Pacific Coast Brewing Co., Est. 1988

Pacific Coast Brewing Company

Pacific Coast Brewing Company

A woman walks into a bar, claims she’s a beer blogger and orders a flight. A half hour later, she has interviewed the manager, had a private tour of the brewery and been served extra samples. And the punchline is . . . at the end of this post.

A couple of weeks ago, I had to go up to Oakland, California, two hours from home. I pulled out Jay Brooks’ California Breweries North and went through the delightful ritual of deciding which one brewery I’d visit. I settled on Pacific Coast Brewing Company for one reason: it was an extract brewery.

If you’re not familiar with the brewing process, early on malted barley is mashed, or steeped, in hot water. Sometimes the mash tun, the vessel where mashing takes place, has a false mesh bottom that lauters, or filters, the liquid at the end. Other breweries use a separate lauter tun.

The two major distinctions in homebrewing are all-grain, similar to the commercial brewing style, or extract, which allows the brewer to avoid mashing by using malt extract. While it costs a few more dollars for a five-gallon brew, extract brewing is faster and easier.

On a commercial scale, those dollars add up quickly, even for a nano brewery with a three-barrel system, meaning 93-gallon brews. By comparison, macros like MillerCoors or AB InBev use 600-barrel systems or larger and brew several times a day. You get an idea of why I was intrigued by a commercial extract system.

Bottle-lined wall above Pacific Coast's staircase

Bottle-lined wall above Pacific Coast’s staircase

I showed up at Pacific Coast on a lazy Sunday afternoon with no advance requests for special attention. Fifteen or so customers filled the bar stools and surrounding tables, more sat in an adjoining room and on the patio. A Giants game played out on TV.

I followed a sign indicating the restrooms were downstairs. Thanks to Brooks, I knew the brewery was in the basement. Since most of it was visible behind glass, the bathroom break was a long one. I checked out the stash of 55-pound malt bags under the stairs, half a dozen aging barrels nearby and the extensive beer bottle collection lining shelves above the stairs.

Employees John Landes and Jessica Morris

Employees John Landes and Jessica Morris

Back upstairs, I claimed a small table by the window and started studying the menu that included seven house brews and fifteen visiting brews. Four of the twenty-two had been stamped “BLOWN.” Waitress Jessica Morris came over and enthusiastically jumped into a conversation around the available brews and those allowed on the sampler (house only). Minutes later, she was back with the sampler and more conversation. I’d barely jotted a few notes on the first beer—the well-balanced Bullhead IPA with seven hop varietals—before Joel Adams, the front of house manager, was at the table, ready to answer a beer blogger’s questions.

Front of House Manager, Joel Adams

Front of House Manager, Joel Adams

Question #1: Could I get inside Pacific Coast’s extract brewery?

The one disappointment of the day was learning that the extract system had been replaced since Brooks’ book came out. The current 7-barrel system, on which they generally brew twice a week, is a regular commercial all-grain system.

We went on to discuss the beers. Pacific Coast has a reputation for its Russian Imperial Stout, Leviathan, described as “dark, decadent roasty and creamy.” Not an adjective in there that entices this hop head. Interestingly, four ounces left me on friendly terms with the aptly described Leviathan. Or maybe it was listening to Joel talk about all the traffic the previous evening, including a 60-person wedding party that stayed well past the 1:00 a.m. closing time. “They were having a good time,” he with a shrug and a smile.

For craft beer enthusiasts who value the small neighborhood bar experience, Pacific Coast is an authentic gem. Opened in 1988, they have stayed small by choice, brewing only 270 barrels last year.

GABF-bound keg

GABF-bound keg

By the time we got down to the brewery tour, Joel had served up an extra sample and offered more, but I had a long drive ahead of me. Getting behind the glass wall downstairs allowed for closer viewing of a small brewery—mash tun / lauter tun included—functioning in a remarkably small space. The walk-in cooler housed hop and yeast supplies along with kegs of finished beer, including one with a “Save for GABF” Post-It. How cool is it to see a keg whose contents will be judged and consumed over a 1000 miles away in September at the largest beer festival in the U.S.?

Meanwhile, about the woman who walks into the bar . . . the punchline: What do all her beers cost? Answer: $2.50, because she claims she’s a beer blogger. That’s a beautiful example of how the craft beer world functions. We’re in this together, we trust each other, we help each other out and we enjoy each other’s company.

Next time you’re in Oakland, stop by Pacific Coast and tell them Leslie sent you. And be sure to go to the downstairs bathroom!

Malt bags under stairs and brewery beyond

Malt bags under stairs and brewery beyond

Pacific Coast's basement brewery

Pacific Coast’s basement brewery

Pacific Coast's mash tun / lauter tun

Pacific Coast’s mash tun / lauter tun


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