If you've followed along you know that I was in Northern California over the holidays. I visited The Rare Barrel, an upcoming all sour brewery in Berkeley. My brother and some of our friends live in the Concord and Walnut Creek area so we visited ØL Beercafe a couple times in a short span of three or four days. The place is new(ish), I think it's about a year old, I hadn't heard of it till my friends brought it up although I think it's well-established itself as a fantastic beer spot. I'd like to share a bit about my experiences.
ØL is located on the outskirts of downtown Walnut Creek, which is a well-to-do town with nicer shops than you'd see in some the neighboring town malls. I would imagine that it would be hard to place a bar in the area without it catering to the local tastes and so the sophistication brought to the table by ØL is a good match. The space is homey, but not like a dark pub, there's plenty of light that comes in and it's easy to get comfortable with a small group of friends.
The beer list is awesome, eighteen taps with a great selection from Denmark and Belgium, a few local IPAs and Belgian-style beers. We drank St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, the To Øl Snowball Saison, a wild ale from Haandbryggeriet and a number of other fantastic foreign beers...on tap! They had a few hundred bottles as well, all of them were impressive. I drank a bottle of Drie Fonteinen Oude Gueuze. We also cracked open a North Coast Barrel Aged Rasputin when my friend announced that his wife was pregnant. And we had a few others as well.
Perhaps what stood out the most to me about ØL was the amount of respect the servers had for the beer. When we ordered a bottle, we were asked how many glasses we wanted, the bartender opened it in front of us with a gorgeous presentation and slowly poured the beer. From the taps the glassware was different for every beer, glasses were wiped and washed off before they handed it to us. In general I felt that the amount of care given to the beer was similar to what you might expect at a high end restaurant ordering expensive bottle of wine for two people. It was lovely.
We were there for a few hours and we got to see a lot of people come and go. Many looked like they were on dates, many were dressed much nicer than we were. This isn't your average pub where you go to quaff pints. I like both types of bars, although I must admit I prefer the dark pubs usually. Perhaps what impressed me most of all is that I think the bar has really played into the characteristic of the surrounding town. How are you going to get more affluent people interested in beer? You redefine the experience of drinking beer and you provide some of the most special beer you can get. This is exactly what ØL has done, and they did it in a way that I've rarely seen. The beercafe feels organic and it feels like a staple, I will certainly head back whenever I'm in the area.