Courtesy of Derek Wolfgram Laughing Monk brews in San Francisco and sells locally.

Since the pandemic has limited the number of opportunities to leave the house over the past year, I've taken the opportunity to drive around visiting local breweries as a way to spend a couple hours on a Saturday afternoon. One of my favorite Bay Area breweries during this time has been Laughing Monk Brewing, launched by homebrewers Andrew Casteel and Aaron Hicks in 2016 in San Francisco's Bayview neighborhood.

Laughing Monk’s creative varieties of Belgian brews, lagers, pale ales and IPAs – both West Coast and hazy styles – are consistently flavorful and well made. (Another new favorite is Santa Cruz’s New Bohemia Brewing Co. – read more about it next month.)

If you don’t want to make a trip up to San Francisco, you may be able to support Laughing Monk by purchasing its brews at your local Whole Foods Market or Jane’s Beer Store in Mountain View. I’ve enjoyed the following recent selections from Laughing Monk.

• Alles Gut German Lager, 4.8% alcohol by volume (ABV). With a brightly clear light straw color and a low white head that dissipated quickly, Alles Gut highlights a gentle, sweet white bready malt aroma – like Wonder Bread, in a good way – with an herbal, woody, almost minty, hop aroma. The assertive spicy noble hop bitterness up front on the palate accompanies delicate malt sweetness in a supporting role. With a light body and medium-high carbonation, the beer finishes cleanly, with crisp bitterness lingering on the tongue.

• Bop & Rock Pale Ale, 5.5% ABV. Bop & Rock appears bright and golden in the glass, with a fluffy, persistent white head of foam. The aroma is classic old-school West Coast style, with minimal malt and fresh pine and grapefruit rind character with underlying floral notes from Cascade and Centennial hops. Brightly bitter, the hop flavors are quite similar to the aroma, with malt again taking a backseat in the medium-bodied brew. The prickly carbonation accentuates the hop attributes and contributes to the light, refreshing, bitter finish.

• Madame Vice President (MVP) Harris Double IPA, 8% ABV. Laughing Monk often pays tribute to local heroes with its beer names, and it celebrates the inauguration of Vice President Kamala Harris with this release. Pouring a lovely clear yellow-gold with a moussy white head, this potent double IPA showcases a classic trio of modern hops (Mosaic, Simcoe and Citra) that creates an intense hop aroma of sweet orange, tangy pineapple and green mango, with hints of dank pine. On the palate, a cannabis-like hop bitterness up front is followed up by complex juicy tropical fruit hop flavors that persist into a long, flavorful finish. While the malt character is simple and subdued for a double IPA of this strength, the effervescent carbonation and medium body are typical of the style.

• Evening Vespers Belgian Dubbel, 7.1% ABV. With the name Laughing Monk, you would expect to find excellent Belgian-style beers at this brewery, and it does not disappoint. Evening Vespers is a copper-red color with a low white head and a complex aroma of fruitcake and bread pudding. The overall impression is subtle despite the complexity, with flavors of dates and figs, hints of light cocoa, and light toffee malt sweetness all in balance, and notes of subtle smoky phenols emerge as it warms. The hop presence is minimal across the board, with limited hop bitterness, aroma or flavor. Moderately carbonated, the beer is somewhat lighter in body than expected, with a relatively dry finish for style, incorporating only subtle hints of sweetness.

Derek Wolfgram is a Certified Beer Judge through the Beer Judge Certification Program and an officer of the Silicon Valley Sudzers homebrew club. For more information, visit sudzers.org.