Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

August 18, 2008

Beer Diary:

Things To Do In California When You’re Dead … Or At Least Not At The Great Taste

Although visiting the roots of craft brewing is a noble endeavor, it still isn't worth missing the Midwest’s best and brightest brewfest.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
A few of you reading Jug’s excellent article on this year’s Great Taste of the Midwest might have wondered why not a peep has been heard from me about the region’s biggest and best beer event. As you probably guessed, I didn’t attend, even though Jug got an extra ticket (actually, his girlfriend did the buying, not to mention the six-hour waiting in line), for reasons that were far, far beyond my control. This is how it went down the Tuesday before the Great Taste:

“Ma!” I yelled up the stairs from the basement. “Do the wash today! I need all my clean underwear.”

“Why? You should have enough.”

“I need it for the week. I’ll be gone until Sunday.”

“What? Why?”

“I’m going to the Great Taste of the Midwest on Saturday and I thought I’d leave a couple days early and hit some breweries on the way.”

“You’re not going to some beer thing on Saturday! We’re going to a wedding.”

“A wedding? Fuck that shit!”


“I said, ‘What wedding?’”

“You know what wedding. Your cousin Richard is getting married.”

“Dick Glick is getting married? What skank agreed to marry that tool?”


“I said, ‘Who’s he marrying?’”

“You met her last year. What’s her name—Trixie.”

“Dick and Trixie Glick?” Might be worth going just for that. “Well, I ain’t going.”

“The Hell, you say. You are going, mister.”

“But Jug Dunningan got tickets to the Great Taste. Jug Dunningan!”

“I don’t care if Vince Lombardi got tickets. You’re going to this wedding with us or we’re kicking your ass out of the house!”

And that is the reason why I was sitting in California wearing a goddamn clip-on tie instead of attending the Great Taste of the Midwest. Although things were indeed bad, they weren’t horrifically bad, because no matter how terrible things get, remember, there’s always beer. And you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a craft brewery in northern Cal, and if I was going to miss the Great Taste for a wedding, I sure as shit was going sample the local beer scene while I was out there.

The first night in Cali I got to spend in San Francisco. While I didn’t have time to hit Black Heart Tattoo like I had planned, I was able to find my way to The Toronado Pub, a regular resident in the top ten of the best beer bars in America lists. And from appearances alone, I can see why. Literally hundreds of tap handles covered the walls, and any area not occupied by tap handles was plastered with beer-related bumper stickers, save for the long wall opposite the bar, which sported dozens of empty Duvel magnums.

And the beer list didn’t disappoint, either. I never did see the bottle list, because the tap offerings were plenty. Although they had a handful of Belgian brews on tap, the main focus was unquestionably locally crafted beer. Even though you can find it in pretty much any beer bar worth its salt, my first beer had to be the iconic Anchor Steam, the flagship offering from the San Francisco brewery that arguably kick-started the craft brewing movement almost forty years ago.

But then I went for brews that I couldn’t get in the Midwest. That meant a Firestone-Walker Union Jack Double IPA. Although the bitterness was a bit too big for the body, it was still an enjoyable, legitimate imperial IPA. I revved it down a notch by going with a normal IPA, this one from Speakeasy Brewing called Big Daddy (I skipped the Double Daddy, since one double IPA is enough on a school night). I assume it was pretty good, but my taste buds were still a bit numb from the Union Jack. To round out the night I grabbed the cask-conditioned Twist of Fate, a spot-on ESB from Moonlight Brewing. By this time things were getting pretty fuzzy, so I decided to call it a night while I could still taste the beer.

Although The Toronado was undoubtedly an awesome beer bar, the highlight of the trip was a stop in Santa Rosa, a small city about an hour north of San Francisco, right in the middle of wine country. There I was able to pay a visit to Russian River Brewery, a highly acclaimed small brewery that has played several significant roles in the evolution of today’s national craft beer scene.

The first evolutionary shot brewery founder Vinnie Cilurzo fired was the creation of hugely hopped—but still drinkable—beers. This took the physical form of Pliny The Elder, what is widely considered to be the first and still one of the best double IPAs in the modern American beer industry. Needless to say, “the,” “elder,” and “Pliny” were the first three words, not necessarily in that order, that slipped out of my lips when the waiter stopped at my table. And I’ve gotta tell you, this is a damn good beer. Massive hop flavor with a giant malt presence to back it up. Not great enough to singularly justify missing the Great Taste of the Midwest, mind you—if such a beer even exists—but I’d say it holds its own with Three Floyds Dreadnaught, my nomination for the best double IPA in the world.

The other significant contribution Russian River gave to the beer industry was the successful brewing of some of the hardest beers to craft in the world: Belgian-style. Vinnie Cilurzo’s Belgian-style beers are widely considered to be some of the closest to the “real” thing brewed in America (Brewery Ommegang doesn’t count because they are owned by the Moortgat family, brewers of Duvel). From what I sampled at the brew pub, I would have to concur with that assessment. And Russian River doesn’t just brew one or two Belgian brews now and then. At the brew pub that night they had six on tap. Their most renowned is Damnation, a strong golden ale with that distinctive Belgian spiciness and a nice 7 percent ABV kick, all from a deceptively smooth, crisp, medium-bodied brew. Others included Perdition, a decent if unspectacular biére de garde; Salvation, a 9 percent ABV strong dark ale; Little White Lie, a wit; Redemption, a tasty blonde ale with a Belgian twist; and Temptation, a big, barrel-aged blonde.

So that’s how I coped with missing the Great Taste. And, of course, from everything I’ve heard it was the best Great Taste in a long time. To all you folks lucky enough to score tickets, I hope you had as great a time as Jug did. I hope you drank good beer, had good beer conversations, and didn’t make an ass out of yourselves. I took care of that at the wedding, which kicked off just about the time the Taste was finishing up. Dick and Trixie Glick. Can you believe that?

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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