Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Day in the Valley

I had planned on taking advantage of the three-day Labor Day holiday weekend by making my quarterly trek to Bear Republic, Russian River and Moylan's, the best way 40 miles in brewing I can think of. In fact, once I heard from Chris Devlin that he'd be in Santa Rosa, my plans were all but solidified. Then something strange happened, something I'm not used to. I woke up that morning and realized that I was stuck in a rut with my brewery visits. As first I wanted to ignore this revelation, but the nagging voices in my head weren't going away, it was clear a change of plans was in order.

Upon realizing I wouldn't be doing the 101 corridor trip, I logged on to to chart my course. Bear Republic is about two hours from my home, so my rule was to find a brewery within two hours in another direction. I first looked east, thinking a trip to Tahoe might be a good escape, but realized I'd been to Fifty Fifty, Auburn Alehouse, Silver Peak and Great Basin. With this in mind I looked north, only to realize quickly I had no desire to drive north. Finally, I looked south and found my my route: start in Stockton for a visit at Valley Brewing, then on to Manteca to sample the Kelly Brothers Brewery, finally stopping in at Sacramento Brewing Company for good measure.

Valley Brewing

I love old buildings, especially old brick buildings, and Valley Brewing is found in a building that is a remnant of years forgotten, apparently built in the late 19th century (according to the server who was eager to share). The exterior of the building included a well used patio and old styled paintings dating back to who-knows-when. With high ceilings, old glass and beer memrobelia spanning the last 50 years, the inside of the brewery certainly feels like a fixture in the community. This is further evidenced by the kindred service provided to patrons, often by first name with a smile that isn't forced.

I ordered the 10 beer sampler, for six bucks, and a prime rib sandwich. The beer sampler included a guest Pomegranite Cider, made by Vince at Two Rivers in Sacramento, and a Root Beer that is apparently made on location. The rest of the sampler included: Black Cat Stout, Hitman Gold Ale, Indian Red Ale, Cobra Hood India Pale Ale, Valley Brew Pale Wheat, Port's Pale Ale, Apricot Ale, Valley Berry Wheat.

The fruit beers just didn't do it for me, sorry. I just don't understand the need to add fruit extract to a decent base beer, but seeing pint after pint of these leave the bar I understood, yet again, that not everyone agrees with me. The Berry Wheat wasn't bad, mind you, if you're so inclined. The apricot beer, well, one sip was enough. Again though, popular beers with the ladies.

The Black Cat Stout was a deceiving beer. At around 6% ABV I didn't expect much in the way of body and warmth, but there it was. I suppose this is a technical flaw, the fusel alochol, and the cherry-like flavor, but I found the beer very easy to enjoy.

Easily, the big hitter in this lineup is the Indian Red Ale, which also boasted the coolest looking logo for my taste. I've taken a liking to good red ales in the last few years, and this satisfied my beer requirements and complimented well the prime rib sandwich I ordered off the specials menu. The beer was deep golden in color, displayed a nice American hop character in the aroma and was just easy to enjoy.

Valley Brewing seems to pride their "Family" friendly focus, and it was easy to see why. While there weren't a lot of families downing beer and eating lunch, the place certainly had the friendly staff, quality food and family restaurant ambiance you'd find at Applebee's. When the food was gone and my visit complete, I was happy to have made the trip, you'll be happy as well I suspect.

From Valley Brewing I made my way to Manteca, a city I have only associated with waterslides before this day, to stop at Kelley Bros Brewing. The two breweries are maybe thirty minutes apart by freeway, making this an easy trip right up until I turned Right when I needed to turn Left, thus adding fifteen minutes in the car.

Kelley Bros is one of the more beautiful breweries I have been to in the region, high ceilings, well lit, fantastic rustic wood bar with tall mirrors and bottles of liquor stacked three deep. For all its beauty, the decor in this place seemed disjointed at best, sort of like everything was a bit out of place. I did enjoy their old memorabilia, which included some old beer stuff, as well as vintage collectables for candy, nuts and whatever. I also appreciated their collection of growlers from various breweries that lined the top of their bar, as it reminded me a bit of Big Mike's house - I wonder who has more growlers?

Overall, I think the beers at KB's were more drinkable, had richer flavor and just seemed to appeal to my tastes more than Valley Brew. Like Valley Brew, Kelley Bros offered 10 samples in their sampler platter, only this time all ten beers were brewed by Kelley's. Not surprisingly, my favorite of the extensive lineup was the IPA, with an assertive hop character that didn't overwhelm or overpower the palate.

I'd be remiss in my duties if I failed to mention the food here. I was not all that hungry, but knew I was only buying the sampler platter and didn't want to feel cheap (or something), so I ordered their potato wrapped prawns, which was recommended by the barkeep. Oh man, these kicked ass! Thin laces of potato, wrapped like thin shoelaces around prawns and fried to crispy perfection. I wasn't sure how much I'd like it, but wow.

In all, the day trip was a great idea and if you're looking for a different kind of trip through the valley, I suggest you give these guys a try. If you do, make sure you let us know what you thought.