Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Update: Celebrator Beer News 20th: A fest with amazing beer

By William Brand
Thursday, February 21st, 2008 at 8:55 pm in Uncategorized.

Just back from computer hell – logic board failure on my Macbook (Go with Apple, they replaced it in 48 hours) – which is why this post is so late. Anyway… I made it to the Celebrator Beer News 20th Anniversary bash at the Oakland Convention Center in downtown Oakland, CA. late Sunday (Feb. 17, 2008).

First a tiny bit of negativity. The crowd was large, but the hall was way too large; the food was way too scarce, even though Celebrator Publisher Tom Dalldorf told me he had to spend a lot of money of the food, so much that he was praying he’d break even. Part of the deal was he had to use the Convention Center’s food services. He wanted badly to have the fest in Oakland in a place close to BART and the Convention Center fit the bill.

The positive far outweighed those tiny problems. The music, a New Orleans-style Zydeco band, was rockin’. They were great.

The beer – from more than 35 breweries aound Northern California and Oregon – was also rockin’. I believe it’s the best selection of beer I’ve ever seen at an event in the Bay Area or one of the best. It was fabulous.

Wander through the hall with me…I started out with Reunion 2008. This is a beer commissioned by Alan Shapiro of SBS Imports and Pete Slosberg, the creator of Pete’s Wicked Ale to honor their friend Virginia MacLean, who died from multiple myeloma last summer. Virginia and Alan were among the first employees at Pete’s Wicked Ale in the late 1980s. All the proceeds from Reunion 2008: A Beer for Hope go to the Myeloma & Bone Cancer Research Institute. This is the second Reunion beer, last year’s raised $93,000.

Reunion 2008 is a 6.5 percent red ale, made with barley and rye and spiced with caraway seeds. I wrote about it this week in the San Jose Mercury-News. You can find it here.

From Reunion, I went over to Joshua Charleton, of Pacific Libations. He was pouring Duvel _ the primo Belgian ale _ and Rodenbach Grand Cru, a great Belgian sour brown (or red) ale which has finally reached the Bay Area after an absence of many years. A fine beer, ineeded. Sharp, sour nose, a bit of malt sweetness in the mouth and an overwhelming, but delicious sourness, balanced just enough by the malt.

Next I waited in the longest line at the fest, where Vinnie Cilurzo was pouring two Russian River beers, his famous Pliny the Elder and a new one: Russian River Rejection. It apparently will never see bottles or distribution outside the pub in Santa Rosa. A black beauty, indeed: Very dark brown, 6.1 percent ABV, 24 IBU (International Bitterness Units — Bud 13 IBU, Pliny 100 IBU).

Vinnie said he used Weyermann Carafa Special Chocolate Malt, which is malted barley that has been dehusked. Weyermann, the German malting company removes the tough and bitter outer covering before the malt is kilned. Dark malt kilned with the husks on produces bitterness in beer. Delicious, smooth, almost silky taste with enough of a dark malt taste to provide a great finish.

Next – I told you this was a great fest – was Deschutes Abyss. Yes, Deschutes came all the way from Bend, OR to tap a keg of their dark, barrel-aged, blended beer. Yes, there was a line. Not a long one and a beer worth the wait. Where to buy Abyss? I’m not sure if there’s any place left. The amount of Abyss allocated for the Bay Area was tiny. Can’t find it? Post a request here or email me at and ask for our 2008 Northern California Retail Beer Store List.

From Abyss, I drifted to the next stand to Devil Canyon, the Belmont (San Francisco peniunsula) craft brewery. They were featuring a couple of beers and Full Boar Scotch Cheese, which they made with their very malty, Full Boar Scotch Ale. Excellent cheese. Find out more here.

Next, came Eel River Brewing, America’s first certified organic brewery, opened in 1996 by Ted and Margaret Vivatson in Fortuna, CA., way up north on the Eel River. They were pouring several beers including Eel River Doppel Bock, a stunning 12 percent lager, produced by the Vivatson’s 22 -year-old son, Matthew. A very American beer, dark German malt nose, but a hoppy, American finish and a warming hit from the alcohol. Dare I say an American beauty.

Next stop: Sierra Nevada. They were pouring Ruthless Hefeweizen, cloudy lemon color, dray with a slightly sour finish. Also, Wood Aged Sierra Nevada Stout. Damn fine, aged in bourbon barrels: Nose of oak and vanilla, a bit of sweetness in the initial taste fading into a dry finish with a big bite of bourbon at the end. I’d buy this beer in a heartbeat.

Finally, we repaired to the Anchor booth, where Bob Brewer was dispensing Liberty Ale and Old Foghorn Barley wine. I was hanging out with Gail Williams and Steve Shapiro, the San Francisco couple who created, a neat site that tells you how to reach every pub worth visiting via BART and bus.

They let me in on an Anchor secret: Ask for Anchor House Blend. It’s a half and half blend of Liberty Ale and Old Foghorn. Wow! The sweetness of Old Foghorn with the hops of Liberty providing a serious edge. Great drink. Loved it.

End of night. Let’s do it again Tom. Great fest and the hell with the food.

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