Getting Primed for Jelly Bellies at Blue Frog Grog and Grill

I took off last week from work to spend it with my kids on a so called “stay-cation” about Northern California. One of our destinations was the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, CA and wouldn’t you know, Blue Frog Grog and Grill is only about a five minute drive for the factory. Anyone with small kids will tell you well fed kids tend to function on these sort of outings a lot better than unfed ones. The same goes for parents. So it seemed like a win-win situation to stop off at Blue Frog for lunch prior to the factory tour.

We already had some familiarity with Blue Frog, as Linda and I had enjoyed Blue Frog’s Red Ale we picked up at our nearby BevMo! about a month prior. I’m not a big fan of red ales, but we both enjoyed its citrus and tangy flavors, its strong malt character, and slightly grassy hop finish, and it was one of the better Red Ales I’ve had. So we figured we’d each have a different pint to sample during with lunch with the kids.

Blue Frog Grog and Grill is located in one of those sun drenched retail areas that seem to dominate the Fairfield – Vacaville area, where shade seems to be a precious luxury. Linda and I choose the place mostly for the beer, but we also found the food was every bit as good as the beer. And of course, family outings are great opportunities to take slightly out of focus family pictures in bad lighting, where at least person has a funny look on their face.

Linda had a flavorful portobello mushroom sandwich, and I was pretty happy with my smoked salmon fish and chips. Linda and I also appreciated the slightly tangy, crunchy red cabbage slaw included with both of our lunch entrees. My six year old daughter Verona proclaimed cheese pizza on the kids menu as “really good”. Brandon, my eight year old son, has autism and so is a man a few words, but when asked if his grilled cheese sandwich was “yummy” or “yucky”, responded with “yummy” in his high pitched voice. Looks like Blue Frog gets Brandon’s thumbs up as well.

But you’re probably reading this about their beer, not the kids menu, so here’s what Linda and I thought about the beers we tried.

Blue Frog IPA
This dark yellow, fresh tasting IPA had plenty of piney hop goodness, with some floral character in there for good measure, and just a little malt to balance it. A good example of West Coast IPA style done well.

Blue Frog Pub Ale (Seasonal)
This was our favorite beer of those we tried. It’s got a little caramel taste to it, a little sweetness, a little piney hops, and a little dry finish and all these little things add up to a lively little session ale.

Blue Frog Hefeweizen
Linda and I split a 12 once glass of their hazy yellow, unfiltered hefe, and found it to be a rather light and wheaty with some aromatic clove-like notes.

Blue Frog Double IPA
We purchased a 22 once bottle of this before we left, and Linda and I split it a couple days later. A strong citrus aroma greeted us immediately upon pouring. As one might expect from the aroma, this one had a very strong grapefruity hop character to it, as well as a little sweetness. There’s a good amount of malt in there, which gave this a slightly creamy mouth feel, and this brew really went down smooth despite the strong hop flavors. We really liked the well controlled strong flavors here.

The Jelly Belly factory turned out to be a blast for everyone. I’m always proud of my children, but special mention should go to Brandon, since the large chattering crowds, sudden loud noises, and large spinning and repetitive motions of the factory equipment during the tour pose all sorts of challenges to an eight year old with autism. He handled it really well, and has won yet another small battle to overcome his autistic behaviors.

Does anyone have any ideas of what to do with the bag of jalapeno Jelly Bellies I purchased?

Announcing Beer & Nosh’s Notoberfest

Wanted to pass along I message received from Jesse Friedman over at Beer & Nosh about the upcoming NOToberfest event he’s hosting this October 10. From the looks of things so far, looks pretty unique, interesting and of course, delicious. Here’s what’s in the works.

Beer & Nosh Notoberfest

– An epic feast prepared by Ryan Farr & the 4505 Meats Team
– Custom beer-infused ice creams & treats from Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream
– Reinheitsgebot-breaking beers from Valley Brewing Co.

Valley Brewing Tap Menu:
Luna Blanca – Central Valley Golden Ale
“Notoberfest” Bourbon Barrel Maibock Lager
Brandy Barrel Aged “Collaborative Evil” Belgian Strong Golden Ale
Olallieberry Sour
India Pale Ale
Bourbon Barrel Russian Imperial Stout
Valley Brew Skullsplitter Root Beer

Essential Details:
Saturday, October 10th 2009, 1-5pm
Mars Bar, 798 Brannan St, San Francisco, CA
$50 prepurchase / $60 at the door – All inclusive for beer, food and commemorative tasting glass.

All of the details and RSVP information can be found at

A blog post detailing visiting Valley Brew with the chefs to plan the event can be found here at

Time to Eat Real: The Eat Real Festival Is Coming This August 28-30

I’m pleased to tell you all about the Eat Real Festival that’s being held in Jack London Square in Oakland the weekend of August 28-30.

What is it about? Well, from the festival website, the Eat Real Festival was “founded in 2008, as a social venture created to inspire eaters to choose tasty, healthy, good food. Through a vibrant, local festival in Oakland, CA, and a focus on delicious and sustainable “street food,” Eat Real puts eaters in contact with the real people — the farmers, chefs, and producers — who make our food. Eat Real Festival will donate a percentage of its profit to several California organizations promoting access to healthy and affordable food, entrepreneurship and economic development.”

And since beer goes well with most street food, they’ve included a Beer Shed with a great list of over 15 local breweries already scheduled to participate, and the website promises more.

To me, this is what food is all about. It’s about eating something good, simple, and accessible produced in a sustainable way. Anything that puts the producers of what we eat and drink closer to the consumers is definitely something I support. If you agree, I look foreword to seeing you there.

The San Diego Tap Room in San Diego’s Airport

Time to go home. The convention is over, I’ve packed every thing up, and catch the first available cab to the airport. I have a couple hours before my flight, so head over the the San Diego Tap room located by Gates 3-10 in San Diego’s airport.

This place is a typical airport bar, and for the most part, has stuff like Bud Light, Bud, Stella Artois, and Guinness on tap. But they also have a couple taps devoted to local brewpub chain Karl Strauss. I’ve enjoyed their beers in the past, but didn’t get a chance to stop at their location near downtown this time, so figure I’ll try a couple of their beers here while I wait for my plane to board.

It’s so crowded, I don’t walk in, but rather sort of wedge myself into a spot at the extreme end of the bar. The place is littered with empty glasses the harried staff has no time to collect and clean. I get one of the bartenders attention and she pours a Karl Strauss Amber Lager, which does its best to keep its dignity in the Bud Light glass it was poured into. I’ve always like this Vienna Style lager, with its light nutty flavor in that lingers long after beer is down the throat. It’s light drinkable, and there’s a slight grassy hop crispness to it. I’ve always found this rather refreshing.

Finishing that, I then try Karl Strauss’s flagship Red Trolley Ale, a red ale named for the red trolleys that roll around the city. It’s got a little complexity to it, being a little sweet and fruity, with a little roasted malt, with a little astringency to its finish. It’s a solid red ale.

They board my plane, I find my seat, and fly home.

The Toronado San Diego

The Toronado in San Diego is an expansion, if you will, of the temple of beer of the same name in San Francisco. I went with a long time friend I hadn’t seen in a couple years, so I was more occupied with catching up with her, then scribbling down notes and making observations for this post. So there isn’t a whole lot I can say about it, but what can I say having been there once?

Well, it’s kind of loud, as we had to find a picnic table in the corner at the back patio to carry on a conversation, which still required us to talk in elevated voices. I didn’t see a juke box, but late 70’s Clash featured prominently in the background music. And the wait staff could’ve been more patient and understanding with customers as they figured out what to get on tap, without getting into the really surely attitudes the Toronado in San Francisco has a reputation for. Maybe they should call this place Toronado Lite.

The tap list was full of Double and Imperial somethings, or stuff with European names most people, like me, have trouble pronouncing correctly, but there were still a few more accessible “gateway” beers that everyone should be able to find what they like.

Alpine Bad Boy Double IPA
The bartender who poured this referred to this as a Triple IPA (yikes!) but the Alpine website calls this a Double IPA. I like Alpine beers, it’s one not normally available so was willing to try it, but was bracing myself to get whacked in the mouth with this one. Instead, I got a really smooth, reasonably balanced Double IPA with a piney, resiny hop bitterness that kept building up in intensity over time.

Port Brewing 547 Haight
Named after the street address of the Toronado in San Francisco, the bartender told me this was an Imperial Red. It found it rather sweet, fruity and juicy, with some of toffee, roasty flavors also running around, with plenty of hop bitterness to balance all the malt goodness.

I’m Down with Downtown Johnny Brown’s

The first thing you need to know when going to Downtown Johnny Brown’s in San Diego is the place is hard to find. It’s inside the San Diego Civic Center Concourse and not visible from the street. The first time I tried to go there, I walked back and forth two or three times, trying to find it based on the street addresses which seemed to skip a few numbers, before I finally poked my head inside the concourse and found it.

The dark interior looks a little like a British pub crossed between an American Sports Bar. The walls are full of light, wooden framed pictures of San Diego sports starts and pictures of what look to be patrons of the place over the years. It’s a neighborhood look other establishments try to manufacture, but here, it’s grown organically for twenty years to create it’s own unique character. The tap list it highly loyal to the local craft brewing scene, with San Diego area breweries dominating the list.

Is Downtown Johnny Brown’s on a quest to support its local breweries? Is it trying to reduce their carbon footprint? Perhaps. But Todd Alexander, who owns Downtown Johnny Brown’s, seems more driven by common sense, than anything else. “…why waste the energy and money on shipping a keg 7000 miles?” he asks. Good question.

I found out how much thought goes into the tap list after contacting Todd before my most recent visit and asking how he comes decides which beers to fill his seventeen taps. Expecting a two or three sentence answer, he responded with a paragraph long, complex formula on his decision process.

In his own words:
“….in terms of how I go about putting together my tap list, I have a few general rules and then I fill in the blanks from there. I always try and have 8-12 local beers. Now we only have 17 taps so that is where I start. I love Belgium beers, but I tend to put domestic versions of the styles on first and I almost never have more than one import. To me when I consider how great beers are here in America in general, and in San Diego in particular, why waste the energy and money on shipping a keg 7000 miles?…..although we do carry some imports. I try and have 4-5 IPAs, one Pilsner, one hefeweizen, and one high abv. Belgium style and at least one stout and/or porter. In that mix of 9 beers usually everyone will find something they like. Currently I am trying to keep 30th St Pale Ale from Green Flash on tap at all times for two reasons; one I love it, two I like to keep one Pale Ale on at all times. Now that’s 10 of my 17 taps. We also participate in Sierra Nevada’s specialty program. In order to do that they want us to keep one of their beers on. So that’s 11 of 17. From there, I try to keep a balance, maybe an amber and a nut brown…..gateway beers for people that are not craft aware. That leaves me room for something special, like a sour.” Whew!

When I finally met Todd, he’s sitting at the bar, chatting away with the bar tenders and the customers like one of the many locals that frequent the place. Once he sees me taking out a scrap of paper to write down notes on the first beer I try, he probably figures this guy he’s never seen before scribbling down notes is probably the person who contacted him by e-mail about a strange beer-running blog he’s writing, he moves over to take a look. I figure out this guy moving over to check me out is Todd Alexander, and I’m right. He seems eager to tell me his story, and it soon becomes obvious why.

The concept of someone starting at the bottom and working themselves all the way to the top is such an American cliche’, we forget it sometimes actually happens. Todd Alexander is such an example. He started in the middle 80’s as a busboy when the John Brown owned the place, and then graduated to tending bar. During John Brown’s ownership, the place developed a reputation for introducing new beers from the growing local craft beer scene, but when John Brown moved down to Mexico about eight years ago, that momentum seemed to stall. After about four years of this, Todd was down in Mexico visiting his boss, when John asked if he wanted to buy the bar he founded. Todd took the opportunity, and over that time, has broadened the range of beers the place offers.

It seems exactly where Todd wants to be. Chatting behind the bar, talking shop with his bartenders, and figuring out the next beer to put on tap. Take the extra time to find this hidden place, a few blocks away from the touristy Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego, and you won”t be disappointed.

While there, I tried:

Coronado Brewing Lime Wit
Sour lime dominates the slight yeastiness of this Wit beer, which has a bitter lime peel finish. I prefer my Wit a little lighter and more subtle, but an interesting San Diego culinary take on the Belgian style, which is starting to become over-exposed and tired.

Alpine Duet IPA
I found this IPA to be quite refreshing with it’s light amount of malt, and a crisp, astringent hop bitterness. It’s light for an IPA, but the hop crispness doesn’t make it seem watery. A pilsner on steroids?

Port Brewing Pig Dog Pale Ale
I found this to be a fresh, complex Pale Ale with a little caramel and fruitiness to it, and a strong, astringent hops finish.

The Neighborhood in San Diego

This place seems to be trying real hard at being hip and arty. At the far corner of this bar are separate paintings of Jimi Hendrix and Jesus Christ eating a cheese burger. Next to these paintings is a sculpture consisting of an industrial, grey metal star placed surrounded on both sides by a row of four human skulls. I spent a couple evenings contemplating the deep meanings of this artwork and, sorry to say, failed to come up with anything. All I can really conclude after a couple short sessions is that The Neighborhood is a pretty good place to get a beer.

Looks like others have come to the same conclusion. It made the Draft Magazine’s list of one of the 200+ best beer bars in America in it’s August 2009 issue, and plenty of other local acclaim The Neighborhood proudly displays on their web site. The tap and bottle lists are written on chalkboards and mirrors in a hurried, sloppy script writing similar to gangster graffiti. I suppose it allows the residents from nearby high rise condos to get in touch with their inner gang banger. Given its close proximity to Petco Park, it does a pretty good business with people merely seeking to get a beer before or after a Padres game.

I really appreciated The Neighborhood’s tap and bottle lists’ wide variety of styles, which pays homage to the great local breweries San Diego has to offer, while including many unique and tasty brews from far away lands. Here’s a brief run down of what I tried there.

Victory Brewing Prima Pils
OK, it makes complete sense that the first beer I have in San Diego, is from Victory Brewing, 2,500 miles away in Downing, PA. Victory has long been one of my favorite breweries, and Prima Pils is a brew I’ve been wanting to try for some time. Thankfully, The Neighborhood had it. Like any good pils, it’s got a crisp grassy hops finish. Unlike most pils, I picked up some savory herbal character with all that hoppy goodness, giving it a rare complexity for a pilsner.

Stone Brewing Pale Ale with Coriander (Cask Conditioned)
Not what one normally expects from Stone. Tasted very light and feathery from the cask, and balanced between the malt and hops. A little floral, and the coriander gives this one a light, savory dimension. Well blended, and I found this very memorable.

Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale
From Kiuchi Brewery in Japan, one of the most unique beers I’ve ever tried, made with red rice and Hallertauer hops. It’s got a tangy, fruitiness this seemed cherry-like to me, and maybe a little strawberry in there. Or maybe it’s just this brew’s hazy pink color playing tricks on my taste buds. Light, bubbly level of carbonation. Is it just me, as does this seem a little like a Belgian sour ale? This intriguing brew poses a Zen-like puzzles.

Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck St. Louis Gueuze
VERY sour apple flavor with light, tingly champagne like fizzy carbonation, with a slightly lemony acidic aftertaste. Interesting beer, but not quite my style.

Alesmith Speedway Stout
A big, thick, rich double Stout with plenty of chocolate malty goodness, and a little aftertaste of bitter coffee, which has been added to the brew. It’s aged in bourbon barrels just to give it slightly more complexity. Just the barest whisper of sweetness, and the 12% abv is undetectable. Another excellent Alesmith brew and a great way to cap off my last evening there.