Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for December, 2007

Kill the barrel night at Trappist Cafe, Oakland

Beer glassIf you haven’t made it to the Trappist Beer Cafe & Specialty Beer Bar, 460 8th St. in downtown Oakland – Wednesday night, Dec. 12’s a good time to check it out.

Proprietors Chuck Stilphen and Aaron Porter are hosting a “kill-the-keg” night to make room for new Christmas beers. For the entire evening, every glass of El Toro IPA***, an excellent beer from the Morgan Hill brewery’s $2.

Another upcoming event to get one in a holiday mood (or out of it, as the case may be): Saturday, Dec. 22, is St. Bernardus Glass Night. Buy a beer, keep the glass. Info here.

Photo: Not an IPA, not St. Bernardus, just a closeup of an excellent beer. Look at that rocky head!

Posted on Tuesday, December 11th, 2007
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UPDATE: Noche Buena no esta'; it’s apparently not available in the U.S. anymore

Noche BuenaDo you like Noche Buena, the thick, Vienna-style lager that comes out only around Christmas time?

I always have; when I lived in Mexico, it was my favorite Mexican beer (ahead of — Number 2 – absolutely fresh Superior, Number 3 – Indio.)

Even with the craft beer revolution, I’ve always found space in my fridge for Noche Buena. But it’s disappeared. It used to arrive right around Dec. 1 and sell out fast. No more.

After a couple of dozen phone calls and e-mails in English and Spanish, here’s what I know:

In 2004, Heineken USA, the import arm of Heineken cut a deal with FEMSA Cerveza, the giant Mexican-Brazilian brewing company, maker of 17 different Mexican beers, including Sol, Tecate, Carta Blanca, Superior, Indio, Tecate Light, Dos Equis Lager, Dos Equis Ambar, Bohemia, and Noche Buena.

Heineken USA now imports all their beers into the U.S. and apparently, poor ole’ Noche Buena got lost in the mix. No Noche Buena for us. Sigh.

Tamara Moore, the head of corporate communications for Heineken USA, based in White Plains, NY, said today she has no idea what happened to Noche Buena. “I don’t think we picked it up for import,” she said. “Check with FEMSA.”

So I did. Guess what, FEMSA has apparently closed its U.S. office. So I e-mailed FEMSA in Mexico in Spanish. Got a boilerplate reply — translated, thank you for your inquiry. We’ll get back to you.

Que lastima. No Noche Buena for us.

Comments anyone? Post it here.

Posted on Tuesday, December 11th, 2007
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Opus One dinner, an evolution of terroir

Writers tend to save the best for last, it’s called a story’s ‘kicker.’ Some of us take this technique to the extreme, putting off the retelling of an event because the experience was all too transformative for us, and we fear that in the retelling, it will no longer be ours. We’re afraid we’ll lose it.

It’s neurotic, yes, but true. And it’s partly the reason I haven’t blogged about last week’s Opus One winemaker’s dinner until now. I had to gather my thoughts about the wines and dig up my notes from the last time I indulged in Opus One, shortly after Marke proposed to Jenny last year, and we opened that 1999 magnum.

I had the pleasure of sampling that wine again last week, when Opus One winemaker Michael Silacci, fresh off a flight from Paris, presented it as a surprise addition in a flight of vintages that included the 2004, 2001, 1997 and later, at the whim of San Francisco Four Seasons GM Doug Housley, the 1990.

I know, it was a good night.

Here are my standouts:

2001: What a prime example of that prized year for Cabernet Sauvignon, which yielded tiny berries of unparalleled concentration. Think of it as a spiced — and spiked — blackberry pie that is layered with pepper, Madagascar vanilla and cacao nibs. Satin love, especially with the Seasons’ Veal T-Bone and violet mustard. Composition: 87% Cab, 6% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec.

1999: If the 2001 is satin, this wine is silk. A late summer resulted in an extra dimension of maturity for these grapes, and this is what we find in the glass: creamy tannins carrying cassis and black plums that glide down the throat with a finish that goes on and on. If the nose on the 2001 is pepper, this wine has intense aromas of vanilla and violets. The Merlot really shines through. Composition: 84% Cab, 7 % Merlot, 5% Cab Franc, 3% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot.

1990: Soft and pure (no Malbec or Petit Verdot here) with creamy silk, this wine had a gathered quality about it. It’s nose was of faint, crushed flowers and its flavors of subtle peppers. It was altogether something special and proof that the best of California can most certainly age alongside its buddies across the Atlantic. A treat to taste, I bet it will be even better in 3-5 years. Composition: 87% Cabernet, 10% Cab Franc, 3% Merlot.

Posted on Tuesday, December 11th, 2007
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Small world department: Linden Street Brewing

The Bay Area really is a small world. Oakland’s new brewpub, Linden Street Brewing, 95 Linden St., a few blocks from Jack London Square, opened for business this summer. John Wonder, the brewer-co-owner of Wunder Brewing, San Francisco’s newest brewpub, (see previous post), said the old San Francisco brewery, Wunder Brewing, breathed its last in Oakland in the 1930s.

Where? Why on Linden Street, naturally, although in the 2900 block.

About Linden Street. I finally got a chance to taste brewre Adam Lamoreaux’s first beer: Urban Lager, a malty, hoppy lager brewed at warm temperatures like an ale. Just excellent. I give it THREE STARS.

Faded golden color, with a chill haze. Mild malty nose, full mouth feel and a quite deent dry, hoppy follow. Linden Brewery, by the way, has an open house/happy hour every Friday afternoon, beginning at 4 p.m. and running until after dark. Be there. Have you visited? Let us know. Post something here.

Posted on Monday, December 10th, 2007
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Wunder Brewing: A new brewpub in an old location in San Francisco

The new brewpub is Wunder Brewing Co., 1326 9th Avenue, in San Francisco, which is in the building two blocks from Golden Gate Park formerly occupied by Eldo Brewing and before that by Golden Gate Brewing, a very fancy attempt that lasted about seven months.

Wunder BrewingThis one’s a partnership of four friends, the brewer John Wonder, a native of San Francisco’s Sunset District and a graduate of the UC Davis with a degree in fermentation science. Also Carl Durham, an attorney; Augustus Vastardis, who Wonder describes as a San Francisco State survivor and Alex Frantz, former executive chef of Ruth’s Steakhouse.

Wonder says they registered the long dormant name of Wunder Brewing, a historic name in San Francisco. The brewery was founded in 1896 and merged not long after the San Francisco Earthquake with Union Brewing & Malting. That company survived the Great Depression and Prohibition by making sodas from a plant at 2119 Linden St. in Oakland.

The company folded sometime in the 1930s, Wonder said.

He adds that the four founders – all native San Franciscans – are well aware that the one problem with the location is there is literally no parking.

“Actually,” Wonder says, “there’s parking two blocks away in Golden Gate Park, but moste people from outside San Francisco don’t know that or won’t walk that far.”

Anyway, their angle, he says, is to make it strictly a local place, a pub where people in the neighborhood can make their own. Personally, I love that idea. Neighborhoods are one of the many charms of San Francisco. I know Dave McLean, brewer-propietor of Magnolia, 1398 Haight St., says he gets a lot of his business from local residents. Even the Toronado, 547 Haight St., which draws customers literally from around the world, also gets a large number of neighborhood customers.

Wonder really knows brewing; after graduation he worked at a brewpub in Southern California, worked at the late-lamented Tidehouse Brewery in Alameda, built a brewpub called Sharktooth in Maui, then built another Sharktooth for the same company in Destin, FL. After that we worked for several wineries, then as a brewer at San Francisco Brewing.

Wonder has a wide range of lagers and ales on tap, the standard stouts, porters, an IPA. But he also has a California Common beer, a lager brewed at warm temperatures in the Anchor Steam tradition and a pale beer spiced with habanero chilis.

I intend to visit this week; if you’ve already visited Wonder Brewing, post what you found here.

Posted on Monday, December 10th, 2007
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Bargain Bordeaux

Wine Groupies, my wine club, met at my place last night. Our theme: Bargain Bordeaux.

I don’t want to give away too much because I have a column forthcoming on the subject. But I will tell you that the winning wine out of a blind tasting of seven was a 2003 Chateau Faure-Beausejour.  My friend and co-worker Shirley and her boyfriend Wouter picked it up for $12 at Arlequin Wine Merchant in SF, where they are wine club members.

I doubt it’s something you’d find on the shelf, though. Scoring a bottle like this  gorgeous red from a tiny estate in the heart of Fronsac — a century ago, these wines were more coveted than neighboring Pomerol and St-Emilion’s — is a perk of belonging to such a club.

It was the cheapest of the seven bottles and the vintage was right in the middle. We had a 2000 and a 2006. The point of the tasting was to get the group’s largely New World perspective (a few of us drink Old World wines regularly) up to speed. More on that later.

What I can tell you is that I made several appetizers using a wedge of Point Reyes Original Blue Cheese — and they were quite a hit! I stuffed the cheese in dried figs from Trader Joe’s and wrapped it with their equally yummy and affordable prosciutto. I also spread it on toasted baguettes and topped them with thin slices of roast beef and an olive-red pepper and thyme tapenade. The latter came from a lovely little cookbook centered around the cheese. I’ve got all the info and recipes at home so will post tomorrow.

Posted on Monday, December 10th, 2007
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Christmas beers being tasted today at Pacific Coast in Oakland

Pacific Coast Brewing

Pacific Coast Brewing, 906 Washington St., Oakland, CA.

The 19th annual Christmas Beer Tasting this afternoon at Pacific Coast Brewing in Oakland, CA. is sold out. It’s a great deal and a fun time. But for those of us who can’t make it, here’s the official list what’s being tasted today from brewmaster Don Gortemiller:


Anchor Christmas Ale 2007: Spiced brown ale from the world famous Anchor Brewing Co. of San Francisco. Anchor may be credited with inventing the bottled spiced Holiday Ale

Winter Warmer (English Strong Ale)

Paul’s Leg Warmer: Paul’s entry in this years Holiday Tasting, is brewed in the English Winter Warmer Style. This 7.9% ABV Brown Ale is brewed using several special caramelized malts and some vintage Perle (2005) hops. Unusual amongst our beers, this ale was fermented in French Oak. Strong, malty and warming with great drinkability.

Avery Old Jubilation: Avery Brewing’s winter strong ale has a gorgeous mahogany hue, a hint of hazelnuts, and a finish reminiscent of mocha and toffee. No spices, just a perfect blend of five specialty malts. Cellarable for 2 years.

Pacific Coast  Blue  Whale

Strong Winter Warmer (English Strong Ale)

He’brew Monumental Jewbelation 2006: This giant of a beer is 10% ABV, brewed with 10 grains and 10 different hops. Strong, smooth and complex. Aged in 2 different bourbon barrels , the Parabola is am Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Think dark roasted malts, coffee, chocolate and lots of hops. 13% ABV!

Drake’s Jolly Roger 2007: Brewed as a English Old Ale, 10% ABV, this beer has the strength of a barleywine with the flavor accentuating the malt! Strong, warming and extremely malty!

IPA / Double IPA / Experimental IPA

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale (2007): The long, cold nights of winter are a little brighter with Celebration Ale. Wonderfully robust and rich, Celebration Ale is dry-hopped for a lively, intense aroma. Brewed especially for the holidays, it is perfect for a festive gathering or for a quiet evening at home. Dry-hopped with cascade, centennial and chinook hops. 6.8% ABV

Mendocino Imperial IPA: This Limited Edition Imperial IPA has been delicately crafted for those crisp cool days when the skies are resplendent and the air glistens with the slow fall of a million flakes, when nature gets ready to turn her thermostat way down and your desire for something warm and enthusing is almost a primal urge. Mendocino’s robust, full bodied IPA is brewed with massive amounts of hops and paired with a rich blend of luscious malts. The result is a perfect balance of heady hop flavor and aroma. At 7.5% Alc. By Vol. this India Pale Ale is the perfect winter seasonal!

Lagunitas Hop Stupid: The guys at Lagunitas have not been sitting around doing nothing, they decided to see what would happen if you brewed a beer using only pale malt and hop extracts! They tell me is kind of like a double IPA with 9000 IBU. You may find your teeth will never need whitening again! 8.3% ABV

Belgian (Style)

Pacific Coast # 19 Anniversary / Holiday Abbey Style Ale: To celebrate out 19 Anniversary and the Holiday season, we bring you a brownish Abbey style ale. At 9.1% ABV, this beer is deceptively strong. Think of the Triple Whale Ale with some dried fruit and dark malt character.

Gulden Carolus Noel: For the Christmas and New Year festivities the Gouden Carolus range is now extended to include this seriously heavy strong brown ale. 10.5% ABV


Firestone Wallker Parabola Imperial Chocolate Stout: Aged in 2 different bourbon barrels , the Parabola is am Imperial Oatmeal Stout. Think dark roasted malts, coffee, chocolate and lots of hops. 13% ABV!

North Coast Old Stock Ale 2005: It’s brewed with classic floor-malted Maris Otter Pale Malt and Fuggles Hops imported from England, so it’s a beer to be served proudly. Like a fine wine, North Coast’s Old Stock Ale is intended to be laid down. With an original gravity of over 1100 and a generous hopping rate, Old Stock Ale is well-designed to round-out and mellow with age. For maximum enjoyment do not serve this beer cold. To fully appreciate the complex flavors we recommend serving Old Stock Ale at room temperature. 11.4% ABV!

Samichlaus Bier 2006: “Samichlaus” beer is brewed once a year, in each case on December 6th, and stored and matured afterwards for over 10 months before it is bottled. “Samichlaus” beer can mature for many years in the bottle; older vintages obtain a complexity and receive their creamy warm aftertaste. This beer can be served with heavy meals and desserts, particularly with chocolate – or as digestive and meditations drink. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is the strongest lager beer in the world with 14 % alcohol and 32° original extract content. It is brewed exclusively of natural raw ingredients after the purity requirement of 1516.

Don also was able to find the beers they tasted at the 1991 Holiday Tasting.

A Tasting of Holiday Beers 1991













Posted on Saturday, December 8th, 2007
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Huge crowd at Trappist Beer Café grand opening in Oakland

Trappist Beer Cafe openingIt took owners Charles Stilphen and Aaron Porter more months than they planned, but if the opening tonight, Friday, Dec. 7, 2007, is indicative – the future looks bright for the Trappist Beer Café & Specialty Beer Bar, 460 8th St. in downtown Oakland.

The place is long and narrow and it was so crowded that Chuck and Aaron had to post a friend at the front door, who only let people in as others left. And no one looked like they wanted to leave. There was a line of a dozen to two dozen people when we arrived about 5 p.m., an hour after the doors opened and still about that many when we left two hours later.

One of those waiting was Paul Marshal, an ace homebrewer who organizes the judges for the Bistro’s beer festivals. But he was smiling. This is something worth the wait, he said. I agree.

They’ve done a great job. The place looks authentically Belgian (down to the fact that everyone’s speaking English just like in Brussels). There are thick, leather-bound beer menus lists of their impressive stock. There are racks of glasses over the mirror behind the bar, a rack for each beer’s glasses. There’s a modern, Belgian running water sink to wash glasses.

They even had a wheel of Belgian cheese, but serving it last night was impossible, the place was too crowded: people crowding the bar, trying different beers. As I waited to order, two guys next to me were enthusiastically working their way through all the doubles in stock. Probably they’re still there, but most likely no longer standing.

Trappist Beer Cafe AmandaI ordered a glass of Gouden Carolus***1/2, the 9 percent tripel from the family-owned Het Anker brewery in Mechelen, Belgium. It game in its own, tulip-shaped glass. It’s dark with a slightly sour nose, taste is initially sweet, but a slight sour note balances it nicely. Finish is tart.

I got my daughter a glass of Linden Street Brewing’s Urban People’s Common***: a malty lager, brewed at warm temperatures like Anchor Steam. Brewer Adam Lamoreaux has opened Linden Street Brewing in a 19th century warehouse at 95 Linden St,, eight blocks west of Jack London Square in Oakland and the Trappist Café is carrying the beer.

Next, I ordered a glass of Aged Petrus Pale Ale*** from Bavik, in Belgium. It’s a blend of three year old beer aged in wood and young beer, which produces a mouth-puckering sourness. Spendid stuff.

Trappist Belgian & Specialty Beer Bar, 460 8th St., Oakland Regular hours will be 4 p.m.-midnight Wednesdays-Thursdays; 4 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 1 p.m.-11 p.m. Sundays.

Go to their Web site — — for a list of beers they have on tap

Have you tried this place? What do you think? Know of any other cafes like it? Post a comment here and join the conversation.

Posted on Saturday, December 8th, 2007
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Edmunds St. John; Dashe makes “Top 100″

Finally looking over my notes from last weekend’s tasting at Harrington. I wrote about those wines earlier this week, but neglected to mention three lovely wines from Edmunds St. John that I tasted.

Edmunds St. John is the like the mother winery of the East Bay Vintners. They’re one of the pioneers and no doubt churn out some great juice. Here’s a rundown of what stood out to me. Visit them at

2006 Bone-Jolly Rose: Gamay rose! It’s about time in these parts (outside of Placerville, to be exact). It’s a dark pink, snappy wine with bright red fruits in the nose and a wild, kick of pepper on the palate. Just my kind of rose; reminiscent of those made in the Languedoc. $16; 340 cases.

2005 Rocks and Gravel: This red blend comes from no less than nine vineyards. It’s a spicy combination of Grenache and Syrah with beautiful satiny tannins and dark red fruits. The finish goes on a lot longer than most tight 2005s you taste, especially with such low alcohol. (14.2%). It’s an open wine. Impressive. $18; 1,340 cases.

Speaking of East Bay Vintners, quick note about Dashe Cellars: Wine & Spirits magazine recently named the Oakland winery one of the top 100 in world, and among the top 27 in California. The magazine’s competition is based on a tasting of 9,100 wines. Congrats Mike and Anne!

Posted on Friday, December 7th, 2007
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Wine bar closes; another disappoints

Some of you have noticed the post on Yelp that Vino Venue, San Francisco’s first progressive wine bar and the one that fueled the proliferation of wine bars in the past three years, has closed. It’s true. I confirmed with the owner, Mary Lynn Slattery, yesterday. She and her partner split and got a good offer, selling to Napa-based Brunton Vineyards.

According to, Brunton Vineyards intends to expand VinoVenue in the U.S. market to 90 locations within 66 targeted cities and has put the funding in place to execute the expansion plan fully. It should take a good two years.

In other news, I went to London Wine Bar on Sansome last night. Don’t bother. I’d heard it was a dive and was intrigued, but the list is short and shoddy — Salmon Creek — and I had two wines, an Oregon Riesling and an Australian Shiraz, that I should’ve sent back. The nose on both wines was off. My guess is they were oxidized or stored in hot conditions.

Furthermore, the menu was surprisingly slim and simple — think lunch-time fare — for a San Francisco establishment that dares to use the words ‘wine bar’ in its name. I had a chicken sandwich and my companion had a Philly cheese steak. Both were good, don’t get us wrong. But, overall, my San Francisco wine bar standards have been set much too high for a dive that closes at 9 p.m. That’s what the Creek is for.

Posted on Thursday, December 6th, 2007
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