Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Beer #2087-2131 / Day #267-274: Turning the Oaktown Frown Upside Down at Jingletown

I spent most of my life in the Bay Area, from the ages of 3 to 32.  I grew up in the South Bay… Sunnyvale, San Jose. As an adult I moved to “The City”, San Francisco proper, for 13 years before moving to LA in 2001.  While I was a resident of Northern California, I explored every nook and cranny of the greater Bay Area.  That is, except for Oakland.  OakTown, as the rappers of the 90s dubbed it, was always an enigma.  A very scary enigma.  For countless years, Oakland’s per capita murder rate lead the state, even doubling those of San Francisco and New York City.   While growing up in the suburbs, the most horrific stories of violent crime on the nightly news took place in Oakland.  It was always a place to avoid; never a destination.

Dan and Corin's welcoming committee.
Now at the age of 45, I find myself on a Southwest flight bound for OakTown.  I’ve been invited to take part in a documentary about Berkeley’s now-legendary all-ages punk venue 924 Gilman.  I’ve been actively involved in underground music for a good 30 years, so as a result I’ve been approached many times to answer questions for various books and documentaries.  And I always refuse.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I’m actually very receptive to the idea of documenting the sounds and history behind music I’m so passionate about, but what I’m not receptive to is people who bite off more than they can chew.  And when they eventually throw in the towel, they’ve completely wasted my time. Trying to assemble and make sense of the rambling and random input of 10 or 20 or 50 people would be a challenge to say to the least.  And most aspiring documentarians who approach me don’t tout resumes containing a body of similar work which convinces me they would be capable to tackling such a daunting task.  Not a single book or documentary I’ve been approached about has ever seen light of day.  Naturally, when a new proposal comes my way, I give a standard response of, “If this truly happens, I want to be one of the last people you interview,” which is code for “I think you’re wasting my time, and I know you’ll give up after you talk to the first 8 people.”   It’s basically a kinder, gentler way of refusing to participate.  So far I’ve been batting 1.000 in that decision.

Enter Corbett Redford -- writer, director, comedian, musician, and frontman for Bobby Joe Ebola &The Children MacNuggits (greatest band moniker of all time).  Aside from having a name that sounds like he belongs in the English theatre reciting classic prose, Corbett is gregarious, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and most importantly not full of shit.  He hit me up a few months ago about this Gilman documentary when he was in LA, but the timing was bad & we never connected.  It seemed legit at the time, but like other docs, I figured I still had time to see if this would really pan out.  Well, he put his money where his mouth is.  Or rather Green Day’s money.  Turns out Green Day is actually backing this monumental effort, out of a similar passion for a music venue and scene that spawned so much creativity & energy, themselves included.  Corbett contacted me again in August, and after 170+ interviews (!!!) they were close to wrapping up the first stage of this documentary, but they wanted to get my input, and were willing to front me some money for travel expenses.  Who could say “No”?  So, I didn’t.
My hosts and some very Good Hops indeed

Waiting at the curb at OAK was Dan Hashthrash and his wife Corin.  They were kind enough to offer to let me crash with them overnight, and when I mentioned beer, they suggested picking me up at the airport instead of having me take public transportation, that way we could head out immediately to start beering.  OK, twist my arm.  Dan doesn’t drink at all, but Corin loves the suds and apparently is often lacking in company to share her interest, so I was happy to oblige my new partner-in-crime.

Dan is an active member of the local hardcore scene, best known for his band Connoisseur, a weed-centric grindcore unit.  And he writes songs based on experience.  This man IS a true connoisseur of The Green.  He’s also one of the few people with a medical marijuana card who truly does need it for medicinal purposes.  One common bond we share outside of music is Dan and I have both been treated for cancer.  My prostate cancer treatment was a cakewalk in comparison to the regimen of poking, prodding, testing, and surgery this man still endures for his bouts with colon cancer.
The Hog beckons.

Our first stop was The Good Hop, part tap room, part bottle shop.   Seemed like a welcome joint to chill out for the evening, but by the time we arrived at 9:30pm, they were 30 minutes away from closing, so we picked up a few late night bottles, and moved along.  Cruising through the Northern part of the city it was clear the old Oakland was still here.  Still gritty as hell.  Dirty.  Shabby.  Desperate.  Unpredictably dangerous.  But peppered throughout the grit were random hipster venues.  A coffee shop here.  A record store there.  Artisan something-or-others adding small oases of hope between corner stores, rescue missions, and dimly lit, heavily barred residences.  Oakland is really trying hard to be that desirable up-and-coming city, but there’s still a hell of a lot of “up” that has yet to come.
Drinkin' buddies at last.
We cruised by my host's cozy apartment in the Temescal neighborhood, dropped off my backpack, and walked to the nearby Hog’s Apothecary, a promised land of housemade sausages and plentiful, predominantly NorCal taps.  With all of the geeky advance research I do on breweries, I continue to be surprised when I hit a new city; there’s always a wealth of untapped braus which were nowhere close to my radar.  The list at Hog’s was comprised of so many beers which were unknown to me, I expected most of them to be “good”.  What I got was “outstanding”.  CELLARMAKER BREWING out of San Francisco.  Holy Eff, this place knows their IPAs.  These were world class and worth killing for… OTTO'S BACKPACK, MO' GALAXY, ORIGINAL DANKSTER.  The sleepy beach community of Half Moon Bay has a brewery now?  They sure do, and the HALF MOON BAY BREWING CALF FIENE MILK STOUT WITH FAIR TRADE COFFEE is a silky dream in a snifter.  HENHOUSE BREWING BIG CHICKEN IMPERIAL IPA did not lay an egg.  MOYLAN'S BREWERY PORT BARREL STOUT worked me over like the burly Irish thug that it is.  Amazing service at the Hog's, all of whom were fully receptive to my quest to try their finest. 
He walks the walk.
Stuffed and pleased, we staggered back to the apartment to relax, chit chat, get meowed at by mouthy cats, and share the spoils of our raid upon the Good Hop, the highlight being NAUGHTY AUD IMPERIAL STOUT from Petaluma’s 101 NORTH BREWING, another new revelation.  2AM.  It would be a good idea to sleep since I’m supposed to sound articulate on camera tomorrow.

I slept like a soggy log, awaking at 10am.  The plan was to meet at Noon at Jingletown Studios in Oakland, a facility owned by Green Day, which also serves as the office and ground zero for the documentary crew.  Dan and Corin were kind enough to shuttle me around, and as fate would have it, Dan is involved in this doc as well, assisting with transfer of old and new video assets to required formats for editing.  After a quick bite at a hipster bagel-teria, and a third cup at artisan enclave Blue Bottle Coffee, we were on our way.  In a dumpy neighborhood bordering the freeway in West Oakland, behind a gated fence the compound awaited. 
The main offices in front of the building, where we met up with Corbett, were decked out from floor to ceiling in an over the top Polynesian theme, part Disneyland, part Vegas.  The centerpiece is a larger than life tiki with glowing red eyes, gleefully setting the mood.  We relocated to a cavernous studio in the back of the building, big enough to accommodate an orchestra but today set up only for me and a small crew of documentarians. Corbett specifically wanted to talk about my old punk band Stikky, part of the first wave of Gilman bands and a component of the goofy, geekcore scene that the club was initially associated with.  I sat in a black padded chair, comfy enough to make the two hour long interview breeze by in an instant. 
Frankly, I didn’t feel all that connected during the process.  We were talking about subjects so vast in depth that I often didn’t know where to start, nor how to zero in on the key aspects.  My moments of clarity were there, but few and far between.  The majority of the time I stumbled for focus and details.  When talking about my own band, even recollection of our own song titles didn’t flow naturally.
Welcome to Paradise.
Corbett asked me about other influential East Bay bands that I loved like Christ On Parade and Special Forces.  Despite being favorites of mine for the past 25-30 years, I drew a blank.  “Derp, yeah, they were great,” was about all I could muster.  I felt like I needed more coffee, although I’d already downed three high powered bombers.  My head just wasn’t in the game, plain and simple, so I struggled to do my best, convinced all relevant stories would flow freely after the fact.  The piercingly bright lights didn’t help, and I realized that the moment we stopped the interview.  Within moments of wrapping up, I was treated to a stabbing, relentless headache.  We went back to the front office to discuss finer points of the project and I silently commiserated over the screwdrivers thrusting into my temple.  I was flying home in 5 hours, and the original plan was to finish off the afternoon with a visit to my favorite feature of Oakland, Beer Revolution.  At the moment I didn’t want beer at all; I felt like crap.  Was I hung over from last night? Am I suddenly that much of an amateur?

Documentary action shot.

We said our goodbyes, and after cruising around a bit with Dan and Corin and ingesting some fresh air, my head cleared and I felt normal again.  The lights glaring in my face for hours must have been a major factor because now I was flighty as a spring chicken and ready to drink, sans headache.  Onward to the almighty BEER REVOLUTION, run by my pal Rebecca, and what a pal to have when you’re a beer nerd.  50 rotating taps, nearly all local, and a massive bottle selection.  Rebecca was there to give us a proper welcome, and checking IDs at the door was the legendary Orlando X, lead vocalist of Special Forces, one of my favorite East Bay hardcore bands of all time.  I hadn’t talked to him in decades and of course he didn’t recognize me.  I said “Hey, I was just talking about you for this documentary. I used to be in Stikky.”  And in his famously extreme manner, he yelled “Stikky!  Stikky!” and proceeded to man-handle me uncomfortably for several minutes.  I’ve always loved The OX.

OX attack.
Rebecca was as vibrant and generous as always. Proprietor and maven of all things beerish, this woman will put all dudes to shame with her thorough knowledge and beer savviness.  Beer Rev was hosting a tap takeover by DUST BOWL BREWING from Turlock, a turd of a town in California’s central valley, most likely known more for meth than hops.  As always, my low expectations were mercilessly crushed, this time by this mighty brewery I’ve never heard of.  Solid IPAs across the board but my favorites were the phenomenal BALTIC PORTER, SOUL CRUSHER BARLEY WINE, and BLACK BLIZZARD IMPERIAL STOUT.  Thanks to Rebecca we tried all 10 of their offerings, and plenty more.  She treated us to some tasty appetizers including the world’s most potent garlic fries, garlicky to the point that I had no fear of being accosted by vampires.  Or criminals.  Or friends.  Or my wife.
The Beer Goddess.

Rebecca hooked me up with an Uber car to the airport, and I bid my friends adieu, thoroughly hammered, three sheets to the wind and well on my way to the fourth.  The Oakland Airport was practically abandoned.  Then again who spends their Saturday night in an airport.  In my case it was someone who wanted to see his family again.  I could have stayed an extra evening and continued with the exploration, but my brief mission was accomplished and I just wanted to see my wife again and sleep in my own bed.
Countless thanks to Corbett for making this 24 hour adventure possible, to Dan and Corin for putting me up and putting up with me, and to Rebecca for her generosity.  Will this documentary come out?  It seems highly likely.  Will I end up on the cutting room floor?  Also a high likelihood considering the sheer volume of participants, and my inability to express a concise thought.  Either way it was a great experience hanging with some of Oakland’s Finest and drinking some of the Bay Area’s Best.

The beering continues...

Thurs 9/25 - Home
2087 – GIGANTIC IPL - A Portland rarity in SoCal, powerful citra hops, lovely.
2088 – SANTAN BREWING HEFEWEIZEN - Sweet citrus, solid.
2089 – CALDERA BREWING PILOT ROCK PORTER - Chocolatey and slightly roasty, really darn tasty.

Fri 9/26 – Starting at home before the flight, then an all nighter in Oakland.
2090 – SUDWERK BREWING CALIFORNIA DRY HOP LAGER - Good way to pre-game.
2091 – CELLARMAKER BREWING OTTO'S BACKPACK – Damn!
2092 – CELLARMAKER BREWING MO' GALAXY – Damn!!
2093 – CELLARMAKER BREWING ORIGINAL DANKSTER – Damn!!!
2094 – CELLARMAKER / MONKEY PAW COLLABORATION CELLAR MONKEY IPA WITH PASSIONFRUIT – Evenly balanced, not too hoppy, not too fruity, killer.
2095 – MOYLAN'S BREWERY PORT BARREL STOUT – Heavy, sweet port flavor, rich.
2096 – HALF MOON BAY BREWING CALF FIENE MILK STOUT WITH FAIR TRADE COFFEE – Silky, roasty, awesome.
2097 – IRON SPRINGS PUB & BREWERY REPACK ABBEY STYLE DUBBEL WITH RYE – Not bad, though not as well rounded as expected.
2098 – ALE INDUSTRIES KEEP SAILING BOB SOUR DARK ALE – Cherry and anise, yum!
2099 – HENHOUSE BREWING BIG CHICKEN IMPERIAL IPA – Listed as an “extreme” IPA, I really like it but the Cellarmaker IPAs were way more over the top.
2100 – LOCAL OPTION MORNING WOOD OAK AGED COFFEE PORTER – Hoppy amber with mellow coffee overtones. I could get very used to this. Wow.
2101 – 101 NORTH BREWING NAUGHTY AUD IMPERIAL STOUT – Nice surprise, heavy molasses, thick yet still smooth, chocolaty malt, I love this more than expected.
2102 – BUTCHER'S BREWING SELECT RYE IPA – From Santee in SD County, so why haven’t I ever seen this in SoCal. Apricot & citrus, tasty, decent, just weird that I had to travel to Oakland to find it.
Finally, a solution to First World Problems.

Sat 9/27 – Beer Revolution, Oakland and Pyramid, Oakland Airport, then a few late night treats with the Mrs.
2103 – DUST BOWL BREWING HOPS OF WRATH IPA - Dust Bowl tap takeover at Beer Revolution.  Woooo!
2104 – DUST BOWL BREWING SON OF WRATH DIPA
2105 – DUST BOWL BREWING THE THERAPIST IMPERIAL IPA
2106 – DUST BOWL BREWING BALTIC PORTER
2107 – DUST BOWL BREWING SOUL CRUSHER BARLEY WINE
2108 – DUST BOWL BREWING BLACK BLIZZARD IMPERIAL STOUT 
2109 – DUST BOWL BREWING DUMP TRUCK OF THE GODS QUADRUPLE IPA
2110 – DUST BOWL BREWING GALAXY PALE ALE
2111 – GOOSE ISLAND THE MUDDY IMPERIAL STOUT WITH LICORICE
2112 – DUST BOWL BREWING OKTOBERFEST
2113 – DUST BOWL BREWING ENGLISH MILD
2114 – AUBURN ALEHOUSE PU-240 DIPA ON NITRO
2115 – AUBURN ALEHOUSE OLD TOWN BROWN
2116 – PYRAMID BREWERIES IPL - @ Pyramid, Oakland Airport
2117 – PYRAMID BREWERIES OUTBURST IMPERIAL IPA – Surprisingly very good.
2118 – PYRAMID BREWERIES ALEHOUSE AMBER ALE
2119 – PYRAMID BREWERIES OKTOBERFEST
2120 – ANDERSON VALLEY BREWING HUGE ARKER IMPERIAL STOUT BOURBON BARREL – @ Blind Donkey, Pasadena: Excellent barrel aged stout, but the smallest pour possible. Seriously, I’ve received sampler larger than this “pour”.
2121 – NEBRASKA BREWING IPA – What a treat! Great!

Sun 9/28 – Home
2122 – DEVIL’S CANYON BREWING CALIFORNIA SUNSHINE IPA – Alternately marketed as “RYE IPA”, nice rye build, bready, lingering hop finish.
2123 – ROCKMILL BREWERY SAISON NOIR – Kinda sour, licorice, raspberry, not awesome but OK.

Mon 9/29 - Home
2124 – LAO BREWERY BEERLAO  A Dollar Store find from my wife. Don’t say Beer, say Beerlao!
2125 – ROCKMILL BREWERY TRIPEL – Sweet, yeasty, high carbonation, tasty yet slightly odd.
2126 – EVIL TWIN BREWING I LOVE YOU WITH MY STOUT – Rich boysenberry, high alcohol, leathery Cabernet, figgy greatness.

Tues 9/30 - Home
2127 - DORADA PREMIUM LAGER - Surprisingly decent, much better than most cheap American lagers. Best part is it's from Guatemala. The Wife found this at the Dollar Store.
2128 - ANDERSON VALLEY BREWING PINCHY JEEK BARL - OK, but I was expecting more out of something barrel aged. Malty pumpkin pie spice but that’s about it.
2129 - WINGWALKER AMBER ALE – The opposite of awesome.

Wed 10/1 - Home
2130 - DORADA PREMIUM LIGHT - Another decent Dollar Store find from the Mrs. Not great of course, but I'd drink this over any American light beer any day.
2131 - BUTTERNUT'S SNAPPERHEAD IPA - More malty than hoppy, almost a burnt finish, hmmm

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