| | By Paul Kilduff
For some ungodly reason that perhaps only Germanic people can truly appreciate, quaffing beer in an outdoor setting complete with well-tended native landscaping, bench seating, and perhaps some live music makes the whole experience just a little more enriching. "This must be how it's done in Munich," you may find yourself saying to no one in particular while downing a little hefeweizen (wheat beer). Thankfully, the near East Bay is no slouch when it comes to beer gardens (known to the tragically hip as "biergartens.")
I'm generally up for a life-changing cultural experience (whether beer will be involved or not), so when the assignment of exploring the East Bay's current and planned beer gardens landed in my e-mail inbox, I accepted with all the gusto I could muster, a little sauerkraut, and a pretzel.
The Beer Dock
The first stop on my personal tour de beer is so out of the way that it would be understandable if Google maps missed it. In fact, if Magellan were looking for a place to put down his sextant and enjoy a little barley soup while circumnavigating the world, even he may have missed it. But rest assured it's worth firing up the GPS to find.
Situated directly behind the Homewood Suites Hotel on the estuary hard by the Nimitz freeway, Brotzeit Lokal Boathaus & Biergarten (brotzeit means "to snack" in German) looks more like a boathouse than anything else. Upon closer inspection, it's evident that the modest one-story building does, in fact, have a deck with tables for outdoor imbibing, complete with several heaters. Step inside, and there are plenty of tables, including a long row of narrow red ones along the west side with a perfect view of a dock full of seaworthy vessels.
Also taking in the view on my recent visit were Oakland documentary filmmaker Kathryn Golden and her friend Donna Ryan. Informed of my effort to chronicle the East Bay's burgeoning beer garden scene, Ryan commented, "Any place that features beer and they throw a chair outside is a beer garden." Fair enough. By that definition, Brotzeit's outdoor arrangement qualifies. However, Golden was more succinct in her assessment. "It's a beer dock."
The view made me almost want to throw down for a schooner myself, but I settled on a schooner of beer instead. In this case, the house brew, a dark lager made further north on the Embarcadero by the esteemed Linden Street Brewery (more on this brewery later) called Alte Schule. Dark with a creamy head, it reminded me of Guinness.
In addition to the usual brewpub fare and sausages, Brotzeit features many traditional German items, albeit unfamiliar ones: stuff like Rindergoulasch mit Serviettenknödel—otherwise known as beef stew with paprika and caraway served up with sliced, steamed dumplings and crème frâiche. Groups of three to four might want to take on one of the platter options such as eisbein: braised pork shank, sauerkraut, spatzle, seasonal vegetables, and a salad. Flying solo on this bier odyssey, I settled on a pretzel, but not just any rolled and baked piece of salted dough. This one came from Oakland's Firebrand bakery and, dipped in the house-made mustards, was outstanding. 1000 Embarcadero, Oakland, 510-645-1905, brotzeitbiergarten.com.
Indoor Beer Garden
Next stop on the tour is technically not a beer garden because, truth be told, it has no outdoor seating. But, step inside Hog's Apothecary, a self-described American-style beer hall, and the series of long communal benches give it that traditional beer garden/beer hall feel.
Smack dab in the middle of yet another up-and-coming Oakland nabe, 40th Street near Broadway, Hog's Apothecary, as the name implies, doesn't dispense medicine to doctors—unless you consider craft beers doled out to the thirsty to be medicine.
Jam-packed on a brisk Saturday night, the only bit of room in the whole place was one solitary seat at the bar. I took it, gladly. Considering the decibel level, I could imagine some noise-level wimps reaching for the earplugs, but not me. I like loud.
Surveying the somewhat overwhelming beer choices. I opted for the Fall IPA from Alameda's Faction Brewing. When it came time to order something other than beer, meaning food, I opted for a half-dozen Marin Miyagi Oysters and would have been perfectly fine slamming them down with my IPA. However, the bartender suggested the choice would be just a little too hoppy for my shellfish, something I must admit I hadn't considered. Nor did I have any idea what beer would pair well with oysters—OK, I wouldn't have a clue as to what brewski to slug down with Hog's hand-crafted corn dog served up with house-made potato chips fried in real lard either—but the bartender made it easy. Seeing as I hadn't quite finished off my IPA, he suggested I have a couple of tastes of both the Feminist, an Abbey-style Tripel with hibiscus from Torrance-based Monkish Brewing Co., and a wee bit of the Death & Taxes, a dark lager from Santa Rosa's Moonlight Brewing. The light hoppiness of both hit the spot, and the oysters appreciated it.
While the menu changes regularly at Hog's, there are some constants, such as the house-made corn nuts and beer nuts, though Hog's legally can't use either trademarked name, and so came up its own heritage labels under which Hog's beer nuts are called Arlo Shirks (so named for the original father-and-son team creators Edward and Arlo Shirks), and Hog's version of corn nuts are known as Olin Browns (so called after inventor Albert Holloway's first name for them, Olin's Brown Jug Toasted Corn, first cooked up in Oakland in 1936). 370 40th St., Oakland, 510-338-3847, hogsapothecary.com.
Beeryland in Uptown
Beerheads in Uptown have an oasis of hoppy goodness, The Telegraph Beer Garden, to investigate. Reminiscent of the Zeitgeist beer garden in San Francisco's Mission district (a favorite of authentic and wannabe bikers), Telegraph's garden (dubbed Beeryland) features well-worn wooden communal benches where you just might find yourself plunked down next to Wavy Gravy, or somebody who at least looks like Wavy.
Telegraph, as it's known to regulars, boasts 12 rotating taps as well as exotic choices like a big, ole icy can of Stiegl, a refreshing Austrian light lager that would satisfy any seasoned steinhoister. But be sure to also make room for some of the tasty food offerings, including the show-stopping Mac and Cheese Burger. You read that correctly—it's a burger topped with a grilled square of house made mac and cheese that is quite simply heaven on a bun. Oh, you're a vegetarian? Sorry to hear that. How about a green bean sandwich then? Telegraph also serves up salads, bagels, breakfast items such as pancakes, and wine and coffee for those not in a beery mood. 2318 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-444-8353, telegraphoakland.com.
Unnamed Garden O'Beer
Drake's Brewing Company of San Leandro is joining in on the beer garden/hall bonanza with plans to open one in Uptown, not far from the Telegraph Beer Garden, in 2014. Featuring 25 to 30 brews (and some wines), the as-yet-unnamed garden o' beer will dispense not only Drake's ales and lagers but also those of many other local craft brewers as well.
Drake's co-owner and local beer baron John Martin built the East Bay's first true beer garden (Jupiter) in Berkeley in the 1980s and then went on buy Drake's. He also owns Berkeley's Triple Rock, one the state's first brewpubs. The beer garden, to be located at 23rd and Broadway, is expected to seat up to 450 and have a live music stage.
Imagined by prolific bar/restaurant design guru Gi Paoletti, the Drake's garden will offer top-notch dining by restaurateur Chris Pastena (of Chop Bar, Tribune Tavern, and Lungomare fame) who is being tapped to head an upscale Mexican venue. Expect fewer college kids at Drake's beer garden than at Jupiter, says Drake's marketing director Kelsey Williams.
"The Uptown area of Oakland is just getting better and better with new hangouts, a tremendous craft-cocktail presence, excellent food, and as always, a very unique Oakland vibe. We hope to introduce another element, namely craft beer, into that potent mix," says Williams. She adds that lederhosen are encouraged, but remain strictly optional.
Twofer at Linden
Linden Street Brewery teams up with Oakland chef James Syhabout (Hawker Fare, Commis) to open The Dock restaurant at the brewery in February featuring beer-friendly food from around the world. In addition, Linden Street owner Adam Lamoreaux plans on opening a beer hall on the premises. Whether or not that will include a beer garden out front remains to be seen. But if it does, don't be surprised if an outdoor kitchen is installed for roasting whole pigs every once in a while. Until then, the barrels and stools in the parking lot in front of the brew house will have to do.
Famous for Old California–style lagers (think Anchor Steam, only better), the brewery occupies a circa 1890s brick building, the perfect place to kick back with Oakland's namesake lager, Town Lager (a "yellow fizzy" beer), which is available at bars and restaurants in Oakland but only delivered by Linden Street's famous beer delivery bicycle that can carry two kegs up front. Thankfully, Oaktown's a lot flatter than San Francisco—the terrain that is, not the beer. 95 Linden St., Oakland, 510-251-8898, lindenbeer.com.
Beer Revolution, Oakland. The front entrance area to this funky Oakland beer connoisseur's haven sports a sunny deck with several canopied tables to enjoy one of the many eclectic finds—served in the appropriate glass, of course. 464 Third St., Oakland, 510-452-2337, beer-revolution.com.
Pyramid Alehouse, Brewery & Restaurant, Berkeley. Take a brewery tour and then relax with a cold one in the beer garden. While Pyramid is known for the unusual—ever had the Apricot Unfiltered Wheat Ale?—the Alehouse is exclusive home to some slightly more sedate concoctions like Alehouse Amber Ale and Draught Pale Ale. 901 Gilman St., Berkeley, 510-528-9880, pyramidbrew.com/alehouses/Berkeley.
Quinn's Lighthouse, Oakland. The upstairs upper deck pub of this Embarcadero haunt features an outdoor deck offering a view similar to its neighbor, Brotzeit, but at a higher elevation. And, patrons are encouraged to throw their peanut shells on the floor. While you're pelting the floor with shells, be sure to sample one of the many fine brews on tap such as Anchor Steam, Drake's Amber Ale, and for the truly adventurous, PBR. 1951 Embarcadero East, Oakland, 510-536-2050, quinnslighthouse.com.
Speisekammer, Alameda. Speisekammer may be even more Germanic than Brotzeit. How about a little gratinierte kasepatzle (spatzle baked with cheddar-Parmesan cheese and carmelized onions)? Or, take it easy and just order the tuna melt. There are tables, the prerequisite heaters, and if that's not enough to keep you warm, it's also very dog friendly. With a name like Speisekammer, you would expect a wide assortment of German beers would be available and you would be correct. On offer include the familiar, such as Paulaner and Bitburger, and the not so familiar like a little something called Delirium Tremens. A Belgian Strong Ale with a whopping 9 percent alcohol level, it just might live up to its name. 2424 Lincoln Ave., Alameda, 510-522-1300, speisekammer.com.
Paul Kilduff is waiting for his big break. "It's just taking far longer than I'd anticipated," he says.
Winning fans fast: Brotzeit Lokal (top and bottom) and Hog's Apothecary (middle) stoke the growing beer hall and beer garden trend. Top and bottom photos by Lori Eanes. Middle photo by Shannon McIntyre.