Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for January, 2008

Brogan Cellars “My Father’s Vineyard”

Brogan Cellars Pinot Noir

I was in Healdsburg earlier this month and tried to track down Margaret Wierenga and her small production Pinot Noirs, but to no avail. I thought her 1,500 cases went to mail-only customers, so when I spotted her My Father’s Vineyard bottling from the Anderson Valley on the wine list of One Market Restaurant on Jan. 28, you can bet I convinced my party to order it.

We were all blown away. The wine was gorgeous: pomegranate with hints of cardamom. Robust yet elegant. A great example of fruit-forward California Pinot Noir that wasn’t on steroids and will age beautifully for at least a decade. Margaret only made 150 cases of this wine, so it’s a feat that One Market scored some. We ordered two wines that night (also the Burgundian-style beauty of AP Vin). One was $85 and the other was around $100. Sorry I can’t remember which was which, but both of worth it.

Posted on Thursday, January 31st, 2008
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Women and beer and men and lingerie: A female perspective

Meilissa ColeI’ve written about Melissa Cole, the English journalist whose blog: Taking the Beard out of Beer
constantly intriigues and amuses me, has a dynamite post about the mystery of beer from a woman’s standpoint.

She compares the experience of a woman trying to order a beer at a pub with a guy buying lingerie for his wife or girl friend. “Would you rather have a beer or an ale?” “And what is her cup size and back size”.
Wow. Talk about perspective. Read it here.

Photo: Melissa Cole

Posted on Thursday, January 31st, 2008
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Russian River will begin bottling Pliny the Elder, Blind Pig IPA

OK Pliny the Elder fans, the big moment is at hand. Russian River Brewing Co. says on their Web site that when their new brewery at 1812 Ferdinand Court in Santa Rosa, CA. opens next month, they’re gonna’ bottle Pliny. Here’s the news direct from Russian River:

Pliny the Elder label“We hope to start brewing at our new facility in early March. Aside from making more draft Pliny the Elder and Blind Pig available, we plan to start bottling both of these beers.

“Additionally, we will keg and bottle more Damnation and plan to make Salvation a year round beer. What about the barrel beers you ask, well, our barrel room will house more than 400 wine barrels. But, keep in mind, it takes over a year to make one of our barrel beers, so, it won’t be until late 2009 that you’ll see the first release from the new barrels.

“Eventually, we will open a small tasting room at the new facility, but, for now you can still catch all of our beers at our brewpub which is just a couple of miles from the new production brewery.”

But wait there’s more. The Web site item, written, I’m sure by Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner of Russian River, with her husband-brewer Vinnie, adds that Pliny the Younger is rolling out this week. This is a triple IPA, 11 percent ABV, and _ as Vinnie puts it: “Gobs of IBUs.” (Pliny the Elder’s 8 percent, 100 IBU. For reference, Bud, the last time I checked, was 13 IBU and water’s 12 IBU — No it isn’t, just kidding.)

Pliny the Younger labelIt is on tap this week at the brewpub, 729 4th St. in Santa Rosa and goes out to Northern California pubs today (Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008) as well and to Russian River’s distributor in Southern California Feb. 6.

Check out photos of the new brewery under construction here. I wrote about the brewery late last year. You can find that article here.

I also posted a backgrounder on Pliny the Elder just below this post. Rock on Senor Pliny.

Posted on Thursday, January 31st, 2008
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Backgrounder on Pliny the Elder

This is a column I wrote about Pliny the Elder that was published in the
Oakland Tribune/Contra Costa Times/MediaNews Group newspapers on April 25, 2007. Photo note: The glass of beer’s an illustration, not a glass of Pliny, although Pliny is a similar color.


Walk a mile for a pint of uberbeer the Elder

glass-with-beer-and-foam-co.jpgOUR BEER OF THE WEEK is a real champ. It’s Russian River Brewing’s , one of the beers that gave birth to the first all-American beer style in maybe 100 years. No lie.

I’m talking about double India pale ales or DIPAs – super strong, uber-hoppy and quite delicious: Pliny’s 8 percent alcohol by volume, 100 International Bitterness Units. For comparison, consider bland old Bud: 13 IBU.

Pliny’s a beer worth walking a mile to sample. And if you’re like me and most of us, you will indeed have to walk a mile or miles to find it. Pliny isn’t bottled. It’s strictly a pub beer, and all over the Bay Area, and for that matter at good pubs in far away places like Philadelphia, the arrival of a barrel of Pliny’s an event to celebrate.

Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa is tiny by brewery standards, and the co-owner, head brewer Vinnie Cilurzo, the creative genius behind Pliny, turns out a lot of beer. But Pliny has to wait its turn.

And when it arrives, it goes fast. No wonder. It’s a pleasant sipping beer. Wild, hoppy nose. But the initial taste is fruit-filled and mildly sweet, round and full with an explosive hoppy dryness balancing the rich, almost silky malt taste in a harmonious balance that fades into a long follow.

Vinnie explains that the malts are two-row ple barley, Carapils and Crystal, two treated malts that add a richness, color and full-mouth feel. Hops include mild Warrior, spicy Tomahawks, Centennial andSimcoe. There’s a second dry-hopping after fermentation with a piney, spicy, marmalade package of Centennial and Simcoe.

This beer is so drinkable that one has to remember it’s an 8 percenter, strong enough to be head-knocking after a pint or so. But what a pleasant pint. If your favorite pub doesn’t stock it, demand it or switch pubs. It’s that good.

Since Cilurzo first created it in 2004, it’s won gold medals at the professionally judged Great American Beer Festival in Denver, at the pioneering Double IPA Festival at our own Bistro in Hayward and everywhere else.

About the name: It’s named for Pliny the Elder, born Gaius Plinius Secundus, a Roman scholar and historian who wrote Natural History, credited as the first encyclopedia. It included a book on wine and beer and famous drinkers.

About Russian River and Vinnie Cilurzo: He grew up in Temecula in Southern California in a winemaking family, but he loved beer. His wife-to-be, Natalie, recalls on their first date, on his 20th birthday in 1990, he gave her $100 and told her to buy him beer. She was just 21.

Then, she said, he gave her this weird list of beers with names like Pete’s Wicked Ale. She bought the beer and later she married him.

They started a brewery, Blind Pig, in Temecula and sold it to start a brewery at Korbel on the Russian River. They opened their own brewpub in 2004. Natalie handles the business, Vinnie brews.

But wait. There’s more. There’s Pliny the Younger (****), named after a Roman relative of Pliny the Elder. It’s also helping create a new style: Triple IPA. More on Junior at a later date. If you can’t find a pub with Pliny the Elder, e-mail me at

Posted on Thursday, January 31st, 2008
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Email: Deschutes Abyss on tap at the Toronado in San Francisco tonight

Hi William, I just read, with great interest, today’s “What’s on Tap.” (On the edge, Abyss has a whiskey, licorice punch) You mention that a bottle of The Abyss goes for about $10, but I was unable to find WHERE I might be able to buy it. Admittedly, after reading the first few paragraphs, I immediately went to google it (without much luck), but even going back I can’t seem to find a mention of any source. Can you help me out?

Thanks, LT

Deschutes Abyss closeupDon’t know how dedicated you are, but the Toronado, 547 Haight St. in San Francisco is tapping a keg of Abyss tonight (Wednesday, Jan. 30) at 6 p.m. If you’re not familiar with the Toronado, it’s easily one of the top five or 10 beer bars in the U.S.

You might also ring the Bistro, 1001 B. St. in Hayward. There’s a chance the proprietor Victor Kralj, has it on tap. Bistro’s another great place. 510-886-8525.

My advice about finding a bottle of Abyss. Look real hard right now; it goes like smoke from an open fire. Whoosh. It’s gone. Hi Lucas. Depends on where you live. I know that City Beer in San Francisco has it. So does Leder’s Liquors in Berkeley; Monument Wine & Spirits in Concord and Jackson’s in Lafayette were scheduled to get it.


Bill, Ended up going to the Toronado for the first time last Saturday with my wife, great advice. This was easily the best pub I have ever walked into and happily sipped. (Thank you taxi service…) Quick question- my understanding is that “West Coast IPA” (in general) means a more heavily hopped American IPA. Is this correct? Had Arrogant Bastard as the extreme example at Buffalo Bills- wow, pucker up. I do prefer a few of the Lagunitas flavors and love anything tried from Bear Republic. Also, I have seen “San Diego-style IPA” as a descriptor a few times. Any difference? Curious because have never really seen “Bay Area IPA” as a classification. Still learning…

Lots of great postings on your blog lately and starting to check daily- always appreciate the most updated info!

Bear Republic Racer 5Hi Bd...just unearthed your e-mail from under a pile of stuff in my in box. The whole IPA thing is evolving rather rapidly. The first modern India Pale Ale was Liberty Ale from Anchor Brewing, San Francisco, released in 1976. Over the last 10 or 15 years, there were three craft brewers on the West Coast especially known for hoppy ales, Rogue, in Newport, OR, Anderson Valley in Boonville, CA and Bear Republic in Healdsburg (Ca.). No doubt there are craft breweries in the Seattle area that I’m missing, but Seattle’s a blank spot for me and their beers rarely reach us.

Over the last few years almost every brewer in California and lots in Oregon and Washington have been making hoppy beers. Brewers like Lagunitas in Petaluma, to name just one. Then the whole thing began to escalate as brewers learned to use aromatic, rather than bittering hops all the way through and to especially add hops late in the boiling process and to savagely dry hop — add hops in the fermenter.

The San Diego brewries, especially Green Flash are right on top of the curve, along with a bunch of Northern California brewers. In the Midwest there’s Three Floyds (Musnter, IND.) and in Milton, Del. Dogfish Head. But the idea of imperial IPAs, higher alcohol, higher hop flavors had caught on nationally. There’s really no one place that can claim dominance.

While the West Coast may have led the way, these days, it’s a national phenomenon. And I dearly love it. wb

Posted on Wednesday, January 30th, 2008
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Coast Range/Farmhouse Brewing in Gilroy may be sold soon

Do you believe in life after death? Not to use a serious religious term in a beer business matter, but Coast Range/Farmhouse Brewing in Gilroy, south of San Jose, CA. may be sold soon.
The brewery, founded in 1995 in an old tomato cannery in Gilroy, population 48,000, 25 miles south of San Jose, has had a rough ride.

Farmhouse Saison 7Coast Range partner Craig Kennedy said an individual in Southern California is interested in the Farmhouse brand name and in buying the brewery. “There’s no paperwork signed; I’m sitting here on my couch with my computer trying to put something together,” Kennedy said.

I have no idea who that might be, but the brewery has long made Strawberry Blonde under contract to Belmont Brewing, Long Beach.

The Coast Range brewery, whose principle owner is real estate developer Ron Erskine, hasn’t made a beer since October. The company filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in December, listing a long line of creditors with the Internal Revenue Service and the California Franchise Tax Board at the head of the queue.

The brewery, with Erskine as principal partner and brewer Peter Licht as a part-owner, started out as Desperado, but sold the brand name to Fischer Breweries of Strasbourg, France. Fischer went bananas with the brand in the U.S. and it flopped.

Meanwhile Coast Range _ with Peter Licht doing the brewing _ trudged on.

Almost three years ago they reinvented themselves as Farmhouse and brought out a line of Farmhouse brand beers, mostly bigger, bolder, more adventurous. Tell you the truth, I loved the beer and the labels are stunning.

Here’s what I wrote about the beer in 2006:

“My favorite is a delicious peppery Saison 7 Belgian-Style Ale that pays homage to Dupont, the famous Belgian saison-brewer.

“Also in the lineup are Oast House IPA, named for the drying houses once prominent in hop fields. It’s made with fresh Cascade and Centennial hops, a dry-hopped number with a delicious silky maltiness. Stone Fence Porter has a huge roast malt aroma with notes of chocolate. Next in the line is a Kolsch-style ale that will be released initially in kegs.”

Meanwhile Peter Licht and Jeff Moses, formerly the marketing manager for Coast Range, who moved to California after working for years as a producer for ABC’s Good Morning America, for CBS Late Night and Life Styles of the Rich and Famous, are looking for a place and an investor for a brewery somewhere in the South Bay.

St. Stan’s logoMeanwhile Peter Licht and Jeff Moses, formerly the marketing manager for Coast Range, who moved to California after working for years as a producer for ABC’s Good Morning America, for CBS Late Night and Life Styles of the Rich and Famous, are looking for a place and an investor for a brewery somewhere in the South Bay.

Right now, Peter’s working at St. Stan’s Pub & Brewery in Modesto, helping the brewer there modernize the St. Stan’s line. If you’re headed that way, check out St. Stan’s. It’s become a sports bar with a brewery, not a bad combination, when you think about it.

Posted on Tuesday, January 29th, 2008
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iBeer: A must-have for the beer-drinking iPhone owner.

Got your iBeer? OK, this one’s outrageously funny and stupid. If you have an iPhone, you can download it from for $2.99 It’s a video, but it looks like your iPhone is filling up with beer. The trick is to time it so when you tip the phone up to your lips, you’re drinking it. Check out this video:

There are many others including iBlood for Haloween or goths; ipopcorn, which looks like you’re popping popcorn on your iPhone; igoldfish, which looks like a real goldfish swimming around; igefeltifish for the kosher around us.

Posted on Monday, January 28th, 2008
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Gordon Biersch may brew private label hefeweizen for Costco

BrewBlog, which is produced by an advertising agency in Milwaukee for Miller Brewing reports that the giant Costco wholesale chain has received U.S. Treasury Department Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau label approval for threCostco Hefeweizen labele Kirland label craft beers: an amber ale, a hefeweizen and a pale ale to be made by Gordon Biersch, San Jose

This would e a huge deal for Gordon Biersch. Costco, which is headquartered in Issaquah, WA, has 539 stores around the world. Being commissioned to supply even a percentage of those stores would be a boon.

As proof, BrewBlog cites this label application for Costco Hefeweizen.

I just talked to Dan Gordon at Gordon Biersch. He said that although the label may be approved, no deal with Costco has been signed. Gordon Biersch already makes a string of private label craft beers for Trader Joe’s, the big California chain. Also, until recently, Gordon Biesch supplied its famous garlic fries in frozen boxes for Costco.

That deal ended, Dan Gordon said, because they lost a large supplier, signed on with a moderate-sized supplier, which couldn’t keep up with the demand.

Today, the only way to get those very excellent fries is at AT&T Park in San Francisco and the Colisum in Oakland.

Anyway, what interests me in the Costco deal is that is shows once again how popular craft beer is becoming. The segment may only have 3 percent of the total beer market in the United States, but it’s a healthy, booming segment. In fact, if you add Coors Blue Moon and the beer made by companies partly owned by Anheuser-Busch like Redhook Ale Brewry, the segment’s pushing 4 percent at the very least.

So the Costco deal’s no surprise. This is a company that’s long been on top of trends.

Craft beer, I believe, is far more than a trend: It’s the future of beer in America.

Posted on Monday, January 28th, 2008
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Rosenblum sold for $105 million

The rumors have been confirmed. Rosenblum Cellars, the oldest and largest of the East Bay Vintners, was sold to international beverage consortium Diageo for $105 million today, according to Mike Kohne, Rosenblum’s director of marketing.

The intent is to keep everyone on board and run the Alameda family winery as is, Kohne tells me, adding that winemaker Kent Rosenblum, known worldwide for his vineyard-designate Zinfandel, Syrah and Petit Sirah, is being retained on a five-year contract and is eager to spend more time in the cellar. Rosenblum produced about 200,000 cases last year, with as many as 50 separate bottlings.

“It wasn’t a burning desire to sell,” Rosenblum said, according to a post on Wine Spectator online, “but we have a number of shareholders who are getting up in the years and have expressed an interest in their investments. I think this is a win-win situation for everyone.” Rosenblum, 63, was a veterinarian before starting the winery with his wife Kathy in 1978.

Kohne says the London-based Diageo, which owns Sterling, Beaulieu and Acacia wineries, will help Rosenblum buy new equipment and scout new vineyard sources. Diageo is the big leagues: They were a bidder on Robert Mondavi Winery back in 2004—for which competitor Constellation Brands paid $1.3 billion. That same year, Diageo acquired the Chalone Wine Group instead for $260 million.

The Diageo portfolio lacked a premium Zinfandel producer, hence the interest in Rosenblum. Judging by the record high attendance at ZAP, which wrapped up yet another breakthrough weekend yesterday, this was an incredibly smart move for Diageo. It’ll be interesting to see how the sale effects the landscape of the East Bay Vintners.

Posted on Monday, January 28th, 2008
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Beer of the Week: The European Bud (AKA Czechvar)


Glasses of Budvar Budweiser make a beautiful sight in a cafe in Europe.

Photo: Daniel Zolli.


Make new friends with the original Bud
TALK ABOUT THE WORLD spinning ’round. There was a momentous piece of beer news last year for those of us who like great beer. The original Budweiser — labeled as Czechvar — is coming to the United States and the importer will be (drum roll here, please): Budweiser.

There are two Budweisers in the beer world: The world classic Budvar Budweiser (****) that has been brewed in a town in the Czech Republic for centuries and Anheuser-Busch Budweiser (**), long the world’s best-selling beer, brewed in St. Louis, Mo., since the 19th century. The two companies have been in courts around the world, battling for the right to sell Budweiser. A-B argues that it registered the trademark Budweiser in 1878 before the present Czech company, Budejovicky Budvar, was created. There’s always a local angle isn’t there?

This wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Kip Bruzzone, who owns World of Wine Limited in Lafayette, CA.

He discovered Budvar Budweiser in Prague as an exchange student and fell in love with the beer. During the course of a decade, he made friends with Budvar’s brewers and in 2000 won approval to import the beer here as Czechvar. Four years later, the brewery dumped Kip and signed on with a larger importer: Distinguished Brands International, Littleton, Colo.

Now A-B has aced Distinguished: A-B’s sales are nearly flat, and the company’s been scouring the world for premium imports to build income. The prospect of having its beer distributed nationwide in A-B’s distributor network was irresistible.

Anheuser-Busch has found a European champion this time. This is a ruddy copper beer with a spicy, malty nose from the Saaz hops and the Moravian barley. The taste is mouth-filling, malty, mildly sweet well-balanced by a hoppy dryness. It’s the kind of beer that drove visiting Americans, like Bruzzone, wild and helped ferment the craft-brewing revolution in America.

Try this: Pour yourself a glass of Czechvar and a glass of American Budweiser. Notice the difference in the pour, in the aroma and in the taste. If you like dry and kind of sweet and light, then Budweiser’s the one. If you like a full and hearty taste, you’ll really like Bud … er … Czechvar.

You can find more on the dispute and the history in my blog, Can’t find this beer? E-mail me at or call 510-915-1180 and ask for our 2008 Bay Area Retail Beer Store List.

Posted on Monday, January 28th, 2008
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