San Francisco Stars #1: Faction Pils, Alameda, California
Date: June 28 , 2019 —
The Story— Pilsners are one of the most difficult beers to brew well. If you’ve been doing it for 170 years, you’ve probably got it down by now, but great pilsners take both skill and time, and few new American breweries have the luxury to have the tank space to let the beers lager (age) as long as they should.
The dominant pilsner in the bay area is Trumer Pils — from an Austrian brewery that opened a brewery in Berkeley to produce a single a one hit wonder that has done well for them. It claims to be a German pils, but we see it more as an Austrian pils (which, in Europe, it clearly is) that’s softer and slightly sweeter than the more crisp and bitter German pilsner and lighter and milder than the Czech originals.
But apparently you don’t need a couple of centuries or a few million to brew a pils well if you’re skilled enough.. and maybe a bit lucky. Our first beer after landing at SFO blew us away. Faction is a small mom and pop operation in Alameda, just south of Oakland and across the water to the East of San Francisco.
That first beer was at the B55 beer bar in the dazzling Marriott Marquis near Union Square. The “View” bar at the top of the hotel offers stunning views after dark, but B55, tucked away on the viewless ground floor, offers a couple of dozen beers that include some local gems. Faction was an amazing opening round in a week of very good beers.
The Beer– This is a pilsner that I would almost take for granted in a small town brewery in central or northern Germany. A clean pils malt sets the stage and leads to a lightly floral with some notes of Juicy Fruit and honeysuckle that are so typical of good German pilsners. A mild but steady bitter makes it moreish, and a late hint of lemon makes us think that there may be some Lemon Drop hop in it.
Value — Good where we tasted it. Very good at a less spiffy bar or at the brewery.
Values: “fair” is a good beer at an above market price, “good” is worth the money, “very good” is a bargain, and “excellent” is a steal.
We just got back from a week in San Francisco. We hadn’t been there in eleven years and the remarkably vibrant beer scene we experienced then has become, well, even vibranter. In seven days we had the chance to taste beers from 28 local breweries. Ellie, poor girl, had to work long hours during the day while I got to roam the streets checking out the best places to find great beers. At least when Ellie got off work I had places to take her before she crashed for the night. We’ll post a week or two of Beers of the Day by the Bay before returning to research for our book on Inns and Breweries of the Mid-Atlantic.
Interestingly, the downtown area of San Francisco, while awash with beers from the surrounding areas, has few brewing spots of its own. In that regard it reminds us of New York, where you have to leave Manhattan and go to Brooklyn to really find a nest of breweries. Away from downtown, several brewery taps thrive and public transportation gets you almost anywhere. Beyond the city limits, of breweries ring the city, and many of them produce exceptionally good beers and the myriad of tap houses all over town tend to focus on local beers. Name the style you like and you can find an excellent version of it, though at a price.
We’re often asked to share our tasting notes on over 33,000 beers; this blog is in answer to those requests. Not all our notes, though. The great beer writer Michael Jackson admirably followed the Thumper Rule, and we’ll try to do the same. (“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.”) All the beers we post are from the top half of our ratings and most are from the top quarter. Of greater value, we think, are the stories behind the beers, and we try to give you enough about the brewery, the style and the places to find great beer to help you on your own beer journeys. At CulturAle Press we try to write books and publish posts that will help you “Drink Well and Travel Safely.”