[Best of the Santa Clara Valley 1998

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And the Brew Ribbon Goes To...

[whitespace] Gordon Biersch
Christopher Gardner

Good for What Ales You: Stout, sturdy brews like the ones gold medalist Gordon Biersch makes can cure the worst of attitudes and thirsts.

A tireless sudstaster samples offerings from brewpubs around the Valley.

By Broos Campbell

If there's one consolatory note in the dirge that the fat lady's been singing in the stock market lately, it's that we've got plenty of good beer to cry into. A double handful of brewpubs offer up pints, half-liters and buckets of suds brewed on the premises, alongside fare ranging from pub grub to haute cuisine. Sorting out the brewpubs was a tough job--there isn't a bad brauhaus in the valley, and a few of the local ales, hefeweizens, pilsners and porters are outstanding. In fact, it was such a close call that more guzzling--er, research will be required in the very near future.

Gordon Biersch, that longtime clubhouse of the bow-tie set, is our hands-down choice for best brewpub. For starters, they offer a free taste of each of the five brews on tap. The selections in late August were pilsner; Maïzen (their version of Oktoberfest); Dunkels (a toasty brown brew); hefeweizen (an unfiltered wheat beer, available in July and August); and Blonde Bock, which is similar to the pilsner. Seasonals later in the year will include Wiesen Helles golden lager (mid-September through October) and the malty Winter Bock (Thanksgiving through January). The glassware is particularly attractive, with round-topped half-liter glasses for the darker beers and tall, pilsner-style glasses for the lighter ones. Their sassafrassy hefeweizen ($4 for a half-liter) with lemon is a particularly good late-afternoon refreshment.

The Tied-House Cafe and Brewery caters to a younger, sports-oriented crowd; it even looks a bit like a gymnasium inside. The brews are lighter and fizzier than their more hoity-toity counterparts, and they carry a wide variety of flavors. Their best seller is the Cascade Amber, which is a very drinkable, beefy brew that tastes a bit like steak. On the down side, the passion fruit beer is nasty, and the India Pale Ale has a throttling bitterness at the back of the throat; but the chocolate-coffee Black Gold Porter is pleasant. A sampler of all eight goes for $7.25.

As is to be expected of a chain, the Rock Bottom Café specializes in unobtrusive, inoffensive brews ($5.75 for a sampler of eight). The Raccoon Red Ale is a gutsier cousin of the ordinary pale ale, and the Hefeweissen is light but rich.

Shade trees sifting the sunlight on Murphy Avenue take the edge off the chrome-and-concrete interior of Stoddard's Brewery & Eatery, making for a nice change from the postmodern-industrial look that is fashionable among high-end watering holes. Out of the four-beer sampler ($5), the Kristall Weizen filtered wheat is memorable, with a pilsner-like crispness and a touch of bitterness.

Faultline Brewery looks like a gleaming stack of oversized beer kegs from the front, but it's all wooden beams and airy space inside, with a patio next to a duck pond out back. Slip out of the office early for your after-work whistle-wetter, as the parking lot fills up by 6pm. The kölsch is very light but not watery; the hefeweizen has a strong citrus overtaste even without lemon; and the smooth Best Bitter has a succulent brownness to it, reminiscent of mushroom gravy. Samples are "$1 1/4" each. Bar snacks, from the half-pound, charbroiled hamburger ($8.75) to oysters on the half-shell, are available in addition to the dinner menu. The brewers can be met in person from 5:30 to 6:30pm in Sunnyvale; $5 buys a tour of the brewery, a tasting of their wares and a pint glass filled with brew.

Isn't it odd that when you're trying to find something, it's always in the last place you look? With one exception, the beers ($6.25 for a sampler of five) at the Los Gatos Brewing Co. are well-made but not distinguished. There's nothing wrong with the pale ale and Oktoberfest, except that they're interchangeable. The porter tastes a bit like Bosco, but isn't sticky, and goes as well with the smoked meat platter ($9) as it does with the spinach salad ($6.95). The exception I mentioned, however, is a big one: LGB's frothy, highly quaffable pilsner is easily the best in its class, and perhaps the best beer in the valley.

Beers Without Peers
Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, 33 E. San Fernando St., San Jose, 408/294-6785, and 640 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650/323-7723

Tied-House Cafe and Brewery, 65 N. San Pedro, San Jose, 408/295-2739, and 954 Villa St., Mountain View, 650/965-2739

Rock Bottom Cafe, 1875 S. Bascom, Campbell, 408/377-0707

Stoddard's Brewhouse and Eatery, 111 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale, 408/733-7824

Faultline Brewery, 1235 Oakmead Pkwy, Sunnyvale, 408/736-2739

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From the September 17-23, 1998 issue of Metro.

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