June 25, 2008

"I had dinner with the Beer Chef"

Perhaps save for "Playmate Quality Control," is there any job more desirable than one with the words “beer” and “chef” in the title? Lucky Bruce Patton is the Beer Chef and his office is an easy walk from me at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco. Ever since I heard about his beer pairing dinners, I'd been dying to go. K'ro answered my prayers with a surprise birthday dinner for me.

She tricked me into thinking we were popping into Tommy's Joynt for a beer before dinner. It’s my favorite SF institution. But instead, she yanked me into the hotel with the cocktail hour underway where we each met a glass of Belgian-style witbiers concocted by Craig Cauwels, brewmaster at Schooner's Grille & Brewery in Antioch. (Yeah, I didn’t know where it was, either.)

We took our seats after filling our bellies with beer and hors d'oeuvres and unwittingly sat at a table with Craig and his wife, Mary. Rounding out the table, to K'ro's left sat Renae, Schooner's manager, and to my right, Jay Brooks, celebrated writer with a beer blog of his own.

The way Bruce does it, and he’s got it down pat since the San Fran native has been doing this for over a decade, is he gives a spiel about his menu and the beers from the brewery featured that night. Then Craig got up and spoke. Then we ate and drank.

First course: Caprese salad, using housemade mozzarella and replacing tomatoes with farmer’s market fresh yellow peaches, opal basil, all on a bed of dried cherry vinaigrette. The beer? “Vindication.” Oatmeal stout aged in brandy barrels with cherries. The magic “critters” Craig employed, eschewing traditional brewers yeast, were a colony of Brettanomyces (“Brett”). No standard kriek beer, a style I find too sour and too, uh, cherry-y, this delicious creation struck me as a dessert beer, but life is short and I’m a proponent of having dessert first. Also, it’s 11% ABV.

I’d like to go on about the rest of the dinner, but did I mention how strong that last beer was and that it wasn’t my first or even second of the night? All I know is, the pork tenderloin was terrific, the Irish stout served up my favorite way—on nitro—was outstanding, and next thing I knew, everyone at the table was all kinds of happy.

In case you forgot, this was my birthday dinner. I’d forgotten, too, until, after Bruce spieled the dessert course (butterscotch bread pudding), then that li’l devil busted out a huge, chocolate cake of my own. I wanted to share with everyone present, which entailed me visiting every table, and in doing so, I met some other guests, including fellow beer bloggers, Joe and Todd.

I hope to dine with the Beer Chef again. And I’m now on a mission to make my way out to Schooner’s as soon as possible. Not because I'm eager to see the end of the BART line, but because Craig's creations are out of this world.

June 22, 2008

Hopmonk: Not just a sidetrip, it’s a destination

Sometimes it’s difficult to head somewhere beyond my neighborhood, so to Mapquest my way to Sebastopol (60 miles north of San Francisco) is saying something. Eager to return to Hopmonk Tavern, which just opened this year courtesy of Dean Biersch (yes, of Gordon-Biersch fame), I first experienced it three weeks ago.

I love a good beerfest. A more obvious statement I cannot make. Simply titled "Beerfest," this small gathering on June 7 in Santa Rosa attracted an amiable 2,000 fest-goers and 35 mostly-local breweries from Russian River (Sonoma County) to Eel River (Humboldt County). The former’s rock star, Vinnie, was not spotted and I don’t know what Ted Vivatson from the latter even looks like. Advance tickets were $35 and all the food was included. Brilliant. So instead of shelling out an extra $10 for a gristle-heavy tri tip sandwich, we were treated to samples of pulled pork sandwiches, sausages, a buffet of fresh fruits and veggies and, from Hopmonk, spare ribs braised with what I'm pretty sure was a mole bbq sauce.

That is what enticed K’ro and I to hop over to check out the gastropub. Once there, we were rewarded with a dynamite beer list (I tried Mendocino's Spring Bock (hoppier than is usual for the style, and a definite winner), an inviting atmosphere with both indoor and outdoor seating, and a visit from Dean himself.

Yesterday was a scorcher in The City, so a cold brew was the order of the day. Of course, no sooner than we’d crossed the Golden Gate Bridge than we saw the thermometer climb from 88 to 101. Hooray for convertibles. Once we arrived, the idyllic patio was too good to pass up and, though an ale enthusiast, I promptly ordered a house lager, a Kellerbier, which is an unfiltered pilsner. Per-fecto when it’s in the 90s ‘neath a shady umbrella. Once again, there was great live music and the food was top-notch, too. (We shared a smoked tomato quesadilla, and that was just the starter.) And, lo and behold, another chance to enjoy the biergarten with Dean who, like the central water fountain, is a fixture here.

We mentioned seeing a crack-up billboard in The City, depicting his partner Dan Gordon with the slogan, “Never trust a skinny brewer.” Dan loves his work. In fact, Dean told us how Dan is presently in Taiwan at the opening of their first international brewpub. In trying to make sure Dean’s new venture operates smoothly during its infancy (it does. They have the best wait staff around, which isn’t ridiculously common throughout the Pacific Northwest) and keep his three kids in check to boot, he didn’t fly out for the Taiwanese launch.

G-B brewpubs are also open in 17 states and our nation’s capital. But there’s only one Hopmonk.


June 19, 2008

Honorable mention

I am remiss in not paying K' Ro her due respect and awarding her HM for all things Beerodyssey.com-related and for expressing my gratitude in helping with the impending schwag. Schwag? Oh yes, Red, White, & Brew schwag. Look for her at Bay Area beerfests and look for me on the road come October.

June 18, 2008

Encouraged by the Beer People

While this blog update serves mostly as a test, I must say, I'm encouraged by all the Beer People that exist out there, nameless and faceless on the sidewalks and in the elevators, but instant compadres atop the barstools.

I say "test," because when I tried to register "beerodyssey" as my blog name, I confoundingly learned that the name was taken. By whom? By me. Two and a half years ago, when in the nascent stages of writing Red, White, and Brew, I evidently posted a blog about attending GABF (Great American Beer Festsival). It was my foray into the awesome world of beer, and now I'm looking forward to returning to GABF this fall, to promote said book. Like drops of beer from a draft tap, so are the days of our lives. Or something like that. Anyway, I'm happy to be reunited with my blog and have lots of events to write about, from last week's double-header Beerfest in Santa Rosa, Calif. + inaugural trip to Hopmonk in Sebastopol, Calif. to my upcoming first (in what I hope becomes a permanent series) of beer dinners at the Bierhaus (that's my apartment).

As for the Beer People, in recent weeks, as R,W, & B inches closer to publication, I've been delighted with the response I've gotten from those who have read pre-pub drafts and those that have simply heard about it. Thanks a million to Chris O'Hara and Maureen Ogle, venerable beer authors, for offering kind words. Thanks to Ethan, random dude at Toronado on Haight St. for his wealth of knowledge on all things brewed (from Pliny the hop-cultivator to distinguishing Firestone-Walker's small beer as truly more of a Saison.) And all I know is, my sales rating on Amazon went from 1,300,298 to 344,500 overnight. If Ethan bought 100 copies, I'm so buying him a pint at Toronado.