Friend and reader Ryan asked us try his home-brewed beer and give an honest opinion. We already had to be in his town for another engagement, so we made a mini event for the day. Before getting to Ryan’s, and before it closed, we stopped by the Martinez Farmers’ Market to see what unique items we’d find.
We met Angela, owner and baker of Simply Heaven Mini Pies. As a pastry chef by training, Zach feels very confident in endorsing these little delights. Two different sizes (mini and mini mini) come with a variety of fruit fillings, making it easy to mix and match flavors without committing to a whole regular-size pie. The crust was flaky and buttery, and Zach the supertaster could tell that “it’s natural and made with 100% care.” The fruit within was exceptionally fresh and clearly in season; there was no excess of sweetness due to sugar compensating for tart, not-quite-ripe filling. We did not get any, but we did see that sugar-free and gluten-free pies were available, as well.
An affable young man at the Bistro Blends tent coaxed us to try the oils and vinegars. As we sampled through them with tiny cubes of bread, all tasted sumptuous so it was hard to narrow it down for a purchase, but we ended up taking home a bottle of blackberry balsamic vinegar. The balsamic acidity was very well balanced by the deep berry flavor, giving the vinegar a robust edge that would be a great ingredient in a marinade, among other things. Besides oils and vinegars, we also tried dijon honey truffle mustard. The truffle flavor was intense but not overwhelming, with a base of a mild mustard flavor. Besides sandwiches, we’re looking forward to using it in cole slaw or potato salad as a special additive.
August popped a grape and a hunk of broncha cheese from Achadinha Cheese Company, and was sold. Broncha is made with a blend of goat and cow milk and aged it for 2-4 months. August liked this cheese a lot because, to her, it was kind of like Parmesan with a light blue cheese quality. We know it has to be good shaved over a salad or paired with fruit like we tried it today, but sometime it would be fun to do a ranch tour at Achadinha to learn more about their processes and specialties.
Honey produced within 50 miles of where you live and work can help sustain your immune system against plant allergies, so it was neat to find honey that’s from Concord, Pleasant Hill, and Oakley. MarElla Honey B’s offers local honey and so much more, from beekeeping classes to swarm and colony removal. Setting up a few hives on our hillside is something we’ve considered, since it would help our neighborhood’s vegetation as well as support the bee population that is strangely dwindling across the globe, so we’re genuinely interested in looking into the beekeeping classes.
After strolling downtown Martinez we met Ryan at his home. He has a garage converted with all kinds of equipment to work on clone recipes as well as crafting his own. Today we tried his original “Black Hops Down,” an IPA that he calculates ranks at 6.5% ABV. Being that it wasn’t bottled but from a tap, Ryan did a great job at finding the rate to trickle in external CO2 so that the light carbonation perked up the rich flavors. The combination of hops in his brew made it taste like a roasted chocolate with a strong hop finish, dark but not dismal. On first sniff and sip, August said that if it were available she’d buy it, while Zach who typically avoids IPAs felt that it was a hoppy beer he could actually enjoy. Thank you, Ryan, for inviting us out to try your tasty creation!
It was a relaxed day of walking, drinking, and conversing, a nice way for August to spend her last hours before going back to school tomorrow. Goodbye, Summer, we’ll see you again in ten months!
For four hours on a beautiful Saturday with the right amount of coastal wind to set off a gnarly sunburn (we forgot sunscreen), we and thousands of others partook in sampling from nearly three dozen breweries west of the Mississippi at the Bay Area Craft Beer Festival. Frankly, it was August who did most of the sampling since Zach got a designated driver ticket – always drink responsibly, and have a plan for transportation! We had the best intentions of talking about every single brew tasted, but to be honest, and we think you understand, by the end of the four hours everything just tasted like great beer. We took pictures the whole time so this post has more of a photojournalism angle without so many words.
Brew Caddy makes custom beer cup holders. Of course we all bought one (August, Zach, Zach’s brother Will, and about a half-dozen of Will’s friends). Throughout the day we were asked, “Where did you get that?” and we happily pointed patrons to the Brew Caddy tent, where they also had hats and t-shirts.
This very proud Bay Area patron let August snap a picture of his pretzel necklace. We saw so many necklaces we thought that it was something to be bought on site, until we learned that the people wearing them made them themselves in preparation for the day to munch on between samplings. Here we see arguably the best necklace, for he had soooo many pretzels and with variety (not just tiny, not just thick).
Creek Monkey Tap House, another sponsor, had these super cute temporary tattoos. Probably not the best souvenier to bring back to the little ones at home who typically love temporary tattoos.
San Leandro brewery Drake’s was very popular.
21st Amendment Brewery is actually a San Francisco brewpub. We’ve tried some of their beers in the past, bought in cans at the grocery market, but now it’s on our list to visit the location.
Two bands took the stage; Lumberyard performed great rock covers.
Just a candid shot with an older photobomber behind Zach. And Will had to be goofy, too.
Compass Star Catering of Martinez made mini cupcakes infused with different brews. Left to right we had: Lost Coast Tangerine (citrus cake with buttercream frosting), Heretic Evil Twin Red Ale (buttermilk cake with cream cheese frosting and a dulce de leche drizzle), Schubros 680 IPA (spice cake with Allspice cream cheese frosting), and Karl Strauss Wreck Alley Imperial Stout (cocoa cake with buttercream and a drizzle of ganache). Ten percent of the day’s proceeds went to Aaron Hern, a Martinez middle school student and victim of last Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings.
From Triple Voodoo we tried the Kraken and the Witopia, both excellent in taste and body. August wanted to shade her face, and of all the logos on baseball caps this was the most appealing, so she got one for herself.
Speaking of beer-hat fashion, check out this guy.
We did not use this feature, but still thought it was pretty neat.
There were multiple food vendors, but we looked for the items specifically made with beer. The cupcakes were the only sweet beer food, and the savory option was fried pickles with Lagunitas Censored tempura-panko batter from veteran-owned The Fabulous Frickle Brothers. Will was apprehensive because he “hates” pickles… but he surprised himself and polished these off. The three house-made sauces were incredible: Cucaracha Sriracha, Frickle Ranch, and Uncle Juan’s Mole-Q.
…And yes, we’re in California, so there were some interesting scents wafting through the air on this particular day… The Fabulous Frickle Brothers weren’t shy to acknowledge it.
Before Petty Theft took the stage for the second half of the afternoon, these gentlemen entertained us with more upbeat, lively music (well, more upbeat than rock)
You can imagine that Karl Strauss‘ bumper sticker schwag was yanked quickly, well before we got to the tent.
More fashion shots, though not beer related. Being a teacher, August had to get a snap of this.
And being a Spanish teacher, she was just teaching the grammar concept of “hecho” to her Spanish II students this last week, so she was thrilled to find an example in the real world to bring back to class.
Schubros Brewery, whom we have written about before, has two styles of growlers to bring to their tap room, which is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. We really enjoyed their Wheat Nico beer on tap today.
We walked up to Bayhawk Ales thinking it was a local brewery we hadn’t heard of yet, but it’s from another bay, down in Orange County. At least it’s still Californian, if not from Nor Cal.
The West Coast IPA from Green Flash had 95 IBU, super bitter like August likes it.
Grand Teton Brewing Co. brought their beers out today, but they also make sodas!
Calicraft was covered before when August tried the Oaktown Brown, and Zach, liking sparkling, lighter beverages, was all about the Buzzerkeley today. A Belgian and champagne yeast blend with California starthistle honey, it was definitely “zesty, bright, fruity, and tart.”
Calicraft really liked us and appreciated us having already covered them, so they gave us a bottle of Chez Panisse Farmhouse Ale, brewed for the restaurant‘s 33rd anniversary. It’s in the fridge chilling so that August can write about it this week for its own featured Specialty Brews post.
Ninkasi of Oregon rounded out our tour of specialty brews. Coming up on its seventh birthday, Ninkasi has grown quickly to feature over thirty varieties of beer.
We met Stephanie, another patron in a very festive mood. Her boyfriend Nick with friends Jess, Sean, and Mike started Stacked Asses, a home brew that was featured at the home brew tent for small, not-quite-yet full-fledged breweries. We wish Stacked Asses the best of luck in their budding future.
Despite a lobster-red sunburn, we had a great time at the festival. It was organized very well and everyone was safe and happy. We can’t wait until next year!
Without a car but with hours to spare on foot while waiting for new brakes, a tire rotation, and an oil change, we walked around downtown Martinez in the vicinity of the repair garage. We thought about other people who might be drawn here for any number of reasons, since it is the county seat, and we figured, why not find the best places to recommend to those who, like us today, are on foot? Where can someone walk to for great, quick food? Today we sampled from three restaurants, to provide a spectrum of what’s not just available, but also great quality.
Luigi’s Deli and Market was the final stop during our day downtown. It has had a makeover in the last couple of years since we’ve been here. Outdoor patio seating and lots of indoor tables accommodate all the people that flock for the fresh sandwiches and deli salads, and Zach noted all the salads looked fresh. To share, we got a hot corned beef sandwich with all the trimmings: Swiss cheese, pickles, sauerkraut, and thousand island dressing. It was grilled on a panini press with Semifreddi’s bread, melting the cheese perfectly. Ninety percent of the cheese and all the meat served here comes from Boar’s Head; the 10% of the cheese that’s not is special order for customers. The sandwich was everything you could hope for in a hot, traditional style. From grilling the bread it was nice and crispy on the outside but not too hard at all to pull through. The highlight of the sandwich was the corned beef, followed closely by the Swiss cheese. The meat was very lean, fresh, and not too salty and very mild with the pickling spices. The cheese was strong and sharp but not overwhelming, as it balanced well with the other elements. Additionally, the meat and cheese are available for you to buy sliced and take home.
If you are a soda fan, you will be left with your jaw on the floor. There are over 400 different kinds of soda available, and many of them are from small bottlers that have been open for over 100 years! Even though this picture shows hundreds of them on a shelf, there is also a cold case so don’t worry, not everything is room temperature. For the sodas that are, they have an ice machine with cups for you to cool your drink in a jiff. Not pictured also are the six racks of different potato chips, including baked, low-calorie, and kettle.
With a variety of sandwiches for your hunger, and an even bigger multitude of beverages for your thirst, Luigi’s won’t leave you dissatisfied.