Half Moon Bay Brewing: Come for the View, Stay for the Beer

The brewpub at Half Moon Bay Brewing has a family and dog-friendly patio with one of the best views on the coast. But don’t let the view fool you. These guys make some seriously great beer.
Brewmaster James Costa has been brewing beer in the Bay Area for two decades, and has elevated the beer program at the Half Moon Bay brewpub for the past four years with bold beers in a variety of styles.
Barrel Manager Clark Benson, who previously worked his magic at Jackie O’s in Athens, Ohio, and The Rare Barrel in Berkeley, has teamed with Costa for a barrel program, called Ocho Barril (eight barrels).

Ocho Barril Series: Magic Barrel Genie
Belgian Strong Dark with Raspberries
Magic Barrel Genie is a Belgian Strong Dark with fresh raspberries — lots of them. This Genie spent 12 months in pinot noir wine barrels, with a custom blend of brettanomyces, lactobacillus and pediococcus added during secondary fermentation. The result is a complex and provocative mélange of flavors.
A burst of fresh raspberries virtually jumps out of the glass as you pour, and fruity tartness explodes on the palate with the first sip.
As the beer warms, you’ll appreciate the dark, dried fruit flavors characteristic of the Belgian Strong Dark style, along with the subtle influence of the pinot barrels.
“I've always been a fan of using local ingredients in beer,” Benson says. “That's what makes certain beers very special, because they can only be created or obtained in that area.” Magic Barrel Genie is an ideal beer to enjoy on a dreary day or a long night, as you ponder the mysteries of life and appreciate the considerable technical skill required to concoct such an outstanding beer.

Coffee Milk Stout
Our second beer from HMB is a coffee lover’s delight. Calf-eine is a milk stout flavored with 30 gallons of espresso roast coffee from San Francisco’s Ritual coffee that the brewers cold brewed themselves (and you thought brewers only brewed beer!).
Mastering the malt balance is critical for this style. “Chocolate is definitely a roasty malt, but it can have a little sweetness to it,” Costa says. “Roast malt can be overwhelming if you use too much of it. And black malt is very acrid, so you just want to use a hint of it to accentuate the coffee flavor.
Costa balances the 7.5% abv beer with a little bit of lactose to smooth out the roasted malts and coffee.
When you open and pour Calf-eine you’ll be overwhelmed by the aroma of fresh roasted coffee: It smells like breakfast.

Enjoy it with doughnuts or cupcakes, or, as Costa suggests, combine it with vanilla bean ice cream for an amazing beer float.


Acoustic Ales: A Beer for All Seasons

 Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment is located in a facility built in 1912 to support San Diego’s then vibrant beer scene. Unfortunately, Prohibition put a damper on those ambitions in 1919, forestalling the development of the brewing industry for decades. A century after the facility was built, Acoustic Ales picked up the baton and in 2012 started brewing in Mission Brewery Plaza, serving bars, restaurants and bottle shops in the San Diego area and beyond.

The three ales featured in this post are intended as a beer bridge between winter and spring. Witte Snake, a Belgian-style witbier (or white beer) and Strawberry Blondie, an American blonde ale with fresh strawberries, are harbingers of the longer, warmer days ahead. Meanwhile, Unsung, an imperial chocolate and oatmeal stout aged in bourbon barrels, reminds us that the chilly wet weather is still with us. 

Witte Snake
Witte Snake is a faithful rendition of the Belgian witbier style. Although Witte Snake is under 5% in alcohol by volume, there’s still a lot going on in this surprisingly complex beer. Along with wheat (typically around 50%), barley and sometimes oatmeal in the malt bill, wit beers are usually flavored with floral coriander and lemon peel and bitter Curacao orange peel. Acoustic Ales’ Witte Snake also has a hint of ginger. As with all Belgian beer, yeast is a prominent flavor component. Witte Snake is bottle conditioned, so you’ll probably notice a little sediment in the bottom of the last glass.

Tasting Notes
Witte Snake pours a hazy gold. A creamy head swirls on the top. Fragrance is coriander phenols with citrusy orange and lemon esters and a hint of ginger. Flavors are slightly sweet and tart, and spicy with hints of zesty orange Curacao and lemon peel. The ale yeast helps promote the citrus notes and the finish is dry. 

Enjoy this refreshing ale on the patio in the sunshine. Mussels and French fries are a classic pairing or try it with cheeses or panna cotta.

Strawberry Blondie

250 pounds of fresh local strawberries are the star in this excellent beer. The supporting role belongs to the suitably subtle structure of the nicely crafted American blonde ale. Just bottled in mid-February, Strawberry Blondie packs the semi-tart sweetness of newly picked strawberries. 

Tasting notes
Strawberry Blondie pours a light amber tinged with strawberry pink. A sparse head lingers for a short while. Initial fragrance of strawberries is light, but grows stronger as the beer warms. Flavor is strawberries, strawberries, strawberries. The fruit shines here, and if you like strawberries you’ll love this beer. Finish is semi dry and short.
Strawberry Blondie might be one of the easiest drinking beers I’ve had. Yet at 6% abv, this Blondie is no lightweight. This might be a beer to share with your non beer-drinking friends.

Quaff Strawberry Blondie at your earliest convenience to fully appreciate the fresh strawberries.

Unplugged Turkey Kopi Luwak Imperial Chocolate Oatmeal Stout
This version of Acoustic Ales’ Unplugged series is an imperial coffee chocolate oatmeal stout aged in Wild Turkey bourbon barrel. “We took our base Unplugged Imperial Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, which has oats, 80 pounds of Belgian Callabout milk chocolate per 15 barrel batch, brown sugar and wild flower honey, rested it in bourbon barrels from 8-12 months and added Kopi Luwak coffee” says Acoustic Ales owner and brewmaster Tommaso Maggiori.

Tasting Notes
The beer pours a dark brown with a persistent tan head that laces the glass. Carbonation is smooth. Initial aroma is bourbon barrel. The flavor is boozy bourbon barrel sweet followed by semi-sweet chocolate and a dark roasted coffee bite. The finish lingers on the palate. Let the beer open up in the glass to fully experience all of the flavors.
At a noticeable 12.5% alcohol, Unplugged is a big beer, best enjoyed with friends on a dark and stormy night or after dinner with rich chocolate cake.



Council’s Fruity Tart Saisons

The first thing you’ll notice when you pour one of Council Brewing’s Beatitude series beers is its bright neon color that’s nearly impossible to resist. So powerful was the allure of an early trial batch of Blueberry Tart Saison that the keg kicked in about an hour. And just like that, Council’s flagship beer was born — a testament to the power of pretty beer. “I guess we do drink with our eyes,” observes “the wild man,” Barrel Program Director Jeff Crane, who along with CEO Curtis Chism and his wife, Head Brewer Liz Chism, started the brewery.

In 2013, sour beers had not yet broken out in San Diego proper, and no brewery was making them consistently. “The first sour beer we bottled was the first sour beer ever bottled in San Diego,” says Crane. “We embraced it because there was a missing niche for sour beers,” Crane says.

Real Fruit
After the sight of electric color comes a whiff of fruit and tartness that is reinforced with the first sip, bracingly sour. “It ended up being more sour than we intended it to be, partially because people wanted it more sour,” Crane says. Once inoculated with the sour bug, it seems San Diego beer drinkers craved a lot of tart.
The acidity is a harbinger of the flavors of real fruit: concentrated tart Ballentine cherry juice from Kings Orchard in Michigan for the Tart Cherry and raspberry puree from Oregon in the Tart Raspberry.

Crane, who met the Chisms at Quaff, a San Diego home brewers club, starts by brewing a low-alcohol saison on Council’s three-barrel system. “It’s about as pale a beer as you can get, so when you put fruit on it the color just pops. That’s how this line got going," Crane says.
Crane sees Beatitude as bridging the gap between classic Belgian fruit lambics and more restrained Berlinerweisse-style fruit beers, which have recently become popular. “It’s not as complex as a Belgian fruit lambic because we’re not using aged hops so we’re not getting any of that fun, funky blue cheese kind of thing into it. It doesn’t have that tannin body they get from having a super-starchy turbid mash kind of wort, and age it in oak barrels to get the oak tannins. It doesn’t have the big rough, tannin finish; it finishes quick and dry.
"It’s really built to let the fruits be the main show and have some nice acidity and a little fermentation character behind it. On the other hand, we have some brett fermentation character to separate us from Berlinerweisses. It allows us also to get to a price point where more people can experiment with it and start learning about these flavors," he says.
Crane says sour beers actually taste better out of the bottle than on draft. “You can’t get it to the proper carbonation on draft. You don’t get the re-fermentation character.”

When and Where
Crane enjoys drinking Council’s Beatitude sours on their own. “It’s like the ultimate weekend, being outside beer on a sunny day.” But these sours can also pair with cheese, where the fattiness of the cheese is undercut by the acidity of the beer. He has also experimented with adding a splash of one of the sour beers to champagne.
To get the most out of the fruit, Council recommends drinking the beer as soon as possible. But if you’re interested in exploring the brettanomyces character, let it age for a year or so. “It’s not necessarily going to get better with age, it’s just different,” Crane says.

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Celebrate craft beer with SF Beer Week

With SF Beer Week looming just weeks away, Joanne Marino seems remarkably calm.
In 2016, her first year as executive director of the Guild, Marino wrangled some 850 events crammed into nine days. She also had to cope with the inconvenience of rescheduling Beer Week due to the Super Bowl, which was held in the Bay Area. “Last year because the dates changed, it was a little bit confusing. Getting back to our regular dates this year has been more familiar for everybody,” Marino says. 

Tighter Guidelines for Events
As the number of SF Beer Week events continues to grow, Marino and the Guild are looking for the right balance of quality and quantity. “Venues want to make sure that their events are well attended, and if there’s like a thousand events it can be a challenge,” she says. “For the consumer, having a thousand events to choose from can be overwhelming. I’m less concerned about how many events we have than the quality of the events.”
The Guild is also trying to eliminate some of the “gamesmanship” of venues trying to secure a higher listing placement by misrepresenting their event. For example, a venue that announces that a brewer will be on hand must verify that the brewer will actually be there and state how long the event will last. “We’re trying to make sure that the information about the event is accurate and that it’s really a special occasion, and not just somebody trying to get people in their door,” Marino says.

More Diversity in the Guild
Beer Week and the Brewers Guild are barometers for the state of the industry. “This is a maturing industry and people are becoming more specialized in the products they’re offering and the customers they’re trying to appeal to,” Marino says. 
“Of course, it all starts with making a great beer. But it’s reached a point where everyone is making great beers. So how am I different and how do I differentiate myself? What are my passions and what do I want to focus on? The market demands that you define who you are and what you’re offering to people,” she says.
Among the 32 breweries that comprise the SF Brewers Guild, several of the newer members are establishing a specific niche:
               Barebottle, a Bernal Heights brewery that incorporates recipes from home brewers.
               Sufferfest, which makes gluten-free beer.
               Seven Stills, a brewery that makes whiskey from the craft beer they brew.
               Black Sands, which offers hands-on home brewing education.
               Ferment, Drink, Repeat, a combination brewery and home brewing supply store.

The newcomers are having an impact on the Guild, says Marino. “All of these businesses have unique personalities, which is reflected in their tap rooms and business models, and how they approach producing their product. And they’re also very supportive of each other,” she says.
“It’s true that there’s more diversity among the members, but that means that there are also more members to help each other, too. And they can help each other in a specialized way,” she says. “There’s not just one brew pub out there by itself; there’s a lot of brew pubs. It’s not just one person doing gluten-free beer, but a lot of our members are looking at gluten free beer and are supporting each other in that process. Old Bus is a good example. A lot of their beers are near gluten free, but a lot of people don’t know that,” says Marino.
The Beer Week collaboration beer is a good example of the Guild’s community spirit. “Nearly all of our members were in attendance for the collaboration beer brew day and there was great camaraderie,” says Marino. This year’s collaboration beer is a “post-modern Kolsch,” brewed at Fort Point. “It’s a nod to innovation in some of the techniques used to extract flavor from the ingredients,” Marino says. The beer is flavored with Douglas fir tips and satsuma mandarin juice.

Planning for Beer Week
Even though Beer Week is still a few weeks away, it’s not too early to sign up for some of the more popular events, especially those that highlight the synergy between beer and food. “Beer and food events show another dimension of beer for people who are less familiar with craft beer to see how the flavors mingle,” Marino says.
Check out the SF Beer Week page for a full list of events. 

The Opening Gala
Beer Week kicks off with the Opening Gala, which will be held at Pier 48 on Feb. 10. 
Pouring at the Gala will be 125 breweries from the Bay Area and beyond (see the full list below). This event always sells out, so get your tickets ASAP. You can purchase them here

San Francisco
21st Amendment Brewery, Almanac Beer Co., Anchor Brewing Co., Barebottle Brew Co., Barrel Head Brewhouse, Bartlett Hall Brewing, Beach Chalet Brewing & Restaurant, Black Hammer Brewing Co., Black Sands Brewery, Cellarmaker Brewing Co., Ferment. Drink. Repeat, Fort Point Beer Co., Harmonic Brewing, Headlands Brewing Co., Holy Craft Brewery, Laughing Monk Brewing Co., Local Brewing Co., Magnolia Brewing Co., Old Bus Tavern, Pine Street Brewery, San Francisco Brewing Co., Seven Stills Brewery & Distillery, Social Kitchen & Brewery, Southern Pacific Brewing Co., Southpaw BBQ, Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, Standard Deviant Brewing LLC, Sufferfest Beer Co., Sunset Reservoir Brewing Co., ThirstyBear Organic Brewery, Triple Voodoo Brewery & Tap Room and Woods Beer Co.

East Bay
Alameda Island Brewing Co., Ale Industries, Altamont Beer Works, Auburn Alehouse, Benoit-Casper Brewing Co., Berryessa Brewing Co., Bison Brewing Co., Black Diamond Brewery, Calicraft Brewing Co., Cleophus Quealy Beer Co., Diving Dog Brewhouse, Drake’s Brewing Co., E.J. Phair Brewing Co., East Brother Brewing Co., Eight Bridges Brewing, Elevation 66 Brewing Co., Epidemic Ales, Farm Creek Brewing Company, Federation Brewing, Ghost Town Brewing, Heretic Brewing Co., High Water Brewing, Hoppy Brewing Co., Knee Deep Brewing Co., Lucky Devil Brewing, Mare Island Brewing Co., New Helvetia Brewing Co., Novel Brewing Co., Ol’ Republic Brewery, Pacific Coast Brewing Co., Rubicon Brewing Co., Ruhstaller Brewing & Taproom, Schubros Brewery, Sudwerk Brewing, Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co., Temescal Brewing Co., The Rare Barrel, Track 7 Brewing Co., Triple Rock Brewing Co., Trumer Brauerei and Working Man Brewing Co. 

North Bay
101 North Brewing Co., Anderson Valley Brewing Co., Bear Republic Brewing Co., Cooperage Brewing Co., Eel River Brewing Co., Fogbelt Brewing Co., HenHouse Brewing Co., Iron Springs Pub & Brewery, Lagunitas Brewing Co., Lost Coast Brewery, Mad Fritz Beer, Mad River Brewing Co., Moonlight Brewing Co., Moylan’s Brewing Co., Napa Smith Brewery, North Coast Brewing Co., Old Redwood Brewing Co., Petaluma Hills Brewing Co., Plow Brewing Co., Russian River Brewing Co., Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Sonoma Springs Brewing Co., St. Florian’s Brewery, Stumptown Brewery, Third Street Aleworks and Woodfour Brewing Co.

South Bay
Alpha Acid Brewing Co., Alvarado Street Brewing & Grill, Armstrong Brewing Co., Blue Oak Brewing Company, LLC, Camino Brewing Co., Campbell Brewing Co., DasBrew, Inc., Devil’s Canyon Brewing Co., Discretion Brewing, El Toro Brewing Co., Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Freewheel Brewing Co., Golden State Brewery, Half Moon Bay Brewing Co., Hermitage Brewing Co., Hop Dogma Brewing Co., Loma Brewing Co., New Bohemia Brewing Co., Palo Alto Brewing Co., Santa Clara Valley Brewing, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, Strike Brewing Co., Tied House Brewery & Cafe and Uncommon Brewers.