La Trappe Cafe: San Francisco, CA

If you wound up going to Rouge Public House, then this is only a block away and is the only place where you should go for Belgian beers. Period. The outside is a little bit deceiving because after you walk through the front door, you’re pretty much in a kitchen. Don’t get worried though. Just head down the spiral staircase and you’re at the bar. The bar area is small and intimate with plenty of exposed brick and archways with some accents of brass. Bartenders here are patient and will typically be able to give you some great recommendations. However, they may require that you at least attempt to pronounce the beer you’re ordering. This place really gives off the vibe of an actual Belgian bar. You won’t find too much American craft beer here because the concentration is mostly Belgian where bottles of vintage Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen are common and flowing. Take your time while you’re here. Examine the extensive beer menu, grab some geuze and eat some mussels. Although the prices are a bit higher, it’s worth it to try at least one authentic lambic in a cozy atmosphere.

La Trappe Cafe
800 Greenwich St, San Francisco, CA 94133

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Rouge Public House: San Francisco, CA

This is one of several “Outposts” that the Rouge Brewery has along the West coast. Outpost basically means that it’s operated by Rouge Brewery (Oregon) and you can find a ton of their beers on tap here. This places offers the normal staple beers but also has a ton of their more limited edition beers on too. Although I’m not a HUGE fan of the Rouge beers, I still like visiting this place while in the city. There’s an outdoor drinking area which makes it a nice place to visit and drink outside – something that’s not super-common while in a major city. The prices are very reasonable and even if you don’t like Rouge beers, there are usually guest beers on tap to satisfy your needs. Taste something you like? To-go bottles are availble for a wide variety of beers and you can add them on your tab. They have a food menu and sell the typical bar food but if you’re not into the menu, there’s a ton of other places to eat in the area (this is located on the edge of Little Italy and North Beach).

Rouge Public House SF

673 Union St, San Francisco, CA 94133

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Hopwater Distribution: San Francisco, CA

This is a newer bar (yes bar, not a distributor) that opened up in the middle of the city bordering Nob Hill and Tenderloin areas. Although this place is large, it may be a little difficult to find since there isn’t a sign for it outside. The building looks a bit old, but the inside is comfortable with two floors of seating and a pretty large bar space. Hopwater specializes solely in California breweries that are located mostly in the Bay area. They also feature a great menu that is designed to pair well with the beers you’re drinking. One plus of this bar was that they bring in a lot of lesser known breweries that aren’t in other bars around the city. This was the bar that introduced me to Tahoe Mountain’s beers and I’ve been thankful since. Order the chicken sandwich and support some Cali goodness.

Hopwater Distribution

850 Bush St, San Francisco, CA

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City Beer Store: San Francisco, CA

If you’re heading to Cellarmaker Brewery then visiting City Beer Store is a no-brainer since its located only one street away. This place has been a craft beer staple in San Francisco for the past 8 years. Not only is it a store with one of the best selections of beer in the city, but it’s also a bar that always boasts one of the best tap lists in the area as well. There are roughly 12 taps that are constantly rotating so there’s always something good on tap. If you don’t see anything you like on draft, then take a walk around the store and pick any bottle to drink on site. Or you could select one of the VERY rare beers that they keep in the cooler behind the bar for in-house consumption. Some beers that I’ve seen in that cooler include various Cantillon, Prairie, Logsdon, vintage Bruery (including the first release of Wanderer), vintage Deschutes etc. (You get the idea. It’s good).

City Beer Store

1168 Folsom St #101,
San Francisco, CA 94103

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Cellarmaker Brewery: San Francisco, CA

This brewery opened in the summer of 2013 and is located in the SoMa (South of Market) area of the city. They make various styles of beer, but the majority of the drafts offered celebrate the hop with beers heavy in the New Zealand hop varieties. Their brewing schedule is set up in a way by doing various one-offs but bringing back some fan favorites every once in a while for special occasions (Coffee & Cigarettes, Taco Hands). You won’t get tired of the tap list since they release new beers pretty regularly. The beers made here are easily some of the best in the city and sampling is made easy with various sizes offered at reasonable prices. They don’t bottle or can yet, but you can get any of their beers in a growler to go.

Side Note: The head brewer has a gnarly rat-tail.

Cellarmaker Brewery
1150 Howard St, San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 863-3940

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Bourbon County Release Party at Top Hops Beer Shop: New York, NY

Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout is one of those beers that has made an incredible impression in the beer community year over year since its first release in the mid-nineties. In Chicago, each year that it has been released, the line to purchase it rivals that of getting Metallica tickets when the Black Album was released. Now that craft beer has taken off to new heights over the past couple years, the release has only gotten more intense.

After the InBev purchase of Goose Island in 2011, it was questionable of what would happen to the Bourbon County brand. There was speculation that the quality of the beer would suffer and that InBev would change the recipe. Personally, I was pretty happy to see what happened. I never was able to purchase Goose Island products in New Jersey and due to theInBev purchase; I was able to find Bourbon County in stores the following year. It took a little bit of calling around, but the quality was still there and the beer was delicious. Even the variants (Cherry Rye & Coffee) made it out to some of the new distribution areas.

Although the brewery produced more Bourbon County in 2012 than any other year before, it still wasn’t enough. This past years release marked a new strategy: multi-city Black Friday beer release. This was a first for the veteran brewery and marked the beginning of a new tradition. Goose Island produced more variations and more volume of Bourbon County this year than any of the years preceding. The releases this past year included:

Bourbon County Stout: The original bourbon barrel aged stout.
•Bourbon County Coffee Stout: With Intelligentsia coffee added. Goose Island has bottled this each year since 2010, using a different roast of coffee from Intelligentsia each year. The coffee used in the 2013 version was Los Immortales.
•Bourbon County Backyard Rye: Brewed with boysenberries, marionberries and mulberries. The original intent was that the brewery would use all local fruit for this variation, but after spending an entire day picking fruit in Chicago to only have a fraction of what was needed, it was realized that it’s only feasible option was to order more from elsewhere.
•Bourbon County Barleywine: An English style barleywine aged in barrels that carried the previous years Bourbon County Stout. Comparable to their previous Barrel Aged Barleywine release (King Henry).
•Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout: Brewed with toasted coconut and only available in the Chicago market.\

Three official release parties were organized in different cities across the country. There was still the usual release at the Binnys across the street from the Goose Island Brewpub in Chicago, but there were also official release parties at Top Hops Beer Shop in New York City and at City Beer Store in San Francisco.

The New York City release was organized very well and looked much like a typical Black Friday sale. People were lined up in front of a store front located on the Lower East Side of New York City, but instead of waiting to get a $50 Blue Ray Player or a Tickle Me Elmo, they’re waiting to spend that money on some of the finest and most sought after beers on the planet.

Although the line of people reached around the block, those in line were in great company. The brand manager for Goose Island was in attendance telling the tale of Bourbon County and answering all the questions people had while waiting in the cold. To sweeten the deal, he was giving away free bags of Intelligentsia Los Immortales coffee (the same coffee used in this year’s coffee variation), Bourbon County Brand glasses and a limited edition print Bourbon County release party poster (only 500 printed).

The brand manager also explained how the demand was in Chicago. Apparently over the past few years, local fans of Bourbon County in Chicago have been stiffed when it comes to this release. After receiving countless complaints, the brewery wanted give something back in the hopes to make it right. They decided to release the Proprietor’s variation brewed with toasted coconut and only make it available in the Chicago market. This quickly became one of the most sought after beers since its release.

Although it was Black Friday, no one was trampled when the doors at Top Hops opened at 9am. Everyone came in through the entrance, snaked around the back of the store and then back towards the front. Bags of each release were already available with the limits set (2x Barley Wine, 2x Coffee, 4x Original and a voucher for Backyard to purchase at a future date). Things ran smoothly as everyone was handed their bag, paid for it, and walked back out the door they came in through. There were also ballots available to make silent bids to purchase some of the previous year’s releases of Bourbon County while waiting on line.
Most people were in and out of the store in less than ten minutes: incredibly shocking considering that they were purchasing such a limited release beer weeks before anyone else in the tri-state area. Top Hops carried on with the release party at noon, when they opened the store again and put a whole array of different Goose Island beers on tap – including Bourbon County and variants.

The brand manager for Goose Island said that this was the first year the brewery has attempted to host a multi-city release party. In the future, they hope to expand to other major cities with the long term plan to have this be a nation-wide release. It was encouraged to take pictures and use social media to see how Chicago and San Francisco were celebrating while waiting on line. Although the New York City release was awesome, it couldn’t compare to the release in Chicago.

It’s pretty safe to say that the demand and popularity of this beer will continue to rise and the multi-state release won’t be a problem. If you’re in one of the cities that has a store selected to partake in this release next year, then it’s worth visiting – even if it’s for the glasses, poster and coffee alone. It’s certainly a better use of time than waiting in line at Walmart to get trampled for a crappy toaster or dvd player.

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Abraxas Release Party: St Louis, MS

The first time I encountered Perennial’s Abraxas was at Torst in Brooklyn, NY. I was immediately impressed with this beer and consider it one of few “HOLY SHIT” beers that I tried in 2013. It really was like nothing I ever tasted. Combinations of cinnamon and chocolate with a hot pepper background were something that made a permanent impression in my mind. I started looking for bottles throughout New York City the next day since Perennial is distributed there, but was unable to find this release. After doing a little more research, I realized that this one was pretty limited in availability and that I was fortunate to try it in the first place.

A few months passed after the night at Torst, and as the end of the year approached, I was looking for a way to boost up my airline status (My obsession with airline miles and hotel points is a whole other topic). I realized that I could do this by visiting St Louis. As always, I looked around for some type of beer events and other awesome places to visit. I know Perennial is located there and was hoping to visit the brewery, but when I saw that they were having their Abraxas release party the weekend I was visiting (November 9th), my plans were booked.

Fast forward a month or two and I was on my way to St Louis. I landed at the airport at around 10am and raced to get to the brewery. I’ve been to plenty of beer releases and I know that the lines can get huge quickly depending on the release. I didn’t know how this one would be since Perennial is a fairly new brewery. But with a beer so good, I just assumed the place would be packed. I arrived at the brewery by 11:00am and was pleasantly surprised to see that the place wasn’t a complete madhouse.

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While walking up to the brewery, I noticed a line of empty lawn chairs that were set up in the walkway leading to the tasting room. These were the place markers for the people that got there early to sit in line. The brewery has a large patio that was being used as a venue for a pre-release bottle share. Plenty of people from the area were there popping awesome bottles of some great beers and someone even brought some Mexican Chocolate donuts. I figured that one of these shares would be going on, so I opened some of the local New Jersey brews that I brought with me (Carton Brewing's Boat Beer) and threw them into the mix.

When noon hit, everyone scattered for their spots in line. Even though I got there late, one of the guys from the bottle share let me stand with him at his spot. We talked in line for a bit and the line started moving. There were a decent amount of people in line, but it moved quickly and everyone kept themselves in decent orer. It was surprising how fast I was inside the brewery and getting my allocations.

Put my bottles directly into my suit case.

The brewery was allowing everyone to purchase two bottles of Abraxas and one bottle of the special coffee Abraxas variation. From what I heard, there were only 300 bottles of the coffee variation produced, so pretty much everyone bought their share. Afterwards, you can put the bottles in your car and continue on with the rest of the celebration.

Since Perennial doesn’t sell any food, they had food trucks come by. Both of the food trucks made special dishes that used Abraxas as an ingredient. The food trucks took shifts and I ate at Completely Sauced. I was starving and didn’t want to start drinking until I had some food in me, so this was perfect. The meat dish I ordered was good, but what really stuck out was the beignets with Abraxas sauce. It was the perfect food to start the celebration and it certainly helped get me ready.

I stuck around until 3oclock for the tapping of the coffee variation. Those who weren’t able to get there that morning had the opportunity to grab some of the coffee variation on tap. It also worked out well so that I could try it without opening my bottle. I left shortly after drinking my coffee Abraxas only to come back later that night and grab some more bottles of the regular version.

This was a really fun event and surprisingly well planned. Everyone that got there early was able to grab their bottles of regular and coffee variations. The hospitality of the people visiting along with the great beer made it worth going to. Hopefully I can get over there again this year and participate in the festivities again. It wouldn’t shock me if the lines got much longer this year, so I’ll have to prepare accordingly.

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