Posts Tagged san francisco

Firestone Walker Brewery


While on my recent trip to San Francisco, I realized before we left (luckily) that we would be passing through Paso Robles, home of what most people would think of as Wine Country. Not me- nope. The Firestone Walker Brewing Company calls this fairly quiet town home and that’s enough for me. This is a very cool craft brewery that puts out one of my favorite beers: Double Barrel Ale.

According to their website, they started as an attempt between a winemaker and his British-born brother-in-law to make a better beer. Together they developed a system in which they brew in linked 60-gallon oak barrels, which yields smooth, complex ales.

Driving past the brewery, you wouldn’t know it unless you knew to look. It is in a fairly nondescript industrial complex just off the 101 freeway. They have a tasty eatery (appropriately enough called the Taproom Restaurant) right across the cul-de-sac from the brewery’s actual tasting room. The actual tasting room is fairly simply laid out, with corrugated metal walls and a few tables scattered on the far side of the bar among the gift shop merchandise. Behind all of that is the actual brewery, through the front part of which you have to walk to use the restroom.

It is a pretty impressive operation for a mid size brewery. Of course, I am easily amazed, given my love of beer, and now the process. The warehouse seemed to go on forever, with all kinds of tanks, barrels, bottles and stainless steel everywhere I looked. They also have a tour you can take, though we did not on this particular trip.IMG_1811

When we went in, there was a large crowd gathered around the bar, so we had to wait a bit. This led me to order three tasters while I was up there to save me the wait again. I got the Agrestic, Double DBA, and Velvet Merlin.

IMG_1798I wanted to go from lightest to heaviest, so I began with the Agrestic. I had never had this red ale and boy did it surprise me. It was the lighter red in the middle in the picture to the left. It looked tame enough: pale red, with light lace. The smell was quite sour, which was a surprise as I failed to seek any advice before ordering it. The bitter sourness was very strong, with an ever so slightly nutty aroma. It was like smelling a musty wine cellar, with a hint of maltiness and hops. The first sip was like a punch in the mouth. I expected some sourness from the smell, but this about bowled me over. The taste had all the flavors of the smell, with some added bitterness for good measure. The most interesting part was the woody taste toward the end. It finished fairly dry with much of the sourness lingering.IMG_1799

I had to cool down after this first one, so I decided to change my light-to-dark plan and go straight for the Velvet Merlin. I had this oatmeal stout from a bottle before, which is why I was excited for it from the tap. It poured a *velvety* (see what I did there?) smooth with a creamy white head, like dark chocolate hot cocoa and whipped cream. As is typical of my experience with this type of beer, not much aroma escaped the thick cap of foam on top, but I did get a little chocolate, coffee and cream. The taste was just wonderful, with all the flavors from the aroma coming through in varying degrees right away. Toward the middle, it was mostly the bittersweet chocolate, finishing with the lightness of coffee with creamer in it. I cannot say how much I appreciated this beer after the first one. The experience was a bit muted, however, from the Agrestic being a bit too aggressive and frying my taste buds a little.

Partway through my Velvet Merlin experience, I started in on the Double DBA. Based on the regular Double Barrel Ale, this is basically a much bigger, stronger version of that. Not that it is a problem. This is a big beer that pours a rich brownish-red color. The aroma is a very rich blend of caramel malts, sugary vanilla and toffee. The head was gone by the time I got to it, but there was a little lacing that still clung to the glass. The taste was again fairly similar to the smell, with the chocolatey vanilla coming through first, moving to the toffee richness, finishing with a warm vanilla. I am not normally a fan of barley wines, which this one is considered, but it reminded me more of an anniversary ale and I very much enjoyed it.

A great trip to a great brewery on my way to a great time in S.F. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

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It’s Time for a Pint (Part 2)

IMG_1819In case there are any that were not aware, San Francisco is a pretty awesome city. Not only is there a fantastic atmosphere, with the people being about as friendly as you could want, but there is a vibrant Irish culture in pockets throughout the city. In and around Union Square, where we stayed however, there wasn’t a whole lot. It became our mission immediately upon arriving there to seek out the best pubs we could.

That brought us to the main feature of our trip: dinner at Foley’s. This place does indeed have a very authentically Irish feel immediately upon entering; from the whiskey barrels, to the old paintings and 19th century decorative furniture, everything gave the place a nice inviting feel. It’s a larger pub, with a huge open room with a high roof just past the host stand. I suspect the large windows were a product of updated building codes, as traditional Irish pubs try very hard to block out natural light (they are called “Ireland’s sunblock” for a reason).


We sat at a table under the watchful eye of a Mona Lisa painting, showing her holding a glass of what we assumed was Guiness, with a white beer head mustache. The menu had lots of good selections on it, but they sure knew how to charge, so don’t go in there expecting a cheap meal. We got the beers we all wanted, mine being a delicious Kilkenny, and ordered some garlic fries. All of this got us watered up for the main course we had been itching to have since my uncle started singing its praises before we left: the Guinness Stew. Yes, I have certainly had this wonderful dish before and I couldn’t wait to try it. Looking at the entrée selections on the menu…no Guinness Stew. No, they stopped making it a few years earlier and replaced it with- wait for it- a vegetable broth stew. Yep, they went cheap. “No matter,” said I and ordered my second favorite and had a fine time of it.

IMG_1821After that, we went to our concert/show and that was fantastic. Lots of history at The Fillmore and the sound was great. The next day we went exploring the city for some more Irishness (when together, our group is real into that.) We found a diner/bar across the street from our hotel called Lefty O’Douls. It turned out this place wasn’t as Irish as we had hoped, as good ol’ Frank “Lefty” O’Doul was a member of the San Francisco Giants baseball team in the 1920s and ’30s. Once again, we made the best of it and had a grand time over pints of Guinness.

That night had to be one of the best times I have had while exploring a big city. We had stopped at a shop by our hotel selling Irish trinkets and decorative items. We asked the very Irish lady behind the counter if there were any good pubs around and she mentioned a couple, one of which was “down a kind of alley.” That’s all we needed and we were off. We never did find that pub, The Irish Bank. We landed at a little nondescript place called Murphy’s Pub. This place was great. There were no free tables when we arrived, so we headed out to the ‘patio’ out in back of the place. This turned out to just be a tarp hanging over some plastic patio tables set up in the alley. It was so unusual for us that is what made it special. Aside from some spilled Guinness, due to the tables being very sensitive to any movement, we had a great meal. When using the restroom inside, we discovered that the door lock did not work and the door did not hang flush in the frame. This became a comical game with each person unwittingly opening the door on the prior occupant.

One particular victim of this game was very good natured about it and after talking with him for a little while, we invited him and his buddy to share a round with us. We pulled up a table in a private back room and had a great time with them. It turns out they are from Malaysia and they had lots of fascinating stories and descriptions of home. This just made this particular stop all the more special and a fine way to end a great trip. I hope to be back very soon.

Oh, and…


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It’s Time for a Pint!

Indeed it is! This week I am heading up to San Francisco for a road trip to see one of our favorite bands. Of course, that will not be the only focus. A central part of the trip for our merry little group is a stop at Johnny Foley’s Irish House. This pub is smack in the middle of the City Center/Union Square part of the city’s northern end. From what I have read, this is a very authentically Irish place, with lots of attention to detail in the decor upstairs. The main attraction seems to be downstairs with a dueling piano bar. Reviews are mixed, however, at how good of an experience this is, but I’m still going in with enthusiastic curiosity.

Foley’s is absolutely surrounded by other pubs and restaurants. The most intriguing to me are a Scottish place called Sutter Pub & Restaurant and a speakeasy-style bar called Bourbon & Branch. Never one to be prudish about where I enjoy a pint, I look forward to trying these places out, as well. We will also take some time to see other sights around the city, such as Golden Gate Park, the Wharf (typical tourist fare) and the Blackhawk museum. 

I’ll be sure to post pictures here when I get back. In the meantime, does anyone have any suggestions on other places to check out? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

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