Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for February, 2008

Craft beer sales continue to boom, but…

Brewpubs, craft brewers

The 2007 craft beer statistics are out and they’re impressive: sales by “independent” craft brewers rose 12 percent by volume and 16 percent in dollars in 2007, the Brewer’s Association reports.

Great news. It means craft beer continues to grow in popularity, that it’s not a craze or a fad or whatever. The stuff we like to call good beer is here to stay. But there are a couple of caveats.

One. Craft beer share. Just 3.8 percent of all beer sold in America is what the association defines as craft beer. So 94.2 percent of beer sold is what? Lager swill?

Not exactly, the association has it’s own definition of craft beer. They rule out Redhook, Widmer, among others, because they’re partly owned by a big brewer (Anheuser-Busch). They also don’t count Coors Blue Moon, because well, Coors is a mega-brewer.

But if the criteria is taste, rather than who makes it – the picture looks a lot brighter. And the percentage sold of “beer with real taste” jumps a couple of points. Don’t have production figures yet, so it’s just a guess.

The trouble with the association’s figures is they partially hide a real shift in American beer-drinking taste away from lager swill, toward beers with more flavor. It gets more complicated, but when you add quality imports the percentage of Americans drinking full-flavored beer grows a bit more.

It’s tedious to sort out the imports, but important. There’s little difference between Euro-lagers like Heineken and Mexican beers like Corona and your basic America lagers.

Two. This is probably the most important trend. Light beer sales continue to rise and now have about half the total market. At the same time sales of what the mega-brewers call “full calorie” beer, are falling rapidly.

Food for thought, huh? What do you think? Opinions anyone? Personally, I can’t fathom why anyone would drink light beer.

Posted on Friday, February 29th, 2008
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Dogfish Head beers headed to California

At last! Sam Calagione just e-mailed me with the news that Dogfish Head beers are headed to California. They’ve lined up distributors and the first shipment’s on its way –hopefully to a store near me (and you.). Here’s his note:

“Hello William – we are finally getting our beer to California – we are starting with three styles in April, 90 Minute imperial IPA, Midas Touch, and our newest beer – Palo Santo Marron. All three are available in 4 packs and limited draft.

Posted on Friday, February 29th, 2008
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Don Barkley, Mendocino Brewing founder, opening a new craft brewery in Napa

There’s a new craft brewing coming soon. It’s Napa Smith Winery & Brewery, in Napa. It’s a deal between a Napa wine-making family and Don Barkley, one of the founders of Mendocino Brewing.

Don retired from Mendocino last November. But he’s not retired from brewing, he says. They intend to unveil their first beer at the Napa Valley Mustard Festival at the end of March.

Who is Don Barkley? He was the first (and nearly the only) employee at New Albion Brewing, America’s first craft brewery, which opened in Sonoma in 1976 and folded in 1983. Among other things at Mendocino, the recipe that became Red Tail Ale is Don’s. Not a bad contribution to our craft brewing world.

Posted on Thursday, February 28th, 2008
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CSPI says it will sue Anheuser-Busch, Miller over contents of “energy” drinks

The Center for Science in the Public Interest said today its lawyers are suing Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing because its “energy” drinks contain additives such as caffeine, taurine and ginseng _ substances not approved for use in alcoholic drinks.

No comment yet from either A-B or Miller. I’ve never even tasted these “alcopops” and don’t intend to., But here’s the essential part of the news release from CSPI:

Drinks such as Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Extra and Tilt, and Miller’s Sparks, have more alcohol than beer and contain stimulant additives that are not officially approved for use in alcoholic drinks, including caffeine, taurine, ginseng, or guarana.

No studies are available to support the safety of consuming those stimulants and alcohol together—but new research does indicate that the young consumers of what CSPI calls “alcospeed” are more likely to binge drink, become injured, ride with an intoxicated driver, or be taken advantage of sexually than drinkers of conventional alcoholic drinks. And the viral marketing campaigns behind the drinks are clearly designed to appeal to young, and often underage, drinkers, according to CSPI.Miller Sparks

CSPI will seek a permanent injunction prohibiting the companies from combining stimulants with alcohol and disgorgement of the companies’ profits from Bud Extra, Tilt, and Sparks into a charitable fund.

“This is just the latest and one of the more sinister attempts by alcohol producers to prey on a new generation of future problem drinkers,” said George A. Hacker, director of CSPI’s alcohol policies project. “This is an industry that wants its consumers young and it wants them hooked. And alcospeed contains two addictive ingredients in one sunny container, and several other stimulants that are not even approved for use.”

“The companies are also being investigated by 16 state attorneys general, who recently subpoenaed internal company documents pertaining to the products’ sales and marketing. Last August, a task force of 30 state attorneys general warned the companies that “adding caffeine and other stimulants to alcohol may increase the risk to young consumers because those additives tend to reduce the perception of intoxication and make greater quantities of alcohol palatable.”

A previous probe, along with criticism from CSPI and other health groups, prompted Anheuser-Busch to remove a similar product, Spykes, from the marketplace. Spykes came packaged in fingernail-polish sized bottles with alcohol concentration of 12 percent and with the stimulants caffeine, ginseng, and guarana.

“Short of decorating these cans with Hannah Montana or Spiderman, it’s hard to see how you could do a better job of marketing alcospeed to young people than Anheuser-Busch and Miller are doing,” said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. “The cans are virtually indistinguishable from several non-alcoholic energy drinks that are heavily marketed to young people. They have a sugary taste, and colors that make it look more like Mountain Dew or Orange Crush than regular beer. It’s a recipe for disaster and the companies should be held accountable.”

Posted on Thursday, February 28th, 2008
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Beer vs. Wine: An English writer’s view…

Pete Brown, an English writer, has a most interesting blog. This morning, he writes about that eternal argument: beer vs. wine. Can beer ever stand equally with wine? One factoid, I didn’t know: That there was a time in England and I guess the civilized world that “Burton” the pale ale first made in Burton on Trent in, I believe, the 18th century, was as popular as wine. The successor to Burton, I’m told is Worthington White Shield, which these days is made by Coors, which has kept standards high. This is all true and only tangentially related to Pete Brown’s post. Read on and tell us what you think. Post a comment.

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

Pacific Coast Holiday Beer Tasting Dec. 17One of the strengths of beer is its unpretentiousness, its accessibility. I don’t agree that beer can only ever be a ‘working class’ beverage – Burton pale ale was the most fashionhable thing you could drink for twenty years or so in Victorian society – but I do think that beer is different from wine, and I occasionally get frustrated with people who want to turn beer into ‘the new wine’.

We all know beer can be more complex, can go better with food etc, but when people start trying to talk about beer as if it was wine, they have a tendency to make it elitist. And when people want wine to totally replace beer, drawing battle lines between grape and grain, I lose patience. Anybody who appreciates the subtleties of flavour in a great craft beer and says they ‘don’t like’ wine is either delusional or a liar, and just as bad as those ignorant people who say they ‘don’t like beer’ after drinking one warm can of Bud when they were nineteen.

Elitism is part of wine’s character, so it’s going to be much easier to build in snobbery, mystique, and a sense of specialness. The frustrating part of this is that people can order a bottle of cheap, industrially produced pinot grigio, drink it super-chilled, and while they’re drinking the wine equivalent of Carling Extra Cold, believe they’re actally superior to someone drinking, say, cask ale.

Beer would lose a lot of its soul if it simply aped the culture and mystique around wine.

So I’m not sure. I’d love to see ‘fine beers’ more commonly on the shelves, but can we have that and keep beer as the democratic, sociable drink it has been for five thousand years? Can beer successfully challenge wine at the top level – I’m talking about popular perception, not just among aficionados – without becoming arsey and pretentious? I hope so, but I’m not sure… READ THE WHOLE POST….

Posted on Thursday, February 28th, 2008
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The habit of collecting beer glasses

Kiss Me I:m Irish glassAre you into beer glasses. I am; I have shelves of glasses, mostly glasses and sets of glasses with beer logos. I have my Chimay glasses, my Westmalle glasses. I even have a Budweiser glass (stolen from a pub) and Diet Coke glass (stolen from a pub in Leuven, in Belgium).

I hate Diet Coke, but my wife, my faithful designated driver, loves it. I was in a fancy beer place in Leuven, ordered a Diet Coke, then asked for ice. The waiter, a haughty type, brought a silver bowl of ice cubes and with tongs dropped a single cube of ice into the glass. Europeans (me too) hate ice in drinks. To make it a total sin, I stole the glass for my wife. Dumped the Diet Coke in the cuspidor. Hee hee.

Until I did a San Francisco pub crawl for KQED, I honestly didn’t have any crystal glasses. The three couples who won the bidding in the auction for the crawl presented me with a special beer glass, handmade by a glassmaker in Southern California. It’s very neat indeed.

That opened my eyes to the emerging world of fine beer glasses. It’s a pricey world, but fascinating. So I started looking around. Then, in a PR handout, I discovered Designs by Lolita. They have a variety of handmade pilsner glasses, each with an intricate design of some sort.

Their latest is a hand-blown glass with a cloverleaf design and a “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” slogan on it. Not cheap, but unusual: $24.99 plus shipping. Hey, I’m not Irish, but I’m thinking about it. Check it out. What do you think? Is that highway robbery? Are there better deals somewhere? Let me know.

Mreanwhile, I’m sitting here sipping “Collaboration, Not Litigation” Ale from a gold-rimmed Chimay glass. The beer’s a blend of Russian River’s Salvation Belgian-Style Ale and Avery Brewing, Boulder, Colorado’s beer of the same name. Excellent. Coming to stores near you soon. Worth buying. Gonna write about it next week.

Posted on Wednesday, February 27th, 2008
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Hagafen poured at Korean inauguration

hagafen cellars

The wines of Napa Valley’s Hagafen Cellars have been poured at the White House 18 times and at Israeli government events.

Two nights ago, for the first time, they were poured at the Blue House, or the Blue Tiled House, which is the translation of Cheong Wa Dae, the executive office and residence of the new president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak.

According to winemaker Ernie Weir, these are the Hagafen wines that were most likely served at the new president’s inauguration:

2006 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
2006 Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley Chardonnay
2005 Estate Bottled Napa Valley Merlot
2001 Estate Bottled Napa Valley Syrah
2003 Estate Bottled Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

It’s just another reminder of the world-class standing of the Napa Valley. Go Ernie!

Posted on Wednesday, February 27th, 2008
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Baldacci 2004 Brenda’s Vineyard

A Cabernet Sauvignon of note from the Stag’s Leap District Winegrowers tasting on Feb. 22 was the Baldacci Family Vineyards 2004 Brenda’s Vineyard. This is the winery’s current release and retails for $85. Did I mention the Baldaccis are from Danville? Pretty cool.

Winemaker Rolando Herrera used to makes wines at Stags Leap Wine Cellars, which is next door, and then for Paul Hobbs Wines. He understands the velvet texture that Stag’s Leap fruit is capable of producing, and doesn’t interfere.

The 2004 Brenda’s Vineyard Cabernet is  dark eggplant in color and quite concentrated with lots of black cherry and coffee flavors. I think the wine, which was aged in new French oak for 20 months, will show its true potential, particularly in the finish, five to 10 years from now.

Posted on Tuesday, February 26th, 2008
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Letters, Emails: Newcastle Brown in cans, a mail-order source for Dogfish

Newcastle Brown Ale in cansHi William, I have been enjoying your column for a while now. Thanks for taking all the time to do this!
I have a question: where can I find Newcastle Nut Brown packaged in a can? I keep hearing more and more about it. I live in Berkeley and have checked all the usual suspects with no luck (Bevmo, Ledgers,etc).
Any direction would be appreciated! Cheers, Jon

Hi Jon. Don’t believe nookie brown’s imported in cans. Haven’t seen it at any rate. The Nut Brown Ale is Samuel Smith, also from the UK and richer and not so dry. It’s only in bottles as far as I know. If you’re interested, here’s a history of this English beer that became a mainstay of the British working man:

In 1890 five Tyneside breweries came together and after the First World War started trading under the blue five point star. Newcastle Brown Ale was launched in 1927 after Jim Porter had spent three years developing this special brew. Almost immediately after its release, Newcastle Brown Ale won the gold medals at the International Brewers’ Exhibition in London in 1928. READ MORE…

Fuller’s now has some beers in cans. No doubt Newcastle’s in cans in the UK, But here I’ve only seen it in clear glass bottles. Frankly, a can would be a lot better package than a clear bottle, which allows too much light in and limits the time the beer stays fresh. wb

I had heard about Newcastle in the can from Jon Plise of They were drinking it during their Northern English Brown show. I sent Jon a note on his source for the cans so if I hear back from him, I’ll send you a followup.

Dogfishhead 90 Minute IPAAlso: On one of your previous posts, folks were asking where to get Dogfish Head. You probably already know about the site . Their shipping is a bit steep (understandably so) but is a great way to try their beer. Jon

Newcastle Brown is in cans in the Bay Area

Hey Jon, just checked the Beverages and More Web site. They have a sixer in cans for $8.99. Web site says there are 5 six packs available. The Bevmo site shows the inventory for the store in Pleasanton, CA. The thing to do is call the BevMo nearest you, ask for the beer. They promise to have it for you in a short time.

Gee. I wonder if it tastes better in cans. Gotta try that. Good luck. b

About the Dogfish Head. Great idea. Just checked the Liquid Solutions Website, a sixer of 90-Minute IPA would cost $18.72 shipped here to Oakland. We’ve got far too many great double IPAs here to bother, but it’s a great idea for hard to find beers. They have quite a selection. Thanks for the tip. And if you haven’t visited, check it out. Lots of content.

Photo, right: A chalice of Dogfishhead 90-Minute IPA.

Posted on Tuesday, February 26th, 2008
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Yorktown, Virginia’s Matt Venzke is Wynkoop’s 2008 Beer Drinker of the Year

Matt Venske Wynkoop Beer Drinker of the Year 2008

Matt Venzke, of Yorktown, VA. , in t-shirt, center, with a beer, naturally, and the judges at Wynkoop Brewing on Saturday.

Here’s the noos er news : Wynkoop Beer Drinker of the Year is Matt Venzke, of , VA. This is a contest that somebody had to event and Wynkoop Brewing, the seminal Denver, Colo. brewpub did a few years ago. Over time. it’s gotten more and more elaborate, drawing entries from around the U.S. with the winner chosen by a panel that includes past year winners and journalists Lisa Morrison, of Portland, OR. and Rocky Mountain News (Denver) beer columnist Jay Dedrick.

Matt beat out two other finalists, J. Mark Angelus, of Nehalem, Ore. and Richard Pedretti-Allen, of McKinney, Tex., answer a bunch of occasionally serious, beer-related questions from the judges.

Matt Venzke with beerBut his beer-drinking resume’ won the day. Consider: Venzke has visited 454 breweries in 69 nations and 39 states. Over the past five years, he has recorded tasting notes on over 3200 different beers in 69 different styles.

He logged 3,000 miles in 2007 while traveling to breweries across North America. While stationed in alcohol-free Kuwait on a military deployment a few years ago, Venzke conducted a tasting of 17 non-alcohol beers.

His will, Venzke said, includes instructions for him to be cremated and his ashes used in a beer brewed for his wake. (“I’ve instructed my wife,” Venzke stated, “to tell people at the ceremony, ‘Matt is more a part of you than you think.’”)

The prize, besides a trophy: Free beer for life at Wynkoop in Denver and a $250 tab at his local, the Taphouse on Queensway in Hampton, VA.

Wynkoop was founded in 1988 by John Hickenlooper. It was a cornerstone of the redevelopment of an area once occupied by railroad yards and the homeless. Now it boosts many brewpubs, Coors Field, with it’s own Sandlot Brewpub, condos, coffee shops, and other hallmarks of the American urban revival. Hickenlooper’s now Mayor of Denver.

I love Wynkoop Brewing and make it my local pub each year during the Great American Beer Festival. If you do visit Denver, don’t miss it, and check out Coors Field and the Sandlot too.

Posted on Monday, February 25th, 2008
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