Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for December, 2006

The Science of Smell

So this isn’t going to be some post about Christmas or if you bought enough Beaujolais last month to get you through your second turkey. Rather, I came upon a much-needed sensual-intellectual fact (as is always the case in wine) to cut through all this holiday overload. I’m considering popping my bottle of J. Schram Rose. That’s how close I am to my breaking point.

So here it is: Much of what we think of as wine’s flavor is actually its aroma. Don’t think you have a sophisticated palate? Actually, it’s rather evolved and complex. We can actually detect not 1,000, but 10,000 different odors. In fact, in 2004, two American scientists won the Nobel Prize for discovering the mechanism by which people detect smells. Among their findings: We can smell and later recall 10,000 different odors.

Ponder that at your Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa tables!

Posted on Friday, December 22nd, 2006
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Silver Oak buys Roshambo

Interesting news today about stalwart, $100-Napa-Cabernet producer Silver Oak Cellars buying Dry Creek’s hipster rebel Roshambo Winery. I profiled Roshambo owner Naomi Brilliant in September and visited her artsy winery the following month. If you haven’t been, imagine a sleek art gallery meets club where the employees have tattoos and patchy facial hair. My friends and I weren’t crazy about the wines, but boy did we admire Brilliant’s business model and marketing savvy: Drag shows, art openings and the slogan, "Fighting for fun in a winey world." After all, it was for us — serious wine drinkers who didn’t wear suits or fanny packs. Well, turns out the world isn’t ready to stop whining, so to speak. Experts have weighed in and I tend to agree on one front: Brilliant, heir to Frank Johnson, went overboard on a showcase winery and tasting room before her brand could build a reputation to cover the costs. Turns out that soon after the winery, which cost $10 million, was built in 2002, the value of the family trust fund behind it began to dip. And dip. What I do not agree with, however, is that Roshambo was too flip, too light and not serious enough for the wines they were making. The wine press is making Silver Oak out to be the Superman of wineries that came and saved little baby Roshambo. After all, they make serious wines for serious people. Well, I love Silver Oak and attend their biannual Cabernet releases but I can tell you that a chunk of their clientele at those parties look and act like anyone at Roshambo. Wine drinkers are getting younger and younger, and they drink everything, gold-trimmed beige labels with cursive writing and wineries named after the rock, paper, scissors game. You can’t blame Roshambo for trying to cement a niche for themselves. I’m just sorry it didn’t work out. I do hope Naomi stays in the wine biz. We need her creativity. As for Silver Oak, it’s been looking for a secondary facility to produce wine following the fire last year that caused $2 million in damages and will put it out of commission for the 2007 harvest. Silver Oak is buying the winery and the acreage surrounding it, but not the brand. So if you have any bottles, hold on to them.

Posted on Thursday, December 21st, 2006
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Those Nasty Elves: Where to Buy Them


I wrote about an English beer with a catchy name – Seriously Bad Elf – in my Beer of the Week Column today.

Here’s a list of bottle shops in the Bay Area that are carrying the gift packs, according to the distributor, Manzo Beer & Ale, Mountain View.

East Bay
 

Berkeley:

Ledger’s Liquor, 1399 University Ave., (510) 54
Star Market, 3068 Claremont Ave., Berkeley, 94705, (510) 652-2490.
Whole Foods Market, 3000 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, (510) 649-1333.

Concord:
Monument Wine and Spirits, 2250 Monument Blvd. (Just north of Oak Grove Road in the Safeway shopping center. (925) 682-1514

San Leandro:
Plaza Bottle Shop and Market, 15292 Liberty St., (on the bay side of the 580 fwy at 150th St., (510) 357-1810

San Ramon:
Jay Vee Liquors, 12191 Alcosta Blvd. (925) 828-1400.0-9243.J

South Bay

Campbell:
Whole Foods on Bascom Road and Hamilton

Cupertino:
Whole Foods Market, 20830 Stevens Creek Blvd., (408) 257-7000

Mountain View/Los Altos
Whole Foods Market, 4800 El Camino Real, (650) 559-0300.

San Francisco

City Beer Store, 1168 Folsom St.,#101. (415) 503-1033. Hours: Noon-10 p.m.The City Beer Store on Folsom between 8th & 7th St. Will also be selling individual bottles from the pack.

Posted on Wednesday, December 20th, 2006
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Laguna Beach winery

Now that was a vacation. I’ve been out of commission for two weeks. I know, not a good reason to stop blogging. But hey, my palate actually took a break too. I do little wine when I visit my folks in southern California. The bottles of Dariush I give my dad as gifts are always gone by the time I visit, and the Three Buck Trader Joe’s label they buy can only go so far. Plus, there aren’t exactly wineries in Orange County, right? Of course there are! There are  wineries everywhere these days. Denver, upstate New York, Albuquerque, why not Laguna Beach?

I visited the Laguna Canyon Winery on Hwy. 133 (Laguna Canyon Road) with my dad. For those who’ve never been, the narrow, windy road links my idyllic hometown to the major freeways, 5 and 405. It’s mostly peppered with hippie homes and artists’ studios, and now, much to my surprise, a winery.

It’s an urban winery, so they get their grapes from Paso, Napa and Sonoma but crush, press, ferment, oak barrel age, blend and bottle the wines in the same canyon that holds the famed Sawdust Festival and Pageant of the Masters. The tasting room was simple and elegant. The gent who blends the wines is an Italian winemaster by the name of Gianni Seminari. But the style of the wine wasn’t Italian to me. It was very fruit-forward California and French, particularly their Pinot Noir and Bordeaux-style Meritage.

They have a standout Reisling that has a touch of orange muscat and grapes that come from Solano County, and at $16, it’s also one of their affordable buys. I’m also curious about their Late Harvest Cabernet Sauvingnon Partial Ice Wine (the owners are Canadian) that cost $66 and is limited to one per customer. Maybe next time.

Posted on Tuesday, December 19th, 2006
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Beery Gifts for Christmas, Hanukkah


This is my regular beer column that runs every other Wednesday in the Food Section of Alameda Newspaper Group papers. Because, it doesn’t run in the Contra Costa Times papers, which run my Beer of the Week and because Christmas is rushing up, I’m publishing the column here.

By the way, I e-mail both my columns. To join the list, drop me an an e-mail at whatsontap@sbcglobal.net. William Brand.


A half-yard glass, which holds
a half-yard of beer is an unusual
Christmas present. See below.

Barrel full of gifts for beer lovers

CHRISTMAS is coming and someone you care about cares about beer almost as much as — well, he or she likes good beer. Here’s an idea: A book about beer. Check these out:

-”Grilling With Beer: Bastes, BBQ Sauces, Mops, Marinades & More, Made With Craft Beer” by Lucy Saunders, (F&B Publications, $21.95). This is an amazing book with sauces and marinades that made me fire up my Weber on a chilly evening.
Saunders is a European-trained beer chef. She’s American, majored in Old and Middle English literature and fell in love with beer and good food. She runs an award-winning Web site..

Saunders says that during a decade of pairing beer and food, she discovered grilling, an ancient cooking technique made for beer.

Then, one day, she saw an ad for a barbecue grill with a bottle of wine on it — and she got mad. Wine may have a place at a barbecue, but the proper beverage most of the time is beer and why not use good beer while you’re at it, she says.

To write this book, she traveled the country, from Hawaii to New England, visiting barbecue joints, going to barbecue festivals, collecting recipes and preparing them for a tasting panel.

This is a serious book. Even if you’ve never even put a match to charcoal or turned the knob on a gas grill, you, too, can produce prize-winning grilled food.

She dissects the science of barbecuing, explains differences between sauces, mops, marinades and glazes, why beer works with barbecue, when to use it and when not.

She came up with some mind-blowing recipes. How about Porter Plum Barbecue Sauce or Smoked Ale Mustard Sauce? Tamarind Amber Glaze, Apple Ale Ribs, Imperial Stout Marinade or one of my favorites, Brown Shugga Glaze, made with Lagunitas Brown Shugga.

To order the book, call (800) 760-5998, e-mail grillingwithbeer@yahoo.com or send a check for $25.95 (includes shipping) to Grilling With Beer, Attn: Orders, 4230 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood, WI 53211. By the way, I’ve posted a couple of my favorite recipes on my blogs at http://www.beernewsletter.com and http://www.ibabuzz.com/beer.

-”Extreme Brewing: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Brewing Craft Beer at Home” by Sam Calagione, (Quarry Books, $24.99).
Sam is the co-founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Rehoboth Beach, Del. It’s easily one of the most distinctive breweries on the East Coast and its beers, such as 120 Minute IPA and Chateau Jiahu can hold their own on the world stage.

He carries his brewery’s motto: “Off-centered beers for off-centered people” into this book. The first section of the book is a basic primer on how to brew beer at home, how to chose equipment and ingredients. He then jumps into extreme brewing — beer on the outer edge.

“There are many ingredients, such as fruits, sugars, spices, herbs and wild yeast, which have been used in beer making for centuries,” he says. “Thanks to the recent craft brewing beer renaissance, they are once again finding favor with brewers as they add complexity and balance and offer endless creative possibilities.”

From there, the book rockets into the extreme and, in my opinion, the potentially sublime: beer with cherries, raisins, dried cranberries, brown sugar, allspice, St. John’s Wort and Grains of Paradise.

He also discusses barrel-aging beer, a trend that many craft brewers have embraced. Then, it’s on to the recipes: Imperial Pale Ale, Dark Star Licorice Stout, Tripel’Round the World.

Bottom line: If you’re already homebrewing, but haven’t ventured out to the cutting edge, this is the book to read. But even if you’ve never brewed beer, it’s a fine coffee table book. Lavishly illustrated and clearly written, it’s a classic. You can find this book at most good bookstores and on the Web at Amazon.com.

-One more worth a look is “The Beer Guide” edited by Josh Oakes (Savory House Press, $9.95). It’s a listing of 2,700 American and imported beers with ratings from RateBeer.com. Each rating is based on reviews posted on the RateBeer Web site.

The holidays are also a great time for beer; many brewers produce gift packs. Here’s a selection:
-Williams Home Brewery and Beer Kit, about $100. Williams Brewing, 2594 Nicholson St., San Leandro, was started by owner Bill Moore in his Oakland apartment in 1979. He sells a wide assortment of home brew kits and equipment. Moore sent me a sample of his Belgian Style Saison made with his beer kit.

A wonderful saison, it’s rich, malty and is 6.5 percent alcohol by volume. The home brewery kit, which contains everything one needs to begin brewing, except a five-gallon pot, also includes hops and malts needed for the style of beer one chooses — English ale to Belgian Saison.

Each kit contains complete instructions on a DVD and the company, like most homebrew shops, is always available by phone or e-mail to help. http://www.williamsbrewing.com. (510) 895-2739.

-Sam Adams Winter Classics, two each, Boston Lager, Sam Adams Winter Lager+, Old Fezziwig Ale, Cranberry Lambic, Sam Adams Holiday Porter and Black Lager, $9.99.

The Holiday Porter alone is worth the price. Also, during a walk through a Beverages & More store, I noticed Sam Adams Triple Bock, the first truly strong beer, 17.5 percent ABV. Price: $4.49. Bought one, haven’t tried it. Fresh, back in the’90s, it tasted strongly of maple syrup. That no doubt has mellowed by now.

-Stone Brewing Double Bastard ***+, large, 3-quart bottle, $60. If you like the bastard, this is nearly a lifetime supply or better, one to crack at a large party.

– Yard Glass in a wooden stand, $19.99, Half-Yard Glass, $14.99. According to RealBeer.com, the three-foot high glass was created in England so ale could be handed up to a stagecoach driver, who had to remain seated, holding the horses.

-Duvel Gift Pack, four 12-ounce bottles of Duvel, the Belgian classic ale and a branded Duvel glass, about $20. Another great gift for a beer lover. It’s fun to drink your Duvel in its distinctive, tulip-shaped glass. LATE NOTE: Everyone seems to be out of the Duvel gift pack. But I found a couple of others. There are several gift packs from Petrus, the Belgium brewer at the Beverages & More. The one pictured, six bottles, plus a branded Petrus glass is $20.99

Can’t find these books or beer gifts? E-mail me at whatsontap@sbcglobal.net or call (510) 915-1180. Ask for our 2006 Retail Beer Store List.

Beer ratings are based on a star system. ***** – world classic; ****— outstanding; ***— excellent; **— good; * — average.

MediaNews Group Staff writer William Brand publishes What’s On Tap, a consumer craft beer and hard cider blog. His column runs every other week. Write him at whatsontap@sbcglobal.net or P.O. Box 3676, Walnut Creek, CA 94598, or call (510) 915-1180.

Posted on Monday, December 18th, 2006
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A Beery Calendar for the Rest of the Year…


Everything hasn’t stopped, just because Christmas is coming. And after Christmas – get ready for the post-holiday roarrrrrr.

Wednesday Dec. 20, Toronado Holiday Bash, Toronado, 547 Haight St., San Francisco. In truth, every night is Christmas at this amazing pub. But Wednesday, proprietor David Keene, opens the cellar door. Lots of specials, lots of people. A beery holiday party indeed.

Thursday Dec. 21, The Mission Holiday Throwdown, Amnesia, 853 Valencia St. All the He’Brew beers . Music by the Shut-Ins. $5 cover; music starts at 9 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 31, Luka’s Taproom & Lounge, 2221 Broadway, Oakland, CA., (510) 451-4677, is rolling out the carpet with a special menu, including:
––“Seared foie gras with orange-vanilla poached quince and savory beignets,
–– American black caviar and vodka-cured sturgeon w/ buckwheat blinis, crème fraiche, sieved egg & finely minced red onion
–– Surf & Turf grilled filet mignon, half a butter poached lobster, potato gratin, asparagus & béarnaise sauce. They hadn’t figured out menu price tonight, but I’m guessing about $25 per person, maybe a bit more.
Oh yeah, Champagne and a very large beer menu, including a number of Belgians, Westmalle, Orval, Duchesse de Bourgogne. And balloons. Doors open 7 p.m. Cover charge $10 before 9 p.m., $15 after. DJ music.

Dec. 31. Beach Chalet Restaurant & Brewery, 1000 Great Highway, San Francisco,(415) 386-8439 founded in 1997 by co-owners Lara and Greg “Gar” Truppelli and Timon Malloy, celebrates its 10th anniversary New Year’s Eve with dinner and live music. $50 includes a midnight champagne toast a poster and an evening of music by the Mermen. Food and beer (or wine) is extra.

This has to be the brewpub with the best view in America. It’s on the edge of Golden Gate Park,just across from Ocean Beach with a sweeping view of the Pacific. It’s the place to take your out-of-town guests. Here’s something important. You can now make reservations on line here. If you intend to do more than wrangle a seat at the bar, reservations are important, essential for New Year’s Eve.

Monday, Jan. 8, “Dinner with the Brewmaster”, Cathedral Hill Hotel, 1101 Van Ness Ave.,San Francisco. Executive chef Bruce Paton begins his 2007 beer dinners, featuring the beers of Urthel with Hildegard van Ostaden. Paton notes she’s one of only two female brewers in Belgium. She attended the Great American Beer Festival in Denver this past fall and, to put it mildly, was a total hit.

She’s co-owner (with her husband, Bas) and brewer of the De Leyerth Brouwerijen in Ruiselede, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. She brought her Hop-It Belgian Double IPA, strong (9 percent) and hoppy with a trademark, Belgian fruity nose: grapefruit, fresh oranges. About the name: the Beer Advocate says Urthel refers to the gnomes on the brewery’s beer labels.

To sign up call (415) 776-8200 x 7785 or e-mail Bruce at bpaton@cathedralhillhotel.com

Photo of Hildegard van
Ostaden from
Glenn’s Belgian Beer Site.

PS. Bruce is planning his third annual Beer and Chocolate Dinner on Feb. 16. Check out his web site for details later or stay tuned.

Posted on Sunday, December 17th, 2006
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Grilling With Beer: Great Recipes


As I promised in my column today in The Oakland Tribune, here are a couple of recipes from Lucy Saunder’s new book: -”Grilling With Beer: Bastes, BBQ Sauces, Mops, Marinades & More, Made With Craft Beer” (F&B Publications, $21.95). This is an amazing book with sauces and marinades that made me fire up my Weber on a chilly evening.

For a review of Lucy’s book, and Extreme Brewing, by Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione and a list of beery Christmas books…go to my column here.

Here are a few sample recipes. For more info and to buy the book, check out Lucy’s Grilling Website. Hint: If you like to grill, this book is a must,

Amber Cayenne-Citrus Marinade for Beef or Lamb

2 12 oz. bottles amber ale
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon grated horseradish
1/2 cup minced onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more, to taste)

Mix all ingredients together in a blender, pureeing until onions and garlic are liquified. Reserve one cup for basting, and use remainder as a marinade for beef or lamb. Use a shoulder or leg cut. Marinate meat for at least two hours for best flavor.

Edmund Fitzgerald Porter Scallion Marinade

“Though this recipe yields more than a quart of marinade, it also works well as a salad,” says Great Lakes Brewing Co. Pub Chef Wilson. “It will last up to 8 days, covered in an airtight container in the fridge.”

6.5 oz. bottle dark sesame oil
2 cups vegetable oil (such as canola)
1 cup rice wine vinegar
12 oz. Edmund Fitzgerald Porter
1/3 cup soy sauce
4 oz. Chinese bead molasses or sugar to taste
6 cloves minced garlic
12 scallions, sliced thin (about 1 1/4 cups, minced)
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco or more to taste

Blend all ingredients, and let sit overnight, covered and chilled. Makes a terrific marinade for grilled zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, onions and giant portabello mushroom caps.

Grilled Zucchini with Lemon and Porter with Pasta

Serves 4

Zest of one half lemon, grated
2 large cloves garlic, pressed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces porter
6-10 slices thick-cut zucchini
1 can (15 ounces) white beans, drained and rinsed
2 roasted red peppers, diced
12 to 14 ounces dried fusilli or cavatappi pasta
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh sage
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Grated Romano cheese for garnish

1. In a zip-seal plastic bag, blend together the lemon zest, garlic, lemon juice. porter and olive oil. Add the zucchini strips and let marinate 1 hour.
2. Reserve the marinade for salad. Prepare a grill and grill zucchini until tender, but still holding its shape. Cut into 2-in. chunks, and toss with beans, roasted red peppers, and the remaining marinade in a large bowl.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the pasta according to package directions, or until pasta is tender but still firm (al dente). Drain, place in bowl and stir.
4. Spray a nonstick skillet with cooking oil. Add the chopped herbs and heat until aromatic. Scrape the heated herbs into the pasta mixture and stir to blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve garnished with grated Romano cheese.

Posted on Wednesday, December 13th, 2006
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The Pacific Coast Holiday Ale Tasting


OK It’s truth-telling or should I say, time for “truthiness”. Not. Anyway the truth is, I’m no fan of the pumpkin, not in pie and especially not in beer. The nutmeg-like spice of the pumpkin usually sets my teeth on edge.

So, when I checked in at Pacific Coast Brewing Co. in Oakland late Saturday (Dec. 9, 2006) to find out how their 17th annual Tasting of Holiday Beers went, I regarded the first beer sample set in front of me with great caution.

Oh dear. It was a pumpkin ale. Wouldn’t you know. But one taste drowned my cynicism. Paul’s Dirty Scarecrow Imperial Pumpkin Ale***+ was excellent. Yes, a spicy nose, but the taste was full and malty, with the spice balancing the malt and masking the alcohol.

This is one strong beer: 12 percent alcohol by volume. The alcohol comes through with a slight warming at the end of the finish. The best news is that as I write this, there’s still some left.

Dirty Scarecrow, brewed by Paul Wichelmann, the night bartender at Pacific Coast, is available only on tap at the pub. I never thought I’d recommend a pumpkin ale, but this is one worth making a journey to Pacific Coast to try a glass, at 12 percent, make that a small glass.

The Saturday afternoon tasting of 14 holiday beers was sold-out and Pacific Coast co-founders Don Gortemiller and Steve Wolff said Saturday they won’t have tabulated the people’s choice award from their tasting until later this week. I’m sure Dirty Scarecrow will be among the winners. All 14 beers remain on tap this week until they’re gone.

The hit of the tasting, people said, was North Coast Old Stock Ale 2004*****. This is a tremendous, strong dark ale with a nose like fine sherry and a rich, rounded, almost port-like taste.

The 2006 Old Stock*** was much sweeter, young, delicious to drink today, but just wait a couple of years.

Others I tasted included Full Sail Vesuvius**** 8.5 percent, Belgian-style golden ale, has an herbal, almost medicinal nose. Taste was fairly tart with a background sweetness fading into a mildly hoppy finish. Damn nice beer.

Gouden Carolus Triple**++, Brouwerij Het Anker, Mechelen, Belgium. had a lovely, grapefruit nose with honeyed background notes. It hasthat rich, fruitiness characteristic of high temperature fermentations common in Belgium with a slightly bitter finish. 9 percent, pretty much the opposite of the Full Sail.

N’ice Chouffe***+, Brasserie d’Achouffe, Achouffe Belgium.
A dark brown color with a big, creamy head leaving lacework down the glass and a spicy nose, tastes of caramel malt and perhaps brewer’s sugar, with the spice nicely balancing the sweetness. This one can be found, bottle-conditioned, around the Bay Area and is definitely worth a search.

Moonlight Santa’s Tipple**
*, Moonlight Brewing, Windsor, CA. Brewer Brian Hunt can always be counted on for solid, drinkable beer and Santa’s Tipple’s no exception. A deep brown color with a fresh hop nose, the 6.3 percent holiday beer is just right.Taste is sweet, but the hops come through with some serious bitterness to balance that sweetness. Lovely beer.

The rest of the list included Anchor Our Special Ale****, Big Sky Powerder Hound**, Sierra Nevada Celebration***, Lagunitas Brown Shugga*** and He’Brew Monumental Jewbelation***.

When Don Gortemiller tabulates the results,I’ll post them here. Saludos for now.

Posted on Monday, December 11th, 2006
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Anchor Vintage Christmas Ale Tasting 2006


A dozen years ago when beer lovers like me started writing about putting bottles of Anchor Brewing’s Our Special Ale (The holiday beer) away for a couple of years to let it age and mature and the flavors blend, Anchor’s estimable brewers and owner Fritz Maytag, gently scoffed.

Anchor Christmas, they said, was made to be consumed immediately. It has never been bottle conditioned; it’s flash-pastuerized. Drink it today, the advised us.


Anchor’s Fritz Maytag, John Dannererbeck
and Mark Carpenter with a lineup of Anchor
Our Special Ales 1995 – 2006.

We demurred and many of us filled our fridge with Anchor Christmas, because we knew that it changed over time and most often got better.

How times change. Thursday afternoon in the Anchor Tasting room in the brewery in San Francisco, before the annual Anchor Christmas party for its friends and customers, several beerwriters, Jay Brooks, who writes the BrookstonBeer Bulletin, Tom Dalldorf, publisher of the Celebrator Beer News, Camper English, a beer writer and author of “Party Like A Rock Star: Even When You’re Poor as Dirt” . Andy Musser, long the radio voice of the Philadelphia Phillies, and an ardent Anchor fan, Mark Carpenter, Anchor assistant brewmaster; John Dannerbeck, of Anchor, and Fritz Maytag.

Turns out, Anchor’s been saving a library of past “vintages” of Our Special Ale and Mark brought out big bottles of ’95, ’96, ’98, 2000, 2003, 2004 and of course, the current, 2006. All kept upright in refrigerated storage in Anchor’s basement.

The 1996*** was the star. But let’s run through the entire tasting.

Mark Carpenter noted that Anchor’s first Christmas ale, released in 1975, used a base recipe similar to Anchor’s Liberty Ale*****, which was released in on the eve of the American bi-centennial. Hops were somewhat different, he said. But from then on, Our Special Ale recipes varied. Spice as an element was added in 1987. That’s the reason I started to age the beer. A couple of years, I reasoned,would take the edge off the spices and reveal the
fantastic ale beneath.

Spiced beer is an acquired taste and it took me quite a while to appreciate it. Mark and Fritz admitted that it took them some time to learn how to get it right. “It was a bit of an evolution,” Mark said. “Some years there was a spike in spice flavor, others were very round and malty.”

Fritz added that while the spices in each are a closely kept secret, the pundits are wrong. “We’ve never used cloves in our beer,” he said. “Never.” I agree, but what about Grains of Paradise and All Spice?

OK, here we go:

1995***. The oldest of the group, it poured with a towering head of tan foam. It had a spicy nose, taste was mildly malty and both Jay and I thought there was a hint of oxidation, which one can expect to happen over time, just a hint of staleness on the palate. Mark thought this one was a bit thin. Still, for a 13-year-old 5 percent ale, it was very drinkable.

1996.**** Oh, would I ever like to have a couple of dozen of these. A dark brown color, with a slight head of foam and a bit of a licorice, malty nose with perhaps a hint of a medicinal note from, I guess, the spice-hop combination. Taste was quite full and malty. Jay tasted chocolate and so did I. Everyone in the tasting liked this one.

1998**+ . It wasn’t fair to taste this one straight on after the ’96. it was a bit lighter in color with an interesting nose, lots of layers, spice, malt, hops. But the taste just wasn’t as complex as the ’96.

2000***++. The turn of the century Our Special Ale was a dark brown with ruby highlights, it poured with lots of foam and fizz. It had decent body and was very drinkable, running a respectable second to the ’96.

2003***. Not a lot of aroma on this one, a hinte of spice. But the spice roars at you in the mouth. Malt takes a backseat and there was a bit of tingling, tartness remaining on the tongue. Unusual. Excellent.

2004***+. A dark brown with a lovely, half-inch head and a moderately spicy nose. Taste was pleasingly malty with the spice lingering.

2006****. They got it right this year. Lots of malt, restrained spice, some hops. Full taste. This one’s a champion. Hint: If you want to try it, do so now. By Jan. 1., it’s gone.

Posted on Friday, December 8th, 2006
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Belgian Post Office Issues Beer Stamps



Here’s something kind of different. The Belgian Beer list I subscribe to says the Belgian postal services has published a “limited and temporary edition” of This is Belgium stamps. The sheet of 10 stamps shows various aspects of Belgian food.

But among the stamps are two dedicated to beer, one to Orval the scrumptious Belgian Trappist ale, the other to gueze, the blend of old a new Lambic beer, made with wild yeast, that when properly done is sour, but declicious.

Here are the stamps. Follow this link to order. (Hint, being able to read French is a help, although the site is kind of in English.)

To join the e-maillsit go to: belgianbeer@yahoogroups.com.

Posted on Friday, December 8th, 2006
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