The small California town of Morgan Hill, located just fifteen miles south of San Jose is remarkable by just how unremarkable it is. I hear it’s a good place to live, and plenty of people move there to escape the chaos of the San Francisco Bay Area. But for most people, it’s a small town they whiz by driving down Highway 101 on the way to someplace else.
It’s not the place you’d expect to find one of the best breweries in the Northern California. And Morgan Hill’s El Toro doesn’t make a lot of people lists of the top breweries in Northern California, but it ought to. El Toro normally has twenty four of their house beers on tap. Now most brewpubs have fewer than that, realizing that quality is more important than quantity. I’m fine with that, but the thing is, any random beer on tap at El Toro is way better than most brewery’s flagship. I have to believe if El Toro was in San Francisco, everyone would be talking about it. But being way down in Morgan Hill, not too many people venture out to it. Especially since there’s not a lot else in Morgan Hill to see, and trust me, I’ve looked hard.
It’s not like the place is completely unknown. Geno and Cindy Acevedo started the place in March of 1994, so it’s been around a while. And they’ve won a few awards, including two Great American Beer Festival medals, so other people have come to realize how good their beer is. But for this months session, I decided that my favorite Bay Area brewery was that deserved its day in the media sun. Yes, I know, we’re supposed to write about one beer for this session instead of a whole brewery. Well, just take your pick from one of my favorite El Toro beers described below.
Poppy Jasper Amber Ale
One of their flagship beers, named after a type of quartz found only around the Morgan Hill area. Just a great combination of flavors, as it’s a little roasty, a little nutty, with a slight apricot fruity note, and a nice earthy hop finish. The whole is much greater than the sum of its parts as it all adds up to something unique and memorable. Winner of the 1995 California Beer Festival Gold Medal; 1996 Great American Beer Festival Silver Medal.
Here’s to truth in advertising. El Toro uses Columbus, Centennial, Cascade and Amarillo hops to give this the classic citrus, slightly floral West Coast IPA style. The slight sweetness in what little malt there is works well here.
Duece Double IPA
A very citrusy double IPA, with a strong aroma of tangerine. The brew itself tastes of tangerine and grapefruit, with a little bit of sweetness and decent malt heft, and finishes with a grapefruit peel-like astringency.
Black Raspberry Ale
This ain’t no chick beer. Instead, this aromatic brew has none of the cloying sweetness found in most fruit beers, and the black raspberry melds seemlessly into the underlying dark ale. Well crafted and composed beer has a nice, earthy hop finish. One of the many things El Toro does a great job at is infusing fruit into their beers, as their lighter Peach Ale has many of the same great aromatic qualities as this one. Speaking of El Toro fruit beers, you might want to try….
OK, it’s a chick beer. And as such, I am not secure enough in my manhood to order it when I’m at El Toro. But I will steal sips of it from my fiance’ Linda when she isn’t looking. Once again, a skillful blend of the raspberry harmonizing with the slight tartness of underlying wheat beer. Actually gives chick beers a good name.
El Conejo Red IPA
Not your usual IPA. There’s a little sweetness in this red IPA, and plenty of roasted malt. Centennial and Amarillo hops give it a tropical fruit, pineapple character to it. The bitterness of the roasted malt coupled with a healthy dose of hops gives this brew a very strong bitterness and astringency. Unique and different, there’s just a little too much bitterness for my taste, but my fiance’ Linda, a true hop-head, can’t get enough of this.
El Negro Oatmeal Stout
This jet black brew pours with a sturdy brown head you could almost walk across. It’s a very rich oatmeal stout, with plenty of roasted malt goodness, with a little chocolate note and a noticeable oat character. For all that roasted malt, it’s quite smooth and not all that bitter, creating a highly drinkable, yet substantial stout.
So many great beers, I can’t wait to see what El Toro does next.