Pale ales and India pale ales continue to dominate the craft beer market in California and across the U.S. However, a number of California breweries also produce beers in traditional German styles or using traditional German ingredients, but with a West Coast twist.
As the season shifts from summer to the cooler evenings of autumn, many beer lovers enjoy Oktoberfest lagers and other German beer styles. Following are a few California-brewed options to quench your Oktober thirst.
• Calicraft Brewing Co. is based in Walnut Creek, but its Cali Cöast Kölsch-style ale is contract brewed at San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing Co. Kölsch, the traditional beer style of Cologne, is a straw-colored and lightly hopped ale, with a crisp, clean finish. Cali Cöast is crystal clear, highly carbonated and very dry, vaguely reminiscent of an Extra Brut sparkling wine. Both the aroma and the flavor boast hints of white bread and almost-ripe pear. The brew is quite refreshing and well suited to one of the few remaining hot days of the year.
• Gordon Biersch is probably the best-known brewer of German beers in the Bay Area. It offers several seasonal options throughout the year, including its annual FestBier release for Oktoberfest. FestBier tastes moderately sweet, with a bready malt flavor and slightly spicy finish from the traditional German Hallertau hops. The bottled version lacks some of the malt complexity of the best-known German Oktoberfest lagers, though a fresh pint on tap at the Palo Alto or San Jose brewpubs has more character.
• For those seeking additional local Oktoberfest brews, several area brewpubs offer options. BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse (with locations in Cupertino, San Jose and San Mateo), Faultline Brewing in Sunnyvale, Los Gatos Brewing Co. in Los Gatos and San Jose, and Rock Bottom Brewery in Campbell all offer seasonal Oktoberfest lagers, available exclusively on draught at their respective brewpubs.
• Farther afield in California, San Diego’s Stone Brewing Co. is known for its hoppy beers. The company decided to put a twist on its anniversary special release this year by brewing its Stone 17th Anniversary Götterdämmerung IPA with German hops and pilsner malt. The beer includes the German hops Herkules, Hersbrucker, Magnum, Merkur, Opal and Smaragd, and is dry-hopped with Sterling, an American hop with German lineage, and French Strisselspalt hops from across the Rhine in Alsace.
The German IPA approach works remarkably well, with pronounced citrus and floral hop aroma, sturdy bitterness and a lemony, spicy hop flavor that lasts well into the finish. Remarkably smooth and drinkable for its 9.5 percent alcohol by volume, Götterdämmerung IPA is definitely a unique hybrid of the best of what both German and Californian beers have to offer.
• Port Brewing Co. in San Marcos produces an unusual spring seasonal brew called Hot Rocks Lager, which you may still be able to find in local bottle shops – but you may want to wait until spring when a fresh batch is released.
Steinbier is brewed using a 19th-century technique in which heated granite was dropped into wooden barrels of wort to boil the liquid. Smooth and relatively full-bodied for a lager, Hot Rocks has aromas of caramel and toffee resulting from the caramelization of malt sugars by the hot stones. On the palate, the predominant flavor is dark cocoa with a hint of smoke. And because Port Brewing makes Hot Rocks, a pleasant hoppy finish balances the sweetness.
Derek Wolfgram is chief communications officer for the Silicon Valley Sudzers Homebrew Club. For more information, visit sudzers.org.