Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for June, 2005

Commercials and Dogs…

Playing Catch-up from a Lost Week…OK, here we go:

1. Coors. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which often polices beer ads on TV has sent a nastygram to The Beer Institute, the trade organization representing all the major American brewers, complaining that a recent Coors commercial violates the institute’s standards:

Here’s a quote:

“The subject ad pictures a crowded, lively bar scene, in which an exceptionally industrious worker – a busboy – rapidly clears Coors Light bottles off tables, grabbing every Coors Light bottle in sight. A co-worker (a waitress) remarks to the manager (or owner) about how hard the new bus boy is working. He responds, saying that he hadn’t hired a new bus boy. As he says this, the “bus boy” is seen sneaking out of the bar, with an overflowing tub of Coors Light bottles.

“The ad patently portrays a young man stealing beer from customers in the bar and running off with an excessive quantity of beer…One wonders why brewers persist in suggesting (to its large television audience of young – including underage – men) that anything goes in order to get a beer; even stealing.”

So far no response from the Institute.

Why am I reporting this? Errrrr–uhhhh. At least when I was a bellhop in college, I never stole Coors Light, I tended to go for Courvasier.(I’m from Nebraska where there was NO GOOD BEER, not even Coors.

2. Item. Flying Dog, the Denver, CO brewery that cultivates a doggy image has hit a peak. Consider this from the Dog’s website.

For That Special Bitch! Is an explanation truly necessary?
Let’s just say… Don’t be a bad dog!

How much? You’ll have to follow the link yourself if you want to buy a few.

Howsoever, gotta’ put in a good word for da’ dog. The beer to buy is Wild Dog. It was brewed for the Great American Beer Festival last October. Wish I still had some tonight.

Here’s my note from the time;

— Wild Dog Double Pale Ale, Flying Dog Brewing, Denver, Colo. This is extreme pale ale, in honor of Flying Dog’s 10th anniversary ale. It’s enough to drive conservative Brits wild. This is hallucinogenic stuff — Cascade hops pour out of the glass and circle the brain. It’s hugely hoppy at 85 International Bitterness Units (Bud has 11 IBU), but at 9.5 percent alcohol by volume, there’s enough malt to balance the hops. Well, almost.

Posted on Thursday, June 30th, 2005
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A Night Wit’ Da Fish

Sam Calagione, who founded Dogfish Head Craft Brewing, made it to the Toronado (547 Haight St.) in San Francisco last night (Wednesday, June 22, 2005) and found himself in the middle of a mob of the 100 or so happy beer drinkers, who jammed the tiny place to sample his fabled beers. (The photo at left came from the Dogfish website, don’t know anything about it, but it’s neat, isn’t it.)

Ostensibly, he was there to read from his first book: Brewing Up a Business: Adventures in Entrepreneurship from the Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewing. (John Lewis & Sons, $25, $14.95 at discounter stores). He had copies with him and sold a autographed a few. But the action was at the Toronado’s taps, which were dispensing four Dogfish Head beers not sold here on the West Coast.

Calagione, a nice-looking guy in his early 30s with a crewcut, wearing a Dogfish Head t-shirt, was answering questions like “How do you make your beer so strong? Why didn’t you bring Worldwide Stout (world’s strongest beer in regular production)?

Fortified by a brisket sandwich from Minnie’s across Haight Street, I sampled the four Dogfish Heads Sam brought with him: (For details on each of these beers, scroll down this blog a few items or go here.

90-Minute Imperial IPA. *** This is a pale beer, 9 percent ABV, with a hoppy nose that does not prepare one for what lies ahead. The taste initially is hoppy as promised, then there’s a silky, malty sweetness and a tinge of alcohol in the middle, then a hoppy bite and a long, dry finish.

120-Minute IPA *** is a tour de-force. At 21 percent alcohol by volume and 120 International Bitterness Units (Your basic Bud’s about 13 IBU, Draft Guinness is about 60 and Bigfoot (Sierra Nevada) ranges just under 100 IBU), this is really a barleywine, a really strong barleywine. Hops on the nose; taste is rich and sweet. This would make a fine cordial in a very small glass. I’d certainly like a bottle for my beer fridge.

Raison D’Etre ****. I loved this one. It’s not exactly a mellow beer, Dogfish Head doesn’t do mellow. But at 8 percent ABV, it’s no eyeball ripper.

A very dark copper with a huge head with an aroma of ripening fruit and maybe plum jam, the taste is a surprise. It very tart, very dry with a gentle rush of hops in the follow. Calagione says, it’s made with beet sugar, green raisins, and a Belgian yeast. An excellent beer.

Immort Ale.*** A friend, Gary Larsen, who made the trip to the Toronado with me, ordered Immort right off the top. Gary writes about brewpubs and has visited around 400, including stops at the Dogfish Head brewpub and the brewery. When he can’t find Worldwide Stout, he always goes for this one, he said.

This baby’s had the Dogfish treatment: Brewed with peat-smoked barley, juniper berries, vanilla and maple syrup, aged on oak and fermented, the brewery website says, with a blend of English and Belgian yeasts: 11 percent ABV, 40 IBU. Raisins and sugar dominate the aroma, but it has a fine, tart taste. Unusual, excellent.

The beers remain on tap at Toronado until they’re gone, so hurry.

Don’t agree with me: think Dogfish sucks or is the world’s best? Post a comment or email us at or call: 510-915-1180. Salud.

Posted on Thursday, June 23rd, 2005
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Back in the UK at Black Diamond

BERKELEY – Another night, another beer dinner. Monday night (6-20-05), I attended a San Francisco dinner featuring the best wild yeast beers in America. (See my first report on that in the posting below).

Tuesday night, in Berkeley, the dinner was hosted by Black Diamond Brewing of Concord, CA. at Cafe La Paz in North Berkeley.

We were treated to an inside look at the very fine, English-style beers of Grant Johnston. Grant’s most famous in the Bay Area as the guy who created the award-winning brews at Marin Brewing Co. in Larkspur, CA. , including San Quentin Breakout Stout and Bluebeery Ale.

But that was long ago. Grant began life back in Madison, WI as a homebrewer. He signed on to brew with Brendan Moylan at the brand new Marin Brewing in 1989. About the same time, he visited England and became fascinated with English beer.

He left Marin – with no less than 16 prestigious medals from the Great American Beer Festival _ in 1996 to work at Third Street Aleworks in Santa Rosa, then worked briefly in 1998 at the ill-fated Golden Gate Brewing in San Francisco.

But England called and Grant got a work permit and began brewing at Zerodegrees, a brew-restaurant in Blackheath Village in southeast, greater London. The village is adjacent to Greenwich, home of the prime meridian, which gave the place its name. Among other honors, he won gold medals for his Pale Ale and for his Pils lager at judging in London.

Three years later, he returned to the Bay Area and in September 2001, became head brewer at Black Diamond in Walnut Creek,CA. Black Diamond owners Joe Garaventa, and Tim Bredbenner, closed the restaurant and, under Grant’s supervision, built a new, 30-barrel brewery at 2470 Bates Ave. in Concord. A taproom’s scheduled to open later this summer; meanwhile Grant’s producing beer for commercial accounts in the East Bay.

Garaventa, Bredbenner and Grant hosted last night’s dinner at Cafe La Paz for customers and potential customers. As servers poured the beer, Grant discussed each in detail: Here we go, comments by Grant Johnston via my notes:

–Black Diamond Hefeweizen, a crisp, tart, unfiltered wheat. “It’s very fruity, you can pick up banana notes; it’s very low alcohol, about 4.5 percent. It’s unfiltered and very gently hopped (hops are Saaz from the Czech Republic).

— Black Diamond Golden, is another low alcohol brew, 4.6 percent ABV. The pale barley malt comes Canada. Darker English speciality malts are added. Hops are Slovene Styrian Golding, a delicate, slightly spicy hop from Slovenia.“This is a nice, dry, light, crisp beer. You can pick up marmalade in the aroma,” he said.

— Black Diamond Amber Ale. Not a typical West Coast amber, Grant said. “This is a malty bitter. Visiting and then working in the UK, I fell in love with the flavor of British beer.” This one uses all British malts from from Thomas Fawcett & Sons,
a 200-year-old company in West Yorkshire in the UK. Grant says he uses Fawcett malts in most of his beer. In his opinion, it’s the best. Most American pale malts are made for large, commercial breweries, Grant believes. Fawcett serves a different market.

“You can’t get a full-flavored bitter with American malts,” he said.

The Fawcett malts are Maris Otter, a pale malt that is the foundation of many English ales, and crystal, a special malt, which adds color and sweetness without fermentables, which would produce a stronger, thicker beer. Hops are Fuggles.

— Black Diamond Blonde. A Belgian-style beer, very dry with a Belgian yeast culture, that produces sulphur notes, Belgian malts and a bit of rye added for a dryness. Hops are Czech Saaz.

— Black Diamond Pale Ale. A 5 percent beer, using British crystal malts, Goldings hops. Intense, malty aroma. My comments here: A true English pub beer, malts predominate, not hops, but what struck me was the fine balance. Simply delicious.

— Black Diamond India Pale Ale. As many beer-lovers know, this style was produced in the 1700s to supply the troops in India. Grant noted that it was one of England’s first pale beers, made possible by more sophisticated control of the malting process. It was brewed fairly strong, then allowed to ferment in the barrel during the months-long sea voyage around the African Cape to India. Black Diamond’s is 7 percent ABV. Malt is Fawcett Golden Promise; hops are Styrian Golding.

My comment: This is my favorite Black Diamond beer. Intense, heady nose of rich malt and spicy hops; striking balance in the mouth and a long, delicious follow, hoppy notes interweaving with that wonderful Golden Promise malt. Black Diamond is planning a bottling line in the future and I can hardly wait.

In the meantime, when I see the Black Diamond IPA logo on a tap handle, that’s the beer I order.

About the restaurant; food was authentically Mexican with California and New Mexico touches: Well-made empanadas, filled with goat cheese; little rolled taquitos, filled with cheese; garlic shrimp. More about Cafe La Paz is here.

Posted on Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005
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A Walk on the Wild Side

SAN FRANCISCO — “Wild Beer!” I’m not positive who said it first. but my notes show that when Russian River Brewing’s Vinnie Cilurzo suggested that American brewers are inventing a whole new category – Wild Beer – the more than 100 happy participants at a Belgian-style beer dinner last night at the Cathedral Hill Hotel raised their glasses and cheered.

The hotel’s executive chef Bruce Paton has been holding regular beer dinners, featuring the best in American craft beer,carefully matched with exquisite food, for several years. But, honestly, it will be a long time before this one’s topped.

All of the beers, except one, were brewed using combinations of wild yeast and bacterial infections in American versions of Belgian Lambic beer.

“You’re going to be tasting some of the most unique beers in America tonight,” Rob Tod, of Allagash Brewing, Portland, ME., told the crowd.

Indeed, it was a night to remember: Four of America’s most creative brewers brought their exotic brews:

– Vinnie, of Santa Rosa, CA, brought Russian River Sanctification, Damnation and Supplication.

– Tomme Arthur of Pizza Port, Solano Beach, CA., brought Pizza Port Mo Betta Bretta and Cuvee de Tomme.

– Peter Bouckaert, of New Belgium, Fort Collins, CO brought New Belgium Saison and La Folie.

– Tod, of Allagash, brought Allagash Four and Curieux.

Beers were served in flights; Sanctification, came with a variety or Hors D’Oeuvre; Allagash Four and Damnation came with “seared foie gras with vanilla scented yam puree, sea salt and a reduction of golden balsamic vinegar; Saison and Mo Betta Bretta came with the hit of the evening: Jumbo Day Boat scallops with Dungeness Crab Salad, truffle corn emulsion and Osetra Caviar.

Supplication and La Folie were matched to Beer Braised Angus Short Ribs, Celerlac Potato Mash, baby spinach and Port Wine glace. Curieux and Cuvee de Tommee came with the cheese plate: an assortment of whipped artisan cheeses with roasted beets and spiced croutons.
Wild beer is an idea that’s been a long time coming, Vinnie said.

It makes sense.m First, there was American industrial lager; then came the craft brewing revolution, first shot fired by Fritz Maytag’s Anchor Steam, then came the brewpubs, making excellent, full-flavored ales and lagers the drink of choice for a generation.

Then, brewers branched out, hoppy India Pale Ales, double IPAs, extreme IPAs,
barleywines and more barleywines; subtle session beers, real ale from handpumps.
And in the last two decades, more and more brewers and beer lovers have visited Belgium and sampled the delights of that quirky, creative country, the idea of making beers using unusual yeasts and other methods of fermentation and non-standard ingredients like raisins and sugars, has grown more compelling.

In fact, the U.S. and Canada may be the saviors of many ancient, Beglian styles. Rob Tod said that Tim Webb, author of the Campaign for Real Ale’s The Good Beer Guide to Belgium, suggests it may be up to American beer enthusiasts to save Belgian brewers.

“What he meant was Belgian beer drinkers aren’t drinking as much of their original styles as they once did.” But beer drinkers in America are getting into some of these wild, crazy beers and may save the day, he said.

Peter Bouckaert brought the only non-wild beer of the night: New Belgium Saison and it was fairly wild: Peter said the yeast came from a bottle of Saison Dupont, from Brasserie Dupont in the Wallonia section of Belgium.

“We drank the beer, and took the yeast and used it to make our saison,” Bouckaert said. It turned out quite Different, he said. The flavors are all related to the yeast; It’s earthy, somewhat musty. It’s hard to fit it in a category, he said.

But why try, Bouckaert added. “We’re in the business of creating 10 minutes of pleasure. Just enjoy the beer.”

Did we ever.
I’m going to post comments about each beer from the brewers in the morning. But right now, I’ve got to run. Another beer dinner. Would you believe it? The mind reels, the tongue stumbles.

If this dinner sounded good to you,check out Bruce Paton’s website here and watch for the next dinner.

Posted on Tuesday, June 21st, 2005
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Bud in an Aluminum Bottle: The Dry Cooler

An aluminum “bottle” – I was fascinated from the moment I saw it on the beer shelf at my local Safeway. Then, I did something unheard of from me, I bought it, even though it was Budweiser, a beer I usually eschew.

It’s a slim, brushed-aluminum bottle with a clear lacquer coating and it holds a pint. There’s a traditional bottle cap on top. It first reminded me of the Sigg aluminum bottles we used to use backpacking. Next, I recalled STP, so I checked and sure enough, the automotive additive comes in an aluminum can, with a screw cap.

But what’s inside is regular Bud, a pale, fizzy concoction with a light, beery aroma. Dry taste, no sweetness at all and almost undetectable hops. I drank most of the pint, but I was still thirsty. Aside from a slight buzz from the alcohol (Bud is 5 percent ABV), I felt like I hadn’t drunk a thing.

Then, I got the picture. The brewing and marketing geniuses at Anheuser-Busch have created the perfect beer cooler. It’s not sweet like Annie Green Springs (to draw on a cooler from my youth. No, it’s dry and light and pleasantly fizzy and one Bud just isn’t enough. One wants MORE. No wonder it’s the top-selling beer in the world.

This is an amazing product. As a beer cooler, I give Bud ***; as a beer: * .

Oh yes, Anheuser Busch says Bud Light’s now in a blue, aluminum bottle; Budweiser Select’s also coming out in a aluminum bottle.

This aside – the young guy at the Safeway checkout counter approved of my purchase, but suggested I try Bud Select, which he said was a great beer. I suggested he move on to the better stuff. Try Gordon Biersch Blond Bock, I said. Hope he does.

Later, the half-drunk Bud still in my glass, I turned to a bottle of Lagunitas Censored Ale, a hefty 7.7 percent copper ale. It’s definitely not a beer cooler.

Why do they call it “censored”. They call it that because… according to Lagunitas founder Tony Magee, it was originally names Kronik with the last k reversed. The feds didn’t like that; thought it might be a drug reference. So they censored the name and provided the new name. 420 anyone?

Posted on Friday, June 17th, 2005
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Dog on Over to the Toronado

As I said in my column this week, Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Craft B Brewery in Milton (brewery) and Rehoboth Beach (brewpub), Delaware, will visit the Toronado, 547 Haight St. in San Francisco on June 20.

He’ll bring four beers with him that are usually unavailable here on the West Coast: Raison D’Etre, Immort Ale , 90 Minute IPA and 120 Minute IPA. There’s no admission charge.

Technically, he’s on a tour, flogging his new book, Brewing Up a Business: Adventures in Entrepreneurship from the F\founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. He’ll have copies on hand and will sign them, of course.

But Sam admitted, he’s heard about the Toronado for years, but has never visited. So…

Interested in the book? I’m just reading it now and like it very much so far. has posted the first chapter here.
I caught up with Sam earlier this week and I’m going to write about Dogfish Head in detail in my next column, Wednesday, June 20.

But here are some details about the beer, courtesy of Sam and Toronado proprietor David Keene.

Raison D’Etre

A deep mahogany ale brewed with beet sugar, green raisins, and Belgian yeast. As complex as a fine red wine. 8% ABV 36 IBU, approx. 258 calories and 27 carbs per 12 ounce serving available year round, 12 ounce bottles & draft Voted ‘American Beer Of The Year’ in January 2000 by Malt Advocate Magazine.

Descriptors: Notes of pit fruit, decadent, winey, raisiney, malty Food pairing reccomendations: Steak, duck, game, wine-reduction sauces, Blue cheese, ham, mussels

Suggested serving glass:snifter

Comparable wine style: Amarone

Immort Ale

Vast in character, luscious and complex. Brewed with peat-smoked barley, this strong ale is brewed with organic juniper berry, vanilla, and maple syrup. It is then aged on oak and fermented with a blend of English & Belgian yeasts. 11% ABV 40 IBU. Aavailable in 12-ounce bottles, 4-pack approx. 348 calories and 34 carbs per bottle *Note beginning with the April 05 release, Immort Ale is now an annual release. Look for Immort Ale in it’s new 4-packs every April. Dogfish Head Immort Ale was named 1997 beer of the year by The Philadelphia Daily News.

Descriptors: Intense maple, vanial, smokey, charred.

Food pairing reccomendations: Goat cheese, asparagus, creme brulee, a fine cigar

Suggested serving glass: snifter

Comparable wine style: Single Malt Scotch This beer ages well.

90 Minute IPA

An Imperial I.P.A. brewed to be savored from a snifter. A big beer with a great malt backbone that stands up to the extreme hopping rate. 9% ABV 90 IBU approx. 290 calories and 29 carbs per bottle available year round, 12 ounce/4-pack bottles & draft Esquire Magazine writes that this is “perhaps the best IPA in America” Thanks to all of you who helped to vote Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA the 2003, 2004 and 2005 Champion in the Battle of the Beers!

Descriptors: Brandied fuitcake, raisiny, citrusy Food pairing reccomendations: Pork chops, beef, grilled fish, frites, focaccia, split pea soup, Stilton cheese and escargot

Suggested serving glass: snifter

Comparable wine style: Sauvignon Blanc This beer ages well.

120 Minute IPA

Too extreme to be called beer? Brewed to a colossal 45-degree plato, boiled for a full two hours while being continually hopped with high alpha American hops, dry-hopped daily in the fermenter for a month and aged for a month on whole leaf hops, 120 Minute IPA is by far the biggest IPA ever brewed! At 21% abv and 120 IBU’s, you can see why we call this the Holy Grail for Hopheads! Released quarterly, very limited availabilty,12 ounce bottles, 21% ABV 120 IBU

Descriptors: Marmalade, orange peel, woodsy, minty Food pairing reccomendations: Duck a l’orange, crepes, fruit pies

Suggested serving glass: snifter

Comparable wine style: Grappa This beer ages well.

Posted on Friday, June 10th, 2005
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Be Thin, Drink Beer

Miss Universe contestants visited Thailand’s Boon Rawd Brewery to sample the country’s national treasure, Singha. Boon Rawd is a major sponsor. They are, left-right, Miss Indonesia Artika Sari Devi; Miss Canada Natalie Glebova, who was named Miss Universe by judges last month, Miss India Amrita Thappar and Miss United Kingdom Brooke Johnston.

OK. I’m a guy. How could I not put this photo in the blog? And you see – look how thin these beer drinkers are. You thought drinking beer made you fat, did you. Hmmm.

Besides, Singha, is an excellent mainstream Asian beer. The family-owned company, headquarted in Bangkok, is close-mouthed about exact ingredients, except to say it’s an all-barley malt German-style lager.

Hops, my spies and nose tell me, just might be spicy Saaz. It’s 6 percent alcohol by volume, but the taste is malty, slightly sweet with a decent hoppy follow that hides the alcohol well.

It’s the only beer to order in a Thai restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve always given Singha THREE STARS ***

Posted on Thursday, June 9th, 2005
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Unravelling Germanic Nouns

Wheat beers have become the de-facto, summer beer of choice for those of us who like good beer. There’s one problem: German words describing wheat beer.

Personally, long after I sampled my first wheat , I still was confused. No wonder. My German is limited to “nein” and “jah”, infused into my brain from watching too many old World War II movies.

Weizen, weisse, wit , Was macht das schon aus! Let’s see how I do here. ` Weizen translates loosely as “wheaten” or “of-wheat” and “weissbier” is a beer brewed from wheat.

Weisse means whiteness, but it’s used to describe a pale or light-colored wheat beer. Berliner Weisse, a slightly sour version of the style, made with ale yeast and a lactobacillus culture, is still extremely popular in Berlin, where it’s often served with raspberry or other fruit syrups. Haven’t seen it imported here in a long time.

It’s usually served in a large, bulb-shaped glass, designed to gather the unusual aromas of sweet wheat, tart lactobacillus and spicy hops. I first discovered the great hobby of collecting beer glasses years ago. I was invited to dinner at a German friend’s house in Berkeley.

I knew he was a Berlin native, so I picked up a couple of bottles of Schultheiss Berliner Weisse, which weirdly enough could be found quite easily at the old Shattuck Avenue Co-op in Berkeley. I blew his mind.

He jumped up and said, “Oh! I have the glasses. He ran to a closet, rummaged around and produced a pair of bulbous glasses, each with the Schultheiss crest. At that point, it was most tart beer I’d ever sampled, lemony nose, very refreshing and unfortunately missing in action here in California. For a discussion of Berliner Weisse go here.

Back to beer terms; Wit, is Flemish for “white” and describes a pale, lemony style traditionally spiced with a bit of curacao orange peel. It was made famous in Belgium by brewer Pierre Celius, who – the story goes – found an old wit recipe, brewed it at home, then commercially, reviving the style. Most American brewpubs now brew a wit.

Hefeweizen means a beer brewed from wheat, unfiltered and bottle conditioned with a bit of yeast – “hefe” – left in each bottle. Hefes have become extremely popular in the U.S. with some versions served like an Americanized Mexican beer with a wedge of lemon stuck on the rim of a glass of dry, cloudy beer with a sour nose.

Then, there is kristall weizen, a wheat, filtered so it is crystal clear. It’s very common in Europe, but kristalls imported to the U.S. often carry another name like “weizen” or “weisse.” That’s it. My German’s exhausted. Comments anyone?

Posted on Wednesday, June 8th, 2005
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Beer Commercials Worth A Look

I’m gradually accululating a number of truly funny beer commercials. But Don Gortemiller, brewer-proprietor at Pacific Coast Brewing in Oakland, CA just sent me a neat with a whole lot more. Check it out here.

Posted on Wednesday, June 1st, 2005
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