Sacramento is a booming craft beer town, with more breweries opening, several breweries expanding and plenty of breweries winning prizes. But sometimes it’s worth checking out the scene elsewhere to see what’s new and exciting and, possibly, what might fit in back here.
So we made a little beer run to San Francisco and did it without a car, a designated driver, blowing a lot of dough or hiring a lawyer in the middle of the night. I had a great time, dropped in at some cutting-edge spots, encountered plenty of great beer, lots of cool people and managed to get home in time to take the dogs for a walk before bed.
Our journey begins on recent Saturday morning at the 65th Street light-rail station in Sacramento. The day before, I bought two Megabus tickets online ($9 each), so when we arrived, I simply flashed my receipt on my phone, and we were on the double-decker bus and at 9:45 a.m. on a direct, nonstop route into San Francisco. This trip was a hybrid affair that included walking, Uber-ing, BART and Amtrak.
We stepped off the bus in SoMA (South of Market) about 11:30 a.m. and made the 10-minute walk to the very exciting Mikkeller Bar SF (34 Mason St.) There was no wait to get in. We walked right up to the bar, sat down and ordered. Not necessarily an easy thing to do at a new and instantly famous beer destination.
As we ordered, the guy next to us was asking the bartender what kind of hops were in the hoppy pilsner. He turned out to be a brewer in the process of opening a brewery in Santa Monica.
How do you order beer when your entire day is devoted to tasting it? I like to start small and work my way into the occasion. Sure, I could have gone with something very bold and very Mikkeller, like the Beer Geek Brunch oatmeal and coffee stout, but at 11 percent ABV, I would have been toast in no time.
This is a very impressive beer bar in a spacious 100-plus-year-old building, with art on the walls by the same artist, Keith Shore, who does the art for the Mikkeller bottles and cans (and who has ties to Sacramento). On the menu, the beers are listed according the temperature in which they are served. For instance, the hoppy pilsner ( Tenderloin Pils) with which I started is served at 40 degrees, while that stout, which opens up at warmer temperatures, is served at 55 degrees. The “flux capacitor” draft system is one of only five in the world and is known to keep each of the 42 beers on draft with an individualized balance of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. I had the Tenderloin IPA next. Both beers were exclusive to this location and were very good, a mildly hopped and intriguing pilsner, followed by a bigger and brighter IPA.
We walked some more. Mikkeller is in the Tenderloin, which is one of the rougher neighborhoods around, but there were no issues in broad daylight. I will admit to stepping on a guy while I was walking and looking at my phone – but he was lying in the middle of the sidewalk under a blanket. It was a very San Francisco moment, and I quickly apologized.
City Beer Store (1168 Folsom St.), our next stop, is very cool. From the sidewalk, you walk down a few steps into the bar, which has a low ceiling and a funky, speakeasy vibe to the place. It’s a beer bar and a well-stocked bottle shop, including some rare beers costing $50 to $80. A brewer from New Belgium Brewing was on hand for a special event, so we got to chat with him for a few minutes and ask about the beers being served, including an amazing and very limited lambic collaboration between New Belgium and Boon, which makes the authentic Kriek in the Lembeek region of Belgium.
The brew is aged for two years and then shipped to Colorado for blending with a golden lager. This beer was very complex and well balanced, with a bright sweetness up front, tart cherry notes, plenty of effervescence and a sour finish. After an IPA from the firkin, we headed to Cellarmaker Brewing (1150 Howard St.), which is a very exciting small-batch brewery.
By now, I was ready for a tasting flight. Sure, I was already feeling the effects of the earlier beers. But I was pacing myself. And I knew our next stop would be for pizza at Delfina, followed by ice cream at Humphrey Slocombe to coat the stomach and let my brain recalibrate (stop me if that’s too much scientific jargon). The impressive flight includes six very diverse beers, including hoppy, a dark, chocolatey stout and a saison.
After devouring the Neapolitan-style pizza while sitting on the hill in bustling Dolores Park and then digging the edgy flavors at Humphrey Slocombe, we BART-ed over to Berkeley, then got a short Uber ride to The Rare Barrel (940 Parker St.), which is brewing exclusively barrel-aged beers. Pro tip: You need a phone and good battery life to do this trip (it’s how you contact Uber, navigate the city, check Amtrak departures, take photos of beer to impose on all your friends, etc.), so bring a charger or extra battery.
Rare Barrel is on the cutting edge of the next wave of breweries – it is making highly specific beers, all sours, that are appealing to more and more beer lovers but will never appeal to everyone. And that’s OK. The warehouse-type brewery and tasting room is filled with barrels. We had no problem finding a seat. But this is where I hit the wall. My iPhone died, and so did I. I loved the sour I was sipping, but I couldn’t drink more than half.
By then, we were rushing to catch Amtrak for the ride back to downtown Sacramento. With the train pointing in the right direction, I felt it only right to have one more beer to toast a day well done. Add it all up, and I spent $38 getting there and back and about $60 or so on beer. I can recommend without reservation all of the spots on this little journey. About 14 hours after leaving Sacramento on this beer run, I was back home.