Northern California – aiong with Oregon a bit north – are generally considered the place the craft beer culture was spawned. And there it endures and thrives like no other area – which is a bit of a surprise – considering how many breweries and brewpubs are already there. While the Southeast and Midwest in particular are newer to craft beer – “green fields” for new brewery and brew pub locations – in Northern California the beer appreciation just keeps on growing.
Two great examples of what makes all this work are Linden Street Brewery in Oakland and Southpaw BBQ in San Francisco. Both very different, both iconic reflections of the strength of the craft beer culture.
Linden St is a purposely local, proudly green and all about keeping it real. You may find a hoppy beer there – but no imperial hop sickle bombs here – thanks. “Why bring more sand to the beach?” says Adam of Linden St – located in an industrial area of the Oakland port area. Recently I have heard a similar refrain from many California brewers trying to get beer enthusiasts to look beyond IPA’s.
Linden St is the only production brewery in Oakland, and has been putting out notably solid lagers and ales since around 2008. When I dropped by their taproom/open brewery tasting, three of the five full time brewery staff were there – pouring beer and chatting with the locals.
Steven – who also manages a soccer camp for local disadvantaged youth supported by the brewery – was pouring cups of beer. Brewer Kel hefted a keg of Town Lager- a beer only available to retail outlets that are within a bike ride’s range – and strapped it on to Linden’s custom built keg/platform two wheeler. “We will deliver this beer only to local merchants – that are within a bike rides distance. It’s the way we show our support for the neighborhood and the people here that think of Linden St. as their local beer.”
I enjoyed their “Urban People’s Common Lager” which was smooth but had real flavor, but their Burning Oak Black Lager is their most popular style.
In contrast – Southpaw – in the gentrifying but still gritty Mission district in San Francisco is a full service, specialty micro brewery/whiskey bar/barbecue flavor experience.
Established and managed by Elizabeth Wells – hailing from Alabama, but educated in the hospitality business in Colorado, Southpaw is a craft beer/foodie lover delight. Offering sophisticated but honest menu of old south BBQ blended with trendy new food ideas, along with exotic brewed craft beers like a coffee maibock and smoked peach saison.
What else do you need? Well, how about a diverse selection of over 30 whiskeys (and whisky’s) included unusual blends from High West of Utah. While I guess it’s really whiskey appreciation, I was delighted with the High West flight of blended ryes, bourbons and scotches.
As I was about to chow down on their “Nachez” (nachos with BBQ pork instead of beans and ground beef) when I asked Elizabeth which of the six BBQ sauces she preferred. “My favorite we only use for the catfish, but I’ll bring you out some – its the Alabama white”. This turned out to be a mixture of mayo, horseradish and black pepper – wonderful dash of heat and savoriness to add to the succulent barbequed pork.
Tied into the SF foodie scene, Elizabeth invites in local chefs, holds cooking (and brewing) classes and special beer dinners. I must say that I couldn’t find a better experience in downtown SF – than to sit at the local natural wood bar, sipping whiskey, tasting fresh craft beer and eating great BBQ.
Linden Street – Oakland’s dedicated quality production craft brewery locally focused; Southpaw – featuring craft beer, whiskey and BBQ in the city with enthusiasm and inventiveness – are just a 40 minute BART (subway) ride apart. These diverse craft beer jewels are examples of why craft beer culture is still exciting and growing in Northern California.
You can choose how you prefer your beerappeciation – I am happy to be able to enjoy it many ways!