a compilation of musings on one of the world's oldest beverages...and a few other topics.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

City Beer: Like Mecca, Only You Can Drink

Welcome to "Talk Suds to Me." This blog is specifically about beer. All kinds of beer. There may be the occasional off-topic anecdote (when the situation calls for it- like when I unintentionally set the oven on fire in the house where I am dog-sitting, while trying to cook a meal for my family.) But, don't look for an answer to "what is the meaning of life?" What I CAN tell you is that I'm 100% convinced life is justthatmuch! better with good brew and good friends. So, on to it...

On Thursday, my friend Krista and I made a pilgrimage to all that is Holy, the San Francisco-based "City Beer Store." This delightful venue, which doubles as a bar and store, was recommended to me by the lovely Maxime. Given the YELP reviews (353 reviews at almost 5 stars. YELP nerds out there know that this is very favorable), I had very high expectations. But, perhaps we should start at the beginning: Rancho Parnassus.

Krista and I originally set out to frequent a "posh" bar. Don't judge, OK? Sometimes, very occasionally, an over-priced yet very strong martini, plush chairs, dark panels (c'mon- who doesn't fall prey to some dark panels sometimes?), and a little dress-up is called for. So I hit up YELP, and came across Rancho Parnassus.

For starters, there are, in fact, shady areas of SOMA, particularly the 6th Street area. One YELPER referred to RP as the "oasis on 6th Street." I missed this contribution when looking over the reviews, but can now understand why. The bar/coffeshop was nestled in between parking garages, some abandoned building, your occasional apartment complex, and random people standing on the street corners, murmuring to themselves while wielding what looked to be a sword (OK- one person was wielding what looked to be a sword.) I walked in, and immediately felt a bit out of place. This was partly due to my attire. I wasn't rocking dreads, a headwrap, a long, flowy, skirt, skinny jeans, or a tattoo. Nor can I claim membership with the Young Anarchists of America. At RP, it appears as though egg-blue sweaters and pea coats stand out. But, as a poetry slam was about to start, I grabbed a beer and settled in at one of the tables. Krista joined me soon after, and we sat listening to the poetry while gulping down pilsners. Then we made a getaway, and walked the 10 minutes to City Beer.

If I make it sound like RP isn't a good place to try, that's not my intention. In fact, I recommend it, particularly if you enjoy poetry slams (I do not). Krista ordered pumpkin flatbread with dipping sauce and it was very tasty. I'd go back for it. The bartenders were kind. The atmosphere was relaxed. I do, however, think the YELPERS are overzealous. There's a very limited beer selection, and as far as I can tell, it didn't look like they were serving wine. Which is funny, since RP is classified as a "wine bar." But, on to....

City Beer. Oh, City Beer.

The "City Beer" space is small. This is a drawback if there's a big crowd, but a blessing if there's not. (In fact, it started to feel like home as the crowd thinned out towards the end of the night.) You walk in, and the bar is off to the right, down a short flight of steps. A couple couch-like seats are arranged near the door. Beth and Craig, the owners of City Beer, typically man the bar. Lined up against the wall are refrigerators, full of beer. All kinds of beer. Belgian, German, American micro-brews, American crappy brews, Irish, English, etc. For a $1 fee (the "corkage" fee is on top of what you pay for your purchase- this isn't called "City Fantasy"), you can pick out any beer you like. Beth or Craig will open it for you, and, if you're sharing, split the beer. Beer glasses are provided. The bar also has a rotating selection of beers on draft.

On this specific evening, Brian from Telegraph Brewing Company in Santa Barbara, CA was on hand to discuss his beers, and supervise a TBC tasting. The theme of the TBC tasting was "sour beers." We went for it. I was pretty excited, given I had tried a delicious sour beer at the wonderful La Trappe in North Beach on Tuesday night (oh, there will be another visit here soon enough). I think Brian was expecting that, as women, we wouldn't be too stoked about his sour beers (he admitted as much. More on the idea of women hating beer in a later post). He did, however, start off by telling us he was grateful to finally be talking with women, as he had been talking to men all night.

All the beers we tried are not yet being offered by TBC. Some of them are experiments. And, unfortunately, I did not hold onto the write-up with the explanation of beer ingredients/alcohol content (beer blog FAIL!). Fortunately, the best beer of the tasting (well, according to both Krista and I), the "Gypsy Ale," is on their website. It's brewed with rye, unmalted wheat, and locally grown plums. While the beer retained a sour flavor, the sour flour was less pronounced then the other brews, and the plum really stood out. The plum was a very nice compliment to the beer, and gave it a nice, full finish. Brian also mentioned that the Gypsy Ale was more mature then some of the first couple beers we tasted. I think it's safe to say that it is a trifecta of "wild, unique, and delicious." And, at 8.0% abv, it packs a punch. All the beers we tasted contained rye. Would I recommend the "Gypsy Ale?" You bet. If you're down in Santa Barbara, it's worth the purchase. I would go so far as to call it an invigorating beer; it's bright and refreshing.

I'm a rye beer novice. It's a beer "department" I plan to learn more about, along with stouts (there is a plan to really dive into stouts during San Francisco Beer Week. Whoop!) I know that most beers containing rye are sour, but, as "Beer Advocate" points out, moderately bitter. Overall, while the TBC tastings were sour, the beers were not overwhelmingly bitter. For this, I give Brian and his ilk props. If you want some context, the ever-wonderful BA lists the top rye beers, as decided on by BA reviewers.

Recently, I blew through a copy of "Beer West" magazine, so I decided to grill Brian about the general themes in some of the articles I've read- like the idea that the American micro-brew hoppy beer department is over-satured, and that some brewers are starting to move away from extra-hoppy beers in an effort to explore the brewing of quality lagers. And, no- "quality lager" is not an oxymoron. Remember, Miller Light, Bud Light, and Cors Light are 1) not microbrews and 2) not representative of good lagers. I'll further expand on some of the "Beer West" themes in a later blog, but suffice it to say, Brian was incredibly thoughtful, engaging, and patient with our myriad of questions. Keep it up, Telegraph Brewing Company!

A few more words on City Beer- if you're living in SF, or visiting SF, and love beer, go. Don't think twice. Beth and Craig are there to answer as many of your questions as possible, and the beer selection is seriously fantastic. You will come across down-to-earth, friendly, and like-minded beer lovers who are eager to talk about your beer, their beer, trade notes, and trade sips. If you're in the mood to go in, make a quick selection, and split, you can. If you're in the mood to go in, ask questions about the beers you are thinking of picking out to take home, and really take your time, you can. And if you're in the mood to go in with a friend, try a variety of quality suds, and settle down at the bar or into a seat for the next few hours, you can. And you can bet there's a beer on tap you've never tried before. Go forth, and wander.

Happy drinking!


  1. Great first post, Megan, got me really thirsty. In my craft beer journey thus far, haven't tried a sour beer. Well, ok, admittedly, that's not ALL I haven't tried, but it's one category I've heard a lot about and am very excited to sample. Look forward to more...Drink on!

  2. Thanks Jason! Keep reading, and drinking!