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A Firkin Good Time in Berkeley
By Mike Pitsker

I’ve been working in and around Berkeley for many years, both in and out of the beer biz, and I’ve always enjoyed Triple Rock Brewery. It exudes Berkeley from its pores. From the focaccia sandwiches made in the tiny kitchen to the ancient wooden beer cases decorating the high shelves throughout the pub to the sometimes creaky hardwood floors, this place screams “Berkeley!”

Brewmaster Christian Kazakoff fits right in. He brews real Berkeley beer; it’s heady and thick, belts you with its presence and kicks you in the taste buds. It often bears strange names like Bug Juice Ale or Tree Frog Ale — to save the little buggers in true Berkeley spirit — and it never fails to please.

The same can be said for the annual festival that Christian has masterminded. It occurs late in March within the pub itself, features real ales from the Bay Area and beyond and offers the closeness for which Berkeley is known. On a Saturday in late March, the narrow pub was lined with folks sipping and comparing cask-conditioned ales as servers dashed between lounging clusters of samplers and pourers flitted between gravity-fed kegs.

Triple Rock Brewery exudes Berkeley from its pores.

No less than 27 firkin-kegged beers were available for sampling, and I couldn’t pick a front runner. I had to choose by category, and even then I had my difficulties choosing favorites. In the light(er) ale category, I liked Marin Brewing’s Star Brew. English Ales’ Brothwick’s Best Bitter proved the favorite in the ESB line. Ambers and reds were impressive, but I liked Lagunitas Imperial Red and Iron Springs Epiphany Hoppy Amber. In the IPA category, Firestone Double IPA and Kelley Brothers French Cabernet Oak IPA were my favorites, followed closely by Triple Rock Punched in the IPA (there he goes with the clever names again).

Among the dark brews, I preferred Drake’s Chocolate Milk Stout and Third Street AleWorks Dry Irish Stout. In strong ales, Beach Chalet XXX Old Ale and Russian River Pliny the Younger finished my list of favorites. The rest of the field was just as strong, and all the brewers performed commendably.

At small fests like this one, I’m always pleased to see old friends and meet new ones. Upon signing in at the door, I immediately ran into the Celebrator’s own San Francisco columnist Bob Coleman conversing with Marin Brewing’s head brewer, Arne Johnson. The Tied House master of ceremonies and other dirty business, Peter Cogan, arrived shortly, along with 21st Amendment founder and Head Brewer Shaun O’Sullivan. I met Denise Jones, head brewer for Third Street AleWorks, for the first time. I spent a good deal of time speaking with Sierra Nevada brewer Nick Ison and his wife, Cherry. I even had a chance to wave at Russian River owner and brewer Vinnie Cilurzo.

Small fests are fun. They offer an intimate atmosphere and tend to draw more local product and people. And making friends is a big part of the ticket price. Visit Triple Rock Brewery and Pub on Shattuck in downtown Berkeley or log on to triplerock.com and stay in the loop.

Triple Rock Brewery and Pub
1920 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94704

Mike Pitsker is an associate editor of the Celebrator Beer News and a longtime beer-industry professional.


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