February 26, 2009

Overnight in Mendocino County.

Half Pint thinks I took her and our pooch Patsy to Fort Bragg just to get out of town, do some hiking, and finally take her to a place aptly named Glass Beach.

After stuffing our pockets with beach glass (shh, that's a no-no), we quenched our thirsts at a local watering hole since 1988, North Coast Brewery. We started with dueling stouts: Old 38 and Old Rasputin (imperial). Yes, mine was the smaller one, but it also packs almost 50% more ABV. Our meal was fantastic (we shared the pork loin and the strip steak), which I washed down w/ some Pranqster. Another pint of Old 38 Stout accompanied--get this--a chocolate Old 38 Stout cake/brownie concoction a la mode with Old 38 Stout ice cream! And since the last time I visited I left with a bottle of Old Rasputin X, aged in bourbon barrels, I followed suit with a stash of Old Rasputin XIs. At over 11% alcohol by volume, these beers will weigh you down more than all that glass.

PS: The next time, nearing the end of our drive home, we stopped in at our favorite, Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol (after Half Pint sweet-talked me into doing some wine tasting). I'll skip to dessert. Old 38 creme brulee.


February 23, 2009

Memorial for Bill Brand, Mar. 1 @ Trappist

Like many in the beer community, particularly in the Bay Area, I was keeping vigil while What's On Tap blogger Bill Brand was in a coma, and mournful upon learning that he just couldn't hold on. While I cannot imagine the grief and loss being suffered by his wife Daryl and family, it's clear the whole community shares the pain. Jay Brooks has posted info about the memorial taking place this Sunday at the Trappist in Oakland where we can all mourn the passing and celebrate the life of our friend Bill.

Every beer lover gets asked what their favorite beer is, and none of us can give a simple, direct answer. But to be sure, Anchor Porter is one of mine. An aficionado of fine beer, I don't know why I thought Bill leaned toward DIPAs, or Double India Pale Ales. But it turns out Anchor Porter is (one of) his favorites, too.

February 20, 2009

Bill Brand, 70, R.I.P.

Today Bill Brand passed away after nearly two weeks in a coma. A retired journalist, Bill continued blogging about beer at What's On Tap? Instead of waking up on Monday, Feb 9, to read his blog about the beer dinner I'd attended with him the night before, I heard the tragic news that he'd been hit by a MUNI train on his way home. It was just the third night of SF Beer Week, and the tragedy cast a gloom over the remaining events. Jay Brooks initiated a nightly toast to Bill's recovery. The fact that he held on through the end of the festival makes me think those 7 p.m. toasts were received.

Tonight, one final 7 p.m. hoist. There's a fun, traditional polka song called "In Heaven There is no Beer" about living each day to the fullest. The only thing is, in Bill's case, they got the title wrong. Here's to an eternity of your favorite suds flowing from a bottomless tap.

(Taken from Bill's Facebook page)

February 17, 2009

Anchor's Our Barrel Ale

Anchor Brewing's "Our Barrel Ale," as I've written about before, is a blend of three Anchor Brewing Co. beers aged in Anchor Distilling barrels--not charred but toasted Oak barrels used to age their phenomenal Old Potrero rye whiskey. The beers, I found out, are Bock, Old Foghorn Barleywine, and mostly Liberty Ale, their hoppiest offering in the lineup.

Starting this morning, only 100 cases went on sale. Seeing as I was first in line, only 99 were available once I left.

At $30 per magnum (1.5 ltr), make that almost $33 after tax and CRV, it's a helluvan-expensive six-pack. Compared to other beers that sell at that price for 22- and sometimes 12-oz bottles, or a halfway decent magnum of wine or champagne would set you back, it's actually a fair price for such a delectable, intriguing beer.

But lest you think I'll crack one open this weekend and lay down the other 5 in my Beeradise for years to come, Anchor's master brewer, Mark Capenter, warned that while it's high enough in alcohol at over 8% ABV, since it's unfiltered and sat in wood barrels, it's best to keep it refrigerated and enjoyed with the occasion calls for it. Now accepting occasion suggestions.

February 16, 2009

SF Beer Week Wrap-up

Is it over yet? Mein got, man, that was a lot of beer. And so many awesome ways to enjoy it, let me count the ways: with cheese, with dinner, sour, strong, barrel-aged, with chocolate, by bike, by BART, with the brewmaster, and most importantly, with friends. Lots.

I attended the New Orleans Jazz Fest for the first time in 2001 and vowed never to miss it until I die. I will say the same thing for SF Beer Week. Luckily, I live here.

Once overheard at Jazz Fest, while racing from one stage to another to see yet another phenomenal artist, someone said, "Judge not Jazz Fest by who you saw, but by who you had to give up in order to see them." SFBW worked the same way. With around 150 overall events, spread out over 10 days all across the Bay Area, it was impossible to hit everything I wanted.

Before I get to some highlights, I'd like to thank the organizers, Dave McLean, Jay Brooks, Bruce Patton Shaun O'Sullivan, Tom Dalldorf, and the countless others who worked so hard and blasted it out of the park the first time at bat.

I already blogged about events I was able to make it to February 6-12. For brevity sake, I'll just say that on Friday, I started things off at Speakeasy Brewing for lots of great beer and company from brewers to bloggers...to drinkers. And a special shout to Dave (and Devon, below) for letting me try the Mocha Porter after it was tapped out.
Afterward, I caught the tail end of Shmaltz's pub crawl in the Mission at Amnesia, then Elixir. Pictured below: Donny Vomit, the Human Blockhead with all around good guy, Shmaltz's own Zak Davis; the brewing co.'s founder Jeremy Cowan, and Donny at work:

Saturday: Barleywine fest @ Toronado. Two words. Boo. Zy. Plans for a homecooked meal were scrapped when the Siren song of Memphis Minnie's lilted from across the and Half Pint & I shared a BBQ sampler plate.

Sunday: Started with a BJCP (Beer Judging Certification Program) 101 class, which began with samples of Bud Light dosed with artificial butter, then banana extract, then ground cloves, and was topped by the surprising taste-test of a quite hoppy beer and a richly malty one, only to discover they were both Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot (but 2009 and 2004 vintages). That bitterness really does age out.
(Above, Steve from Beer by Bart mans the dump bucket).

From there, I BARTED up to the Oakland Convention Center for Celebrator's beerfest.

How was it?

Firestone-Walker XII & Saucerful of Secrets & Abacus barleywine, North Coast Old Rasputin XI, Russian River Consecration, New Belgium La Folie, Alaskan Smoked Porter '06, Allagash Curieux and Black, Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye aged in Chardonnay barrels.

And that was just for starters. Rarely do I drink the price of admission. In those beers alone, it was worth every penny. Not to mention, it was great seeing many familiar faces--ones from the Bay Area and ones I'd come to recognize this past "week" at the events. While I had a blast, I'm relieved for the 51-week reprieve before we kick off the Second Annual SF Beer Week.

February 13, 2009

SFBW Day 7: Mad Zymurgists club meeting

Hello Pleasanton!!!

The ball for this event at the Hop Yard started rolling four months ago, when I met the posthumous, er, de facto president, Brian Cooper, at GABF. That seems like ages ago.

I was excited about this event for many reasons (it was my way of being part of an SF Beer Week event, my first East Bay event, my first homebrew club meeting + I'm now a homebrewer) but one that got me jazzed is that I was able to do a new spiel. I LOVE doing author events, truly, but I felt freer to speak off-the-cuff, since there was very little I could tell this room about America's craft brewing industry they didn't already know. Plus it gave me an opportunity to tell the story about hanging out in a VIP lounge in Denver and having my biggest promoter, Half Pint, chatting up dude at our table about how her boyfriend wrote a beer book, only to have me lean over and discreetly whisper, "That's Charlie Papazian."The nearly-all-male audience (there was one wife/club member, Jade, and a girl named Michelle who saw the event listed on the SF Beer Week site) had great questions and afterward told great stories. It's clear they love the community and it's one I'm proud to now, with my first batch still in secondary fermentation, be a part of.

Beforehand, as Brian went through the talking points, I drank a short pour of Pliny the Younger and a Deschutes brown ale. Afterward, the homebrew started flowing. A Belgian dark ale, some mead, and most notably, a Traditional Bock, brewed by the guy pictured below, Alex Drobshoff. Why most notably? This is the beer that will start showing up on shelves as part of Boston Beer/Sam Adam's annual Longshot contest honoring homebrewers. Think Spielberg directing your home movie.Huge thanks to Judy from Towne Center Books for coming out, selling books, and partaking of the homebrews. And of course, danke schön to Brian Cooper, below...

...and this is why I call her Half Pint...

February 12, 2009

SFBW Days 3-6: Catch-up

Man oh man. It's easy to fall behind on blogging when all you're doing is drinking beer. Drinking great beer at that. How 'bout just some pictures and captions, since I'm already running late to tonight's event, and it features me.

Day 3 pics I hadn't posted on behalf of the tragic news about Bill Brand, who is now listed in stable condition in the ICU.

Day 3
Beer2Brakers! 1 pubcrawl, 140 riders:

Symbolic ride around Anchor:

Showing up at Gordon-Biersch en masse:

Schwarzbier (black lager) & garlic fries. Who needs a ballgame?:

At 21st Amendment, riders received one can of beer and could buy a sausage from Fatted Calf. That's a ten-dolla knockwurst I'm eating (w/ saurkraut and sauteed apples):

1 free beer? Let's blow this popsicle stand:

This is Eric; he made a lot of the homebrew enjoyed at the picnic in Golden Gate Park:

This is Kachusha "Chuey;" he made this ride possible:

We all really enjoyed the homebrews:

Popped into the Alembic to say hi to Sam Calagione (and finally try Dogfish Head "Red and White"):

Sean Z. Paxton is the Homebrew Chef (and that's his cuter-than-you daughter, Olivia). Yes, this was a test:

Not only did his Monk's Blood pass the beer test, but food-wise, check out the slow cooked, beer-braised Colorado lamb shanks with carrots, celery and thyme, dried figs and coriander served on a puree' of parsnips. Dude passed with flying colors. (And the other courses and beers were aces, too):

Growler & Half Pint sated (photo by Jesse Friedman):

Another brilliant shot by Jesse, this time of Bill Brand. Worth repeating:

Skipped Day 4.

Day 5 (Tue):
Started with lunch with an old friend in town, Ann. She's vegan. I'm not. Phat Philly cheesesteak with house-made cheddar-beer sause (Newcastle):

Barrel-aged Beer Night at both Jupiter & Triple Rock. Starting at the former:

First sample of the night, Oskar Blues' Old Chuboubon (yep, Old Chub Scottish strong ale aged in bourbon barrel):

Next stop, T-Rock (much better selection of barrels):

This bloke knows/lives, his beer. Cheers, Phil (Yes, his iPhone's wallpaper is hops).

Seriously. 16 amazing beers, ameliorated by barrel aging. My winner of the night--The Bruery's Melange #3 (a blend of 3 bourbon-barrel aged beers--imperial stout, Old Ale, wheat wine--then fermented with special Belgian yeast strain). KU-DOS:

Day 6 (Wed)
Chilled at the Page for a Sierra Nevada tasting. My first Torpedo Extra IPA in a bottle. Yeah for free sausage with all 3 Sierra Nevada mustards:

Walked down to Toronado for cheese-pairing with Brewery Ommegang. We tried to take the pairing suggestions seriously, and I know the Rouge avec brie and dried fig was our collective fave:

Dunno what these guys preferred:

Not shown: The can of Hamm's my friend Colin, 23, bought me after because I bought him some $4 6-oz samples, which he enjoyed, but couldn't wrap his head around the price. I drank his beer across the street at his favorite dive, Molotov's. Call it a cultural exchange.

February 9, 2009

SFBW Day 3: Scary plot twist

I'm not sure how to handle this in light of the news I just received. "What's On Tap?" columnist and the Bay Area's preeminent beer scribe Bill Brand is in a coma after being hit on the tracks by the N-Judah at 9:10 last night. Adding to this tragedy for me is that I was having the best time with him at 9 p.m.

Briefly, I started day 3 of Beer Week on the Bike 2 Brakers ride, which was great. I then stopped in at Alembic to see Sam Calagione and try Dogfish Head's Red & White. Which was great. Then Half Pint & I hopped on the N-Judah down to 2nd & King, before getting drenched in the rain to 21st Amendment (for my 2nd time. I had a beer & knockwurst earlier on the ride) for the Sean Paxton the Homebrew Chef's beer dinner. Which was beyond great. But on the ride there, our friend Jesse boarded and he started talking to a man sitting directly beside us. I'd never met him, but he looked familiar, only something was missing. The mustache from his picture online. Like I said, I'd never met him in person, but I've read him a lot, including when he gave me my first local coverage.

He was instantly affable. We all sat at the same table, Bill, Jesse and his girlfriend Elianna, Sean's wife Arlene and adorable little girl Olivia, Bryan Kolesar from BrewLounge.com who flew out from Philly and his friend Chaz who flew down from Juneau. We enjoyed a lot of great beers, yet I'll add that they were poured in moderation. We actually used the dump bucket instead of drinking everything just because it was there. Sean's featured creation, Monk's Blood, 21A's 3xIPA, an homage to Michael Jackson called The Beer Hunter, "Diesel"-a smoked imperial porter, a "funkified" version of the house Watermelon Wheat aged for 3 years, and some more Monk's Blood. All I want to do is write about the phenomenal food, which is why we were there, but in truth, that's not why we were there. You can get food by driving up to a window, then you eat it alone in your car. We were there for the company you enjoy during a fine dining experience like this. And as I was sitting across from Bill, he kept me amused with his stories about growing up in Nebraska and the times he'd visit Austin and Boulder ("oases" we called them). He recalled the early days of beer-drinking in the Bay. This coming from a man who didn't need to drink SFBW's official brew, "Original Albion," for he had the original New Albion over years ago. Though he'd written about it, it was great hearing it from him. He also knew from Anchor Steam, pre-Maytag.

He didn't just tell good stories, he was a great listener and enjoyed various stories floating around the table, from carnivorous tales about the difference between Alaskan deer and contiguous US deer, to beer celebrations outside California, to our general adoration of the little handful at the end, Olivia.

The impression I walked away with about him is, here's a guy who wholeheartedly appreciates everything about beer; he kept diligent notes in his omnipresent notepad about each beer's profile, how it played with the food including how its preparation IN the food, and most importantly, how we all came together on this night to celebrate it, and each other. It was clear that both Sean and Shaun (co-owner of 21A) were honored to have him at the dinner.

It was an honor for me to enjoy it with him and I pray to God he makes a full recovery so we all get to enjoy many more with him. Please join us in raising a toast to Bill tonight at 7 p.m.

Jesse took this great shot last night:

February 7, 2009

SFBW Day 2: From Sea to Shining Sea

Other than my first beer of the day, which I'll get to in a sec, I spent the day celebrating breweries in San Diego, Calif. and Portland, Maine. And I did so on both sides of the Bay.

Not sure why I thought the AleSmith event @ City Beer started at noon, but it didn't start til 3. Oh well, three hours to kill surrounded by SF's most amazing bottle selection. In walked Jesse of Beer & Nosh fame, scooping up some Russian River Consecration and graciously sharing a glass of the official beer of SF Beer Week, Original Albion Ale. An easy drinking Pale Ale that tastes like history.

My friend Scott showed up and took Jesse's place at the bar (4 stools). Spying a Hitachino Nest beer new to me, Commemorative Ale (a.k.a. New Year Ale), brewed with a delicious sounding laundry list of vanilla bean, coriander, orange peel, nutmeg and cinnamon, this witbier-meets-Christmas ale didn't measure up, IMHO, to their line of beers. Luckily, the other bottle I shared with Scott--Hair of the Dog's Ruth, did. (I should note, it's named in honor of Alan Sprints's grandmother, Ruth. My grandmother Ruth has a bottle that I drank for her on her shelf.)

Three O'Clock High. $12 got us 5 AleSmith tasters--X (Pale Ale), YuleSmith, IPA, Wee Heavy, and the pappy of 'em all Speedway Stout. Sorry, traders, one-bottle limit.
It was my first time trying it, and regardless of the high ratings, I knew I'd love an imperial stout brewed with coffee then aged in bourbon barrels. I bought my one bottle as well as the Anvil ESB to commemorate my foray into homebrewing. AleSmith's owner/brewmaster, Peter Zien, was on hand to sign bottles. Cool guy.Afterward, I left while others were still in line to get in. I rendezvoused with Half Pint back at home base and she drove us to Oakland. At the Trappist, they had plenty of Allagash on tap including their collaboration with Belgium's De Struise Brewery, Fedelta. As with all Allagash beers I've ever had on tap, the lines are too cold so the beer improves immensely once it warms up. Half Pint and I shared Fedelta, our mutual favorite Curieux (see our post for The Session below), and one that I like to believe was named in my honor, Odyssey.

Allagash founder Rob Tod was on hand, as had a keg been on his hand (see below).
Sated and semi-schnockered, we hit Cato's Ale House in Oakland for some grub, capped by a half pint of Iron Springs Black Lager. There's no place like home.