It seems like only the day before yesterday that I visited the brand-new MIKKELLER BAR in San Francisco; actually, that's because it was. Yeah, I wanted to get there on opening night in early July and drink up all their Cantillon and Crooked Stave and Trappist Rochefort on draft, but due to various grown-up "commitments" and a bedeviling fortysomething inertia, I waited six weeks or so to get down there for a major rager. One of my associates warned me beforehand that I might be put off, as he was, by the price-to-pour ratio of the place, which is an operation overseen by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø of MIKKELLER and Chuck Stilphen of The Trappist (you may recall we interviewed the latter party here).
There's definitely some truth to that. It's a "Belgian-style" café all the way, with 25cl pours being the norm (that's about 8 ounces) and prices generally averaging about $8 and often much more. On the plus side, the beer dork selection is off the charts. Sours from all over Europe and the US; unusual and unheard-of imperial stouts; local breweries so tiny locals haven't even heard of them yet; and a bottle selection that truly did have something like 15 different kinds of CANTILLON, as well as loads of other notables – even some "walez". These, of course, are marked up double the retail price, as bottles-in-restaurants often are. Mikkeller Bar is a serious big boy's beer bar, and you'd better be ready to rip off a couple of twenties and not complain about it.
It's in San Francisco's Tenderloin, for over a century known to all visitors and locals as "the worst neighborhood in the city". This is seriously a first salvo at gentrification, and it may just work. It's close enough to the heavily-trafficked Market Street that you can sprint back there in case you're too nervous to walk the half-block gauntlet of human misery that takes you from Market to Mikkeller's doors. They serve food, and it's right at the intersection of "American microbrewery" and "European bistro". I had an upscale sausage of some kind, a "metwurst" I think they called it, along with a spinach salad and a bowl of kraut. It was good! The place is clean and loud, but not ear-deafening. I mostly could hear my pals when they talked, and my voice was only a little hoarse after 3 hours there. I recognized as least three people from various SF Bay Area craft beer establishments or festivals working there, so from what I can tell, they've hired some folks who know their ass from an endtable.
What did I drink? Why, I thought you'd never ask!
FREEWHEEL BREWING - "PALE ALE": Cheapest beer on the menu at $5 for about 12 ounces, and on cask, no less. This is brand new from a brand new brewer based down the road in Redwood City, CA. The cut of their jib is they serve English ale styles, and would you believe me if I told you this was fantastic? It's a "nutty" pale ale, with barely any discernible hoppiness and a clean, crisp taste. Alcohol barely there either. I swear it's nutty and roasty like a brown ale. Unique and delicious. 8/10.
DE STRUISE - "BLACK DAMNATION I - "BLACK BERRY ALBERT": Wale alert. Scores 100/100 on RateBeer. OMG. I had to bust open the cash reserves and order at least one thing that was totally overpriced, and I did that with this 13% ABV imperial stout, going for a whopping $13 for that 8-ounce pour. I'm not sure I'd do it again. Yes, it's a blackberry-flavored Russian imperial stout from Belgium, aged for a year in port barrels. I can hear a hundred bearded beer dork hearts a-fluttering right now. It's thick and fruity and quite tasty, yet truly not much in the way of outstanding. We'll go with a respectful 7/10.
TO ØL - "DANGEROUSLY CLOSE TO STUPID": Danish gypsy brewer, in league with his pals at Mikkeller and Evil Twin, and thus well-represented on Mikkeller Bar's menu. This imperial IPA was dangerously close to outstanding. Very big in the citrus department, and with a strong malty base to keep it all together. Not a scorcher at all, but a balanced and very delicious double IPA with some sweetness to boot. 8/10.