I moved away from the California Bay Area some 15 years ago and the craft beer scene was non-existent. I worked in Concord. Never far from awesome Mexican food and a decent skate spot, but palatable beer couldn’t be found at any bar, pub, or grocery store. Skip ahead all these years and the craft beer scene explodes! The Bay is now filled with craft beer establishment-a-plenty. Breweries are within a growlers toss from each other and are churning out some outstanding brews. But like those dive bars that hipsters claim to love, some establishments strike a chord and hold a special place in people’s hearts (or hahts if you’re from Boston). To be honest, there are many in my heart, but I want to talk about E.J. Phair Brewing in Concord.
To start, let me just say that you only get one first impression and they do first impressions very well. The warm atmosphere of their Concord restaurant is that of a classic brew pub with a touch of pre prohibition flare coming from the sturdy woodsy decor throughout and gold bar fixtures. Its familiar in a homey way, like its a place you have been before even if its your first time, and what’s better than having a beer at home with your familia?
Now for the beers, starting with their flagship IPA, the Face Puncher. The aromas from the malts emanating from this brew are laced with a lovely sweetness that can only be achieved through all grain brewing and they are accompanied by a subtle smack in the palate from the hops. There is awesome balance between the two and it makes this IPA dangerously drinkable at 6.6% ABV, especially when enjoying some of their deep fried bar food which at times can border on unique. And lets face it, unique and deep fried are rarely paired together. This is as solid as any go-to brew, good even for breakfast. Not that I’ve ever had a Face Puncher for breakfast… I’ve had a Face Puncher for breakfast, no judging. There is a sentimental and familiar quality to this beer that contributes to my affections for it and with that I give it a 7.75/10 on the UrD scale. That’s Oregon territory.
The rest of the lineup consists of classic interpretations of the basics like the Plankwalker Pale Ale. Again the balance of malts and hops is what makes this beer so enjoyable. Its like, seeing the whole band is always better than just seeing the lead singer’s solo show. A good beer isn’t just one star, its ALL the components coming together to create the hits. That appears to be the theme with E.J.’s brew style, and I dig it. While the Plankwalker is a tame beast at 5.5% ABV, it will sneak up on you as three or four tend to go down smooth and without incident. 7.25/10 UrD.
Their other bottled beer is the Shorty’s Revenge which is an English strong ale (which is another way to say session barley wine). While this one is good, probably slightly better than middle of the road, it doesn’t have the balance of their Face Puncher and Plankwalker. and truthfully, thats what you look for in a strong ale. You’re not having a Shorty if you want a hop smack or a refreshing yeasty Belgian exhale. You’re having one because you want a little imbalance, both palatizing (I made that word up) and intoxicating (did not make that one up). I get the powerful malty nature of this brew throughout and the hops play a solid cowbell (though I could always have more cowbell). At 7.75% ABV it will take its vengeance out on you and your little dog too. Shorty comes in at 7/10 on the UrD.
They always have something new whenever I visit the Concord public house and I am always excited to see what they’ve cooked up. Their last couple double IPA’s have been pretty decent, and their double dry hopped Forklift Roadtrip IPA was off the hook or rocker or chain or whatever the kids are saying these days, it was off that. The point is, the excitement of trying new beers as well as the tried and true favorites at your local brewery should be what this whole craft beer revolution is all about, and I have that at E.J. Fair Brewing Company. Support your local brewery dammit.