Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for February, 2006

1999 Opus One

Saturday was Open that Bottle Night, the annual event created by Wall Street Journal wine writers Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher that forces people to stop waiting for an occasion to open that special bottle. Before you know it, the wine will pass its peak and all that waiting was for nothing.

That said, a dear friend of mine received a bottle of 1999 Opus One from her boyfriend the night he proposed to her. There he was, on bended knee, the ring tucked on the top shelf of a wine fridge. Very romantic.

Rather than wait until her wedding night, she shared the bottle with friends. In this case, the technical occasion was her sister’s 30th birthday, and the fact that the wine was ready to drink. She did the right thing, and I’m not just saying that because I was one of the friends.

What did it taste like? Silk. No, satin. Chocolately-smooth satin. California punch with a Bordeaux smoothness. I’ve had aged wine, but I think we caught this one right at its peak, which is why it was so special. It was, to date, the best wine I’ve ever tasted. Sorry, Silver Oak.

Posted on Monday, February 27th, 2006
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Correction: Pliny and Old Stock

A reader points out that I made a couple of mistakes in my column last week.

1. Winner of the People’s Choice Award at the Bistro’s Douple IPA Festival in Hayward Feb. 11 was Pliny the Younger.

According to Russian River, it’s a “modest” 11 percent alcohol by volume and has “gobs of IBUs.” They call it a triple IPA, three times the hopping of their standard IPA. It’s dry hopped four different times.
Oh my. And I thought it was the more modest Pliny the Elder, an 8 percent, 100 IBU beauty.

2. Correction two: Old Stock Ale from North Coast Brewing Co. tests out at 11.4 percent alcohol by volume. 10 percent, 11 percent, 11.4 percent. I love this beer.

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William Brand
Beer Columnist, Blogger
Oakland Tribune
401 13th St.
Oakland, CA 944612

Posted on Saturday, February 25th, 2006
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Zin State Debate

I had to take a few days to think about this state wine thing. And I’m still torn. While I like Zinfandels fine, I really don’t think of them as the epitome of Cali.

When it comes to national foodiness, it’s certainly not our cheesesteak or Guiness. If anything, I sort of equate California with Cabs, even though our foods don’t necessarily comply. And I don’t think sales really weigh into it. If they did, that black bear on our flag would be replaced with a big fat glass of Chardonnay (nearly 20 % of the state’s grape harvest). Now that would be a shame.

The reason winemakers have their knickers in a twist is because California is blessed with the resources to make all varietals very well, so why highlight just one? I tend to agree. We’re Californians, after all. We eat avocados and order Diet Cokes with our In ‘n’ Burgers. We’re too quirky to be known for one wine.

But in the spirit of great Zins, I do have to reveal my latest fave: Cline’s 2003 Big Break Zinfandel. Good old Oakley terroir, and it tastes like mint! 

Posted on Friday, February 24th, 2006
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Beer and Cheese at the Rogue

Somewhere in the middle of an incredible week of beer events, I sat down with three dozen other beer lovers at the Rogue Ales Public House in San Francisco’s North Beach for an evening cheese and beer tasting sponsored by the Celebrator Beer News.

I learned something important: Pairing cheese and beer together is an emerging art and individual palates vary tremendously and just perhaps the cheese hasn’t been made that can balance the uber-hopping of Russian River Brewing’s fabulous Pliny the Elder. At 8 percent ABV and 100 IBUs (A Bud is 13 IBU), it’s a tough match.
The pairing this night by Sheana Davis of the Epicurean Connection, Sonoma, CA was Pliny and Rogue et Noir Marin French Triple Cream Blue Brie. This is a very rich, (75 percent butterfat), prizewinning, triple cream, made from pastuerized cow’s milk in Petaluma. But it simply couldn’t stand up to powerful Pliney.

Later, a number of tasters ( all of whom love Pliney) paired Pliney with Harley Farms Monet Chevre, from Harley Farms, Pescadero. I can’t report on chevre, since it’s the one thing in the world, besides penicillin that I’m violently alergic to. I discovered this unpleasant fact after sharing my first (and last) calzone at Chez Panisse in Berkeley with my wife-to-be.

Anyway, several tasters said the combo worked well, the goat cheese with its fresh, moist, acrid qualities balanced heavily hopped Pliney. In the tasting, Sheana served Monet Chevre with honey, which, I understand, softened the acrid quality in the cheese. It was paired with an excellent Belgian-Style Ale from Bison Brewing, Berkeley.

In the strong and potent category, I liked Rogue’s powerful Chipotle Ale (formerly Mexicali Rogue) paired with Chipotle Cheddar from Bravo Farms, Visalia. This is a raw milk cheese, made with chipotle chilis ( that is – smoked, dried jalapenos). It took chipotles in both beer and cheese to revive my taste buds, which had been blown away by Pliney. Incredibly, the hops came through the heat of the chipotles. The creamy qualities in the cheese, cleansed the palate. If you like heat, try this combo.

I also liked Lagunitas Brown Shugga paired with Fiscallini San Joaquin Gold . Shugga’s actually made with brown sugar and it adds a caramel note, but the malt predominates, an excellent complement to this fairly sharp cheddar.

Still curious about beer and cheese? I attended another, excellent pairing of North Coast Brewing’s beers and California artisanal cheeses. Check out my colunmn today (
Feb. 22, 2006) at or

Posted on Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006
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Snacks and wine

Recently, a friend mentioned that he needed to pick up a bottle of wine for his parent’s anniversary dinner — “a special occasion.”

That’s when it occurred to me: People still think of wine like Hallmark cards. Meanwhile, I’m drinking the stuff with popcorn (sprinkled with pepper), Chinese take-out and frozen pizza. When I visit a friend’s, it’s not uncommon for us to pop some break ‘n’ bake Tollhouse chocolate chocolate chip cookies in the oven and wash them down with that half-bottle of merlot.

Wine is a lifestyle, so when you’re into it, you drink it with everything, not just filet mignon, and certainly not just on a fancy date. Try it. Here are some of my favorite snack wines. They’re all around $10. 

Smoking Loon Pinot Noir: Everything.
Papio: Any cheese.
Robert Mondavi Grand Reserve: I like this one with nuts and olives.
Coppola Claret: Brownies, people, brownies.
Bonny Doon Dry Reisling: Try it with the Trader Joe’s Crab Cakes or Chickenless Nuggets, with a sweet and sour dip, like the kind from McDonald’s.

Posted on Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006
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About Those Oysters

Just a quick note for those of you who read my column this morning (Feb. 22, 2006) in the Oakland Tribune or the other ANG newspapers. I’m working on the Rogue cheese and beer tasting article at the moment an hope to post it in about two hours: 11 p.m. PST.

Meanwhile, here’s some news about Hog Island Oyster Bar in the Ferry building in San Francisco: They have a special each Monday and Thursday from 5-7 p.m. One variety of oysters on the half shell (kind changes from day to day) for $12 a dozen. Beer (and they only carry North Coast’s excellent beers) is $3.50 a pint.

On a sunny spring day, this place on the edge of San Francisco Bay is a perfect place to visit. No doubt, you’ll see me there.

On the subject of oysters, Luka’s Taproom & Lounge, 2221 Broadway, Oakland, also has $1 oyster night each Monday. Luka’s has a first rank beer list, including many Belgians on tap.

Posted on Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006
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Dozen Rosés a Hit

Could there be any better combination than art and wine? Yeah, I guess there IS wine and Reese’s pieces. If you haven’t tried it, you must.

Anyway, art and wine works for me because, with time, they can both be exponentially rewarding. The longer you spend with a painting, the more you notice the intentions of the artist, however understated, much like a smooth Bordeaux, or deliberate, like a big Aussie cab. Those of you at last week’s sold-out Dozen Rosé event know what I’m talking about.

Not only are pink wines hot hot hot right now, but about 150 of us got to swirl and sample some of the industry’s best while viewing the "The Kennedy Years" photo exhibit at the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek: There was baby John Jr., dressed in the same christening gown his father wore years before. (P.S.: The chocolate-dipped strawberries weren’t bad, either).

Among the 12 wineries, Lang & Reed and Roederer Estate were buzzing the most. I kept going back for more of the latter’s 1999 L’Ermitage Rosé, not only because it was $72 and most of us would never pay that for a rosé, but because of its lasting fruit tart taste. It also tasted really good with smoked salmon, which was flowing all night.

Bonny’s Doon’s Big House Pink was a hit, though that’s nothing new. The surprise of the night (you ALWAYS learn something new at a wine event) was the Susana Balbo, which is made from Torrontés, a Northern Spanish varietal I’d never heard of. Recent DNA testing reveals its origin as a hybrid of Muscat and Criolla Chica, better known as the Mission grape.

Don’t you just love art?

Posted on Friday, February 17th, 2006
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Craft Beer Sales Boom in 2004

Sale of craft beer – and by that, I mean, full-flavored beer, the opposite of light American lager – rose 9 percent in 2005, continuing an upward trend in popularity. Here’s the info from the Boulder, CO-based Brewers Association:

America’s craft brewers sold 9 percent more barrels of beer in 2005 versus 2004 making craft beer the fastest growing segment of the U.S. beverage alcohol industry for the second consecutive year, the Brewers Association, trade association for U.S. craft brewers.

“Craft beer volume growth far exceeded that of large brewers, wine and spirits in 2005,” said Paul Gatza, Director of the Brewers Association. “And even though imported beer grew nicely in 2005, craft beer grew at a faster rate.”

The Brewers Association estimates 2005 sales by craft brewers at 7,112,886 31-gallon barrels up from an adjusted total of 6,526,809 barrels in 2004, an increase of 586,077 barrels or 8.1 million cases.

Compared to craft beer volume growth of 9 percent, spirits volume increased at 3.3 percent in 2005 and wine volume was up 2.9 percent. The import segment of the beer industry rose 7.2 percent in 2005 while non-craft domestic beer volume declined slightly for the year. This establishes craft beer as the fastest growing segment of the U.S. beverage alcohol business for the second year in a row.

The craft beer segment includes more than 1,300 small, traditional and independent breweries which produce primarily all-malt beers. It includes both brewpubs which sell beer primarily at their own pub or restaurant and packaging breweries that distribute beer in kegs, cans and bottles to a wide range of retail outlets. The Brewers Association has tabulated industry growth data for these breweries annually since 1985.

Back live now: Of course when you consider market share and actual number of bottles or barrels sold you get a different picture. While craft beer sales were up 9 percent, that brings the craft beer segment to 3,5 percent of the total beer market, Garza told me a minute ago.

Here’s his very rough breakdown: Craft Beer: 3.5 percent, Imports: 12 percent, Anheuser Busch: 48.6 percent, Miller: 18.4 percent, Coors: 10.6 percent, Pabst Blue Ribbon: 3.2 percent; Other breweries, 3.7 percent.

So, looking at it that way, all the great craft beer in America, lumped together, accounted for just 0.3 of one percent more beer than Pabst. Food for thought.

Posted on Thursday, February 16th, 2006
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Beer and Cheese, A Great Pair, Together At Last

I’m running late today. I promised in my column this morning I’d post this menu for the cheese and beer tasting at Rogue Ales Public House, 673 Union St. in San Francisco’s North Beach.

Well, it’s still today, Wed, Feb. 8,2006, so here’s the menu. First, the details, it’s sponsored by Rogue Brewing and The Epicurean Connection , a Sonoma company that represents Northern California cheesemakers. However, cheeses here come from a wide area and include Rogue Creamery Chocolate Stout Cheddar. It’s paired, of course, with Rogue Chcolate Stout.

Antother very fine pairing will be Lagunitas Brown Shugga, a stunnning, 9 percent ale, with Fiscallini San Joaquin Gold.
What kind of cheese is that, you ask? Here’s a quote from an article on California craft cheese by the Toronto Globe & Mail:

“(Master cheesemaker)Mariano Gonzalez hand-cuts, stacks and restacks the curds from raw, unpasteurized milk. The 60-pound wheels are bandage-wrapped, turned every day for a month, and aged for two years. “Over time, the cheddar becomes crumbly, darkens into a buttery colour and settles into nutty, caramel flavours that fill the palate without losing their edge. All this on the 1914 Modesto farm where John Fiscallini grew up tending his family’s herd. “Like many other fledgling specialty cheese makers, the Fiscallinis say they’ve yet to see a profit as they try to establish themselves in a state that produces 683 million kilograms of cheese annually… ”

Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door. Tickets: 538-2739.

Hint: If you want to go, reserve a place now. Here we go:

Rogue Ales Imperial Pilsner
Bellwether Farms Crescenza

Bison Brewing Belgian Ale
Harley Farms Monet Chevre

Rogue Ales Dead Guy
Bellwether Farms San Andreas

Russian River Brewing Company

Elk Creamery Camembert

Rogue Ales Mirimoto Soba
Rogue Creamery Mirimoto Soba Cheddar

Rogue Ales Chipolte Ale
Bravo Farms Chipolte Cheddar

Rogue Ales Old Crustacean Barley Wine
Rogue Creamery Blue Cheese

Lagunitas Brewing Company Brown Shugga
Fiscallini San Joaquin Gold

Rogue Ales Chocolate Stout
Rogue Creamery Chocolate Stout Cheddar

Anderson Valley Brewing Company Oatmeal Stout
Sweet Grass Tome

Posted on Wednesday, February 8th, 2006
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A Beer and Chocolate Dinner

There are a number of beer-related events in the next two weeks in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ll write about them in my column in the Oakland Tribune and other papers on Wednesday. But this, very fine event – Bruce Paton’s Beer and Chocolate Dinner at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco, has a Feb. 9, 2006 reservation deadline. So I’m posting the info and the quite enticing menu.

I’ve attended several of Bruce Paton’s dinners. They’re always fun. This one promises to be special. Tickets are $80 per person, which includes all the beer, the food, tax and tip. Besides, the hotel offers a $79 room rate for dinner guests. Call (415) 674—3406 for reservations.

Friday, February 17, 2006, The Cathedral Hill Hotel
Featuring Scharffen Berger Chocolate and Fine Imported Ales

Reception, 6:30 p.m.
Chefs Hors D’Oeuvre Accented with Chocolate
Schneider Aventinus Methode Champenoise

Dinner, 7:30 p.m.

First Course
Napoleon of Butter Poached Lobster, Artichoke and Celery Root with Chocolate Sauce Americaine
Chimay Cinq Cents

Second Course
Ravioli of Duck Confit and Cocoa Nibs in Natural Jus with Duck Ham and Micro Arugula
Chimay Premiere

Third Course
Angus Beef Short Ribs Braised in Chimay with Creamy Grits and Chocolate Balsamic Reduction
Chimay Grand Reserve

Fourth Course
Trio of Artisan Chocolate Escapades
Vintage 2000 Chimay Grand Reserve

Posted on Sunday, February 5th, 2006
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