By Hudson Lindenberger
The next stop on Wine Food Explorer’s tour of California’s Great American Beer Festival multiple medal winners takes us to Berkeley. When you think of Berkley’s history many momentous events spring to mind; the founding of California’s oldest public university in 1868, the banning of alcohol in 1899, the free speech movement of 1964 and the rise of the anti-war movement and hippies in the late 60s and early 70s. What tends to slip through the cracks is Triple Rock Brewery and Alehouse, the fifth brewpub to open in the United States.
Brothers John and Reid Martin, pioneers in the brewpub industry, opened triple Rock in March 1986. Being one of the first in the nation they had to invent much of the equipment for the fledgling foam factory. The original equipment is still in use today and the Martin’s are still firmly at the controls of their pub. An enlightened innovation Triple Rock introduced were the first serving tanks in a brewpub. Instead of kegging their beers, the Martin brothers desired to serve the freshest beer imaginable so they installed the fresh beer serving tanks six feet from the taps that would dispense their golden goodness. Head brewer Jeff Kimpe waxes eloquently about their system, “The owners were groundbreaking visionaries who built a system that delivers the freshest possible beer to our customers. There is never an IPA on tap that is older than 10 days – where else will you find that?”
The innovative spirit of the founders is unmistakable in two unique programs that Triple Rock offers: the Single Hop Experience and Monkey Head Arboreal Ale Thursdays.
The Single Hop Experience grew from the yearning to emphasize flavor profiles they could bring forward from just one hop varietal in an array of beer styles. Jeff uses hops grown on Carpenter Ranch, a Yakima Valley hop farm, to ensure the freshest most vibrant essences. Jeff explains the program like this, “The hop farmers are excited to be part of the program since they are always creating new hop hybrids and this gives them a place too see what a brewer can do with it. Think of it like a coffee roaster with a new blend, you are excited to see what the public thinks of it. The only difference is instead of coffee we are working with different beer styles, and the hop farmers demand a fresh growler of beer sent to them instead of a Frappuccino.” The program has been quite successful and attracts brewers from the region to sample the rotating offerings and hopefully expand the borders of craft brewing.
Monkey Head Thursdays were born from the brewery’s college roots; they are right next to the University of California’s campus. Operations manager Dave Rowe wanted to liven up the business on Thursday nights in a distinctive manner by offering something exclusive. Monkey Head was created from Dave’s mandate to the brewers to create a “very approachable yet boozy beer – a good time in a bottle.” Every Thursday night, the place starts filling up around 7 p.m. with a mostly college-aged group, all queuing up for the release of the 425 bottles of beer at 11:30 p.m. The night tends to be a bit raucous until the product dries up and the crowd fulfilled flows home.
Triple Rock won silver for Rye Smile, Jeff Kimpe’s interpretation on a classic rye beer that is on a rotational schedule at the brewpub. They brought home bronze with Red Rock Ale; an American red ale that was one of the original three beers that the brewpub was named after (three beers with rock in the name). At 5.4 percent alcohol with 49 IBU’s this barley pop has a nice toasted caramel malt backbone with a slight hoppy bitterness that is one very smooth brew. Their most popular pour is IPAX, a West Coast IPA that weigh’s in at 6.9 percent alcohol with 67 IBU’s. It has a very pungent piney nose with a nice tangerine and grapefruit hoppiness capped off with a slight taste of caramel malt. For the last several years Jeff has been leading the way with Saison beers through constant experimentation and always has at least one on tap. With nine tap lines dispensing both permanent and rotating brews chances are you will find one to your liking.
The neighborhood brewpub itself has a western gold rush feel with traditional dark wood walls, a shotgun style layout, and of course a timeless old style bar. The walls should be classified as a museum to America’s favorite pastime, drinking beer. The brothers Martin have searched out and adorned the walls with classic old beer memorabilia to create a hopheads treasure trove. The layout gets you in the mood to enjoy a cold hopsicle or two and forget about the stresses of the day. Towards the back is the brew house and stairs to their roof top deck, the “Top of the Rock,” a hidden treasure that offers nice views and hopefully sun on your face.
The brewery is continually manned so you can watch the brewers through large windows as they work their fanciful fermenting magic to crank out top-notch brews. There are no scheduled tours, that would go against the Berkley vibe; this is a more free wheeling system, much like what the Martin’s envisioned years ago. The brewers are inclined to pull people into the brew house when they look interested or wave to them – what would you expect in the birthplace of free love?
The menu is straight up pub fare: nachos, loaded baked potatoes, wings, burgers and sandwiches. Their burgers are a legendary one-half pound of fresh ground, topped with a variety of toppings, and attended by delicious fresh hand-cut fries. For a town that has given the world such noted individuals as Timothy Hutton, Andy Samberg, Phil Lesh, Thornton Wilder, Bobby Seale and Phillip K. Dick, you would expect a great brewpub. Stop into Triple Rock to enjoy the beer and relax, you won’t be disappointed.
Triple Rock is located at 1920 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley, Calif. For more information call (510) 843-2739 or visit www.triplerock.com