Brewery Name: San Francisco Brewing Company
Type of Brewery: Retail Taproom
Location: San Francisco, CA
Facebook: San Francisco Brewing Co.
Background: Sometimes, a single beer can be intriguing enough to start paying attention to a brewery. For those that don't know, San Francisco is famous for its sourdough bread--something about the fog being good for the yeast or something. Capitalizing on this is SF Brewing Co. with their Miner's Sourdough Sour Ale. Talk about craft beer at the next level of local flair, right? The hometown city is right in the brewery name and a sourdough ale is something I haven't seen from a single other brewer.
SF Brewing is also a staple at a lot of city restaurants and bars as the "local option." Their Amber Ale seems to be the most prevalent, and I've taken advantage by having many of these at dinners, the airport, and, of course, at their taproom.
Growlers: To be honest, I kind of missed this. I don't believe they fill growlers at the taproom but I can’t be sure without visiting again. Guess I'll have to go back!
Vibe: San Francisco Brewing Company has their taproom in The Myriad, which is an indoor food hall of sorts with a whole mess of really great local food, drink, and desserts. It makes the vibe a bit different from any other craft brewery I've been to, as you can walk a few feet away and grab some local Korean barbecue or maybe some sushi and bring it back to have with your beer. There's cookies, crepes, local bread, and more.
The space is open between each of the shops, with lots of industrial components like beams, pipes, etc with an colorful component that makes it a bit like an adult playground. The SF Brewing space has a small bar, but has eight taps plus bottles. They've got a television mounted to keep you stationary during the game, and offer a couple different sized pours so you can try a bunch or settle in with your favorite.
One interesting thing about SF Brewing's vibe to me is that they haven't (entirely) bought into the IPA-centric brewing style of the West Coast. Sure, they make several, and those are all good, but a lot of the highlights of their brews come in different styles. Finding a local brewery with a decent sour, lager, amber, and stout is incredibly rare.
Dogs: Yep, dogs are allowed in the space. It's a little tight, but the area is super dog-friendly and it's almost an oddity to not have one in tow!
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$. Pretty good prices for San Francisco proper. They offer a few different tasting deals, which come with pretty solid pours. A pint will run you around six bucks.
Food: Not from SF Brewing, but there is certainly plenty of eats around.
Final Thoughts: Really neat place. I couldn't think of a better stop if you're touring the city or need to park somewhere between bars. The availability of so much in one venue is a huge plus, and the beers are good on top of it. A truly local feel with SF Brewing only adds to the experience, and if you try one thing, go for that sourdough ale!
Brewery Name: Maine Beer Company
Type of Brewery: Retail Brewery
Location: 525 US-1, Freeport, ME 04032. Located just along the side of Route 1. Once you see the giant solar panels, you’re there.
Facebook: Maine Beer Company
Background: Maine Beer Company makes a lot of great beers, but the first thing that most people immediately think of is "Dinner." Dinner is one of the most popular double IPAs in the world--so popular that locals and beer tourists alike have been known to camp overnight on the side of the highway just for a chance to purchase a case. I love beer, and I love New England IPAs and DIPAs in particular, but just the thought of spending 6+ hours freezing my tail off on the side of the road in the dead of winter makes me feel like I need some hot chocolate. As luck would have it, though, Maine Beer Company recently decided to do something different. Dinner releases a few times a year, and for the most recent release they decided to test out a ticketing system. For a small fee (offset by some complimentary glassware), customers could purchase a ticket to the release online. They would then be given a pickup window when they could come and collect their case of Dinner. I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase a ticket, and made my way up to the brewery itself for the very first time.
Growlers: Nope. Maine Beer Company does not offer growlers or kegs from the brewery, but they do keep the fridge in the tasting room pretty well-stocked with their various beers.
The Beers: Where to even begin with these guys. At any given time, you’re likely to see a wide range of different Maine Beer Company beers on tap around Maine and New Hampshire, and finding bottles is rarely a problem (although, depending on which beer you’re looking for, there are varying degrees of difficulty--good luck finding Lunch or Another One on the shelf). Although I went to the brewery specifically for Dinner (which didn’t leave much time for sampling other beers), I’ve had more than a few of their brews lately. Here’s a brief overview of a few of their more recent/popular offerings.
Vibe: Since I went on the busiest of all possible days, it's hard for me to give you an accurate reading of the vibe at Maine Beer Company. Those of us who had been fortunate enough to score tickets lined up outside around the back of the building and were ushered in through the brewing area. The gorgeous, shining tanks towered over us as we verified our identities and were guided up the stairs and into the taproom itself.
The Maine Beer Company tasting area is an intimate little space, with a couple of tables set up and a handful of beers on tap. There is a cooler to the side of the room containing what feels like an endless supply of beers from the brewery's most recent bottling runs. Sadly, I didn’t have the chance to linger--it would have felt rude to crowd the room and delay other people from their beer. But I very much look forward to coming back and enjoying a beer or two in the tasting room.
There is also a small outside area in front of the building where you can hang out for a bit. Again, I wasn't able to make us of it during my visit (ostensibly because of the hectic nature of the Dinner release, but more importantly because it was too dang cold outside), but it looks like a really nice place to sip on a few of the brewery's outstanding offerings. Also outside, you'll see the giant solar panels that offset 100% of the brewery’s power consumption. Maine Beer Company's motto is "Do What’s Right," a mantra that extends far beyond making good beer.
"We deliver our spent grains and organic liquid waste to local farmers for compost, fertilizer and feed. We reduce our energy consumption and reliance on fossil fuels through radiant flooring, LED bulbs and the purchase of e-certified wind credits," Maine Beer Company proudly boasts on their website. The brewery is dedicated to environmental awareness, local causes, and to "sustainable, symbiotic relationship between our brewery and the planet." I'll drink to that!
I also want to take a moment to say that the Maine Beer Company staff was incredible. Major beer releases are always crowded, hectic affairs, and people often become restless when they feel like they're being unnecessarily delayed--especially in the Maine morning cold. But the staff at the brewery kept everything running extremely smoothly. The line never stagnated too long and everyone I interacted with was friendly and upbeat. My pickup window was 8:30-9:00am, and I’m sure most of the brewery's staff had been there for three or four hours by the time I arrived. Despite it being a long, crazy day for them, they were universally awesome.
Dogs: Hard to say for sure. There isn’t a ton of space in the tasting room itself, but there is plenty of room outside. My guess would be that dogs are fine, but you’re best served keeping them outside if possible.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$$. The bottles aren’t cheap--at $8 per bottle, a case of Dinner will run you almost a crisp Benjamin. Other beers are less expensive, with Lunch clocking in at $7 per bottle and their other offerings hovering around the $5 or $6 mark. When you consider the quality of the beer you’re getting, that’s really not too bad.
Food: No food, unfortunately. The Maine Beer Company tasting room is a pure tasting room. You can usually count on eight beers on tap, but for food you’ll have to go elsewhere.
Final Thoughts: I've always loved Maine Beer Company, and I’ve happily consumed their beers for years. I’m glad that I finally had the opportunity to visit the brewery itself, and even happier that I had the opportunity to sample the legendary Dinner. I greatly look forward to visiting the tasting room on a less hectic (not to mention warmer) day, when I have the chance to kick back and bit and interact with the brewery staff a little more.
As for the ticketing system, consider me a fan. I'm not sure I ever would have had the opportunity to try Dinner otherwise. Some beer lovers wear their willingness to brave the elements as a badge of honor, and while I'm not unsympathetic to that viewpoint, I appreciate the chance to get my hands on a legendary beer without losing half a dozen toes to frostbite. A major part of the reason that Maine Beer Company changed up the Dinner release process was out of respect for the town of Freeport, and, as much as some longtime patrons may protest any sort of change, it seems clear that the new system helped alleviate some of the town's safety and logistical concerns. I had no trouble finding parking, and was out the door, beer in hand, just ten minutes into my pickup window. Getting tickets can be a crapshoot (they sold out in about one second--hope you clicked at the right moment!), but the alternative had become unsustainable. In my opinion, the new system worked very smoothly, and the brewery should be very proud of how they handled it.
All I'll say in closing is that Maine Beer Company makes some of the best beer in Maine. That's really all there is to it. Dinner: delicious. Lunch: delicious. Another One: delicious. There isn't a beer in their lineup that I don’t crave from time to time, and I don’t think that will ever change. In fact, considering that the town of Freeport just approved a major expansion to the brewery, I think we can count on things getting even better!
Brewery Name: Flying Dog Brewery
Type of Brewery: Production Brewery
Location: 4607 Wedgewood Blvd, Frederick, MD 21703
Facebook: Flying Dog Brewery
Background: This is more of an ode to a brewery that I have not been to yet, but have always wanted to visit. Flying Dog brewery is probably best known for the label art done by Ralph Steadman (Editor's Note: Ralph Steadman is probably best known for his work with Hunter S. Thompson, including the poster for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). It might be sacrilege to say this, but I associate his art with the brewery almost exclusively.
Flying Dog represents a very awesome, forward thinking brewery in the DMV region that has continued to push the envelope as they grow. Everyone has probably heard of the Dead Rise Summer Ale (a summer beer with Old Bay seasoning), and I still remember when the brewery first began experimenting with the spice, trying to find some way to incorporate this Maryland staple into a beer. I got to try a Gose they made with Old Bay at a bar in DC. It was one of those beers that you definitely wanted to drink one of, and only one. What I liked about that experience was that the brewery was going for it to try to make the beer work. They eventually toned the spice down for a crisp, drinkable summer beer.
I have loved all of Flying Dog's beers, from Barrel Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter to The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale. This is a great brewery that everyone needs to make a point to try--they make top quality beer and will keep making you think about what beer can be. While none of us have managed to get there, we hope one day to make the trip.
The Beers: Since I knew I wanted to write about Flying Dog but I wasn’t able to make it to the brewery itself, I did the next best thing: travel around to a few different Maryland beer stores and grab a handful of cool and interesting Flying Dog beers that showcase what the brewery is all about. In the end, I grabbed four beers from a handful of different style and creativity levels.
Final Thoughts: While we have not had the chance to get to this brewery, we definitely suggest that everyone should make an effort to get to Frederick to try their beer. They make a wide variety of awesome and inventive beers. Hopefully you’re craving one of the four above by now, but if not, don’t worry. Flying Dog has no shortage of cool and creative beers to choose from, and there’s sure to be more than a few that you’ll love.
I'll say this right off the bat: I've always been a big Sam Adams fan. Maybe it's because I live in New England. Maybe it's because I've met Jim Koch. Maybe it's because they helped kick the craft beer movement into high gear. Or maybe it's because they brew beer that's just plain good. Whatever the reason, there will always be a space in my fridge reserved for Boston Lager.
A few months back, I wrote about our visit to the Sam Adams brewery, and the opportunity it gave us to take a peek behind the Sam Adams curtain. The brewers are always cooking up new recipes in their brew lab, trying out new hop combinations, dry-hopping techniques, beer styles, and more. If there's one thing Sam Adams has done well in recent years, it's keep up with trends. They had the foresight to launch their beloved "Rebel" IPA series just as the IPA craze began to take the nation by storm, and today those beers are counted among the brewery's best. That said, any craft beer aficionado will tell you that it isn't IPAs driving beer lovers to breweries these days--it's double IPAs.
So, needless to say, when Sam Adams reached out and asked if we wanted to sample their upcoming double IPA release, I couldn't have been more excited. Rebel Raw was first released last year and yielded very positive reviews. I had the opportunity to try it myself, and I was very interested to see what tweaks the tinkerers in the beer lab might have made to an already successful recipe. Before we go any further, let’s give Rebel Raw a little overview:
As you can see, the beer pours a beautiful golden-orange color, with just the tiniest hint of that New England haze many of us have come to know and love. It has a nice, frothy head--not too much, maybe two fingers or so--that releases a very pleasant citrusy aroma and settles fairly quickly. The character of the Cascade hops is very apparent in this aroma--mostly citrus, but a little bit floral as well.
The first thing that strikes me is how incredibly smooth this beer is, especially considering that it sits at a pretty aggressive 10% ABV. One of my primary concerns with last year’s iteration of Rebel Raw was that the flavor of the alcohol came through very strongly. Not so this year. As with any good double IPA, the bite from the alcohol sits on your tongue just long enough to let you know it's there before being washed away by the beer's more flavorful elements. There is also very little stick with this beer. One thing that sometimes pushes people away from New England IPAs is that they tend to coat your palate, lingering long after the final sip. Rebel Raw has none of that, and instead finishes crisp and clean.
That's the power of pine, and also the thing that stops this beer from being pigeonholed into the "New England IPA" category. This beer is almost an olive branch to the west coast, with the addition of the Zeus hops pushing a much more earthy, piney finish that I would have guessed from the aroma of the head. It's a really wise hop choice for this beer, allowing it to strike a beautiful balance between east coast citrus and west coast pine.
The beer's malt base is Sam Adams through-and-through, which should come as no surprise. Sam Adams is known for their Boston Lager above all else, and even in a double IPA the brewers just can't help but crank up the malt factor just a little bit. It gives Rebel Raw just a little bit of added richness that plays very nicely off the earthy, piney elements. While my personal taste generally falls more on the "juice bomb" side of the line than the malty side, it gives the beer a really interesting and unique personality. I'm betting you could blindfold me and I’d still identify this as a Sam Adams beer. Although it's only been around for a couple of years now, that familiarity makes Rebel Raw feel like an old friend.
Rebel Raw will make its way to shelves beginning on November 14, and a full list of states and cities where it will be available can be found here. The shelf-life of this beer is just 35 days, so if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a four-pack, be sure to drink it fresh! The brewers at Sam Adams have worked very hard to strike just the right balance of flavors, and letting the beer sit any longer risks throwing that balance out of whack.
Sam Adams asks you to "imagine burying your nose in a pile of fresh hop cones--that's the experience we want you to have when you take a sip of Rebel Raw." That's a good description. There are a lot of layers to this beer, and every step along the way will treat you to a different experience. From the citrus aroma that hits your nose the moment you crack open the can, to the fruity, malty balance that hits your tongue on the first sip, to the crisp, piney notes on the finish, this beer will take you on a ride. I look forward to grabbing a few more of these once they hit shelves, and I also look forward to seeing what next year's iteration will bring!
Brewery Name: Garrison City Beerworks
Type of Brewery: Retail Brewery
Location: 455 Central Ave, Dover, NH 03820. When you reach the main drag in Dover, you’ll find Garrison City right on the corner at the top of the hill.
Facebook: Garrison City Beerworks
Background: I don’t know any other way to say this: I am embarrassed that it has taken me this long to write about Garrison City Beerworks. Garrison City has been my favorite New Hampshire brewery for quite some time now, and I have gone out of my way to include several of their beers in our review posts. Even more incredible is the fact that, as high as I have been on Garrison City, York seems to be even higher! Dover is just a 20 minute drive from my house, and the fact that it has taken me this long to do a much-deserved write-up on this rising star in the New England beer game is flat-out unconscionable.
Growlers: Not anymore. Although Garrison City has never (to my knowledge) offered growlers, they used to be regional pioneers in the crowler game. Not so anymore. Garrison City has phased out their crowlers in favor of a renewed focus on cans. Speak of which, the brewery is on the verge of releasing some brand new can art. For some time now, Garrison City has had one standard can design, with a small sticker added to signify the beer name and style. That system has been phased out in favor of a new standard design, and a couple of Garrison City’s flagship beers will be getting special designs. I was able to sneak a peek at the new labels for Daybreak and Tessellate, and they are, in a word, awesome. It feels weird to admit it, but can design and marketing play a big role in the craft beer world, and I’m excited to see Garrison City step up to the plate with a new approach and absolutely knock it out of the park.
The Beers: You can usually count on Garrison City to have six beers on tap, and my visit was no exception. They offer single tasters as well as flights, which are served on beautiful wooden trays carved to look like hop flowers (which Garrison City used as its primary logo until recently). I was sad to just miss Divine Encounter, Garrison City’s most recent double IPA release, but the six beers I sampled more than made up for it:
Vibe: The vibe at Garrison City is outstanding. Whether it’s empty or crowded, the space always feels welcoming. There is a beautiful wooden bar, with several high-top tables throughout the room for sitting or standing. When you walk in the door, you’re greeted on the left by giant windows giving you a clear view into the glistening metal tanks in the brewing area.
Behind the bar you’ll find a pair of fridges, stocked full of Garrison City’s many canned offerings. You’ll also find a flatscreen television above the bar, providing you with names and descriptions of the beers on offer that day. This is a nice touch--it allows Garrison City to keep their tap and can lists up-to-date in real time (plus, it looks pretty slick).
The brewery’s patrons run the gamut from locals just popping in for a quick beer to craft beer fanatics looking to savor every sip of their flight. As Garrison City grows, their reputation in the region will continue to attract more beer fanatics, and their taproom will surely get even busier. I was lucky enough to arrive during a relatively slow time, which gave me the chance to have a great conversation with the bartender. I’ve been to Garrison City before, but it was nice to have the opportunity to connect with not just the patrons in the taproom, but the staff of the brewery itself.
Dogs: Garrison City doesn’t serve food, so it’s hard to say for sure. I’ve never seen dogs inside, and they keep the interior pretty pristine, so my guess would be no.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$$. Four-packs are a little pricey, but that’s what you get with premium craft beer. They’ll probably cost you in the $16 range, though some will cost more and some will cost less. If you’re buying a four-pack of double IPAs, you probably know what to expect, price-wise. They are also more than happy to sell you single cans, so you can create your own variety pack of different Garrison City offerings, which helps you feel like you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Tasters at the brewery are pretty affordable--you won’t break the bank here.
Food: Nope. In Garrison City’s words, they are "a true tasting room." That said, you can often find food trucks nearby, especially on Fridays! Garrison City is located in the heart of Dover, so there are plenty of other food options nearby if you find yourself starving after downing a flight of beers.
Final Thoughts: Garrison City Beerworks is my favorite brewery in the state of New Hampshire. The quality of the beers that they produce is unmatched. The variety of different styles that they create is astonishing. And the homey feel of their taproom along with their friendly staff and welcoming customers make Garrison City an outstanding place to spend an evening. Whether you’re looking to sample a flight of beers, grab some cans for the road, or even just grab a taster and strike up a conversation, you won’t find a better place in New Hampshire to do it than Garrison City Beerworks.
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