Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for March, 2007

Craft Beers Sales Are Booming in Supermarkets

Lots of great news this week about American craft beer and by craft beer, I mean the full-flavored products produced by brewers large and small across the country from tiny breweries like Bison in Berkeley, CA. to giant Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada.

In a sentence: Sales are booming.

Last month the Boulder, CO.-based Brewers Association reported craft beer sales jumped 11 percent in 2006, while the rest of the American beer world languished, with either falling or flat sales.

On Wednesday (March 7) Dan Wandel, of Information Resources Inc., a Chicago company that surveys sales at supermarkets, drugstores, liquor stores and other outlets where beer is sold at retail, told Brewers Association members in a conference call that we can truly call 2006 as “The Year of Craft Beer.”

“A year ago, we did a presentation showing sales growing and I called it `the march of the micros.’ Today, that march is more like a sprint,” Wandel said.

The IRI survey, which does not include sales in taverns, bars and restaurants, showed total beer sales were down about three-tenths of one percent, but in dollars, beer sales rose 2.5 percent, while wine sales were up 9.8 percent, mostly in higher priced wines, and spirits (hard liquor) sales rose 6.5 percent, with big seller being vodka – sales up 7 percent.

However, craft beer had a field day. Wandel said the IRI survey
showed that

Some statistics: Top craft beer brands:

–1:Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, up 6.9 percent to $52.8 million.
–2:Sam Adams Boston Lager, up 8.9% to $47.7 M
–3: Sam Adams Seasonals, up 38.2% to $28.5 M
–4: New Belgium Fat Tire, up 22.5% to $22.2 M
–5: Sam Adams Light, up 19.2% to $19.8 M
–6: Widmer Hefeweizen, up 16.3% to $18 M
–7: Shiner Bock, up 15.7% to $17.6 M
–8: Redhook ESB, down 1.1.% to $11.9 M
–9: Pyramid Hefeweizen, up 20.6% to $8.9 M
–10: Deschutes Mirror Pond IPA, up 16.8% to $8.4 M
–11: Alaskan Amber, up 11.6% to $7.,4 M
–12: Sam Adams Brewmaster Collection, up 77.7% to $9.1 M
–13: Redhook Bitter IPA, 19.4% to $6.6 M
–14: Deschutes Black Butte Porter, up 9% to $5.3 M
–15: Anchor Steam, 7.2% to $4.5 M

The report had a lot more info, which I’ll post later. One factoid: Top-selling import in U.S. supermarkets: Newcastle Brown Ale (Scottish & Newcastle, England). Also, six craft beers made the Top 30 list in sales:

Number 3: Sam Adams Seasonals; 17. New Belgium Fat Tire, 20: Sam Adams Boston Lager, 22. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, just behind Heineken. 23. Shiner Bock, 24: Widmer Hefeweizen.Craft Styles 06

Posted on Friday, March 9th, 2007
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2005 Clos Du Val Chardonnay

Today, Inspired by Rob W., an Arkansas wine blogger at 365 Corks, I feel the need to discuss Chardonnay. Rob’s got a half dozen Chards in his March postings alone. And, when savoring a gorgeous crab Louie salad at a San Francisco luncheon honoring Dame Vivienne Westwood over the weekend, all I could think about was the bottle of 2005 Clos Du Val Chardonnay I had chilling at home, and how smashing the two would’ve been together. Much like the Dame and her Sex Pistols.

You can taste Clos Du Val’s new vintage in the winery now, but to buy a bottle ($22), you’ve got to wait until April 1. Here’s why you should, and do so in an excited, geeky fashion, where you email your friends and say things like, “11 days until CDV’s Chard comes out!':

1. Because, like me, you enjoy California Chardonnay when it’s made by a Frenchman in a Burgundian style.

2. You like a green tinge, both in color and flavor, to your Chards.This one shines like melted citrine and peridot.

3. You believe that Chardonnay can taste like a crisp, fresh fruit tart rather than butter-saturated toast from Denny’s.

4. You plan to eat a lot of shellfish this season and need require quality, affordable quaffage that doesn’t have an animal on the label.

Posted on Thursday, March 8th, 2007
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Ernest Gallo dies at 97

You’ve probably heard already. Ernest Gallo, wine mogul extraordinaire, died yesterday in his home in Modesto. The cause was not given. His brother, Julio, who he started the larger-than-life wine company with in 1933, died 14 years ago.

That leaves Joseph, Ernest’s son, as the company’s chief executive in charge of 4,600 employees. I had a friend who used to sell wine for Gallo. She nearly became an alcoholic and left the business a few years ago. Now she sells pharmaceuticals. Somehow that makes sense.

Don’t know about Thunderbird, but it’s safe to say we’ve all enjoyed a Turning Leaf, Louis Martini or Gossamer Bay wine in the past five years. All Gallo wines. I’m embarrassed to say it, but on more than one occasion, my friends and I have used ‘Gallo’ as an adjective to refer to a so-so wine.

But more than those actual bottles, I’ll remember the Gallos for their pioneering practices, specifically, bringing what was definitely better quality wine, at that time, to the masses at a lower cost. Blending grapes from Napa and San Joaquin? They did it. Stainless steel instead of wood casks? Them too. Screw tops. They were there before the Aussies.

Posted on Wednesday, March 7th, 2007
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2001 wine stories; tips for ordering wine

2001 was a great year for Cabernet Sauvignon. Wild Horse, Silver Oak, Justin. Some of my favorite California producers made amazing Cabs that year. Those wines have been napping for six years, however, and in my book, that means it’s time to drink them.

I recently had two experiences with this vintage that I thought were worth sharing. The first was not with a Cab, but rather, a Pinot Noir. It was a bottle I had bought with Jenny on our last visit to Paso Robles, nearly two years ago. The 2001 Pinot was from Stephen’s Cellar, an organic winery in Templeton that focuses on Pinot Noir and is located just seven miles from the ocean. That maritime influence does wonders for the grape, by the way.

We’d been waiting to uncork the wine with just the right meal, and finally settled on a multi grain roasted vegetarian lasagna. To my dismay, the color and clarity of the wine was crap. It’s possible that the bottle was exposed to some heat or bright light in my former Walnut Creek abode, but that would’ve no doubt effected the flavor, which was superb: super earthy with a lot of dried fruit, like trail mix plus mushrooms. The finish went on and on, so we were able to ignore the foggy look, which reminded us of Morro Bay more than Templeton.

Given this experience, I was cautious when, at a belated birthday dinner with my roommate Gavin, I spotted a 2001 Markham Cabernet Sauvignon on the wine list at Somerset in Rockridge for under $10 a glass. Of course, I wanted to try it. But I was hesitant. I told the waitress my concerns and she insisted I try a splash before ordering it. I recall reading about this service in a wine book and accepted her offer instantly. The wine was a satisfying claret, lots of wild blueberry and dark chocolate. It was a slam dunk with my garlicky flank steak, and I’m so glad I got to try it before ordering it. Lesson learned, never be afraid to ask.

Also, as an aside, Somerset gives generous pours, so my roommate and I asked for a third glass to aerate everything, especially since we were drinking wines more than five years old. It makes a world of difference.

Posted on Wednesday, March 7th, 2007
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Wine and gondolas

Contrary to mainstream belief, you can make any event a wine event. My friends and I manage to do it all the time. Take my birthday, late last month. Jenny, Vicki, Amy and I took a gondola ride around Lake Merritt at sunset on one of those freakishly warm winter days we’ve been having. Jenny outdid her baking self with these amazing lemon sour cream cupcakes, which had a blackberry jam filling and lavender cream cheese frosting. Can you say orgasmic?

We washed those down with a raspberry sparkling wine from Boitano Family Wines in Lodi. No, it’s not complex, but boy is it refreshing. And fun for a 31st birthday. And only $12. In fact, if you get your hands on a bottle, try mixing the raspberry sparkling with a little bit of Port. It’s good stuff, and a friendly reminder to not take yourself, and your wine, that seriously.

Posted on Tuesday, March 6th, 2007
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The move to light beer

Oh Americans of crappy palate. My heart aches.

Among the ton of beery email that crosses my desk every day, I got a missive from Brew Blog, a newsletter put out by an ad agency working for Miller Brewing.

Title: The fight for light.

Here’s a quote:

“It’s taken a few decades, but import and craft beer marketers are getting serious about light beer.

“The rollout of Heineken Premium Light last year was the biggest – and most successful – light beer launch yet by an importer. Reportedly backed with tens of millions in marketing support, the brand swiftly gained distribution and sales.”

“Now, the deluge. Tecate Light is rolling out. Boston Beer Company is increasing its support for Sam Adams Light. Labatt USA is emphasizing Labatt Blue Light. And that’s just for starters.

“This about-face by import and craft marketers underscores the central fact of the U.S. beer business: Light beer is the industry’s biggest category and it’s going to get bigger. And any brewer wanting to grow needs a piece of that business.

“Light is the biggest fight in the beer business.

* Light beer – including imports and crafts – represented half of all beer shipments in 2005, according to figures from Beer Marketer’s Insights.

* From 2000 to 2005, mainstream light beer was the biggest single source of growth in the beer industry, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights. Light added 14.2 million barrels of volume in that time – twice the incremental volume of imports and crafts.

* Bear Stearns estimates that, based on current trends, light beer should be 53 percent of the industry in five years and 55 percent in 10 years.”

Hell. The big brewers would be better off skipping the alcohol and selling boiled water (which is quite close to the taste of light beer).

Consider these statistics:

“In 1993, the U.S. absorbed the equivalent of 10.5 gallons for each person in the country. A decade later, per capita consumption grew to 22.6 gallons, almost equaling that of milk (22.7 gallons), coffee (22.1 gallons) and beer (21.8 gallons). Although carbonated soft drinks still hold the number one position (54.2 gallons) amongst beverages in the country, this category has experienced declines for four consecutive years.” Source:

My opinion of light beer: Arrrrrgggggg. Personally, I’m going to crack open a bottle of Double IPA tonight.

Also, I’m having trouble uploading photos tonight. To see a good use for light beer (from New York University) go to my other blog: .

Posted on Monday, March 5th, 2007
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The incredible (stupid) motorized beer cooler

Cruisin’ Beer Coolers

Are you someone whose idea of exercise is a long, downhill bike ride? Then the motorized beer cooler may be for you.

This Youtube video’s so stupid, it’s outrageous. Follow the link to “motorized” cruisin’ beer coolers.

Check it out here.

wordpress is screwing up tonight. To see a photo go to the link or my other blog at

Posted on Monday, March 5th, 2007
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Tasting Drake’s Imperial Stout in a National Blog Posting

This minute, I’m taking part in a national stout tasting. Beer bloggers across the country are tasting a stout of their own choice today (March 2) and posting a link on Stan Hieronymus’s blog site. It’s been quite a day and the choice of stouts is amazing. Check it out here.

By my clock, it’s 11:47 p.m., so it’s still March 2 in the Pacific Time Zone, at least, if not in New Mexico where I’m posting this.

My stout for the tasting is Drake’s Imperial Stout, a dark, lucious, 8.75 percent alcohol by volumene beauty of a stout. It’s brewed in San Leandro, CA. at Drake’s Brewing Co. by head brewer Rodger Davis and his assistant, Melissa Myers.

They’re more famous for their uber-IPA beers like Denogganizer. But they also make a range of dark beers that are quite special.

Drake’s Imperial Stout, which comes in stubby, 17 oz. bottles with a swingtop like a Grolsch bottle, pours an opague brown with a moderate head of rocky tan foam. The aroma’s enticing, a bit like sherry, intense, a tang of alcohol and roast malt and a bit of fruit.

The taste is full and malty, but not overly sweet. It’s balanced by Chinook hops and the finish is drying with quite a bit of heat from the alcohol.

Really, a damn good stout. Eat your heart out Guinness. — William Brand.

Posted on Saturday, March 3rd, 2007
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How to Order French Wine Without Getting Ripped Off

I am in Napa withdrawls, but alas, I need to move forward, or back, it seems, to my normal life, where I eat tuna salad for lunch and drink wines made in this century.

Any way, one thing people ask me a lot is how to kick their habit (read: safety blanket) of ordering California wines off a restaurant’s wine list. If you want to experiment with the French world, dining out is a fantastic way to do it. After all, it’s not a whole bottle, it’s just a glass. It can make the chateaux labyrinth seem a little less intimidating, and best of all, there are value wines. You just have to know what to look for.

Start by ordering a white Burgundy instead of a Chardonnay. In “Secrets From The Wine Diva,” Christine Ansbacher tells you to remember the Saints if you get stumped or overwhelmed by the wine list. St-Aubin, St-Veran and St-Romain are all quality, affordable wines. The Villages cost even less than the Saints, and start with the word Macon. Look for Macon-Lugny, Macon-Vire.

Ready for a red? It’s Bordeaux instead of Cabernet. Choose second labels of famous chateaux, and if you don’t know what those are, just ask. Again, I like how Ansbacher lays it out: Carruades de Lafite from Lafite-Rothschild; and Bahans de Haut Brion from, you guessed it, Haut Brion. Scan the menu for the famous chateau’s name; it’s almost always included in the second label’s name. We have second labels too (the Meritage Opus One has Overture, for instance).

Another thing you can do is ask for a wine near or next to those famous areas. You can’t imagine how many producers bank on the fact that they are just over the hill from Pomerol. And they should. The quality is there, just without the name. Try LaLande de Pomerol or, for St-Emilion heads, St-Georges-St-Emillion or Lussac-St-Emillion. They do a good job of letting you know who their neighbors are on the label.

For Rhone varietals, eschew the god-like Chateauneuf-du-Pape blend for similar great wines from the nearby Lirac, Gigondas and Cotes du Rhones-Villages (there that Village thing again).
Hope this helps.

Posted on Thursday, March 1st, 2007
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