The venue was the spectacular AT&T Park in San Francisco, the on-field protagonists were the San Francisco Giants and the Saint Louis Cardinals, the food match was a foot-long hot dog with extra mustard and sauerkraut, and my viewing companion – also making his live baseball debut – was the legendary David Cryer Esq of Cryer Malt and Beervana fame.

On arrival, I had procured two large plastic cups of fresh Sierra Nevada Pale Ale from the beer stand which was exactly 32 paces each way from our seats.  That stall was one of dozens dotting the massive concourse for our level alone.  Mr Cryer had been in charge of foraging and returned, as requested, with classic ballpark hot dogs which were, frankly, delicious. 

Settled in our seats with beers in one hand and dogs in the other, we felt like we could have passed for locals – even though no baseball cap invented could contain Cryer’s magnificent mane of hair.  Our illusion lasted right up until we opened our mouths and everyone in the neighbouring seats immediately said we were Australians.

It had actually not been that easy getting there.  We had previously been firmly ensconced in a craft beer bar and it was a bit of a last minute decision to take in the game.  Walking down to the park was a bit scary because the street scalpers, so shy and scrawny here, are jacked-up and gangsta-popping over there.  Bravely, we scuttled past without making eye contact.  After twenty minutes in line for tickets, we began to question our moral stance on illicit tickets.

Eventually, we reached the front of the queue at about the time of the first pitch, picked how much we wanted to pay for tickets and asked the teller to select the best seats for the price.  That seemed logical given we had never seen a baseball game before, far less been to this particular venue.  Our request clearly was not in the training manual and so she painstakingly started showing us every batch of seats in our price range around the entire ground but steadfastly refused to comment on the quality of any of them. [1]

Hearing the roar of the crowd inside at the first hit, I stabbed a finger at a promising section and we ended up with excellent seats above the first base line.  Inside, crowds surged up a giant circular walkway and hundreds of punters spun off at each level into concourses which looked like shopping malls with food, drink, merchandise and information stalls.  Despite my lemming-like navigational skills, the seats were simple to find.

One aspect that immediately struck me was the range of beer available at the game.  While the big signs were all Bud and Coors, there were plenty of stalls offering selections of boutique beers – in all, there would have been more than thirty beers on offer there.  The food selection was similarly broad with hot dogs joined by tacos, popcorn, steak, dumplings, skewers, lollies and much more. [2] It was a complete contrast to the often criminally limited range at New Zealand venues.

We had not deliberately chosen to sit so close to the Sierra Nevada tap but were both glad we did.  The beer was expensive – but then it always is at sports events.  At least came in a big plastic cup with a Giants logo.  I was so taken with this cup I carried it round for the rest of the trip in my luggage.  Leaving the US, everyone has to unlock their luggage so they can be searched and someone official at LAX removed my Giants cup – and only my Giants cup – from my case somewhere between check-in and loading the plane. [3]

Anyway, it was fun discussing beer with the people behind the stall who, once they got past their disbelief that anyone could have lived thirty-plus years without seeing a baseball game, were astonished to find we had tried Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in New Zealand.  My only regret is that they did not warn us that American ballparks stop selling beer at the seventh innings (out of a usual nine) which left us with a thirsty finish.  The game ended with the home team comprehensively losing to a decidedly average Cardinals team, much to the rather vocal disappointment of the fans.

The point of this Clarksonesque story is that the fresh beer at the stadium tasted nothing like the rather tired bottles which had reached New Zealand previously, usually by some very circuitous route and often near their use-by dates.  Today, the situation is hugely improved with more direct import routes and an increasingly availability of US craft beers in kegs ensuring the beer arrives in better condition.  Two US offering currently pouring at Malthouse are the classic Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and the intriguing Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was the beer which launched the modern American Pale Ale style.  Though there are now many beers which are hoppier and stronger, it remains the benchmark drinkable ale with juicy fruit notes and a wonderful balance.  The tasters at RateBeer certainly agreed with the Pale Ale lodged permanently in the top 10%.

Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin is a seasonal release from a well-regarding brewery in Paso Robles California.  Founded in 1996, they made their name in pale ales but also brew a range of seasonal releases, including this 5.5% oatmeal stout which has been partially aged in bourbon barrels.  Velvet Merlin also contains a welcome balance of US-grown Fuggles hops producing 30 IBUs.

Also highly ranked on RateBeer, Velvet Merlin is described by the brewery as “a decadent Oatmeal Stout brimming with cocoa and espresso aromas.  Partially aged in bourbon barrels, this beer features a rich, dark chocolate and roasted coffee flavor with a creamy mouth feel and wonderfully dry finish.  The addition of U.S. grown Fuggles hops contributes the perfect amount of bitterness to this exceptionally balanced beer.”

Swing batter batter batter swing!

[1] I have no proof but I am sure this had something to do with the litigious culture over there.
[2] It would seem the roving Peking Duck vendor at the baseball depicted in the Simpsons was either an exaggeration or it was his day off.
[3] I’m not bitter – this is only the third or fourth time I have written about it.


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine


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