with two stages one with a grassy amphitheater, part playground, part beer garden, part tavern, part souvenir store.
Families on the grassy parts, music on the stage, beer flowing, food passing through the crowds and this is just a regular Saturday.

When we entered there were 200-300 people milling about or anchored to scarce seats inside and out.
We definitely raised the average age of the crowd.
Halfway through our first beer two bar seats opened up. We sat, backs to the bar, watching the Preakness and when we turned around we had a bucket of peanuts and pretzels.
It was California, the women had bare backs and legs; it made it difficult to watch horses in mud.

There were 19 beers on tap....some were going to go undrunk. By the way, we had a hotel in walking distance, a walk that was shorter going to Lagunitas than coming back because it was a straight line going to the Lagunitas but not on the way back.
Lucky 13 is an imperial red ale and a great beer; it followed a Lil' Sumpin, Equinox, Imperial Stout, Z in Ztout , Hop Stoopid... and by then I was.
The beers were fresh and every bit as good as you would expect from Lagunitas. Each was served in a jar.
Tavern food-- nachos, wings, sandwiches—were available.

This was a destination stop.
We had affable beertenders but it was too busy to strike up a conversation with anyone and so loud you had to lean in on your own conversation which competed with live music and crowd noise.
Counting us, I saw four senior citizens on our visit. One, Neil, approached us and said he has enjoyed seeing us here every Saturday over the years.
So I will spend tomorrow looking for our doppelgangers.
This ain't no stag bar, dammit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russian River Brewing Company
725 4th St.
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(707) 545-2337

You can't get Russian River beer back home.
When I go to California I find it rarely.
It is 2,817 miles from my house to the Russian River Brewery and it is a trip I knew I was someday going to make.
A car, two planes a rental car and hotel check-in later I was walking East on 4th street toward its 700 block, on a picture-perfect California day.

Up ahead, on the sidewalk, was a mass of people standing in a loosely organized queue. There went my first fantasy of a nice little table by a window in a cozy little pub where people loved to talk beer.
I do not wait in lines as a rule.
There is nowhere I want to go so badly.
There were two lines, one for eating and drinking and one for carryout.
I travelled 2,817 miles.
I waited.
Thirty minutes later we were in the door. First order of business, request a table...45 minute wait.
Now head to the bar.

The building is not as big as many brewpubs. The pub was split in two by a wooden divider. On one side was a bar that stayed two and three deep my entire visit. A few tables abutted the divider on the bar side. On the other side were a variety of tables for parties of two, four, six or more.
Large beer signs, few in number.
An unremarkable place.

Above the bar is a chalkboard list of the available beers.
It is a thing of beauty...colored chalks, OG, ABV visible from anywhere in the main room. Amazingly on this very crowded Saturday every beer on the left board is a $4.75 16 oz. pour and every beer on the right board is a $4 12 oz. pour.
There are 21 Russian River beers on tap and several more available in bottles.
There is nary a Pliny the Younger.
My plan was to get a flite of beers, figure what I like and go after it. But there is nowhere to sit and to set a flite so I go after a pint.
After standing through my first pint, Pliny the Elder, we found a couple of stools at a super crowded, noisy bar.
Damnation was my second choice, followed by Perdition and then when my Bierre de Sonoma arrived a table was ready, just about 45 minutes in.

By now I am experiencing the Russian River effect, but I am sitting and I finally have a place to set a flite, so I order one. It comes with 3 oz. glasses of all 21 beers on the board.
It is a thing of beauty and wonder.
I begin with Erudition which gets high marks, then Perdition, which I had earlier and liked.
By the time I got to my ninth sample, OVL, I realize I will never finish this flite.
I fall three short, all sours; I dare not test my stomach and I am now under water.

The crowd is young and it is large.
No one seems too earnest.
The wait staff are working their butts off but no one is talking about the beer.
Neither does anyone seem very knowledgable about it; they are just selling it.
I expected a consecrated place with erudite staff but damnation if it wasn't just a bunch of young'uns.
The one salvation was the beer itself.

Food runs to pizza.
The appetizers are basically slices of pizza cut into small bite- size pieces.
The menu has a few salads and sandwiches, but pizza rules.

My itch for Russian River has been scratched.
If I could do it over I'd go on a slow day, if they have them. I'd share a flite and choose a few pints but my opinion of Russian River would not change.
Been there. Done that.

 

 

 

 

The Lost Abbey
155 Mata Way, Suite 104
San Marcos, California 92069
800-918-6816
www.lostabbey.com

We're-Not-Worthy Beer Tour stop #2. If Stone isn't enough then travel the 3.2 miles to brewer Tomme Arthur's beer playground at The Lost Abbey, located in a light industrial complex. We were there on a Saturday afternoon when it was standing room only, albeit any room to sit or stand was scarce. Still, the beers, which include brews from both Port Brewing and Lost Abbey, are worth a stand on one leg if necessary. Lost Abbey beers are all high-end and Belgian-inspired. Some are within a traditional beer style, others defy both tradition and style. During our visit the nine Lost Abbey taps ranged from a 4.8% Witch's Wit to an 11% Serpent's Stout, with most closer to the stout in abv. You may not be standing at all after two pints in this place. Wooden barrels are everywhere, including being used as bar stools. While there's no food, Lost Abbey offers some of the best craft beers we've ever tasted. You want to go to there.

 

 

Green Flash Brewing Company
1430 Vantage Court, Suite 104
Vista, California 92081-8545
760-597-9012
http://www.greenflashbrew.com/

Yes, it is another high-end San Diego brewery and another brewery in a light industrial development. So what's not to like? No pub here, just a tasting room open on Friday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. $6 bought us a taste of nine beers, eight of which were 6%+ and some available only at the brewery. Full pints are also available, as are growlers and bottles for take home. You won't be disappointed.

 

 

 

Breakwater Brewing Company
101 N Coast Hwy  
Oceanside, CA 92054
(760) 433-6064

While the greater Los Angeles area was quite late in getting on the microbrew bandwagon, that was not the case for San Diego, located only 100 miles to the south, where microbrewing has been the rage for a couple of decades now.
Oceanside is a very popular vacation beach town located precisely midway between the two, but for beer lovers it is a close-in suburb of San Diego.

Breakwater Brewing Company is a brewpub located in busiest part of the downtown area, two or three blocks from the beach.
There are lots of TVs broadcasting sporting events.
Food fare includes burgers, sandwiches and pizza, but the star of course is the beer, brewed on premises and not distributed elsewhere.
The working part of the brewery is hidden in the back kitchen, but the important part – the taps – are right where they need to be in the bar.
The night we visited they were pouring 30+ beers, including all of their own and quite a few really interesting guest beers.

Their beers ran the gamut from great to sublime – really, we could not find anything mediocre, and we sampled quite a few. We had already eaten, so did not get a chance to order food, although most of the patrons seemed to be enjoying pizza.
This is a definite must-visit brewpub, strategically located to furnish refreshment to road-weary So Cal travelers as well as beach revelers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beach Chalet Brewery
1000 Great Hwy
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 386-8439

Location, location, location.
The Beach Chalet Brewery serves their beer with one of the finest views of any brew pub in the country.
If you believe your beer tastes better whilst beholding a fantastic vista, the Beach Chalet might serve you the tastiest beer you've ever had.
Take a stroll through Golden Gate Park, and don't stop ‘til you reach the beach. There you'll find the Beach Chalet on the second floor of the Golden Gate Visitor Center.
Huge windows span the entire front wall, providing a magnificent view of the beach and Pacific Ocean. When we visited, there were seven beers on tap.
I enjoyed the Imperial Stout from the Dark Side Series – seasonal dark beers inspired by Star Wars. Most impressive.
The food and service is also great. Make this place an excuse to visit Golden Gate Park.
If you can, catch the sunset over the Pacific.

 

 

21st Amendment Brewery
563 2nd St
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 369-0900

You probably know 21st Amendment from the cartoony drawings of Washington, Lincoln, Paul Revere, and of course, Ham, the space chimp, on their cans.
21 st Amendment makes the environmentally friendly choice of canning rather than bottling their beer.
If you're not a fan of the can, all the well-known brews such as Back in Black and Live Free or Die IPA are available on tap.
You'll find a few delicious seasonals on the beer menu as well. I particularly enjoyed the Oak Smoked Porter.

With a rotation of about 10 beers on tap and a variety of good food, 21st Amendment brewery is a must-visit if you're in the SOMA area. It is a great place to pregame or watch the Giants game, located only two blocks from the park.
You're sure to find some spirited Giants fans at the bar.

 

 

 

Thirsty Bear Brewing Company
661 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
Telephone: (415) 974-0905

When in San Francisco, don't leave without checking out the Thirsty Bear. The atmosphere is great -- the brick walls, natural wood, the exposed metal pipes and fermentation tanks gives it a homey, classic brew pub vibe. The bar is long and there are many tables at which to sit, eat, drink, and talk. A lot of people could pack in without it feeling overcrowded. There is a smaller bar on the second floor, along with some pool tables and dart boards for your entertainment.

The Thirsty Bear specializes in Spanish cuisine. And they also specialize in beer. The food is good and the beer is great. They had about 10 beers on tap. I enjoyed the Kozlov Stout...a delicious, dry Irish-style stout with black & roasted malts. Also downed a Brown Bear Ale, a classic British-style brown ale with a malty body.
Overall, this is one of the finest brew pubs I've visited. They are doing it right. If you find yourself in San Francisco, definitely stop by the Thirsty Bear.

 

 

Thirsty Bear Brewing Company
661 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
Telephone: (415) 974-0905

If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to drink some Thirsty Bear beers there. This is the very best micro brewery this Questor has ever visited, bar none. The ambience is that of a San Francisco art gallery/warehouse. It is a curious mix of track lighting, modern art, bare pipes in the ceiling, bare brick walls, huge skylight and concrete floor with an antique hardwood floor insert.

The brew works are all on premises and they are a curious silver, no copper in sight. Men in black leather jackets sit cross-legged at high table and chairs—It is San Francisco after all. Other men come and go with briefcases slung low against their backs. It does not take long to realize this place has an awful beer décor. Worse, the menu is terrible, with great food. Go figure. Appetizers include olive with herbs, spicy fried chickpeas, roasted beets and other so-called delight. There is little to no meat to be found on this tapas menu! I am ashamed to say I ate roasted beets and liked them along with bocadillos, tortilla Espanola, and empadaes. Someone please tell me what paella is, Kramer loved it!

The crowd was eclectic sexually but mostly young. There was a long L-shaped bar and indecipherable music played unnoticed in the background. Later it turned to class rock and it delighted. Baseball was on for two home teams but no one seemed interested. Now let's talk beer.

The Thirsty Dog had 11 beers on tap. I had Rumrunner Brown Ale, Golden Hallucination (a strong Belgian), Kozlov Stout, and Meyer ESB. The last two were nitrogen conditioned. They were the best danged microbrews I have ever had. Each was consistent, solid, smooth, with lots of body and very, very tasty. The Rumrunner was my favorite; it was a seasonal brown ale flavored with molasses. The Golden Hallucination was as good a Belgian draft as I have ever had. The beers were universally great. You've got to put Thirsty Bear on your to do list if you come to San Francisco.

Now, for the women, for this part of any better beer drinking experience, is it not? Just as I had begun to give up on the TB two raven haired goddesses entered and sat at the small raised table across from us. And there sat Snow White. It had to be. Her top was cut as low as her hemline was high. She had legs, crossed and long, that would have giganticized all seven of the dwarfs. When she uncrossed and recrossed her legs the entire bar sighed as one, I along with it.

From the first gay to the last hooray, the Thirsty Bear has the best micro brews I have ever had. Strong colors, crystal clarity and firm bodies characterize all of their beers. Be sure to ask about the seasonals, they were especially good on our visit. This is a must stop for any beer lover in the City by the Bay.

 

 

Karl Strauss Brewing Company
901A South Coast Drive
Costa Mesa, California 92626
714-546-2739
wwwkarlstrauss.com

Southern California is home to six Karl Strauss brewery-restaurants. We visited the Costa Mesa location next to the sprawling South Coast plaza and there were plenty of thirsty beautiful-people shoppers on hand. Based on a number of visits over the years, Karl Strauss beers have always been first class, ranging from Endless Summer Light (when's the last time you saw an American craft-brewed 3.4% beer?) to a seasonal saison (7%) and trippel (9%). Food is on the better side of typical brewpub fare and stretches from mac and cheese to filet mignon. A large parking structure is a short walk away. For a mall brewery, this Karl Strauss is worth going out of your way to visit.

 

 

 

Stone Brewing Company
1999 Citracado Parkway
Escondido, California 92029
760-471-4999
www.stonebrew.com

 

The We're-Not-Worthy Beer Tour stop #1. We recently visited Stone for the fourth time, and this time we included a brewery tour before lunch. Tours are free but you need to sign in early as they fill up quickly; you'll get to see an operation that looks more like one of the big guys than a craft brewery. Besides, the tour finishes with a sampler of five Stone beers. Great start. Stone is one of the few brewery-restaurants that has paid attention to food and how it pairs with its beers, so anticipate a damn good meal. And it looks and acts like a restaurant, with park-like outside dining and a soaring inside dining area. Imagine a California biergarten...this is it. But then, seriously, there's Stone beer. When we visited there were nine Stone beers on tap and three more in the bottle, including Cali-Belgique IPA (6.9%, $5), Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale (8.7%, $4), and the 2007 and 2008 Old Guardian Barley Wines (each 11.26% and $12). But if Stone beer alone were not enough, there were also 23 taps and 69 bottles from places like Alesmith, Green Flash, Russian River, Moylan's, Brew Dog and others. All well-crafted and mostly big beers, and with great food and service to accompany them. This must be on your brewery bucket list.

 

 

 

Sudwerk Restaurant & Brewery
2001 2nd St
Davis, CA 95618-5474
(530) 758-8700
In Davis, Questors must go to Sudwerk Restaurant & Brewery. Period. German beer made in America. Why didn't someone back East think of that? Smooth and consistently flavorful beers is what you will find at this award-winning Rheinheitsgebot Brauerei.

Brewed on premises, these are splendid brews. The hefeweizen is one of the best outside der Vaterland. This is not Southern California, but it is California, and the clientele is so good looking on some nights, that many Questors risk being asked to leave for excessive blandness. No way these women drink beer and look like this...no way.