Jupiter's Cosmic Brews 

The Berkeley institution's house-made beers are put to the test.

If you know Berkeley, you know Jupiter. The patio, the live jazz, the pizzas, the Mediterranean olive plate: It's all here, exactly as you remember. So are Jupiter's house brews, ten in all. But the atmosphere at Jupiter is so fine — especially on the patio on a warm weekend evening, or a cold one under heat lamps, or near the ever-roaring fire — that casual diners could be inclined to overlook their beers in the haze of good vibes. It's understandable.

But what happens when you take everything out of the equation and focus on the beer alone? Any restaurant boasting ten distinct house brews should be up to the challenge. Not all ten are always on tap, pours come as twenty-ounce "ultras," and the bar doesn't offer anything in the way of a tasting flight. So eat a big dinner at home, sit indoors to insulate yourself from the judgment-clouding ways of that inimitable patio, and order from whatever they've got on hand. You may be surprised at what you find.

We started with the XHP: Xtra Hopped Pale (5.6 percent, $4.75). "This ain't your daddy's pale ale," the menu boasts. It's true. In fact, I would've pegged it for a straight IPA if I hadn't known what I'd ordered. The color is a cloudy golden orange, and the nose sweet and hoppy. Take a sip and not much changes: a floral, hoppy flavor that's light on the bitters and a bit heavy as it goes down. The only hint that you're dealing with a pale ale is the 5.6 percent alcohol content: a couple points below your average IPA. There's a catch, though: while as a pale it's impressive, as an IPA it's ultimately middling.

Naturally, we proceeded to the IPA proper (7 percent, $5.25). At first glance we were taken aback by its red color — a copper-amber cross. It held a sturdy half-inch head for the five minutes we kept it waiting, also promising. Plus it smelled nice: lightly hoppy, generally inviting. But that was it: The flavor was off, and the finish even worse — a bitter, awkward taste that came on strong as soon as the beer went down, and stuck around well afterward. We expected something more from an IPA employing Cascade, Columbus, and Chinook hops, but you know what they say about too many cooks.

Saving the best for last is always fortunate, consciously or not. Jupiter's porter (4.9 percent, $4.75) was a winner through and through: an opaque black color that spoke volumes, a chocolatey nose, a silky-smooth texture, and a complex yet straightforward flavor. It's the beer equivalent of a big slice of dense chocolate cake, with a foamy head of frosting on top to boot. Like its surroundings, it's full of character yet never overbearing.

Jupiter's other house beers include an amber, a red ale, a pilsner, a hefeweizen, a Kölsch, a lager, and a double IPA. Each has its niche and its devotees. Next time you're there, test your allegiances.

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