Denver, San Diego, Portland, Seattle, Boston, and in a few one horse towns in between, the magnet of new wave American brewhouses and tap rooms has proved irresistible. So much less concentration required compared with serious winery tastings. Not that I don’t take beer seriously – but more as serious refreshment. No swirling, sniffing and spitting involved.
Sonoma County in California, with its Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, is the laidback alternative to Napa. It’s the New World wine country of my dreams. If recent trips have involved dodging raging bush fires or coastal fog stifling the Pacific’s famous sunsets, well every paradise can slip into occasional purgatory.
But why would you name a signature beer after Sonoma, as Manchester brewers Track have? Could it be the presence in county seat Santa Rosa of Russian River Brewing Company, whose Pliny The Elder, technically a double IPA, is one of the most sought-after beers on the planet? For any geeks reading, it’s named after the Roman natural philosopher, one of the first to reference hops in his writings.
My own go-to West Coast IPA, on a less stratospheric level is Racer 5 from Bear Republic in downtown Healdsburg 15 miles north of Santa Rosa. Malty but hoppy, floral, resinous and bitter, it has always made me happy as did the original Bear Republic brewpub, now forced out of an upmarket tourist town because of running costs.
Clever Track Brewing Company in Manchester for opening their new tap room at Unit 18, Piccadilly Trading Estate, definitely not a tourist honeypot but, close to the equally revered Cloudwater at 7-8. I’ve loved their Unit 9 taproom as a cool space, but Track’s (see pictures below) has trumped it. It is quite beautiful. Seven years after launching in a Sheffield Street arch, and a succession of not quite appropriate bars, it has a home fit for its beers.
And at the recent launch Sonoma Pale Ale, as befits a beer synonymous with contemporary Manc beer culture, was available as both keg and cask.
I prefer it as cask. All my lockdown beer dreams were of hand-pulled real ale, hopefully through a tight sparkler. These came true when I interviewed Matthew Curtis about his Modern British Beer (CAMRA Books, £15.99). A superb range of Cloudwater beers were on the lines at Sadler’s Cat but I stuck to three pints of cask Sonoma, described by Matthew in his book as “A beer that revels in the softness of a smoother pour, while losing none of its strolling-in-a-citrus-grove character. Its gentle ABV of just 3.8% also makes it accessible.” No wonder it accounts for half of Track’s production.
Matthew was at the preview with us. Unlike Track founder Sam Dyson, who is laid up with a horrendous fracture sustained playing five-aside, and wife Mel, in the final throes of pregnancy. We toasted them royally in their absence across a beer range that is testimony to Sam’s love of hoppy American beers. And the Patel Pies residency provided the necessary ballast.
• If you love breweries with an on-site bar and great food check out another new arrival in Manchester, The Bundobust Brewery. And it does its own facsimile of Racer 5. Here’s my welcome to it.