Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for February, 2008

Swine and Wine

Got a passion for pig? I rarely eat pork. Somehow rationalizing the frequency makes me feel like a better Jew. Anyway, when I do, I like it grilled and with a Rhone-style Syrah.

But the good people of the Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, including the venerable chef-owner Charlie Palmer, are pushing Pinot at a dinner on March 14 and series of swine and wine seminars on March 15 at the Hotel Healdsburg.

Sample over 50 hand-crafted, highly kick-ass Pinot Noirs from Sonoma County, including William Selyem and Kosta Brown, and others from Burgundy, including Domaine de la Vougeraie and Jean-Claude Boisset.

While sipping, savor a variety of pork delicacies such as homemade sausage, charcuterie, pates and other special creations from Palmer and Michael Ellis, also of Dry Creek Kitchen, plus chef Luke Magnan of South Food and Wine Bar in San Francisco, and Nancy Oakes of Boulevard, also in the City.

Choose from two seminars on March 15, which will both be followed by lunch. To purchase tickets, call 800-889-7188. For more information, visit the hotel’s web site.

Posted on Wednesday, February 20th, 2008
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After the rush: Tasting the winners at the Toronado’s Barleywine Fest ’08, Lagunitas, Stone, Firestone-Walker Abacus Blend

Lagunitas brew crew, Pat Mace, left, Don Chartier, center, Jeremy Marshall

Photo: Lagunitas brew crew, Pat Mace, left, Don Chartier, center, Jeremy Marshall

Credit: Willia Brand

THE TORONADO’S BARLEYWINE FEST REELS INTO THE SECOND DAY THIS MORNING, expect a crowd. The place was jammed all day and no doubt will still be crowded today as well. The fest goes on until all the beer’s gone, sometime toward the end of next week.

But if you want a chance at the best selection go soon and fight the crowd; it’s a friendly bunch. The trick is to find a list of the barleywines, you order by number. The choice is a small glass or a large glass. Go for the small glass. The winners numbers are Lagunitas – 5, Stone – 16 and Firestone-Walker – 13. It’s on tap in the back room, not at the main bar. Good luck.

This year there were 54 barley wines from as far away as Seattle (Pike Brewing Old Bawdy), Hawaii (Kona Old Blowhole 2005), Lander, Wyoming (Snake River Devil’s Teat), Mexicali, Baja California Norte, Mexico (Cucupa Barleywine — a winner last year), Juneau, Alaska (Big Nugget 2007, Alaskan Brewing) and Anchorage (Glacier Brewhouse Big Woody 2007). Also, Hoptimus Prime (Nodding Head, Philadelphia, PA.) and Sisyphus Barleywine (Real Ale Brewing, Blanco, Texas.

Toronado crowd at Barleywine FestDavid Keene, the Toronado’s proprietor, said that flights of judges spent a long morning winnowing down the competitors.

I managed to fight my way through the crowds and get a sample the three winners. Here are my notes:

First: Lagunitas Gnarleywine 2006, Lagunitas Brewing, Petaluma, CA. True barleywine nose, sweet malt, some hops, dark copper color, slight head, fades quickly. Substantial sweetness throughout, with a bit of an oxidized note at the end.

Lagunitas head brewer Jeremy Marshall said that the oxidation, caused by aging gave the beer a little edge that the judges must have liked. I think the aging also mellowed the hops, blended the malts and hops and made is a softer, better beer. Oxidation can create a sherry-like taste, which is pleasant in some older beers.

Jeremy said the beer, which is 10 percent ABV, is a blend of two row pale barley malt, a bit of Munich malt and a variety of crystal malts, which add color and a full mouthfeel or taste. Cyrstal malt also speeds oxidation in a beer, Jeremy said. At least that’s what I think he said. I was sipping a cup of Pliny the Elder.

The IBUs (International Bitterness Units) are 50, fairly mellow for Lagunitas. (Quick comparison: Bud 13 IBU,Lagunitas Gnarleywine 2006 won the Toronado Barleywine Fest ‘08 Lagunitas Hop Stoopid 100 IBU).

Second: Stone Old Guardian 2006, was also aged, but it was a different beer entirely. It was much milder, quite dry for a barleywine with a lot of hops in the follow. It’s also 10 percent.

Third: Firestone-Walker Abacus Blend is another of Matt Brynildson’s brewcrew productions, a blend of bourbon whiskey barrel-aged beers that were one and two years old.

It poured like a still wine, a flat, opaque deep brown with a mild, bourbon nose. Taste is quite dry with a rising sweetness and I swear a snatch of ripe cherries at the end. Wild! Delicious. Utterly different. Loved it.

Photos: Tasting a whole lot of barleywines at the Toronado Saturday.

Prizewinner Lagunitas Gnarleywine ’06, right.

Posted on Sunday, February 17th, 2008
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Bruce Paton’s Belgian beer, chocolate dinner in San Francisco was smashing

Paton Beer, Chocolate Dinner group

The group at my table at Bruce Paton’s Belgian Beer and Chocolate Dinner Friday night (Feb. 15, 2008) at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco, left – right: Mike Agngelmann, Oakland, Leah Papandrea, Albany, NY, Jon and Cyndy Wolfenbarger, of San Francisco, and Andy Altman-Ohr. Cropped out of the photo by mistake, Mike Goodbar, Berkeley, and Danielle Schumacher, Oakland.
Photo: William Brand

Paton Beer, Chocolate Dinner CROWDIF YOU’VE NEVER ATTENDED one of Bruce Paton’s beer dinners at the Cathedral Hill Hotel, plan to do so soon. Over the past five years – he’s up to 60 dinners or so at the moment – dinners have gotten more and more sophisticated. You can sign up for the next dinner here.

Last night’s Belgian Beer and Chocolate Dinner was, well, very damn fine: About 150 diners at this sold-out, $90 a plate dinner, candlelit tables, quiet, efficient service, each beer served in its proper glass, along with some very fancy food.

The best part of these dinners is the people who attend. I went with a friend who’s a sportswriter at The Tribune; we wound up sitting with a table full of like-minded people. It’s fun swapping good beer places, beers to look for and trading opionions of the pairings.

There was ‘nary a discoutaging word last night. A four star evening.

Each course was paired with beers imported by Artisanal Imports, hors d’oeuvres, seved with Bosteels Tripel Karmeliet and Urthel Hop-It. I made a mistake and tried the Tripel first. Nice beeer: big, malty nose, full mouth feel, great follow. Tried it with a lobster-chocolate bisque served in a glass. Great.

Trouble was that made it difficult to even taste the Hop-It, which is a fairly hoppy Belgian beer, following a recipe devised by Hildegard van Ostaden, one of Belgium’s few female brewers (should I say “brewsters”). She got the idea for a hoppy beer, unusual in modern Belgium, after a tour of West Coast breweries a couple of years ago.

You can find the whole menu on line at Bruce Paton’s Web site. I’ll just hit the high points.

I give many points to the third course: Braised Creekstone Farms Angus Short Rib with swePaton, Beer, Chocolate Samarantheet potato flan and dark chocolate ancho chile jus. The course was paired with De Koningshoeven Quadrupel***++, the powerful, xx percent ale from one of six Trappist abbeys that brew beer commercially and the only one in Holland.

The short rib braised with the chile-chocolate sauce was melt-in-the=mouth tender. What a pairing, the beer’s got a herbal nose, starts sweet and finishes with a warming hit of alcohol. The meat and the beer married perfectly, creating a magnificicent taste sensation. It was so good that I’m going to ask Bruce Paton for the recipe, buy some Quadrupel and try the pairing again some rainy night ahead. Talk about winter warmers. Wild.

The fourth course, or desert, was a quartette of different kinds of chocolate paired with Urthel Samaranth. This is an 11.5 percent, massive, Belgian also from Hildegard van Ostaden. When she was here last year Hildegard told us the beer’s made at Koningshoeven under contract. It’s the brewery where she worked when she met her husband, Bas, who handles the marketing end of their small, but mighty company.

It was a perfect beer to sip with an assortment of chocolates, providing a warming accent to the sweet chocolate. Another great Bruce Paton dinner.

Photo: Beer, above right, is Urthel Samaranth.

Posted on Saturday, February 16th, 2008
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Lagunitas Gnarleywine 2006 wins Toronado Barleywine Festival 2008

A quick and dirty post.

The winners at the 15th annual Toronado Barleywine Festival today were:

First: Lagunitas Gnarleywine 2006, Lagunitas Brewing, Petaluma, CA.

Second: Stone Old Guardian 2006, Stone, San Marcos, CA.

Third: Firestone-Walker Abacus Blend, Firestone-Walker, Paso Robles, CA.

Judges’ Special Award: Devil Mountain Barleywine 1994, Devil Mountain, Benicia, CA.

Posted on Saturday, February 16th, 2008
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Craft Beer and Cheese: Some stony pairings at the Rogue Pub in San Francisco

(Why there are no photos – yet. I left my camera at the pub, haven’t picked it up yet.)

If you don’t think beer and cheese really go together, you should have been at the Rogue Public Alehouse in San Francisco on Wednesday (Feb. 13, 2008). All I can say is wow!
Sheana Davis, a chef who runs The Epicurean Connection in Sonoma did the pairings. Sheana did wine and cheese pairings for a long time, then her friends at the then-startup Lagunitas asked her to try a beer and cheese pairing for them. Those pairings also continue.

The folks at Rogue and Celebrator Beer News publisher Tom Dalldorf chose the beer. What a selection. The pairing drew about 50 people, from as far away as British Columbia, although that couple, John Dowling and his wife came here for the whole Beerapalooza weekend.

My top pairing? Easy: It was Magnolia Pub & Brewery’s Tweezer Tripel paired with Vella Fontinella and dried apricots. The beer is one of Magnolia brewer-founder Dave McLean’s contributions to Strong Beer Month. Both Magnolia and 21st Amendment brewed a string of strong beers which are on tap all month. Sample ’em all and get a commemorative glass.

Tweezer (My rating ***1/2) , at 9.8 percent’s, no slouch of a beer. Made with a Belgian yeast, it has a fresh, earthy nose and starts out dry, but there’s a mounting sweetness and a lingering follow of ripe fruit. Delicious.

But then take a bite of the cheese – a raw milk cow’s cheese, which is Vella’s version of the Italian Fontina cheese – zap. Wowie! A ***** five star pairing. The cheese seemed to invade the palate and merge with the lingering beer follow, carving little pathways of sensory delight. I capped it off with a piece of dried apricot. Oh my. Heavenly. Vella has been in the town of Sonoma since 1931. You can find the cheese at any well-stocked cheese store in the Bay Area. It’s worth the hunt. Try it with a Belgian Trappist ale or perhaps Ommegang from Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY.

The next pair including one of my all-time favs, Russian River’s Pliny the Elder. At 8 percent, 100 IBU, it’s a hop bomb. Sheana paired it with Laura Chenel Cabecou, a creamy, nutty chevre (goat cheese). The acidity of the cheese did a nice job of balancing the hoppy, malty Pliny. A tough pairing to do. Nicely accomplished.

For non-foodies, Laura Chenel, single-handedly made goat cheese popular in the U.S., building her Sonoma County goat cheese company into a national icon before selling out in 2006 to The Rians Group, a French cheesemaker.

The next pairing also featured a stunning beer: The Beer Hunter, from 21st Amendment. Find more about this beer named in honor of the late English beer journalist Michael Jackson here. The beer, which is big and malty with lots of hops in our West Coast fashionm was paired with Bellwether Farms Crescenza, which is a soft and creamy cow’s milk cheese, also from Sonoma County.

Another super pairing: The beer envelops the cheese. It’s a pairing worth duplicating at home, one that will amzae and awe your friends, honest.

The piece de resistance was the closer: Rogue Chocolate Stout and bitter chocolate fondue, served with biscoti. Rogue Chocolate’s one of Rogue brewer John Maier’s signature beers: big, hoppy with a dry finish. It was a perfect counterbalance to the sweet-by-comparison bitter cocolate and the definitely sweet biscotti. What a night.

This one’s gonna’ happen again next year, so stayed tuned. Comments anyone. Question: Do you have a favorite pairing or a colossal failure, or do you think the whole idea’s way overrated. Post a comment here or shoot me an e-mail at

Posted on Friday, February 15th, 2008
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Calendar: The Beerapalooza’s roaring: Barleywine fest Saturday, Celebrator’s 20th anniversary bash on Sunday

Celebrator 20th Anniversary PartySome quick calendar items…We’re smack in the middle of Beerapalooza and there are three events still ahead – the kickoff was the 8th Annual Double IPA fest at the Bistro in Hayward this past Saturday (Feb. 9, 2008). Then on Wednesday night, we had a beer and cheese tasting at the Rogue Public House in San Francisco. I’m going to post a report in about 45 minutes.

Here’s what’s ahead:

Tonight: Friday, Feb. 15, Chocolate and Belgian Beer Dinner, Cathedral Hill Hotel, San Francisco. This one, sadly, is sold out. But beer chef Bruce Paton has two more doozies planned: Friday, March 21, Dinner featuring the beers of Green Flash Brewing. Sunday, April 20, Five Guys and a Barrel featuring Russian River, Port Brewing, Avery, Allagash and Dogfish Head. This one will definitely be wild. Info., sign up here.

Saturday, Feb. 16, !8th Annual Toronado Barleywine Fest, Toronado, 547 Haight St., San Francisco. 11 a.m. until the beer runs out sometime next week,. No entrance fee, pay by the glass. Hint: Small glasses are in order. Barleywines are strong stuff, upwards of 9 and 10 percent. Friends tell me the line into the Toronado goes down the block by 9 or 10 a.m. I usually go in middle-afternoon, not late enough to avoid the crowds, since the crowds don’t stop until about next Wednesday. But it’s earlier enough that the winners kegs aren’t all gone.

This is the granddaddy of all America’s barleywine fests; 50 or so barleywines from everywhere. This fest isReunion 08 bottle professionally judged and that alone is a big deal. Winners are announced in the afternoon. If you’re into barleywines or think you might be, this is the fest for you (and me.)

Sunday, Feb. 17, 4-8 p.m., 20th annual Celebrator Beer News Anniversary Party, Oakland Convention Center / Marriot Hotel, 1001 Broadway, Oakland, $55. A special “VIP” session begins at 3 p.m., costs $80.

This one’s a really big deal. More than 30 breweries pouring beer, live music, lots of food, all included in the ticket price.

Among other events at the bash, Pete Slosberg, creator of Pete’s Wicked Ale and Alan Shapiro, Pete’s first sales manager, who now is a specialty beer and cider importer, will unveil Reunion ’08: A Beer for Hope, a beer made by Bison Brewing’s Daniel Del Grande at Butte Brewing, Chico’s all organic brewery. Dan has a co-operative agreement there with Butte.

Sales from the beer (and donations by grateful beer drinkers) benefit the Institute for Myeloma and Bone Cancer Research, a national non-profit. The beer was created by Alan Shapiro and his good friend Virginia MacLean, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and died last June. They were among Pete Slosberg’s first employees at Pete’s Wicked Ale in Palo Alto back in the late 1980s.

Pete signed on to the project and the first beer, a ramped up Pete’s Wicked Ale came out last year. So far, it’s raised $93,000 for the institute.

The new one is a stronger version of Pete’s Wicked Red, with rye malt and spiced by caraway seeds. It’s going to sell in many places around California and the West, $5 for a 22 oz. bottle. So buy a bottle, OK. Good beer and all the money goes to the institute.

Posted on Friday, February 15th, 2008
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A Donkey & Goat Open House

donkey & goat release party

I’ll be at Premiere in Napa next weekend but I highly recommend this Spring Release party on Feb. 23. Be the first to taste A Donkey & Goat’s latest sustainably-farmed, artisan releases.

They include a 2006 Brosseau Chardonnay (96 cases); 2006 Three Thirteen, almost equal parts Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache (308 cases); 2006 The Recluse, Anderson Valley and El Dorado Syrah with a kiss of Viognier (265 cases); and 2007 Isabel’s Cuvee Grenache Rose (120 cases).

The party includes live music from jazz trio, The Ramp, and word has it that the growers who supply A Donkey & Goat’s kick-ass grapes will also be around, so you can geek out and talk brix levels till you’re purple in the face.

The usual snacks and free souvenir glass round out the festivities, all for $20 at the door. If you print this page and take it with you, you’ll save five buck.

I’m bummed to be missing the event because Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars will be pouring his Rhone-style wines as well — a Syrah, Petite Syrah and Grenache. He sources fruit from Ventana Vineyards in addition to Dry Stack Vineyard, a relatively newcomer nestled in a cool-climate bowl between the Bennett, Taylor and Sonoma Mountains in the Bennett Valley. Taste the wines and let me know what you think.  

The event runs from 1 to 5 p.m. at the winery, 2323 B 4th St., Berkeley.  For more information contact or call 510-868-9174.


Posted on Friday, February 15th, 2008
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Sam Adams selling hard-to-find hops to craft brewers at cost

Just after I posted the article about the hop shortage, I found this report on, a very cool, brainy blog written by Stan Hieronymus, who has written a number of books on beer, including the excellent Brew Like A Monk. The original source is apparently Probrewer.

Here’s a snippet from Stan’s post:

HopsJim Koch sent a big old hops valentine to smaller breweries on Thursday. Ten tons worth.

He told them that Boston Beer, brewer of the Samuel Adams beers, will sell 20,000 pounds of hops that otherwise would not be available to smaller breweries. The company will sell the hops at its cost, which is considerably less than they would bring on the open (or “spot”) market.

Koch revealed the offer to Brewers Association members Thursday in a forum for association members…

The brewery will sell 10,000 pounds of East Kent Goldings from Great Britain and 10,000 pounds of Tettnang Tettnanger from small farms in the Tettnang region in Germany. Both are so-called aroma hops, horribly under appreciated and the kind being dissed by brewers chasing alpha, but at the same time becoming crazily expensive. READ MORE…

Posted on Friday, February 15th, 2008
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The hop crisis: Craft beer prices are going up

Have you noticed what’s happening to craft beer prices? They’re going up and up…Here’s a story I wrote for our newspapers on the subject. I also posted some further comments by brewers here.

Triple Rock Brewer Christian Kazakoff

Christian Kazakoff, the head brewer at Triple Rock Brewery in Berkeley, has cut back on hoppy beers because of the scarcity of hops. (Alison Yin/MediaNews)

Brewers find rise in overhead sobering
By William Brand
Article Launched: 02/06/2008 03:05:36 AM PST

BERKELEY — If you’re a drinker of craft beer — that’s the good stuff, the beer with the full flavor and unusual twists and turns — it’s going to cost a bit more, if not today, soon.

Many West Coast craft brewers have raised their suggested retail prices as much as $1 a six pack. Unlike the brewing behemoths such as Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors, which have years-long supply lines, craft brewers have been dogged by sharply higher prices for hops, an increase of about 400 percent. For barley, prices are up 80 percent. Even the price of glass in beer bottles has jumped.

Anderson Valley Brewing in Boonville last week raised the suggested retail price from $9.49 to $9.99 for a six pack of Hop Ottin’ and all their other prizewinners. Stone Brewing of San Marcos raised the price of Arrogant Bastard and their other brands to a similar price. Firestone Walker did the same thing last month.

Even Boston Beer, the maker of nationally distributed Sam Adams, is rolling out price increases.

“Right now, we have the perfect storm,” said Boston Brewing’s Michelle Sullivan. “So many things are happening at once: increases in the hop market, the barley market, the cost of energy for making glass. Even freight costs are up.

“We get all our hops from Europe and the British Isles, and besides the poor hop crop there, there’s the weakness of the dollar against the euro, which makes hops more expensive,” Sullivan said.

For brewpubs and other small volume craft brewers, the hop increase has hit home hard.

At Berkeley’s Triple Rock Brewing, head brewer Christian Kazakoff said he canceled plans to make an uber-hoppy beer for the eighth annual Double India Pale Ale festival at the Bistro in Hayward this Saturday.

“I need to focus on having enough hops on hand to make my regular beers,” Kazakoff said. “It’s sad. The demand is tremendous, there’s not enough growers and poor growing conditions. A lot of the hops I normally use, I’m struggling to find.”

He said he cannot even find Simcoe hops, noted for its apricot aroma. “You know, this is a blessing is disguise,” he said. “The hop crisis is forcing us to be artisans,” Kazakoff said. He is contemplating a coffee-chocolate imperial stout.

The Bistro’s Double India Pale Ale festival — named for beers that are twice as hoppy and twice as strong as regular India Pale Ales — has had several small-volume brewer defections, proprietor Vic Kralj said.

Besides Triple Rock, Beach Chalet in San Francisco and Moonlight in Sonoma County have opted out this year, he said. To be sure he has 50 or more beers entered, he’s considering allowing other strong beers such as imperial red ales, he said.

The big question for some is whether consumers, whose move to the far more sophisticated craft beers has propelled the segment to double-digit growth for the past three years, go back to good ‘ole Bud Light at $5.99 or less on sale.

Craft brewers are betting they won’t. Fans of craft beer agree. “I won’t hesitate to buy a six pack of good beer for $10,” said Stuart Forman of Pleasant Hill, who says he’s been drinking good beer most of his life. “I think good beer’s been underpriced, and I’m certainly not going to buy crappy beer.”

Julia Herz, spokeswoman for the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers’ Association, the craft beer trade group, said there seems to be no clear trend on retail price increases. Prices for ingredients are certainly up, she said.
“Hops have increased upward of 400 percent; the price of barley has more than doubled. Glass prices are up because of increased energy costs,” she said.

“American craft brewers are likely the hardest hit because they make the fullest-flavored beer. To do that, you have to use more higher-priced ingredients,” Herz said. Long-term, Herz adds, beer is an agricultural product just like wine. There’s an ebb and flow on prices. They’re not permanent.

“People are used to the wine industry saying every harvest, ‘It was a great year, it was hard year and prices are going up.'”

Down at prize-winning Firestone-Walker, brewmaster Matthew Brynildson is philosophical. “This will be one of the years that tests our mettle,” Brynildson said. “Brewers who are artisans will take what hops they can get and put out excellent beers,” he said.

Reach William Brand at For in-depth interviews with craft brewers about the hop shortage, check out his blogs, and

Posted on Friday, February 15th, 2008
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Miller introduces craft beer wanta’-be’s in Philadelphia: Craft Beer Lite?

Lew Bryson is a Philadelphia beer writer and author with impeccable credentials. He’s just reviewed three new beers from SABMiller aimed, apparently at craft beer drinkers and aiming, I guess, to compete with Coors Blue Moon. These babies haven’t made it out here to the Left Coast. Check out his Seen Through A Glass blog…

Miller Lite Amber: Aroma is somewhat sharp, grainy. Head forms well, and lasts…READ MORE

Miller Lite Wheat: Cloudy medium yellow; cloudiness is very uniform, most likely protein haze rather than yeast. ..READ MORE

Miller Lite Blonde: Slightly ruddy gold color — actually darker than I would have expected from a “blonde.” Head is the worst of the three: big bubbles, not much retention…READ MORE

Posted on Thursday, February 14th, 2008
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