Saturday, January 30, 2010

From the top you can see Monterey, or think about San Jose (though I know it's not that pleasant)

So here I am sitting in the San Jose airport, waiting for the fog to lift so I can head home. San Jose isn't that bad (their airport has free wifi; their hockey team--the San Jose Sharks--gracefully lost to the visiting Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night; the weather was in the 60's), but aside from a Gordon Biersch (which had a tasty Sticke Alt on tap, by the way) they don't have much beer-wise. Fortunately I spent a full day in Monterey, where my good buddy Eric introduced me to two local brewpubs.

The first brewpub we stopped at was called Peter B's Brewpub. It sits right off the harbor, and seeing that a little over 24 hours earlier I was in sub-freezing temps, we took advantage of the sun and decidedly warmer temps and sat outside. Eric had heard that their food was better than their beer, which indeed seemed to be somewhat of an afterthought for management. The only seasonal they had was a porter, which seemed like a fairly pedestrian style for a specialty release. (In their defense, the waitress said they were about to tap a Scottish Ale--too bad they were too late for Robbie Burns Night.) With nothing jumping out at me, I opted for their sampler. While nothing blew me away, their beers were solid (and I realize that probably sounds pejorative but I mean it in a good way). The Pilsner was a little light for my liking (clearly their offering for the Bud/Miller/Coors crowd), but the Hefeweizen was pretty tasty. Their IPA was rather balanced, which would probably bum out hopheads but I appreciated. And their seasonal porter was really good... roasty but rather clean, the way I like my porter.

Their food was quite good for pub fare. We started out with their "stinky fries," which were hand-cut french fries drenched in garlic butter made with local garlic. Stinky? Yes, but also awesome. Eric had the pulled pork which he seemed to enjoy and I had fish tacos made with local fish. Was it the most amazing brewpub I've been to? No, but the food was tasty and the beer--while nothing I'd go out of my way for--was enjoyable. If you're in Monterey and are heading toward the water, it's definitely worth stopping by. And while it appears management isn't really catering to hardcore beer geeks, hopefully they give the brewmaster some more latitude in the future to brew some more adventurous seasonals.

Later that afternoon we stopped by English Ales Brewery in nearby Marina, CA. Unlike Peter B's, English Ales was clearly all about the beer, and specifically all about the U.K. pub experience. It had a bit of a hole-in-the-wall feel, but in a good way. It had a wooden bar with English-style taps, including what appeared to be two beer engines for casks. Around the bar they had small tables that appeared to be patio furniture. There was one older gentleman working the entire pub. And as you can see in the accompanying picture, the place was covered with mugs for its mug club members.

We got there around 3pm with it rather empty and by the time we left an hour or so later it was pretty packed; they definitely seem to have a following. After I tried my first beer, an English-style IPA on cask, I could tell why. It really was an English-style IPA, bright and fruity with a bracing, earthy bitterness in the finish. Anybody brewing that kind of beer in the middle of West Coast Hop Bomb Land is serious about their English ales. Next I had their Good King Senseless Winter Ale, which I thought was on cask but I'm pretty sure was not (at least not the pint I was served). It was a really nice winter warmer; rich at ~7% ABV but not too heavy; fruity and spicy but not overdone; and just enough roastiness to keep it from being sweet. Overall, I'm not obsessed with British ales, but if I were I would have been in heaven.

So anyway, that was my pub experience in Monterey. Nobody's going to confuse it for the San Francisco/Santa Rosa area further north, but you could certainly do worse than to spend a day visiting Peter B's and English Ales.


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