Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Wrapping Up — Finally — The GABF

By William Brand
Saturday, October 8th, 2005 at 12:43 am in Uncategorized.

DENVER — The big beer blast in the mile-high Denver is over for this year and the list of winners in the 69 professionally judged categories includes a lot of very familiar names to Northern California beer lovers.


Black Diamond Brewing, Concord, CA, Wild Rice Ale ****. Hats off to brewer Grant Johnston for this unusual beauty. The GABF category was Specialty Beer and this one is special indeed. My tasting notes from last spring describe it as a dusty gold with an intense, unusual, nutty nose.
Taste is soft and malty with a tangy follow from the English East Kent Goldings hops. Winning gold at the GABF is nothing new for Grant Johnston. He won many a medal in his fledgling professional brewing job at Marin Brewing 16 years ago.
About the beer: Budweiser is made with a large percentage of rice, which delivers a light (almost tasteless) flavor. But But Black Diamond Wild Rice Ale is different. Johnston said it’s made from one-third wild rice, two-thirds barley malt.

Wild rice is actually a grass, not a rice. It’s native to the Great Lakes, but a lot is now grown in the California rice country around Woodland.
Johnston made a connection with Wild Rice Exchange in Woodland. The wide rice is cooked and roasted in Woodland, then used in the beer a short time later. It’s often available in accounts in the East Bay. I called around the Bay Area and found the beer on tap at just one place, The Toronado, 547 Haight St. in San Francisco. Haven’t visited The Toronado. Do so today, it’s the best beer bar San Francisco. And have one for me.

Grant also called and said he does sell five gallon containers of Wild Rice Ale at the brewery. Call 925-357-0120. It’s located at 2470 Bates Ave., Concord.

E.J Phair Brewing, Concord, CA. Gold: E.J. Phair Schwarzbier, Bronze: Shorty’s Revenge Strong Ale.
Brewery/brewpub founder J.J. Phair says Schwarzbier is on tap at the pub, 2151 Salvio St., Concord, CA, 925-691-4253. Shorty’s Revenge is off just now.
J.J. explains the Schwarzbier is about 5.5 percent alcohol by volume. It brewed with a mix of malts, including German carafa malt. My web research shows carafa malt is “made with de-husked barley and adds aroma, color and body, with a milder, smoother flavor than achieved with whole grains.”
It’s a common ingredient in Schwarzbier, which translates from German as “black beer.” But we knew that didn’t we. Haven’t made it out to E.J. Phair’s.
Make the trip. It’s a pleasant place with good food right on Todos Santos Square in downtown Concord.

J. J. Phair holds pitchers of
Schwarzbier,at the GABF last
Saturday after winning a gold
medal for his mellow, black beer.
It’s on tap this week at the pub
in downtown Concord.
Photo by Gregory Daurer,
Copyright 2006

Firestone Walker Brewing
, Paso Robles, CA. Gold: Pale Nectar.This beer, originated by Humboldt Brewing, which was purchased last year by Firestone Walker, won gold in the highly competitive (74 entries) American-Style Pale Ale category. An excellent beer, soft and malty, with a very decent hoppy finish. Widely available in bottles.

Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, Campbell, CA, Gold: Bottoms Up Kolsch. This 4.8 percenter won gold in the German-style Kolsch category. This Rock Bottom’s in the Pruneyard Shopping Center, 1875 S Bascom Ave. in Campbell, 408-377-0707. The beer’s on tap tonight. I rarely visit Rock Bottoms, but I believe I need to drop in. The Rock Bottom in Long Beach also won gold for Rocktoberfest 2 in Vienna-style lagers.

Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa, CA. Vinnie Cilurzo and his intrepid crew won gold again for his esteemed Pliny the Elder**** in the Imperial or Double India Pale Ale category. (Marin Brewing won the bronze. See below). My notes from a few months ago: “Pliny the Elder is an amazing, 8 percent, extremely hoppy ale. It has 100 International Bitterness Units. By comparison, Bud has about 12 IBU. However, there’s so much malt that the beer is well-balanced. It’s awesome stuff.”

Pliny the Elder, born Gaius Plinius Cecilius Secundus, was a Roman scholar and historian, and wrote Natural History, credited as the first encyclopedia, it included a book on wine and beer and famous drinkers.

Sierra Nevada, Chico, CA. Steve Dressler and his brew crew won gold for two famous beers, Sierra Nevada IPA, an excellent, hoppy brew that has been showing up at tastings and festivals around the Bay Area for the last year, and Bigfoot Barleywine-Style Ale, the 10 percent classic that fired enthusiasm for strong beer that has never waned. It’s widely available in bottles after its usual February release. I always try to hold some back to try in later years. Bigfoot’s bottle-conditoned and the fresh yeast bottled with the beer continues to ferment and change the character over time.


Bear Republic, Healdsburg,CA, won a second place silver for their indisputably and justifiably famous Racer 5**** in the American Style-Strong Ale category. This is indeed a California classic, winner of many awards, including a GABF gold in 1999. But finishing with a silver this year in a class with 69 entries is respectable indeed. Racer 5 is widely available in bottles as well as in well-stocked pubs. I even found it on tap at Chow, an excellent, out-of-the-way restaurant in Lafayette in Contra Costa County the other night. At 7 percent ABV, 69 International Bitterness Units, it once was an extreme beer; now, it’s middle of the road. Columbus and Cascade hops with a substantial, malty background. Try this beer tonight.

Bison Brewing, Berkeley, CA, won silver for Organic Chocolate Stout ***. Here are my notes from last November: “Bison Chocolate Stout was created by brewer Scott Meyer in 1996. Present owner Daniel Del Grande added another spin: malts and hops, certified organic by UC Davis. He sold the brewpub. (It’s now an Indian restaurant.) But he still owns the brewery in the rear, where he makes a distinctive line of unusual, organic beers.

“Bison Chocolate Stout is fairly strong — 6 percent alcohol by volume. It’s made with Dutch chocolate powder , twenty pounds are stirred into the mash before the boil. After boiling, the mash is rinsed, but never filtered, so the cocoa powder with its deep chocolate flavor remains, Del Grande says.

“This is excellent beer: Rich chocolate and dark malt nose. The taste keeps the promise of that intense nose: _ as Scott Meyer said way back then: `Obsidian black with gentle carbonation and the finest Dutch cocoa couched in a rich medley of malts, amply hopped.’ ” It’s widely available in bottles in the Bay Area.

Stone Brewing Co., San Marcos, CA, won silver in Other Strong Ales & Lagers for its famous Double Bastard****, a beer that showed brewers everywhere that strong and malty was the route to take. In bottles, everywhere. If you’ve never tried this one, do so tonight.

Sudwerk Privatbrauerei Hubsch, Davis, CA. After a long retreat and reorganization, this pioneering Davis brew-restaurant is back in force. They won two bronzes, for the delicious Sudwerk Marzen,**** one of the best bottled marzens on the West Coast, and Sudwerk Lager in the Munchner-Style-Helles catyegory. Marzen is widely available in bottles. ; the lager’s usually on tap in Davis. Sudwerk, 2001 Second St., 530-756-2739.

Trumer Brauerei, Berkeley, CA. This brewery, which is located in the old Golden Pacific Brewing on 4th Street in west Berkeley, produces just one beer: Trumer Pils***. It’s an exact copy of the Austrian beer of the same name and the brewery is a joint venture of San Antonio-based Gambrinus Co., and Austria’s Privatbrauerei Josef Sigl, an excellent European pilsner, but little known outside the provinces around Salzburg. Lars Larsen, the German-trained, American-born, brewmaster has created a very fine beer. It’s great to see it recognized in his first GABF.

`I wrote about Trumer Berkeley in detail last spring. Unfortunately, the link has expired. If you’re interested, drop us an e-mail: I’ll send it along.
Trumer Pils right now is available only in the San Francisco East Bay.


Marin Brewing Co., Larkspur, CA, . Head brewer Arne Johnson’s known for big malty beers, and Eldridge Grade White Knuckle Double IPA***, is one of those. It won third place bronze in the hot, new Imperial or Double IPA category.

I dropped into Marin Brewing just before the GABF, sat with a couple of homebrewers, who came there especially to try this beer. We all loved it.

Eldridge Grade, by the way, is a very steep, bike trail to the top of nearby Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, north of San Francisco. It’s also the name of a $1,000-plus mountain bike and the name of one damn, good IPA. Marin Brewing, 1809 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur, CA, 415-461-4677.

Schooner’s Grille & Brewery, Antioch, CA. Schooner’s founder Shawn Burns and his crew won a bronze with California Lager in American-Style Amber Lagers, trailing gold medalist Old Scratch from Flying Dog, Denver, and Steam Engine Lager, from Steamworks, Durango, CO. Shawn explains that Cal Lager’s a seasonal. “We just ran out a couple of weeks ago. We were saving some to enter in the California State Fair, but when we tried it, we thought, `Gosh, this is such a great beer, Why not the GABF?,” he said. Why not, indeed.

At the moment, Schooner’s has several excellent brews on tap, including Double IPA, IPA and Honey Lemon Wheat. The Double IPA won a silver last weekend at the Manteca (CA) beerfest; Schooner’s Barleywine, a GABF gold medal winner two years ago; won gold in Manteca. Schooner’s, 4250 Lone Tree Way, Antioch, 925-776-1800.

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