These days the craft beer landscape is crowded. There are new breweries popping up each day. But it wasn't so long ago that being an independent craft brewer was something reserved for the weird, the crazy, the odd ones. You may not even realize it, but the Bay Area is home to some of the craft beer revolutionaries. Be it Anchor Brewing in the heart of SF or Sierra Nevada over in Chico, these brewers have been doing their thing for decade after decade, setting the plate for what we see today as a normalcy. If you're looking for a beer for right now, there are many to choose from, but we've provided a few local options here, leaning towards classics and instant classics as well.
For those of us lucky enough to have found themselves on the craft beer trend since the early days, Old Rasputin is a beer held with fond regard and respect. It is hard to fathom, but there was a time when imperial stouts weren't so common; when a standard draft list didn't include a host of jet black ales, high in alcohol and rich with harsh roast and dark chocolate flavors. Old Rasputin, however, was right there where it was needed. Brewed in the classic tradition of high octane stouts meant to be transported across the cold plateaus of Northern Europe into the palaces of Russian oligarchs, it is a wonderous beer, deep with history, tradition, and all around tasty goodness. Brewed with a stunning amount of malts, both standard and deeply roasted, the final product carries character of dark char coffee beans along with a vanilla sweetness that balances the finish.
The Bay Area has its fair share of well established breweries, but like elsewhere, there are also some phenomenal newcomers on the scene as well, Fort Point being a bright spot on that list. Known for their clean, modern take on rather classic styles, one of their go-to products is the rather tropical tasting Animal IPA. Brewed with Australian Vic Secret hops along with recent classic American Citra and the stalwart Simcoe hop, the flavor profile of this 7.5% IPA is as fruit-like as it gets. Along with hints of pepper, pine, and everglades, this well balanced IPA showcases heaps of sweet citrus peel and rich stone fruit character. It is a perfect beer for an afternoon with friends, diving into an epic board game extravaganza.
There are few beers that scream “summer" so loudly that they can bring your mindset to a day on the beach even in the depths of winter, but 21st Amendment's Come Hell or High Watermelon is certainly one of them. A wheat beer at heart, this beer has been produced in the heart of San Francisco, just blocks from Giant's stadium for years and there is no sign of it disappearing anytime soon. The light body of the wheat beer, along with the slightly slick mouthfeel and powdery finish, is complemented with huge swaths of watermelon, just like mom used to cut up and put on the table on a summer day. Watermelon is a rather tough flavor to make work in a beer as it can be quite overpowering and come off as candylike, but through some sort of brewer's alchemy, this beer really works. The marriage of summer fruit and American wheat is perfect on the palate, instantly firing the synapses in your brain that remind you about the best day at the beach.
The adage tells us that this was the first winter seasonal brewed in the United States since prohibition ended, and we have no reason to say otherwise. Going strong for over 40 years now, Anchor Brewing's Christmas ale is an ever changing testament to all that a Christmas beer should be. Made with a tightly held recipe of caramelized malts and seasonal spices, no vintage of this Christmas ale is the same, which makes it ideal for cellaring and sharing. Each year showcases spices like ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and beyond in a new way, rounding out the dark ale, but not overpowering with any one note. Some would say that this is the winter ale that all others are modeled after, and is thus reason in itself to get your hands on a magnum or a six pack for your own history lessons.
For the hop addicted, Drakes Brewing Company is always a solid place to begin; and if you're looking down their lineup of west coast and British inspired ales, why not go with the most award winning of them all - Aroma Coma. Drakes has been creating hop forward beers since before most of us knew what hops were and this beer stays true to its namesake by showcasing huge aroma hops in the forefront. Pineapple and mango burst from the mouth of the bottle and are followed by arid notes of the Muir Woods on a warm day. Pine needles and resin showcase the harshness that hops can have, balancing those sweet fruit flavors that first shock the system. There might not be anything newfangled or revelatory about this beer, but it is beautiful in it's over the top hoppiness, which, a decade ago, was itself a revelation.
This is a fun beer for those who typically enjoy big IPAs. Self described as a so-called “Red IPA", Evil Twin from Fairfield based Heretic is really a strong amber ale with a heap of hops in it. The base of the beer is loaded with caramelized malts as well as some with a wonderful coloring that give this beer it's red hue. The backbone is sweet and toffee-like, but not too sweet or too toffee-like. The overload of citrus forward hops balance the malt base by adding notes of grapefruit pith and lemon rind, pine needles and oak. It seems like it might be a weird concept to blend sweet with citrus, but it works rather well here. The beer is well balanced, not leaning too far in either the sweet or bitter direction. The sweet base makes it a nice winter weather IPA while the citrus and floral bitterness make it a nice warm weather amber. One way or another, get yourself some and see what you think.
Sierra Nevada Brewing out of Chico may not exactly be a “Bay Area" brewery, but it's hard to write about the beers of Northern California without offering them a mention. Sierra Nevada has been putting out near perfect craft beers for over thirty years now and they show no sign of slowing down. Ask any California brewer what their favorite beer is and it would seem that 9 out of 10 offer up Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, however, today we wanted to give a shout to one of their more modern offerings - Hazy Little Thing. Perhaps a bit late to the hazy beer fad that caught on recently which produces an unfiltered IPA rich with aroma and flavor, but lacking any legitimate bitterness in the finish due to a new idea on when and how to add hops to beer, Hazy Little Thing is unsurprisingly one of the best examples on the market. With just a hint of the pine bitterness that their flagship beer offers, Sierra Nevada's take on the hazy IPA bursts with tropical fruit character. Hints of fresh apricots and dried pineapples overwhelm, followed by notes of citrus and just a subtle tinge of that notorious redwood sap that we all expect in a great California IPA. It's a delightful beer for any day and a great switch up from the more classic pale ales or IPAs that they offer.
Campfires might be more for the summertime than the winter, but High Water's Campfire Stout is ideal for both. This dessert-like stout is surprisingly easy to drink, not overly sweet like some of the modern pastry stouts can often be. The alcohol content is at a reasonable 6.5%, the malt component being somewhat dry, at least compared to the huge, imperial dessert stouts that are quite popular these days. That said, the beer is flavored with graham crackers and molasses, bringing forth wonderful notes of our favorite campground treat, s'mores. Hints of vanilla and honey graham, complemented by a touch of roast from the barley that mimics that beautiful char that we all dream about circumferencing a marshmallow at the end of the skewer, sneak into this beer, leaving each sip better than the last. If you're looking for a way to enjoy a night around a campfire without ever actually leaving the couch, order a few bottles of this beer to be delivered right to your doorstep.