On Sunday night, Jenny, Marke and I hit the Trappist, an homage to all that is good and true and serious about artisan brewing. Of the world's Trappist monasteries, half a dozen or so (mostly in Belgium) produce beer, and they are revered among beer drinkers around the world.
The tiny pub is another notch in Old Oakland's big hipster belt; a promise that it won't be long before the neighborhood is the East Bay's answer to urban chic. I already buy raw-milk brie and designer denim there. What's left?
Like the recent crop of specialty wine bars, the Trappist is one of three Belgian beer bars in the news of late. LaTrappe recently opened in North Beach, and the Monk's Kettle is hopping it up in the Mission District. Those who long associated Belgian beer with fries and curried ketchup at Hayes Valley's Frjtz have much to learn. Good thing the Trappist delivers.
We walked into the narrow, brick-walled bar and immediately felt the vibe owners Aaron Porter and Chuck Stilphen are going for. Housed in an 1870s Victorian building, the space reminds me of the tiny pubs I've stumbled upon in European cities. Clean and masculine, rare beer posters and framed black-and-white Prohibition-era photos cover the walls. It's about as far from a Cali beer bar as Brussels itself.
The bar features three modern retro taps (15 rotating beers ranging from $4 to $8) and a wall of refrigerators storing more than 120 bottled beers, most of the reserve and hard-to-find Belgian, Dutch and French variety. There's a smattering of American offerings, including the Linden Street Common Lager, a steam beer brewed right in Oakland. All the beers are lovingly served at the brewers' recommended temperatures and in their proper glassware. I felt a tinge of pity for my wine collection gathering dust under my bed.
At the bar, stools sit atop a checkerboard floor that leads to a dark cherry wood mid-room with four tables for two. Capacity is a humble 49, and at 8:30 p.m. on a Sunday, we were lucky to score one of two barrel tables in the back room. The space opens to wrought-iron French-inspired doors, and is quiet enough for a serious round of cards or chess. I was able to vent about a breakup with ease.
To the hushed tune of the White Stripes, the three of us geeked out over the leather-bound menu, spotting microbrews we recognized and reading tasting notes aloud. I was in heaven. Half an hour later, we were ready to order. We went family-style, requesting enough glasses for each person to try everything.
From the bottles, we selected the Malheur 10 (750 ml, $18), a medium-bodied golden-yellow "living" ale bursting with rose-on-the-nose and citrus flavors on the palate. It was gorgeous. Marke, the beer expert among us, preferred the St. Bernardus Abt 12 (750 ml, $18), a rich brown ale from this 60-year-old brewery that was incredibly smooth and creamy with notes of toffee.
Call it a knee-jerk, but Jenny swirled it and I swished it around in my mouth. We swore this and the amount of breathing time the beer had enhanced its flavors. Marke reminded us that it wasn't red wine, but that the warmer temperature might allow the subtle flavors of complex ale to come out. Cool.
The true learning experience -- and the best deal -- came with our draft sampler. Four beers on tap for $12. The larger bottles are fine buys for sharing, but this flight gave us a taste of what the Trappist offers at a steal of a price. If you're flying solo and looking to sample a range of styles, these smaller glasses are the way to go.
None of us cared for the Oud Beersel Framboise Lambic, finding it too sour on the nose and finish, but with a nice berry entry. I enjoyed the Carolus Triple, a light, hoppy brew, as well as the Petrus Dubbel Bruin, a fruity, smooth, easy-drinking beer clocking in at only 6.5 percent alcohol.
Marke's favorite beer, hands down, was a creamy, well-balanced, coffee-tinged brown ale called the Val-Dieu Grand Cru. The abbey of Val-Dieu was built in 1216 by Cistercian monks and remains the only non-Trappist brewing abbey in all of Belgium. If you like Port, give it a go.
Jessica Yadegaran profiles bars, clubs and similar hangouts in the Bay Area. Reach her at 925-943-8155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.