Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for August, 2006

The Number Game

The cover of the Business section today "Wine rating drives buzz in industry" is the same old story. Ratings are pointless marketing hooks yet we all fall for them. We needed them decades ago, when they started out, and wine drinkers in America needed more handholding. Now it seems people are addicted to them. But you have a choice in who you read: Try Hugh Johnson and his point system. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. No high school grade system, and no comparisons to cat pee and smelly socks.

Posted on Monday, August 21st, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Leave a comment

Non-grape wineries

If you’re going to New England, make sure to check out the fruit winery scene. Not grapes. Blackberries, raspberries, black currants and cherries. There are 27 of them in Connecticut alone, which means they’ve doubled in the past five years or so. I haven’t tried them, but I assume they’re fresh and fruity — even sour and refreshing — without being cloyingly sweet. White Silo Farm and Winery in the Litchfield Hills is supposed to be pretty good. Read an article about it on

Posted on Friday, August 18th, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Leave a comment

Bogus wines grow in Europe

Counterfeiting clothing and music makes sense, but wine? Italy, France and Australia have had millions of bottles pop up as counterfeit in the past year or so. Lots made in China but bearing big labels like Sassicaia, Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Penfolds Grange. What struck me is that people who buy these bottles, collectors mostly, can detect the difference before the tannins even touch the tongue. That’s how it goes with $3,000 wine. Why hasn’t it hit the U.S. yet? Not sure. But winemakers there are reluctant to file suits against these frauds for fear of tampering with tradition, sometimes centuries-worth. That’s one thing we definitely wouldn’t worry about there.

Posted on Wednesday, August 16th, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Leave a comment

Notes About Fuller’s ESB

My beer of the week today, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2006 in the Oakland Tribune and other Bay Area newspapers was Fuller’s ESB. As promised, here are some notes about that venerable, excellent beer, gathered from several sources. If you’re really interested in Fuller’s, my advice is to check out the link beside each excerpt. Salud. b.

From my old columns…

— Fuller’s ESB. ***** Fuller’s Extra Special Bitter or ESB – fostered a style of beer and here in the U.S. most craft brewers offer an ESB in their range. The original is a dark, malty classic. It has a complex aroma, hints of caramel malt, English Goldings hops and an earthy note from the house yeast. The hops come on strong in the follow, along with a haunting, teasing yeast background.


At Fuller’s brewery in Cheswick, on the edge of London, we tasted several “vintages” of Fuller’s 1845, their bottle conditioned, strong ale. The best, I thought, was vintage 1999. It was the only vintage made with Fuggles hops and it has a huge, brandy nose. It deserves to be sampled only in a tulip-shaped brandy glass. There’s still a lot of malt sweetness remaining, proving that this beer is still maturing. It’s great stuff.

A place in history

Fuller’s is owned entirely by the three founding families, the Fullers, the Turners and, I understand, a single Smith heir.

The three-family partnership was created in 1845 to operate a brewery that apparently was founded before 1660.

The brewery is still located on the same site in Cheswick, on the edge of London.

I care mostly about the beer, not the history, but to understand and appreciate the beer, it’s important to understand the history.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as beer companies began to merge and consolidate, famous, small brewers were dropping like flies.

At the same time the larger brewers decided non-pasteurized ale that matured in casks was cumbersome, non-stable and uneconomical. They rapidly switched to pasteurized keg beer and bottles. By the early 1970s, Fuller’s and Young’s were the only remaining cask beer brewers. Fuller’s was in decline, sales had dropped to 70,000 barrels a year.

Then something remarkable happened. A group of journalists and English beer enthusiasts realized they were on the verge of losing a great tradition: cask ale. They started a revolution, or should I say a “devolution” that became the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).

It saved Fuller’s and Young’s. “We went from 70,000 barrels and a decline to 200,000 barrels in a short time,” brewery director Richard Turner says.

CAMRA did more than save a couple of breweries — the campaign preserved beers with interesting, unique tastes, concoctions using ancient yeasts and curious malt blends.

Unfortunately, aside from a couple of special festivals, Fuller’s cask ale doesn’t make it to America. But the bottled beers are excellent.

From the Oxford Bottled Beer database

Fuller’s ESB Export
ABV 5.9% _ Vol 500 ml _ bottle _ UK _ Expensive _ Flavour 7.5

This is the bottled version of Fuller’s persistently award-winning cask beer, and is extremely good. The beer is slightly sweet-smelling (a hint of honeysuckle?), with hop flowers dominating a treacley, malty background. On the palate it is bitter-tasting, with a fine balance of lightly roast malt and heavy (but not overstewed) hops resulting in a rich but rounded flavour. It has a lingering honey and bitter malt aftertaste. Overall, the excellence of this beer can be credited to the combination of rich treacley malt character and just the right amounts of aroma and bittering hops (i.e. lots), culminating in a complex, very pleasant pint. Despite its strength, ESB works dangerously well as a session beer.
OBBD reviewer: Sparks

From the Beer Judge Certificate program:

ESB: Medium to high bitterness. Most have moderately low to moderately high fruity esters. Moderate to low hop flavor (earthy, resiny, and/or floral UK varieties typically, although US varieties may be used). Low to medium maltiness with a dry finish. Caramel flavors are common but not required. Balance is often decidedly bitter, although the bitterness should not completely overpower the malt flavor, esters and hop flavor. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.

Medium-light to medium body. Carbonation low, although bottled and canned commercial examples can have moderate carbonation.

Overall Impression:
A flavorful, yet refreshing, session beer. Some examples can be more malt balanced, but this should not override the overall bitter impression. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales.

Originally a draught ale served very fresh under no pressure (gravity or hand pump only) at cellar temperatures (i.e. “real ale”). Bitter was created as a draught alternative (i.e. running beer) to country-brewed pale ale around the start of the 20th century and became widespread once brewers understood how to “Burtonize” their water to successfully brew pale beers and to use crystal malts to add a fullness and roundness of palate.

From the Fuller’s Website:

Fuller’s beers have a unique record. Since CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) first held their Champion Beer of Britain competition, Fuller’s have won the Beer of the Year award five times. Our beers have been best in class no less than nine times and ESB has been voted Best Strong Ale an unprecedented seven times making it something of a legend. This is an outstanding achievement by Fuller’s brewers, who, through the use of traditional ingredients, great care in the brewing process and stringent quality controls, continue to produce an unmatched range of prize-winning beers.

/s/ John Keeling, Brewing Director
Fuller, Smith and Turner plc

Also from Fuller’s Website:

Tasting Notes_First brewed in 1971, ESB is unrivaled in flavor and balance. A robust 5.5% alcohol by volume in cask (5.9% alcohol by volume in bottles and kegs), it is brewed from Pale Ale and Crystal malts and from Target, Challenger, Northdown and Goldings hops.

Drew Jefford, the respected UK drinks critic, sums up ESB’s flavor thus: “An ample, grainy-nutty aroma and a broad, authoritative flavor, with lashings of dry marmalade-like bitters”. Renowned beer connoisseur Roger Protz describes “an enormous attack of rich malt, tangy fruit and spicy hops in the mouth, with a profound Goldings peppery note in the long finish and hints of orange, lemon and gooseberry fruit”.

From beerwriter Stephen Beaumont..

Another surprise was furnished by the declaration that ESB, Pride and the standard Chiswick Bitter are all crafted from the same two worts, although combined in decidedly different ways. The way this works is that the brewer takes two runnings from the same bed of grain, the first yielding a more fermentable sugar-rich wort and the latter picking up whatever sugars remain in the grain. These worts are then differently hopped during the boil and combined in varying proportions to create the three ales. Aging times also contribute to the disparate characters of the beers, with Chiswick getting as little as a week, London Pride doubling that and ESB receiving a full month of conditioning. And finally, both ESB and Chiswick are dry-hopped in the fermenter and the cask, while Pride is not.

From Michael Jackson, the Beer Hunter:

If any other ale so deftly balances the sweetness of the barley malt, the dryness of the hop and fruitiness of the yeast, I have yet to find it.

It is the particular procedure in the last stage, the drying, that defines a malt’s taste. The principal malt in most English bitter is slowly “cured” to create a biscuity character. But Fuller’s is one of the breweries that also uses malt “stewed” to a sweeter, crystalline, nutty flavour.

Fuller’s-hops come from Kent, Worcester and Hereford, and the water it uses is fairly low in bicarbonates and higher in chlorides, making for a fuller flavour. The yeast the brewery has used for at least 50 years seems to impart a honey-flower character.

Posted on Wednesday, August 16th, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Leave a comment

Two great tips

Rose is the ideal wine for really garlicky dishes (like Caesar salad). Try Red Bicyclette’s from Vin de Pays d’Oc for 11 bucks. Also, if you’re trying to figure out what goes with champagne and sparkling wines, just think about what kinds of foods you’d serve with beers. Voila! It’s in the bubbles.

Posted on Tuesday, August 15th, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Leave a comment

A Report from the Bistro IPA Fest

Two days late, but here are the results oF the ninth annual IPA Festival at The Bistro in Hayward, CA. There were 45 IPAs entered. The fest drew well over 1,000 people, who rocked to some great bands, ate barbecue and drink a whole lot of good beer. People’s Choice was Shaun O’Sullivan’s 21st Amendment IPA. This is a beautiful beer, easily my favorite IPA this year. What’s more the San Francisco brewpub is canning this beer You can buy it at the bar, $7.99/6 and worth every penny. I wrote about it on this blog and in my column last month. Drop me an e-mail ( and I’ll send you a copy or do a search at

Also, Bistro proprietor Vic Kralj has a complete list of participating beers, with hopping, brewing details. E-mail me and I’ll send you a copy.

Winners, chosen by a panel in a blind tasting, were:

First: Russian River Blind Pig IPA, Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa, CA. This recipe was first brewed by Vinnie Cilurzo at his original micro, Blind Pig, in Temecula, in Southern California, 72 International Bitterness Units, 6.1 percent alcohol by volume, Magnum bittering hops, Cascade, Centennial, Columbus aroma hops. Also dry hopped (hops added to the fermenter) with Cascade, Centennial, Columbus.

This spectacularly well-balanced beer also won gold this summer at the professionally judged World Beer Cup in Seattle: A dusty, hazy gold with a thick head of white foam and a malty nose and taste with the hops coming on strong in the follow.

Second: Pizza Port Wipeout IPA, Pizza Port, Carlsbad, CA. By the time I got to the Bistro Saturday after work, Wipeout was wiped out. So sadly, I missed this one. Wipeout by Brewer Jeff Bagby was 70 IBUs, 7 percent ABV. Bittering hops were Tomahawk, Amarillo and Centennial. Aroma hops, Tomahaw and Amarillo.

The Pizza Port breweries are a story themselves. There are three, all in northern San Diego County: the first in Solana Beach, opened in 1987; the second in Carlsbad, opened in 1993 and the third in San Clemente opened in 2003. Pizza Port has purchased the old Stone Brewing plant in San Marcos and plans are to begin bottling in the big way under director of head brewer Tomme Arthur, who has won many awards for great beers, especially, knock your socks off, strong ales.

Third: Ballast Point Sculpting IPA, Ballast Point Brewing, San Diego, CA I got to try this one and loved it. A bright copper, a bit lighter in color than Bass, it had a big hoppy nose, but the taste was full and malty with the an aromatic, but not bitter hoppy rush lasting into a long follow. Loved this beer, 75 IBU, 6.5 percent ABV, Magnum, Warrior, Tomahawk, Northern Brewer bittering hops, Centennial, Simcoe, Amarillo aroma hops, dry hopped with Cascades and Tomahawk.

There were a lot of beers left when I arrived and I got through several. I found Alpine Brewing (Oroville) Organic Rye IPA excellent: heavy, hoppy nose, but the taste was fairly dry, from the rye with lots of hops– all New Zealand organic hops.

David Heist’s Hoptown (Pleasanton) Hoptown IPA was mellow, 40 IBUs, 7.1 percent alcohol, Galena bittering hops, Cascade, Centennial, Columbus aroma hops, dry hopped with Amarillos and Cascades. This is one you can get in bottles if you live around the East Bay. I highly recommend it.

Another I really liked was Schooner’s IPA, Schooner’s Grille & Brewery, Antioch. Beautiful hop-malt balance, spicy finish – perfect for a evening treat. Horizon bittering, Amarillo, Centennial aroma and Amarillo, Centennial, Hallertau dry hopping.

Also, Green Flash West Coast IPA, Green Flash Brewing, San Diego: A big hoppy hit in the aroma, but a delicious, sweet malt taste with hops in back, gradually growing in intensity as the taste fades. A green flash by the way is a spurt of green light that sometimes can be seen just as the sun hits the ocean at sunset. Here’s a link
And here’s a photo:

Posted on Monday, August 14th, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Leave a comment

Mexican wine fest

Lots of people say Mexican food doesn’t go with wine. Fooey! Clos Du Val’s release party on Saturday night followed a glorious  Mexican theme. And between the latin jazz band and the mariachi dudes, you can bet those mouth-watering veggie empanadas, chicken tamales and pepper-laced fish tacos were heavenly with the 02 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The goat cheese quesadillas and sweet corn salad were even better with the 04 Reserve Chardonnay, nutty, not buttery. The runaway hit was the 02 Reserve Pinot Noir (their first reserve pinot). Everyone was talking about it. So classy yet powerful, almost like a diet Cabernet. The 92 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District and the 96 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, were also phenomenal. Check out for more info.

Posted on Monday, August 14th, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Leave a comment

The US in 2008

Yesterday I happened upon an interesting little factoid: For years, France has been the biggest wine-consuming nation, but come 2008, we are supposed to surpass it. Next year, we’re likely to consume 7.19 billion gallons of wine, ahead of Italy and France. Obesity or a nation of budding wine connessieurs? Your call.

Posted on Friday, August 11th, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Leave a comment

Tip, of the bottle

Someone recently asked me for a recommendation on a good French pinot noir. Seems they wanted to compare them to the stuff coming out of the Central Coast. I told them to try Louis Jadot’s Les Charmes Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru. It’s $40 and has that class Burgundy taste of dried cherries and cocoa. Have it with a beef stew as soon as the weather drops.

Posted on Thursday, August 10th, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Leave a comment

Corkscrew exhibit

Wine enthusiast does not live on drink alone. I try to keep my eyes open for wine-related art exhibits, like the amazing collection of wine labels at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco. This time, it’s a collection of 1,500 corkscrews at UC Berkeley’s Hearst Museum. The corkscrews, some of which are topped by Scottie dogs and a devil’s scull, may be used in an airport exhibit
on Bay Area wine culture. We should check them out before they are. Check out a slideshow of the collection at:

Posted on Wednesday, August 9th, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Leave a comment