February 13, 2003 Written by Oristo
Orinda, CALIFORNIA -
The opening of a new brewery is generally a good occasion. When one opens on
the ocean in a great spot to visit, it's a great occasion. And it's even
better if the beer is good.
The Half Moon Bay Brewing Company recently completed the permit process and
started operation on January 19th, 2001. The restaurant has been open for a
while now and the bar has been serving a selection of the brewmaster's beers
but they were brewed at another micro-brewery nearby. Now, for the first
time since 1873, there's a brewery in a brewpub in Half Moon Bay.
Half Moon Bay is about half way between San Francisco and Santa Cruz.
Princeton, where the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company is, is just north of the
end of Highway 92 which comes over San Francisco Bay, through San Mateo, and
over the Santa Cruz mountains to the ocean. It's just off the Pacific Coast
Highway by the marina at 390 Capistrano Road. It's an easy run down the
coast highway from San Francisco and a short hop over the hills from Silicon
Valley. I've taken guests with a few hour layover at San Francisco to the
near-by Moss Creek Distillery (a restaurant famous for its ghost story and a
The new brew house was added to the existing restaurant in a building of its
own. Alec Moss, the Brewmaster, has a great place to work with a brand new
15 barrel facility, copper kettles and a collection of nice fermenters a few
feet from the serving barrels. He's presenting a seven beer line-up on draft
at present and they're bottling just one, the Mavericks Amber Ale. Alec was
patiently and passionately walking the guests through his shop, handing out
handfuls of malt to taste, and explaining the process.
We got a sampler in the crowded bar. It will be spacious and comfortable
when it's not filled with Grand Opening revellers listening to live music
from Andy Santana's Blues Band or watching the home team take the last step
to the Super Bowl. As it was, it was packed, loud, and great fun.
Alec's brewing a number of beers with an attempt to brew accurately to type.
We got the impression that he is most interested in balance, authenticity,
and drinkability. At one point, my brewing partner jumped up and ran out to
ask what hops were used in one of the brews and Alec was delighted we'd
I did my tasting badly "out of order." I started with the beers I expected
that I'd most like (the ales) and ended with the Hefeweizen and the Lager.
The three Ales were quite nice. The leader of the pack is the Mavericks
Amber Ale. Mavericks is the name of a surfing spot well off-shore but pretty
much directly out from the restaurant. It has big surf most of the time and
is a famous spot. The Amber is a nice big red ale with great color and
excellent balance. Very much an American Amber featuring recognizable
Cascade hops. I can see why he's leading his bottling business with this
The Pillar Point Pale Ale was also quite nice. Another American style Ale
with American hops. Many will find the hops too light, I suspect. There was
plenty of bitterness but it balanced well with a good malt flavor. The only
disappointment with this beer was a bit of softness (wetness) in the mouth.
The Brown Ale is very English. We noticed all the Maris Otter malt bags in
the brew house and Alec has a number of other English malts to support this
nice brew. He's using nothing but East Kent Goldings for hops and it comes
off very well. As a big fan of the style, I enjoyed this and plan on going
back to work on a couple of pints without the interference of the American
flavors in my mouth.
The rest of the lineup suffered by coming after those three. The Winter
Soulstice (not mentioned on the Web site) is a traditional spiced ale. We
puzzled over it for a while. Very nice but not our personal favorite style.
The Seabright Stout was a very sensible if uncomplicated Stout. Many will
complain about the lack of chocolate flavoring and other depth issues but it
was a drinkable beer that didn't insult the palate. The Sandy Beach Blonde
Hefeweizen came with a slice of lime over the edge which, when squeezed in
and stirred, made for a lovely weiss-bier that will be worth a taste when
summer heat rolls in again. The Lager suffered most by being last and of
least interest to us. We can't wait to see what the Lager-lovers say about
it when they go down to try it out.
The Half Moon Bay Brewing Company is a relatively new start for a property
that's needed some distinction to draw the crowds it deserves. There are few
prettier locations or nicer facilities in the Bay area or pretty much
anywhere. It's a bit far out for a casual stop-over but an easy destination
for locals or visitors. And, we felt it was worth consideration on a fine
day with a thirst for a worthy beer.