Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for December, 2006

E-mail: Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale, Ordering Grilling With Beer…

I just picked up several bottles of Trader Joe’s 2006 Vintage Ale at their Emeryville (CA) store. I had not noticed it before. Maybe I missed mention in your emails.
$4.99 for 750 ml bottle. I have to remember to drink it before 08-28-2009!

I certainly enjoyed the 2005 and am planning to set aside at least one of that year.

BTW, I can’t get the” Grilling With Beer” book by Lucy Saunders at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I’ll call a couple of more local places before I order it directly.

Cheers & beers,

Hi John...this is from my Dec. 14, 2005 column:

Last note: I found two fairly spectacular beers in recent weeks. First is Trader Joe’s 2005 Vintage Ale***. It’s a 9 percent, Belgian-style, strong ale made by Unibroue in Chambly, Quebec, Canada. This is not Unibroue Edition 2005*****, although it’s about as strong. That’s a wonder with great depth, notes of licorice and port wine. The TJ version is a simpler beer with a charming effervescence I believe comes from the addition of brewer’s sugar, a common Belgian additive. At $4.99 for a 750 ml bottle, it’s a steal.
The second is Silver Jubilee 25th Anniversary Belgian-Style Farmhouse Ale***, made by North Coast Brewing, Fort Bragg, CA, for Whole Foods to celebrate the chain’s 25th anniversary. Made in the Belgian saison style with a Belgian yeast that gives the beer its characteristic earthy background. Lively 7.3 percent beer with a taste of lemon and citrus. Extremely pleasing and pleasant. $6.99, 500 ml bottle.
Late Note: The brewers at Unibroue told me that TJ’s is a contract job and completely different. “Not the same beer at all,” they said. I thought for $4.99, it was a decent beer.

How To Order Grilling With Beer

Oh yeah John. Lucy Saunders self-published the book, so the big chains have ignored it. They’re wrong. The recipes are dynamite. Just call her, that’s the best way to order. Her number is (800) 760-5998, or e-mail
Have a Happy New Year!!

You can find my review of Grilling With Beer in my column; A Barrel Full of Christmas Gifts here. I posted a couple of recipes from the book on down this blog at the Dec. 13 post. Check it out. Lucy knows and loves beer and she’s a hell of a good cook.

Finding Good Beer in San Diego County
Hello Bill,

A friend of mine emailed me the information on Old Stock Ale 2005, Fuller’s Vintage Ale and Duvel you sent him. I lived on the Peninsula in San Mateo Co. for over 50 years and have recently moved to San Marcos, CA 20 miles north of San Diego. You e-mailed my friend Jack a list of Bay Area retailers that sold the aforementioned ales. My request is if you know of any retailers in the San Diego area that sell these ales I would appreciate knowing their locations. We have a few local breweries in the area, however, they do not have the product you described in your email to Jack.

Tony, San Marcos, CA.

Hi Tony. You know, Pizza Port Brewing Co. has taken over Stone’s plant in San Marcos. They make some incredible beer, some under the Lost Abbey label, and may have a tasting room or a place you buy their beer. Their address is: 155 Mata Way, San Marcos. Phone: 760-891-0272.

About Duvel, etc:
The best thing to do is to call Duvel’s Southern California distributor and ask them where to find Duvel in your area. Any store that stocks Duvel is almost sure to have Old Stock Ale.

The Duvel distributor is: Wine Warehouse, 6550 Washington Boulevard, City of Commerce, CA 90040, 323-724-1700

Also, here’s what I found in an Internet search and one caution, I have never visited these places. Good hunting.

Costa Mesa
Hi-Times Cellars, 250 Ogle St., 714-650-8463
Has more than 400 beers, walk-in beer room, much chilled beer. Also sells chocolates, cigars (walk-in humidor), has a wine bar and the largest temperature-controlled wine cellar on the West Coast.

Cork & Keg, 625 First St., 760-436-2255

Holiday Wine Cellar, 302 W. Mission, 760-745-1200

Los Angeles
Beverage Warehouse, 4935 McConnell #21, 310-306-2822

Corti Brothers, 13038 San Vincente, 310-476-1223

Wally’s Liquors, 2107 Westwood Blvd., 310-475-0606

The Wine House, 2311 Cotner Ave., 310-479-3731

San Diego
Mesa Liquor & Wine Co., 4919 Convoy St., 619-279-5292
More than 1,000 beers. Plenty of Belgians.


If you are ever in San Diego Pizza Port has the best pizza around. I miss North Beach Pizza. Yes their beers are excellent. They have two locations. The Encinitas location approx. 5 miles north west of the San Marcos brewery and Carlsbad location is approx 10 south west. (Also they’re in San Clemente). I will have to check out their brewery in San Marcos.
Tony, San Marcos

Posted on Saturday, December 30th, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »
Leave a comment

Beer Shipments Inch Up in 2006 in U.S.

Among odd, end of the year, beer factoids is this from the Beer Institute, the Washington D.C.-based association that includes nearly all major American brewers:

Beer shipments, in other words the amount of beer shipped to retailers, consumers in the U.S. through November, 2006 are up a skinny 1.7 percent.

Beer shipments to California are up 3.6 percent. Best-performing state was Nevada, up 6.5 percent. Worst was Michigan, where shipments fell 1.4 percent. Shipments also dropped 0.5 percent in Rhode Island. All other states showed increases, however slight.

The numbers if you care can be found here. Hint: It’s a downloadable Excel file.

Posted on Saturday, December 30th, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Leave a comment

Predictions for 2007

So when you’re out tasting, you talk to a lot of people — winemakers, sommeliers, collectors, connsossieurs — and you get to discussing the Next Big Thing. Here are some trends on the horizon that I think will really take off in 2007:

Finger Lakes Reisling: Germany is the King of Reislings, but recently, this region of upstate New York has been churning out medal winners. Hard to find in California, since we produce more than 80 percent of wine in America, and don’t take kindly to domestic competition. Unfortunate. But ask your favorite wine merchant. He’s no doubt carrying something, or can get it for you.

South African Sauvingnon Blanc: I cherish my bottles of Sauvignon Blanc Cellars from Stellenbosch. These wines are so crisp, limey and almost vegetal, they make me forget my precious white Burgundies. Keep an out out for more producers and affordable pricings. I really recommend SBC.

More dry rose: The pink bubble burst this year on sophisticated, food-friendly roses and sparkling roses. Schramsberg sold out of its J. Schram, which at the end commanded $120, unheard of for a rose. (I have one bottle) So there you go. So much press, two huge Pink Out! events at Butterfly, so many producers making top-notch versions. It will continue to flourish. At this point, if ANYONE tries to mock the blush or tell you it harkens back to their days of Lancer’s, slap them. That argument is so 2006.

And lastly, gru-vee: Gruner Veltiners from Austria are already huge, appearing on many wine lists and commanding upwards of $15 a glass. Since more than a third of Austria’s vineyards are Gruner Vetliner, I have a feeling more competition will yield some affordable options. There are a few out there now, but they’re questionable. Hey, it’s not everyday you can find a peppery white. It’s worth the money.

Anything else? Organic will continue to boom. Oh, and if you haven’t already, give Greek a try. Lodi, too. It’s only five years, if that, behind Paso Robles and Santa Ynez.

Cheers to your New Year!

Posted on Friday, December 29th, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Leave a comment

Why vanilla?

In taking Monica’s class on putting words to wine, I’m sure the flavor of vanilla will come up. After all, it’s used as a descriptor in some many wines, both red and white. Why? Because those wines were most likely made or aged in oak barrels. When barrels are made, the wood is toasted over a fire in order to make the staves malleable for shaping. Toasting also creates chemical reactions in the wood that result in certain flavors. Much like grilling in meat creates certain flavors, toasting creates the chemical compound vanillin, the molecule for the flavor vanilla. You’ll notice wines that are made or aged in stainless steels tanks don’t have a vanilla flavor.

Posted on Thursday, December 28th, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Leave a comment

Great wine class 2/23

I always promise to let people know about good, affordable and FUN wine classes, and there’s one coming up. I’ve taken Monica’s classes before and she’s top notch, a class act from an Italian wine family. She worked at before the bust, when they had a lot of money and tasted everything. I’m particularly interested in this class, which helps you put words to the flavors in wine. A must-attend. To sign up visit the Lafayette Community Center site. Click on Winter Recreation and open the PDF class schedule. Here are the basics:   

Putting Wine into Words: Friday, February 23rd 6:30 to 9PM. Cost: $27 plus $15 supply fee.

Tasting is, of course, an extremely subjective exercise and you must ultimately let your own palate be your guide. Nobody is born knowing how to taste wine. But tasting is a skill you can learn, just as you learn to dance or play tennis. Unless you want others to tell you what to drink all your life, you’ll need to develop the ability to taste. It’s easy, and practicing is a pleasure.

Posted on Wednesday, December 27th, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Leave a comment

A-B Michelob Celebrate: Missing in Action

I tried the Anheuser-Busch Michelob holiday beers in Denver in October at the Great American Beer Festival. There was one made with chocolate, another aged on Bourbon barrel chips. For my tasting notes, see below.


My wife and I always enjoy reading your “What’s On Tap” ; in fact, thanks to it, last year we tried AB’s Celebrate, which has been one of our all-time favorites. Unfortunately, after checking high and low at almost every store that sells spirits and better brews, we are unable to locate it.

Do you know who is stocking it this year? SF or Peninsula locations would be preferable.

Cheers to you! Kevin

Hi Kevin. No, I haven’t seen it either and the Beverages and More site said it was out of stock. However, sometimes the Web site is behind. But I go into BevMo stores a lot and haven’t seen it. I just e-mailed A-B in St. Louis. but naturally won’t hear back from them this week. On Tuesday, I’ll call the A-B distributor here and see where it is. It’s probably sitting on a flat in the distributor’s warehouse. So,. will let you know. Happy Holidays. b

Late note: Hi Kevin. I called the A-B distributors on the San Francisco Peninsula and in Alameda/Contra Costa. Nobody has it. It looks like A-B distributors didn’t take it or it wasn’t offered by A-B. b

Anheuser-Busch Celebrate: Tasting Notes.
\Anheuser-Busch Celebrate Vanilla Oak+ and Anheuser-Busch Celebrate Chocolate, Anheuser Busch, St. Louis, Mo.

Michelob Vanilla Oak, 10.5 percent alcohol, was aged on chips from bourbon barrels and has a nose a bit like Calvados, the French apple brandy. No rice in this one; it’s all malt and the smooth balance between malt and hops conceals the beer’s strength.

Michelob Celebrate Chocolate, 8.5 percent alcohol, was a delight: wild cherry, chocolate aroma, full and malty taste with a huge rush of chocolate. It was fermented on a bed of cocoa beans. Both these A-B products come in 24-ounce bottles. A-B says they’ll be in stores with good beer selections through Christmas. Well, some stores, somewhere.

Posted on Tuesday, December 26th, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Leave a comment

What Beer WOULD Rocky Drink: The View from Philly

Don Russell, who writes the Joe Sixpack column for the Philadelphia Daily News, wrote a brilliant piece this past Friday (Dec. 22, 2006). Here’s the top of it. Click on the Title to read the rest…

WHAT BEER WOULD Rocky drink?

It’s mere idle speculation, as the Philly fighter’s new movie, “Rocky Balboa,” fills theater screens this weekend. But the question did provoke a small storm of discontent on the Internet earlier this month when Sylvester Stallone himself weighed in with an answer.

The setting was a terrific, far-reaching Q&A between Stallone and his fans posted at Ain’t it Cool News, an entertainment news Web site. Among other things, the actor revealed his worst movie (“Stop! Or My Mom will Shoot!”) and why he’d like to box Hitler.

The beer topic was raised when one fan wrote:

“I am throwing a Rocky party to celebrate ‘Rocky Balboa’s’ release and I need to know what kind of beer Rocky would drink so I can buy it for the party.”

“No question about it,” Stallone replied. “Rocky drinks Rolling Rock, especially in the ‘pony’ bottles, which are the small bottles.”

Rolling Rock!? ((READ THE REST OF THE COLUMN…)))

Posted on Tuesday, December 26th, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Leave a comment

New Year’s plans?

If you don’t have plans for New Year’s Eve yet, may I suggest a four-course tasting at Cav, the wine bar on Market in San Francisco? That’s where I’ll most likely be. It’s only $50 and is going on twice, at 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Here’s chef Christine Mullen’s menu plan:

First course

Choice of Pomegranite and Persimmon Salad or Lobster Bisque

Second course

Choice of Crab and Asparagus Cavatelli with Truffle Oil or Filet Mignon with red wine, shallots, savory bread pudding and arugula

Third course

Serra da Estrela with membrillo and marcona almonds

Fourth course

Hazelnut Chocolate Pizzelle

The tasting does not include wine, though Cav will have a flight of vintage Champagnes on hand. For reservations, call 415-437-1770 or go to the Website. Click on Events, then New Year’s Eve.

Posted on Tuesday, December 26th, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Leave a comment

Anheuser-Busch Rolls Out a Sorghum Beer:

Don’t think giant Anheuser-Busch has an ear and eye on the beer market?

Consider this. A-B announced this week that it’s “introducing the first nationally available sorghum, Redbridge.”

So who cares? Well sorghum, a native African plant, is the one grain that celiacs, people who are allergic to gluten, which is found in wheat and almost all other grains, can tolerate.

Beer made with fermented sorghum is widely available in Africa. I wrote about it last month and you can find that report here.

It’s great that A-B’s doing this. There are lots and lots of celiacs who like beer and haven’t been able to drink it.

It’s also a shot from a major conglomerate aimed straight at Bard’s Tale Beer Co., a still-tiny Lees Summit, MO. company started by a celiac. The beer, Dragon’s Gold, also made from sorghum, is being brewed under contract by Gordon Biersch in San Jose and is already available in more than 20 states.

Until now only Bard’s Tale and Lakefront Brewing, Milwaukee, WI., which makes New Grist, were the only two beers made in the United States that celiacs can drink. Only Bard’s Tale is distributed widely.

Gotta hand it to Big Bud, they’re attuned to the market. Celiac disease affects one out of every 133 people in the U.S., the  says. Celiac Disease Foundation

 Taste Test: Redbridge vs. Dragon’s Breath
I just did a taste test of the two, A-B’s Redbridge and Bard’s Tale Dragon’s Gold:

Redbridge**+, made with sorghum as the “primary” ingredient, Hallertau and Cascade hops, is a clear,light copper-colored lager. The aroma is a mix of grain and perhaps the hops. Taste is somewhat sweet that lasts into a moderately hoppy follow.

Dragon’s Breath**** has a rich, grainy nose – the sorghum, I guess – with a bit of fruit. Taste is dry and refreshing with an aromatic finish from the Hallertau hops.

Bottom line: If you like sweet beer, go with Redbridge. For a drier, more sophisticated taste that anyone, gluten allergy or not, try Dragon’s Breath.

I’ve posted my Nov. 6, 2006 Oakland Tribune/MediaNews beer column just below as a reference.

Posted on Friday, December 22nd, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »
Leave a comment

Background on Sorghum Beer

Here’s my column from Nov. 8 2006

Ever wonder when someone says they have a wheat allergy?’ Most often, it’s very real. It’s called “Celiac Disease” and if you’re a person who enjoys beer, a celiac diagnosis is a total bummer.

Celiac Disease is a toxic reaction in the small intestine to gluten in cereal grains, especially wheat, barley and rye. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation it affects one of every 133 people in the U.S. It can cause weight loss, weight gain, skin rashes, depression and it can strike at any age.

Beer’s made with cereal grains, all containing gluten. Ergo no beer. Over the last few years, there have been attempts to make beer without grain, honey beers, weird rice beers. Yuk.

Well, if you’re a celiac and even if you aren’t there’s a real beer being brewed right here in San Jose just beginning to arrive in markets around the Bay Area. It’s Dragon’s Gold**** from the Bard’s Tale Beer Co., Lees Simmit, MO. It’s made with malted sorghum, a grain that – as far as a laboratory can detect – contains no measurable gluten.

What’s more. The beer’s delicious. It’s a dusty gold, fine, beery aroma and a lively head of crisp, white foam. The taste is dry with an unusual, but not off-putting grainy, nutlike sweetness in the background that lasts into a fine, aromatic Hallertau hop finish.

You don’t have to be a celiac to like this beer. It’s going to be a regular in my beer fridge. Right now, it’s only available at Beverages & More stores. But it will soon be widely available in the Bay Area, the company says.

Here’s the story. The beer is being brewed at Gordon-Biersch in San Jose under contract for Bard’s Tale Beer Co., founded by Craig Belser and Kevin Seplowitz.

Belser, who was a computer system analyst before he founded his beer company, explains he suffered from a wheat allergy as a child, but grew out of it. “Then when I was 35, it hit me again. They told me, `You can’t have any beer.’

“Well,” he said, “it’s not that I drink a case of beer of week, but not being able to drink beer had an impact on my lifestyle.”

So he became a home brewer, experimenting with various grains. He lives in the Kansas City area where there’s lots of grain. He also began analyzing beer and grain using his computer systems trouble-shooting skills. Eventually, he settled on a kind of sorghum.

“I made a beer that tasted like beer. It wasn’t a great beer, because I’m not a great brewer,” he said in a telephone interview. He hooked up with Seplowitz, who handles the business side of the company. They hired a brewer and spent months perfecting the recipe and learning about malting sorghum.

They contracted with a small New York brewery to make the beer commercially, but the attempt failed, Belser said. “We made beer grenades,” he said.

After more research, they signed on with Gordon-Biersch in San Jose. Dan Gordon, the co-founder took on the project and after months learning about brewing sorghum, finding a proper recipe that the yeast would like, they began cranking out the beer.

It apparently begins with a lager yeast, but fermentation is different, so the beer is actually a hybrid, both ale and lager. The little company has big plans. “We’re in 19 states and I could be national in six months,” Belser says.

I believe he may be right. This is a fine beer.

Sorghum beer, by the way, is extremely popular in Africa. Sorghum is a tropical grass that originated there. SABMiller makes the leading sorghum beer in Africa. But most is made by small brewers using wild yeast, is dark and sour and meant to be consumed within a few days of brewing. It’s immensely popular among Zulus.

More information on Celiac Disease can be found here. at: Information about Bard’s Tale Beer can be found here. . I’ve also posted some notes on sorghum beer in Africa here.

Posted on Friday, December 22nd, 2006
Under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »
Leave a comment