Thursday, August 26, 2004
Food, sailboats, and small airplanes—sometimes they have a lot in common. For example, in all three, if you want to get from Point A to Point B, you rarely steer a straight course. If you want to sail from Moss Landing harbor to Monterey, you spend all of your time zigzagging (tacking) your way across the bay. When you fly a Cessna 150 from Watsonville to Hollister (almost directly east) you point the nose of the plane virtually north because the wind is blowing down the valley from San Jose so hard that if you took a direct route you’d be in Santa Maria in two hours.
Recently my friend Kimberly and I were toying with the idea of a Slow Food event where we would pair locally crafted cheeses with locally crafted beers—a change from the usual wine and cheese event. In Central California we have our fair share of award winning cheese makers (Cowgirl, Harley Farms, Oakdale, Bravo Farms, etc.), but we were having a hard time finding a microbrewery that lived up to the same standard. Then there was an art exhibit at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas.
After the exhibit, we decided to take a stroll through Oldtown. On our stroll we discovered The Monterey Coast Brewing Company. And thus our zigzagging quest for art led to the discovery of some fine beers, and later some good food to go with it.
It was only 10:56am, so we decided to have a beer for brunch. They were offering six beers to taste. No, we didn’t do a pint of each. They offer a 4-oz tasting glass, and they encouraged us to share tasting glasses, so we ‘knocked down’ six beers in only 24 ounces for less than $7.50. It was an interesting lineup.
American Wheat. Very light. Light on hops, light on body, what I think of as the Coors-style beer in their line-up. I’d love it after four hours of rototilling on a hot spring day.
Pale Ale. Their version of India Pale Ale, and a classic it is! It’s clean, with no aftertaste, and has everything you’d expect from a freshly-made, on-tap IPA.
Pilsner. This is their only lager (lagers are fermented under refrigeration rather than at room temperature; they’re more time-consuming to develop; also smoother, “cleaner”). The hops are a little stronger here. This is what most of us call “beer.”
Hefe Weissen. OK, the double ‘s’ in ‘weissen’ is really that funny looking capitalized ‘B,’ and the German name means something close to “wheat beer” (see above), but this really is a different beer. Like American Wheat, it’s light on body, but the hops are a little sharper and the flavor explodes with cardamom/spice/honey/floral (and I say smoky) flavors. This wheat-based beer lives right up there to a classic barley-based pilsner.
Scottish Red. This is their Flagship Beer. I agree with our serving person: this is their everyday winner. Rich, hoppy, full mouth-feel (“chewy”), and a real red color—hold a white napkin up behind your glass and see—this is the one! Not for the non-beer-drinker, but one sip will bring a smile to almost everyone else’s lips.
On the day of our visit, their Nut Brown Ale wasn’t available, but the Chocolate Porter was! Dark, clear, chocolaty, coffee-flavored, and not sweet. Lately I’ve seen a tendency toward sweet porters. No! The porter should be a counterpoint in taste to the sweetness of a dessert or a hand-dipped chocolate. This porter is a great way to finish a dinner (or in our case a brunch), or it would sit sweet on the stomach all by itself.
Pleased with the Monterey Coast Brewing Company’s beer selection, we returned for a meal a few weeks later. The menu is “American Eclectic,” and well-rounded, with offerings in beef, pork, seafood, pasta and salads. One appetizer of special note is a house-made spring roll with a Thai-style dipping sauce. The tri-tip is marinated in the Scottish Red Ale. Soup is made fresh everyday; on our visit it was a fine tasting creamy potato.
The kitchen does creative things with various types of aioli: classic garlic, zesty lemon, roasted red pepper, and so forth. The special on our visit was seared Ahi tuna served on a bed of fresh greens with the lemon aioli.
Sandwiches are served on house-baked foccacia—my crab cake with roasted pepper aioli sandwich was excellent. The dinner menu adds big steaks and chops but still is vegetarian-friendly. We didn’t try their desserts but many are house-made and looked delicious.
The ambience is casual without skimping on some of the smaller but much appreciated points of elegance, like cloth napkins. The dining room is literally a working brewery, with vats and plumbing along one wall creating a backdrop for a spacious wine-and-beer bar, across the room from an exposed red brick wall. The wine list contains a good selection.
Curiously, the Brewing Company offers some fine bottled beers. But why go to a micro-brewery and not taste the house-made product?
Entrées cost $8-$25 with most in the middle at about $15. A
pint of beer is $4. Appetizers are around $7 each as are the
desserts. They offer live music some nights of the week with
no cover charge; call ahead for details.
MONTEREY COAST BREWING
165 Main Street, Old Town Salinas