Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for November, 2006

wine club story

So I’m doing a story on all the different wine clubs out there. From BevMo! to the ones online, at food and wine magazines and wineries. Anyone got a favorite? Post it here, email me at or call me at 925-943-8155. Thanks!

Posted on Thursday, November 16th, 2006
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Brewer’s Notes on Firestone Walker `10′

As I promised in my Beer of the Week column today (Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2006) on Firestone Walker 10, here are the company’s notes on the beer, followed by a description of the process by head Firestone Walker brewer Matt Brynildson:

Since founding our brewery in 1996, we have specialized in the rare art of brewing beer in oak barrels.Now,in celebration of our 10th anniversary,we present 10—a commemorative oak-aged strong ale crafted in 10 separate lots over 10 months,then carefully blended to create this truly unique and harmonious brew.

The Vision Behind “10”

The Goal: To create complexity centering on oak, in a multitude of forms, by brewing high gravity beers in complementary styles, aging them in different barrel formats and then blending them together to achieve new harmonious flavors.

The Puzzle: To blend these various components (or lots) to create a synergistic whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. This was done with
the help of a small team of Paso Robles and Santa Barbara County winemakers who are practicing experts in the art of blending.

The Inspiration: Firestone Walker’s oak brewing tradition and our connection with winemaking. More specifically: a study of the Port wine
(solera) tradition and how it could be applied to brewing.

The Barrels: The individual lots were aged in oak barrels, most of which were hand selected from premium Kentucky spirits producers by Tom Griffin, an expert
in the art of bourbon barrel beers. Each barrel lent its own unique influence to the final blend.
Barrels hand delivered by Tom Griffin fresh from the distilleries:
Old Fitzgerald Bourbon / Old Fitzgerald Wheat Whiskey
Heaven Hill Bourbon / Heaven Hill Brandy
Barrels purchased directly from American Coopers toasted to Firestone Walker’s specifications:
New American Oak produced by World Cooperage
Retired Firestone Union Oak produced by World Cooperage, Seguin Moreau and Barrel Associates

The Components: The following brews were aged in six different barrel formats creating 10 distinctive component lots (pieces) that were blended together. Portions of
these beers were also fermented in the Firestone Union oak barrel brewing system. Following are descriptions of key components with their original
code names:

– 5 barrel varieties -Strong English Style Barley Wine (brewed 1-24-06 Racked to barrels on 2-7-06) OG =26P FG=5.1P IBU=50 Color=15 / Hopped with Amarillo and East Kent Goldings

Parabola – 2 barrel varieties , Imperial Oatmeal Stout (brewed 2-09-06 Racked to Barrels on 2-20-06) OG=28P FG=7.5P IBU=80 Color=Black / Hopped with Summit, Styrian Golding and East Kent Golding

Ruby – 2 barrel varieties -American Style Barley Wine / Imperial IPA Formulated by Jim Cibak while still working for Three Floyds Brewing (Munster, IN.) OG=26P FG=8.15 IBU=60 Color=20 / 100% Maris Otter Malt & Hopped with Simcoe and Summit Bravo – 2 barrel varieties

Imperial Brown Ale (Brewed 8-2-06 Racked to Barrels on 8-11-06) OG= 22P FG= 4.8P IBU=45 Color=32/ Hopped 100% with an experimental hop variety provided by S.S. Steiner Inc.
Other Component Brews Included in The 10 Blend: Walker’s Reserve, Humboldt Hemp Ale, 100% oak barrel fermented Double Barrel Ale.

A Note from Brewmaster

Matt Brynildson


A number of amazing people had a hand in crafting “10”. This beer, like everything that comes from our brewery, is a result of cohesive teamwork.

The 2006 Firestone Paso Brewing Crew is the finest group of folks that I have ever had the pleasure to work with. The good energy that flows through this brewery is what makes our beers the pure flavorful expressions that they are. I take only a small piece of the credit, in fact, a small fraction.

The real credit goes to a phenomenal group of our talented brewers, employees, friends, industry experts and people with a passion for beer. Brewing is a human activity and a labor of love. Without good karma, strong work ethic and positive human energy, beer is lifeless and without soul. Like this beer, the team is far greater than the sum of its parts.

This beer is a celebration of many amazing years of brewing, creating and working together.
This beer is really for us, but we are happy to be able to share it with you.

The Journey

When we started talking about a 10-year anniversary beer in December of 2005, we immediately thought to brew a Barley Wine style beer or a Russian Imperial Stout fermented in oak. These were not original ideas, however; they were tried, true and accepted. Then, perfectly on cue, a call came into the brewery from Tom Griffin asking if we would be interested in a few bourbon and brandy barrels to play with and the wheels started turning.

No critters, no fruit and no spice, just clean beers showcasing what barrels had to offer.
I started researching and talking to friends in the wine industry, experts at the art of aging in oak. I kept running into the concept of blending to refine flavor and create complexity. I learned that every barrel becomes something on its own and must be considered a separate component.

Based on this finding, we decided to brew a number of high gravity beers, being careful to formulate and create beers that would stand up to time in a barrel. Somehow the scale of the project organically grew into an 80-barrel puzzle (Tom took a liking to the brewery as well as the Central Coast scene and as a result, our collection of barrels grew.) We brewed the Abacus to be the lean Mourvedre and show-case the barrel flavors, Parabola to be the big gamey Syrah of the blend, Bravo Brown to be the gentle Roussanne or Viognier integration and blending piece and Ruby to be the fruity sweet Grenache.

Experiments that otherwise wouldn’t fit into our normal program were exercised. Brewer Jim Cibak designed Ruby utilizing the lauter tun as a hopback. New hop cultivars were used in each beer to see what they might bring to the table. Extended boils pushed original gravities to all time brewery highs and at the same time brought new caramel and molasses notes along with beautiful ruby colors to the beers. Each piece was presented in our tasting rooms and at a few select fests over the course of the year, helping us to get to know the beers as they developed.

A couple of the pieces took awards on their own in 2006 competitions as well. Periodic barrel tastings, topping sessions and lab analysis opened our eyes to the amazing world of oak aging and flavor development.

Winemakers vs. Brewers

When it came time to blend there was a definite split. The brewers leaned toward blends that were high in amounts of Parabola and bourbon barrel flavors while the wine makers centered on flavors contributed by Bravo, Abacus and brandy barrel aging. The brewers pushed for aggressive flavors and exclamation points while the wine makers gravitated towards balance and subdued complexity.

Initially the blending session appeared to have brought too many chefs into the kitchen. As I began to study the notes, though, a common theme became evident and a few discoveries were made as well.

No single beer had a cherry flavor and no fruit had been used in any of the beers, but when blended in a certain way, a rich creamy cherry note beamed through! Parabola by itself was somewhat toasty and acrid (as Imperial Stouts often are), but when blended with the other pieces a delicious dark chocolate flavor was revealed.

The version of Abacus aged in American oak was so intense that the tannic astringency left the sides of the tongue reeling long after a small sip. When blended with Bravo then kissed with a touch of the hoppy Ruby, however, an amazingly complex oak aroma and flavor appeared that was reminiscent of some of the finest wines that I can remember tasting. We learned that equal blends resulted in muddled and confused flavors while leaving one beer as a centerpiece and building flavor around it brought out the most amazing and enhanced flavors.

In the end, Abacus became that centerpiece.

Nine months in the barrel established Abacus as the elder of the clan and the natural leader. Blending in smaller amounts of Parabola resulted in the beautiful cherry aroma and chocolate flavors that are present in “10”. The brandy barrel pieces countered the assertive bourbon bite and tannic American oak notes moving Cognac and grape notes into the fold.

Bravo carried a mellow calming effect smoothing out the alcohol burn and further
mellowing the oak astringency of new American barrels. Bravo also carried with it tobacco, leather and spice—the aura of a well-kept humidor.

Ruby was by far the greatest integrator and in large percentage blends, its hoppy aroma created chaos and confusion. At 10%, though, it carried a fruity component into the brew that made everyone at the table smile.

In Closing

Every time I taste the final blend I get something new, so I leave the rest to you. We chose to put this beer in a larger bottle format, but recommend opening and sharing this bottle with friends.

Enjoy it in a half-filled brandy snifter or wine glass. Let it warm to 55F, and spend some time soaking up the aroma. Sip and let it meander on your tongue and try to describe what you are experiencing. Try it with food like your favorite chocolates and strongly flavored cheeses. This beer will develop over time, but I can’t tell you how. If you choose to age it, be sure to cellar it in a cool dark place.

We would love to hear what you think of our first oak-aged blend—it was a pleasurable journey in the making! Cheers to your health and happiness!


(E-mail Matt Brynildson at My suggestion: Buy at least two bottles, better three or four. if you can afford it (22 oz. bottle, $9.99).Drink one now, save the rest to try in subsequent years. I honestly believe this is a beer that is too young to fully appreciate. Am I right or wrong? Let mne know. Post a comment here or e-mail me at William Brand.

Posted on Wednesday, November 15th, 2006
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Victory Brewing Founders Euro Pils Tour

While we’re talking about events, I just got this one from Victory Brewing, Downingtown, PA. Far from cheap, but then, maybe it is: a 10-day tour of pilsner breweries in Germany and the Czech Republic with Victory founders and Brewmasters Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet.

Cost is $2,600 double occupancy, $2,800 for a single. Cost includes roundtrip air fair from Philadelphia to Frankfort, Germany and lodging. You pay for your own beer and food. Now THAT would be a hell of a great Christmas present, huh?

Victory’s one of the East Coast’s great craft breweries. My favorites include Hop Devil***, Prima Pils*** and the amazing, delicious Golden Monkey***+. Check out their beers here.

Posted on Monday, November 13th, 2006
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Go to Yield Wine Bar

This weekend, Michaela and I hit Yield, that new wine bar in the Dogpatch ‘hood. The nook of Potrero Hill was totally dead except for Yield, which serves only organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines. We walked in and people had brought Amici’s pizzas or were eating  small plates the wine bar sells to accompany their wines. It was a totally kick back and mellow vibe. We took one of the last tables and stools in the barebones place. Ever since I researched biodynamics, I’ve been hooked. They just taste the way they should. I don’t know how to explain it, just go out and buy a bottle of Ceago Vinegarden or Marc Kreydenweiss and you’ll understand what I mean. Now its trendy enough to merit its own bar. We talked to the staff and they change their menu weekly, which sounds like a lot but you have to understand that most of France’s (I can’t vouch for Italy or Germany) vineyards maintain some level of organics. Tradition means something there. 100 years ago, everyone made wine this way.

At Yield, just to give you an idea, there are 22 reds on the menu from all around the world and half are available by the glass. They also have whites, sparklings and dessert wines. Now, on to what we tried:

Michaela, who works for French winemakers, has been obsessed with Languedoc wines of late. She got the ’04 Mas Du Petit Azegat, Languedoc-Roussillon. It was an amazingly rich and smooth blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre. Yum.

Forever partial to sparklings, I had to try the Patrick Bottex La Cueille, Bugey Cerdon, Savoie, France. I was intrigued by the description of strawberry and mint, but found the wine too sweet. Like Nerds, Michaela said. But the staff was kind enough to let me taste the wine, rather than spend $13 on a glass.

Eager to learn more about South African expressions, I settled on an earthy Cabernet from coastal Fairvalley. Boy, talk about green. It was like a veritable bell pepper salad in my mouth. I usually like my cabs smoky and dark, but this was so fresh I couldn’t resist.

Hands down, a fabulous and down to earth wine bar experience. You need to check it out.

Posted on Monday, November 13th, 2006
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Just got this reminder from Rodger Davis at Drake’s, San Leandro

“Just a reminder for those that know and an invitation for those that don’t. We will be ringing in the holiday season with a bang at the Toronado (547 Haight St., San Francisco) this Wednesday night (6:30 p.m. until) with seven different versions of Jolly Rodger.

“We’ll have four versions of previous years, two of those that have been barrel aged, so you can do a side-by-side. It will also be the first tapping of this year’s version. It should be a good time. Hope to see you there.”

I’ll be there Rodger.

Posted on Monday, November 13th, 2006
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The Bistro Barrel-Aged Beer Fest Winners

HAYWARD, CA. – The first-ever Barrel-Aged Beer Festival at the Bistro, 1001 B. St. was a rousing success. What’s more, it was a blast. I’m guessing the crowd at well over 400, a total mix of people, from senior citizens to folks in their 20s, both men and women. This was far from an all-male crowd.

Bistro proprietor Vic Kralj, one of the Bay Area’s true, cutting-edge beer enthusiasts, said there were 42 beers, each either aged in barrels or on wood.

Caption: The commemorative glass given
each festgoer for the price of admission.
Pours were two ounces, $25 admission
bought 10 pours.

The judges took nearly five hours to pick the winners in a professional, blind tasting, in four classes, awarding first place gold, silver and bronze medals and chosing a grand champion.

The winners are:

Grand champion barrel-aged beer, chosen in a final blind tasting of the four gold medal beers, was Old Viscosity, brewed by Tomme Arthur, Pizza Port Brewing, San Marcos, CA. A dynamite, 12 percent alcohol by volume brew, aged six months in a Heaven Hill Bourbon barrel.

The class winners:

Sour (beers made using wild yeast and aged on wood), six entries.

Gold: Depuration Vintage 2005, brewer Vinnie Cilurzo, Russian River, Santa Rosa, CA. Blond ale aged in wine barrel with white wine grapes adds. Wild yeast: Brettanomyces, and bacteria that was in the wood of the barrel.

Bourbon (aged in used bourbon or whiskey barrels), 20 entries.

Gold: Old Viscosity.

Silver: Parabola Imperial Oatmeal Stout
, Matt Brynildson and his brew crew, Firestone Walker, Paso Robles, CA., 13 percent, fermented in new American oak, then in a bourbon barrel for eight months.

Bronze: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barley-Wine Style Ale, 12.2 percent, brewer Doug Sesterhenn, cellar operations manager, Sierra Nevada, Chico, CA, started in Kentucky bourbon barrels, which had first been filled with single malt whiskey at St. George Spirits, Alameda, CA.

Wine, (aged in used wine, brandy, port, or Madeira barrels, 10 entries.

Gold: Blue Frog, Fifth Anniversary Scotch Ale, 11.2 percent,. Nick Campbell brewer, Blue Frog Grog & Grill, Fairfax, CA., aged six months in an Estate Syrah wine barrel.

Silver: The Angel’s Share, 12.5 percent, Pizza Port Brewing, Tomme Arthur, English-style barleywine, aged six months in a brandy barrel.

Bronze: North Coast Old Stock Ale 2004, 14.7 percent, North Coast, Fort Bragg, CA., made by North Coast brew crew. Aged one year in a brandy barrel.

Wood (aged in new oak barrels), 6 entries.

Gold: Glacier Ukranian Imperial Stout, 9.21 percent, Glacier Brewhouse, Anchorage, AK., Kevin Burton brewer, aged eight months in a new Ukranian oak barrel.

Silver: Firestone Walker 10, 12 percent, Firestone Walker,  a beer blended from several others, aged 10 months in an oak barrel. (For more on this beer, check out my Beer of the Week, this coming Wednesday: Nov. 15, 2006.)

Bronze: Devil’s Canyon Barrel of Monkeys Barley Wine, 16 percent-plus, Devils Canyon Brewing, Belmont, CA., Christ Garrett, aged six and one-half months in oak.

People’s Choice Award (popular vote) Glacier Ukranian Imperial Stout.
Finally, Vic Kralj has prepared an elaborate, three-page list of all the entries with details about each beer. As soon as he gives me the PDF file, I’m going to post it.

Historic day. Whew!

Got a comment? Think the oak and vanilla one gets from a wooden barrel is upchucking? Some do. Let me know. Post a comment here or e-mail me at:

Posted on Saturday, November 11th, 2006
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Geneticist take on butterscotch

So I talked to Carole Meredith, the retired geneticist now at Lagier-Meredith in Napa. She knows more about obsure varietals than anyone. She said the butterscotch grape is most likely wild or a seedling of another grape. If Olde Lockeford wishes, they can send a sample to UC Davis for testing, to determine exactly what it is, and maybe even get to name it! I’d do that, but I think Mr. Litchfield, the winemaker, has his hands pretty full, what with running Vino Piazza and all. It’s his brainchild, and it’s fantastic. 

Posted on Friday, November 10th, 2006
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Pacific Coast Holiday Beer Tasting Dec. 17

Adding to the calendar. Just heard from Don Gortemiller at Pacific Coast Brewing in Oakland. Pacific Coast’s Annual Tasting of Holiday Beers will be Saturday, Dec. 9, noon – 4 p.m.

This is always a great event. Don takes us through a tutored tasting of 14 beers; the kitchen constantly supplies us with munchies. If you’ve never visited Pacific Coast, do so. They’re celebrating their 17th anniversary.

Here’s Don’s flyer:

Posted on Thursday, November 9th, 2006
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The butterscotch grape

So I talked to Don Litchfield, the winemaker at Olde Lockeford Winery, about the mysterious butterscotch grape. He doesn’t know the name, but he’s got a cool story about it. He knows an 80-year-old, fifth-generation grower who found this particular vine growing along a river and up an oak tree in Lockeford. He tasted one of the white grapes and it was pure butterscotch. So he grafted it onto Reisling and sold it to Don. Don aged the wine in toasty American oak barrels and added a yeast that enhances that butterscotchy flavor. Hence, Wild CA Butterscotch Wine. It’s only $12, off-dry and light-bodied. I highly recommend it. Call them at 209-727-9770. Meanwhile, I’ve got a phone call in to retired geneticist Carole Meredith about the grape.

Posted on Thursday, November 9th, 2006
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The Great Barrel-Aged Beer Festival in Hayward, CA.

Caption: Bistro Proprietor Victor Kralj gets ready for the first-ever
Barrel Aged Beer Festival Saturday, Nov. 11. He expects 42 beers,
each aged in wooden barrels or on wood. Barrel-aged beers tend to
be dark and quite strong. But they also take on notes of the contents
of the barrel: bourbon, Scotch, wine, port, brandy or if a new barrel
is used, the vanilla flavors of new oak.
Credit: ARIC CRABB/MediaNews

By William Brand

Oakland Tribune/MediaNews Group

The newest thing in the craft beer movements is at least 500 years old. No lie.

It’s barrel-aged beer, that is beer that is fermented and aged in wooden barrels. And this Saturday, Nov. 11, 2006, Vic and Cynthia Kralj, proprietors of The Bistro, 1001 B St. in downtown Hayward, CA, (510) 886-8525, are holding a Barrel-Aged Beer Festival. It’s the first festival of its kind on the West Coast and apparently only the second ever held in the United States. Tickets, which are sold at the door, are $25, including a commemorative glass and 10, two-ounce tastes. The fun begins at noon and the festival runs until 5 p.m.

More in a minute, first a bit of background: Historians say the Romans discovered wooden barrels in Gaul (now France) and began to use them in the 3rd century CE. According to the Wikipedia, barrels, sealed with pitch, were used them to carry liquids like oil and wine.
With a few exceptions, mostly in Belgium and England, wooden barrels have been abandoned by brewers in favor of steel. Steel barrels can be sterilized and don’t pick up unfavorable bacteria which can spoil beer in a heartbeat.

But today, adventuresome craft brewers are looking back to the past. The idea of aging beer in wooden barrels in the ancient fashion intrigues them and – from the consumer’s standpoint – aging a beer, especially a strong beer, in a wine, brandy, port or bourbon barrel can add a stunning dimension to the brew.

However, Most barrel-aged beer being made today is fermented in standard fashion with regular brewers yeast, then placed in wooden barrels to age. But a few barrel-aged beers in The Bistro’s lineup Saturday have been fermented with wild yeast. There’s a reason for that.

Craft brewers who have visited Belgium have had their minds blown by Lambic beer, made around Brussels in the Senne River Valley. Lambics are fermented with wild yeast – the little beasties that float in the air around us and fermented in the ancient fashion in wooden barrels. Beer these days is fermented with cultivated yeast that is predictable and certain.

Caption: Lambic beer aging in barrels in
Credit: Wikipedia

Wild yeast, on the other hand, is a wild card. Literally anything can happen, not always good. Then, old barrels often contain many kinds of bacteria, which can change a beer even further. But when the system works, the beer is amazing: tart, sometimes sour, perfect at the end of the day.

You can find a discussion of Lambic beer here and here.

Brewers are doing some amazing things. For instance, one of the beers that will be on tap Saturday comes from 21st Amendment in San Francisco. “We’re calling it “Watermelon Funk,” brewer, co-founder Shaun O’Sullivan says. Watermelon Wheat, is made with a blend of wheat and barley with real watermelon added as the beer is made.

This one will be different. “We took some up to Russian River (Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa) and Vinnie (Brewer, Russian River co-founder Vinnie Cilurzo) pitched it with bret (brettamyces or wild yeast) then put it in a Chardonnay wine barrel.

Watermelon Funk is one of 42 beers that – at last – count Vic Kralj expects to be on tap Saturday. He explains that the idea began when he was sitting around with Rodger Davis, the head brewer at Drake’s in San Leandro, CA, drinking a Drake’s been that Rodger aged in a bourbon barrel. “I love the stuff, it smells like you’re drinking bourbon, but it’s beer,” Kralj said.

Then, he went to the World Beer Cup in Seattle this past spring and he noticed that every craft brewer had a barrel-aged beer and he thought, `You know what. We should have a barrel-aged beer festival.”

The only festival he’s aware of was held in Chicago, so, he thought, why not.

Why not indeed. Salud.

Posted on Wednesday, November 8th, 2006
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