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Dinner with the Brewmaster,
Barclay’s Pub, Feb 14, 1999
Eel River Brewing Co.

by Brian Gros

Barclay’s (5940 College Avenue, Oakland) had yet another Dinner with the Brewmaster on Sunday, February 14, 1999, Valentines Day. You’ve seen my other reports through the years, and I apologize for not having enough notice and getting the word out. You missed another good one, especially in our attempts over the last year with food and beer pairing. The $35 price includes tax and a pint glass, but missing this time around were the commemorative t-shirts that are generally printed up for the event.

The brewers this time were Ted and Margaret Vivatson from Eel River Brewing Company in Fortuna, CA in Humboldt County. (web site http://www.northcoastweb.com/eelbrew/). They have been around for about four years, and the brewery/beer garden is 20 min south of Eureka right off of 101. As they tell the story, they had been homebrewers for about 10 years and were into all things beer related. They were driving down 101 through Humboldt admiring the countryside and she suggested they start a new business and he suggested a microbrewery and the rest is history. The brewery is on the site of the Clay Brown Redwood Mill, and the 7000 sq. ft beer garden features special beers and a full pub menu.

This dinner consisted of four courses designed to complement the four Eel River beers. The first beer was Climax California Lager, a beer aptly named for St. Valentine’s day, but actually named after a locomotive which used to run through the redwoods in Northern California. This lager had a moderate sulfur smell and a diacetyl note, but underneath was a sweet malt aroma. The beer was a nice reddish amber and had a medium body. The flavor was clean, with a crisp malt flavor and good bitter finish. Lisa got a floral hop aroma and a slight astringency on the tongue, probably from the hops.

The first course was grilled prawns with a spicy rich jalape o cream sauce. The beer went well with this course, but the spicyness accentuated the bitterness in the beer. We tried this course with Pilsener Urquell, and again, the beer became even more bitter, while the sauce became more spicy. Which beer you prefer depends on whether you like the beer to complement the course or contrast with the flavors.

The second beer was Raven’s Brau IPA. Ted described how he really likes IPAs and how this style is "the only beer ever built to military specifications", alluding to the origins of IPA as a beer shipped to the British troops stationed in India. He also said that every brewery has its own unique interpretation of the style. The Eel River interpretation is a malty one. The beer is made with the 3 Cs, Cascade, Columbus and Chinook. But the malt really shines through—crystal malt sweetness is on par with the great hop flavor and strong bitterness.

The 2nd course was a pasta salad of orzo over mixed greens. Asparagus and dungeness crab mixed in with a mild dressing of olive oil and vinegar. For this course, the beer was a great contrast to the salad. The dressing was subtle, so the vinegar didn’t sour the beer. The starchiness of the pasta was offset by the flavor of the IPA—a great match.

The third beer was the Double Bit Amber, which Ted described as an "Americanized ESB". This beer was nearly the same color as the first two, a medium amber. It had a clean crystal malt aroma and flavor, with some Goldings hop flavor and a crisp bitter finish. The balance was about even. Ted later remarked to me that he prefers a more hop-dominant ESB, but his regular pub patrons prefer this milder version. It was a good American Amber Ale style, and goes down smooth.

The main course was a choice of sea bass or pork tenderloin. The sea bass had a mango salsa and a side of crisp sweet potato "chips". The pork was "ale-marinated", and it also had a side of sweet potatoes, this time mashed with ginger. If we had to choose, I don’t know what kind of beer we would pick to go with both of these entrees, but the amber was the right beer. Both entrees were rather sweet, and the balanced sweet malt/hoppy amber was a good balance. Something like the Hair of the Dog Tripel that John Liechel brought to the meeting would have been an interesting complement as well.

The final beer, as if we weren’t full enough, was an Imperial Stout. To me, this stout was different that almost all RIS that I’ve had. It had a huge chocolate flavor. Ted said that this beer is a winter staple at the pub, but he does not distribute it, and it clocks in at 9.6% alcohol. The flavor was big malt, with chocolate dominating, but roasted barley underneath. Alcohol was evident, but the flavor was smooth and rich into the finish with just enough bitterness to balance the sweetness.

The dessert was a gingerbread square with a sweet whipped cream. The beer complemented this dessert well, but the sweetness of the gingerbread brought out the roasty flavors of the stout. A good match.

I really enjoyed the meal, and Bill did a great job of matching the courses with the beers. The beers were all outstanding as well. Eel River distributes in bottles and in kegs, and they also have a Ravensbrau Porter available. I couldn’t find much to nitpick about the beers. I enjoyed talking to Ted, and he welcomes homebrewers to the pub. He says he hosts the local homebrewers, and readily shares brewing tips and yeast. I’m looking forward to stopping by as soon as we can make it up to the North Coast.


Updated: May 06, 1999.