An East Bay road trip with a craft beer focus

The new and popular Drake’s Dealership in Uptown Oakland is a restaurant and taproom in an old converted Dodge dealership, which explains the name.
The new and popular Drake’s Dealership in Uptown Oakland is a restaurant and taproom in an old converted Dodge dealership, which explains the name.

As many Sacramento area residents know by now, you don’t have to go far to find great beer these days. From Moonraker in Auburn to Flatland in Elk Grove, from Ol’ Republic in Nevada City to New Glory in Sacramento, there are 60-plus craft breweries to explore in a ZIP code near you.

But if you’re looking to hit the road for a mini-excursion with craft beer as the focus, you can’t go wrong with the East Bay.

Beer tourism is a hot new way to travel, whether you’re motoring up to Portland or down to San Diego. Those are definitely options if you’ve got the time.

For a day trip or weekend jaunt, I highly recommend making the rounds in Berkeley, Alameda, Oakland and other nearby cities.

While the beer scene is not nearly as vast as Sacramento’s, the quality is generally high and the options are diverse. What’s more, beer has helped transform the image of some hardscrabble neighborhoods, especially in Oakland. If you haven’t explored that city in years, visit now as a craft beer fan and you’ll be pleasantly surprised, if not delighted.

During a recent road trip, we left Sacramento on a weekday once the morning commute had subsided, allowing for an easy drive to the East Bay just in time for lunch. In less than 90 minutes, I was at my first stop, seated in the courtyard at Drake’s Dealership (2325 Broadway, Oakland), the pub-style restaurant in Uptown opened by longtime East Bay beer leader Drake’s Brewing, based in San Leandro.

It’s an outstanding space and a great example of repurposing an urban/industrial site in a new and appealing way.

“I told the developer of the project, just give me your crappiest brick building and I’ll tear the roof off and we’ll go into business,” Drake’s owner John Martin told me. Yes, the beer garden was once the back end of a Dodge dealership, and later an Audi dealership. The space now is something of an architectural treasure, with rustic red brick walls and steel industrial features in a thoroughly warm and modern beer-focused restaurant.

When I arrived, I was greeted by a host who asked me if I wanted to sit outside in the courtyard or inside at the bar. I opted for the open air. Then she asked if I preferred shade or sun. Given that it was one of the warmest days of the summer in Oakland (I was wearing a wool sweater), I appreciated her attention to detail. If it’s crowded, however, you may not have the sun/shade choice.

Drake’s is installing more shade features in the courtyard/beer garden, and has plenty of heaters, which are used year-round.

The menu is highlighted by wood-fired pizza. Since I eat only a plant-based diet these days, I found the food options a tad limited, though I selected the black bean burger (without the lime crema sauce) and a large side dish, the roasted vegetables in a white bean purée that was skillfully prepared and delicious.

I ordered the Drake’s Flyway Pils, a nice example of a German pilsner, with plenty of hop character and an appealing malt balance. It’s a terrific food beer.

While seated in the shade and tending to my tasty burger with housemade potato chips, I couldn’t help but overhear a man two tables away: “I’ll just have the one beer,” he said. “I have to get back to work.”

Be mindful, too. If you’re making this a road trip and this is your first stop, go easy and pace yourself. If you need a caffeine jolt on your way out, Red Bay Coffee has a kiosk in the alley, and the drip coffee I had was first-rate.

“I always wanted to do a beer garden in Oakland,” Martin said. “It all seemed a little iffy. Oakland really hadn’t happened yet. Finally, with new housing being built, it felt better. It felt good.”

The next stop was Beer Revolution (464 3rd St., Oakland), only minutes away in nearby Jack London Square. As beer bars go, this one is favored by serious beer aficionados, aka beer geeks. The tap list is always changing and it’s only the really good stuff. That’s why it was cool to find three Sacramento breweries on tap that day – Device, Mraz and Track 7. I ordered a Mraz pineapple sour and, no surprise to me, was thoroughly impressed by the quality. It’s a seemingly straightforward beer that teases with its subtle complexity, great sour fruit flavor and a wonderfully dry finish that clears the palate in an instant.

Beer Revolution is dark and edgy inside, with a large patio out front. Since the early afternoon was beating down, I ponied up to the bar and sipped away. The place is also a bottle shop with an excellent selection of craft beer to go. If you spot some labels you have yet to try, be prepared to haul off several bottles to enjoy back home. The Trappist (460 Eighth St., Oakland) is another highly regarded beer bar worth visiting. For food and beer, The Hog’s Apothecary (375 40th St., Oakland) has an excellent draft list and a selection of pub food done at a high level. And give the new Mikkeller Tasting Room & Bottle Shop (6309 College Ave., Oakland) a try, too. It’s in the space of the former Trappist Provisions.

Surely, you’ve heard of Fieldwork by now. The brewery and tasting room were getting so many Sacramento visitors at its Berkeley spot that it launched a taproom in midtown Sacramento, with plans to open similar taprooms in Napa and Monterey soon.

Fieldwork’s Barry Braden said the experience at the midtown taproom is designed to be very similar to what you’d find in Berkeley, so if you’re pressed for time, save the Fieldwork visit for when you get back to Sacramento. But if you’re simply looking for great craft beer, Fieldwork in Berkeley (1160 6th St.) might prove irresistible.

I asked Braden to describe the rapid and ongoing evolution of the East Bay beer scene and he turned his attention to Oakland.

“The thing that’s been most impressive to me in the past couple of years watching it is how busy Oakland has become and the number of new, high-quality spots with a food and craft beer focus is amazing. Between Berkeley, Alameda and Oakland, there is so much to do.”

While in Berkeley, be sure to check out Triple Rock Brewery and Alehouse (1920 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley), which was founded by a 25-year-old John Martin in 1984. Drake’s launched in 1989, and Martin purchased it in 2007.

The Rare Barrel (940 Parker St., Berkeley) is also a must-visit. As the name suggests, all of the beers are barrel-aged. This relatively new brewery’s reputation continues to flourish. The large warehouse setting is replete with wood barrels stacked high. That’s where the magic happens. The tasting room is laid back and easy to enjoy.

The Torpedo Room (2031 Fourth St., Berkeley) is another new option. It’s the taproom owned and operated by Sierra Nevada. One of my favorite craft beer moments was sipping a Nooner Pilsner there while chatting with founder Ken Grossman and his daughter, whose name just happens to be Sierra.

Leaving Berkeley, I motored over to Alameda for the pièce de résistance of brewery tasting room experiences – Faction Brewing (2501 Monarch St., Alameda) in the late afternoon. Situated in an old 25,000-square-foot airplane hangar, Faction is 3 years old and already has developed an excellent reputation for its beer, especially its precise take on hoppy pale ales and IPAs. Then there’s the patio looking west toward the bay, with the San Francisco skyline in the distance.

The sunsets are often so amazing that Faction notes the sunset time each day on its website. If you’re heading there, I probably don’t need to tell you to bring a sweater, or even a jacket, as the drop in temperature from Sacramento to the East Bay can be jarring.

Thankfully, Faction makes its draft beer available in both 5-ounce pours and full pints. If you want to try two vastly different beers in the same style, go for the Penske File pale ale and the A-Town pale ale, and note how hop varieties can change the drinking experience rather dramatically. Which one do you prefer? Piney and citrusy and bitter? Or fruity and fragrant with a gentle aftertaste? There’s no wrong answer.

Finally – for now, at least – we motored over to Temescal Brewing (4115 Telegraph Ave., Oakland), where co-founder/brewmaster Wade Ritchey is having a major impact, both with his beautifully made beers and for the setting of the small and cozy tasting room and beer garden. The keg-conditioned saison on draft that day had that telltale spiciness that was clearly made with great skill. Ritchey formerly brewed at highly touted Cellarmaker in San Francisco.

The setting in the beer garden is relaxed and comfortable. By 6 p.m. on a weekday, the place was packed. Oh, and you may get to meet the cats. Yes, I said cats. When I was there, Ritchey showed me three feral rescue cats he adopted. They were hanging out in the office for a few days while they got their bearings, but soon they’ll be making the rounds as they roam around the brewery property.

Dogs are practically ubiquitous at breweries near and far. But now cats may be having their moment. If you think so, you just might love the Cat Nap, a blonde ale with chamomile.

Blair Anthony Robertson: 916-321-1099, @Blarob