Still, I shoved aside one hobby for another, rolled the motorcycle out of the garage, geared up, set the choke and pressed the starter. Spark plugs fired, the engine caught, then sputtered and died. I tried a second time, it sounded as if it were flooded. After more thought than it should have taken, it dawned on me that this March day was already warm enough that there was no reason to apply much, if any, choke.
My son and I hadn’t really decided where we might ride, just that we would. But Sean’s suggestion of the Russian River Brewing Co. had lodged in my head, so we headed out Hwy 37, skirting the northern edge of San Pablo Bay (which is part of and north of San Francisco Bay), through the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge — a significant destination on the Pacific Flyway — and along the southern reaches of the Sonoma and Napa valleys. A cloudless sky and migrating birds looked down upon us.
It was good to be in the saddle again, and though we’ve ridden together less than either of would probably like, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve developed enough awareness to anticipate each other and communicate simple messages through hand motions. A bit of this signaling after we passed Infineon Raceway (the old Sears Point) had us heading north toward Petaluma, past green fields dotted by sheep and their lambs. The last dozen miles or so were the least enthralling; this section of Hwy 101 just south of Santa Rosa is always at some stage of
deconstruction, and the redwoods on either side of the road always seem dusty, dirty and thirsty.
Soon enough we pulled into the free public parking (bonus!) offered for motorcycles, which just so happened to be behind the Russian River Brewing brewpub. Winding out way past the bar and through the tables, it was immediately clear that this is a popular place. (I’d later find out that, unless you’re a diehard triple IPA fan, stay away when the brewery releases its ‘Pliny the Younger’ — some folks wait up to five hours in line for the new batch of BeerAdvocate’s top-rated beer for 2009.) We tossed our names at the hostess, stashed the coaster-style pager and gulped down a few glasses of ice water.
The pub is appropriately dimly lit, and the dark wood throughout quickly absorbs any sunshine that makes it past the crowd drinking and generally carousing out front. We were seated about halfway between the front and back of the place, and I had an unobstructed view of the tap menu. We’d learn that the left side tended toward ‘aggressively hopped’ beers; the list to the right was comprised of Belgian-inspired ales and barrel-aged (sour) beers. Selecting the beers in your flight is easy: pick one list or the other or both. It was an easy compromise — I was paying after all — and we opted to try the ales and barrel beers, to be accompanied by a ‘Piaci’ pizza (mozzarella, marinara, gorgonzola and pine nuts) and some hot wings.The grub was pretty darn good. The beers were crazy good. Our tasting included Redemption (blonde ale), Perdition (bière de Sonoma), Sanctification (blonde ale brewed with Brettanomyces yeast), Supplication (sour aged in pinot barrels), Defenestration (hoppy blonde ale), Damnation (golden ale), Damnation #23 (golden ale, triple aged with oak chips), Temptation (sour aged in chardonnay barrels), Salvation (strong dark ale), Consecration (sour aged in cabernet barrels) and Collaboration (IPA style). Only the Consecration was not to our liking, mostly because the cabernet seemed give the brew an overpowering sweetness.
Our favorites — at least mine — included Sanctification (uniquely tart but crisp), Defenestration (a clean blonde with a hop finish that didn’t linger or kill the taste buds) and Damnation #23 (a full-bodied, semi-spicy golden ale offset with a bit of oak). Thankfully, the sample glasses were 2 ounces, and we lingered over bites of the pizza, the gnawing of the hot wings and discussions of each beer.
A few hours later, well rewarded for the hour-long ride there, we started up the bikes and headed east toward the Sonoma Valley, offloading some beer along the way. After a while, Sean peeled off the main road and I stopped to refill the tank (42 mpg) before the final few miles to home.
Perhaps it’s time to think about hunting steelhead on the Russian River; any unsuccessful day fly fishing could be brightened with a visit to this namesake brewery.