Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for November, 2006

Finding a beer from long ago…

Beer’s a funny thing. A brand can grow on you when you’re young and even if you later realize the stuff is swill, you still have fond memories.

For me it was National Bohemian, made in Baltimore in the 1950s. When I was almost old enough to drink legally, I National Bo was the beer on tap at a tavern in Anacostia, Washington, D.C. where I lived. I stuck to that brand until I moved to the Midwest. Today, I realize, it was basically colored water with a bit of alcohol. But I still have fond memories of eating Hoagies – that is, a Philly cheesesteak on a Hoagie bun – at a place near the Anacostia River and sipping a National Bo.

So when a reader called me from Walnut Creek, looking for Old Style, a beer originally made by G. Heilman, LaCrosse, WI., I understood. Old Style, like National Bo, is/was pretty bland stuff. But she said she wanted a six-pack to give to someone on his 40th birthday. Old Style was his beer of choice back in Chicago.

Unfortunately, G. Heilman hit hard times, was bought by Stroh, which folded and Miller bought the brand. It still makes it and it’s sold around Chicago.

I called Archer Liquors, a place I heard about in Chicago that ships craft beer made in the Midwest, Sprechter, Goose Island, 3 Floyds and lots of Belgians.

The guy who answered the phone didn’t even laugh. But, he said, “it’ll cost her more to ship it – about $10 – than the beer’s worth.” We both laughed. He understoood.

I called my reader who was thrilled. Some guy’s gonna’ be getting a sixer of Old Style, whether he likes it or not.

Actually, I’d love to have a 10-ounce glass of National Bo in front of me tonight and one of those Hoagies and be 19-years-old again. That too.

Posted on Thursday, November 30th, 2006
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The best wine clubs

So I’m doing a story looking at all the wine clubs out there. Even though it’s a great gift idea and thus timely, it’s really for selfish reasons that I’m doing the piece. I’ve wanted to join a club for almost a year and rather than just sign up for a winery’s out of art and/or allegiance (Bonny Doon, Clos Du Val), I figured I should join one where they scour the globe to find me the best deals and introduce me to new wines. Two have risen as my favorites: Wine Thieves’ in Lafayette for it’s affordability (their premium club is under is $30) and they’ve introduced me to the best Spanish Cava I’ve had: Segura Viudas. It’s $6. The other is Bottlenotes, a Palo-Alto based Web site that has a whopping 9 clubs tailor made for all kinds of palates. The latter definitely has the hip factor working for it — a bunch of young Stanford MBAs launched it and, unlike most clubs, you can focus on a region, or meet with people like a book club or just get seasonal stuff (sparkling around this time of year, Vermentinos and other crisp whites in the summer, etc). Bottlenotes is a big more expensive but when compared to the other clubs, it’s pretty average.

Posted on Thursday, November 30th, 2006
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Backgrounder on He’Brew and Jeremy Cowan

My Beer of theWeek today in the Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa (CA) Times and other MediaNews papers was Jewbilation from He’brew, the San Francisco-based beer company founded by Jeremy Cowan. For background, here’s an article I wrote for Northwest Brew News, Seattle in 2005.

The photo of Jeremy, left, comes from the Brookston Beer Bulletin,
taken by Bulletin editor Jay Brooks, who long was associate editor of the Celebrator Beer News and before that was in charge of beer at the Beverages and More chain. It’s a blog I highly recommend. Check it out.

By William Brand
SAN FRANCISCO – “He’Brew – The Chosen Beer.’’ It all began as a joke between two high school kids in suburban San Francisco, a long time ago.

“We were the only Jewish kids in our immediate group of friends,’’ Jeremy Cowan explains. It was back in the 1980s. Sam Adams had been on the market a little while. They thought, `You know what – Jews need their own beer.’

They played with the idea and came up with slogans like `Don’t Pass Over Sober.’

Those 17-year-olds never would have guessed that two decades later that very beer would be sold in 20 states and the people – Jews and most everybody else – would laugh at the joke and enjoy the beer.

Cowan recalls that He’brew remained an inside joke among friends for years, but the craft beer movement in the San Francisco Bay Area kept growing and Cowan got serious. It’s not widely publicized, but Jews have an incredible drinking and brewing tradition, he said. “I came up with He’brew. I thought it would be a fun idea, a unique idea. I had bartended; I had worked at a brewpub in New Orleans,’’ he said. But he was not a brewer.

So he went to a `brew on premises’ shop in Mountain View, CA to work out a formula. “I wanted to make a really good beer that I could be proud of,’’ Cowan said. “It was just a tiny place,’’ Cowan said. “But the brewer there was really good.’’

He’s not kidding. The brewer was Simon Pesch. Today he’s head brewer at Pryamid’s large brewery in Berkeley, CA. He remembers Jeremey Cowan and the beer. “I came up with a pretty traditional English style ale for the first recipe,’’ Pesch says. “I did like that beer.’’

He’Brew was a big success and soon Cowan was the only the shop’s only contract customer. “He did a lot of volume, compared to our retail customers, who usually made seven gallon batches,’’ Pesch said. “He was ordering 20 barrel batches – that was the size of our entire system.’’

This was 1996. Jeremey started out with 100 bottles of He’Brew. The label shows an Hassidic Jew with a full beard and wearing traditional black clothing – except for the hat. It’s red.
Cowan loaded the beer into his grandmother’s station wagon and peddled them to retailers. It was a steep learning curve, he said. “I had no business experience. I was an English major. I didn’t know what an invoice was; I had never heard of wholesalers.’’

But merchants laughed and they bought his beer. He was onto something big. Today He’brew Genesis Ale and Messiah Bold are sold all along the East Coast, in most of the Midwest and in California.

Cowan said he’s bringing his beer to Washington State this summer. “We’ve gotten a go ahead from a wholesaler and put in the paperwork to the state,’’ he said.

The beer has evolved slowly. He says he always wanted great beer. As sales boomed, he moved his contract to Anderson Valley Brewing in Boonville, CA, home of some of America’s best-regarded and hoppiest ales.

Last year, as sales boomed, he switched to Mendocino Brewing’s Sarasota Springs, NY brewery. He also added 12 ounce bottles, which boosted sales sharply.

When he switched to 12 ouncers, he also changed his Messiah style from a stout to a brown ale. But he kept the logos and slogan: “Genesis Ale – The Chosen Beer’’ and “Messiah Bold – The One You’ve Been Waiting For.’’

Genesis Ale is made with pale, caramel , dark crystal, Munich barley malts and a touch of wheat. Finishing hop is Willamette. Messiah uses Carapils, dark crystal, caramel, dark chocolate and Victory malts, Cascade and Mt. Hood hops.

This past December, he released his first holiday beer – the holiday was Hanukkah, of course. Miraculous Jewbelation was made with eight malts, eight hops and was 8 percent alcohol by volume. It sold out quickly.

It’s still a tiny little business in the world of beer. He remains a one-man-company and he spends much of Cowan says. About the future, who knows. But Jeremy Cowan has quit his day job.

More information about He-brew can be found at:

Posted on Wednesday, November 29th, 2006
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Cav Wine Bar and Kitchen

So I continued my wine bar discovery over the weekend. I’m trying to hit one every week. It’s a great ritual. Saturday night was Cav Wine Bar and Kitchen. Weird location. Not exactly the Loin nor the Castro, just somewhere in the middle on Market. Where Yield was barebones and arty, and Parea was cozy and Mediterranean, Cav is modern and minimalistic. It’s the slickest of the wine bars, but not even like Nectar in the Marina, which is sleek and still comfortable. (Amazing the difference that ‘ick’ vs ‘ee’ makes). I had a Vermentino from Corsica, France, as I was curious to see what that region produces. It was nice, typical, medium-bodied with a lychee nose. I had it with a little hamachi and sesame seed tapa. I’m all for small plates, but this was no plate, more like a saucer of hamachi. The red I had was more interesting than the white: It was a Dolcetto, all earth and blueberries. The list isn’t as long as Parea’s nor as diverse (no Greek, Turkish or Indian wines). So far, my friends and I concur: Of the new wine bars, so far I like Yield the best.

Posted on Monday, November 27th, 2006
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Bad Elves, Randy Santas…

Am I a prude or what? I think the Santa Claus labels below suck. Let me explain.

The Shelton Brothers, Daniel, his two brothers and a friend, who are based in Belchertown, MA. import some of the world’s most iconic beer, great beer like Fantome from Belgium.

Now they’re sued the state of New York because the state licensing authority has refused to allow several “Christmas-spoofing” labels on beer from Ridgeway Brewing, South Stoke, Oxfordshire in the UK. The state argues that the labels might attract children to beer or might harm or frighten them.

Here’s Dan Shelton’s argument in his own words:

“It’s very strange that New York, a state that we think of as more progressive, is the only state among the 45 states or so in which we sell beer to ban these labels on this dubious ‘underage drinking’ rationale. Santa Claus, elves, and red-nosed reindeer may have persuasive influence on the four-to-six age group, but we think it’s safe to assume that tots are not interested in alcoholic drink, and wouldn’t have any chance at all of buying any even if they were interested. For the late-teens who are really at risk for underage drinking, these symbols of the Christmas season are not cool in the least. On the contrary.”

“We don’t have any market among underage drinkers, and we certainly don’t want one. These labels were always intended to appeal to adults, not kids, and they have in fact been wildly popular with the over-21 crowd that has the money to afford them. They usually run to about five or six bucks a bottle, after all. We are by no means insensitive to the problem of teen drinking, and we applaud the New York State Liquor Authority’s focus on the issue. We just don’t think that that issue has anything to do with this case.”

About the labels. I think the Bad Elf labels are funny. I see nothing wrong with them. But the Santa Claus labels are in horrible taste, to say the least. Anything to make a buck, I guess.

What do you think? Post a comment here or e-mail me at And Merry Xmas to you. Ho. Ho. Hee. Hee.


Posted on Saturday, November 25th, 2006
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Fabulous 2003 Burgundy

I had a great wine last night. It was a Pierre Morey, the highly-regarded biodynamic winemaker in Burgundy who also heads up the cellar at Domaine LeFlaive. The 2003 Monthelie is 100% Pinot Noir and smooth with ideal structure (the alcohol level is also an ideal 12.5%, at least for me). It retails for $33, which I’m happy to pay for a Pinot. You can get it at Coit Liquor on Columbus St. in SF, or Swirl on Castro, whose inventory is about 40 percent biodynamic. By the way, Jenny came back from a business trip in Denver where she went WINETASTING. She noticed that many of the grapes came from Lodi (hello, that’s because Lodi has magic soil), but brought me back a merlot that’s predominantly Colorado grapes. Yes, I’ll let you know.

Posted on Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006
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Tasting Drake’s Jolly Roger Over the Years…

This continues an item in my column today in The Oakland Tribune and other MediaNews papers about a group of barrel-aged beers from Drake’s Brewing and the brewing wizardry of head brewer Rodger Davis and his incredible assistant brewer Melissa Myer.

Last week, Rodger and Melissa brought samples of seven versions of Jolly Roger, Drake’s Holiday beer to the Toronado in San Francisco and the next night to Barclay’s in Oakland.

I made it to the Toronado and found the beers stunning and amazing. Here’s the list and Rodger’s tasting notes and my rating.

2003. Rodger’s notes: Scotch ale based on the early 1800s way of taxing ales, where more Shillings were charged to higher gravity ales. This would be considered a 120 Shilling ale. Big and malty, from the addition of roasted barley. This beer is balanced with two hop additions of East Kent Goldings. The beer was then fermented at 50 degrees F. to keep the ester (the fruitiness) formation low, so the malt would shine through. 9 percent Alcohol by Volume. 30 IBU ( International Bitterness Units – Bud is 13 IBU.)

My notes: Licorice sweetness, followed by a hit of hops. ***.

2003 Barrel-Aged. In the early 1800s Scottish brewers would transfer their ales to (wooden) barrels, where they would condition them for up to two years. Often these beers wold sour over time from bacteria in the barrels. The 2003 Scotch Ale was placed in a brandy barrel for 18 months. This version has a slight sourness to it, but is quite complex with the many different wine-like aromas that come at you. 11 percent ABV, 30 IBUs.

My notes: Oh my, I loved this one. Brandy nose, then surprise! A tart, slightly sour taste with a bit of brandy flavor, blended with sweet malt behind and the hops coming in like violins in a symphony. Damn, I hate myself for writing that, but very honestly, this was superb beer. A week later, memory of the taste still lingers. My rating: ****. The bad news: Rodger said they had two cases left – they’re for sale at the brewery, he said, if they can find them.

2004. Rodger’s notes: An American-style Red Ale. Think of it as a dark IPA. After 2003’s version, we found the need to get back into a hoppy style, but wanted to create a beer that had a firm malt backbone as well. Roasted barley lends a nice mahogany color as well as a nice roasted malt flavor. Hops: Horizon, Chinook and Centennial. 9.5 percent ABV, 70 IBUs.

My notes: A malty nose, but the taste delivers ramped up hops. An excellent strong beer for hopheads. ***

2005-A. Rodger’s Notes: An Imperial IPA. This is a very big beer. Crystal malt lends a nice ruby red backdrop to an onslaught of hop[s. How many pounds of differnt kinds of hops can you throw at a beer and still make it somewhat drinkable? It turns out a lot! Hops: Horizon, Simcoe, Cascade and Columbus. 11.5 percent ABV, 80 IBUs.

My notes: Big nose of hops and malt. Good balanced taste, but hops come on strong in a long, dry finish. ***

2005-B. Rodger’s Notes: An Old Ale. For our 15th anniversary we decided to brew two different versions of Jolly Rodger, one a hop bomb (the 2005-A) and this one would be Roger Lind’s original recipe from 1990. So we broke out his original brew sheet and used his ingredients and threw our own brewing techniques at it. What we ended up with is a well-balanced ale that is lightly hopped with Galena, East Kent Goldings and Willamette hops. 9.5 percent ABV, 40 IBUs.

My notes: This did taste a bit like Christmas past. Big and malty with definite hop bitterness.**+

2005 – B. Barrel-aged. Rodger’s notes: This is the Old Ale, placed in an apple brandy barrel for 12 months of aging. The beer was dominated by a green apple aroma with much of it slipping into the flavor. Over time that apple aroma has taken a back seat to the French oak the barrel is made of, with apple brandy notes reminding you what the barrel’s past was. 11 percent ABV, 40 IBUs.

My notes: Got the Calvados note right away and the vanilla from the oak. Mixed well with the malt and the hops. Really liked the apple brandy quality, added an extra dimension.***

2006. (The one that’s headed to Bay Area stores now). Rodger’s notes: An Imperial IPA. We have discovefred that if hops are not used in the Jolly Roger these days, people become enraged. So here we go with another hop bomb. This one stems from a conversation with Pat McIlhenney (owner/brewer of Alpine Brewing) when he mentioned he used a whooping two pounds off dry hops per barrel in his outstanding Duet Beer. Most of our Imperial IPAs were about one pound per barrel! So what the hello, let’s see what that will do to one of our beers. Thanks for the advice Pat. This one REALLY goes to 11 percent. Hops: Warrior, Simcoe, Summit and Amarillo. 11 percent ABV, 70-IBUs.

My notes: Sweet malty nose, taste is sweet with a huge blast of hops. I’m going to buy some of this and let it age for a year. ***+

Last note: Drake’s has a happy hour party every Friday from 4 – 7 p.m. For info, check out their web site. The place is hard to find. Here’s a map.

Posted on Tuesday, November 21st, 2006
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Parea wine bar

Continued my goal of hitting every wine bar in the City. This weekend, we hit Parea, a wine bar and cafe on Valencia and 19th in the Mission district. Parea’s all about the Mediterranean vibe: yellow, blue and red walls with Greek and Turkish music piping through speakers. Of their wine book (yes, the wine list’s a book), you’ve got your usual whites and reds from France and the U.S., with a smattering from New Zealand, Australia, Portugal, Germany, Austria and Spain. A good two pages, however, is devoted to Greek wines, and grapes we’d never heard of. Equal selection of whites and reds. I had a (get ready) Hatzimichalis Naoussa 1999, which is made of 100% Xinomavro grapes. This is a dry red wine, light-bodied (to me, others would call it medium-bodied) and closer to a Nebbiolo than a Pinot Noir. I found it too tart (more cherry than dark berry) for my liking but am looking forward to trying other Greek wines. Yield is still my favorite wine bar. This weekend, I’m going to Cav.

Posted on Monday, November 20th, 2006
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Resveratrol: endurance

So now the scientists are telling us that Resveratrol, a compound in red wine and grape skins, can also make those little mice run twice as far without collapsing in exhaustion. So this potential fountain of youth compound that was already proven to reverse the effects of obesity in mice now also gives them endurance. To quote France’s Johan Auwerx of the Institute of Genetics and Molecular and Cellular Biology: "Resveratrol makes you look like a trained athlete without the training.”

Oy. Last I checked me, Hugh Johnson, my Italian drycleaner and everyone else I know who drinks a lot of wine does not look like my roommate Gavin, who IS a professional athlete and has zero body fat. We all have at least a pooch belly from too much wine, and all the trappings gastronomique that come with it. Listen, I’m not knocking science, but, if you notice, we keep on tapping into things that have been known for centuries. It’s the same with cacao. The Mayans used it for healing and stamin; Casanova for even more. It’s widely known that ancient poets and gnostics used wine for enlightement and zillions of other things. But we have to throw a new scientific sticker on it and a marketing phenom is born. Taken out of the context of mice physiology, I just hope people don’t use this as an excuse to not exercise or worst, abuse drink too much. It’s a far different and more complex world we live in than the labriynth those mice occupy.

Posted on Friday, November 17th, 2006
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Letters – Anchor Porter, Beer-By-Mail, Growlers

Letters to the Blog…This exchange with Alan in Washington came from my column Nov. 1 about Anchor Porter, one of my all-time favorite beers. IU mentioned that I’ve probably tried 5,000 beers since I first tasted Anchor Porter in the 1970s and it’s still in my top five. You can find the column here.

5,000 beers? Is that hyperbole or reality? I guess
I never really started counting, but it raises an
interesting question. I guess I did count over 400 beers tried in my last trip to Europe.

Unfortunately we rarely see Anchor Porter up here
around Seattle. Bottleworks is the best bet, but I think
they run out of each shipment quite quickly. I keep waiting
for them to release an imperial stout, what could be more
English? And – regarding strong beers not Anchor Porter – it would be nice to bottle it in those tiny nips. This trend towards bigger bottles for bigger beers is getting annoying. I don’t want to have to wait for a few friends to visit before I crack open my latest barley wine, imperial stout, quad, etc.

Alan, Poulsbo, WA

Hi Alan. Actually, I just picked the number out of the
air. I figure, even if I only drink one beer a night,
five nights a week, That’s 275 in a year. Take that
times 32 years (since I first tried Anchor Porter)
and it’s 8,800. And I KNOW I’ve tried a lot more than
that; You’re probably ahead of me.

Hmmm. An Imperial Stout from Anchor? Intriguing question.
I totally agree with you about packaging strong beers
in 22 ouncers. I usually drink a bit, try to cap the
bottle tightly and hope it will survive until the next day. Sometimes they do, but often they don’t.

I always intend to go to a wine shop and get one of those
devices that lets you suck all the air out of a bottle,
then cork it tightly. They cost about $30 and I’m too
cheap, I guess.

A great article. I too believe that Anchor Porter is one of the best out there. Believe it or not, I especially enjoy it with Thai grilled salmon. Maybe it’s the peanut sauce.
Arne, San Francisco.

Wow Arne. Peanut sauce, salmon and Anchor Porter. Gotta try that one. b

Ordering Beer By Mail


I keep checking the web for good online
beer stores. I’d love to be able to get most of the beers
from the Upper Midwest and New England. So far, none of the
American stores I’ve found cover those areas very well.

Sometimes you can get great stuff from these guys, but you have to do it by phone:


Thanks for the beer store links, Alan. Trouble with
ordering beer by mail is it’s very heavy, so shipping
can cost a lot. Way back when, before California stores
stocked decent Belgium imports, I ordered a few by mail.
Had to have them sent to my brother’s house in Reno,
since at that time shippers couldn’t send beer (or
wine) directly to California consumers. I believe that’s
changed. b

Anyway, as I recall, six bottles cost around $75. about
half the price was the shipping. But maybe things have
changed. Have you ordered anything by mail?

I’d love to be able to get Brooklyn Chocolate Stout and
Three Floyds Dark Lord, among others.


Shipping is still steep, but some few beers are worth it. It’s best to get a case or more, then the price isn’t too bad per bottle. I’ve bought a few “antique beer bottles (unopened)” via ebay. One of those links has Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. I’m tempted to grab more of that.
I’ve had a few sips now and then and wonder if it’s as good as I remember. Plus I’d like to compare it to my own bourbon baggie imperial porter.

I also bought some bottles of Utopias for $125-170. At
that price the $20-25 shipping doesn’t seem so bad. I buy
it, or a friend, then we all gather and split the price
depending on how many samplers we get out of it.



I like that story of the origin of the term “growler”. Sounds as likely as all the others. I’ve heard stories of its origins based on German etymology, the name of a bucket manufacturer near an early American brewery, etc. Where’d you find this one? I’d love to check it out.


German etymology? Hmmm. I dunno where I first heard that one. Most likely from Michael Jackson. But I can’t be sure. Those 5,000 beers have blotted my mind.No, now I remember… I got it from someone on the old Compuserve beer list back in the early 1980s. I think it might be accurate,or at least a decent explanation. The guy who posted it was from Philadelphia, I believe.

Here’s more…In my first newspaper job, circa 1964, I worked for a guy whose first job was as an assistant at a weekly newspaper in Wilbur, Nebraska. His job at noon was to run down to the local brewery and bring back a bucket of beer for the printers. Let’s see, he was 35 then in 1964. He must have been a teenager at the time of the beer bucket, so say 20 years earlier…1944. Fascinating. b.

Posted on Thursday, November 16th, 2006
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