December 2, 2010

So long Beer Area, hello Beervana

It is bittersweet that I no longer find myself a San Francisco resident, tempered by the fact that I'm now a Portlander. The Bay Area is the undisputed birth place of American craft brewing (thanks to Anchor, New Albion, Sierra Nevada, Buffalo Bill's, Triple Rock, and more) but Portland didn't become known as Brewtopia for nothing (thanks to pioneers like Bridgeport and Widmer Brothers and the dozens of brewing brethren such as Hair of the Dog, Cascade, Amnesia, H.U.B., Laurelwood, McMenamins, and on and on).

In truth, because good beer is to be found everywhere these days, what I'll miss most is the community of beer lovers. I didn't go to beerfests and special tappings for the beer so much as the people at them. It's not that I only gravitate to those who appreciate good beer, but, quite
the other way around--it's that fun, adventurous people tend to be the ones who appreciate the finer-yet-affordable things in life and beer inhabits exactly that crossroads. "Beer" can be almost anything these days but it's certainly much more than the one-brand-fits-all stuff that most people continue to perceive it as. Maybe that's why only 5% of Americans always call for craft beer, or at least that's what the numbers would suggest since craft beer only constitutes roughly 5% of the total beer market.

Fortuitously, these same beer-lovin' riff-raff populate Portland. I can't wait to meet 'em.

The story of how Half Pint and Dunkel and I arrived here is simple. We love SF but as my wife says, "she's expensive." Between being priced out of the housing market, a job recruitment from a big o'l company up here that she couldn't say no to, the fact that we love PDX and new adventures of all sorts, and sure, toss in all the amazing breweries that are now within walking, biking, and bussing distance, and, well, here we are. The odyssey continues.

I've been a little negligent of this here blog, primarily because I did most of my beer blogging for the SF Weekly's SFoodie blog as well as the SF Craft Beer Examiner. I hope to right this wrong and chime in more often, even if just posting tidbits whenever I seek out any of the 35 breweries in PDX or our plans for "Foodcart Fridays" wherein we intend to kick off each weekend with dinner at a different food cart, pod, truck, or airstream. I should beerify it by offering beer pairing suggestions.

In any event, this is the start of a new, exciting adventure, full of new breweries and beers to explore, new brewers to befriend, and of course to kick work on my next book project about homebrewers into high gear. So look for me and Dunkel at the Lucky Lab hard at work and if you're there at the same time, I'm easily distracted.

October 9, 2010

Toast to Michael Jackson

Alas, three years after the fact, the beer world still mourns the loss of our Michael Jackson. And while researching odds and ends about the renowned Beer Hunter for a story due this week* and having fun watching lots of videos I've either never seen or haven't watched in ages, I spotted one of the toast that Tom Dalldorf, publisher of Celebrator Beer News, gave at the Toronado when simultaneous toasts to MJ were giving across America.
Not being a heavy, heavy drinker, I knew I was there but it's not like I recall hamming it up for the camera which I didn't know was there. But if you watch the video, there I am, doing my part to join the beer lovin' community in raising a glass at our felled hero (1942-2007). OK, so, it'd help if you freeze the clip at the 43 second mark and again at the 3:21 mark. Look at the bar each time, squint, and there I am, glad to be at the Toronado but wishing I wasn't there for that reason.

*Quick question. Someone who's way techier than I, who deals with things like SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for work, suggsisted (half suggested, half insisted) that I post all of my beer stories that are published on this here blog. Happily, that entails a lot of posts as I'm getting a lot of work (even if it means delaying progress on the next book). Is that something anyone would be interested in? For the stuff that appears online, I generally Tweet it. But how about the print stuff? Seems almost, I dunno, tacky to me, but I DO spend a lot of time working on these stories and if you don't subscribe to the magazines and the like, you'll never get the chance to see them. One such story, as I heard from the editor, received much exuberant response and the letters to the editor section in the following issue confirmed it. I don't generally read those, but in this case, it warmed my heart cockles. Shall I repost them?

September 13, 2010

Bell's Brewery coming to California...

Well, okay, I can only hope. But my wishful drinking, to borrow a phrase from Carrie Fisher, didn't come out of thin air. Michigan Live reported that Bell's, makers of my and a million other people's favorite wheat beer Oberon, is embarking on a $52 million expansion. They're in 18 states now including almost the entire eastern US and of course the upper Midwest since they're from Kalamazoo, Mich. But they entered a western-ish state this past year--Arizona--which I know is just testing the waters for manifest destiny--California!

When I visited Larry Bell in 2006, he was preparing for a major expansion, one that would see brewing capacity climb to 120,000 barrels. Such production seemed way off. After all, he opened in 1985 using a 15-gallon pot. By 1991, he'd actually surpassed the 1,000-barrel mark. But just last year, Bell's produced an impressive 115,000 barrels. This new expansion will start by bringing in more fermentation tanks and keep 'em on track for planned 20% growth--annually.

So like I said, is it possible that by 2012 we'll be drinking HopSlam IPA or Expedition Stout here in the Golden State? If I were a betting man, I'd say Yes. Of course, that does nothing to get the bottle of Batch 5000 back that I brought into my friends' apartment to chill and share over four years ago after I drove from K'zoo to Chicago but they just stuck it in the back of the fridge. No beer-o-philes they, I fear it was casually gulped as an after-work beer for one of them. Having a fresh supply of Oberon would go a long way to assuage that hurt.

September 1, 2010

The week in heavy drinking. Day 4: Cherry Voodoo chiefs at Alembic Bar

Far from complain-ing, I have a lot of stories on my plate of late. And in this line of work, that means a lot of "meetings over pints." One that's right up my alley is for Draft Magazine's Beer Me column. Without giving it all away, there's a new brewery on the horizon here in SF called Cherry Voodoo Brewing. One of the founding fathers' name is Yuri and he has a big mouth as far as his claims about their guaranteed success, but at the same time, he's not the type to write a check his mouth can't cash. He's had phenomenal success in the tech world, the elite athletic world, and, fingers crossed, the beer world next.

Six months ago when I first met him to hear about his brewery plans, he and Bryan over at Clara Street Brewing brewed up a crazy idea for a beer I had. Chocolate Kumquat Porter. They called it Truffle Pig. I've heard wavering reports of its tastiness. Alas, I haven't tried it yet, but I BELIEVE Bryan has a bottle stashed away. Please, please, please. In any event, part of Cherry Voodoo's mission is to brew crazy-out-there beers. Having said that, the other part of their mission is to convert the masses. Impossible dichotomy? Probably, but is that crazier than a 410 lb. man becoming a winning triathlete within a year? Because that's part of Yuri's story. And it's the one I heard all about over some Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye, some Moonlight Death & Taxes, and some Orval at Alembic Monday night. At some point, life story time ended and we just shot the shit. We also killed an entire pizza at Escape from New York next door. Like I said, I'm far from complaining.

The following night: Blind Oktoberfest tasting panel for my monthly SF Weekly feature.

August 30, 2010

The week in heavy drinking. Day 3: Bear Republic Pre-GABF party

Praise Beer by Bart'ers Gail & Steve...for driving me up on Sunday to Healds-burg in Sonoma County (why is there no train yet?), home of Bear Republic Brewing. Their best known beer--their flagship--is Racer 5 IPA. It took home a gold medal not for American IPAs but for Strong Pale Ale at last year's Great American Beer Festival. So how many medals are they shooting for this year? 23!

Sunday, founding father-son team Richard and Richard ("Rich" or "Ricardo") Norgrove, along with their crack team of brewers welcomed a crowd of about 100 to the patio area behind the brewpub to taste any and all of the 23 beers they will be submitting to GABF in Denver in a couple weeks. (I'm looking forward to my 4th fest, now in its 29th year.) I got to 13 of them.

I started out with the light'n'low ABV to high strategy, but after a few lagers, I realized I'd never get to the fun, bold flavorific end of the spectrum. First up was the Volksbier, which Bear Republic is entering into category 29-D, American-Style Premium Lager. In other words, it's trying to take the crown from Coors Banquet (Miller High Life got the silver). With 4.1% alcohol by volume (ABV) but 30 international bitterness units (IBU), this leapt into the realm of one of my favorite lagers of all time. I can't say the same for the next two I had, El Oso amber lager (I rarely cotton to ambers) (#33-D) and Late Harvest Oktoberfest-style lager (#28-B), but kudos for being one of the few American breweries to even do an Oktoberfest, especially this far west of Milwuakee.

I sampled every rye ale since it's a flavor I like but still ascertaining which ones I truly dig and which ones are just on the bandwagon. I can tell you that between the Roggenbier (#8-B, German-style Rye Beer), Hop Rod Rye from their annual line-up (#58, American-style India Black Ale), and Ryevalry (#15-A, American-Belgo-style Ale), I heartily concur that Hop Rod belongs in the year-rounders. The Roggen is fermented with Hefeweizen yeast so the spicy rye and banana-y Bavarian yeast don't gibe on my tongue. The Ryevalry is fun and tasty, but the Belgian yeast made it too fruity for my liking. Whether or not Hop Rod belongs in the IBA category without roasted or carafa malt making it truly black is for someone else to debate.

And among the sours, I tried all three. Entering in category 20-A, Wood and Barrel Aged Sour Beer, I think I preferred the lighter Toyon Brut (aged in French Oak and wine barrels) to the muskier Cuvee de Bubba (a special blend aged in wine barrels) but suspect that the latter will appeal to fans and judges more as it was more like a Flemish Red. The Prickly Pear Barrel Aged Grizz (aged 10 months in neutral oak on roasted prickly pears) was darker than I expected and I felt the wild yeast flavors were too subdued by the caramel maltiness.

Among the beers you shouldn't get your hopes up to try at the brewpub so I'm glad I got 'em while I could, Bob Peak's Pro-Am Marie Laveaux III black pepper Pilsner tasted like a great pils but should've been pepperier if you ask me. And finally, there was Clobberskull. Here's their description: This English Estate October Ale is brewed with 10% raw wheat and 10% split peas. Fermented with our house Scottish ale yeast and barrel aged for 100 days in French Oak barrels. Not sound like that falls under any category you've ever heard of? That's because it's #4-A. A new one. "Field Beer." Don't look for it to be as crowded as American IPAs or Sour beers; in fact, if Bear Republic is medal fishing, there's no guarantee their flagship Racer 5 IPA will repeat with gold in #46 American Strong Pale Ale but my money is on Clobberskull to win, place, or show... especially if there's only three entries.

Oh, and on the way home, we stopped for dinner at Flavor, a new gastropub I’d yet to hit in Santa Rosa. The gnocchi was awesome and you can never, ever go wrong with Moonlight Death & Taxes.

Monday night's bar-venture: Alembic Bar with two of the principals of the upcoming Cherry Voodoo Brewing.

August 28, 2010

The week in heavy drinking. Day 2: X-mas in August

Some time after the holidays, my friend Chris noticed he had a bunch of holiday beers leftover. I think I suggested he have a "Christmas in July" party. Maybe it was his idea and I just named it. Maybe I'm giving myself credit where none belongs. In any event, July turned to August and he finally got down to it. And he brought it.

The Evite called for winter warmers and holiday beers of every ilk. It also called for guests to don their most hideous Christmas sweaters or outfits, to bring cheapo gifts for a white elephant exchange, and there was the promise of Santa Claus making a surprise off-season visit. He didn't. But the Christmas playlist which included the Wham chestnut "Last Christmas" to lesser known nuggets from Jimmy Buffet more than made up for it.

Dave and Tiila brought Three Floyds Christmas Porter and Captain Lawrence Nor'Easter. Both excellent. Jesse and Eliana, fresh from their honeymoon in Italy and Belgium, brought a vertical of Shmaltz's Chanukah beer, Jewbelation. Jason showed up late but was forgiven when he pulled out a bourbon-aged Santa's Little Helper from Port Brewing and a quixotic Alameda Brewing winter warmer from '09. What'd I contribute? My mixed pack of 12-ouncers included a Shiner Cheer, y'all. Hey, it's not like Chris busted out his Bruery Partridge in a Pear Tree or vertical Samichlaus or anything.

I wish I had a photo of Half Pint and I wearing our furry hats with ear flaps we scored in the white elephant exchange! I'm sure that will surface soon.

If I keep drinking like this, Rudolph won't be the only red-nosed reindeer around here.

Tomorrow: Bear Republic Pre-GABF Cellar Party.

The week in heavy drinking. Day 1: Eat Real

I'm a lightweight. I mean, my weight isn't light (due to my beer consumption), but I can't consume all that much beer. So I went on a one-week wagon in preparation for the coming week, which began yesterday in Oakland at Eat Real.

I was interested in all the ice cream carts and fusion taco trucks, but if we're being honest, I was there for the beer shed (over 20 local breweries) and to participate as one of the 10 judges of the first annual homebrew competition. We were given the option of which of the 5 categories we wanted to judge, and while I would've been happy with any of them (session, hoppy, farmhouse, strong, and taco), I opted for the later to see what area homebrews thought constituted a taco-worthy beer. For the record, no, they didn't have to be made with carnitas or cumin or queso fresco, they just had to pair well with tacos. There were only four entries (the winner was an herbal number, possibly jasmine or lavender and ground ginger, maybe grains of paradise; the runner up was a jalapeno stout but it lost points for having a strong root beer flavor, perhaps from fermented in a carboy or keg that previously held root beer). Of course, the sampling continued through the Best of Show round, which went to a Bretty farmhouse ale. Whoever the winners were--congrats, and thanks for entering. Ditto for those who entered the jam competition. I loved sampling 'em all and while I believe the blackberry-chocolate was going to win, my hands-down vote was for the Lemon-IPA marmalade!

From there, it was over to the beer shed. I was surprisingly disappointed with Sierra Nevada's Tumbler (autumn brown ale) because their new releases have really been killing it. But fortunately, I got to try Ale Industries' Rye'd Piper and Black Diamond's Saison (from the description, it tasted like Red Headed Stepchild).

As I was leaving Jack London Square, I cashed in my remaining drink ticket at the juice stand and the perceptive rep from Odwalla steered me toward a tropical number with coconut juice ("It has extra potassium"), hence, while I had an easy-breezy BART ride home, I did not wake up hungover.

Tonight: a Christmas in August Beer BBQ.

July 13, 2010

Honoring Hosers in Houston

I have been honored with a request to speak at the 27th Annual Dixie Cup Homebrew Competition in Houston, which takes place this year on Oct 14-17. It will be my second year attending, but last year I hit it as part of my "research" trip, my second national beer odyssey. This year they're looking for a preview of the next book I'm working on, which in case you haven't heard or read, is about homebrewers. Basically, if Red, White, & Brew was about the people in the professional brewing industry, this one (Title T/K) is about the people in the homebrewing community.

But what I'm really excited about is the theme for this year's Dixie Cup. Every year they have a theme for a decidedly non-BJCP beer style. Past cups have seen "styles" such as Breakfast Cereal Beer, Malt Liquor, and... The Beer That Burns Twice. This year, in honor of my favorite hoseheads from the Great White North, the theme is Strange Brew. If I can get motivated, I even know exactly what I'd brew in accordance with the rules (seriously, click that last link). Hint: while I thought about it, I will not brew up a Franks'n'Beans Ale.

Three months away. I better get brewing so fermentation can...take off.

July 2, 2010

The Session #41: Craft beers inspired by homebrewing

This month, the Wallace bros. from Lug Wrench Brewing Co. ask Sessioners to blogtificate about "how has homebrewing had an affect on the commercial beer we have all come to love?" Talk about open-ended.

It's no stretch at all to say that every single craft beer out there is an extension of a homebrew. Unlike the days of yore in the countries of olde, where brewing fathers begat brewing sons and the trade passed down generationally, 99% or more of today's master brewers began making their own beer in their kitchens or garages and are largely self-taught. Sure many talented ones went to brewing academies like Siebold's or UC Davis, but those are really like finishing schools after they were home schooled by the likes of Papazian, Eckhardt, and more recently, Mosher, Daniels, Palmer, and the gang.

Some would claim that homebrew-inspired breweries out there only constitute the new kids on the block, the ones making newfangled beers like Short's Key Lime Pie, Cigar City's Mochaccino Bolita, or the Bruery's Autumn Maple featuring yams. One trend among these particular beers is that, well, they're all pretty desserty. And if your mama taught you anything, you can't eat dessert till you've had your dinner. "Growing food" as my sister beseeches my nieces to eat. Somehow, in these people's eyes, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale,
Widmer Hefeweizen*, and New Belgium Fat Tire are so far removed from small batch craft beers that they border on behemoth corporate concoctions. It's called "fundamentals," son. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, these beers were first brewed on systems smaller than most mid-sized craft breweries' pilot systems. (*Granted, the young Widmer bros. intended for their Alt to be their flagship, not their wheat beer, but the market demanded it.)

By contrast, even the Big Two, a.k.a. BMC, are proffering not "craft beers" but "beers that are crafted" and include everything from the hotcake-selling Blue Moon witbier to misguided attempts such as Michelob Hop Hound Amber Wheat. The point being, virtually every American-made beer not being advertised at a major sporting event is, in some way, inspired by homebrewers be they Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada), Jeff Lebesch (formerly of New Belgium), Mark Carpenter (Fritz's right hand man at Anchor whose future there is now
TBD), or mid-revolutionaries such as Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head), Dan Carey (New Glarus), and Alan Sprints (Hair of the Dog) to the new bumper crop mindblowing talents including Patrick Rue (The Bruery along with head brewer Tyler King), Scott Vaccaro (Captain Lawrence), and possibly anyone reading this who has high hopes of opening his or her own brewery.

And with few exceptions (sorry, I've never met an Amber or a Helles I liked), as a beer lover, I love 'em all and am indebted to all brewers: both home and pro alike.

Photos by me: (top) Ken Grossman with two of his kids--Brian and Sierra--at Sierra Nevada. (bottom) Homebrewer Ben Miller who won the Sam Adams Longshot competition AND Great American Beer Fest's Pro-Am competition on the same day.

June 4, 2010

The Session #40: Session Beer

Erik over at Top Fermented hosts this month's version of the Session and chose a topic that's homophonically appropriate. Session beers. Erik asks:

What is your definition of a session beer? Is it, as Dr. Lewis suggested at the Craft Brewers Conference this year, “a pint of British wallop” or is your idea of a session beer a crisp Eastern European lager, a light smoky porter, a dry witbier, or even a dry Flemish sour?

Is it merely enough for a beer to be low alcohol to be considered a session beer, or is there some other ineffable quality that a beer must hold in order to merit the term? And if so, what is that quality? Is it “drinkability”? Or something else?
This will be short'n'easy (if any of you make a crude comment about my brand new wife, Half Pint, yer all in big trouble. Yes, I've been remiss about blogging since I stopped doing it long enough to get hitched to the greatest chick beer drinker in the land) since I'm a devotee of session beers, which to me is just anything I can drink several pints of without having my
keister meet the floor. For me, and I'm not saying this because I think Fritz reads my blog, it's Anchor Steam. 4.9% ABV and the one that started it all. It's got malt, it's got hops, it's got bubbles, and like barbeque sauce (otherwise, whip cream), it goes with everything. Since I live in an apartment in San Francisco, I wouldn't know from a lawn, but if I did, the first thing I'd purchase after a ridable John Deere would be a case of Anchor Steam. Yes, I love trying 14% RIS's and whatnot, but it boils down to this: I'm a lightweight! If I don't have enough food and water in me, I'm schnockered. I've never once left Bell's Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo sturdily on my own feet. But I do walk out of my local Magnolia Pub because as is their wont in being a British style gastropub (albeit with mounds of California accentuation), they brew loads of session beers. It's even on record that I rehydrate with their 3.6% Dark Star Mild after the SFBW Beer Run. Does a low alcohol session beer have to be
mild? No way, Jose. Whenever I find it, I'm sure to treat myself to the Bruery's Hottenroth Berlinerweisse, which, at 3.1%, I can't fathom how they cram so much tartness and deliciousness into such a light beer. A personal shout out to the boys down there for making a beer I can drink copiously without embarrassing myself. All hail the session beer.

April 30, 2010

Dropped Anchor. End of an era

Though I covered this in the SF Weekly's SFoodie blog and the SF Beer Examiner blog, the sale of Anchor this week keeps me pondering. Don't ask me to rattle off everything great about craft beer and the industry, but one thing I've discussed frequently is that all the forefathers, the pioneers, the movers, shakers, and brewers who got the keg rolling are, for the most part, still around. What other industry could that be said for? Luminaries such as Boston Beer's Jim Koch and Sierra Nevada's Ken Grossman are still captaining their ships, still vibrant and show no signs of slowing down; in fact, both of them keep ramping up great projects. This is what I set out to discover when I started working on Red, White, & Brew. While there was Dick Yuengling and Jake Leinenkugel whose great-great-grandfathers built the breweries they now preside over, I met with D.L. Geary who founded the first microbrewery in New England, Larry Bell who started Michigan's first, Carol Stoudt, the first female craft brewery owner, and more. While all of them have kids now who are working for them and learning the ropes in the hope that one day they take the reins from dear old Dad or Mom, the undisputed father of American craft beer is Fritz Maytag who bought the sinking Anchor Brewery in 1965. This week, after 45 years, he sold it. Just up and sold it.

While not the same level of severity as Kennedy's assassination or a man walking on the moon, I'll never forget when I heard the news. I was at the New Orleans airport returning from Jazz Fest Monday night when Half Pint texted me the news, informing me that our friend Jesse from Beer and Nosh was the first to post it. The shock hasn't really worn off.

Maytag is 72. Last month, Ken Allen, 70, sold Anderson Valley Brewing Co. As the pioneers
reach retirement age, this will happen more and more. It's inevitable. Change is constant. Even among the breweries I selected for RW&B, where longevity was a top criterion, half of the 14 have undergone major changes. And the fact that I picked 14 to represent just 1% of the then-1,400 breweries means it is likely that half of all breweries have experienced such transitions. To wit:
  1. Leinenkugel's was already owned by Miller. But the SAB-Miller/MolsonCoors merger of their US operations means that Leinie's is now owned by MillerCoors.
  2. New Belgium is employee-owned, but founders Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch were majority shareholders. They seemed an odd pairing--her nurturing and talkative, him taciturn and retiring. I just found out they are recently divorced and Lebesch has been completely bought out.
  3. Grand Teton was quietly sold by founder Charlie Otto after some 20 years.
  4. Widmer Bros. merged with Redhook, both already partly-owned by Anheuser-Busch, to form Craft Brewers Alliance with Kona and Goose Island falling under their umbrella.
  5. Anchor, the very first craft brewery, sold, along with its distilling business which was also a revolution in craft adult beverages.
  6. Electric Brewing in remote Bisbee, Ariz, everybody's favorite chapter, was sold to a couple of guys who recently opened Dave's Electric Brewpub in Tempe (founded by Electric Dave in 1988, one of the new owners name is also Dave). Far worse, Electric Dave was recently in a life-threatening car accident but is recovering in Bisbee.
  7. Dixie Brewing in New Orleans continues to be contract brewed in Wisc. and its return to the Big Easy grows ever unlikely.
Names and faces are changing. Fortunately, beer continues to get better and better. Go enjoy an Anchor Steam and count your blessings.

April 15, 2010

Keep yer milk man, gimme a beer man

I get all forms of news-letters, press releases, tweets, pings, pongs, pangs of jealousy, and information about beer happenings both locally and across this great craft beer soaked nation of ours, but this one made me nostalgic for a time I never knew.

From the email of The Bohemian, a killer B&B I stayed at in New Ulm, Minn. on my initial Beer Odyssey so as to visit the August Schell Brewery (the 2nd oldest in America and 26th largest overall and currently run by Ted Marti and his sons--the 5th and 6th generation descendants of the founder), here's the latest in giving the people what they want. On a sad note, this offer is only good for residents of New Ulm, Minn.

This weekend marks the delightful reintroduction of home delivery. It's a limited event, but a superb attempt at honoring nostalgia, history and, by golly, the local folk that fuel the enthusiasm of...our local brewery. The Milk Man, many remember, but around here, beer was also dropped off in earnest at the door. When news of this event surfaced, thoughts raced through my head of how many guests I could fit 'within the city limits' at my address! Everyonewanted to move to New Ulm, and with me, at least they could for the weekend. Only two cases were allowed at any door step, but I was still on my game, even though devastation was looming as the orders were filling fast and only so many available. I called Ted and Jodi Marti, pathetically maybe, but I really thought this idea was the next best thing to sliced bread! Upon no answer up front, and reading the fine print: This offer was for RESIDENTS of New Ulm. I did what any savvy girl would do, ran to the liquor store, got my order in and will just have to crack the cases when they arrive for the weekend! In other words 'share': my love of New Ulm, a brewery that rocks, incredible marketing and a good time. So, for one, call 507.354.BBNU. Oh, we are going to have to raffle, or maybe wrestle, for the signed cases from Mr. Ted Marti, which I suppose will be, uh, empty after we are through on the porch.

April 1, 2010

Wetting my Whistler

Greetings from the Great White North, eh. For the most part, it's hard to think of Canada as a foreign country, but considering how cold it is in Whistler (snowing every day in late March) and how expensive a six pack of beer is (about $12, and the US-Canadian exchange rate is virtually even!), this feels pretty foreign.

But their flag is red and white, so this still qualifies for red, white, and brew.

I'll say one thing for craft brewers here, they sure are up on their terroir. I bought a sampler pack from Rickard's, unaware at the time it's an imprint brand of Molson. The sampler had a Red (red ale), White (white ale), and Dark (porter brewed with maple syrup, though it hardly looked or tasted porter-ly).

When that ran out, I got a sixer of Granville Island Brewing Kitsalano Maple Cream Ale. Again, where's the maple?

In search of real maple syrup flavor, third time's a charm. I got two bombers of Cannery Brewing Maple Stout. The Web site says it's brewed with real maple syrup though the label lists among the ingredients "maple flavour." Still, it went great with our Nanaimo bars.

As for Cannery's Blackberry Porter and the awesomest named beer of all time, Russell Brewing IP'Eh, I'll have to wait til I share these with the hosers back home.

Take off, eh.

March 5, 2010

The Session #37: The Display Shelf: When to drink the good stuff

This month's Session hosted by The Ferm is about when do we actually get to drink our prized bottles that we hoard. It's a topic recently touched upon in the LA Times, and those cats down in LA take "cellaring" to an on-the-real level. I still have a bunch of junk in my parents' basement down in LA, but certainly no beer. And just to get this off my chest, I'm still not entirely comfortable with how the beer community has joined winos in turning cellar into a verb. But I do appreciate the irony in essentially "lagering" our fine ales.

I've blogged about my Beeradise in the past. I recently thinned the herd to make more room in the Beeradise (aka malt vault), which of course one again overfloweth. I figure, it's proof I don't have a drinking problem (just a collecting problem). The good and the bad part is that Half Pint has put her foot down and limits our stash to whatever can fit into the armoire-half and the chiller-half (and whatever I invariably sneak into our hall closet, until such time as it starts to block access to her shoes).
As such, I don't buy a case of beers like Anchor Old Foghorn or Sierra Nevada Old Bigfoot every year. A few I do procure annually are Anchor Our Special Ale, Alaskan Smoked Porter, and Deschutes The Abyss. I don't think anyone would fault me there, right?

But the question at hand is: when do you actually stop mentally masturbating over looking at them like high-gravity centerfolds and actually have your way with them? Like a kick to the head, I feel I’m snapping out of my hoarding mentality. Life is uncertain. What if a piece of blue ice falls from an airplane and fatally knocks
the shit out of—or into—me and I never get to try those 300-ish bottles including the three-year vertical of Cantillon Blåbær peacefully laying at rest in there? No way, Jose. I’m
gonna drink those bad boys sooner than later. Late May/early June sounds good, shortly after my wedding and honeymoon. That’s as good a reason to celebrate, yeah?

As for the other 297-ish, I never really need my arm twisted to find a reason to rejoice with good beer and good friends.

February 19, 2010

Ten-day SF Beer "Week" is too long

I love love love that I live in the best beer drinking region and that we have our own San Francisco Beer Week to put on a fancy show for the locals and diehard beer lovers who make the pilgrimage. But c'mon, ten days of balls-out beer bashes is a bit overboard.

At least I seem to recall it was.

Within a couple days, I was having a hard time remembering what I'd done and what beers I tasted a couple days earlier. I know I kicked things off with the opening gala which was a hoot. I remember Speakeasy Brewing bowled me over as the showstealer of the night with both their Zin-aged Payback Porter and bourbon-aged Scarface Stout.

I actually remember the Bistro's Double IPA Fest (only because I actually ran a half marathon early the next morning!) As a result of the run, Half Pint & I felt more than entitled to splurge at the Anchor beer lunch at Hopmonk Tavern. As always, a great meal and, as always, a treat to hear the godfather of craft brewing, Fritz Maytag, pontificate on craft beer and Anchor's role in establishing the rules of the game. Sitting in the warm beer garden alongside Joe Tucker and Mario Rubio from (and its blog the Hop Press), hearing Fritz spin his yarns while drinking Liberty Ale or Anchor Porter, well, it just made the Super Bowl viewing party that followed that much sweeter, as did the Saints' triumph. Geaux Saints.

I seem to recall moderating the first ever SFBW panel, which was on a favorite subject of mine, barrel-aged beers, but beyond that I can't recall much. Oh sure, I could post one of the dozen short videos that Half Pint shot using our new Flip videocam, but that would require me learning how to post a video and I'm too much a technophobe to do that. Besides, you should've bought a ticket and attended. In other words, attendance was light but that just meant more beer (and St. George Whiskey) for all of us. But yes, it was highly educational and the following nights' panels on technical brewing and pioneering/trailblazing brewers moderated by the Brewing Network's Justin Crossley are reported to have been equally exhilarating.

Speaking of barrel-aging, I seem to recall hitting Barrel Night--my favorite event from the inaugural SFBW--at Triple Rock.

Seriously, that was only Tuesday night. The whole "week" is a blur. And the Homebrew Chef Sean Paxton's 8-course (really 9-course) beer dinner didn't lighten the load any. It was a staggering accomplishment. It was tasty as all get-out. It was... a lot.

Good thing I went on another run that week. A beer run. Make that a Beer Run. Inspired by Bryan Kolesar from the Brew Lounge (who, alas, was snowed in in Philly and couldn't make it) and with help from Derrick Peterman, the Bay Area Beer Runner, we actually pulled it off, and all before the Toronado's Barleywine fest!
Watch this video.

All I know is, when it was over, I vowed to take a week off of beer. But who am I kidding. I haven't been able to take a single day off from having at least a single beer. Regardless, thank God it's not for another 51 weeks, and I'll be counting them down.

January 18, 2010

Thinning the herd

When your "beer cellar" is capable of holding, oh, say around 300 bottles, and it's packed to the gills to the point where you have overflow piling up in boxes on the floor, well, if you have a fiance like mine who doesn't like to see piles anywhere, there's only one course of action to take. Thin the herd.

So I invited a few local, friendly beer geeks over. Nuthin' fancy. No grand pairings. Just a simple open-season on the Beeradise. True, I made some suggestions by chilling down a bunch of bottl
es, but almost anything in the malt vault was fair game. In the end, eight of us killed 15 bottles (OK, a bit more including something akin to homebrew but more potent). Not just 15 bottles, but bombers and 750s and we even closed out the ceremony with a magnum. I believe the beers ranged from 9-18% ABV. Here's a rundown of what we polished off, maybe some notes, and my personal score out of 10. Because they were hand-picked, it's no surprise many were highly rated.

Goose Island's Demolition (Belgian Golden). I appreciated how light it was=9
Southern Tier's Pumking (pumpkin ale). I agree it's the best pumpkin beer there is. You'd swear there's even graham cracker crust=9
Boulevard's Somestack Series Double-wide (2IPA). Proof a great IPA can even come from Kansas=8
Blvd's (Somestack) Seeyoulator (Doppelbock). Aged on cedar? To a wood fan like me, super tay-stee=9
Rodenbach's Vintage 2007 Vintage (Oak-aged Sour). I'm not all about sours, and Rodenbach is often over the top for me, but this was easier to get into=9
New Belgium's La Folie (Oak-aged Sour). This bottle was handed to me by New Belgium co-founder Kim Jordan herself back in '07. For that I gave it an extra half point=8.5
Blvd's (Smokestack) George Brett (Saison). Why do people think that merely adding Brettanomyces makes it complex? Further proof "horse blanket" is not a flavor I condone=4
Odell's Woodcut No. 1 (Oak-aged Old Ale). You never know what will happen when you get into a discussion with a liquor-store-owning beer geek in Wichita. For me, it meant obtaining this glorious bottle. It substantiates that the best part of wood-aged beers is the wood (not a particular spirit or wine). Oaktastic!=10
Odell's Woodcut No. 2 (Oak-aged Strong Ale). Picked this bottle up in Denver, first. I liked it, but way to sweet (and I'm a sweet-tooth)=6
--Interesting side note. Of the 8 people who tried both WC#1 & #2, it was an even split. 3 guys and 1 gal preferred No. 1 and the same for No. 2. Ain't subjectivity great?
Nogne O's Sunturnbrew (Smoked Barleywine). Made me want to slow-cook an entire forest's worth of animals just to see what would pair the best=9
Dogfish Head's Fort (Framboise). 18%! It burns, oh, it burns. Not even the raspberry patch's worth of raspberries could save it. Shoulda waited several years?=4
Church Brew Works' 2000 Triple (Triple). Pittsburgh's Church Beer Works is easily the most remarkable brewpub in the country in terms of appearance. This subtle triple is also praiseworthy=8
Charleville's Triple Wit (Witbier). 8
Bluegrass Brewing's Horse Piss (piss lager). Truth in advertising. Picked this up in Kentucky, just because. I threw this in the mix as a test to make sure our palates still worked. Regrettably, they did=1
Alltech's Lexington Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale (bourbon-aged). Most bourbon-aged beers are based on Imperial Stouts or something where the flavor is predisposed to mask the bourbon notes. By using a lighter, golden ale as the foundation, the beer becomes a pedestal for the fresh barrels culled from just down the road. A boilermaker in a bottle=8
Anchor's Our Barrel Ale (Barrel-aged Strong Ale). Now that Anchor's entree in the barrel-aging world has a year on it (it debuted at the start of last year's SFBW), we opened this one last. Despite being a magnum and the fact we were all schnockered, it went the quickest=10

The 8 imbibers other than myself were Jesse Friedman of Beer & Nosh, Gail Williams & Steve Shapiro of Beer By Bart, Damian Fagan, Jason Henry, Chris Cohen who, once he moved to SF, is on the accelerated beer geek path, Eric Cripe of the Jug Shop and a veritable Certified Cicerone (TM), and toward the end, my own Half Pint.