Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Back in the UK at Black Diamond

By William Brand
Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005 at 2:44 pm in Uncategorized.

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.

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