December 27, 2008

Santas Cruz & Claus

One last blog post to cap '08 and to wish you all a merry Christmas, happy Hanukah, wonderful winter solstice or festive festivus.

Having been preoccupied with a big move and the holidays, I'm 10 days delayed in writing about a killer event down in Santa Cruz. Huge thanks to Janet at Capitola Book Cafe for inviting me, for hooking up some great press and radio and best of all, beer-love from the local brewpub, Seabright Brewery!

So Half Pint and I hopped in my ride and headed down the 101 to the 85 to the 17 to Hwy 1. Since we were there, we got in a little air hockey at the Boardwalk and some of my hands-down favorite ice cream c/o Marianne's. 72 flavors from Irish coffee chip and Mexican chocolate to Horchata and Cardamom. Alas, I was too full to take up Janet on her offer of a Bavarian feast (brats, red cabbage...) at the cafe portion of Capitola Book Cafe, served in honor of a beer book reading! I did, however, quaff a pint of Seabright's Pale Ale, c/o Jason the brewmaster and Charlie, the owner. It wasn't my first time drinking their beer, as I found my way to the brewpub back in April after running the Santa Cruz half marathon, since I only run so that I can drink more beer.

Over 50 chairs had been set up for the reading and each one was occupied when Janet announced me after some upcoming author events including Nicolette Hahn Niman (as in, Niman Ranch) in support of her forthcoming, Righteous Porkchop. All I know is, everyone who bought my book at the store got free beer. If attendees at Niman's event get porkchops, I'm there!

So I took the stage, offered a toast to all who raised and didn't raise their cups, and generally enjoyed one of my best events yet. The terrific audience included everyone from college kids just starting their own beer odysseys (including Banana Slugs from UCSC and a pair of fellow Gauchos from UCSB) to homebrewers in the Central Coast Zymurgeeks club to Charlie Meehan, the who went from young homebrewer to seasoned brewery owner, as he's the guy who founded Seabright 20 years ago.

The Central Coast is vying to become a formidble player in the California brewing scene. There were already a few breweries in Santa Cruz County, and in the past couple of years, I know of a couple more than sprang up including Uncommon Brewers (whose Siamese Twin Ale--the first beer I know of to employ lemongrass--was going to be paired with Thai food, but its still in my beer-chiller for some reason) and Santa Cruz Ale Works.* The latter only has a few beers out (I remember picking up the Hefe last time I was in town) but has a couple more on the way. I know because the brewer, Marc, who started the brewery back in '07, offered me a bottle of his new Oatmeal Stout. Paired with my mom's chocolate chip pumpkin bread, it's an exceptional stout--creamy and rich--and makes me look forward to his next beer, which is currently aging in bourbon barrels!

Thanks again to Janet & everyone at Capitola Book Cafe and all the many cool beer people who came out.

*That asterisk above? Consider this a trailer or coming attraction for an upcoming post about the aforementioned beer chiller (thanks to Santa in the form of my aunt Terri) and my overall new living situation. Prepare for Beeradise.

December 13, 2008

Imported Beer (devising a way to blog about a crazy night of dancing)

Beer Odyssey is 99.9% about domestic craft breweries: their beers and my experiences with them. This is that other .1%.

Intro: Half Pint's birthday falls right around Christmas. As such, most people are out of town or too busy with family to help celebrate. Months ago, when she took me to my orthopedist for a broken ankle I suffered before my book tour, she spotted a Chinese restaurant next to the medical center, which is what happens when your cheapo health care provider puts you in the Chinese Community Health Care system. Anyhoo, there's a sign that's all in Chinese except for a few words in English:

"Dancing Night. $13 per person (including dinner). Live Bands with Top Singers."

Figuring people would be around 2 weeks before her b-day when she wouldn't expect it, and I've never thrown a surprise party before, I surreptitiously emailed a few of her friends. I basically said it'll either be great or it'll be so awful, it'll be great.

Skipping over the part how I finagled Half Pint to the restaurant, she was definitely surprised. I begged the host to let her do some karaoke before they cut it off since it was her b-day. We ordered way too much food. And as for how much Tsing Tao we drank? Let's just say our new friend at the table next to us, Mabel, looked at our bill and stormed into the kitchen to demand that the manager charge us the Chinese people price, not the other price, since it came to over $100. When she came back and realized they didn't gouge us--that we really had ordered that many beers, she said, "No wonder you guys are so fun."

I'll tell you what's so fun.
video
Line-dancing to the Pussycat Doll's "Don'tchya Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot LIke Me" with 50 Chinese seniors.

Unrelated, just to squeeze this in a post about imported beers, I stopped by the Toronado today to check out their bottle sale. Hardly a treasure trove of rare and aged beers, and none were at bargain prices (even the cashier kept announcing that some bottles could be found cheaper @ City Beer), but she did pour me a great taste of last year's Abyss (see previous post), and I did get a $12 bottle of a Belgian micro I'd never heard of, Serafijn, a golden ale called Celtic Angel. Read about the brewery and you'll see why it appealed to me.

Kong chien & Op uw gezondheid.

December 9, 2008

Twelve Beers of Christmas, c/o the Jug Shop

When it comes to living in San Francisco, one of the many things I’m grateful for is the abundance of specialty liquor stores, not that I buy all that many bottles of booze or vino. This may come as a shock, but mostly I scan the beer coolers. Such was the case when I popped into the Jug Shop at Pacific and Polk St, just around the corner from Half Pint’s apartment. Incidentally, despite living there for four years, she’d never scoped out the joint. Since we’re shacking up and it’ll no longer be the neighborhood beer store, I wanted to buy a bottle for the first time for old time’s sake. The proprietor sensed I was there for no mere sixer of Heinie and disappeared into the backroom only to emerge with a bottle of Deschutes’s Abyss.

Sold.

As I paid, the fellow (his name is Eric) let me know they were going to hold a winter beer tasting over the course of two nights. Yep, a tasting too big to be contained in one session. Not only would he be opening up winter warmers, he’d be be opening up TWELVE winter warmers. Not altogether, but EACH NIGHT, which is to say the 12 Beers of Christmas. Friday: Mostly Belgians. Saturday: Mostly domestic beers. Hooray for having a place to crash within stumbling distance!

I feel like I’m always apologizing to the Beer Geek Community, but while I am always down for trying everything, I’m no huge fan of certain styles of beer, from the uber bitter double IPAs to the pucker-inducing Belgian sours. So while I greatly appreciated the first session, I didn’t love most of them. Surprisingly, most of the samples were overtly malty with nary a trace of hoppiness. Pancake beers, because they were so syrupy sweet. What follows is the complete list of beers, the Jug Shop’s retail prices for 750 ml unless noted, notes and my personal rating on a 5-stein scale.

1. Scaldis, Prestige. $49.99. (Yep, fiddy bucks for 750 ml. Initial impression was all sugar, but nice piney finish, certainly spices up as it warms up.) 4 steins.
2. Brasserie Dupont, Avec Les Bons Voeux. $10.99. “With Best Wishes” from the brewery that brings us a stellar Saison, this guy was only lightly fruity. 3 steins.
3. Canaster, Winter Scotch ale. $15.99. I love Scotch ales. Having said this, this was too tart to be what I consider a Scotch ale. 2 steins.
4. Scaldis, Noel Premium. $?. Unfiltered, bottle-conditioned amber that put Mrs. Butterworth to shame. 2 steins.
5. St. Bernardus, Christmas Ale. $11.99. Ah yes, this is what I was hoping to find. This “living ale” can be aged for 15 years. I don’t often go for Abbeys, but this one begs for a fireplace and s’mores. 4 steins.
6. La Chouffe, N’ice Chouffe, dark winter beer. $11.99. At 10% ABV, the purported thyme and Curacao didn’t really come through over the Wall of Malt. 2 steins.
7. Goudon Carolus, Christmas. $11.99. Three hops and six spices and herbs. Just shy of the Colonel’s secret blend, but way tastier. If it was brewed in August and tastes this good already, would love to see how it tastes next winter solstice. My only 5 stein beer of the night.
8. Delirium, Noel. $11.99. One of the most popular Belgians of the season, the banana and pineapple notes jumps the gun. Crazy Belgians. 3 steins.
9. Affligem, Noel. $?. Why is this not a barleywine? Where are the hops, spices, fruits? Drowned in all that alcohol. 1 stein.
10. Samichlaus, Helles. $5.99 (for 12 or 11.2 oz). This is a Helles?? Tastes like malt syrup, honey, molasses, treacle, and finishes with some sap. Bring on the triple-crème brie. 1 stein.
11. Samichlaus, Bier. $5.99 (12 or 11.2 oz.) OK, so they age these for almost a year. My maple syrup in my fridge is that old and it doesn’t get any more complex either. This liquefied brown sugar is over the top, but would go with a Nutella crepe. 1 stein.
12. St. Feullien, Cuvee de Noel. $10.99. OK, at this point I was just pleasantly intoxicated and making friends with my fellow tasters. I gave it 3 ½ steins.

The next night was more my cup o’ tea. Or beer. And cider…since Eric saw fit to start the show with three ciders from Oregon, on top of the 12 beers of Christmas. Again, he supplied a print-out with info about the beers, but somehow I misplaced mine, but I think I can recall them all. Most were poured from 12-oz bottles out of six-packs, which I recall were mostly in the $8-11 range.

1. Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, Dry. No joke about the dry. Reminds me of New Belgium’s La Folie brewed with Brett. 3 steins.
2. Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, Semi-dry. Niiiice. 4 steins.
3. Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, Heirloom Blend. The sweetest of the three but with an interesting tang. 3 steins.
4. Sam Adams, Winter. Yeah, that’s right. Sammy. Nothing mind-blowing our crazy out-there, but it’s been forever since I’ve tried this and it’s straightforward that works for holiday beer novices. 2 ½ steins.
5. Moylan’s, White Christmas. On top of standard Belgian witbier spices like orange peel and coriander, they kept going, but possibly went overboard with the white pepper. Yes, it has a kick. 2 ½ steins.
6. Marin Brewing, Hoppy Holidays. I usually want my holiday beers to just pack the spice, but this offers up both spice and hops. Delectable. 4 steins.
7. Shipyard, Prelude Special Ale. Sort of a nutty red ale. For a hit-or-miss brewery, chalk one up for the Ringwood yeast. 3 steins.
8. New Belgium, Frambozen. It’s not that I can’t like a fruit beer. It’s that I don’t like this one. Tastes like a basket of raspberries that was left to ferment in your fridge plus hops. 1 stein.
9. New Belgium, 2 Below. Nicely balanced like if they were to turn an ESB into an ice beer. 3 steins.
10. Sierra Nevada, Celebration. Yep, lots of Cascade hops. 3 steins.
11. AleSmith, Yulesmith. What do San Diegans know about winter let alone winter beers? Quite a lot. 4 steins.
12. Anchor, Our Special Ale 2007. I’m a latecomer to Anchor vertical tastings of their Chrismas and New Year special ale, but I’ve been squirreling away a few bottles at home. I remember last year that the 2007 rendition didn’t do it for me as much as the ’06. Having said that, it has aged tremendously in just one year. Dare I say… 5 steins.
13. Anchor, Our Special Ale 2008. I was planning on cracking open the ’07 and ’08 at home soon. Jug Shop did it for me. I’ve already had the ’08 this year and loved the dark roasted malts and ginger kick. Having said that, the aged ’07 is now better. Silver lining: how good the ’08 will be down the road.* 4 steins.
14. Deschutes, Abyss. No, this isn’t technically a Christmas beer, but certainly holds up against any winter warmer. It’s an imperial stout, aged in French oak and bourbon barrels. Hells yeah. Remember how I started by saying I bought a bottle of this here last week? Upon tasting it, Half Pint made me buy one to keep for down the road. 5 steins.
15. He’Brew, Jewbelation. Again, I was too toasted at this point. But I’ve had this, uh, Chanukah Beer before and it does the trick. 4 steins.

*While there, I got a call from Jesse who was attending a beer club meeting hosting a phenomenal-sounding vertical tasting of Anchor X-mases, 1993-2008!!! Woe that I did not make it over.

Overall, both nights were excellent endeavors and drew a great crowd of experienced and newbie beer fans who all found great was to stave off Jack Frost from nipping at our noses, and livers.
Cheers.

December 7, 2008

Sideways (viva la Hopmonk)

Think Sideways and you're apt to think of that movie with Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. From now on, I'll think of the Dungeness crab dinner (the crustacean's lateral movement is a bit of a stretch, I know) at Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol, which, like the movie, is in wine country.
Because I had to head down to SoCal for Thanksgiving and a few book events, I've been remiss about updates, hence Jesse at Beer & Nosh beat me to this post. And all the photos below are his. Lastly, his beer dinner tasting notes are more on topic, since he loves crab and I can't touch the stuff, a point which bummed out our host, Dean Biersch, but didn't bother me because I love ordering off the menu there. (Yet somehow, I missed out on going up to the buffet table for the steamed artichokes, garlic buttered corn on the cob, and something involving sweet potato puree.)

What began as Dean's splendid idea to do a book signing there turned into another in their series of beer pairing dinners. For example, Half Pint and I spent election night at Hopmonk with fellow revelers all donning "I voted" stickers and enjoying beers brewed by Dean's long-time partner, Dan Gordon. As he says, "Never trust a skinny brewer." Pairings that night included their Hefeweizen + pork tenderloin medallions, Marzen + roasted duck & parsnip puree, and concluded with the deceptively strong Winterbock + gingerbread crepes. So really, I kid you not when I say that I love the increasingly popular beer dinners and that it's impossible to go wrong by partaking of one at Hopmonk.

As for the crabby one, guests were welcomed with a pilsener glass filled with my favorite house brew, the Kellerbier, an unfiltered pils. To accompany the potato gratin app, we were poured Anchor Liberty Ale. It may not knock the socks of Double IPA fans today, but Fritz Maytag debuted this beer back in 1975. Good luck finding anything remotely this hoppy back then, cowboy. That was pretty much the discussion Dean and I had as we all ate and the night turned into an exercise in face-stuffing, peppered with commentary on the beers by myself and Dean.
It didn't hurt that the next beer poured was New Belgium's Mothership Wit, another beer from the pages of Red, White, and Brew. New Belgium is renowned for eco-friendly brewing and to complement both the beer and the idea of sustainable cuisine, the meyer lemons appeared courtesy of Dean's backyard! My grandfather the citrus farmer would've been proud.

Speaking of citrus, the meal concluded with Brewery Rodenbach's Grand Cru, a sour belgian from the same brewery that New Belgium's brewmaster Peter Bouckaert hailed from before he hopped the pond. It washed down what I seem to recall was angel food cake drizzled in a citrusy reduction and kicked up by lemon flan. (Like I said, this was a beer dinner. All you need to remember is how much fun it was, not the specifics of what was served)