At the Eat Real Festival in Oakland’s Jack London Square on Saturday afternoon, crowds of people gathered on the waterfront, queuing up for $4 miniature sweet-potato pies and $5 citrus pork sandwiches on organic, brick oven flatbread. But in front of Bay Area Bikes, four cyclists had a different idea—riding gloves were slipped on, four helmet locks clicked shut, and the group rode away from the food festival to get an inside look at some of Oakland’s local food and drink makers.
The cyclists were decked out in vibrantly colored riding jackets; blue, purple, green and yellow sleeves flashed in succession as each rider signaled a turn with their left arm. The group headed up Embarcadero to its first destination—a behind-the-scenes tour at Linden Street Brewery, one of the craft beer providers at the Eat Real Festival.
This was the third annual Eat Real bike tour led by Karen Hester, an East Bay event organizer. For the tour and tastings, which included beer, chocolate, wine and tea, riders paid $40—or $30 for members of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition or Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, two cyclist advocacy groups.
Each year since the Eat Real Festival came to Oakland in 2009, Hester has led a bike tour of a few local food and drink shops. This year’s six-mile route included stops at Linden Street Brewery, the Oakland Chocolate Company, Urban Legend Cellars and Numi Tea Garden.
“I really love biking and eating and drinking local,” said Hester, who has also organized events like Bites off Broadway, a weekly food festival in downtown Oakland on 45th Street. Hester said that the first year she had the idea for a bike tour in conjunction with Eat Real, she approached the festival organizers, who told her to go for it. She contacted a few local business owners who said they would be happy to open their doors to the tour groups—and offer up a few things to taste as well.
“This is a much more intimate interaction with the people who make the drinks and chocolate,” Hester said, comparing the bike tour to the Eat Real Festival. “People can find out why these owners have a passion for having this artisanal product.”
The four cyclists pulled up to Linden Street Brewery, situated in an old brick warehouse near the Port of Oakland. Inside, owner Adam Lamoreaux poured glasses of the Burning Oak Black Lager as he explained the process of making beer, from malt to the bottle.
“All the magic happens down here,” he said, leading the way to the brewing area—a space filled with shiny metal tanks, brick walls and a wet concrete floor. Conversation was layered with sounds of bubbling liquid and the buzzing of the open-top fermentation tank, which would have been used to make beer in the 1890s and is still being used by Linden Street today, Lamoreaux said .
Linden Street launched a new beer at Eat Real this year called the Town Lager, a light golden draft pronounced “refreshing” by tour leader Hester after her first sip. Lamoreaux said they expected to go through about 30 or 40 kegs this weekend for the festival.
As the tour continued, Lamoreaux’s co-worker loaded three kegs onto a bicycle/trailer hybrid and pedaled down the road towards Jack London Square to make a delivery.
“Our Town Lager will only be delivered by bike,” Lamoreaux said, to encourage more people to bike rather than drive. He poured cups of the new brew for his guests, filling a pitcher directly from the tank.
“Now, that’s a fresh draft,” he said.
The next stop was the Oakland Chocolate Company on Helen Street. Owner Nancy Nadel, who is also on the Oakland City Council (District 3), opened the garage door of the facility so the group could park the bikes inside. The smell of chocolate pervaded the garage.
“It smells so good!” said Nancy Mueller, 62, an Oakland resident along for the tour. Mueller and her husband Robert bought five different packages of Nadel’s Jamaican chocolates.
Nadel showed the kitchen she shares with Barlovento and Vice Chocolates, where she has been making chocolate, using only beans from Jamaican farmers, since 2007.
“I try to do something new every month, so I don’t get bored,” Nadel said. She has made everything from hibiscus tea-flavored chocolate to coconut ginger treats. A chocolate sampler was laid out for the group, featuring rounds of milk and dark chocolate, and a Jamaican almond cluster.
After the cyclists had their fill of chocolate, it was on to Urban Legend Cellars, where owner Steve Shaffer offered six different wines for tasting. The wines were all made on site, which is part of the philosophy of an urban winery, Shaffer said. The grapes are transported, he said, rather than the bottles.
After Shaffer served the Sauvignon Blanc—made with organic grapes brought in from California’s northern Lake County—Hester, as group leader, requested a “spitting lesson” to teach the cyclists the proper way to taste wine without swallowing it. This way they would not be too impaired to bike safely, she said. The next five glasses included reds, a rosé and a 2008 Sangiovese with a “hint of smokiness” that came from a forest fire in the spring of 2008, the aroma of which the grapes absorbed, said Shaffer.
The Muellers left with three bottles of wine securely tucked into their handlebar bags.
The last stop on the tour was Numi Tea Garden, on Livingston Street, farther east along the waterfront. Tea garden general manager Joe McKinnon sat down with the group and their mugs of tea to explain the history and mission of Numi, which began in Oakland in 1999 out of the owners’ apartment. Numi has expanded quickly since then, he said, and the company’s products are now sold in every state and across the globe.
But the tea house, a peaceful oasis in a converted warehouse, is unique to Oakland. The pipes, now painted red, are still visible along the walls above ceramic-tiled tables and water fountains.
McKinnon offered a complementary box of Numi organic tea to each rider. Corry Dodson, 40, who lives near Lake Merritt, attempted to strap the tea box to the back rack of her bicycle with a bungee cord. “Take this,” said Hester, offering up a roll of clear tape. “A good organizer always has tape.”
With her tea secured, Dodson followed the group out of the parking lot and onto the road.
At the end of the four-hour ride, Hester led the group back to Jack London Square and the Eat Real Festival. “We begin and end at the festival,” Hester said. “This ride is a small, more intimate thing to burn calories and have some fun.”
You can read Oakland North’s coverage of the 2011 Eat Real Festival here.