One of the best beers I had in California. I packed up my case and jumped on the ferry to Larkspur to start the second part of my trip – Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg. It’s a short ride across the Bay; a welcome respite to walking. I’m sad to leave the city behind, the sun bathing it and bringing it alive, but I know there are more adventures ahead. On the ferry I read a beer magazine, flicking through pages about the best beers of the year so far. Before I know it, and just as my tired eyes fall shut thanks to the relaxing rocking motion, we pull into the terminal. “Go over the bridge and you’ll see it.” Mario tells me as I’m pulling along my heavy suitcase, loaded with bottles. Eventually my nose pulls me towards the beer, the smell of toffee and citrus in the air. I’d met the brewers three days ago, lovely guys, they said to come and say hi. Inside, on the left, is the brewhouse and Kim is busy brewing, the whole bar smells amazing, so inviting, a powerful inducer of thirst if ever there was one. “Sit down and we’ll sort you out some beers.” I take a flight, a small pour of each of their brews, and sip while ordering lunch – a burger, of course. Mario knows these beers and goes straight for the Point Reyes Porter. Pitch black, an impossibly neat and thick head. He smacks his lips and nods his head. I sip through pale ales and IPAs, a wheat beer, a barley wine and then onto the porter. It’s astounding. It’s 6% but fuller bodied than something double that, it’s all dark chocolate, coffee roast and sweet smoke. Every sip is more impressive than the last, better than the last. Lunch comes, a charred burger covered in cheese, a hugely satisfying mouthful of that is followed by the last sip of beer - the sweetness of the smoke, the depth of flavour in the beer just echoes everything good in the burger and bounces off of it, enhancing it. Kim comes back, he has a couple of bottles for us: “Here’s the Porter, we bottled it this morning.” We leave through necessity more than choice, in truth I could’ve stayed there all afternoon.
Back home and I’m missing San Francisco. It’s the post-holiday blues, thoughts of things I missed or places I should’ve returned to. The memory of that lunch, seemingly innocuous, a short pit-stop on the way to Lagunitas and Russian River, moved me to remember that bottle and open it at just 12 days old. This is a big award winner for Marin and when Kim handed over the bottles there was obvious pride that this was the first time he’d brewed it himself (“I usually do the stout, Arne [the head brewer] does the Porter... this is the batch that’ll be going forward for competition this year”.) It pours a gorgeous, thick black with a creamy sand-coloured head. It’s dark chocolate, nuts, a hint of milkshake, smoked bacon as it warms. It’s smooth, it’s bold, creamy, intensely roasty, a berry sweetness, a lactic edge, smoke, dry at the end, incredibly drinkable, incredibly good. They do a lot of good things at Marin. If you are in San Francisco then go to the ferry port at 12.25pm and you’ll be sitting in the brewpub by 1.10pm. Order a porter and tell them I say hi.
I wrote about brewpubs here. Marin features in a number of the pictures, including Kim, the brewer.