Maybe it’s the broad selection, maybe it’s the well-loved brewery tour, or maybe it’s just the sheer size of the place, but Pyramid Brewery (901 Gilman St., Berkeley) stands alone among Berkeley brewpubs. Even as Bay Area beer culture has grown immeasurably all around it, Pyramid remains the granddaddy, the go-to spot, the high-ceilinged temple to small-scale East Bay beer — despite the fact that it is neither small nor particularly East Bay, having been born in Seattle and purchased last summer by North American Breweries, a Rochester, New York-based conglomerate that also makes Magic Hat, Labatt, and MacTarnahan’s.
It makes sense: Pyramid is, after all, the kind of place that offends no one, awes no one, and is sort of blandly agreeable to all types of people. Decor-wise, this means polyhedron enthusiasts, fans of massive glass windows, and people who like quasi-industrial warehouse spaces; Menu-wise, it includes picky eaters, young children, and vegetarians — even non-beer-drinkers, with a wine list nearly twenty deep. As with its sister location in Walnut Creek, it’s friendly both to families, with an extensive kids’ menu, and to sports fans, with two big TVs (one for the Giants, one for the A’s — Pyramid doesn’t dare alienate anyone).
Last Tuesday evening, the restaurant was about three-quarters full, which is saying something in a place as big as this. We ordered the sampler: five tasting-size beers for $7.25. First up: the Apricot Ale (5.1 percent), a Pyramid classic. It smelled, honestly, like hand lotion — a sickly-sweet, unmistakably artificial apricot scent. But it tasted less fruity than it smelled, which is to say it tasted fairly dull, with a weirdly alkaline flavor and a flat finish. None of us would order it again. Next was Curve Ball (5 percent), described in Pyramid’s promotional material as a “deceptively delicious diversion,” which makes less and less sense the more you think about it. We deemed it wholly un-delicious, no subterfuge required — bland, watery, and served neither quite cold nor quite carbonated enough. “I could get this out of a can at the hardware store,” said my fellow taster, who apparently frequents much more exciting hardware stores than I do, but who nonetheless makes a good point. To be honest, I’d have trouble separating this from Natty Light had I not paid nearly two bucks for four ounces of it.
And so it went. The Haywire Hefeweizen (5.2 percent) was refreshing and slightly more flavorful than the previous two, but ultimately middling, and the Crystal Wheat (5 percent) was crisply sour, with an “off” taste. After all that, the Thunderhead IPA (6.7 percent) was a relative riot of hoppiness, despite being less bitter (and slightly less alcoholic) than most other IPAs. But my burger was decent, and the A’s won, so we left the East Bay’s beer temple neither disappointed nor wowed. When I got home, I looked up “deceptively” in the dictionary, just to be sure I knew what it meant: “To a lesser extent than appears the case.” So yes, a deceptively delicious diversion indeed.