Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for October, 2006

A New Book About Beer History

There’s a new book about beer making the rounds this month: “Ambitious Brew,’’ by Maureen Ogle, (Harcourt, $25). Is it worth the $25? Here’s a hint:

Skip straight to page 259. The next 83 pages cover the craft beer revolution beginning with Anchor’s Fritz Maytag in excellent fashion. She talked to several major craft beer pioneers like John McAuliffe, who founded New Albion Brewing in Sonoma County in 1975 and Ken Grossman, who, with Paul Camusi, founded Sierra Nevada in Chico.

She’s a good interviewer and has an eye for fine detail and provides the best account in a book of craft brewing’s origins I’ve ever seen. Also, she retells the story of the Prohibition movement in an interesting way.

End of praise.

Her approach is startingly similar to that of neo-conservatives, an anti-spin, if you will. The standard craft beer tale of how “baby boomers’’ rescued American beer from the clutches of industrial brewers of a “thin, yellow concoction with no flavor and even less body’’ is flawed, she argues. There are great stories to be told about those very brewers, founders of the Pabst, Miller’s and Anheuser-Busch empires, she says. There are and they’ve been told before many times. History books are full of their stories.

Truth is, we did save beer as we know it. And our kids, the gen Xers and beyond, are taking what we saved and transmuting it into something fantastic. Here’s a 30 second history lesson:

Because of Prohibition and the temperance movement before it, the middle class no longer drank beer and by middle class I mean working people, blue collar and professional. I never saw a beer in my parents house: My mom was a teacher, my dad a veterinarian. They drank bourbon and gin and cocktails. Standard American lager and most of the “Americanized” imports were thin and tasteless.

The only people who drank beer were the drunks at the local tavern, students and people like me in the Armed Forces,.

I didn’t discover real beer until I was 18 and wandered into a German restaurant in Washington, D.C., where I was stationed in the Navy. They served me a glass of Wurzburger Amber. I was blown away. Others like me had similar experiences and it’s us who saved beer. Period. It’s not spin. It’s truth.

And furthermore: The author dispenses with the fine history of American ale brewing – the beer the Pilgrims brewed – in two sentences:

“In the early nineteenth century the only beer Americans knew was English-style ale, brewed in the states since colonial days but never as popular as either cider or spirits. The differences between British ale and
German lager were apparent to both eye and tongue. Ale sat heavy and `still’ in a tankard, brown in color and thick in body. Lager seemed nearly buoyant in contrast, thanks to its lighter body and color, and lower alcohol content…”

What else is there to say. What a hoot. There are so many errors in those statements that well, whew. By the mid-19th century, good ale was neither dark nor still. And your basic ale was 5 percent alcohol by volume or a bit more, so was lager. Oh yes, and lager never went bad, went still and foul. Sure,

Those of us who give a damn about beer – who didn’t discover it on the side of a Budweiser truck somewhere in Florida in 2004 – know a lot about the lager-ale controversy. While it’s true that lager overwhelmed the ale-drinking world and every word she writes was spoken over and over by some; there’s another whole side to the controversy, which she omits.

What she has written, she has written well. But it’s not really “The story of American Lager.” The book about American beer, all American beer still has not been written. – William Brand.

Got a comment on my comments or the book? Post it here or let me know at whatsontap@sbcglobal.net.

Posted on Tuesday, October 24th, 2006
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The Toronado Wet Hop Fest Is Saturday

Late-breaking calendar item…David Keene at The Toronado, 547 Haight St. in San Francisco, is hosting a Wet Hop Festival this Saturday, Oct. 28, beginning at 11:30 a.m. and continuing until closing.

The fest features at least 14 beers just made with hops fresh from the hop fields. The list:

Deschutes Hop Trip, Drakes Brewing Harvest Ale, Farmhouse Farm Fresh, Full Sail Lupulin, Magnolia Hightime Harvest.

Moonlight Brewing Co. Greenbud, Moonlight Brewing Co, Greenbud 2, Pizza Port/ Carlsbad, Spring Tide; Pizza Port/ San Clemente, Rip Tide; Pizza Port/ Solana Beach, Low Tide.

Rogue Hop Heaven, Russian River Hoptime Harvest; Sierra Nevada 20th Street Ale; Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale.

Posted on Tuesday, October 24th, 2006
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Sushi wine

You so don’t have to drink that cloying plum wine with sushi. The subtle flavors pair really well with red and white wines. You just have to choose delicate ones.

Bubbles: Dry sparklings are clean and brisk without overloading you with fruit. Try the Sofia Blanc de Blancs in the pink cans at BevMo!

High Acid Whites: Dry-to-sweet Reislings (I like the one by Gainey). Ripe, bright Sauvingon Blanc (Sauvignon Blanc Cellars, of course!)

Dry Roses: If you follow my stuff you know sophisticated dry roses have been hip for years now. Try Domaine de Nizas, or Taltarni Brut Rose, which gets you the bubblies too.

Posted on Tuesday, October 24th, 2006
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Pick, Stomp, Breathe

I got to work a harvest this month. Sort of. Clos Du Val, one of Napa’s best examples of superior winemaking at reasonable prices, had a little event for its wine club members and Jenny and I got to participate. If, like me, you’ve always wondered what it’s like, here’s a glimpse:

We wore gloves and clipped the grapes off the vines and dumped them in a big tray. When the trays were full, we carried them into a big bucket, making sure to take out the leaves. Then, I got to stomp the grapes. Yes, with my feet, I Love Lucy style. Winemaker Bernard Portet insisted he did it the same way with his brother Dominique (now of Domaine Portet in the Yarra Valley of Australia), some 30 years ago, but that the juice is not drinkable.

Apparently, one SF woman didn’t hear him. She was sipping the  stuff from a glass, all mauve-y and Jolly Rancher-looking with floating skins and stems. Odd. We used it to tie-dye our T-shirts. While the experience was more of a contest, competing with other winemakers, it gave me an idea of how difficult vineyard work is, and how critical it is to be thorough at the beginning of the wine making process.

Posted on Monday, October 23rd, 2006
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Half bottles

Hey there. Sorry, it’s been a while. Sinus infections and wine just don’t mix. But I’m back and easing back into wine with half bottles. They’re seriously the best invention since screwtops, especially if you’re single, travel a lot, don’t like being forced to finish off whatever’s open, or can’t afford the bigger size. Those enough reasons? Halfwitwines.com has the largest selection of half bottles, over 1,000 labels. Check them out.

Posted on Friday, October 20th, 2006
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Nightlife Napa Valley

If you have a nonbeliever in your life, someone who doesn’t realize that wine is going the way of unstuffines, take him to this event next Wed., the 18th. Nightlife Napa Valley brings 60 wineries together in San Francisco for a huge party at the LIMN Gallery. It’s all young people in outrageous outfits. Fabulous appetizers, too. $25 ($20 if you pay with your AMEX). Go to the Napa Vintners site for more details.

Posted on Tuesday, October 10th, 2006
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The best cheese pairing

A French triple creme called Pierre Robert served with a German reisling. Orgasmic. The cheese has the texture of thick whipped cream and the wine is off-dry — just sweet enough to balance the cheese’s saltiness.

Posted on Monday, October 9th, 2006
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Wet Hop Beer: A Style With a Big Future

I work Saturdays, so I barely made it to the Wet Hop Beer Festival at The Bistro in Hayward, CA. But I’m glad I did go.

There’s a downside to fests like this. The beer is so damn good, that coming home to bottled beer, even great bottled beer is a downer. I hope the wet hop idea catches on big time. It’s a style, whose time has come: huge hop aroma, lots of malt, but very little, if any, hop bitterness.

Proprietors Vic and Cynthia Kralj had lined up 14 beers – each made with fresh-off-the-vine, “wet” hops. The fest drew about 200 to 300 people, Vic said. A comfortable crowd. By the time I dragged in at 6:30 p.m., there still were about 30 people, the outside patio was filled and several brewers, including Brian Hunt of Moonlight and Rodger Davis, of Drake’s and his bride, Claudia, were at the bar, sampling away.


A chalice of great beer at The Bistro.

Here’s the list:
Brewery Beer ABV Type of Hop

Blue Frog Last Hop Standing, 5.9 Willamette
(Fairfield,CA)
Drake’s Harvest 6.5 Cascade, Centennial
(San Leandro)
EJ Phair Harvest 5.7
(Concord)
Farmhouse Farm Fresh 4.4 Cascade
(Gilroy)
Lagunitas Wet Maximus 7.5 Zeus, Tomahawk
(Petaluma)
Magnolia Hightime 6.8 Cascade
(San Francisco)
Moonlight homegrown #1 5.9 Cascade
(Sonoma)
Moonlight homegrown #2 5.9 Chinook
Pizza Port High Tide 6.3 Chinook,Centennial
(Carlsbad)
Pizza Port Spring Tide 6.5 Centennial
(Solana Beach)
Russian River Hoptime 6.75 Cascade
(Santa Rosa)
Sierra Nevada Harvest 6.8 Centennial, Cascade
(Chico)
Sierra Nevada 20th St. 6.9 Chinook, Cascade
Stone Wet Arrogant. Bast. 7.2 Chinook
(Escondido)

There was no professional judging this time, but everyone voted for Best of Show.

The results, from Cynthia: Best of Show: Lagunitas Wet Maximius; first runner-up: Stone, Wet Arrogant Bastard; second runner-up: Pizza Port (Carlsbad) High Tide.

I didn’t have time or the capacity to try every beer. I agreed with the People’s choice. Lagunitas Wet Maximus**** was intense: Wonderful, aromatic hops in the nose. The taste? Wow! Hops, then a mouthful of malt, perfect balance.

Stone Wet Arrogant Bastard***+ was bigger, hoppier than the regular. A lovely beer.

The two beers from Pizza Port breweries in San Diego County were quite different. High Tide*** was a cloudy, unfiltered gold with a subtle hop aroma. Taste was dry, aromatic hops in front and malt in the background with a long dry finish. This really would be an excellent session beer if it wasn’t quite so strong. There was nothing cloying or sweet or off-putting about it.

Spring Tide***+, a medium copper color with a big head of tan foam, was dry like High Tide. But there was a bit more malt sweetness and a slight bitterness in the follow that I liked.

Magnolia Hightime*** from Dave McLean was subtle with a sweet malt and hop nose. Taste was fairly dry,making it a very nice pub beer. I believe Dave will have it on at the pub in San Francisco this week.

The two Moonlight beers were most unusual. Brewer Brian Hunt grew the Cascade and Chinook hops he used in the beers in the yard outside his brewhouse. Both beers were made with floral, citrusy Cascades. Number one also was dry hopped with Cascades. That is, fresh whole hops were added to the beer during fermentation.

Number two was dry-hopped with Chinooks, which gave the beer a bit of a piney nose, fruity nose. I preferred number two; it seemed to have a bit more malt sweetness balancing the hops. Brian explained that Number one was slightly older and therefore drier, while Number two was just right – ready to drink.

These are subtleties that those of us who drink most of our beer from bottles never get to enjoy. It’s another reason to find a great brewpub or regular pub with an excellent stock of fresh beer to make your regular. Well, call that the thought for the day.

Posted on Sunday, October 8th, 2006
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More on wine awards

Okay, so I’m still daydreaming about the American Wine Awards from the other night. While I’m skeptical on how those fine wines and winemakers won (magazines are way different than newspapers when it comes to advertising and editorial), I thought I should mention the fabulous food that the wines lubricated: I’m truly afraid of pate but the truffled pork variety from Traci des Jardins (Jardinere) was phenomenal with all the syrahs. The oxtail ragu from Mark Sullivan of Village Pub and Spruce melted against the apple confit and all the cabs I drank with it. Bravo and well done.

Posted on Thursday, October 5th, 2006
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American Wine Awards

What a scene last night at the De Young Museum! Food & Wine Magazine hosted the 10th Annual American Wine Awards to an invite-only group of 200-300. Think the Oscars, but way more casual. I’m going to list the winners here and then report back with juicy tidbits on the evening’s festivities, including food and people sightings. But first, the envelope please:

Best New Winery: Sea Smoke, Santa Barbara County

Winemaker of the Year: Bob Levy, Napa

Best Bordeaux-Style Blend: 2002 Joseph Phelps Insignia ($150), Napa

Of the best wines under $20 (there were 7 winners), Cliff Lede’s 2004 Sauvignon Blanc stuck out. Crisp, fresh and green peppery. And the Red Car Boxcar Syrah, on the lighter side of most syrahs, but well-balanced and powerful all at once.

Of the best over $20 (also seven winners), where do I begin? The 2003 Etude Heirloom pinot noir blew my brains. So smooth and rich, almost like a syrah it was hearty. Also the 2003 Behrens & Hitchcock Chien Lunatique. Smoky and heavy, like steak in a glass. Beautiful.

Check back for details on the party. 

Posted on Wednesday, October 4th, 2006
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