Many of my friends know my love for the urban beer crawl – in a city full of great craft beer, there’s nothing better (or cheaper) than walking from brewery to brewery on a sunny day. While I’ve crawled my way through San Francisco a time or two, I’m embarrassed to say that until recently I hadn’t adequately explored the craft beer mecca right across the bridge. Armed with my new camera and a semi-professional hand model (Tippy), I took the BART to 19th street station to knock a few more beers off my booze bucket list before my big trip.
The breweries we visited had a unique, unmistakably Oakland artistic flare – from street murals, to pop-up shops and quirky characters – our visit felt alive with makers. Everywhere we went we talked to someone who actually made the beer, in industrial settings that didn’t seem manicured and manufactured. But you could also feel the tension between old and new Oakland. Walking down Broadway it felt as if two different cities had been stitched together. The last time I had spent the day in Oakland was pre-Uber HQ posting up there, and whatever your thoughts on gentrification, it’s hard to argue that things haven’t changed. Shortly after this visit, the Oakland Ghostship Fire tragedy struck, and even though I’m now traveling through Southeast Asia, it seemed fitting to pay homage to some of the great craft coming out of “the town”.
First, a little history
While many craft beer drinkers are familiar with the story of Anchor Brewery and the rise of steam beer, I learned that Oakland has an incredibly rich beer history as well. In the late 1890’s Oakland was a brewing powerhouse, producing nearly a barrel of beer (1 beer barrel = 31 gallons) annually for every resident. Steam beer is a uniquely west coast style beer made with lager yeast (traditionally fermented at cool temperatures), but fermented at ale (warmer) temperatures. It’s known as Steam beer because (according to some dude at Anchor) the brewery would chill the wort by pumping it up to the roof and letting it hit that cool Pacific Ocean air.
Oakland’s Brooklyn brewery (yes confusing, back in the day there was a neighborhood in Oakland named Brooklyn, insert gentrification joke here) led the east bay steam beer movement, along with Oakland Brewery, Anchor Brewery, and Golden West Brewery. This beer renaissance was stopped cold in its tracks by that dark, dark decade in America known as Prohibition. Slowly these breweries shuttered, and it was nearly a century later in 2009 that Linden St. Brewery brought production beer back to Oakland. Now the East Bay is back to kicking ass and taking names. At my last count, the east bay boasts 48 breweries to SF’s 33.
Alright, BEER ME.
1. Get DRAKED at the Dealership:
Built on the site of the parts and service department of an old Dodge dealership, Drake’s Dealership is a short walk from 19th st. Oakland Bart. A huge outdoor beer garden and wood fire pizza oven make this a great spot to roll solo or bring a group on a sunny day. I’d recommend getting a pizza and settling in to sample selections from their barrel program. I loved Rise of the Dark Gourd, a big imperial pumpkin porter, clocking in at 8.5%. Their Delaware Duck, a lightly smoky, dry, and malty brown ale also paired perfectly with the wood fire crust on my all-meat pizza “Draked” with a slow poached egg.
Drake’s Dealership, 2325 Broadway, Oakland, CA
2. Ride the bus at Woods:
The narrow bar, dim lighting, and retro vibe at Woods gives you the feeling that you’re sitting inside an old bus. Buckle up baby, let’s ride. I love that Woods has a relatively small brewing system at each of their microbreweries, meaning they can be experimental with their beers and taps turn around quick. If you’re lucky enough to see it, snag a pint of the juicy, tropical, and surprisingly tart Crusoe IPA. Or check out their signature Yerba Mate IPA, made from, you guessed it Yerba Mate (it has as much caffeine as a can of coke). Our bartender Jim said that pretty much all of their 30 employees have brewed on the 3 barrel system at one time or another. Rad. We got to enjoy an Oatmeal Stout that Jim brewed himself in honor of the marines for Veteran’s Day. We soaked up all that beer with a few of their house made empanadas, and we were on our way.
Woods Bar & Brewery, 1701 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA
3. Pop-in to the Independent.
We headed to the Independent on Jim’s recommendation, and I don’t think I would have found it otherwise. It was practically under the 880 overpass, and it just screamed Oakland. The walls were papered with Warriors and Raiders gear, with memorabilia from a time when neither team was watchable. They projected the Warriors game on one of the walls as we ordered their signature Sticky Zipper IPA. Just when I thought I couldn’t love Independent any more, Ippo ramen showed up and set up a ramen pop-up shop inside the brewery, because of course. Apparently I can’t make it past a single brewery without ordering a full meal. I'll be back, Independent.
Independent Brewing, 444 Harrison St, Oakland, CA
4. Sample solo cups at Linden Street
No beer visit to Oakland would be complete without visiting Linden Street Brewing, Oakland's first post-prohibition production brewery that opened in 1959. Make sure to try their New Oakland Glow Pilsner, an homage to Golden West Brewery’s flagship beer back in the day. Better yet, try all eight brews they have on tap in little plastic solo cups for 12 bucks. Turns out the little loading dock is also a god damn gorgeous place to play corn hole and watch the sun go down. I'm starting to get why everyone is moving to Oakland.
Linden Street Brewery, 95 Linden St #7, Oakland, CA