Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for June, 2006

World Cup Friday 8 a.m. – Pacific Coast

OK, I’m posting this fast, because it’s happening soon – Friday, June 30 aty 8 a.m. Pacific Coast Brewing in downtown Oakland’s throwing open the doors and opening the taps for the World Cup match between Germany and mighty Argentina.

Brewmaster Don Gortemiller said it’s by popular demand. Pacific Coast regulars are football-mad ( and I don’t mean the Raiders.)

Cover’s $10, covers all the beer. Doesn’t look like they’re opening the kitchen, so bring your own. In fact, they just said food is welcome. They’re opening the kitchen at 11 a.m – in time for Italy vs. Ukraine at noon.

On Saturday, they won’t be open for England vs. Portugal at 8 a.m. But both taps and kitchen will be open for and the big one – Brazil vs. France at noon.

Posted on Wednesday, June 28th, 2006
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My Fave Contra Costa wines

Hey folks, I’m getting some great feedback on the Contra Costa County wines story in today’s Food section, so thanks. Some of you have asked which one is my fave, or what I would recommend as a good example of the region’s capabilities. I think the best ones coming out of the area are reds, and here’s three that prove it:

My top CC wine that’s affordable, good for everyday drinking and smells faintly of roses is Hannah Nicole Vineyards Red Table Wine. It’s either $10 or $14 and you can find all their wines at the BevMo! in Walnut Creek.

I also love love love Cline’s Zinfandels, they’re peppery and smooth. All of them are worth trying. These are everywhere.

Ca’na, the label of Tamayo Family Vineyards, puts out some fabulously meaty syrahs. The 2002 is great at $20. You should be able to find Ca’na at BevMo!

Posted on Wednesday, June 28th, 2006
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Jelly Bean Wine Bar

Corks off to my fellow sassy drinkers at Wine X Magazine. Not only do they weave witty wine tales, the people are geniuses. For serious. They’ve designed wine varietals by Jelly Bean kits, trying to help our palates once and for all find the licorice in petite sirah.

Each varietal kit comes with a carefully-paired selection of jelly beans (cabernet sauvignon features four berries, plum, licorice and Dr. Pepper; add buttered toast, chocolate pudding and french vanilla for California cabs. French? Pop a dirt Jelly Bean). A half-pound will run you $27 and feed a party of 25. No, there’s no mold jelly bean in the chardonnay kit. Order them online at Genius.

Posted on Monday, June 26th, 2006
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Meet Gordon Biersch

I wrote about the new Gordon Biersch Hefeweizen***+ in my column today (Wednesday, June 21, 2006) in the Oakland Tribune and the other ANG newspapers around Northern California and I promised some background about GordonBiersch on my blogs
So — let’s start at the beginning. There are two partners, Dan Gordon, 46, the brewer, and Dean Biersch, the restaurant-marketing-management guy. I haven’t talked to Dean in a long time, but I had a conversation with Dan last week. This account’s based on our interview.

They were introduced by a friend in the early 1980s, who said “You guys should get together.” As Dan tells us, they each had a business plan involving beer. “We hung around and chatted for a week, then we combined our plans,” Dan says.

They chose Palo Alto, where Bob Stoddard had recently closed the pioneering Palo Alto Brewing (opened 1983, brewing real ale, closed 1986) and moved on to Sunnyvale to open another brewpub. Some equipment went to Tied House in Mountain View; Dan and Dean got much of the rest.

Dan said he got interested in engineering, while working a summer job at California Canners and Growers in San Jose, while he was a student athelete at the University of California, Berkeley. “The athletic department arranges these jock jobs. Mine was at the cannery, where I was supposed to pick rotten fruit out.”

Fate intervened. “They said, `Hey, we notice you’re taking physics. I ended up working for two senior engineers doing things with boilers and cookers. It was a great job,” Dan says. “They were very senior, one was 68; the other was 72, they were like my private mentors.”

He graduated from Berkeley in 1982 with a degree in econ. But instead of looking for a job in finance, he enrolled in the famous Weihenstephan Technical University in Munich – the only American in a class of 96. Five years later, in 1987, he received his degree along with 17 classmates. He was the first American to graduate in over 50 years.
“I learned German the hard way,” he said. “I took classes at Berkeley, he had been an exchange student in Northern Germany and he took an intensive German class for six weeks before classes began.

“I took my final orals in October, 1987 and we opened Gordon Biersch (Brewery Restaurant) in Palo Alto in July, 1988,” Dan said.

From the start, the beer was German-style, mostly lagers. In Bavarian tradition, all their beer follows the Reinheitsgebot, the German Purity Law which allows only barley, hops and water (yeast was unknown and the code was stretched to include wheat). The food also made the place a destination.

They opened their second brewery-restaurant on the Embarcadero fronting San Francisco Bay in San Francisco and expanded restaurant after restaurant until they hit the wall. Dan explains that due to changes by the state (California) Legislature, there was/is a prohibition on owning both a brewery and restaurants serving alcohol. There was a ceiling of 60,000 barrel – brewery and brew-restaurant production combined. They hit that level in 1999.

Dan Gordon, left, Dean Birsch

“We hired a lobbyist, we tried hard, we were completely unsuccessful. The beer wholesalers lobbied against us, so (then Gov.) Gray Davis and (then Assembly Speaker) Herb Wesson didn’t want to change the law. So we had to sell the restaurants. It’s not a joyful part of our history,” Dan says.

They sold the restaurant-brewery to Big River Brewing Co., an investor group now headquartered in Chattanooga, TN and operating as Gordon Biersch Restaurant Group, Inc.
There are now 25 restaurants in 14 states.

The company plans an initial stock offering on June 26, estimated share price, $12. The offering is expected to raise $51 million and present top officers will own 35 percent of the company.

Anyway – Dan Gordon says the brewery still consults with the restaurants to ensure that the restaurants adhere to Gordon Biersch standards.

Meanwhile, life has come full circle for Dan Gordon. Their new – which produced 73,000 barrels last year – is located in a refurbished, brick Continental Canning Co. building exactly one block from the place where he worked for California Canning.

If you live away from the West Coast you might not be familiar with Gordon Biersch. Simply put, they produce great beer, German malts, German yeast, almost exclusively Hallertau hops. Check out their web sit here.

Beers are Pilsner, Golden Export**, Märzen***, Blonde Bock**** and Hefeweizen***, plus a Winterbock*** seasonal. Distribution in bottles and kegs throughout California, Hawaii and Arizona.

For the future, Dan says they’re looking seriously at a regular seasonal lineup. I like that. williambrand.

Posted on Wednesday, June 21st, 2006
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Wine class

I’m always looking for good classes. Polish the old palate and learn a thing or two, eh? In the past few years, Jenny and I have taken worthwhile classes at Solano Community College and BevMo! Here’s another one we’re signed up for in Lafayette at the end of August. It’s all about Italian wines, something my California-honed palate could always use more of. There are still 12 or so slots open. Join us!

Enrollment in Wine Tasting 101 Series – Italy Uncorked; First meeting: Thursday, August 31, 2006, 6:30 to 9pm. Location: Sequoia Room at Lafayette Community Center; 500 Saint Mary’s Road Lafayette, CA 94549
The price is $27.00. Please bring 5 wine glasses to class. 15 dollar supply fee payable to the instructor on the first night. For more info, go to

Posted on Wednesday, June 21st, 2006
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Ten Years of He’brew at the Toronado

This came straight out of my email from Dave at the Toronado. Check it out.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


National Release Party
Thursday June 22, 6-10pm
Toronado aka Temple of Beer, the Mothership,
Beer Utopia
547 Haight Street, San Francisco
For the first time ever all of The Chosen Beers will
be on draft including 2 brand spankin’ new 10th
Anniversary radical offerings.

Join me to savor the Evolution of HE’BREW. Feel
encouraged to forward this email far and wide to
any and all…L’Chaim!


Genesis 10:10
Celebrating 10 Years of Delicious Beer and
Delicious Shtick. A huge balance of specialty
malts, pounds and pounds of our Chosen hops,
brewed with a hint of luscious Pomegranate juice.
10% alc.
Malts: 2-row, Caramel 40, Munich, Black Malt,
Wheat, Dark Crystal 80
Hops: Warrior, Centennial, Cascade, Willamette,
Simcoe, Crystal, Mt. Hood

Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A
Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the
death of Lenny Bruce: A Rye based double IPA.
Brewed with an obscene amount of malts and
hops. Shocking flavors – Far beyond
contemporary community standards. The Most
Radical Jewish Tribute Beer ever created. 10%
Malts: 2-row, Rye Ale Malt, Torrified Rye, Crystal
Rye 75, Crystal Malt 65, Wheat, Kiln Amber,
Caramel 70
Hops: Warrior, Cascade, Simcoe, Crystal,
Chinook, Amarillo, Centennial.
Dry Hopped with Amarillo and Crystal

Genesis Ale:
Our First Creation
Crisp, smooth and perfectly balanced between a
west coast style pale and amber ale, with a
supple malt sweetness and a pronounced hop
flourish. 5.6% alc
Malts: 2-row, Caramel 40L, Dark Crystal, Munich,
Hops: Warrior, Fuggles, Willamette, Cascade

Messiah Bold:
It’s the Beer You’ve Been Waiting For!
A deep, bold nut brown ale beautifully balanced
with rich dark malts and a complex hop character
converging to reveal a simply enchanting elixir.
5.6% alc
Malts: 2-row, Carapils, Dark Crystal/ Caramel 80L,
Dark Chocolate, Victory
Hops: Warrior, Cascade, Mt. Hood


Posted on Monday, June 19th, 2006
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Truth Telling Time for Bud

I finally tracked down a delightful (from my point of view) article that appeared on Page One of the Wall Street Journal. on back on April 26, 2006. The headline and decks say it all:

“After Making Beer Ever Lighter,
Anheuser Faces a New Palate

“Seeking Mass Appeal,
Brewer For Years
Cut Bitterness;
Now Drinkers Want More”

In summary, the lengthy article, written by Sarah Ellison, starts out in the corporate tasting room of Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, with a quote from A-B chairman August Busch III, explaining that the company routinely freezes samples of Budweiser at temperatures approaching absolute zero. Occasionally old Bud’s thawed out and compared with today’s Bud.

“We want to be damn sure we would have the same beer 20 years down the road,” the Journal quotes Busch as saying.

August Busch III

But, the Journal reports, the difference between the Bud from 1982 and the Bud from today is distinct.

“The bones are the same. It is the same structure,” the Journal says quoting A-B head brewer Doug Muhleman. Overall, however, “the beers have gotten a little less bitter.” the Journal said, quoting Muhleman. However, with sales skidding and profits dropping, A-B is apparently reversing course, the Journal says. The article reports A-B in 2003 told hop growers it was going to increase the amount of hops in its beers.

Anheuser-Buscher head brewer
Doug Muhleman

If you’re into the big business side of beer, Miller apparently has been making whoopee with the Journal article, mailing it to media around the country, telling them Miller has more bitterness. Ho hum.

Personally, here’s the nut graph in the Journal article:

After World War II “as regional varieties gave way to national brands, companies embraced soft-edged, broadly appealing formulas, which gradually lightened products from cigarettes to bread. It was a winning strategy that created success stories such a ranch dressing, Maxwell House coffee and Kraft Cheese…” Add beer to that. All the big brewers did the same thing, and the forumla worked well for decades.”

But, as you and I know, tastes change, or more accurately, as America has matured, we Americans have discovered taste: We’re embracing real bread, real cheese and beer with real taste.

Here’s my prediction: Budweiser is going to become more full flavored, a lot more hops, a lot more malt. This is going to happen slowly, over time, but it will happen. It has to and in the end we’re all going to be winners. Nuf said.

Comments? E-mail me at and I’ll print them. b.

Posted on Monday, June 19th, 2006
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Friday was a quintessential Livermore Valley night. Mom was visiting, so we escaped to Wente to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the restaurant and the concert series. Fifth-generation winemaker Karl Wente, all 6’7” of him clad in a red dinner jacket and a platinum mop to boot, unveiled two fabulous wines: the Twente Chardonnay, which paired deliciously with a butter lettuce salad, and a Cab-Syrah, strong and smoky, which we had with beef carpaccio. We rocked out to Busta-Groove — the whole place was up and dancing — and schmoozed with Christine Wente, Karl’s sister, and took in golden rolling hills and sandstone caves. The party was a blast, and no doubt packed with Wente’s loyal wine club members. Didn’t have a chance to take mom to Napa, but I’m glad. Livermore’s got its own magic. Now she can tell everyone in So Cal about it.

Posted on Monday, June 19th, 2006
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City Beer Store Opens In S.F.

Ever wandered through a store with a great beer selection, see an unusual beer and wonder if you’d like it or not. Until now, in the San Francisco Bay Area, the only alternative is to buy the bottle, take it home and try it.

I’ve done this a lot and sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. The worst thing is to find a beer I like, but when I go back for more, it’s gone. Well, Craig Wathen has a solution to this old dilemma.

He’s opened a store at 1168 Folsom St. in San Francisco called City Beer. He’s got a stock of 300 different beers, including at least 50 Belgians – Rochefort 10***** to Delirium Tremors**. Here’s what’s different. His California liquor license allows him to pour a sample of any beer on the shelf. “I can split any 12-ounce bottle, six ounces per pour,” he said. He’s holding his grand opening this Saturday night. More on that in a minute.

This is a place made for friends. Bring a friend, choose a bottle, Craig will pour each of you a six ounce pour. A bottle of Rochefort 10, for example, would cost each of you, half the $6.49 price, plus a $1 corkage fee – $3.89 each, plus tax.

Did you ever want to try a Belgian Lambic gueuze, an ancient style brewed with wild yeast. Some of the almost candy sweet Lambics, like Lindeman’s** are easy to find. But how about sampling a Lambic from one of the highly regarded, traditional brewers like Cantillon?

Craig stocks Rose’ de Gambrinus, made with raspberries, and Vitgneronne, a Lambic made with Italian grapes, brewed by Cantillon and Gueuze Giradin for $5.50 per person? There’s one more important thing to know. Craig serves all of his beers in their proper glass. Rochford gets its glass. Trumer Pils from Berkeley has its own, distinctive, cylindrical glass.

Wait – there’s more. He also has four beers on tap each day. Cost for a six-ounce pour ranges from $2 to about $4.50 depending on the beer. When you find what you want, he’ll sell you a six-pack of a single beer or a mix of beers of your choosing, 10 percent off his regular per-bottle price.

His stock appears to be expanding steadily. This week, he said, he’s added the following: Domestic: Stone Vertical Epic, Stone Imperial Stout, Lagunitas Gnarley Wine

German: Georg Schneider Weisen Edel-Weisse (organic)- revived recipe of Georg Schneider I after 57 years.

English: Duchy Organic English Ale, London Pride,, Old Peculiar, St. Peter’s Porter,Black Sheep Ale.

A bit of background: Craig started working at Pete’s Brewing in Palo Alto. When Pete Slosberg sold Pete’s Wicked Ale to Gambrinus Co., he chose not to go to San Antonio, where Gambrinus is headquartered. Instead, he worked at a number of beer, wine and spirits companies in sales.

“Finally,” he said. “My fiance and I took a year off to travel. When we came back, I wanted do something different. I actually started selling wine in San Francisco and I noticed when you go to these wine speciality shops, there would be people who had a lot of knowledge about wine who had a lot of great wines.

“There was nothing like that in the Bay Area for beer,” he said. So, the City Beer store was born.

Craig says his grand opening event, this Saturday, June 17, from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. “will be an evening of unlimited samples of draft beers, complementary appetizers, and an opportunity to talk shop with brew representatives.

Beers on tap will be: Farmhouse Brewing Company- Saison 7, North Coast Brewing Company- Pranqster, Stone Brewing Company- Arrogant Bastard, Speakeasy Brewing Company- Big Daddy IPA.

Cost is $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Call: (415) 503-1033, or email –

See you there Saturday night.

Regular hours, by the way, are Tuesday-Friday, noon – 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, noon until 9 p.m. and Sunday, noon – 6 p.m. The store at 1168 Folsom is between 7th and 8th Streets. It’s a bit hard to find: Look for the brick sidewalk.

Posted on Wednesday, June 14th, 2006
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The History of Beer in Cans

I wrote about two beers in cans being sold by 21st Amendment Brewery – Restaurant -Bar in San Francisco in my column today in The Oakland Tribune. Both beers, an outrageously hopped 7 percent IPA and Watermelon Wheat, a 5.5 percent wheat, barley blend made with real watermelon, are excellent. Love their slogan: Take back the can. Their argument makes sense. Canned beer has become synonymous with lager swill. But it doesn’t have to be lager or swill.

I also promised some history about beer in cans. Who would have thought that beer cans have history and there are people who care about them. But, it’s true and thanks to the web, there’s a lot about beer can history at our fingertips. Here are a few factoids and a couple of good links:

According to an article in Beer Can News, as the end of American Prohibition neared, American Can Co. made a number of breakthroughs, including stronger cans and a coating inside the can that prevented the beer from reacting with the tin can. Yes, early beer cans were tin, not aluminum. They also had a sloping top, much like the cans used today for brake fluid.

Big brewers, who were just about to return to production after 13 years of Prohibition weren’t interested in cans. But the Gottfried Krueger Brewery, Newark, NJ took a chance. Besides, American Can installed the equipment free.

On Jan. 24, 1935, the first Krueger’s Finest Beer in cans reached market in Richmond, VA. Cans were a hit and, according to Beer Can News, by the end of 1935, 37 American brewers were selling beers in cans.

The first English brewer to can beer was Felinfoel, Llanelli,Wales. The idea spread quickly in the UK as well as the U.S.

Adolph Coors, Golden, CO. introduced the first aluminum beer cans in 1958 – slim, 7 oz. cans that I remember well. In high school, the cool (and stupid) thing to do was to scoot across the state line into Wyoming and buy Coors.

There are lots of milestones in candom: In 1963, Schlitz introduced steel cans with an aluminum top that had a pull tab, a kind of ring that you could hook your finger in and open the can.Link
Until then, all beer cans required a special opener – popularly known as a “church key.’’ One pushed the pointed end into the can, hooking the lip over the rim of the can, applied pressure and with a fizz – usually – the can opened. I picked this picture from the web here.

The all-aluminum beer can, using a technology different than the first Coors 7-ouncers came out in the mid-1960s, with Coors and Hamms, among others, leading the way. According to an aluminum encyclopedia “The modern aluminum beverage can is not only lighter than the old steel or steel-and-aluminum can, it also does not rust, it chills quickly, its glossy surface is easily imprintable and eye-catching, it prolongs shelf life, and it is easy to recycle.’’

Jumping ahead, a number of craft brewers have begun selling beer in cans – most using an inexpensive canning setup, invented by a Canadian company and sold by American can makers.

As I said in my column today (Wednesday, June 14, 2006) the first craft brewer to make news with cans was Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, CO. (It’s in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains 14 miles north of Boulder.) First beer was Dale’s Pale Ale, next was Old Chub, a Scotch-style ale.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn Brewing has been selling canned Brooklyn Lager for some time. In an e-mail to, brewmaster Garrett Oliver says, “We did it because there are many places where glass isn’t allowed – golf courses, stadia, airplanes, etc. We pretty much limit the cans to those places. Canning technology is now good enough that the flavor of the beer in cans is equal or superior to that in bottles. Like screw-caps on wine, [a can] still carries some stigma, but I think that’s disappearing slowly.”

The Ale Street News , in an article by Paul Sullivan, did a canned beer tasting last fall. They discovered a number of obscure little breweries churning out good beer in cans.

Anyway, enough for cans already. I’m exhausted. Bye.

Posted on Wednesday, June 14th, 2006
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