December 6, 2011

Portland Year Anniversary


It dawned on Half Pint & I that it's our one-year anniversary in Beervana. How exciting is that? The first thing I did once we landed was go to the Holiday Ale Fest, which is how I knew--finding myself sampling amazing winter warmers 'neath the heated tent city in Pioneer Square again--that it was time to start doing everything as a Portlander for the second time. Including layering and drinking winter warmers for the warmth and not just because they're so delectable.

As Portland approaches 50 breweries, probably by late next year if you count the surrounding nanobreweries, I've still barely hit half of them. Same goes for the beerfests, of which it seems there are already more than 50. Not that I'm complaining.

And of course, one fun way we found to participate in all things Brewtopia is by having launched Inn Beervana (also found on VRBO). More on this in forthcoming post, but suffice it to say, operating a B&B (Bed & Beer) is a fun way to welcome beer pilgrims to town and point out all the prime beer spots near us in the Southeast.

Having said all that, I suspect my local beer consumption might take a nosedive in the coming year with the arrival of our firstborn. Maybe that's why I've been championing smaller, responsible packages such as 375ml half bottles, stubbies, and 189ml nips. Follow our love of nips, too.

With that said, hope y'all had a great 2011 with an even better and beerier 2012 in store.

August 25, 2011

Special delivery beer pairing: Black Raspberries and golden apples

Full disclosure: Many bloggers receive free beer in the mail, then review it, but fail to mention they're reviewing complimentary samples. Not me. Sometimes I request samples for my stories; sometimes they're just sent. Lately, in addition to receiving emailed press releases about beers, I'm getting releases from various food publicists. These foodstuffs showing up on my doorstep is fun, but the publicist had nothing to show for it. I've never blogged reviews. Til now. Here's the second in my series of food sample + beer pairings*. (*IF the suggested beers are comped samples, I'll disclose that.)

My first and only visit to Cincinnati, like every trip, is forever associated with the food I ate. There are two classics that correlate to Cincy: Cincinnati chili (a la Skyline, Dixie, or Gold Star) and Graeter's Ice Cream. Everyone has a hands-down favorite among the former (after trying them all, I indeed have a favorite but ask me in private so as not to enrage particular friends there). As for Graeter's, I have a favorite flavor there, too, and it's oddly not my all-time flavorite (which is Mint-Chip): it's their Black Raspberry Chip. No surprise it's their top-seller.
This is premium stuff (and not just because the Mint Chi
p is not artificially colored). When my pregnant wife had a craving for coffee ice cream, the Mocha Chip hit the spot and her hormonal taste buds are prone to being disappointed rather than constantly enamored. I was equally fond.
When it comes to pairing ice cream and beer, the knee-jerk is rich creamy vanilla with equally rich yet chocolaty stout. Enjoyed side-by-side or increasingly popular as a float, I dabbled with both, selecting the unfortunately-named Dick's Cream Stout. Dick (Young)'s Brewery from near-ish Centralia, WA is ultra smooth and what I like about pairing with it is that since it's not particularly boozy (5% ABV), it keeps the float refreshing. Woe that we don't get Dick's Root Beer in Oregon, I selected the local Crater Lake Root Beer simply because it's local and natural. Fortuitously, the strong vanilla bean flavor drowned out the root beer's toothpastiness from it's trumped up wintergreen. If you think you're sensing a theme, you are.

Craft ice cream, just like craft beer, is best enjoyed provincially. When consulting with one of the founders of the forthcoming Cincinnati Beer Week, I recommended partnering with Graeter's to do a series of floats and pairings. (Let's see if they're game.) I hesitate to say ice cream needs to be fresh since, hello, it's frozen, but whereas eating Graeter's in Cincy or even anywhere in the vicinity of Ohio/Kentucky is a must, I'm not sure the benefits of distributing a flavor like Vanilla to the West Coast. Julie's and Alden's are excellent locally made vanilla ice creams and cost about the same a pint of Graeter's. (For a tragi-comedic story, click on BonAppetit's "Supermarket Standoff" where someone judged the winner because, in his or her words, "I like seeing the vanilla flecks."

The kicker here is that I heartily recommend rushing out and trying the Black Raspberry Chip. The berries are sourced from, where else, right here in Oregon! Why have I never seen a raspberry chip ice cream here before? If I'm going to eat a fruit flavored ice cream, it's gotta be something special. I love strawberries but can't stand most of this pink concoctions. Graeter's succeeds by making it almost taste like gelato. It's both true to the puree as well as immensely creamy, and really, what ice cream isn't ameliorated with chocolate chips, or in this case, shavings? To pair with it, rather than go with a difficult beer pairing that would play well with the fruit, the chocolate, and the cream, I went with an apple cider from Eaglemount. Several varieties showed up on the shelf at Belmont Station and I was relieved the simple yet sophisticated packaging (swingtop, too!) didn't belie the contents. The fact that the cider was decidedly fruity yet crisp and dry helped jar my palate without piling sweet upon sweet. Perhaps not as healthy as eating a fruit salad or apple-raspberry smoothie, but the pairing made for a light-feeling dessert and is anything but expected.

Beer roulette

I hate Las Vegas. I used to find myself going every year at least once, usually for Punk Rock Bowling, but ever since the organizers moved the weekend and I moved farther away, I've seldom been back. I hate the cigarette smoke, I hate the fact that you get what you pay for when you get the $2.99 b-fast, and I hate that I was clearly addicted to gambling. Case in point: I hit rock bottom when a friend duped me into driving out to Lost Wages a few presidential elections past ostensibly to canvas, but it just so happened to be Halloween and he dragged me to a bunch of clubs. Let's just say he had a good time and I couldn't wait to get back home. So when I missed catching the Greyhound to leave a day early, I consoled myself at Binion's and tested my "fool-proof" way to win at roulette. Here, I'll share it with you. Figure out how much money you want to win and bet it on red. Or black. Or whichever one ISN'T the one that the ball just landed on 3 spins in a row. If you lose, just bet double that amount the next time. If you lose again, bet quadruple that amount (since you lost it once the first spin and twice the second spin). The only way this plan can fail is, if, say, hypothetically, you wisely don't bring a lot of cash with you but you foolishly forget to leave your ATM card at home and then impulsively withdraw the maximum amount and that, too, doesn't land on the color you're riding.

I guess the reason this is on my mind is that I'm excited to go to Vegas soon. My wife's new job has her going there for a store opening and I've never been to a brewery in Nevada so I'm tagging along. Back in the day, there was no craft beer scene to speak of, but now there is. And the hotel is paid for. As is the food so no $2.99 b-fasts all day. As far as vices go, I'm glad that I've become a beer aficionado that I enjoy responsibly and moderately. I'm better at doing beer reviews than casino reviews.

Oh, as for that ill-fated trip. My friend who dragged me and allowed himself to be subsumed by every single vice in his playbook ended up officiating at my wedding. He got married, too, and his wife is grateful that I turned her onto Dieu du Ciel's Peche Mortel Espresso Stout. A far cry better than what we drank that weekend in Vegas.

August 4, 2011

A limp reception to IPA Day. Hoppy beers make you flaccid

Rise up gruit drinkers, oh ye fans of unhopped ales. Lay down your swords IPA guzzlers, ye of the limpdicks. For you see, IPA producers, unlike The Church, don't want you to know about a medical condition known as "brewers droop."In my post today for All About Beer's Beer Soup blog, I examine this rarely discussed phenomenon that is particularly relevant as we celebrate IPA Day. It's one that Stephen Harrod Buhner saw fit to discuss quite often. Since I'm only alloted a limited word count for Beer Soup, I wanted to offer up some extra background from our friend Buhner not just on WHY hoppy beers produce brewers droop, but where such beers came from and why the Church actually had good reason--besides their own financial gain which is always the case behind any large entity's action--to oppose the implementation of hops. Excerpted from the full article found here.

To understand the radical change that is involved in the shift from gruit to the hopped beer we now drink, it is important keep in mind the properties of gruit ale: it is highly intoxicating - narcotic, aphrodisiacal, and psychotropic when consumed in sufficient quantity. The hopped ale that took its place is quite different. Its effects are sedating and anaphrodesiacal. In other words it puts the drinker to sleep and dulls sexual desire. Hops is extremely high in estrogenic and soporific compounds. The phytoestrogens make it great for women in menopause but never good for men. (In fact there is a well-known condition among inn keepers and brewers in England called "brewer's droop.")

When Hops began to be suggested for use as a primary additive in ale, the opposition was tremendous. Those who held a monopoly on gruit production in Germany (the Catholic Church) and on pure ale in England fought hop introduction through the legislatures, proclamations of the royalty, writings of the day's medical practitioners, and through church edict. Hops, until this time, was merely one of the plants used all along in the production of beer - the earliest mention of its use probably being in Hildegard of Bingen's (1098-1179) Physica, though she insisted that other than its preservative qualities "It is not much use for a human being, since it causes his melancholy to increase, gives him a sad mind, and makes his intestines heavy."


Perhaps the organizers ought to promote craft beer next year with another style of ale the macros don't produce: the historical gruit.
(And thanks to Motifake.com where I "lifted" the artwork from their Demotivational poster.)

August 1, 2011

Homebrew CSA: 2-3 pros, 20-30 cons

Brew Lab SF is a CSA-style homebrew club. Community Supported Agriculture is an awesome idea that even the USDA supports, but notice it doesn’t support CSHB (community supported home brewing.) I found out about it through the SFoodie/SF Weekly food blog written by my friend Jason Henry who took over my beer blogging duties there when I retired moved out of San Francisco. It was also covered in Urbandaddy

Not to be confused with Pacific Brewing Laboratories in San Francisco, an entity that gets miscategorized as a nanobrewery but is really 2 homebrewers, Patrick and Bryan, who also share their beer with the public for free and accept donations. I don’t know if I “fully” support their set-up, but I do stand behind it because they are talented, creative homebrewers who aspire to go pro through the proper, legal chanels and their events are community-based and offer the conviviality that gathering and drinking beer produces unlike sticking a 6 pack in one’s fridge (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

To be clear, nanobreweries are legal breweries licensed by the TTB. Only legal breweries can legally sell beer. They also must pay excise taxes. So, while I’m sure that founders Sam Gilbert and Emily Ford are well-intentioned and enterprising individuals who started this for great beer-promoting reasons involving proselytizing the merits of homebrewing, I can only think of 2-3 good reasons for this club and 20-30 bad ones.

Pros:
1. Free beer. Who wouldn’t like that?

2. Feedback. Each homebrewer gets feedback on his or her brew and even gets some of the costs associated with the hobby reimbursed.

3. Waste not, want not. Even when I make 5-gallon batches it’s sometimes hard to get through it all.

Cons:
Where to begin?

1: Selling homebrew is illegal. I know the argument here is that it’s not “selling homebrew” but c’mon. In their own words: We can only cover the costs of brewing and running the organization with the help of membership donation, and so each batch we ask our members to consider donating to the cause. Good luck getting the free beer without paying the donation, which they do not specify the suggested amount.

2: Don’t be nervous. You put the donation on the dresser. Donations by and large are given to nonprofit or other charitable organizations, or to political campaigns, or to…prostitutes. Just like it’s illegal to sell homebrew, it’s illegal to sell sex*. (Though I think that vices like prostitution and marijuana should be legalized and taxed to high heaven. The Dutch seem happy.) I’m well aware of the huge difference between homebrewing and human trafficking, but just calling payment a “donation” doesn’t make it charitable. Ask Rick Santorum.

3: Hurts homebrewing hobby. Any club like this makes it look like we homebrewers are in it for the moolah. Or it gives us the very false impression that our beer is worth buying. Much of it is. That’s why I’m writing a book about it! But much of it is not, despite once having someone insist on giving me $2 for bottles I brought to a dinner. Yes, I broke the law by accepting that money, but I only did it because even after I explained I couldn’t accept it, the guy insisted, and I liked the ego stroke.

4: Hurts professional brewers. Every 6 pack of BrewlabSF you buy, that’s one 6-pk of craft you didn’t. I once heard a craft brewer call this “share of mouth.” Some craft brewer’s kid is going hungry if you participate in this club.

5. Like homebrewers need help getting feedback. What homebrewer doesn’t already have friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc. already willing to offer that, especially in exchange for “free” beer.

6. Quality of/qualified feedback. From whom exactly? These club goers aren’t necessarily BJCP certified. IF, if, if they give feedback at all, it’s in the form of 1-4 star ratings and then maybe a quick line. And they can (and do) post some anonymously. Club co-founder Emily Ford reviewed one of the beers called Royale with Cheese—a Simcoe and Amarillo hopped pale ale fermented with a Belgian yeast strain—as “Fantastic!” That was the entire review. I’m sure she’s right and I’d love to try that beer. But that’s not constructive feedback.

7. Slave drivers? OK, probably not, but this reeks of BrewLabSF folks profiting from the hard work of others. How much DO they pocket off this little venture? And how much goes to the actual brewers (who, see #1, aren’t legally allowed to make anything off it anyway)?

8. TTB/ABC. Commercial brewers went through tons of trouble and jumped through tons of hoops to be allowed to sell their wares. Now homebrewers get to skirt those orgs and laws? I love loopholes as much as the next guy. Figure out a way I don’t have to pay taxes or get to run red lights and I’m there. But…

9. TTB/ABC pt 2. It’s not like we’re talking selling homemade jam or bread here, two hobbies related to homebrewing. This stuff has alcohol. That’s why it’s so highly regulated. Can you imagine a moonshine CSA? If there’s one out there, they’re smarter than putting it on the world wide web.

10. Hooch. I have no clue what the authorities would do if they busted sellers and/or brewers. Probably assess a fine. Prisons are overcrowded. But before I started writing about beer, I wrote about music. (And I write about these things because I’m a better writer than I am musician/brewer.) One of the indie/punk rags I wrote for had a recipe on prison hooch. Crush a bunch of oranges in a trash bag, add a ton of sugar, fill with water, then wait and “burp” it as needed. Just to be on the safe side, let’s keep these homebrewers making quality beer.

11. 21+. How do we know the club members are of age? Yeah, there’s an “I am 21+ years old” button that they have to click saying they are, but are IDs checked before the sixer is dropped off or picked up?

12. Free beer is a bad idea. I know brewers hear all the time how amazing, borderline unfair it is that they get paid to make beer. But brewing is hard work with long hours. They DESERVE to get paid. Beer is WORTH paying for. This makes it seem like beer should ever be free. But of course, it’s not really free. Would they actually allow a member to NOT make a donation? C’mon!

13. For the geeks. I’m not saying only homebrewers should drink homebrew. Far from it. But is this really turning people on to brewing? I hear membership is so popular, they can’t allow everyone in. And most people who love and support homebrewing know where/who to get some from.

14. It’s a hobby. Why do any homebrewers believe their beer is worth buying? Of course, again, a good amount of it is. But they shouldn’t do this for that reason. That’s why it’s a hobby! Mountain bikers don’t get paid to mountain bike. Girls who go to Stitch’n’Bitch knitting sessions probably don’t sell their scarves that often. We ALL have hobbies, and just because you’ve been doing it for a few years doesn’t mean you’ve reached the major leagues. Hell, I started home masturbating decades ago. I got really great at it. Wanna make a donation? Want a 6-pk of what I’ve made?

15. Hobby Pt 2. Lots of great homebrewers aspire to go pro. But other than the fact that you’ll almost never see a rich brewer, another reason not to make the leap is it turns brewing from an avocation to a vocation. If the member brewers start thinking of it as work, it could take the fun out of it.

16. 40 bottles!? A 5-gallon batch yields roughly 2 cases. Sure, it’s supposed to yield 53 12-oz bottles, but c’mon, who’s gonna bottle the gook at the bottom of your carboy? So, the homebrewers go through all the trouble involved in a brewday just to get to enjoy a sixer or two of their own beer while the rest goes to strangers?

17. Those strangers. This may sound like #5 a lot, but if I’m going to share my homebrew, I want it going to people I know with palates I trust. It doesn’t have to go to people with the most sophisticated palate, but someone whose evaluation I value. Sorry club members, but maybe you really know how to enjoy and critique beer—and maybe you don’t.

18. Fresh’n’clean. You’d think that since the beer doesn’t go through any of the 2nd-tier channels, ie: a distributorship, that the club organizers are delivering the freshest beer possible. And it very well might be! But maybe the contributing brewers are using this as a bottle-dump to rid the closet of old or questionable bottles. Lord knows I’ve done that at parties. And while every good homebrewer knows the 3 essentials are sanitation, sanitation, and sanitation, there’s no guarantee the contributors follow all 3 steps the way commercial ones have to do if they want repeat customers. (Trust me, when word gets out about spoilage in a commercial brew, it hits them in the bottom line.) Lastly, look at the last batch of sixers that went out on their blog (scroll down). Green bottles?!

19. No CRV. OK, I don’t really think that Calif. Redemption Value is an argument here, just trying to stretch to get to an even 20.

20. As the story on Chow put it, BrewLabSF is a labor of love. I don’t know if they’re operating in the black at this point with their newfound popularity, but I doubt they’d continue to run it if they’re losing money on it. Still, it can’t be making them rich. However, the blog post ends: “it's only a matter of time before this idea is picked up by other home-brewers around the country.” And where others go with this idea and what they’re motivated by, I’m afraid to consider.

So, there ya have it. What do you think? CSAs like BrewLabSF a honky-dory idea or well-intentioned but ought not to exist? Do you have an additional 17 reasons to make the pros outweigh the cons? Or perhaps 10 more negatives to flesh out the “20-30” I thought I’d come up with. I expect this post to be updated frequently.

Cheers,
Brian

July 12, 2011

IPA Day and everyday



I have a hard time keeping my Twitter tweets to 140 characters. And an even harder time keeping my posts for All About Beer's Beer Soup blog to 250 words (hence, they're often 350.) Here's what I cut it down from:

Whether it’s a litigious feud between those in the brewing industry concerning tap handles or an online flame war between those in the brewing community regarding label art, the collective beer world sure does seem to get up in arms a lot. That’s a shame.

The latest needling involves IPAs. Not who brews the best one or which part of the country makes them better. It’s about whether we should celebrate IPAs specifically or, in turn, craft beer in general. Or something like that. I’m not exactly sure. Somehow I fear these skiffs are less about I.P.A. and more about E.G.O.

Ashley Routson a.k.a. The Beer Wench is a co-creator of #IPADay, the twit-hop-love-fest scheduled for August 4. She says the virtual event “is about creating global awareness about craft beer through the celebration of one of our most beloved styles…There are more non-IPA drinkers in this world than IPA-drinkers… Maybe they don’t even know what an IPA is.”

And with that, beer-swilling tweeters were typing hashtags in front of the letters IPA instantaneously. Which is how soon Ezra Johnson-Greenough who goes by the nom de blog Samurai Artist, announced his boycott of social media on August 4 by snarking, “I was just starting to wonder how come there are not more IPAs, since I can never find them on tap.”

The kicker is that both beer personalities maintain Top 10 beer blogs, both are friends of mine, and both have made the issue about themselves (even when attempting to say it’s not), which is something only other diehard beer geeks would care about. Luckily, to put IPA Day into perspective, there’s a regular Joe.

Joe Tucker runs RateBeer.com and in his good-natured and unimposing way commented that, “beer is much bigger than us beer geeks.”

Nearly every one of us wears socks, but are we sock geeks? I’d wager that there are a few discriminating, passionate sock-wearers out there who scoff at those of us who buy pairs of socks by the dozen at big box stores. You may not even know what brand of sock adorns your feet. So Joe continued, “What we've found was that IPA is a sort of brandless brand to many beer fans across the United States. As a customer decides and drifts into brand confusion, the three letters IPA serve to inform his or her choice.”

Among beer drinkers who are not beer connoisseurs, such brand confusion does exist. How many times have you asked a waiter what’s on tap and heard, “Bud, Coors Light, Heineken, and Hefeweizen”? (Of course, it’s often pronounced Hefen-wye-zen or Hefer-we-sen.) Alas, these wait staff, and frequently the customer, don’t know that Hefeweizen is a style, not a brand, or that the majority of times it’s a Widmer Hefe. I suspect that most bars or restaurants that have an IPA on draft know—and clarify—which brewery made it.

In contrast to wheat beers, India Pale Ales are not gateway beers. The bold hops need to be acclimated to. My path certainly eased in with ESBs, then pale ales and so on until I now salivate at the mere sight of a Pliny the Elder or Sculpin. By contrast, Russian River Brewing doesn’t even bottle an entry-level beer and Ballast Point Brewing sells tons more Calico Amber than Sculpin IPA.

So if newbies to craft beer aren’t so much lured by the producer but by the product, it can be argued that IPA is the quintessential craft beer style. American IPA is the single largest category in competition at the Great American Beer Fest. I predict there will never be a Coors IPA or Bud Select 55 IPA or Miller Chill IPA. So by virtue of inspiring an uninitiated beer drinker and not a confirmed connoisseur to hoisting an IPA, truly the only thing to be gained on IPA Day would be to welcome new friends to the craft beer table. While you’re at it, let’s show them how nicely we play together.

June 23, 2011

Freelance update summer 2011

I think I meant to do these freelance updates more frequently. Oh well. But happily there's a lot of my stories out there.

Technophobe though I am, let's start with the online stuff. I always know it's my birthday when people start talking about it being the longest day of the year (OK, I was born 25 hours after summer solstice). That also marks the opening of Summer Beer Fest Season. Craftbeer.com now has my tips for a successful season. I hope you'll LIKE that.

Far from being a Beer Soup Nazi, I'd like to think of myself as a Beer Soup Fuzzy Squirrel, offering adorable little nuts and nuggets of my quantum thoughts about anything beery that get posted on All About Beer's Beer Soup. I'm pretty good about sharing these on the ol' Facebook and Twitter. It started in early May with my pitch for brewpubs building brand disloyalty, and thrice weekly there has been, and will be, something new. Some of the more fun (dare I say popular) ones have been on pairing beer with exes, whether or not consistency matters, beers with fruit, veggies, and carrot cake, and my current kick: bringing back 7 oz. nip bottles (pt 1 & 2 with 3 on Fri.)

All About Beer the magazine primarily has me on Beer Travelers duty with the most recent column inspired by Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken. Covering beer roads less traveled, it's a guide to beer tripping through California's Lost Coast and North Carolina's Outer Banks (OBX). Being the over-writer than I am, there wasn't room to publish a third section on Michigan's Upper Peninsula (U.P.), so look for me to sneak that into a future column. They also let me do other fun stuff, most recently entailing a look at how breweries give birth to new beers.Beer West also has me on a beer travel kick penning tips for a beercation through NorCal, L.A., and San Diego (who'd rather be called TJ North than LA South, so I gathered at the recent Nat'l Homebrewers Conference down there last week).

Drink Me's story on the Oregon Ale Trail may sound travel-related, but it's really more of a fun, albeit truncated, spin through Oregon's contribution to the history of the brewing industry. Yes, of course I worked in a shout to the Oregon Trail brewery in Corvalis that I just happened to have popped into.

Draft has a feature called Beer Me on the last page wherein someone in the beer biz waxes and mashes poetic about what the industry offers them (or vice versa). Sometimes these are written by third parties. Like me. Following up a rather incendiary one about Yuri Green's new Cherry Voodoo in the San Francisco Bay Area, fans of "wild" beers should be keen to try Chad Yakobson's Crooked Stave in the Denver/Boulder area. Also in the new issue, drinking craft beer in Death Valley. Even crazier, when I stayed at Panamint Springs Resort (they use the word resort loosely), I visited the Indian Wells brewery just outside the park in the Mojave Desert. Here's a picture facing toward the brewery......and standing in the same spot looking in the other direction.

May 23, 2011

SF Beer Guide

As All About Beer's Beer Traveler columnist, I look to local beer experts all over the country (and beyond) since it behooves them to know every single hot spot a beer tripper might be interested in visiting. Yeah, I just wanted to work in the word behooves. When I hit up Jeff "Bull E. Vard" Haught, blogger behind the KC Beer Blog (Kansas City being home to Boulevard Brewing) for a burger-centric column, he kindly obliged. It turns out, I'm far from the first or last person who beseeched his in-the-trenches expertise, so he posted his KC Beer Travel Guide.

Wisely, it dawned on him that all city-centric beer bloggers should do likewise if they haven't already. While I'm too new to Portland to attempt this, not to mention that a comprehensive brewery and pub crawl in a city with more breweries than anywhere else would take superbeero strength and dedication. So, here's my guide to my beloved San Francisco. One personal note I like to point out about beer and SF is that Anchor Brewing Co. was established in 1896, one year and about one mile away from where my great grandmother Germaine was born.

Fritz Maytag created “craft beer" when he rescued and renovated Anchor in 1965, thereby making the SF Bay Area the epicenter of the beer renaissance (and, dare I say, the foodie movement, considering Alice Waters wouldn’t open her groundbreaking Chez Panisse across the bay in Berkeley until 1971.) After 45 years, he sold it in 2010 and the new owners plan on doing something ol' Fritz never would have--creating a "Center of Excellence." Daily tours have always been offered, but soon tours will include the Anchor Distilling corner, too, and welcome all comers. Stay tuned.

Today, the Bay Area is home to over four-dozen breweries, and The City itself boasts six beyond Anchor...and growing. Visitors do well by not renting cars and instead get around town by foot. Considering The City is only 7-miles long by 7-miles wide, it’s entirely walkable. Otherwise, beer lovers can turn to a pair of Web sites that help navigate local watering holes accessible by public transportation. Saving Wet Your Whistles for the focus on the Peninsula and exploring by CalTrain, turn your attention to Beer By BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit).

“There’s good beer – real local west coast ales and well-crafted brews – all over the Bay Area, and fortunately there is no paucity of good beer within walking distance of public transit,” writes BBB creators Steve Shapiro and Gail Williams.

Beginning with the best watering holes in order of BART stops, three are accessible from the Montgomery Station. If you’re looking for brewpubs, this is the stop to reach two of SF’s five: 21st Amendment and Thirsty Bear. “21 A” is almost spitting distance from AT&T Park and fills up like mad when the World Champion Giants play at home. Here you’ll find the beer that made them famous, their Watermelon Wheat (served with a watermelon wedge in lieu of the more commonplace lemon peel in other wheat beers.) But they have a hearty selection of other house beers ranging from sessionable to extreme and the food is delectable pub grub.

Thirsty Bear is adjacent to techie central, a.k.a. the Moscone Convention Center, so look for programmers galore quaffing anything from the nitrogenated Meyer ESB to whatever brewmaster Brenden Dobel taps seasonally. As for the food, it’s Spanish tapas all the way. Just be careful if you tell friends to meet you at this tapas bar, since there really is a topless bar across the street!

Incidentally, the base of AT&T Park is The Public House, where local Certified Cicerone Eric Cripe has selected 24 beers on draft plus a couple casks. It instantly made the baseball stadium one of the best ballparks to drink craft.

Next stop: Civic Center Station. From here it’s a short walk to one of the most celebrated retailers, City Beer Store, where you can buy singles and even drink them in the store for a buck as corkage fee, not to mention there are about six rare beers on tap at all time. This is the place to shop if you brought an empty suitcase you plan on filling up before heading home.

Also accessible from this station but a mile walk or short bus ride on MUNI # 6, 7, or 71 is the world-renowned Toronado. One of the oldest fine beer bars in the country, the Toronado boasts over 40 taps and a handpumped cask where pints of amazing beers cost as little as $3 during happy hour and only the dusty bottle list features anything over $10. It’s a veritable institution. When you get hungry—and you’ll definitely need to eat—most people pop into Rosamunde Grilled Sausages next door for mouthwatering gourmet dogs but I also like to jay-walk for the best bbq in town at Memphis Minnie’s. You’re free to bring either back into the bar for another round or three.

Note that "The T" is on Lower Haight and Magnolia Brewpub is on Upper Haight. As you've deduced, there's a healthy but manageable walk up a steep hill to get to the Upper Haight. At Magnolia you'll be rewarded with some of the best beers in town ranging from sessionable cask ales to robust Strong Beers (particularly during their February-long Strong Beer Month.) Be forewarned the wait to get a table to eat can be long (but worth it). Same goes for Magnolia founder Dave McLean's cocktail-centric small-plate destination The Alembic just a few blocks up Haight near the part of Golden Gate Park that tries so damn hard to hold onto the Summer of Love. Alembic's vintage bottle list is a work of art in progress.

One stop beyond is 16th Street Station in the heart of the Mission neighborhood. This is the foodie/trendy hub of The City. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you not to wander around here at night; it’s been gentrified almost to a fault. Case in point: Monk’s Kettle. This upscale gastropub is killing it. The bottles are pricey but the taps are usually decently priced and you won’t be able to get through everything you want to try. Vintage rarities often pop up. This is THE place to go for eating & drinking. Not only is the regular menu lip smacking, there’s also a daily special pot pie and bread pudding. Ask in-house Cicerone Sayre P. what he’d recommend to pair with them. (For the bread pudding, I can tell you right now you should get Black Diamond’s Imperial Porter brewed with cocoa nibs.)

Of course, if Monk’s Kettle is too chi-chi for you, there’s always Zeitgeist which is essentially a bike messenger hangout with dozens of more pedestrian taps and features an awesome beergarden that, on a sunny day, finds every single large picnic table jam packed. You can get house-grilled cheeseburgers or, if you’re lucky, Virginia the Tamale Lady will show up.

The last BART stop in The City is the 24th Street Station. There’s another location of Rosamunde on the same block that has a wider menu beyond grilled sausages and they have some good beer: 26 taps and almost thrice that in bottles/cans.

Another nighttime spot is Pi Bar, home of great pizza and a small but worthy tap list (a dozen drafts, always $5). They open at 3:14 p.m. and a slice of cheese is always $3.14. Double that and they’ll include whatever the beer of the day is.

Alas, BART doesn't cover the entire town. Two breweries you'll need to ride MUNI out to, along the N-Judah line or various buses, are Social and Beach Chalet. Social Kitchen and Brewery is where brewmaster Rich Higgins whips up intriguing and approachable beers (try the Rapscallian, a Belgian Golden that pairs with just about everything on the menu). That this neighborhood spot is two blocks from many attractions in Golden Gate Park is a bonus.

At the western edge and actually inside the park is Beach Chalet/Park Chalet. This is the one to go to if you want to soak up suds in the sun (given it's actually not fogged in). Live music and outdoor grilling are also part of its allure.

Depending on how much time you have to spend exploring San Fran, La Trappe in North Beach is a stellar Belgian gastropub and if you oddly can't find anything on their killer tap list with nearly 30 beers mostly from Belgium, their pages-and-pages long bottle list is a marvel. For bottle shopping and weekly creative beer sample sessions, check out The Jug Shop where the aforementioned Eric Cripe has turned the wall-length coolers into a shopping spree made in paradise. Perhaps the most chill place for a beer is Amsterdam Cafe directly in the Tenderloin, which is the last place most tourists would step. It's cozy, well-stocked, and certainly catching on with ale aficionados.

Sure, there’s also the Golden Gate Bridge, Pier 39, Alcatraz, Golden Gate Park, SF MOMA (Museum of Modern Art), and more, but didn’t you come to drink where craft beer was born?

May 18, 2011

Special delivery beer pairing: Clouds and Coconuts

Full disclosure: Many bloggers receive free beer in the mail, then review it, but fail to mention they're reviewing complimentary samples. Not me. Sometimes I request samples for my stories; sometimes they're just sent. Lately, in addition to receiving emailed press releases about beers, I'm getting releases from various food publicists. These foodstuffs showing up on my doorstep is fun, but the publicist had nothing to show for it. I've never blogged reviews. Til now. Here's the second in my series of food sample + beer pairings*. (*IF the suggested beers are comped samples, I'll disclose that.)

The Civil War pitted brother against brother yet most of today's rivalries are less fierce. I generally don't know what makes, say, someone from Chicago root for the Cubs or the White Sox; I also don't know what puts someone firmly in the Hostess corner or the Little Debbie corner. The answer is probably true of both groups: it's whichever one you grew up with.

I ate my fair share of Twinkies growing up in Calif. and I feel like Little Debbie (based in Tenn.) was always more of an east-of-the-Mississippi thing. Yet they're trying to change that, hence someone got paid to road trip handing out free LD Cloud Cakes. What's the difference between the two? I'm not SCJCP-certified (think BJCP but for sponge cakes), but I'd say it's less than the difference between, say, Goose Island BCS & Founders KBS. Both are preternaturally spongey, sugary, and keep-it-in-the-closet delicious. Where Cloud Cakes do win out is nutritionally, in that they're ever so slightly lower in saturated fat and sugar.
What beer to pair them with? I pondered beers from fruity sours to sweet stouts or vanilla porters until I came up with Kona Brewing Koko Brown. I'd received some of these and had one bottle left, cracked it, and immediately enjoyed the combo because the beer's sweetness comes from lots of real coconut, not just residual sugars. That means it's not too heavy but the vanilla cream in the Cloud Cake marries perfectly with the strong coconut aroma and flavor. In fact, go ahead, dip the cream-filled cake right into your glass. Initially, it actually embellishes the bitterness of the beer and notes of black coffee burst through, but then it's almost as if you're eating a coconut cream filled cake donut dunked in creamy iced coffee.

Until the next package shows up, mahalo y'all.

May 13, 2011

Yes, Tugboat Brewery. I flippin' love it



I've lived in Portland for a mere 5 months and it's taken me this long to visit a mere half of the breweries in town. The 18th was Tugboat Brewery, perhaps the most misunderstood, maligned, and mysterious brewery in Beervana.

Pouring house beers since 1993, Tugboat remains in its original downtown location under the same owner/operator. If you look aside as you're entering Bailey's Taproom on Broadway at Ankeny, you just might spot it on the poorly lit side street-slash-alleyway. Inside, you're sure to find a sparse population that, I surmise, consists mostly of people drinking alone, but the errant couple, couple of buddies, or small group. You'll find not very many house beers and mostly guest taps because while the brewer may be a "professional," he's hardly working full-time. You'll also find a small menu of appetizing sounding nosh and a jar of serve-yourself salty snack-mix.

What you won't find are any beer geeks.

When I tweeeted from Tugboat that I had found my new downtown nighttime staple, Kris from Beer Musings from Portland tweeted back: I haven't been there for years & I was so underwhelmed I've avoided going back.

Perry from Brewmance NW twitplied: I haven't even made it there yet... damn I feel lazy right now.

And SNOB Ritch from Behind the Pint twote: there must be some mistake, did someone at Tugboat get a hold of your phone?

To be fair, Brady from The Daily Pull, Sean the Homebrew Chef, and some guy in Tokyo named Christopher either supported or didn't mock me for going. (UPDATE: Brady's all about the "MAGIC" sprinkled on the popcorn.)

While they had a whopping three house beers when I stopped in, the Chernobyl Russian Imperial Stout (14% ABV) was actually pretty good, if you like 'em leathery and cigary like I do. I generally don't dig beers named for their color (except Browns) but the Hop Gold was decent (because it was hoppy and tasted like the glass was garnished with grapefruit pith) and I couldn't bring myself to try the Red.

More importantly, I had a great time. The bartender was super friendly and chatty. The drunk on the barstool next to me appeared to be antisemetic at first until I deduced he really just missed his ex-wife who's Jewish. He also got up and stumbled over to the upright piano and started playing great backround melodies. And the other few scattered souls compared Beervana's brewpub scene to their inferior ones back home, which was various cities, respectively.

I asked the bartender (sorry, forgot his name) if Bailey's opening up directly across the street helped or hurt business. He admitted that it has grown to funnel more and more of their remaining customers. And I get that. If I'm downtown and I want a selection of great, interesting beers in a setting where I can actually see the people I'm talking to, I'll go to Bailey's. But Tugboat ain't nearly as bad as my cohorts say it is, and that's WHEN they even acknowledge it backhandedly as Beervana, The New School have done. Then again, Angelo at Brewpublic seems to know what's up. Though whether or not he's returned in the last 2 1/2 years I dunno. (UPDATE: Bill at It's Pub Night also appreciate's its charms.)

As a final note, of the fewer than 100 licensed brewing facilities in Oregon, Tugboat ranked 81st in production (138 barrels) for 2010 and that's with most of the nanobreweries behind them beginning their brewing operations midway through the year! My belated new year's resolution is two-fold. Get to the rest of Portland's breweries, and help Tugboat get up to 139 bbls.

April 16, 2011

Special delivery beer pairing: Matzah & Matzah

Full disclosure: Many bloggers receive free beer in the mail, then review it, but fail to mention they're reviewing complimentary samples. Not me. Sometimes I request samples for my stories; sometimes they're just sent. Lately, in addition to receiving emailed press releases about beers, I'm getting releases from various food publicists. The appeal of some of these foodstuffs showing up on my doorstep is fun, but I'm a beer writer not a food writer and it seems wrong to solicit them, then the publicist has nothing to show for it. I've never blogged reviews. Til now. Here begins my series of food sample + beer pairings*. (*IF the suggested beers are comped samples, I'll disclose that.)

Just in time for Passover, I received a box of matzah. Yes, matzah, that unleavened "bread" which is more like a supersized cracker that is enjoyed, or at least consumed, for the entire week that celebrates the Israelites' freedom from slavery in Egypt where, upon a hasty escape, they did not have time to let the bread rise. For this reason, Jews eschew leavened products. Already, pairing matzah with beer (fermented with yeast) sounds unkosher.

Osem Israeli Orange-flavored Chocolate-coated Matzah grabbed me because chocolate-orange is one of my favorite flavor combos. One of the last things I ate before moving from San Francisco was a pint of Swensen's Swiss Orange Chip ice cream. This is definitely a dessert or snack item and probably not something you'd find at a traditional Seder table. This appeals to both my sweet-tooth and my crunch-tooth. For you see, I crave crunchy foods. Each square of matzah is fully enrobed in dark chocolate that is detectably orangy, but they could've gone a lot further if they'd used natural orange flavor or, better yet, real orange zest! Having said that, I doubt those "Whack & Unwraps," y'know, those round balls of chocolate with various fruit flavors that are popular around Christmastime, have any real essence of fruit in them and those are pretty tasty, too.

For a beer pairing, a good choice may be Ramapo Valley's Passover Honey Beer, the only kosher for Passover beer in the world. This is achieved by brewing a "beer" out of honey making it actually more like mead, a honey wine. But between being impossible to find and being disgusting by all accounts, let's scratch that idea.

One obvious choice is Shmaltz's Jewbelation Vertical under the He'Brew brand. A blend of every Jewbelation from the past 7 years (Jewbelation 8-14), this whiskey barrel aged beer (sample provided) pours thick, almost goopey, and is rich to boot. While not a chocolate-beer, it is chocolatey, almost mocha-y, but also has fruit flavors like fig and date that compliment the chocolate-orange encrusted cracker.

Tied would be Ambacht's Matzobra├╝ from Hillsboro, Ore., brewed with honey and actual matzah, but as it states on the label, it is not kosher for Passover. In fact, it's made right after Passover, using owner/brewer Tom Kramer's leftover "bread of affliction" which he adds right to the mash. You can only find this in about half a dozen bottle shops around Portland, unfortunately. More of a slightly fruity Belgian-style ale and less like liquid matzo brie (especially if you add onions to yours instead of cinnamon and syrup), while not in the least bit citrusy, the honey and banana flavors meld nicely with the hint of orange, and the like-minded bread flavors make this suitable for a mid-meal nosh.

Until the next package shows up, chag sameach Pesach

April 10, 2011

I love beer people

OK, the Craft Brewers Conference of 2011 in San Francisco is in the record books and I’m beyond late night screeds fueled by the plethora of beers available at the closing round. In fact, I just found a window open on my laptop (I have roughly 45 browsers, Word docs, spreadsheets, etc. open at a time) that had the following intended blog post that I shall post because it’s late, it’s long-winded, and it still rings true:

So glad I got to try Brooklyn’s Sorachi Ace and enjoy more Alltech’s Lexington’s Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale as well as the gamut of New Belgium’s fruited-whiskey-aged iterations of Love on draft on the Toronado. I loved the shit out of the CBC. And it had very little to do with the beers I got to enjoy (including new great stuff from Weyerbacher, New Belgium, Russian River, Cantillon…). It had everything to do with the refrain about what the CBC (and other similar gatherings of the beer community are and yes I believe I’ll forever more refer to the “craft beer industry” as the more familial “beer community”). Family reunions.

The seminars and panels were great and the (selective) swag I picked up from the exhibitors at the trade show aspect are fun (I’m so buying hop oil soap in bulk), but what I loved most was catching up with people. I only left SF four months ago but I do miss it and certainly miss my friends. I get to travel around the country more than most but not as often as I’d like and getting to talk to friends from the road is a huge treat. Plus, there’s always new people to meet as well as faces and handshakes to put to the people/voices I interview as part of my gig. Sorry if I’m getting hippy-dippy/touchy-feely but I love the beer people.

I’m semi bad at keeping up with all the Tweets, Facebook status updates, blog posts, and the like. When I encountered Patrick Rue at the California Academy of Sciences during the opening reception, just outside the biosphere I often used to appreciate, I found out his awesome wife Rachel got rid of the baby bump I last saw her with because they are now the proud parents of 2-month-old Charlotte (coincidentally named after Rachel’s grandmother). Yes, he grossed me out with tales of wiping poopy bits out of her baby hoo-ha, but c’est la vie and I’m damn happy for them.

After all this time of half-assedly keeping their romantical tryst on the DL, I found out at the Fillmore party that Arne Johnson and Betsey Hensley are officially shacking up. How many times do you know a couple that you only like half of them? Not that I had doubts these two wouldn’t last, but I’m always up for people increasing the happy and almost wish I had moved into Half Pint’s old apartment (all 450 square feet of it) since it was in Arne’s (now Betzy’s) hood and we could go for a beer and a bite with them at The Belltower just up the block.

Immediately after, I bumped into Richard Brewery-Hay and his wife Allie. They like to say they each married a brewer (he was born Master Hay, she Ms. Brewer). But seriously, not sure if he’s luckier for finding a gal like Allie or finding someone named Brewer. They were on cloud nine since earlier in the day, Arizona shocked Duke in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, and ‘Zona happens to be where they met. Couple this with celebrating her 40th b-day and having Mom back home watching their adorable daughters (I told Half Pint if she has kids they have to be boys but if they’re girls they have to as adorable as the Brewer-Hay’s.) As for beer-related discussions, Richard says progress marches on regarding turning his basement-based brewery into a genuine brewpub.

Of course, this sort of thing went on and on, which is why the week went by so quickly. But it was also great meeting new people since isn't that the whole point of the camaraderie about which this community thrives? While I've read this guy--and precious few homebrewers haven't--I found myself talking to John Palmer and while I suppose I could've spent that opportunity to talk homebrew (which we did, a li'l), instead we geeked out on Rush and I'm dying to see 'em again when they play here (OK, somewhere north of Vancouver, WA) in June. Totes! This was fitting because I'd started the week hanging out with recent SF-transplants William and Jessi who have co-written/designed a tome about homebrew...one gallon at a time. I guess it makes more sense if you live(d) in Brooklyn. But they're a great beer couple and I almost felt that it was cosmic how they landed in SF right about the time Half Pint & I departed.

Actually, that's all I'd written. I probably started dozing asleep or something because the next sentence I'd typed was leading into a story I remember about some philandering Midwest brewers and I vaguely remember thinking how rare shit-talking actually is (and no, I was or will not name them or link to their respective beers they're responsible for). At the same time, it shows that beer people are just like anybody else...we drink, sometimes too much, sometimes talk about things we shouldn't, but in the end, we're family and we stick together, because we have no choice, and like it that way.

March 27, 2011

I hate "craft beer"

It's the last night of the Craft Brewers Conference so, yes, I'm a mite craft beered out. But that's not why I'm saying I hate "craft beer," because the fact is, I'll always love it and I pledge my undying love for it. The fact that ANYONE can ever try it and then go back to "macro" or industrial beer is beyond me, but that's for another post, perhaps one about Ron Lindenbusch's "craft beer onion" that I heard him talk about (oh gawd, I think it was him...it's been a long, beerful week) at the Lagunitas Brewery where he serves as "Beer Weasel." OK, fine, since I'm on this tangent early on I'll stick with it and make it transition back to my subject at hand about how I hate "craft beer." He was talking about layers of craft beer drinkers being like the layers of an onion. How you have the diehard beer geeks at the small core. Then around it, a larger circle of folks who drink brands by larger craft breweries. One think I learned at the Lagunitas/Anchor retreat (among the many; man did they pull out all the stops!) was that the five largest craft brewers rake in 45% of the craft segment of the beer industry.
By the numbers: an interlude
For those that know me, you know I'm not a numbers guy. But I am a guy who knows the numbers. Here's some interesting and pertinent ones, and all of these are rounded up or down, so if I'm off a percentage point here or a million dollars there, just deal. The US Beer industry does $100 billion/yr. It does so by brewing 200 million barrels/yr. Of that, the craft segment accounts for 5% by volume (meaning 10 million barrels) and almost 7% by revenue (so almost $7 billion). That barrelage and dollarage is divvied up among the 1700 smaller breweries ranging from large regionals to mid-sized microbrewers to a ton of pint-sized nanobreweries. Collectively, the craft industry grew by 11% last year, continuing its steady growth, despite the economy and increased competition.

Ask the smaller guys and the competition is the industrial, foreign-owned brands. Ask the larger ones and they'll shy away from admitting that the competition is the other larger small-brewers. So let's get back to those top 5 and keep in mind that the largest 8% of the producers account for 80% of the volume, so sayeth the Brewers Association's industry publication The New Brewer. You know the ones. Boston Beer Co. (aka Sam Adams). Sierra Nevada. New Belgium (aka Fat Tire to some folks). Pyramid. And I guess there's one other, but for some reason it's not Widmer Bros or Widmer/Redhook/Kona/Goose Island. Don't ask me the reason, it's too long-winded. But, for better and for worse (but mostly for the better), these are all "craft breweries" and will remain so for the foreseeable future. How many craft breweries outgrow that title and become macrobreweries? Roughly none. But there's some wiggle room because of the likes of Widmer, Redhook, BridgePort, Pyramid, and others. And this has very little to do with the few things I don't like about the craft beer industry and nothing to do with what I hate about "craft beer."

OK, so quit beating around the bush, right? What I hate about "craft beer" is the title. I guess I agree that it's the best name it's been given, which is a result of a years-long marketing push by the BA and members of the craft beer community on the whole--community meaning those in the industry as well as fans and supporters alike. Originally it was "microbrew" but that'd be a super tiny beer, wouldn't it. Then the Big Boys fought back and there was a media backlash and it was cynically labeled "boutique beer." So now it's called "craft beer" and it makes my mouth tired having to say "craft" all the time and it makes my ears more tired hearing people say it.

It's "beer." Can't we just call it beer?!? Since we beer lovers, by and large, like making fun of wine people (they even have a fancy name for themselves: oenophiles), tell me your nose doesn't crinkle a little every time you hear the phrase "fine wine" or "a nice bottle of wine." It's a given that oenophiles are drinking fine wine, since no way would they be pounding goblets of boxed or jug wine. Likewise, no one reading this slams tallboys of Bud or does kegstands sucking down (or up) Natty Light (anymore). YES, Miller Lite and Schlitz and Sam Adams Boston Lager and Russian River Pliny the Younger are all technically beer even if we are remiss to refer to the first two as actually being so. But while the latter two are enjoyed by different crowds, consumers of the former two would never, ever imbibe a Sammy or a Pliny. That's because those consumers are sheeple. They do not know that beer is artful and indulgent and philanthropic and tasty. To them, and those manufacturers, it is a commodity. To those on the craft side, it is an artisan product.

As I've always said, take the music industry. There are major labels and there are indie labels. The majors record, release, and promote their products, which is how Justin Bieber blew up and why Miley Cyrus is huge. Those records are easily marketed to impressionable consumers but they are not art. It is a commodity, intended to be sold or downloaded by the millions/minions. In fact, the industry measures in terms of "units." Indie bands get their start in garages, much like microbrewery founders started homebrewing in the garages next door. And just like music is broken down into styles (bubblegum, rock'n'roll, metal, punk, folk, psycho-thrash-screamo-core) and beer is likewise (American Premium Light Lager, IPA, stout, Maibock, Barrel-aged Imperial Schwarzbier refermented with Brettanomyces), in the end, music is music and beer is beer. You don't have to like it all. But ideally, anyone who listens to the stuff that isn't commoditized can respect something else they don't purchase and anyone who drinks the stuff not advertised during the Super Bowl, et al can respect something they don't choose to imbibe. One thing craft/indie fans have in common is that we get all sanctimonious and say "(Insert Top 40 Band Here)? That's not music!" or "Bud Select 55?" That's not beer!"

So given that, why can't we just call "craft beer" what it IS--BEER. Why let 3-4 brewing concerns ruin it for the other 1700 by co-opting the term? Can't we call our side of the spectrum beer and label that side something else, perhaps "crap beer"? Why do the Big Boys get to be called "domestics" when not a single one of those companies is American-owned? All the true domestics have owners who live in our own communities. So let us never turn into people who might one day say "I enjoy a nice, little Berlinerweisse" or "Like a fine Bavarian Pilsner" because if it's worth your money, your time, and your consumption, of course it's good. It'd save 50% of our breath from uttering craft beer and we'd get to drinking it that much sooner.

February 18, 2011

Freelance update

I'm a bad beer blogger. I don't post nearly often enough. But while this doesn't help my Wikio ranking, it's a good sign because that means I'm focusing on freelance gigs. (Or other events such as the "Bangers and Beers for the Birds" fundraiser I was invited to participate in at the G2 Gallery last week. My favorite person I met was the 70-year-old woman who said she buys 2-3 new beers each trip to the market.) Nearly all of them are for print media since I'm old school like that. Some people keep their to-do lists on their smart phones, I keep a dry erase board on my wall by my desk. I swear I'd use hieroglyphics if I had endless wall or cave space.
More and more, these magazines post content on their websites, so, looking for my latest stories, here's what I've found:

All About Beer: Being all about exploring good beer and road trips, I was stoked when they asked me to take over the Beer Traveler column. Not so stoked that it doesn't come with an infinite travel budget to go off anywhere I choose. But it does put me in touch with people-in-the-know all over the country and even the world to hit up when I personally visit the destinations I write about. The most recent on posted, fittingly, is about northern locales for beer tripping in the winter. Fitting b/c it's so cold here I'm wearing my fingerless gloves and drinking a Bridgeport Kingpin Double Red for warmth. I'm currently working on a story about hops which is all I'll say for now. God bless 'em.

DRAFT Magazine: Two recent stories are up. The first is mostly about parallel brewing--when a brewery releases a series of beers that tweak one ingredient or technique and it becomes an education for both producer and consumer. Naturally, I focused on Mikkeller from Denmark because of how many cool series Mikkel does. Then the story was upgraded to being about the "World Series" of stouts, incorporating Dark Horse's intriguing, dark releases.

Closer to home, and perfect timing as it coincides with SF Beer Week, the last page is Draft's column called Beer Me wherein someone from the industry (usually) writes about his or her experiences or take on a current issue facing the industry. On occasion, that person tells someone else their story, which is how I got to write a first-person account of the man behind Cherry Voodoo Brewing who debuted--earlier than expected--at the gala and their own launch party.

Drink Me: Based in SF, each month they put out a themed issue so it's fun to write in some really left field areas. As someone who focuses on the artistic side of the brewing world rather than the scientific aspect (great beer takes both!), I was apprehensive when they announced they were doing a "Science" issue. It forced me to don a lab coat and even bust out some Latin. I still managed to interview one of my favorite brewers to discuss the science of spontaneity (aka wild beers). What was really a treat was the "Heal the World" issue which, naturally, conjures up images of Michael Jackson. Thankfully, we have one of our own. I say have instead of had b/c he's always with us.

Oxford Companion to Beer: Not sure if I'm more humbled or honored by this, and I'll ruin it by making a prurient joke about being hummered, but I just got a most inspiring email from the OCB's esteemed editor, Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery, thanking all the contributors who helped compile the most comprehensive book on beer to date, thanks to Oxford University Press. Seeing my name on the 12-page list of contributors--many of whom are heroes and mentors--made me glow. If anyone knows how I attach a PDF, lemme know.

Willamette Week: So glad it didn't take much convincing on my part to get the local alt-weekly to kick up the beer coverage in Beervana. Tomorrow, look for me singing the Wheels on the Bus on the SE PDX shuttle for the 3rd annual Zwickelmania. It will help assuage my lugubriousness from missing SF Beer Week going on now. Speaking of which, I had 3 guest posts last week. One on Oregon brewers invading the Bay. One on the Beer Run (2nd Annual!) that I was present for at the beginning but not entirely present by the end if you know what I mean, thanks to Strong Beers enjoyed at Magnolia mid-run and at Social post-run. And of course a revisiting of our friends at Cherry Voodoo.

Gratefully, there's more to come.

February 6, 2011

The Session #48: Cask, keg, can, bottle?


On Beer Session Friday, I passed on blogging about February’s topic, Cask, Keg, Can, Bottle? hosted by Simon H. Johnson at the Reluctant Scooper, not because I don’t give a flying fuggle about beer dispense per se, but because I don’t take any sides. Nor did I pass because I’m a wannabe Luddite who eschews everything technological including blogging, obviously, but I’ll get back to that in a few. No, when I’m out I generally order draft beer such as the Heater Allen Smoky Bob (Rauchbier) I had earlier today at The Horse Brass Pub (R.I.P. Don Younger). But I don’t buy kegs of beer (or I haven’t yet) so if I’mdrinking commercial beer at home, naturally it’s bottled, such as the bombers of Full Sail Black Gold (Bourbon-aged Imperial Stout) I picked up earlier at Belmont Station. And if I’m going to play disc golf or something, I always bust out the coozies to fill with cans, such as Caldera Pale Ale or maybe Oskar Blues Gubna (Imperial IPA) if I need something potent or to dazzle any friends I play with—the kind who smoke them funny cigarettes—to show them they’re no match for the dankness of this Summit-hopped brew. The one “format” I’m generally not partial to, I admit heretically, is ale on cask.

For anyone still reading and isn’t off checking how to revoke my Beer Geek membership, let me just say I chalk this up to being too American and that I want my beer a touch colder, a tad more carbonated, and an iota less samey. Sorry, but unless I’m in a London pub where I can chat with my mates over pints of bitter and some crisps trying to snog birds (something Half Pint, the wife, would surely frown on), I prefer carbonated or nitrogenated kegged beer. But that all changed today!

Was it because of the amazing cask of Bear Republic Racer 5 they have at the Horse Brass that my friend from Vancouver (“the real one” he says of his home in B.C., not the one just across the state line in Washington that Portlandians refer to as “The ‘Couve”)? Nope!
It was because our dog Dunkel escaped today. Twice. He’s never done that before, but I guess moving twice in the last 2.5 months is freaking him out and when Daddy (that’s me) left, he took it upon himself to dig a hole under the fence and go find me. (Luckily he was detained on the next block each time by nice people.) Now, after his first Houdini impersonation or in-dog-ation, Half Pint and I vowed to get him a dog tag even though he’s microchipped. After his second disappearing act, I immediately ran to the Fred Meyer supermarket across the street (hence why Dunkel looked for me there, because I often tie him up by the entrance) to see if they make tags. They do…sorta. Store employees pointed me toward this, this, machine, this mechanism, that lets you choose the tag (of the six-ish choices, I went with the classic bone shape) and then the touch screen lets you enter what copy you want engraved. And then it just goes right to it, visible to the purchaser, all in robot-fast and robot-efficient swiftness. It almost looks like a crane-grab game, only you get dogtags instead of stuffed animals and the exact item you want drops through the hole every time.

I was mesmerized by this machine. With absolutely no human interaction, I had a perfectly precise tag in my hands in the time it would’ve taken me to Google where to get dogtags made. Then, partly for fun but mostly because we actually needed them, I had extra keys made. From the vending machine next to the engraving machine!! I’m not shitting you. Enter credit card. Enter key. Receive duplicate keys in the tray below. If you want a receipt, enter email address on touch screen and it gets shot to your inbox.

The clerks behind me said they loved it. It was way quieter than hand-cutting keys and doesn’t take their time. But do they love that these machines put one of their coworkers out of a job and that once more self-checkout lines are installed (you’ve seen them, where you swipe your own purchases over the scanner and bag ‘em yourself and nary a checker do you greet in any form of human exchange).

So there you have it. I’ve long hated technology but it doesn’t stop me from keeping up with the 21st century. I have a Droid smartphone (love Apple’s iPhone but hate AT&T’s network), but I kinda hate it and wish my contract was anywhere near expired so I could get an iPhone. I drive a hybrid car that still feels space-age to me but my visiting friend was aghast that I parallel parked without the assistance of a back-up cam, since who uses their own eyes and intuition anymore? I have a laptop but asked a clerk in the tech section of Fred Meyer earlier today what adaptor I need to be able to use the HDMI cable I got to connect said laptop to the TV, which is when the clerk said I should buy a new laptop since mine is so archaic (it’s about 2 years old) that it doesn’t have even a Mini HDMI outlet. So yes, I keep accumulating this crap, but it always crashes, or gives me bad directions or gives me various error signs. I absolutely crave the good old days when stuff was done by hand…people with hands.

And that’s what made me appreciate the hand pump at the Horse Brass even when I’d somewhat taken it for granted mere hours earlier. Among the 3 of us and our 3 pints, the 2 kegged ones appeared a minute later. (And lest you think that’s too long, you’re in luck, since I predict every sporting and concert venue and even some high-volume sports bars with soon be dispensing pints out of this mind-blowing Bottoms-Up contraption that can fill something like 44 pints per minute. WOW/WTF.) But the hand pump one took a good 4 minutes! Furthermore, the beertender was a helluva nice guy. We’d ask about certain beers on tap and he brought us samples. He even put before us a half-filled pint of Mad River Double Brown (possibly on cask) saying something about a bad pour so he figured we wouldn’t let the elixir go to waste (and it happened to be phenomenal). No machine could ever perform that function. Whereas he was considerate and chummy and imperfect yet cognizant of it, technology is always, always, always efficient and lightning fast and cold.

A hand pump and the hands that pump it have no use for 1s and 0s, for Ghz or Mbps. And they don’t dispense industrial lagers. They dispense honest to goodness real ale brewed by artistic, thoughtful, lovable brewmasters. People have been brewing, drinking, and loving beer for millennia and if this is the only way to enjoy it the way it was over a century ago, before the Industrial and Technological Revolutions, then hell yeah, count me in.

January 15, 2011

Six weeks in. Still smitten.

Portland is just so damn great. I've heard of people who move here from San Francisco and then have to move back. Naturally, I'll forever love SF. And we certainly miss our friends. But our plan is to proselytize them into moving up here. Seriously guys, quit your job, buy a food cart on the cheap, and make a go of it. That's the Portlander way. P-town may be called Bridgetown, Beervana, Cartopia, and Rose City, but it's also DIY-ville. Have something you love doing and wanna make it your job? I've seen that everywhere I go here (says the freelance beer writer). Beyond the chefs popping up at food pods, there are co-ops for art galleries, bike shops, music schools, etc. Oh, and more nanobreweries than you can shake a mash paddle at.

I wish I'd jotted down every feel-good encounter I've had in my first two weeks. It started less than 24 hours into being a Portlander when I volunteered at the 15th Annual Holiday Ale Fest. Let's just say the 2nd Annual Holiday Ale Fest I attended my last weekend in the Bay could pick up a trick or two. Nearly 50 breweries--mostly from Oregon and Washington--poured rare treats. Somehow I lucked out and manned the jockey box pouring Hair of the Dog "Jim" 2008 (next to Jim '09).

What's great and scary is that with all the exploring I've done, I feel like just my left pinky has scratched the surface. With thanks to Ezra "Samurai Artist" Johnson-Greenough who blogs at The New School and a rotating beer-obsessed posse as well as Lisa "Beer Goddess" Morrison, and some old-fashioned huffing it around the neighborhoods, I've imbibed at at least 10 beer bars that're worthy of being the best place to drink a beer. Meaning I only have at least 20 more to get to.

To play catch-up at this point would take forever. Because also in this time, we hiked around waterfalls in the rain, marveled that we're living in a place where the water in birdbaths freezes into large pucks of ice, spent a week in Hawaii escaping said ice, find ourselves in escrow on a house(!!!) and I've added 3 new publications to continue obsessing over beer in including the PDX alt-weekly Willamette Week.