BEER + WINE ISSUE: A self-guided bike tour to up your brew IQ
BEER I will not re-enter the one-sided debate of whether the East Bay is cooler than San Francisco (we covered that in our much hullabalooed April 11 cover story, helpfully titled "San Francisco's loss") But I will tell you this: one side of the Bay Bridge has less hills. Less hills being a boon for the drunk biker in us all.
If that is not enough motivation to embark upon a self-guided cycling tour of the East Bay beer scene, then I don't know what is. Let me tell you about a recent, successfully-completed jaunt from which my team and I emerged with double IPA paunches, and a newfound appreciation for the San Francisco Bay Trail (of which you can find maps here: baytrail.abag.ca.gov).
Hook up your handlebars for a pleasant BART ride out to this north-of-Berkeley, family-friendly area, where a cruise of mere blocks will take you to the airy brewpub of Elevation 66 (10082 San Pablo, El Cerrito. (510) 525-4800, www.elevation66.com). Stainless steel fermentation tanks make for tasty eye candy from the bar, where we wound up setting our messenger bags and ordering a sampler flight of seven beers. For such a tiny operation, Elevation 66 offers a swath of pours: on tap the day we visited were seven of its in-house brews, including a heavenly Contra Costa kölsch, the perfect light beverage with which to begin a day of exercising and drinking, and five guest pours, of which we tried a bubbly, sweet Two Rivers blood orange cider. Important matters settled, we tackled the extensive food menu, which stocks homemade potato chips, a Peruvian causa made with poached prawns, avocados, Yukon potatoes, and habanero, and more.
Now, leave the brewery (I know, but there's lots to see.) Take the beautiful, wetlands-lined Bay Trail south, feeling free to jump off at the overpass when you see the Golden Gate Fields (1100 Eastshore Frontage Road, Berk. (510) 559-7300, www.goldengatefields.com). If it's Sunday, all the better — $1 entry, $1 beers, $1 hot dogs.
Note the USDA community garden that will zip by on your right (at 800 Buchanan, Berk.) as you emerge from the Bay Trail into the Albany-Berkeley area, home to some of the largest breweries in the East Bay, besides of course the mega-fermenters at the Budweiser factory in Fairfield.
Your first stop will be at Pyramid Alehouse (91 Gillman, Berk. (510) 528-9880, www.pyramidbrew.com), and though you may find the quality of some of the beers at this Seattle-born chain brewery to be just about what you'd expect from a space tinged with notes of T.G.I. Friday's, you can make a game of counting the pyramids incorporated into the décor for extra stimulation. If you dare, embark upon a 40-minute free tour given every day at 4pm by a bartender who may or may not include gems like: "if you like metaphors, you'll love this one." At any rate, it's a good primer for people who have no idea how beer is made and it includes tons of free booze at the end. Check out Trumer Pils Braueri (1404 Fourth St., Berk. (510) 526-1160, www.trumer-international.com) a few blocks away for another free tour that runs daily at 3:45pm.