Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for March, 2006

New York Gets a Beer Sommelier

Here’s the most interesting item I’ve seen in a while. According to Andrea Strong writing in the New York Post, Cafe D’Alsace (1695 Second Ave., at 88th Street; [212] 722-5133), has hired a beer sommelier. That is, an expert to help patrons choose from the restaurant’s extensive beer list.

He is Aviram Turgeman and, the Post says. The restaurant’s beer selection is divided by style and region, much like a wine list.

For example, the Post says:

“Turgeman is all about pairing beer and food. With the tarte flambe – a sort of pizza topped with creme fraiche, smoked bacon and sweet onions ($8.75) – he suggest the Schlenkerla Rauchbier ($10), a smoky German beer made from malt that is roasted and smoked over Bavarian beechwood. For the grilled trouit with riesling sauce ($17.75), he serves the Boon Gueuze Lambic ($12), a Belgian wheat beer fermented by wild yeast that he describes as having aromas of “chardonnay, and oxidized sherry, with a very tart palate.” And for the chef’s signature choucroute – the region’s classic dish of braised cabbage slow-simmered with smoked meats ($23.50) – he recommends a wheat beer, such as the Schneider Edel Weisse ($10).”

Hmmm. Part of my family is Alsatian originally (family name Juduvine). But I know little about this narrow strip of land bordering Germany. His Rauchbier and Boon Gueze selections sound interesting. But Schneider Edel Weisse with sauerkraut (choucroute’s the French word for this very German dish), I would think he’d attempt to find an Alsatian beer in an Alsatian restaurant. Fischer, is the big Alsatian brewery, but there are other smaller breweries opening these days. German indeed.

If I were desperate, I’d go to the north of Franch for biere de garde, before reaching over to Germany. Remember, Germany has invaded and conquered Alsace numerous times, in 1871, in 1914 and in 1940, the most recent.

Anyway, hats off (if I had a hat) to New York’s first beer sommelier You can find the entire article and a photo of Turgeman here.

Posted on Friday, March 31st, 2006
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Tip, of the bottle

Today’s tip is on an elegant white wine I had over the weekend: Retzlaff’s 2002 estate grown Chardonnay. They sell it for $18 in the Livermore tasting room. More than I’d usually pay for anything white, but it had such a light hint of oak, it was a welcome relief from all those big, overboard, butterball Chardonnays. Did I mention I’m not a Chard fan? Try it!

Posted on Thursday, March 30th, 2006
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The Gaming Wine

A few years ago, I sampled some amazingly meaty wines at Rancho Arroyo Grande Winery & Vineyard, a small barnyard of a winery in rural San Luis Obispo County. I regret never buying the wine (why do we do that?) and recently found it online.

It’s called Wild Game Blends, on the River Wild Winery label. They make wine for hunters but if you eat meat, you too can drink like an American, right?

Anyway, my favorite is the Venison Blend, it’s Cab, Merlot and Cab Franc and it’s bold enough to go with antelope. I think I’ll have it with meatballs.

They also make a Trout Blend, Turkey Blend and Waterfowl. Check em out: www.riverwildwinery.com.

Posted on Wednesday, March 29th, 2006
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Letters to the Blog…

Shawn on KFOG Friday

Bill: My KFOG appearance has been rescheduled (from Tuesday, March 28) for Friday March 31st at 8 a.m. Thanks for the mention!

Shaun O’Sullivan, 21st Amendment Brewery – Restaurant – Bar
563 2nd Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

KFOG, the classic rocker’s at 104.5 FM San Francisco and 97.7 in San Jose and on the web live

Beer Chef on TV

Bill: The Bay Area brewing scene is going to get a little television exposure on Monday April 3 on CBS. The Beer Chef on TV who knew. The show is called “Eye
on the Bay” and it will come on immediately following the NCAA Final Four
Championship Game so consult your local listings.

Also save the date, April 28, 2006, 6:30 p.m., for “The Old School Library Tasting” an evening of vintage beers from Lagunitas Brewing paired with dinner and commentary. Since most of this beer is no longer available this event will probably sell out fast.
Cheers
Bruce D. Paton CEC, Executive Chef, The Cathedral Hill Hotel,, Phone:415-674-3406

Bud’s New Wheat Beer

Bill: About Bud’s new seasonal: Spring Heat Spiced Wheat:
BRAVO TO BUD!!!!TOOK YOUR ADVICE, TASTES GREAT.
Y.B.
To read about the beer, go to my column here.

Dubbel Bock, Double Trouble

Bill: Just for your future reference, I thought I’d pass on a few other corrections.

That column (About Anchor Bock and lastly, Paulaner Salvator) was really great, right up to the last paragraph. Then you almost made me cry with the following:

The best double bock example was long Paulaner Dubbel Bock**, but today, it’s much lighter, more like a copper, Oktoberfest beer

1. Paulaner’s version (the first doppelbock, as I’m sure you know) is called “Salvator,” not “Dubbel Bock” (where did THAT come from?)

2. The word “dubbel” is ONLY applied to certain monastery beers from Belgium (the “dubbel” style), and that is purely a Flemish spelling, which is never applied to a German lager.

3. While you’re correct that Salvator has changed greatly since what it was, even 15 years ago, it is still nothing at all like an Oktoberfest.

Sorry to be a nitpicker, but that one sentence had three errors of fact, which just upset my delicate sensibilities. ;-)

Great work on the columns, though!

Cheers, Ed

Bill: What is the truth about Guinness (which has been my favorite for many years — especially Guinness ice cream floats in the summer!)

The newer cannned and sexy bottle “draught” seems to be weaker (more watery, less alcohol) than prior ” imports. The present yellow label and draught can label say “brewed in Ireland,” but the bottle labels say “brewed in New Brunswick Canada.”

I asked a BevMo (Beverages & More, San Francisco Bay Area) manager whether we are actually getting the Ireland product and he replied that he’s only allowed to sell what the distributor delivers so he didn’t really know of any difference.

Has Guinness lightened up their product to compete with American craft beers ? CAN THE AUTHENIC DUBLIN IMPORT BE BOUGHT ANYWHERE? My favorite sports bar is now serving the bottled draught rather than an on tap product! Would an IRISH PUB tap Guinness be something different than the can/bottled product?

Thanks. WS

Hi WS:
Briefly, there are three kinds of Guinness.

The stuff that’s served in bars and comes in the tall cans and stubby bottles, labeled Draught Guinness, is more or less the same.

The cans and bottles have a nitrogen capsule (called a widget in the UK). There’s a pin hole in the widget and when you pop the cap or open the can, the chance in pressure forces nitrogen out of the hole at a rapid rate, churning the beer into a tan froth.

Idea is to give the consumer the same feel and look as the beer from the tap (which is pushed to the tap handle by a Guinness proprietary mix of nitrogen and co2, or sometimes pure nitrogen. Nitrogen churns and creams the beer. If they used CO2 alone, the beer would be unpleasantly gassy.

It used to be 3.5 percent alcohol by volume, but now is 4 percent. It well may come from one of the many Guinness breweries outside of Ireland.

The second is Guinness Extra Stout. Comes in 12 oz. and 22 oz. bottles. It’s 6 percent alcohol by volume and just a beautiful beer. Very different than the pub and pub draught stuff. After this note, I’ve attached my column from last year, which says a lot about this and Irish stouts. (By the way, I send out my columns weekly to an e-mail list. If you’d like to join the list let me know.).

The third stout is Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. This is the best of the lot by far. It’s 7.5 percent ABV and unavailable in the U.S. It’s big in the Caribbean and if you ever wind up in Bermuda or Jamaica or wherever, buy this beer. On the Guinness web site, the company says its the fastest growing beer in their portfolio.

Here’s a tasting note from the Oxford Bottled Beer database, a site I trust:

This is the well-respected export stout from Guinness. It is a rich brown-black colour that doesn’t show any signs of translucency even when held against a light. It has a thick, bubbly, rocky head with an aroma of heavy, treacley malt and cheesy hops. The palate is immediately steamrollered by an aggressive, tooth-tingling bitterness like thick, hopped malt extract, followed by an extremely treacley, smoky malt flavour with a tinge of sweetness. There is a chewy mouthfeel, which combined with the intense bitterness makes it quite a challenge to get through, especially towards the end of a session. Aftertaste is again severely bitter and malty. Clearly, subtlety was not a key consideration in the brewing of this beer. That said, it is a powerful, intense, memorable sledgehammer of a beer, impressive in its own right – a stout with balls.

Finally, here’s a column I wrote on the subject:

.
Oakland Tribune Beer Column, March 16, 2005: Irish beer.

Stout Is What
It’s All About

By William Brand
I grew up in a fairly ecumenical family of long-time Democrats. So when Jack Kennedy ran for president in 1960, I was shocked when people said he could never be elected president – because he was a Catholic and Irish.

Huh? Were they ever wrong and no wonder. Immigrants from Ireland filled our cities and with creativity, brains and muscle helped make America what it is today.

I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me, but I’ve danced to many a Celtic tune, shed a tear or two listening to a haunting Irish melody and shared more than a few pints of Irish ale.

St. Patrick’s Day is Thursday and there’s no better time to take a look at Irish beer and there’s no better Irish beer style than stout. In an afternoon of tasting, Don Gortemiller, brewer and co-owner of Pacific Coast Brewing in Oakland, and I, sampled all the Irish-made stouts available in Northern California and a random selection of Irish-style stouts made here on the West Coast.

So what is Irish stout? It’s often a low-alcohol beer made with roasted barley and dark malt. It began life as porter, created in 18th century London. The Irish – those in the Irish Republic, not under the English yoke – embraced the style and soon made it their own.

Irish porter was darker, more viscous and intriguing than English porter. While English porter and later English stouts were on the sweet side, Irish stouts were dry and quenching.

Finally – so the story goes – the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin acquired in 1759 by brewer Arthur Guinness, produced “Guinness Extra Stout Porter.’’ The name `stout’ stuck and the St. James Gate Brewery became famous worldwide. Guinness became so popular in the U.S. in the 1930s, that the brewery cut a deal in 1939 with a Long Island brewer to make Guinness in America, so German U-Boat attacks wouldn’t threaten our supply.

Today, versions of Guinness Stout are brewed at 13 other Guinness breweries around the world and under license in more than 20 countries. But our Guinness comes from Dublin. In the pub, draft Guinness is pushed to the tap from the keg by a mixture of nitrogen and carbon dioxide instead of CO2 alone. The nitro produces the creamy pour that made Guinness Stout famous.

But there’s a downside to this story. Guinness became so popular in Ireland that it literally drown
ed its smaller competitors. By the 1960s, the company dominated Ireland.

The only survivors were Murphy’s and Beamish & Crawford in Cork. Eventually, both were bought by multi-national brewers like Interbrew, eager to tap the stout spigot.

The good news is – there’s been a revival of craft brewing in Ireland and a number of quality, Irish stouts can be sampled – in Ireland.

The only one that’s imported to the U.S. is O’Hara’s Irish Stout****. This is a beautiful beer, bottle conditioned – a bit of fresh yeast is added to each bottle so fermentation continues slowly – dry with a wonderful roast barley nose and a hint of chocolate.

The bad news is that at this time, it’s not being sold in California. But O’Hara’s is one to watch for; it’s so good it’s got make it to the coast.

At our tasting, we sampled three Irish stouts in cans, each with a widget, a plastic cylinder inside. The Guinness cylinder contains beer forced in under pressure; the others use a container filled with nitrogen. Each has a pin hole in it and when you pop the top, the nitro squirts out, churning the beer into a froth.

We added a bottle of Guinness Extra Stout and a sampling of American, Irish-style stouts, Rogue Shakespeare Stout, Mad River Steelhead Extra Stout, Sierra Nevada Stout ands – representing Bay Area brewpub stouts, Pacific Coast Luck O’ the Irish Stout. Remember, just about every brewpub around here will be offering an Irish-style stout this month, so drop into your local soon.

First, the cans in order of finish:

– Beamish Irish Stout***, 4.1 percent ABV, Beamish & Crawford plc, Cork, Ireland, owned by Scottish & Newcastle, London, UK. Best of the cans; a very dark brown beer, pours with a creamy nitro head, striking aroma of roast barley and just maybe a slight lactic note that delivers a definite sourness on the back of the tongue. Very nice pub beer.

– Guinness Pub Draught,***, 4.1 percent ABV, Guinness, Dublin, Ireland. Darkest in color of the three canned stouts, very light, roast barley nose, creamy head, very smooth, well balanced and drinkable with perhaps a proper sour note on the edge.

–Murphy’s Pub Draught Stout **, 4.1 percent ABV, brewed in under license to Heineken Ireland. Slightly lighter color than Beamish, thicker head, smooth, well-balanced taste, but lighter than Beamish.

And now the rest of the crowd, again in order of finish:

–Guinness Extra Stout ****, 6 percent ABV, Guinness, Dublin. A very different beer than Draught. Powerful, thick, tan head rises above an opaque brown body. Foam lacework trails down the glass. Definite sour note in the roast barley aroma, complex taste: roast grain in front, a sour-tartness in the middle, balanced by roast grain and perhaps a hint of bitter hops. Guinness doesn’t say, but expert homebrewers insist that a small percentage of Guinness soured by Brettanomyces (wild yeast) and lactic acid bacteria is added to each batch of bottled Guinness. That would account for that sour edge, which definitely adds another dimension to a very interesting beer.

–Sierra Nevada Stout,**** 5.8 percent ABV, Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico. We both liked this big, hoppy, tasty stout with its dense head of foam, and slight, roasted barley nose. Don liked the balance of black malt and hops and the huge attack of the finishing hops. I liked the smooth balance and the lingering notes of hop bitterness and roast malt.

–Shakespeare Stout***+, 6 percent ABV, Rogue Brewing, Newport, OR. Don found chocolate, roast grain and espresso coffee notes in the aroma. Tasted like a double espresso with hops and a hit of alcohol. Again, an excellent beer.

–Luck O’ the Irish Stout***, 4.5 percent ABV, Pacific Coast, Oakland. Caramel nose, great balanced taste with hops and more hops in the finish. On tap all month.

–Steelhead Extra Stout**, 5.5 percent ABV, Mad River Brewing, Blue Lake, CA. A big, dark malt beer, lots of roast grain in the nose and in the taste. Definite hop bitterness lasts and lasts. An excellent, hoppy, West Coast-style stout.

Posted on Tuesday, March 28th, 2006
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Meanwhile, Back at the Blog


When I started this blog two years ago, I had BIG PLANS: daily postings covering the world of beer. It hasn’t happened. First, there’s NO TIME. Second, I try to check out each item, which takes time and there’s no time. Anyway, here’s a string of items that have been stacking up on my desk.

Beer from Pizza Port.

In the last 10 years, this small California chain of Pizzerias in Solana Beach, Carlsbad and San Clemente in San Diego County has made big news in the beer world. Head brewer Tommee Arthur is considered by nearly everyone in the beer world to be one of the most creative American craft brewers making Beglian-style beer today.

Problem is: these really are pizzerias, so most of Tommee’s beers are not bottled and even those that are tend to stay in San Diego. The company

Occasionally, a savvy dealer from elsewhere will stop in and scoop up a number of brews, bring them back home and sell em. They sell out quickly.

Pizza Port has moved into a brewing facility vacated by Stone Brewing in San Marcos (which moved to a brand new brewery) and, according to Pizza Port, plans are to crank up production considerably.

However, for now, Tomme Arthur’s beers are hard to find. This brings us to Michael Jackson’s Rare Beer Club. Based in Seattle, the company offers rare beers, mostly one-offs by famous brewers. This month’s beer is Synergy, brewed by Tommee Arthur and Vinnie Cilurzo (another famous craft brewing name) at Vinnie’s Russian River Brewing in Santa Rose, CA.

It’s a 6.7 percent, Belgian-style golden ale, bottle conditioned with brettanomyces, a wild yeast culture. Most brewers avoid brett like a plague, because it is wild and does unplanned, unusual things to beer: like a distinct sourness and unusual, and to some unpleasant, aromas. Unpredictability is something one should avoid if the goal is to produce an identical product.

Both Tommee and Vinnie are famous for eschewing the ordinary. Both make a lot of beer with interesting twists. Synergy is one of them.

OK, here’s the bottom line: These are pricey beers, ordered this way. However, it’s the only way. I’m about to order the minimum, three 750 ml bottles for $37 plus tax and shipping and expect to pay about $50. This is crazy right?

Right. But what an addition to my beer cellar. The bottle conditioning insures the beer will age and continue to change for at least a year.
Look at it this way: It’s about the cost of three bottles of a decent, young California wine.

OUT OF TIME. OUT OF TIME. More items later. Saludos.

Posted on Monday, March 27th, 2006
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Ceago is Nectar of the Gods

So I’m working on a story about organic wines, a big trend of late, and tasted one last night that blew me away: Ceago Vinegarden’s 2001 Merlot.

My roommate called it the "most merlot merlot I’ve had in a long time." Now, we know that 2001 was a stellar year for grapes, and anything made then is probably ready to drink now, but there was something more to it. It tasted like wine SHOULD taste, not oaky, not bitter, not sweet. Do you know what I mean?

Ceago is actually one step further than organic — their wines are biodynamic, meaning that in addition to being free of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers and other synthetic chemicals, they use nature’s own rhythms, the sun and the moon, to grow their grapes and produce their wines. Look for a story I’m writing on biodynamics in the April 5 Food and Wine section.

Posted on Thursday, March 23rd, 2006
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Don’t Put Real Ale Out To Pasteur

In my column Wednesday morning, I mentioned the Real Ale festival coming to the Triple Rock brewpub, 1920 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley CA. on April 1. This is one of three columns I’m posting about real ale

Oakland Tribune Beer Column, Oct. 20, 2004.

(A brilliant Tribune copy editor wrote that very nifty headline above..)

BY WILLIAM BRAND
Oakland Tribune
In an e-mail, reader, Reinier Nissen, brought up a beery subject I truly love: cask conditioned, real ale. This is a centuries old English manner of aging and serving beer.
It’s becoming more and more popular among American craft brewers, because it produces beer that is softly malty with a solid hoppy whallop.

Reiner said a good place to sample cask-conditioned ale in the Bay Area is Steelhead Brewing Co. at Burlingame Station in Burlingame. The pub has excellent cask ale on tap every day, he said.

A number of Bay Area brewpubs and a few special pubs have cask ale. But I haven’t visited Steelhead in quite a while, so I called Operations Manager Melissa Moore. She said brewer Emil Calouri always keeps two cask-conditioned ales on hand pump.
Bombay Bomber India Pale Ale stays on one pump all the time; a variety of ales are rotated to the other. Currently, Moore said, it’s Half Moon Bay Porter.

I love Bombay Bomber IPA. It was formulated several years ago by Teri Fahrendorf, corporate brewmaster for Steelhead Breweries (Eugene, OR, Burlingame and Irvine, CA. I first met Teri when she was brewing at Triple Rock in Berkeley. Loved her beer then; still keep it high on my “best” list.
. Keeping up Steelhead’s prize-winning tradition, Emil’s First Date Stout won gold earlier this month at the Great American Beer Festival in the imperial stouts category. Steelhead assures me it will be back on handpump in regular rotation.

So what is cask conditioned ale on hand pump? It sounds like stupid beer jargon, but it isn’t.
After an initial fermentation, the beer is moved _ non-pasteurized and unfiltered _ to casks; often fresh hops are added. Until very recently, the casks were wood, but today they’re usually stainless steel or aluminum.

When cask conditioned ale is ready to serve at the pub, the cask is tapped and connected to a beer line.

The beer is drawn to the bar with a “beer engine” _ a hand-operated suction pump. Pull the handle at the bar downward slowly and the pump draws the beer from the cask.

Ordinary keg beer _ outside of brewpubs _ is usually pasteurized. It’s pushed to the tap by carbon dioxide or sometimes a mix of CO2 and nitrogen.
The gas gives the beer its fizz. It looks lively and sparkling in the glass and held by all those sweet young things in high-priced TV commercials. It’s a painless, economical way to serve draught beer.

Real ales are alive; yeast continues to ferment and change in the cask producing carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Pasteurized beers are dead. Nothing lives in the beer; it cannot change, and usually it’s artificially carbonated in the keg or the beer line or both. That doesn’t make it bad _ there are many great keg beers.

But real ale is rather special.

Cask conditioned beer can be difficult to handle. The cask has to be tapped at precisely the time when the beer is ready to drink. It’s easy to get a beer that’s not quite right or past its time.

Cask conditioned beer gets its CO2 naturally as a by-product of the continued fermentation action of the yeast in the cask. A glass of cask conditioned ale is nearly flat.
But the taste _ oh my _ the taste can’t be duplicated. It’s silky smooth, melts away on the tongue in splendid fashion. Malt aromas can be intense. British-style real ales tend to emphasize the malts. Many American brewers increase the hopping.

Either way, it’s great beer. Try a few glasses and you’ll turn away from fizzy, yellow, big-brewer, beer in disgust.
We can thank a group of British ale drinkers for saving this cantankerous, wonderful style. In the early 70s real ale was disappearing in a sea of fizzy keg beer. Over glasses of the best cask ale, they launched the Campaign for Real Ale and saved it for all of us.
According to CAMRA, there are now nearly 300 new real ale brewers in the UK _ all part of a massive real ale revival.

Countless American brewers discovered real ale and today, cask-conditioned ale’s being made all over the U.S. I started this column talking about ale on hand pump at Steelhead at Burlingame station. But no doubt the brewpub in your neighborhood also does a cask regularly.

This postscript: For years as a beer writer, I received a free copy of “What’s Brewing”, the Campaign for Real Ale monthly newspaper. It’s how I learned about real ale in the first place.
After years of lurking, last year, I coughed up and joined CAMRA. I am proudly member number 00018770.

The reason it took me so long was the cost – currently 20 pounds _ about $36 year. But a tour of London pubs last year convinced me that real ale is a treasure worth saving. If you’re interested, go to www.camra.org.uk. Click on the “Join Us” button.

Posted on Tuesday, March 21st, 2006
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A Whale of A Firkin Fest, It Was

This is a column that ran in 2004 about the Firkin Real Ale Fest at Triple Rock Brewery in Berkeley, CA. The next fest will be April 1, 2006. For info check this link.

By William Brand

BERKELEY _ Hundreds of beer enthusiasts from around the Bay Area spent part of Saturday here in Berkeley sampling a kind of beer that was ancient when Shakespeare haunted the pubs of Stratford on Avon.

It’s called real ale and this day it was served from quaintly named, 14-gallon English containers, called “firkins.”

The occasion was the first annual Firkin Fest at the Triple Rock Brewery and Restaurant on Shattuck Ave. Twenty-eight brewers from as far away as Bend, OR, Chico and Monterey contributed specially made real ale firkins for event.

Triple Rock manager Bob DeMoisey said the event was a charity. The $14 admission was expected to raise a few thousand dollars for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation.

So what’s the difference between real ale and the regular American stuff, most usually found in cans?

“Well _ you can’t see through this,” said Beth Hayden, of San Rafael, holding up a half-pint of Coast Range Porter.

The beer was an almost opaque brown, without the slightest trace of the usual beery fizz, but with a decisive aroma of roast barley.

“I first tried real ale in England and I’m fascinated with the stuff,” said Lance Alexander, of Alameda.

Triple Rock brewer Christian Kazakoff _ who conceived the idea of a firkin fest _ said he loves real ale. “It’s the old way of brewing and dispensing beer,” he said.

It’s made without chemicals or additives: barley malt, hops and water only. Then, after brewing it’s place directly into containers called “casks” for fermenting.

Finally, a bit of extra yeast is added to the cask, so a second fermentation continues _ even as it’s being served.

It was the only way beer was served in English pubs until refrigeration, creation of beer lines pushing beer with carbon-dioxide and light-tasting lagers came along.

The style was about to disappear in the 1970s. But a group of Londoners got mad; formed the Campaign for Real Ale and brought the style back from the dustbin.

Today, some of England’s finest beers, such as Bass Ale and Fuller’s Extra Special Bitter are served in casks as real ale in their home turf.

Saving real ale was a great move, enthusiasts in Berkleley said Saturday.

“It’s softer tasting and because it’s served at 53-57 degrees, the flavors and aromas come out a little more,” Kazakoff said.

“It’s easier to drink, not as biting as a regular beer, he said.

Tom Dalldorf, who publishes the San Leandro-based Celebrator Beer News, a bible for beer-o-files, sang praises for real ale.

“This is a kind of beer that shows the passion of the brewer’s art,” he said. “It’s difficult to make and that’s why we’re seeing less of it in England.”

But it’s outstanding stuff, he added.

While the English have to fight for real ale _ it’s becoming increasingly popular in America. A real ale fest held annually in Chicago until this year _ drew more than a hundred entries.

“They canceled their festival, so I decided we’d hold it here,” Kazakoff said.

After all, Triple Rock is historic in its own right. It was the fifth brewpub in America to open since Prohibition, opening in 1985, behind Yakima Malting and Brewing in Yakima, WA, Mendocino Brewing, Hopland, Buffalo Bill’s, Hayward and Manhattan in New York City.

Triple Rock’s Kazakoff chose firkins, because of the unusual name and because the small containers are just right for a batch of real ale.

In English pubs and in American brewpubs, real ales are usually served with a device called a hand pump, which draws beer into the tap by suction. Most American beers are pushed to the tap by C02 or nitrogen, a process that adds gassy bubbles to the beer.

No gas here.

There was a wildly different profusion of beers: Drake’s IPA from Drake Brewing of San Leandro, Tripel from Bison of Berkeley; Park Chalet Amber from Beach Chalet, San Francisco; Cindercone from Deschutes, of Bend, OR.

Gary Larsen, a retired Berkeley police officer, walked out of Triple Rock with a smile. He rated the Bison Tripel and Santa Rosa’s Porter as tops.

“The trouble is, I had nine half-pints,” Larsen said. “It’s so smooth and easy to drinking. I’m glad I can walk home,” he said.

Contact William Brand at: bbrand@angnewspapers.com

Posted on Tuesday, March 21st, 2006
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Tasting Real Ale in the UK

This is the third of three columns I wrote about Real Ale. Comments are always welcome.
Beer column for wed. sept. 10, 2003

If you like good beer one of the special treats of a visit to England is a chance to sample the wares of English pubs.

I got to England last week _ but only for three hours. I had a stopover at Heathrow, the gargantuan international airport outside London, on my way to a brewery-sponsored visit to
Munich, Germany for an early Oktoberfest.

Three hours is really not enough time, even with England’s efficient train system, for a stranger to England like I am to actually go into London.

I discovered that it’s indeed possible to sample good English beer at Heathrow _ but stick to beer and forget the food _ at least in Terminal 2. That is _ for God’s sake never order eggs and toast. Why? I’ll leave that to your imagination and sense of humor. Hint: an egg hard-cooked for maybe 10-minutes is so gross, it’s funny.

Before I left the Bay Area I did some web research and discovered there are two pubs inside the airport serving good English beers, a Tap & Spile in Terminal 3 and a J.D. Wetherspoon’s in Terminal 2.

Fate and a fog delay carried me to Terminal 2 and the Wetherspoon’s pub.

By good English beer I mean “real ale.” That’s a term devised in the 1970s by fans of beer made in a traditional style: ales that undergo a second, slow fermentation in their serving casks on their way to the pub and in the pub before the cask is tapped.

Beer made and served in this style is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. Nearly every brewpub in the Bay Area and a few pubs offer a beer occasionally on handpump. It’s worth finding. The next time you’re in a place that cares about beer ask if there’s a real ale on handpump.

Back in England in the early 1970s, the situation seemed dire. Technological changes like pasteurization and beer taps powered by CO2 gas were threatening the very existence of cask ale.

So a bunch of beer enthusiasts in London created the Campaign for Real Ale. The campaign became a revolution in retrograde. It stopped progress in its path.

Today, real ale still struggles. But it lives.

Most beer today is pasteurized _ a process that heats the beer for a moment, kills any possible bacteria in the beer and allows a long shelf life. Pasteurization also “kills” the beer. That is, it kills the yeast.

Pasteurized beer is very stable; it doesn’t change, doesn’t age. What you see is what you get. There’s almost no variation from glass to glass, bottle to bottle. Brewers and beer sales people like that. Customers are rarely disappointed.

Cask or real ale is one of the last products in our modern world that has been basically unchanged for 200 years. It’s not slick; it’s not stable.

It’s alive, that is _ it’s not pasteurized. The yeast remaining in the beer continues to work in the cask, producing carbon dioxide and a bit more alcohol as byproducts.

The yeast-produced CO2 gives the beer some fizz, so when the cellarman _ the person in charge of the casks at the pub _ taps a keg, there’s enough gas to give the beer a lively look, although it’s not as fizzy as the nearly frozen, pasteurized beer the comes from a C02 or nitrogen powered tap.

The cask ale serving method is a “handpump,” an ancient device that works much like the pump on an old-fashioned well.

Move the pump handle up and down and the water is sucked up from the well. Move the handpump up and down and the beer’s drawn from the cask.

Wetherspoon’s is a large English pub chain that has always been friendly to cask beer. The one at Heathrow offered four beers on cask including Shepard Neame Spitfire, Fuller’s London Pride and Courage Directors Bitter.

I went for the Spitfire, which is hard to find in the U.S.

The eggs may have been beyond well done, but the beer _ 4.7 percent alcohol by volume, strong for an English beer, was perfect. Soft malt aroma, properly hoppy with a delicious, smooth finish characteristic of English beers.

When they’re right on _ English beers rock! Here I was _ 14 hours after leaving Oakland, sitting in an English pub sipping a proper real ale. Whew.

Of course, there’s a downside to real ale and it can be a real downer. Living beer is not stable. It changes over time. Even the strongest real ale has a limited shelf life after the cask is tapped. Oxygen is a killer. Stale beer tastes like * (supply your own expletive here).

It’s also not refrigerated nor is it delivered through a fizzy gas tap.

It can be dead flat and lifeless; it can be served way too warm. It happens a lot in the summer in the UK. I’ve talked to many Americans who curse English beer because it was “too warm” an

I always tell friends _ next time, send it back to the bar. Ask which beer they have on is in the best condition. Drink that. If you’re in a trendy pub and your request is ignored. Vote with your feet. Leave.

For more about real ale go to: www.camra.org or just ask your local brewpub. Brewers know a lot and they’re usually more than willing to share what they know.

Posted on Tuesday, March 21st, 2006
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Go to Paso Robles now

You can’t call yourself a wine enthusiast if you haven’t visited Paso Robles. I lived in San Luis Obispo from 2002 to 2004 and consider that area the foundation of my love affair with wine.

This weekend’s 14th annual Zinfandel Festival was my first trip back in over a year. The growth in that short amount of time astounds me. Not only is Paso Robles officially the state’s third largest wine region (there are 100 wineries and counting), but the quality has not been sacrified in light of accolades and a lot of media attention (a PBS reality show on winemakers there is in the works, more on that to come).

Neither has the down-home hospitality and overall farmer spirit. There is class, not snobbery. A few wineries have incorporated tasting fees, but it’s still for a purpose (a glass; 10 tastes) and is often waived if you make a purchase.

I recommend hitting Highway 46 West, which starts at the ocean off Highway 1 and spills into what I’m convinced is the most beautiful land in California. It pops you out at Hwy. 101.

To be honest, I couldn’t find one thing I liked better about tasting in Napa. Here are 12 wineries you won’t want to miss in Paso:

Castoro Cellars: "Dam Fine" Zins.

Eberle Winery: Don’t miss the complimentary cave tours.

Four Vines Winery: Young winemakers doing forward-thinking blends with hip names. Try the "Anarchy."

JanKris Winery: Almond Champagne that’s actually not too sweet and only $12. They also have a cafe!

J. Lohr Vineyards & Winery: The 2001 Cabernet Sauvingon is in my Top 5.

Justin Vineyards & Winery: So is their 2001 cab. Beautiful grounds with an inn and restaurant.

Martin & Weyrich Winery: Stunning orange muscato.

Mastantuono Winery: Ditto on the raspberry champagne.

Peachy Canyon Winery: The Incredible Red is a best seller at Trader Joe’s.

Stephen’s Cellars: Organically-grown grapes. At $16, the Pinot’s a steal.

Tablas Creek: Also organic, and fabulous.

Wild Horse Winery and Vineyards: One of the all-time favorite merlots.

For more info., go to www.pasowine.com.

Posted on Monday, March 20th, 2006
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