SF Beer Week
Often I get the question, "don't you miss the Belgian beers a lot", but in fact, it's not that bad. Most of the good ones are also imported here, they're expensive but acceptable for special occasions - a 75cl bottle of Affligem or Westmalle will go for about $13 in a supermarket. But besides the import, there's actually a good deal of American beers to discover.
Artisan beers and small breweries are all the rage in the US. Craft beers are fancier than wine, and most bars will do a good deal of effort to offer something special. Any brewer that wants to stand out tries its best to produce a couple of "Belgian Style Ales". It's still not the real thing, but it's definitely way better than the Budweiser. California has a wide range of small breweries - I've been told that some of the best are down in San Diego, but this time we went up north.
The San Francisco Beer Week is drawing more attention every year, this year they had over 20 events each day. That week was really busy so I did not get to do many of them. Wednesday evening we went to the Rose & Crown pub in Palo Alto, only to discover they started serving their special beers at 18h, so by the time we got there at 22h it was already gone (never mind, it's a horribly expensive pub anyway).
The last sunday however, we went for a daytrip to Santa Rosa, some 140km north of Palo Alto. Next to Napa is Sonoma, and next to Sonoma is Santa Rosa, and they're all known for their excellent wineries, but Santa Rosa most notably has the Russian River Brewing Company. There's not that much more interesting to do in that town so if you ever end up there, visit it, it's certainly worth it. Their beers go for tens of dollars in supermarkets, but in their own bar they're really cheap and they have some good stuff. Not to mention it's actually a nice bar, we had live Irish music, and they have great pizza too.
On their beer list, next to the alcohol level, they also advertise the bitterness of their beers. I never hear of it before, but apparently there exists something as a Bitter Units scale. As a Belgian, you want to go for the least bitter of them all. Especially because American beers seem to be all about the hops and the bitterness and not about the yeast or the fermentation, so all too often you end up with what seems like incredibly bitter alcoholic lemonade. The bitter ones are like pure hops but no body, so if you're used to relatively sweet trappist beers, you'll want to avoid the kind that gets advertised as "hoppy".
The "Belgian style" beers from Russian River all have names ending in "-tion". Especially the Consecration is one of my favourites, since it comes closest to what I'd consider to be a tripel. (I found out later that they cheat a little: they blend in 2% of Kriek to it to give it some more flavour). The Damnation gets some points for trying to be a good double, but it's not that magnificent. They have some beers that have been aged in wine barrels, and the Temptation is one of those and worth a try.
Needless to say, on the long drive back home, everyone in the car (except our designated driver, thanks Nick!) was really, really sleepy.
(Below: what the Golden Gate looks like if you drive over it. Very impressive! $6 toll though...)