Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for November, 2005

Bud Walks on the Wild Side…

Late note. I wrote about Anheuser Busch Michelob Celebration, a 10- percent ABV beer today (Wedneday, Nov. 23, 2005) in my beer column in the Oakland Tribune and other newspapers. So, I’m re-posting this tasting report, filed last month at the Great American Beer Festival. Both Michelob Marzen and Michelob Pale Ale won gold in the professionally judged, blind tastings at the GABF.
The column will be on line in a few days at But if you’d like to join my e-mail list, send me a note at: or

DENVER _ Would you believe it? A blueberry ale from Anheuser Busch? This is no lie _ the makers of Bud Light _ are test-marketing two blueberry ales in the Midwest and yesterday afternoon, I had a chance to sample both.

It sent my mind lurching back to 1989, when I first sampled Grant Johnston’s prize-winning Bluebeery Ale at Marin Brewing in Larkspur, CA. The craft beer movement was still tiny then and not in my wildest imagination would I have believed that a decade and a half later I’d be sitting in a hotel lobby in Denver, sampling Blueberry Ale from Budweiser.
Whew. The mind reels and boggles.

A-B also has several other non-rice beers, a very decent Marzen, a pale ale that has been in the Anheuser Busch lineup from time to time and A-B’s fall seasonal: Jack’s Pumpkin Spiced Ale, under the Michelob label. There’s also a 10 percent alcohol by voluume Michelob Reserve out there somewhere. But they didn’t have a sample.

Another sign that the world’s largest beer company is changing course: A-B’s public relations folks also produced one of the brewers who helped design the beers. He’s Florian Kuplent, a German-born, German-trained brewer who worked in Belgium and for the late New England Brewing Co. in the U.S., before signing on with big Bud.

Before I even tasted the beers, I fired questions at the PR team about marketing strategy, why the maker of the world’s top-selling beer (It’s either Bud or Bud Light) would do something like this. I asked if the fact that sales of craft beer were up 7 percent last year and are growing at a similar rate this year had anything to do with it.

Also, I noted that Miller’s now owned by a beer company again, South African Breweries, and InBev, the former Interbrew is growing rapidly figured in their strategy.
But they demurred, so we focused on the beer.

First, the blueberry ales, starting with the best:

— Wild Blue*** is an 8 percent alcohol by volume ale, made with malted barley and a touch of rice. Hops, I believe, were noble _ Hallertau and Tettnang. “We only use aroma hops,';’ Byrne said. Whole blueberries are added to the mash.

This one was delicious, fruit aroma, taste is dry with just a bit of sweetness, then a hit from the alcohol. Very drinkable. I wondered aloud how this one would develop, if they put it in wooden barrels for a year or two. No response on that one, but I believe, I’m right. A lactic edge and no rice would make this a spectacular beer.

— Blue Horizon*, a five percent, all-barley malt beer, is a great name. But it was a true alco-pop. Sweet and a bit fizzy. A decent alco-pop at that. This one, no doubt, will survive. Modern tastes run to sweet. Personally, I’m voting for Wild Blue.

— Jack’s Pumpkin Spice ** was an interesting beast. Again, all barley malt, 5.5 percent beer. “Golden Delicious” pumpkins from a farm in Oregon, were added to the mash, along with a spice blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Pumpkin nose, spicy taste. Like a pumpkin pie, If you like pumpkin, this would be worth a try. It will be on sale on tap and in bottles in 12 and 18 bottle Michelob Specialty Sampler Selection boxes until mid-December. The 18-bottle sampler includes two pilsner glasses as well. A-Bs next seasonal rolls out in December Each season will bring a new beer, Byrne said.

— Marzen *** is a very respectable, 5.2 percent version of an Oktoberfest lager. It’s a 100 percent barley malt beer, a blend of two-row and caramel cara-pils malts, Hallertau and Tettnang hops. It’s also dry hopped _ hops added after the wort cools. Most American-style Marzens tend to be quite malty with lots of hops. This one’s more like the fest beers being served this year in Munich: Crisp, malty mouth feel, dry finish. Excellent fest beer.
— Pale Ale** also is a dry-hopped, all barley malt beer. Byrne explained that it’s more like an English version of a pale ale, rather than the American style, with over-the-top Cascade hops. This is a middle-of-the road pale ale. To be British, in my opinion, it needs more malt, less dryness.

Anheuser Busch says all the beers _ with the exception of the blueberry ales _ will be available nationwide this month.

Posted on Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005
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Belgian Likes Beers More Than Iranians

OK, this is rich. The Belgians had an answer to a group of Iranian government officials on a “good will” visit to Brussels: Get the f’k out of Dodge. Well, not exactly. But it happened twice, once on June 30 and again this week.

A report of the first incident comes from Global Beer Network , which is owned by a Belgian couple and based in Southern California. Global Beer imports a number of excellent Beglain beers including Augustijn and Bornem from Brewery Van Steenberge.

Here’s their report:

“On June 30, a delegation of Iranian Parliament members, under the leadership of of the speaker of their parliament, Mr. Gholam Ali Hadad Adel, paid an official visit to the Belgian Parliament…The Muslim zealots of Iran … managed to insult the Speaker of the Belgian House and the President of the Belgian Senate.

“It began when the Iranians refused to sit at the official lunch, if beer or wine would be served by the Belgian hosts. There was no intention of serving it to the Iranians. Still, they insisted that everybody would have to drink water.

Adding insult to injury, when presented to the President of the Senate, (Ann-Marie Lizin) the Iranians refused to give her a hand because she was a woman. The president of the House, Mr. (Herman) De Croo, was so upset that he canceled the official lunch and sent the Iranian delegation packing, cutting the official program .

“Mr. De Croo wants the customary practices of Belgium respected by guets of Belgium, and he is the first to admit that he drinks on average 8 Belgian beers per day…”

Fascinating, huh. Well, I did a web search trying to find backup from a news source for the story. Found a Nov. 8 report on the BBC website, then I found a June 30 report from Reuters on the Ms-NBC site. The BBC pointed out that it was Speaker Lizin, who canceled the program after the guy repeatedlly refused to shake her hand.

Whew. Question: Do they serve beer at the Belgian embassy in Iran? Hmmm.

Posted on Wednesday, November 9th, 2005
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BeerSmarts, the Game, Throws A Party

If this Thursday evening, Nov. 10, 2006, looks like a blank right now and you like beer, here’s an idea: The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco’s InForum has teamed up with three Bay Area Craft Brewers to host the launch of “BeerSmarts,” a new beer trivia game.

Like its predecessor, “WineSmarts,” the new “BeerSmarts” from SmartsCo can be played at several levels from beginner or Budweiser-drinker to expert snob. Game creators Julie Tucker and Jen Elias will be there and there will be beery prizes, including a homebrew starter kit, for game winners as well as free memberships to ZipCar, the hourly car rental company.

Anyway, the event’s at Varnish Fine Art Gallery, 77 Natoma St. in San Francisco from 6 – 9 p.m.
There will be beer from Drake’s Brewing, San Leandro, CA, 21st Amendment Restaurant, Brewery, Bar , San Francisco and Magnolia Pub & Brewery, San Francisco.
Hors d’oeuvres from Herbs & Spices. Cost: $20 for Commonwealth Club members, $30 for the public. Reservations and info: (415) 597-6705.

Posted on Tuesday, November 8th, 2005
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A Happy Friday At Drake’s Brewing

If you want to drink good beer, there are few places that equal the San Francisco Bay Area. I started out Friday at Drake’s Brewing ( in San Leandro, CA and ended Saturday night at the Toronado Wet Hop Festival in San Francisco More on the Toronado tomorrow.

First, let’s talk about Drake’s: There’s an open house at the brewery every Friday from 4-7 p.m. Buy a glass for $3, then beer’s $1.25 a pint. There are also sausages, hot dogs and other snacks, free. To get check out this link.

I talked to head brewer Rodger Davis and brewer Melissa Myers. Got a chance to taste two amazing beers they plan to release soon in 7 ounce bottles with gold foil tops.

The first is their 2003 Holiday beer, Jolly Roger***, aged in brandy barrels for two years. It’s 11 percent, has a brandy noose and smooth, malty character. Hops are there too, but not so pronounced as they once were.

The second was the 2003 Drake’s Barley Wine***. It’s been aging in brandy barrels since December, 2003. Right now it’s 14.7 percent and fairly breathtaking, aroma more like a Madeira or aged port than a beer. But the taste proves it’s definitely beer. There are hops, notes of brown sugar, maybe raisins and a wallop from the alcohol. This one will be a fine after dinner drink; it’s meant to sip, not guzzle.

Both will be released in December. You’ll be able to find them in good beer stores like Ledger’s Liquors, 1399 University Ave., Berkeley, and the Beverages N’More stores.

Rodger and Melissa also have a 2005 Jolly Roger, made using Drake’s founder Roger Lind’s 1990 recipe. There are a few differences. Roger used dry yeast. Rodger uses liquid yeast, the Chico ale version, and Simcoe hops, which produces a piny, pleasant aroma with low bitterness.

Don’t know where to find good beer in the Bay Area, email me at or call 510-915-1180. Ask for our 2005 Retail Beer List.

Posted on Monday, November 7th, 2005
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Belgian Beer Tasting In Oakland

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years,trying to chase down obscure beers from Belgium here in the Bay Area. One of those was Fantome. Another was Achtel, an ale from the sixth Trappist brewery. I actually found Achtel at Ledger’s Liquors, 1399 University Avenue in Berkeley.

I learned about Fantome from a reader who asked where it could be found. I located it after a few calls at the Toronado (547 Haight St.) in San Francisco. Tried it myself and was blown away. Big (8 percent) and spicy with those enticing Belgian toffee notes. Now, there’s a new wrinkle in the Fantome story:

Over the weekend I got an e-mail from Luka’s Taproom & Lounge (2221 Broadway) in Oakland that said this:

“Beginning November 8th, Luka’s Taproom & Lounge is launching a weekly Belgian bottled beer tasting where guests will be able to sample 3 oz. tastes from our bottled beer selection. These offerings include diverse, unusual and rare beers such as Westvleteren 12, Girardin Geuze and
Fantome White Ghost.”

Yes! Proprietor Rick Mitchell, a San Francisco lawyer, who turned a long-closed hofbrau into a splendid bar and restaurant last year, is an admitted Belgian beer fan. In fact, I bought a bottle of Westvleteren from him last summer for a Trappist beer tasting. But Fantome White Ghost? Hmmmm.

Finally, I called Luka’s. The bartender said that White Coast is Fantome’s traditional Saison. I did a web search for Fantome Saison — which is its official name — and discovered it’s the brewery’s regular summer beer. It earns a 91 from Beer Advocate and ***/* from Tim Webb in the new Good Beer Guide to Belgium , 2005 edition.

Tim notes that brewer-founder Danny Prignon is one of the great characters of the Belgiuan new wave. “He’s a most unassuming man, inventive, daring and sometimes chaotic. His products divide beer lovers. His recipes change as often as the weather. These can be excellent, traditional and unsual beers of great character…”

Besides the beer at Luka’s nexst Tuesday night, there’ll be cheeses from The Cheese Works of Alameda and chartucterie, (sausages and similar cold, cooked meats) from Fatted Calf, of San Francisco. Cost is $20 and hours will be 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. For info and reservations call: 510-451-4677. Remember, Luka’s plans to make this a regular late Tuesday occasion, so if you can’t make it next week, try later.

See you there. b.

Also — if you’re really into Belgian beer, follow the link above and buy Tim Webb’s book. It’s the bible of Belgian beer for us English speakers.

Posted on Wednesday, November 2nd, 2005
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