Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Beer + Hiking = Naturfreunde

Okay. Say you're in the Bay Area, it's not a weekday nor is it the second Sunday of the month, you're a little thirsty, and you don't mind a pleasant 1-mile hike (that is, unless you want to start in downtown Mill Valley and confront the 676 steps of the Dipsea trail) along the west face of Mt. Tam. Might I suggest a leisurely walk to the Tourist Club? The beautiful offspring of an Austrian hiking movement (the "Nature Friends"), this old mountain home is one of many hike 'n drink destinations established by some polka-loving folks back in the old country which can be found all over the world. And it's fabulous. In fact, I love this place so much, I almost regret making it more publicly known (and I wouldn't be shocked if the caretaker 86'ed me for chatting it up, either). Without further ado, a brief guide:
Rule #1: Be sure to bring some snacks, unless all you're craving are little German hikers' sausages (and trust me, I've seen met plenty of heavily-accented folks literally drool when they notice the display case). You'll want to "lay down adequate ballast", as Michael Jackson would say, to prepare yourself not only for the fine beers, but also for the walk back home.
Rule #2: Show some respect. This is a club, with private members. The members work very hard to keep the place running (you can go volunteer the second Sunday of any month or at the fests to see for yourself just what kind of upkeep the place requires) and rightly deserve table rights. Over the years we've seen the place turn into a venue for oversized parties to come and take the place over, make a mess, and create extra work for the members. It's not a bar, and the members are not there to serve you.
Rule #3: Make a donation. They don't accept tips (see above), but do expect a small contribution to the club per guest in exchange for your chance to enjoy a leisurely afternoon on their property.
Rule #4: Prepare your belly for some serious beerlove. This place pours a mighty (and mighty cheap) pitcher o' brew.
Not your average oasis.

For a time, the beer selection wasn't all that exciting. Maybe the Spaten Oktoberfest and something from SF Brewing on tap, and some bottles of Schneider Weisse and Aventinus [I'm not really complaining] in the fridge. My, how things have changed. One of the current residents has taken it upon himself to create a mighty beer cellar, and has succeeded in collecting some items which would amaze any fan of the craft.
On tap just this past week we found the stunning Wintertraum lager from Weltenburger (the cloistered brewery also responsible for the phenomenal Asam Bock) and equally yummy Einbecker Ur-Mai-Bock aside the ubiquitous [fill in blank with generic Munich brewery] helles lager. Bottled selections included a spiced German ale (outrage!) called Gose, which Randy Mosher calls a "spiced white ale", as well as (gasp!) a variety of Belgian ales. Not only did we get to partake in a 2001 Cantillon Lou Pepe, but also an outstanding apple witbier from Brouwerij Huyghe. That nameless brew - on draught, no less - from the brewery famous for its sleepy pink elephants, was apparently from one of 20 kegs to make it into the US as a test batch. Similar in design to Unibroue's apple Éphémère, it was as if it had been designed specifically for the task at hand - enjoying a perfectly breezy Spring day overlooking Muir Woods with family and dog after a 20-minute walk through fields of wildflowers. Lastly, we tried a Scotts ale called Alba, a delicious ale brewed with spruce and pine tips.
Of course, if you're tired of relaxing and need some excitement, you ought to attend one of their oompah-heavy fests. Oktoberfest is naturally the busiest one (to the point that they even keep the date a secret until about a week prior), with revelers stuck Hosen-to-Hosen while waiting for some of the 40 (!) kegs they go through. April, on the other hand, is nearly over, meaning a Maifest is sure to be around the corner. Heck, if you call, they might even tell you what day it's happening!
It's truly a hidden treasure for anyone who's up for a nice pint in the sun. So go, enjoy yourself, share snacks with the members, and keep it a secret from anyone who isn't wonderfully pleasant to be around.


Blogger Famine said...

Gah! Just reading "Dipsea trail" made my legs start shaking in fear.

3:49 PM  
Blogger carlotta V said...

I've heard of this place and wanted more Information. Friends from San Diego, CA made the trek and highly recommended. Thanks for the information it is very helpful. I am from the East Bay so I am lucky to be so close to this hidden gem.


8:05 PM  

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