Today is our fourth Session a.k.a beer Blogging Friday and the theme is something of a departure from our usual topic. This month’s host is the Gastronomic Fight Club from Omaha, Nebraska, and they’ve chosen “Local Brews” as the theme, describing his goal as wanting to “create a guide book of tasting notes to drinking local.”
As I often do, I decided to tackle the theme literally, and so I went to the closest brewery, which is Moylan’s, a mere 1.7 miles from my home (2.3 if you take the freeway) in Novato, California.
We moved to the town of Novato in northern Marin in late December, just over five months ago. We sold our condo in San Rafael for a small house, but one with a yard for the kids and no more stairs (our condo was on four levels. After a while, it began to feel like we were living in an Escher drawing.) Condo life was also impersonal, and we craved more of a community and neighborhood feel to where we lived.
Novato is a relatively small (population approx. 50,000) bedroom community with a small downtown area. It was only established in 1960, making the town one-year younger than I am! We live only two blocks from the main downtown street, Grant Avenue. In the few months we’ve been here, it’s been far more enjoyable than the three years we lived in San Rafael. We can walk to a lot of places, which is great. One place that’s a little far, unfortunately, is the town’s only brewery.
Moylan’s is located on the outskirts, so to speak, a part of our only really big shopping center, Rowland Plaza, along with a Costco, Target, Staples, a multi-screen movie theatre and many other chain stores. It was built and opened in 1995 by Brendan Moylan, a Novato resident. Moylan also opened nearby Marin Brewing six years earlier, in 1989. In addition to the brewpub and full pub menu at the brewery, there is also a production facility where Moylan’s and Marin Brewing bottle several of their popular beers in 22 oz. bottles.
I had thought about going to Moylan’ for lunch, but I just couldn’t get it together and so didn’t manage to get there until around four in the afternoon. At that late hour I didn’t expect anyone to be in the brewery itself, but happily Moylan’s new head brewer Denise Jones was still there. She recently replaced James Costa who left to work at E.J. Phair. Denise has been brewing commercially for many years and is probably most well-known for her years at Third Street Aleworks in Santa Rosa. She poured us a beer and sat down with me to chat.
I told her about “The Session” and this months theme as we tried the Pomegranate Wheat, a beer that James Costa first made last year. Denise had told me she’s been increasing the amount of fruit and lowering the IBUs so I wanted to taste the difference. Indeed, it did taste more “juicy” and had a nice sweetness that wasn’t at all cloying.
Next, I tried their ESB on cask, but unfortunately it was oxidized. Denise confessed they’ve been having a problem with the line and she’s working on fixing it. In the meantime, I also tried the ESB from a regular carbonated tap and also the nitrogen line. It was interesting to have the same beer from three different delivery systems. Oxidation aside, the cask version naturally was the smoothest of the three, though the Nitrogen one was a pretty close second. No matter how many times I try it, I’m amazed every single time how much better cask beer is, especially when you can do a direct comparison. Not that Moylan’s ESB was bad, but even the oxidized cask was almost preferable to the harsh, forced CO2 of the regular version.
Denise brought up one aspect of drinking locally that had not occurred to me before. She suggested that one reason people preferred their local brew was that it was made with the same water that was already familiar to them and that familiarity made it automatically taste more unconsciously recognizable and thus was preferable on a visceral level. It reminds me of the way your Mom’s home cooking tastes better, not because it actually is better than a five-star restaurant, but because it has that familiarity, a certain nostalgia perhaps, that makes it taste better than it really ought to. Given that water, like human beings when you get right down to it, are mostly water it does make a certain kind of sense. I’m kicking myself that it hadn’t occurred to me before now. Many beers are rightly famous in part because of what the local water source added to the beer’s flavor, but that would be true of almost everything affected by the local water, from food cooked in it to the simple tap water you drink day after day.
After a pair of session beers, I decided to go out with a bang and for my final beer decided on Ryan O’Sullvan’s Imperial Stout. It’s a style I’m already fond of and I’ve had the beer before but I don’t order it on draft often enough. It’s a mighty fine beer and at 10% abv packs quite a wallop. It’s thick and viscous, something on the order 10W-30, and very full-flavored with hints of berries and roasted coffee. It’s a great sipping beer that deserves to be enjoyed slowly so it’s ever-increasing complexity come through as it warms. It was a nice beer to finish with and I sat and savored it after Denise left for her commute home to Napa.
Here’s a list of all the beers Moylan’s currently has on tap at the brewpub. The descriptions are their own. A dozen or more of their regular and seasonal beers are also available in 22 oz. bottles throughout the Bay Area and Califoria generally, as well as parts of Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington.
BEERS CURRENTLY ON TAP AT MOYLAN’S
- Unfiltered Wheat – A Light and Refreshing American Style Wheat Ale. 4.5%
- Pomegranate Wheat – Tasty Unfiltered Wheat blended with Pomegranate Juice that makes perfect Summer afternoon treat 5.0%
- Extra Special Bitter – Our Traditional English Style Bitter. This one is served on Co2 for a slightly more bitter finish. Enjoy! 5.2%
- Moylan’s Special Bitter – Our Traditional English Style Bitter served on Nitrogen for Smooth Maltiness and a Creamy Finish. 5.2%
- Tipperary Pale Ale– Our Award Winning Classic Style Pale Ale. It’s slightly hoppy with smooth, subtle malty finish. 5.0%
- India Pale Ale – This American Style IPA is Slightly Malty with an aggressive Hop flavor crisp finish, that leaves you wanting another. 6.5%
- Moylander Double IPA – This Ale has received a score of 97 points and a rating of SUPERLATIVE at the World Beer Championships in Chicago. Huge and Hoppy, Thick and Hearty . . . not faint of heart! 8.5%
- Hopsickle Triple IPA – A homage to hops with an Ale that stimulates the taste buds with the blast of Tomahawk, Cascade and Centennial hops. 9.2%
- Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale – “FIRST PLACE CALIFORNIA STATE FAIR 2005 & 2006” Our Flagship Beer! Traditional Scottish “Wee Heavy” Ale is Big, Rich, and Malty, with a Warm Finish. 8.0%
- Old Blarney Barley Wine – HUGE malt flavors with a big hop kick, this heavy ale is not for faint of heart! 10%
- Irish Dry Stout – A classic Irish style dry stout. Rich and Creamy with a roasted character finishes smooth and dry. Served on N2 4.8%
- Imperial Stout – A Monster Stout with a Warming Smooth Malty Finish and Hints of Roasted Coffee and Chocolate. 10.0%
- Cask Conditioned Ales – Irish dry stout & extra special bitter.
You sound like you are ready to join CAMWA – the Campaign for Watery Ale – Jay. Good tasty water makes a good beer. I agree with the home well aspect but good water like in Portland Maine and Central New York state is also a reason to fall in love with a region’s brews.
I’ve been in Novato for 10 years now and can’t fathom life here without Moylan’s. We are so lucky that Brendan Moylan was able to snag Denise. She’s one of the best brewers in the country, and I think the brewing team there is learning a lot from her. Moylan’s also has some first-rate pub grub, knowledgeable servers and snazzy looking scccchhhwag. I’m not spewing this to stay on Brendan’s good side — I’m saying it because it’s all true and I’m really proud of all their accomplishments there.
The Session #4: Local Brews Round-Up is now posted!
Local Brews: A Field Guide