San Francisco Treats

By Amy Tindell

I recently spent 12 (long) hours on a plane to enjoy 48 (spectacular) hours in San Francisco. My previous visit in 2012 provided a thorough education in Napa wine and food, but this year, my friends made it their mission to indulge one of my favorite hobbies: beer tourism. Anchor Brewing Company, approximately 5 blocks from their house in Potrero, is closed on weekends, so I had to satisfy myself with a pilgrimage to gaze upon the building without the privilege of tasting on the premises.


I consoled myself with the thought that my efforts were better-focused on tastes I couldn’t find on the East Coast anyway. Accordingly, our first destination was Bar Bocce in Sausalito. While not a “beer bar,” it features several local beers, cocktails designed for a life of leisure, and a food menu offering pizzas and seaside snacks, packed with trendy ingredients like kale and bacon. The bar’s beacon is its patio, situated on the water, complete with a firepit and sand bocce court. The patio’s ambience is topped off by tables of Sausalito girls sporting puffy jackets and scarves who refuse to allow the waiters to turn off the overhead heaters in the 68 degree weather.


Undeterred by the 68 degree chill, we tasted two local beers along with our kale and bacon. The first was Hangar 24 Orange Wheat. Hangar 24 Craft Brewery, located in Redlands, CA, was founded on a shared love for beer and aviation. Its Orange Wheat brew is crisp and light, but not very wheat-y or cirtrus-y, with muted flavors. While I prefer less subdued flavor, it would be an appropriate complement to a hot summer day, and drinking it has the added benefit of supporting local agriculture: the brewery adds local oranges purchased from an orange conservancy throughout the brewing process.


Headlands Brewing Company, situated nearby in Marin, provided our next beer in the form of a Pt. Bonita Rustic Lager. Headlands takes what some craft beer snobs think when they hear “lager” and adds a lot of flavor, in the form of hop spiciness (Liberty, Saaz and Crystal), a solid 4-malt backbone (2-Row, Pilsner, Munich, and Rye), and a healthy 6.2% ABV. The result is something between a Pilsner and a pale lager, boosted further by a surprising yet pleasing alcohol finish. This lager is named for the Point Bonita Lighthouse in the Marin Headlands, a “guiding light for ships full of prospectors, immigrants, pirates, sailors and cargo for over 150 years,” and reflects the Brewery’s focus on entrepreneurism, responsible business practices, and community spirit. (Reflecting my own community spirit, I take my hat off to Patrick Horn, CEO of Headlands Brewing Company, and fellow graduate of WPHS in Virginia.)

Next, I walked in to the DogPatch Saloon, sidled up to the bar, and asked the bartender for whatever I couldn’t get in Boston. His response involved a delicious concoction based on Bender’s Rye Whiskey, crafted in San Francisco and aged seven years. Moving on to the taps, the bartender recommended Speakeasy Double Daddy. Speakeasy, another brewery after my own heart, “harbors a love for the sinister and the underground,” and true to its roots, the Butchertown tasting room is “designed as a wood-paneled basement hideaway.” Its Double Daddy, an imperial IPA, pours a light golden color with amber hues, and smells of caramel malts and citrus hops. The taste follows with similarly balanced flavors, and with very little of the sweetness that imperial IPAs often offer. The lack of alcohol sweetness made the finish of Double Daddy bitter for my taste, but I reminded myself that hop dominance is all part of the West Coast experience.


When two dogs entered the saloon with their owners and settled around a nearby table, the bartender explained to me that many local establishments welcome canine companions, in homage to the neighborhood’s historical reputation as a gritty, industrial area with roaming packs of dogs. Currently, the neighborhood maintains some of that industrial grit, but has developed a reputation for inspiring entrepreneurship and innovative ideas. I decided to finish off my beer with my new friends.


As with many San Francisco adventures, our last stop was in Haight. The Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery charms the corner of Haight and Masonic, offering a full menu that would intrigue any self-respecting foodie, in addition to a diverse selection of draught and cask beers. The menus themselves delightfully portray brewing specifications for historical beers.


I ordered Sara’s Ruby Mild, winner of a gold medal at the 2009 Great American Beer Fest. An English Dark Mild Ale, the beer indeed pours deep ruby in color, with little foam. Sara’s smells and tastes principally of raisin and other dried fruit, with a bready, caramel malt sweetness, giving the beer a toasty, biscuit flavor. The brew features a hint of bitterness, but overall it is light, smooth, and very drinkable.


Our waiter confirmed the rumor that Magnolia is planning a new location in the DogPatch, approximately 3 blocks from my friends’ house. I’ve made it my goal to return when it opens… After all, I left my heart – at least the part of it that yearns to see dogs in bars, beer brewing daily, and new cheese shops popping up behind formerly barred windows – in San Francisco.

Chronicles of an Accidental Bartender

By Robin Coxe


The Backstory

On Thursday evenings, I emerge from the electrical engineering nerd cave in which I spend most of my waking hours and moonlight as a volunteer bartender. Yes, such a thing actually exists. I dispense alcoholic beverages to those with an entrepreneurial bent gratis out of the goodness in my heart. Inspired by the eponymous 2002 book by Teresa Esser, the Venture Café is a networking event featuring free craft beer and wine for the Boston-area startup community that takes place every Thursday from 3-8 pm sponsored by Cambridge Innovation Center in Kendall Square, home to several hundred early-stage tech companies. The brainchild of Tim Rowe, CEO of CIC, and Carrie Stalder, a MIT Sloan graduate and former aerospace engineer, the Venture Café began operations in 2010.

I first heard about the Venture Café through the startup grapevine soon after moving back to Boston from Los Angeles. Although hobnobbing is hardly my strong suit, I somehow managed to secure several consulting contracts, one of which eventually morphed into my current job with a CIC client company, as a consequence of fortuitous conversations with people that I met at the Café. After I had gotten the lay of the land and established myself in the community, I felt impelled to do some small part to ensure that others could continue to benefit from the unique environment of Venture Café.

The first test of worthiness for all new Venture Café volunteers is to take some greeter shifts. A visitor to the Café enters his or her email address and a password or authenticates with a CIC keycard on a laptop at a kiosk set up in the hallway next to the 5th floor elevator bay. The sign-in app enables attendees to connect their LinkedIn profiles to their Venture Café accounts and to log on to the website and view the other guests at the Café on any given week. Greeters shepherd people through the sign-in process, check IDs and stamp hands of those of legal drinking age, explain the Venture Café concept to newbies, and give rundowns on the weekly schedule of the events. If the process proceeds according to plan, a label printer disgorges nametags with a number in parentheses indicating the number of times individuals have attended the Café.

When I informed my father that I was embarking on this endeavor, his response was, “I’m glad to hear it. That means that you’ll actually have to talk to people.” Basking in the warm glow of parental support, I did my time as a greeter for several months. Suffice it to say that it was a character-building experience and there is a damn good reason that I am not a hostess at a chain restaurant. At this point, I may well be the world expert at debugging the label printers. Ankle surgery necessitated a several month hiatus from volunteering at Venture Café in the winter and spring of 2012.

One day while I was still wearing The Boot on my left foot and clomping around on crutches with a thermos of Peet’s French roast strapped to my back, I learned that CIC was offering ServeSafe training for Café volunteers interested in becoming qualified as bartenders. On a whim, I signed up. Our instructor, a jocular off-duty cop from Quincy, ensured that we all passed the multiple-choice test with flying colors after watching unintentionally comedic video vignettes on one’s responsibilities and potential liabilities as a bartender. I’m convinced that the training videos featured the same C-list actors as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act webinar that the Legal Department made me watch exhorting me not to bribe foreign officials. The ServeSafe takeaway: bartenders can be held personally liable for mayhem wrought by patrons we have over-served. Consequently, we have the right to refuse service at our discretion, but drunk people can be volatile, so having large men around and 911 on speed dial has the potential to make our lives easier.

Several weeks later, certification in hand, I took the plunge and signed up for a bar shift. Amy, Greg, and Shahin showed me the ropes—how to avoid pouring a cup of foam, how to change an empty keg, how to strategically position kegs and white wine in the kegerator, etc. I soon discovered that I had joined what is undoubtedly the most overeducated bartending team in Greater Boston, or possibly the entire universe. Between the four of us, we have 3 Ph.D.s in science and engineering, a J.D., and a masters degree in neuroscience.

In spite of, or perhaps because of 3 degrees in physics, when I first stepped behind the bar, I knew next to nothing about beer other than I liked most of it. Nuggets of wisdom imparted by Venture Café Bar Manager and beer geek extraordinaire Amy, some strategic book purchases on Amazon, a subscription to Beer Advocate, and liberal sampling of the beer on offer soon rectified that situation. However, given that I have a vast preference for malt and hops over fermented grape juice, my general ignorance of wine persists. I have only the vaguest notion of how (or if) wankerish wine-speak translates into flavor sensations. I am of the general opinion that the wine we serve tastes like swill, which may or may not actually be true. I discovered at the Wine Expo earlier this year that I have a penchant for expensive wine. Budgetary constraints dictate that all of the wine at Venture Café must cost less than $10/bottle, which could explain a lot. When people ask me for wine recommendations, my magic formula involves picking randomly and endorsing emphatically. No one has ever complained.

Although hardly surprising in hindsight, the most revelatory aspect of this volunteer bartending gig has been the often snark-inducing and occasionally downright bizarre observations of human behavior under the influence of moderate amounts of alcohol.

Uncommon Courtesy

In my experience, rudeness to people in service professions tends to indicate a misplaced sense of entitlement and an excessive self-regard. But before stepping behind the bar at Venture Café, I had only infrequently been on the receiving end of blatant impoliteness of this nature. Although we have never taken an exact count, I estimate that less than 40% of people who come up to the bar for a beverage bother to say “please” and/or “thank you.” When someone fails Politeness 101, the first thought that pops into my head is: “Who are your parents?” followed by flashbacks to the late 1970’s of my mother’s withering stares when my brother and I failed to mind our manners.

To make a sweeping, yet accurate generalization, women are, on average, significantly more polite than men. (On a typical Thursday, approximately 70-80% of the visitors are male.) The rudest ones tend to be either between the ages of 21 and 28 or over 50. Every week, at least five of the most egregious offenders cannot even bring themselves to ask for a specific beer. They grunt incomprehensibly and point, often ambiguously, at one of the taps. It would be much more entertaining for yours truly if they could at least come out with: “Me caveman. Me want beer! Ooga wooga!” One day, after an unusually long string of verbally challenged patrons, I exclaimed, exasperated: “Use your words!”

Sometimes when the Café gets very crowded (around 6 pm on sunny days when venture capitalists are holding office hours or some organization is sponsoring food), the frenzied din of conversation makes it difficult to hear people when they actually do speak up and order a drink. I can provide one piece of helpful advice to Café patrons in such a situation: repeating the name of the wine you would like in a bad French accent at increasingly high volume will not help your cause.

The under-30 set seems to favor the direct, yet boorish method of ordering beer: “Give me a Slumbrew IPA.” Sometimes, I am tempted to answer: “No.” I restrain myself, but usually cannot fully suppress an incredulous look as I hand over the beer. The percentage of the recipients who say thank you is in the single digits after demanding a beer in this manner.

Some of our more recalcitrant visitors have been brainwashed by the marketing machines of the likes of Miller-Coors and Anheuser-Bush InBev into believing that mass-produced light lagers constitute good beer. One day about 3 months ago, a gentleman in his mid-50s walked up to the bar and declared: “None of the beer you serve satisfies me.” As it happened, it was his lucky day. A Dutch economic development organization had sponsored a portion of the beer that day. “I’m sorry to hear that. Here, have a Heine,” I said, working very hard to keep my eyebrows from spontaneously raising themselves. He beamed and responded: “That’s more like it!” Whatever floats your boat, I suppose.

At least twice a day, a younger guy asks for a porter or a stout without knowing that these dark brews tend to be full-bodied and have strong flavor profiles. He skulks back to the bar several minutes later with a disgusted look on his face, deposits his almost-full Vegware cup on the bar, and says something to the effect of: “This beer is undrinkable. Take it back and give me something else.” To which I reply, “Here, have our lightest beer… You’re welcome!”

Pro Tip: if you want a bartender to like you, don’t be a jackass.

Newark Beer

By Amy Tindell

I optimistically inquired of Google where a girl might find some adventure in Newark, NJ prior to a recent business trip there. Google showed me only sites advertising establishments that had closed within the past two years, or advising me to take the 12-minute train ride to NYC. In case I had doubts about Newark’s coolness, Selena Gomez was to perform in Newark the night I arrived.

Not quite dissuaded, I ended up at the Dinosaur BBQ downtown, conveniently located between my firm and the hotel. Indeed, there were two (2) beers that I had not yet tasted, both from the Garden State itself. If that is not adventure, I don’t know what is.

My first order, eliciting a smile from the bartender, who had just served 6 Bud Lights, was for a Flying Fish Hopfish. Flying Fish Brewing Company was founded on the Internet in its early days, around 1995, as a “virtual brewery.” It seems that the Founder, Gene Muller, used the website to advertise the brand and raise money for the brewery, before producing his first beer in September 1996. Muller’s idea was to “give beer lovers a chance, via their computers, to roll up their cyber-sleeves and … help select and name beers, design t-shirts and labels, volunteer to be a taste-tester and even apply for a job as a brewer.” IRL*, Flying Fish is located in Somerdale, NJ and now the largest craft brewery in the state.

Flying Fish produces four full-time beer styles, in addition to its seasonal beers. It prides itself on balance, a quality much appreciated by a non-hophead ordering an IPA in the US. Hopfish does feature a healthy hop bitterness, but as advertised, this IPA is balanced by a healthy, slightly sweet, malt backbone that marries American, English, and German malts. The finish has a floral, citrus quality thanks to extensive dry hopping with 22lbs of Nugget Hops. Though not meant for a West Coast hophead, this tasty IPA certainly contributed to the night’s adventures for this (balanced) American girl.

My next adventure (read: order), copied by my now-intrigued tablemates, was a Kane Overhead Imperial. Kane Brewing Company was built in Ocean Township, NJ, and got its start in 2011, after its Founders spent years in B-school, wearing suits, and touring the world’s breweries. The brewery specializes in American- and Belgian-style ales, sold only in central and northern NJ. The Overhead Imperial pours a dark gold, slightly amber color, and thanks to several hops additions (Columbus, Amarillo, Simcoe, Centennial), smells of citrus and tropical fruit. The aroma does not mislead, as the taste fronts with a heavy dose of tropical and citrus fruits and bitterness, but the brew is balanced by sweet malts, caramel and pine notes, and a pronounced grapefruit and alcohol finish. Overall, it was a very enjoyable DIPA (Double India Pale Ale).

So there you have it: even in Newark, one may find hitherto unknown tastes. And who knows what further adventures await on the walk home?

*IRL = in real life

No government, no new beer

I couldn’t help but notice that the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which regulates breweries new and old in this country, is one of many government agencies facing furloughs. According to the U.S. Treasury Department’s website, only 35 of 483 employees will continue to work, until Congress does its work. Those 35 employees are those “necessary to perform activities necessarily implied by law” and those “necessary for protection of life and property.” Notably, those 35 employees are not ones who participate in “processing of permits, [and] certificates of label approval.” Thus, the upshot of the government shutdown for the beer industry is that the government won’t be issuing any new permits for new breweries. It also means that there will be no new certificates issued for new beers or new imports. Amendments to current licenses will also be restricted, so any brewery with expansion plans will be stalled for the time being. Thus, for now, beer lovers can buy only existing beers on the market, provided their labels haven’t changed … a serious limitation for experimental types. Interestingly, “processing of tax returns” and “maintaining minimum staff necessary to perform accounting functions” are considered “necessary for the safety of human life or protection of property.” Therefore, the agency will continue to collect money from the beer industry, without providing any of the services that allow breweries to begin, maintain, or grow their businesses. In the face of these obstacles imposed by the government shutdown, breweries seem to be maintaining their collaborative spirit, at least with furloughed (“nonessential”) government employees: Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, MD is offering free tours for furloughed government employees. I like to imagine that the
employees from the TTB may be eligible for further beer-oriented benefits.