Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for August, 2006

Summer Lightning Comes to Berkeley

This may sound like I’m shilling for Ledger’s Liquors (Berkeley, CA), but in fact, proprietor Ed Ledger and his wife, Susan, stock a primo list of beers – enough to make me a regular. But now, WOW. They have begun stocking Hop Back Summer Lightning.

What? Don’t know about this amazing beer? Check out the link. It’s made by a brewery, Hopback, in Salisbury, Wiltshire, about 80 miles southwest of London. The company now has a string of pubs in Wiltshire and sells beer throughout the UK – Edinburgh to Devon.

Hopback’s centerpiece beer – since 1988 – has been Summer Lightning. It’s won just about every award there is in England, starting in 1992 with the Campaign for Real Ale Gold Medal for Best Strong Beer in Britain, an award it won again in 2001 for its cask conditioned version, the kind one drinks in an English pub.

But the brewery also produces a bottle conditioned version – the one that Ledger’s has somehow obtained. It won CAMRA’s best bottle conditioned beer award in 1997. Let me quote from my favorite English beer website, the Oxford Bottled Beer Database:

“Summer Lightning has a light aroma of hop and lemon and is very lively in the glass, producing a large, bubbly head that reduces to a tenacious frothy layer on the surface of the beer. “As is often the case with hoppy beers, the head tastes very bitter. In the mouth it is bitter and hoppy in a very citrusy way, with lots of sharp, zesty orange and lemon flavours. There are also some slight malty notes, although no sweetness is present, and some spicy hints genera beer (although mixing the yeast in alters the taste it does not affect the beer adversely – unusual for UK ales). Finish is sharp and fruity (lemons again)
to begin with, but rapidly becomes more bitter into the aftertaste. This is a beautiful summer session beer – light, refreshing and extremely drinkable…”

Well said.

Ledger’s is selling the pint bottle for $5.19. Ledger’s Liquors 1399 University Avenue Berkeley, CA. (510) 540-9243.

By the way, I’ve compiled a list of the best retail beer stores in the Bay Area. Shoot me an e-mail at and I’ll send along a copy.

Posted on Thursday, August 31st, 2006
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Livermore needs volunteers

The 25th Annual Harvest Wine Celebration is this weekend (Sunday and Monday from noon to 5 p.m.), pretty much the biggest visitor weekend in our local wine country, and the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association needs volunteers. You’ll get into the event for free, check out the 35 wineries and their entertainment, and munch on yummy food. Plus you get a free recognition dinner afterwards. Not bad at all! Here’s the gig: 

Friendly, outgoing volunteers serve as Wine Country Ambassadors, riding in air-conditioned shuttle buses and talking about the Livermore Valley and winery stops on that route.  Detailed scripts will list fun facts about the winery activities, what wines are being poured, musical entertainment, vendors, etc. Customer service oriented volunteers will serve on the Logistics Team, working at the main transportation hub and transfer stations providing information to guests.  Volunteers receive a VOLUNTEER event T-shirt, free tickets to the Harvest Wine Celebration, and a Volunteer Recognition Dinner after the event. To volunteer, please call 925.447.WINE(9463).

Posted on Thursday, August 31st, 2006
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Ahny got it right

Thank goodness, yesterday the governator vetoed Carole Migden’s bill that would have designated zinfandel the state wine. Growers of other varietals protested, and so did yours truly. How about our freakin’ cabs people? We make some of the best wines in the world, why focus on the zins? Ick, especially when so many are jammy….

Posted on Tuesday, August 29th, 2006
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Profiles on young winos

Of late, I’m doing interviews for a story on the next generation of winemakers. Twenty- or thirty-somethings, like Jeff Pisoni, or Dave Phinney at Orin Swift. It’s so refreshing to hear about their winemaking process, punctuated by a lot of humility, gratitude to the Old World and too much beer (Phinney, maker of that nectar o’ gods The Prisoner, keeps it re-zeal with Bud. "Wine confuses me enough," he says. "I don’t need my beer to be confusing."). The story comes out Sept. 6.   

Posted on Monday, August 28th, 2006
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My reisling obsession

Dunno if it’s the weather or the kinds of foods I’m into right now (Vietnamese, Indian, Burmese), but I can’t get enough of German reislings. A great, crisp, every night one: Fritz Haag Reisling QbA. The QbA means it’s the lowest rung on the ladder of ripeness according to the German wine system. It’s low in alcohol and great for just popping open with the roomie after a long day.

Posted on Friday, August 25th, 2006
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East Bay Vintners

Ok, so we knew about Rosenblum, but did you know there are 11 other wineries in the Berkeley-Oakland area? The East Bay Vintners are having their first event this Saturday — the Urban Wine Experience, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Rosenblum. All 12 will be pouring, plus there’ll be food and music. Check it out at and let me know what you think — I’ll be at the races that day.

Posted on Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006
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Laurelwood: A Great Portland Pub

We made a quick, 36 hour trip
to Portland, Oregon this week to help our daughter move back to the Bay Area. She’s transferring from a university in Portland to Mills College, here in Oakland.

Traveling with two women can be demanding. Helping one of them move can be – a moving experience. Anyway between packing boxes and visits to my daughter’s favorite sushi place, Saburo, and favorite dessert place, Papa Haydn , I managed to visit Laurelwood Public House & Brewery.

I’d heard about Laurelwood, Portland’s first organic brewery, but in a city with 20 or so brewpubs and dozens more places with great beer, it’s hard to choose just one. So I called a friend who knows Portland well.

“Go to Laurelwood,” he said.

“I did followed (reluctantly) by my wife and daughter and (not-so-reluctantly) by a male friend of my daughter’s.)

Walking up to Laurelwood is like coming home: A row of plain wood picnic benches in the back of the building were filled with customers, families with kids and people with dogs. Inside, it’s big and airy, lots of unfinished pine, fir plank floors. It’s total, lovable Oregon.

The large, moderately priced menu features lots of organic dishes and even the pork comes from a green, free range producer.

God I hope there’ll always be an Oregon; I’d hate for this beautiful city of rivers and bridges and pine forest liberals to grow up, become sleek and sophisticated.

Our “waiter” turned out to be Patrick McComas, the floor manager. Guess he was curious about somebody who ordered the eight-beer sampler set, while the two women on the other side of the table asked for water only. Our daughter’s friend arrived late and gratefully accepted a pint.

Laurelwood has a second restaurant (no brewery) across the river. It’s Laurelwood NW Public House, at 2327 NW Kearney St. The place I visited at 1728 NE 40th Ave. in Portland’s eastside Hollywood district, is just a half block north of Sandy, the eastside main drag. According to Lisa Morrison, ace Portland beerwriter, Laurelwood’s owners are opening a new, larger brewery and pub a few blocks away

Laurelwood has won a string of awards, under founding brewer, Christian Ettinger, who left to create his own brewpub, also in southeast Portland to open this fall. But head brewer Chad Kennedy, who brewed here with Ettinger for three years, has quickly established his own reputation with the help of assistants Paul Bergeman and Dustin Keller.

Patrick said their number one selling beers are their IPAs. They make 10 throughout the year, culminating a couple of months ago with At their Portland retail accounts – other bars and restaurants – is Laurelwood Organic Free Range Red.

Not a bad beer in the bunch. But there were a couple of surprises. First, Mother Lode Golden Ale*** was a complete surprise. It’s malty with a gently hoppy follow, an excellent, very drinkable beer. No wonder it’s won a string of competition medals.

It’s common for brewpubs to brew a “starter” beer for Budweiser drinkers. The argument is that Bud drinkers can’t take too much flavor, all at once. That’s nonsense. Suppose you have a guest who has only eaten Wonder Bread. Do you serve a bland, major bakery, thin-crusted “better” bread or do you serve a crusty, fresh-baked baguette?

Moving on, the Boss IPA***+, a 6.7 percenter, emphasized the malt, some hop aroma, full, taste of malty barley with hops rushing in. The pub tasting notes say its 60 IBU, made with Fuggles, Goldings, Cascade and Ahtanum hops. Curious about Ahtanum, it’s a variety developed near Yakima, WA., named for the area near Yakima where the first Washington state hop farm was established in 1869.

My other surprise or I should say, surprises, was/were two dark beers: Tree Hugger Porter***, a beautiful brew with a roast malt nose that fades into a chocolate taste, and Space Stout***+, an opaque brown with an aroma of black malt and coffee notes in the full, malty taste.

My only disappointment was the seasonal, a Triple, which was far too sweet for my taste. But it’s only a blip on the screen. Laurelwood’s a place I intend to visit again.

They sell growlers to go, quart bottles, $6.50 for the first one; refills $4.50; gallon growlers, $13 for the first, refills $9.

Curious about brewpubs/craft brewing in Portland? Here’s a link.

Posted on Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006
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Fruit with that cheese

Funny thing I learned about cheese — they’re so salty and acidic that pairing them with wine is actually difficult. That’s why you want to serve your wine and cheese with some fruit. It balances out the flavors. My personal favorite is fresh figs openfaced with melted goat cheese on top. But you can also do sliced pears, green apples, berries or glazed nuts. Also try drizzling honey on top of any cheese, it’s fabulous.

Posted on Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006
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Craft Beer Sales Still Soaring

This is so important and interesting that I’m posting it raw it’s a handout from the Brewers Association in Boulder, CO. Just got it via email. One caveat: Craft beer sales are still a small percentage of total beer sales in the U.S. About 3.8 percent, although so-called off-premise sales, that is beer sold in stores, the market share is quite a bit higher, around 11 percent. And, if you cross out the red states AKA the Midwest, percentages rise even more.

Also, for more background I’ve also just posted and article on craft beer that ran in the Oakland Tribune last spring. b

– The Brewers Association today (Monday, Aug. 21, 2006) reported the volume of craft beer sold in the first half of 2006 rose 11 percent compared to the same period in 2005.

“The rate of growth in the craft beer segment appears to be accelerating,” said Paul Gatza, Director of the Brewers Association professional division. “This is the third straight year we’ve seen an increase in the craft beer growth rate.”

The current surge in growth comes on top of strong performance by the nation’s small, independent and traditional brewers over the last two years. In 2004, the volume of craft beer sold increased by 7 percent and in 2005 it rose by 9 percent.

“This growth represents strong performance by established craft brewers over several years,” said Ray Daniels, Director of Craft Beer Marketing for the Brewers Association. “Unlike the early days of our industry, newly founded breweries do not add significantly to industry-wide production.”

The craft beer industry last saw double digit growth in 1996, a year in which the number of craft breweries in operation increased by more than 35 percent and volume increased by 26 percent. By contrast, the number of operating craft breweries has remained relatively constant in recent years as sales growth has come from established craft brewers.

Craft beer sales in grocery, convenience, drug and liquor stores for the first half of 2006 as tracked by Information Resources Inc. (IRI) show volume growth of 12 to 13 percent and dollar sales up 15 to 16 percent, according Dan Wandel, Vice President of Beverage Alcohol Client Solutions for IRI.

Posted on Monday, August 21st, 2006
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Craft Brewers Buzzed Over Sales Increase

This story ran in our newspapers on April 15, 2006.

David Heist, the owner of HopTown Brewing Co. in Pleasanton, prepares kegs for filling. (Michael Lucia/staff)

By William Brand
Oakland Tribune

PLEASANTON – David Heist spent a day this past week washing bottles and kegs in his one-man HopTown brewery tucked away in a strip mall on Hopyard Road. It was tedious, lonely work. But at the end of the day, he took a sip of his Imperial Pale Bock, a beer he has brewed to mark the brewery’s 10th anniversary next week.

“It made me smile,” he said. “I got this one just right.” Some days he’s discouraged. But sales are up. His beer is now in most of the large Beverages and More group’s stores.

While Heist struggles on his own, Pyramid Breweries Chief Executive Officer John Lennon said the company’s Berkeley and Seattle breweries are booming.

“We had to hire more help in Berkeley. Sales are up 14 percent; our best-seller, Hefeweizen, is up 18 percent; and we had record production in Berkeley,” he said.

After a decade in the shadows — eclipsed by America’s big three brewers with their saturation televisionadvertising — the nation’s more than 1,300 craft brewers and brewpubs, small and large, have emerged into daylight.
Sales for the big three — Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors — have hit the wall. Total beer shipments in California in 2005 dropped 4 percent, the Beer Institute said.

But craft beers — brews that emphasize full flavor and striking, often unusual recipes — are on a roll, especially in key markets like Northern California.

The craft and import sector had a 20 percent share of total supermarket beer sales in the United States in 1999, Dan Wandel of Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. told brewers at the annual Brewers Association meeting this week in Seattle.

“Today, in 2006, craft and imports have over a 26 percent share, an increase of over 6 percentage points in less than six years,” Wandel said. “That’s a tremendous sign of growth. It’s just 1 percentage point behind the sales of Miller and Coors combined.” Craft beers, the American part of the equation, now account for 8.5 percent of supermarket sales nationwide, he said. “That’s up 13.7 percent from a year ago.”

Craft beer sales have even been strong in January, February and March — traditionally a slack season for beer, he said.
Paul Gatza, director of the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association, said total sales of craft beer were up 9 percent in 2005 over 2004 and up 7 percent in 2004 over the previous year.

But craft beer still has far to go, the numbers show.

Gatza said craft beer had a 3.5 percent share of total beer sales in 2005; imports 12 percent; Anheuser-Busch, 48.6 percent; Miller, 18.4 percent; Coors, 10.6 percent; and Pabst (Blue Ribbon), 3.2 percent.

Here in the Bay Area, one local marketing official
said, imported beers — brews like No. 1 import, Corona — have been strong for several years. Now, the craft beer portion of the segment is heating up, he said.

There are good reasons, said Lennon, Pyramid’s CEO.
The beer-drinking consumer is really changing, he said. Older beer drinkers have gotten more sophisticated, and people 21 and over just coming into the beer market are starting out drinking craft beer and imports.
“They’re looking for more variety and flavor,” he said. “It’s why they go to Peet’s or Starbucks for coffee. They can get their coffee 21 different ways.”

Craft beer offers a lot of flavor and a lot of choice, Lennon said: including hoppy ales; dark, intense stouts; and superior, full-bodied pilsners. “It’s an exciting category to be in right now.”

Garrett Oliver is brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewing in New York and author of “The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food” (Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins). Speaking at the Seattle conference, he equated mainstream, pilsner-derived lagers like Budweiser with supermarket white bread.
“A loaf of bread doesn’t stay fresh in a bag for three weeks. It doesn’t smell like bread. It doesn’t taste like bread. That’s kind of what happened to beer in this country. The average American beer doesn’t taste or smell or act like beer,” Oliver said.

When you put real beer in front of actual people, they do like it, he said. It’s happening all over the country.

Anheuser-Busch, the world’s third-largest brewer after InBev (whose brands include Beck’s, Labatt and Stella Artois) and SABMiller, may have gotten the word.

The company is test marketing craft-style beers around the country, including Organic Wild Hop Lager in Santa Rosa. The lager is made at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Fairfield. All malt, certified organic, it’s 5 percent alcohol by volume and has 20 International Bitterness Units, a measure of the hops in beer.

But Pyramid, for example, boasts a string of beers with more malt, more hops and a bit more alcohol. And back in HopTown, Heist’s not too worried. His new Imperial Bock is 10.2 percent ABV, is extremely malty — and the IBUs? Too high to count.

William Brand can be reached at

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

Posted on Monday, August 21st, 2006
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