By David King
Intrigued by Visit Concord’s Contra Costa Beer Trail, I decided to embark on this expedition of unchartered watering holes to support our local businesses. The goal, visit 40 destinations from Brentwood to Richmond of the county’s premier breweries and tap rooms. It would be an adventure like no other -the kind of adventure Lewis and Clark would have taken, or perhaps Otis Campbell and Foster Brooks.
I downloaded the Contra Costa Beer Trail app from Visit Concord’s website that would track and record each stop I make on the trail. Not until the end did I realize it is not the destinations that make this trail special, but the people you meet or invite along the way and the many interesting stories you hear.
I chose Jack’s Taps to be my trailhead. My wife came along to see me off and share what could be our last meal together. Rather than enter the Taproom, we chose to be seated at the restaurant. Jack’s was already busy on this warm Saturday afternoon. The restaurant had a 30-minute wait. Fortunately, they were serving outside, and so my beer hike begins with a Pilsner on the Plaza by the fountain.
That evening I invited In-laws to BJ’s Brewhouse in Concord. Like many restaurants, they were eager to get back to old norms, yet still not at full staff. So, I used the longer than usual service times to admire a three-generational conversation of a 24-year-old mechanical engineering graduate speaking of his pending internship to improve the efficiency of a robotic strawberry harvester with the old-school 81-year grandfather who reminisced his youthful days handpicking strawberries in Tennessee fields. “Some days you pick them with the tops on, those went to markets, other days you pick them with the top off, those went to canneries,” he lectured. They were both drinking BJ’s gold award beer, Light Switch.
The next day, I stopped in at Concord Tap House. I met Thomas M., but he preferred, or should I say insisted, that I call him the “Bassmaster.”
Bassmaster claims to have caught the largest freshwater bass in all of Contra Costa County right here in Concord. Where is there such a fishing hole in Concord? While there are likely no records to dispute his self-proclaimed title, he did present to me a photo of him holding a 12-pound pregnant large-mouth bass that he caught in March at New Hall Park!
He catches and releases, so this monster is still in that pond. According to the Bassmaster, bass gain a about a pound a year. He hopes he can catch her again in three years for a 15-pound record. Good luck Bassmaster.
Concord Tap House is an open-air tap room with an outdoor deck. They have 24 rotating beers on tap, most focusing on local and coastal brews. Owner Keith is an accomplished southern-style chef. You can get some tasty comfort food bites here to pair with your beer choice.
I released the Bassmaster back to his pond and eased Downtown to Hop Grenade where I met up with owner Justin Crossley.
Hop Grenade rotates all their 21 beers on tap every month except for one. What makes Hop Grenade interesting besides its convenient location at Todos Santos, is that it was born out of a craft beer making podcast.
We sat in the on-site recording studio as I learned the history of Hop Grenade. Crossley, a Communications Major at San Francisco State in the 90s followed the warnings of his instructors of the coming internet age.
He launched his Craft Beer show 16 years ago in his garage and it is still going strong to this day with over 75,000 international listeners. Crossley claims through sponsorships, the show is a more profitable venture than the tap room. Who knew?
The next day, I invited Scott Feuer to meet me at Epidemic Ales in Concord.
Scott is one of the area’s most experienced hikers. He has hiked every Mt. Diablo Trail, and the 239-mile John Muir Trail. He is the kind of adventurer who could make the Contra Costa Beer Trail a thru-hike, especially since he likes craft beer.
Scott brought his Mount Diablo map with every trail that he has hiked marked, all 1170 miles of them, two-thirds of them during Covid.While I was inspired by his hiking achievements, I learned that it was the Journey-man’s Journal column that inspired him to take up the activity.
Epidemic Ales brews their own and has become quite popular in Concord and Martinez. They also feature food trucks regularly. On this afternoon, we ordered off the Cousins Lobster truck.
My next stop on the Beer Trail was Lazy Dog Restaurant. There I met up with Randy Vincent and his bomb-sniffing yellow Labrador, Goldie. Randy is a retired Lieutenant in the Navy Reserves for which he spent 20 years. He now protects all of us at San Francisco Giants home games and any special events at Oracle Park. Goldie is trained on over 300 explosive odors. Goldie is sweet and patient who works for reward.
Lazy Dog features its own beer club at just $35 per quarter. Amenities include discounts, upgrades, beer samplers and kits for those who like to vary their craft beer intake.
In Martinez I decided to invite a couple of endearing socialites, Carl and Barbara Harper, to join me at the Firehouse Brew and Grill. Barbara, 87, reads the Diablo Gazette and makes sure the Concord Elks Lodge gets their monthly stack for the members, and her husband Carl, 93, is a WWII veteran.
Known for its amazing outdoor deck, Firehouse features mostly brews from Del Cielo Brewing Company which is just a couple of blocks down the street. Both are quite popular venues in the Martinez community. Over lunch and a brew, Carl shared a couple of his WWII experiences and Barbara prompted me to promote and participate in the upcoming Red Cross Blood Drive hosted by the Elks on July 31. The Harpers are great people.
I ventured down the street to Del Cielo Brewing Co. Unfortunately, they do not open until 4 pm and it was only 2:30 pm when I arrived. Nevertheless, I was allowed inside to look at their large brew tanks and was offered a couple of cans of their products to take with me. Del Cielo Brewing Co. is a Latino/Latina owned business founded by Luis and Cielomar in May of 2018. Winners of several awards, from light ales and lagers, stouts, IPAs and sours, this is a place I will have to return to fully appreciate its contribution to the craft beer community.
In Walnut Creek, I met up with Kevin King (no relations) at the Stadium Pub. I know Kevin from his soccer refereeing days years ago. I always fancied Kevin as some sort of beer expert judging from his waistline. I was right, he is a beer afficionado. However, he has lost 50 pounds since I last saw him. I was worried that Kevin had retired his beer-loving ways for thinner days, but it turns out he kept the beer and dumped breakfasts. (No need to Google this, I am sure it is not a recommended diet plan – but hey, 50 pounds with beer).
I was in the presence of a true consumer. Kevin met his wife of many years, at this very pub. They even held their wedding reception there. Having learned of the Contra Costa Beer Trail, Kevin decided he would also take the challenge since he is already familiar with beer apps.
Kevin uses an app called UNTAPPD. On this, he logs all the different beers he has sampled, which he said is 3799 unique beers in all. The app alerts him when a new beer appears in his vicinity. Our meeting outside was cut short as the wind was blowing our umbrella over and our Walnut Creek parking time was expiring. So, I said good-bye to my professor of beer. If I were a betting man, I say I just spent two enjoyable hours with the 2021 Contra Costa Beer Trail Champion.
On a Monday, I decided it was a good time to visit a Richmond brewery. Although my daughter turned 21, we had not yet enacted the rite-of-passage, the father-daughter first beer. I suggested we visit the Rosie the Riveter Memorial Park and Visitor Center followed by lunch and the ceremonial brew at Armistice Brewing Company.
They do not serve food at Armistice, but there are places across the street you can order and bring back, which we did and ate on their patio for our special beer moment.
When not in pandemic mode, Armistice has quite a library of classic board games for patrons to play while enjoying their brew. That was a fine afternoon outing.
Two days later and back to Walnut Creek, I met up with Eric Enos, the former Secret Service Agent, at Calicraft Brewing Company. Their brews are quite unique ranging from IPAs to their Spritzers, a beverage category of its own that infuses various fruits into the brew. Calicraft is constantly experimenting with new flavor combinations that will end up on tap each time you return.
Also in Walnut Creek, I targeted Hops & Scotch. For this location, I invited Brian who is a Scotch connoisseur; so much so, that while in Scotland, he made a point to tour the scotch distilleries.
Hops & Scotch is an upscale tap room with 44 rotating beers, a whiskey bar with over 800 spirits towering above the bar, a wine bar and a fine craft food menu. Our server brought us their drink menu, which he referred to as the “Bible”. It was a rugged-looking bound book with pages and pages of all their spirits. Brian perused the vast list of scotches noticing the price per shot. He found one that went for over $500 for a 1.5 oz. pour. The barkeep said they offer one that is over $1000 per shot!
Holy S-cotch! Somewhere in this “Bible”, there must be a commandment that says, “Thou shalt not order that scotch.”
We stuck with beer, tasting several, and enjoyed crafty small plates of Naan tacos and flatbread.
At Eureka! at the Willows in Concord, Vice Mayor Dominic Aliano and Rebecca Barrett, Director of Development at Boys & Girls Club Contra Costa were excited to announce the free Pop-Up Summer Camps for kids 6-18 coming each Friday to Cambridge Park.
Eureka offers 40 American craft beers on tap, extensive selection of small-batch whiskeys, and regional wines in a modern yet rustic setting. With an American menu, it is one of Concord’s most popular hangouts.
My final oasis on this quest was to Mike Hess Brewing in Walnut Creek. This was my 16th watering hole in 10 days. While at Hess, I saw what appeared to be the anonymous Mayor of Claycord, a sighting as rare as Big Foot itself. I grabbed my camera and caught the iconic shot to prove he truly exists!
The Contra Costa Beer Trail is a clever way to support our local businesses. But it is more than that.
It is a fun way to get out and reconnect with family, friends, neighbors and associates to share a beer or two and catch some fascinating stories. Each location was unique and accommodating and the company spectacular.
While the Contra Costa Beer Trail contest has ended, the Trail continues. You can still register and download the app at www.visitconcordca.com and track your visits on the trail, earn prizes along the way and enjoy your own private journey among your friends.