By Blair Anthony Robertson
I heard plenty of positive things from readers - and a couple of negative things - after my reviews yesterday of two exciting places that serve beer, this being Beer Week.
Of course, there are plenty of other fine establishments with a Beer Week agenda, and I encourage you to drop by several and get a sense of their different approaches. In fact, if you're looking for a watering hole to call home, whether you're new to town or have simply made a new commitment to start drinking more often to balance out all that time you put in at work and in the gym, this is a good week for you to be making the rounds. Remember, it's all about balance.
As I wrote on Sunday, Pangaea Two Brews CafÃ© and de Vere's Irish Pub are two places that deserve a close look. They take vastly different approaches - the former has an edgy, more exotic beer list, the latter focuses on mostly traditional offerings - but both do plenty of things well. One trait that shines through at both places is integrity. The owners really believe in what they are doing and seem truly committed to creating a "second home" ambience - a place to hang out, be yourself, have a good time, chat with old friends, make new friends.
During beer week, one thing we are noticing at several local pubs and eateries is the beer pairing dinner. Great idea, but it comes with some logistical problems worth noting - problems I often see with wine pairing dinners.
The menus will list the food courses and the beer courses, but there is little or no explanation for why we are drinking what we are drinking. What was the thinking that went into these selections? What are the flavor notes we should be looking for? What is it about the body, the complexity of the flavors, that make it a compelling choice to go with the specific food you are serving?
Some of this could be explained by the servers. But it would be more than a little helpful to provide a card or sheet with the dinner, so we can follow along, remember the names of the beers we are trying and discuss whether we're tasting the same things the chef, sommelier or bar manager was tasting when he or she made these choices.
A big part of these beer pairing dinners is entertainment and another is education. The experience is improved when you make the educational component more accessible.
The week is young and we've already knocked back several beers we've enjoyed: a wonderfully poured Black and Tan at de Vere's, a revealing Rodenbach at Pangaea, and at a Kupros Bistro on 21st Street, a dark and complex Belgian-style ale called Lost Abbey Judgment Day and an always elegant (except for the pronunciation) Blanche de Bruxcelles, a Belgian witbier. The orange and floral notes on the finish are very appealing.
Finally, I received a lengthy email from an exasperated reader who read my review of de Vere's and decided to stop in for a meal. While he liked the room and what de Vere's was all about, he was disappointed with the service. For one thing, when he asked about the pub's whiskey selection, the waiter responded that he was more of a beer guy. Not a great answer. In fact, I am certain that's not what the owners want at all.
With 170 different whiskeys, scotches and bourbons in the pub, de Vere's is a big-time destination for the serious connoisseur. This pub may have one of the great lists in all of California. It even has a whiskey club with a lifetime membership so folks can keep learning, with a new flight offered each Tuesday. So when you aspire to such serious heights, the servers need to really know the product. They should be able to talk about scotch and whiskey until they are as red in the face as my very Scottish grandmother.
My several experiences at de Vere's were better than my email correspondent's. But a pub of this caliber is only as good as its weakest link.