I Left My Hops In San Francisco

Jim travels to California and tries some regional brews.

Last Saturday I jumped on a plane and travelled about 1500 miles west to visit some friends in California. Naturally I'm using the opportunity to try some beers I can't get in Texas, purely in the name of research, of course, which is why I've planned the trip so that I have three days to recover before going back to work.

I don't get out of Austin city limits as often as I probably ought to. That kind of thing can constrain your outlook and make it a bit parochial, even in these days of inter-connectedness. While still living in London I knew someone whose boyfriend had come over from Jamaica. He only knew people in the small area of London where he lived, rarely ventured out of it and he almost never got out of London. Unlike me, and most of the people I knew, he had no connections, history, family or background that tied him to anywhere except where he was right here, right now. At the time I found that quite incomprehensible and yet, 15 years later, here I am in a similar situation. Travel most certainly broadens the mind.

This is the first time I've been in the big city - the really big city - for several years. There's definitely a palpable vibe in the ether when that many human beings come together in a relatively limited amount of space, and despite the downsides and problems that often arise when humanity is concentrated to this degree, the city can be the most wonderful place to live, especially one of the major world cities.

It's not the first time I've been to San Francisco. I drove around the Golden State some 20 years ago with the intention of travelling the Pacific Coast Highway from its northernmost point all the way back down to LA where I was staying. Everything went as planned until I got to the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge and missed my turnoff. All I had to help me find my way around was a Rand MacAnally road atlas - the big one that has a page for each state (two pages for the bigger states) with a handful of tiny, some say minuscule, insets for the downtown section of major cities. Could I find my way back to the PCH? Could I heck as like. It took me about an hour of driving around in circles before I managed to get back on CA Highway 1. No Google Maps and smartphones back then, unfortunately, but I got to see a bit more of SF than I originally intended. Some of it several times. There are a lot of one-way streets and banned turns in San Francisco.

Before I got here I knew I was about to be wowed by the opportunities for drinking good beer. It seems like almost every restaurant is a brewpub, although that could just be because of my choice of places to visit, and the quality of the beer is top class. One thing I knew was here but wasn't expecting to see in such quantities is Jester King bottles, such as this case of Wytchmaker waiting to be opened at Beer Revolution in Oakland, where I also saw a bottle of Petit Prince. It seems that San Francisco has taken to Austin's own farmhouse brewery in a big way.

I find it a little ironic that although I'm 1500 miles further from Belgium there are so many more Belgian beers on offer than there are in Austin, but I know the biggest reason for that is the prohibitive cost that has to be paid and the hoops that have to be jumped through in order to get a beer label approved in Texas. I'm also looking forward to going to a brewery and being able to buy their beer... at the brewery tap! The next Texas legislative session is a little more than six months away and a few people are already preparing their case with respect to having another crack at getting a few restrictive beer laws changed. Money talks, and Freetail's Scott Metzger has already started laying it on the line in terms that even the most temperate of Texas legislators can understand.

Let's not forget that, strictly speaking, temperance means moderation, not prohibition. It might have come to mean that when applied to alcohol but it's time we took the word back.

Let's also not forget that California can lay strong claims to being the cradle of the American craft beer renaissance, from Fritz Maytag and his purchase of the failing Anchor Brewery in 1965, to Jack McAuliffe and the New Albion Brewery in 1976, to Ken Grossman and Sierra Nevada, and to the famed Hopland brewpub which was the beginnings of Mendocino County Brewing and which some have called "Son of New Albion" since they bought their brewing equipment from New Albion (which had recently closed) and hired New Albion's brewers Jack McAuliffe and Don Barkley. Those are some very fine credentials.

(The relevant footage starts at around 15 minutes)

One more California-related titbit: Tom Allen, one of the founders of North Coast Brewing (Pranqster, Brother Thelonius, Old Rasputin), now lives in Austin and recently hosted a North Coast beer dinner at 24 Diner.

And as we go to press, one more example of the restrictive practices that brewers have to face in the Lone Star State which they don't in others, although it has to be said there are states with alcohol restrictions even more draconian and downright unfathomable than ours.

Now all I have to do is figure out how I'm going to get all these bottles back to Austin without any distressing breakages, and stop drinking beer for a week so I can detox (not gonna happen).