Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for October, 2004

Craft Beer Proves Even Experts Can Be Wrong

OAKLAND _ I was cleaning out a filing cabinet the other day and I unearthed an Associated Press clipping from May 11, 2000: “Specialty Beer Market Fizzles,’’ the headline says.
“Just a few years ago, connoisseurs thought small breweries and their tasty, pale ales, amber lagers and dark stouts were going to transform the beer industry,’’ the article says.
“But the country’s thirst for specialty beers has never fulfilled expectations, and many small breweries are cutting back after an industry shakeout. Nationwide, more than 300 brewpubs and breweries have shut down since 1996, the year sales peaked for four of the larges specialty brewers, Boston Beer Co., Pete’s Brewing, Redhook Ale Brewery and Pyramid Breweries. Inc…
“But some closings were inevitable because the market could not support the entry of more than 900 brewpubs and microbreweries over a three year period leading up to 1998, when sales went flat,’’ said David Edgar of the Institute for Brewing Studies in Colorado…
“….I think what you’re finding is this segment of the beer market was more of a flash in the pan,’’ said Skip Carpenter, an analyst at Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette in New York.’’
Flash in the pan? Hmmm.
For the statistically minded among us _ Cindy Jones of the Association of Brewers, Boulder, CO, offers this: On Sept. 30, 2004 in the U.S. , there were:
— 1,362 craft breweries (under 15,000 barrels a year). That number includes 936 brewpubs and 371 microbreweries
— 55 regional breweries (up to two million barrels a year) For example, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium
— 20 large breweries (over two million barrels annually).
So far in 2004, 24 brewpubs and five microbreweries closed.
But 22 brewpubs and 15 micros opened. One brewer also reached regional status, Jones said. Sales for 2003 were up 3.4 percent, while big brewer sales slipped slight.
The brewpub closings can be expected, since brewpubs have a restaurant tied to the business and the restaurant business isn’t easy, she said.
More info:

Posted on Wednesday, October 20th, 2004
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The Top-Selling Craft Beers in America

I love statistics – baseball or beer. Today, we’re talking beer, of course, and Adams Beverage Group, an alcohol research company, based in Norwalk, CT has a new research report with some encouraging news for those of us who prefer full-flavored beer over yellow rice and corn beer.

Sales of what Adams calls “microbrewed ‘’ beers rose 3.4 percent in 2003, while overall beer consumption fell 0.3 tenths of one percent. Light beer sales also rose 3.4 percent.
The Adams Beer Handbook costs $595 _ it’s used mostly by large marketing companies and ad agencies. However, in a phone interview, Tiziana Mohorovic, the company spokeswoman, provided a bit of info.
Top selling microbrewed beers in bottles (not, apparently draft sales), according to Adams:
1. Yuengling Porter, Yuengling, Pottsville, PA. 18.1 million cases, 1,313,497 barrels. Founding 1829, this is America’s oldest brewery and its easily the oldest porter in the U.S. Dark, sweet, delicious. ***
2. Sam Adams Boston Lager, 9.4 million cases. At 13.78 cases per barrel that’s 682,148 barrels. Some brewers love to hate Jim Koch and Boston Brewing, but I believe he’s done a great service for great American beer. This is a beautifully made, European style lager. ***

3. George Killian Red, Coors, Golden, Colo., 8.2 million cases, 595,065 barrels. This may be a loose, sweetish, interpretation of an Irish Red Ale; it probably has some corn mixed in with the barley, giving it a “light’’ taste, much revered by large, American brewers. But in a pinch _ say, when stuck somewhere in Iowa, It will do. **
4. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico, CA. , 7.16 million cases, 519,593 barrels.
There are days when I think I can never drink another beer with Sierra Nevada’s signature, floral, Cascade hops _ then I happen on one at a party , try it and still love it. Bottle conditioned; all barley malt. A real American classic since 1981. *****.
5. Fat Tire Amber Ale, New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, CO., 3.2 million cases, 232,220 barrels. People love this beer. I’ve seen cases of Fat Tire fly out the door in places as diverse as Albuquerque, NM and San Francisco. Personally, New Belgium makes many other brews that I like better: Loft, Biere de Mars, for example.
But it’s impossible to fault Fat Tire: Straightforward, well-balanced, very drinkable ale. Another All-American beer. ***. WILLIAM BRAND

Posted on Wednesday, October 20th, 2004
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Bottled Gold – On Sale in Northern California

OAKLAND _ In my newspaper column Wednesday I listed details on a number of gold, silver and bronze medals won by brewers from the Bay Area at last weekend’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Most are available only at the brewpub or at a few selected stores.
However, a number of bottled beers _ widely available in California _ also won awards at the GABF.
Here’s a selection of first place gold medal winners
— Cascade Ale, Deschutes Brewing, Bend, OR. Deschutes beers can be found easily in the San Francisco Bay Area, but they too often are overshadowed by other more famous, more extreme brews. So it’s nice to see a professional panel place this fine session beer at the top of the heap. It won in the English-style Summer Ale category: mild, herbal nose, malty taste, dry follow with strong citrus notes.
— Cave-Aged Hennepin, Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY. Hennepin winning gold is no surprise; made in the Belgian saison ( or the French bier de garde) style, regular Hennepin is a delight: earthy nose, sparkling pour, light delicious taste, long mellow follow. Cave-Aged Hennepin was stored 250 feet below the surface in a New York state cave, where the temperature is a constant 52 degrees F. Nice gimmick. Great beer: silky and mellow.
When I have wine-drinker friends visit who “just don’t like beer,’’ I always bring out the Hennepin. It’s an eye-opener.
— Drop Top Amber, Widmer Brothers, Portland, OR. This is a straightforward amber ale with an unusual touch of sweetness from a bit of honey malt and milk sugar _ the Widmers say. Also, Hops are Magnum and Simcoe _ both increasingly used for their aroma and bittering abilities. Category was Bitter; there were 29 entries.
Widmer also won gold for Alt _ a very drinkable, malty, German-style ale. It once was bottled and sold as Springfest. But now, it’s only sold on tap at the Widmer pub _ called Gasthaus _ and at other pubs around Portland. Our loss.
— Hefe-Weizen,Pyramid, Seattle, WA. This is the same beer made at Pyramid’s Berkeley brewery. It’s unfiltered with a clean, hoppy taste.
— Sam Adams Milennium, Boston Brewing Co., Boston, MA. This amazing 20 percent ABV beer won gold in the Experimental category, competing against 28 other entries. Jim Koch, of Boston Brewing made just 3,000 bottles for the turn of the century and sold them at $100 each (as I recall). It was and is a press agent’s dream. P.T. Barnum would have loved this baby. A college professor paid $4,900 for the first bottle. Today (Oct. 7) bottle number 430 still in its wooden box was for sale on Ebay. Top bid in the ongoing auction was $356.
My notes said it tasted like an old port: plum and vanilla and alcohol. Young and wild. In a decade it will be awesome. — William Brand
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Posted on Friday, October 8th, 2004
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Polygamy Porter: Utah’s Finest

SALT LAKE CITY _ During a two hour layover in Salt Lake City Saturday night, I visited a pub at the airport,which offered a number of standard American lagers and a single craftbrew _ a porter.

I ordered the porter, took one look at the bottled and started laughing.
Here’s the label:

That’s right: Polygamy Porter showing a nearly nude guy and several women with the slogan: “Why Have Just One’’.

In Utah? Whew. Great advertising.
I remember from my days as a kitchen worker long ago in Yellowstone Park, that friends from Ogden and Salt Lake City told me that if I could bring a case of beer and a carton of cigarettes with me to anywhere in Utah outside urban Salt Lake City. I’d have instant friends.

Both tobacco and beer were impossible to obtain outside Salt Lake in heavily Mormon Utah.

I was only 18 and looked about 12, so I had no chance to see if they were right _ but it did make me realize that Mormons and beer had an uneasy relationship.
‘ So when I saw “Polygamy Porter’’ I laughed out loud.
Turns out that this porter and its fey label are old news in Salt Lake. According to the Associated Press, Wasatch Brewing founder Greg Schirf came up with the name in 2001; it was part of a plan to draw attention to his craft beer in an increasingly competitive market.

It worked; a billboard company refused to put up a Polygamy Porter billboard and beer sales went through the roof, sending shudders through the Mormon community, which has long had an uneasy relationship with polygamy. The church officially banned polygamy in 1890 _ as part of a deal to grant Utah statehood.

According to an AP account in 2001, “Seventy percent of Utah’s 2.1 million people are members of the Mormon church, a church which shuns alcohol. And the state’s liquor laws reflect that.

“Utah law requires bars, called private clubs here, to sell individual annual memberships of at least $12 before a person can get a drink. Liquor stores must be state-run and are not open on Sundays,’’ the AP said.

Now, Schirf Brewing has merged with Salt Lake Brewing, maker of Squatter’s beers, and Polygamy Portert’s a regular.

By the way: It’s a great porter: creamy chocolate nose, roast malt taste, fine dry follow. I give it Three Stars *** — William Brand

Posted on Tuesday, October 5th, 2004
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GABF _ The Big Finale – 2004

GABF _ The Grand Finale

DENVER _ If you’re a rabid craft beer fan and care about Great American Beer Festival awards by the time you read this _ assuming I get it posted during my layover in Salt Lake City around 7 p.m. MST, you’ll already know who won what this year.
In fact, one web site put the whole show on live. Right now, you can click on and see all the results and download them for that matter.
First _ the big story at this 22nd running of the GABF _ was once again the Pizza Port breweries and pizzerias in Southern California. They may not have cleaned house, but they won a number of awards and medals.
Tomme Arthur of Pizza Port Carlsbad was named Small Brewer of the Year and his brewpub won Small Brewpub of the Year.
Large brewpub and large brewpub brewer honors went to Seattle’s Elysian Brewery & Public House and brewer Dick Cantwell
Widmer Brothers, Portland, Kurt Widmer won mid-size brewing company and brewer of the year. Miller won the big brewery award and Miller master brewer David S. Ryder got the brewer award.
Anyway quickly for Bay Area residents _ here’s what happened to our “local’’ Northern California brewers:
It was a great day for two small breweries around here, David Heist’s Hoptown in Pleasanton won first place gold again in the American-style amber category for Paint the Town Red. This is an amazing, high octane, super-hopped amber.
Schooner’s Grille & Brewery in Antioch landed a second place silver for its 2002 Casked Barley Wine and a third place bronze for IPA, a tasty brew, dry hopped for weeks with Centennial and Amarillo Hops. It’s a beautiful beer _ huge hoppy nose, fine malt-hop balance and fragrant hops propelling a fine, dry finish.
Bear Republic, Healdsburg, maker of the hopheads favorite Racer 5, won gold this time for Pete Brown Tribute Ale in the brown porter category. Pyramid Porter, Pyramid Seattle, won the bronze.
Vinnie Cilcurzo’s sainted Russian River Damnation won silver in the Belgian strong-ale category. It’s available on tap at the new Russian River brewpub in Santa Rosa and also in bottles there.
Third Street Aleworks in Santa Rosa, won bronze in the classic Irish-style section for the very deservedly famous Blarney Sisters Dry Irish Stout.
Up in the “boonies’’ Anderson Valley, Boonville, captured bronze for its classic Barney Flats Stout. If you’re reading this out of California, the “boonie’’ reference was to a dialect of English that evolved in isolated Boonville over a century. Many of Anderson Valley’s beers have names based on boonie words. If you’ve never tried this one _ do so at once; it’s widely available in bottles and in taverns and pubs.
Out in the Central Valley, north of Stockton, Elk Grove Brewery & Restaurant won bronze for Otis Alt _ a German-style ale;
Firestone-Walker, Paso Robles, won the silver behind Hoptown for Red Nectar Ale. This one, originated by Humboldt Brewing, was one of the original California ambers. Firestone-Walker contract brewed it for Humboldt for a time, but now they’re listed as the brewer. Will have to check this out later.
Firestone-Walker also won bronze for Coastal Light Pale in American-style light ambers.
Sierra Nevada won bronze in German-style pilseners for Summerfest. Alpine Beer Co., in Alpine in the Sierra won silver in Irish-style red ales for McIlhenney’s Irish Red. — William Brand

Posted on Saturday, October 2nd, 2004
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Beer and Cheese for Breakfast: Must Be the GABF

It wasn’t exactly break fast _ but for many of us the Association of Brewers, beer cheese and chocolate tasting at 1:30 p.m. Friday was the first event of our Great American Beer Festival day.
The tasting showed once again how far the Great American Beer Festival has come from the days when an official “brewers’ dinner’’ might mean standing around in a hotel ball room munching potato chips with Cheese Whiz dip and quaffing pints of beer.
Honest, I witnessed this here a decade ago. The only thing to drink at that long ago “brewers banquest’’ was beer and for some weird reason, Scotch. My wife had to go down stairs to a hotel bar to order a Diet Coke.
Well, the GABF has grown up. This pairing of cheese and beer was sophisticated indeed. Of course, this was a beer tasting, so there was zero stuffiness, just presentations by brewers and artisan cheesemakers who really care about their craft.
I’ve written quite a bit about pairing beer and cheese in recent years, because the truth is _ beer pairs much easier with cheese than wine does. You scoff?
Check out this fine book by Brooklyn Brewing brewmaster Garrett Oliver: The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food, Harper-Collins.
Garrett notes that wine sometimes has a cloying effect _ it sticks in the mouth _ when you eat it with cheese. Beer on the other hand is refreshing. Eat a bite of cheese; take a sip of beer _ the beer cleanses the palate and prepares you for another bite of cheese.
Here’s the great thing about these pairings, from my point of view: nearly all the cheese and all the beer can be found in the Bay Area.
My favorite pairing Friday was in a way like a letter from home: Two mega-hoppy beers from Bear Republic, Healdsburg were matched with cheeses from tiny Spring Hill Jersey Cheese Co. ( ) near Petaluma in Sonoma County.
Bear Republic’s new Hop Rod Rye, made with 25 percent rye, crystal barley malt and lots of hops, was paired with aged Spring Hill Sage Cheddar. It was hard to move away; the sage and creamy cheese flavors and the rye beer were a perfect marriage.
Bear Republic’s Racer 5 was matched with Firehouse Style Cheddar and another made with green peppers and cilantro.
Here are the other pairings:
Widmer Alt, Widmer Brothers, Portland and Tillamook Pepper Jack
Ommegang, the huge, Belgian-style double from Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY and Harpersfield Tilsit, a cheddar from Cabot Creamery, Cabot, VT.
Next came Rogue Chocolate Stout, Rogue Brewing, Newport,, OR and Cabot’s Smoky Bacon Cheddar. This was a champ. The cheese was creamy and rich _ and the bacon gave it a dreamy, smoky note. Add the Chocolate Stout, whew.
At the chocolate table, Pete Slosberg, the guy who gave us Pete’s Wicked Ale, and now produces fine chocolates, had several selections,
Easily my favorite was Allagash Curieux, a strong Belgian-style tripel aged in oak Bourbon barrels and Cocoa Pete’s Nuts So Serious.
Allagash, a Belgian-style brewer in Portland, ME, has reputation for producing strong, complex beers and Curieux stands out. The beer is hugely sweet with a bite from the alcohol and an oaken-Bourbon taste.
Nuts So Serious mellowed the beer creating an excellent taste experience. It was hard to leave the table. Cocoa Pete’s Chocolate Adventures is based in the Bay Area in Campbell, CA _ William Brand

Posted on Friday, October 1st, 2004
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Hop-Heaven in Denver

DENVER _ After an afternoon of serious consideration at Falling Rock Ale House, a panel of Great American Beer Festival Judges Friday named Pizza Port’s Hop 15 _ the Alpha King, that is, it is in the panel’s opinion _ the hoppiest beer in America.
Tomme Arthur of Pizza Port, Solano Beach in San Diego County, produced Hop 15.
The brewery at Pizza Port in Carlsbad, also in San Diego County, won second place honors with Frank.
Third place went to Pure Hoppiness, from Alpine Brewing, Oroville, WA.
A bit of background _ hops have long been used to preserve beer and balance the sweetness of the malt.
Hops are cone-shaped flowers of the female hop vine. Lupulin oil in the hop flower give beer its bitterness and hoppy aroma.
Briefly, there are “noble hops’’ chosen for their splendid aroma and high-alpha hops used to give beer its bitterness. The Alpha King contest celebrates hugely hoppy beers _ a style of sorts that is becoming increasingly popular. For instance, consider the Bistro in Hayward, California’s Double India Pale Ale bash.
Want to learn more about hops _ here’s a link I found:
For details on the Alpha King contest _ check out the next issue of Tom Dalldorf’s Celebrator Beer News, which is widely available in the San Francisco Bay Area, California and around the country at fine beer stores, pubs and bewpubs.
The Brewing News publications also cover the event. — WILLIAM BRAND

Posted on Friday, October 1st, 2004
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Doing the Wave in Beertown USA

DENVER – Is Denver really Beertown USA? Probably not. But this weekend during the 22nd running of the Association of Brewers’ Great American Beer Festival, this is one hell of a beery place: 1,600 plus beers – Miller MGD – the pre-eminent American corn lager to Pizza Port Cuvee De Tomme – the head-thumping, stony Solano Beach, CA almost 12 percent wonder from Tomme Arthur of Pizza Port.

Actually, as I sit here four hours after the end of the first public tasting session, I’m not sure if Miller MGD is here or not – I saw a Miller’s booth, a huge Anheuser-Busch banner and the Coors vintage firetruck.

But I did get a one ounce sip of Curvee. Lordy me. Tomme – who is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of America’s most creative young brewers, has been in love with Belgian beers forever and this one pays homage to that greatest of brewing nations (Sorry Germany).

First, the bad news. Pizza Port produced just 600, 750 ml bottles. Nearly all were sold in and around San Diego. If you live in the Bay Area about the only hope is at the annual Barleywine Festival at the Toronado, 547 Haight St., San Francisco. The dates are Saturday, Feb.12 – Feb. 19, 2005. I saw David Keene, the Toronado’s proprietor at the GABF Thursday night, but he got away before I could ask him if he managed to grab some.

Tomme Arthur explains this year’s Curvee (*last year’s curvee won gold at the GABF.) Mo’ in un minutito.

Ooops. Oh yeah. The wave. I dunno why. It’s as spontaneous as it is at a baseball game. Suddenly, someone or a group will start shouting and the wave moves through the Colorado Convention Center hall – sometimes starting back toward its source. Happy hopheads. Look: here are two of them.

Credit: Photo by Gregory Daurer

Back to Cuvee de Tomme. Tomme explains that it started out as an ordinary, strong Belgian ale; fermented with a Belgian yeast, then aged on sour cherries and three kinds of wild yeasts (Brettanomyces Bruxellensis) – for a solid year in oak barrels previously used for Bourbon.

The cherries and especially the pits give the beer an unusual almond taste, Tomme says.

I tried it and wow. I simply loved this beer. Often this kind of beer is so strong and so sweet that it needs to age a few years – or in the case of Belgian lambic beers or blended gueze , they can be so sour that it’s a chore to do more than taste them.

Cuvee de Tomme’s nothing like that. It’s a dark beer – I could see brown highlights when I held the glass up to the light – with very little foam. The nose is lactic, distinctly sour with hints of cherries and yes, maybe almonds.

In the mouth it achieves a fine balance between sweet and sour. Maybe the tiniest hint of sweetness – this baby does have an extremely strong malty backbone – but the aging and wild yeast stole the sweetness.

So there’s this lively struggle going on in your mouth as you take a sip. God it’s wonderful stuff. Five Stars for this one *****.

And so it went at the old GABF Thursday night. When the last pour call came at 9:45, the herd of 5,000 or so trundled off into the night and the brewers and hangers-on journalists along with assorted beer junkies hit the party road.

I scored a tall Erdinger Hefe-Weizen glass and a Fuller’s glass at a bash hosted by importer Jeff Coleman of DBI in a tent in front of Falling Rock Tap House, 1919 Blake St., Denver and gobbled stuffed garlic and tiny pizzas at a function for brewers in a nearby hotel, sponsored by Monk’s Café, 264 South 16th St., Philadelphia and Nodding Head Brewery and Restraurant, 1516 Sansom, in Philly.

Declining a free massage at that affair, I motored off to bed – a bottle of Wild Dog, but no Curvee de Tomme under my arm.

Really, I’ll tell you all about Flying Dog and the founder’s pal Hunter S. Thompson and his sidekick, artist Ralph Steadman, who does all the Dog’s artwork. G’nite. – WILLIAM BRAND

Posted on Friday, October 1st, 2004
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The Best Beers in America, Part 1

The Best Beers in America _ Part One

DENVER _ No really, I’m serious. What’s the best beer in your area?
In the hours before the first public session here at the Great American Beer Festival, there were a number of luncheons and “events.’’

I skippd the gin tasting (no lie! It’s the new beer for some). Instead, I attended a luncheon (cold cuts and beer, of course.) in the loft of a writer for Rocky Mountain Brewing News, one of a number of brew publications published by entrepreneur Bill Metzger.

After we had sampled a number of beers from different parts of the country, ending with Wild Dog, an extremely malty, hugely hoppy, 9 percent alcohol by volume, “double pale ale’’ from Denver’s Flying Dog Brewery ((More about Flying Dog in another post))_, I started asking each writer/editor in turn, which beer from their home area did they prefer.

Here they are in the order I asked the question _ that doesn’t make any sense, I know _ but this was a beer tasting and there was a lot of beer to taste:

Gregg Wiggins, Arlington, VA, Mid-Atlantic Brewing News: There’s one beer that really stands out: Legend Brown Ale, Legend Brewing Co., 321 West 7th St., Richmond, VA. It’s everything a brown ale should be, malty, easy to drink.
Also: Satan’s Pony Pale Ale, South Street Brewing Co., 106 South St., Charlottesville, VA. Lots of hops. It’s only on tap and what I like is that each time I go there, it’s a bit different. I never know quite what to expect. –William Brand

Michael Ferguson, Las Vegas, Southwest Brewing News: Outside of my own brewery (Michael brews for BJ’s in Vegas) I like Black Mountain Dubbel from Barley’s Casino & Brewery in Henderson, 10 miles outside Vegas. Add the beer from Chicago Brewing Co.,2201 S. Fort Apache Road in Vegas.
In Northern Nevada, Michael said he’s partial to Chili Beso, a beer made with chilis, from Great Basin Brewing, Sparks, NV.

Rick Matsumoto, Denver, Rocky Mountain Brewing News: Rick goes for Flying Dog, 2401 Blake St., Denver. Dogtoberfest is his favorite right now. Dogtoberfest _ doggone, that ‘s cute. But I digress. “It’s crisper, drier, than the usual Oktoberfest beer,’’ Rick says. It lacks that long, sweet aftertaste and he likes that. Rick also admits he’s partial to Hoppy Pils made at the downtown Denver Rock Bottom _ 1001 16th St. Just a great, clean pils, he says.

Jim Ellingson, St. Paul, MN, Great Lakes Brewing News: His number one right now is Mai Bock from Summit Brewing, 910 Montreal Circle, St. Paul. To prove his point he brought several bottles to this tasting. A super, German-style May bock: rich; sweet _ but with a burst of hops, American style.

Andy Causey, Denver, Rocky Moutain Brew News: Andy’s number one is the IPA at Phantom Canyon Brewing, 2 East Pikes Peak Ave., Colorado Springs, CO. Big hops, but well balanced with malt for an India Pale Ale, American style. (Brit IPAs emphasize malt over hops and are not so extreme). He also says this is hand crafted beer; so it changes from batch to batch as the brewer receives inspiration from the beer gods or screws up. It’s always an adventure and never a bad trip, he says.

Bill Metzger, New York, founder of the Brew News group: The one he takes home is Southern Tier Brewing, 2051A Stoneman Circle, Lakewood, NY. It’s hoppy with a clean citrus note, Bill says.

Posted on Friday, October 1st, 2004
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