Tapping Into San Francisco's Tri-Valley Beer Trail
From Dublin to Livermore to Danville to Pleasanton, it seems like everyone in San Francisco’s Tri-Valley is getting into good craft beer.
Within the Tri-Valley alone, there are more than a handful of craft breweries, close to 20 brewpubs, and restaurants with great tap lists. Even the Dublin Whole Foods Market has a tap room with 12 beers on draft. It seems like there’s a new establishment offering fresh craft beers every few weeks. And they’re hopping.
Birth of the Craft Beer Movement
“People simply want better beer than what they’ve had in the past,” says Brian Lewis, owner of Caps & Taps Bottle Shop & Taproom in Dublin. Brian, who founded Caps & Taps with his brother, Greg, loves to introduce people to good, fresh beer. “I love changing people’s minds. I call it bringing them to the craft side of life.”
A century ago, San Francisco’s Tri-Valley was one of the largest producers of the nation’s hops, the ingredient responsible for the aromatics and pleasantly bitter taste we love in beer. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, hops farms covering hundreds of hectares were harvested each year in the late summer, and a small percentage of the yield went to local breweries who crafted flavorful beers.
In 1986, craft beer was again recognized in a meaningful way when area resident and owner of the former Lyons Brewery Depot, Judy Ashworth, threw a “Farewell to Bud” party at her pub. Judy had stocked national brands until a customer introduced her to his home-brewed pale ale. “I had nothing against national brands, but his beer really opened my eyes and my palate,” Judy recalls. “I said, ‘So this is what beer should taste like!’”
Toasting with a craft beer in the San Francisco Bay area
Savoring the Freshest Beer
Since then, Judy has become known as a leading ambassador for local craft beer. Lovingly referred to as The Grand Dame of Publicans and Craft Beer Missionary, she prides herself in having taught a whole generation of Tri-Valley locals and visitors how to taste and appreciate craft beer. According to Judy, the first sip is very important. “Instead of simply drinking it right down, it’s important to pause and fully introduce the flavors to your mouth.” She recommends inhaling the aromas and then slowly rolling the first sip around the surface of the tongue before swallowing and relishing it. “You also want to drink the beer at the right temperature – right around 7.2 degrees Celsius – to let the flavors expand.”
Caps & Taps’ Brian Lewis was one of Judy’s many students. In fact, he follows part of her business model religiously to this day. He and his bar manager, Jeff Fischer, drive around the San Francisco Bay area to craft breweries to make sure they get the freshest beer they can. “Judy taught me that when we seek the beer out and pick it up ourselves, we’re guaranteed to get the most aromatic, flavorful beer. Because fresh beer is best,” he says.
Amazing Growth Over the Years
Julie Nickels, Judy’s good friend and founding co-publisher of the Celebrator Beer News magazine, moved to Pleasanton in 1987 with the intention of starting a brewspaper, a publication dedicated to helping the public find California breweries and pubs specializing in beer. “When we launched our first issue in February 1988, there were just over 20 breweries and brewpubs in California. Now there are more than 100 right in the San Francisco Bay area,” Julie says. “Brewers and brewpub owners are wonderful people to meet. They are following their passion. They care about others in the industry, and they care about sharing their knowledge with their customers.”
Brian would agree. “The Tri-Valley beer scene is pretty amazing these days,” he says. And it’s accessible. There are several areas on the Tri-Valley Beer Trail where you can visit a few places without covering much real estate. “Talk to the bartenders in the tap rooms and ask them about the breweries and other places to check out. They’re in this for love more than money, and they’ll be glad to help you out."