Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for April, 2008

An online, rare beer auction starts on Friday

J.W. Lees Harvest  Vintage 1987Will the day come when fine beer trades like great wine? How about right now. Liquid Solutions a spirits, beer, wine and cider retailer with a mail order business is beginning an online beer austion starting Friday noon Pacific Time. The uction closes at 7 p.m. PDT on April 28.

The first two lots offered are: 1. A 1987 bottle of J.W,. Lees Harvest Ale. J.W. Lees is a Manchester, England brewer. Startig bid is $9.95. At that price I’d snap it up. Regular 2006 and 2007 Harvest sells for about $8. I wrote about this beer a couple of weeks ago (Tasted a couple of vintages — the one offered for sale is the first. They were absolutely incredible, especially the one aged in Calvados barrels. Read about the beer here,

Lot 2 is three bottles of 1996 Orval. Starting bid is $19.95. Hmmm. A 1996 would be bone dry with a leathery “horse blanket” nose from the wild yeast used in the secondary fermentation in the bottle. It would be an entirel different creature than fresh Orval. I wrote about Orval in detail. You can find that column here.

To register and bid online, go to Liquid Solutions. By the way, Liquid Solutions has a physical address and phone number: 275 Beavercreek Rd #C149 Oregon City, Oregon 97045, 503-496-1942

Posted on Thursday, April 24th, 2008
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The college years: A time of choices…

College….This has nothing to do with beer, but Mario, who posts frequentkly on this blog sent this photo along after reading the post yesterday from Associated Press about the plight of Mount Shasta Brewing’s slogan: Legal Weed.

He brews in Weed, CA. and beer is still legal, but the  feds demurred.

The college, by the way, is College of the Siskiyous.  Choices, choices.

Posted on Thursday, April 24th, 2008
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The perils of brewing beer in Weed (That’s Weed, CA.)

Wow, here’s a lesson in government-ese for you. If you brew beer in Weed, California, better be careful what you put on the label, not to mention the bottle cap. The feds are watching.

Mount Shasta Brewing LogoCalif. brewer ordered to stop using ‘Legal Weed’ bottle caps
By Juliet Williams, Associated Press
Article Created: 04/23/2008 03:59:47 PM PDT

SACRAMENTO _ Vaune Dillmann thought the wording on his bottle caps was just a clever play on the name of the Northern California town where he brews his beer _ Weed.
Federal alcohol regulators thought differently. They have ordered Dillmann to stop selling beer bottles with caps that read “Try Legal Weed.”

The dispute started in February when Dillmann sent the proposed label for his latest beer, Lemurian Lager, to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau for approval. The agency, which regulates the industry, asked for some changes to the label, along with a sample bottle cap.

Dillmann obliged, sending the caps he has been using for his five current beers.
The agency responded that the message on the caps amounted to a drug reference. In a letter explaining its decision, the agency said the wording could “mislead consumers about the characteristics of the alcoholic beverage.”Mount Shasta Abner Weed Amber

Dillmann scoffs at the notion that his label has anything to do with smoking pot.
“I’ve never tried marijuana in my life,” he told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “I don’t advocate that. It’s just our town’s name.”

The town of 3,000, sitting beneath Mount Shasta about 230 miles north of the state capital, takes its name from Abner Weed, a timber baron who opened a lumber mill there in 1901 and eventually was elected to the state Senate.

Dillmann, 61, started the Mount Shasta Brewing Co. in 2004. He said he has always used the town’s name on his beers and named the company’s first official brew Abner Weed’s Pale Ale. READ MORE….

Posted on Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008
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It had to happen: A beer label map of the U.S.

U.S. beer label map.

I’ve been meaning to post this U.S. beer label map for a while. It comes from a Web site that among other things writes about spirits and beer labels. If you follow the link, use the Flash version, it’s kinda neat.

The site is produced by Etiquette Systems, which (shock) makes custom labels.

Posted on Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008
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E-mail: Desperately searching for clubs with good beer

Hi William, Something I’ve had on my mind for a while is that my friends aren’t as beer nerdy as I am, and sometimes when I take them out to go beer hunting, they aren’t having as much fun as I am.

Question is are there any bars/clubs in the Bay Area that also have craft beer on tap? Ivan

Good question Ivan. I honestly dunno. I’m not a clubber. Opinions anyone? b

Posted on Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008
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Emails: The New Toronado opens soon in San Diego

David Keene at Toronado San Diego, Photo by Alan MoenBill, I was at the Toronado “pre-opening” last Thursday in San Diego. It’s in the North Park area, at – I think- 4026 30th Ave, near University.

Not sure when it will officially open. Small but cozy place, lots of beer people there. Dave Keene was pouring lots of great beers, including Malheur Brut and a giant bottle of Duvel. Alan Moen

Great shot of the pour Alan,.

Jay Brooks at says the owner is Ian Black, who worked at the Toronado in San Francisco.

Posted on Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008
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Toronado’s Dogfish Night: The Wrap

Dogfish night at the ToronadoDavid Keene with Dogfish 90 Minute IPADogfish night at the Toronado was a rousing success. By 7 p.m. when I left, the place was jumping. Toronado had (and most likely still has) six Dogfish Head beers on tap.

Three are being distributed in bottles/4 packs in the Bay Area (but not in the East Bay or in San Mateo County). Problem is supply. Dogfish has alloted the distributor here, DBI one container load a month. Period.

The three, as I said earlier are 90 Minute IPA, Midas Touch and Palo Santo Marron.

Besides those, the Toronado also has 2006 Chateau Jiahu, 2007 Immort Ale and 2007 Olde School Barley Wine.

Toronado proprietor David Keene with a glass of Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA

Curious about this unusual trio. Here’s some info from the Dogfish Web site:

Chateau Jiahu: Let’s travel back in time again (Midas Touch was our first foray), this time 9000 years! Preserved pottery jars found in the Neolithic villiage of Jiahu, in Henan province, Northern China, has revealed that a mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey and fruit was being produced that long ago – right around the same time that barley beer and grape wine were beinginning to be made in the Middle East!
Fast forward to 2005…. Molecular Archeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of PA calls on Dogfish Head to re-create their second ancient beverage and Chateau Jiahu is born.
In keeping with historic evidence, Dogfish brewers used pre-gelatinized rice flakes, Wildflower honey, Muscat grapes, barley malt, hawthorn fruit, and Chrysanthemum flowers. The rice and barley malt were added together to make the mash for starch conversion and degredation. The resulting sweet wort was then run into the kettle. The honey, grapes, Hawthorn fruit, and Chrysanthemum flowers were then added. The entire mixture was boiled for 45 minutes, then cooled. The resulting sweet liquid was pitched with a fresh culture of Sake yeast and allowed to ferment a month before the transfer into a chilled secondary tank.
8% abv
Truly, a unique beer.Immort Ale: Vast in character, luscious & complex. Brewed with peat-smoked barley, this strong ale is brewed with organic juniper berries, vanilla & maple syrup. It’s aged on oak and fermented with a blend of English & Belgian yeasts.
11% abv
40 ibu

Olde School Barley Wine: Bold, yet smooth! Fermented with dates and figs, this bone-crusher has a completely unique flavor.
15% abv

Dogfish cheese pairingsDogfish head cheese plates at the ToronadoBut wait, there was more. With the help of a Dogfish staffer, the Toronado assembled three cheeses to pair with the beers, which were served in mercifully small white wine glasses. First plates and the beer went to employees of the two distributors DBI and Mesa in the Toronado’s back room. Then Sam Calagione and Toronado Proprietor David Keene poured out the first official glasses from the bar and it quickly became a wild, wild night.

Hint: Next time you’re in this amazing establishment, tip the bartenders well. They work their asses off. You’d have a bit of attitude to if you worked as hard as they do.

Everyone was glowing Monday night, including David Keene. Dogfish Head’s beers create some real excitement; people are interested and we’re glad to have them here, he said.

It’s passover and I didn’t taste the beers; friends said the 90-Minute IPA was dynamite, just about right for a strong IPA. Olde School was obviously big, but seductive with lots of sweetness that hid the alcohol. Immort Ale was very drinkable and Chateau Jiahu was wildly different, no one was sure what to think.

I remember tasting it last year at the Great American Beer Festival. Here’s what I wrote then: Hazy gold color, chrysanthemum nose, malty taste, wild, spicy follow. Besides, Greg Wiggins, of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, says, “It goes well with Chinese food. I know; I tried it,” he said.

Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head, says it will be bottled this month and some of it, no doubt’s headed to the Bay Area. Well, this will be one to bring to a party, huh.

Posted on Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008
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A one-night window to taste rare Allagash beers at The Trappist

This comes from Chuck Stilphen and Aaron Porter at the Trappist, 460 8th St. in downtown Oakland…We’re talking about Wednesday, April 23, 2008.  They had an  session with Allagash founder Rob Tod Monday night. This is what;s left over. See ya’ there.

This Wednesday The 23rd  from 4 pm to 7 pm, $1 off all Allagash on tap, We have the Black Stout $5, Belgian White $4, Curieux $5 and…..

A Blended Tripel, aged in oak barrels with the Rosalaere culture (ala Rodenbach / Flemish Sour style).. 9.5% ABV, Un-named un-released Beer. This is an exclusive, only 2 Barrels were produced, unless you were at the party on Monday you have never had this beer and may never see it again. Nobody else has it and we only have about 10 liters left. $10. (a glass).

Posted on Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008
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A chat with Sam Calagione of Dogfish fame in 2005

Sam Calagione at the GABF, photo by Gregrory DaurerNote: This What’s On Tap column was published in June, 2005…

Photo: Sam Calagione at the Great American Beer Fest

Credit: Gregory Daurer/Denver, CO.

Talk about a fish in the wrong water: Sam Calagione and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery belong out here on our coast, not buried in Delaware on the chaste Atlantic seaboard.

Even Sam’s motto: “Off-centered ales for off-centered people” – begs for a California location. His 120 Minute IPA – Amarillo and Cascade hop pellets fed into the brew kettle in a continuous stream throughout the boil – would fit right in at our annual Double India Pale Ale fest at the Bistro in Hayward.

The good news is that Sam’s coming to town tonight (Wednesday, June 22) with an armload of hard-to-find in the west, Dogfish Head brews, including 120 Minute IPA, 90 Minute IPA, Raison D’Etre and Immort Ale. He’ll be at the Toronado, 547 Haight St. in San Francisco, starting around 6:30 p.m., pouring beer with proprietor David Keene and signing copies of his first book: `Brewing Up A Business: Adventures in Entrepreneurship from the Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.” Buy the book, get a gold-rimmed Dogfish Head beer goblet to go with it.

A 120 Minute IPA, do I hear a yawn?

True, craft brewers around here have produced their share of IPAs with 120 International Bitterness Units (By comparison a Bud’s barely 12 IBU.), but Dogfish Head’s 120 IPA’s mouth-dropping 20 percent alcohol by volume is truly over the top.

Anyway, this is an academic exercise. Sam grew up in Massachusetts. His family has a summer home in Boothbay, ME and Dogfish Head is a nearby promontory. A Boothbay local told me it looks like a dolphin’s head and was a place where swarms of dogfish sharks could be found.

He learned about good beer tending bar in New York City and started home-brewing beer in college. He says he got interested in pumping up the alcohol in his brews, playing with different sugars and other substances that would give his yeast food to work on.

As he explains it, he used his skills honed as an English major to write a business plan for a brewpub and brewery – then started raising money from everyone he knew, his orthodontist, his father. With $200,000 cash, he assembled a 12-gallon brewplant and in 1995, he opened his 150-seat brew-restaurant in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

At that moment, Sam says, it was the smallest commercial brewery in America; it was also Delaware’s first brewpub. It was no more than three small kegs on top of propane burners, he said. Their first brew was Shelter Pale Ale, but Sam widened his repertoire rapidly.

I know it sounds snobbish, but there’s a lot of bland, ordinary craft beer on the East Coast (as well as some excellent brews). Dogfish made an immediate splash. Today, there’s a separate brewery down the road in Milton, Del. and plans for a second brewpub in Milton. Sam also put in a distillery, where the company makes rum, gin and vodka.

From day one, the emphasis has been on unusual beers.

“We have no aspirations of appealing to the status quo,” Sam says. “Big brewers are in a completely different industry than we are. They’re in a commodity industry. We’re about entertainment. Our goal is to entertain our beer-lovers’ taste buds.

Big brewers try to appeal to as many people as possible, so they make their beer as generic as they can. We’re trying to appeal to a much smaller group of people, who want to be excited. We make exciting, distracting beers.

“Our best-seller is 60-Minute IPA, then Raison d’Etre, then 90-Minute Imperial IPA. Those are our top three, but we don’t have a flagship.

“We’re more a varietal brewer, like a winemaker,” he said.

Big, hoppy beers are far from unusual here on the West Coast. But some Dogfish beers are beyond extreme. Fermentables in Raison D’Etre, for example, include beet sugar and green raisins. The yeast is Belgian and Sam says it’s as complex as a fine, red wine.
Others are even further over the edge: Chicory Stout has roasted chicory, organic Mexican coffee, St. John’s Wort and licorice root, hopped with Cascade and English Fuggles.

Immort Ale, 11 percent ABV, is not for the timid. Dogfish says, it is “vast in character.” It’s brewed with peat-smoked barley, juniper berries, vanilla and maple syrup,fermented with English and Belgian yeasts, aged on oak. The Immort Ale tonight has been aged two years, Sam says.
Dogfish Head’s also been in a “world’s strongest beer” competition with Jim Koch of Sam Adams fame. Right now Sam Adams Utopias with it’s stunning 25 percent alcohol by volume is the champ.

Dogfish Head WorldWide Stout, brewed with six different yeasts during a seven-month fermentation, trails at 18 percent ABV.

However, Sam says, “ours is the strongest beer in the world in regular production.”

The last word in beer nearly always goes to Dogfish Head.

Posted on Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008
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Dogfish Night at the Toronado and a conversation with Sam Calagione

Dogfish Sam CalagioneIt’s Monday night about 5 p.m. (April 21, 2008) and I’m in the back room at The Toronado in San Francisco in advance of the big event welcoming distribution of three Dogfish beers in the Bay Area for the first time: 90 Minute IPA, Midas Touch and Palo Santo Marron. But it’s Passover and I, curses, am drinking bottled water.

Sam Calagione, who founded Dogfish Head in 1995 after spending his college years as a homebrewer, devising stronger and stronger and weirder beers is also there. He’s tall, lithe, with a deep tan and a stubbly start of a beard. Women would definitely call him a hunk.

Sam Calagione at The ToronadoHe’s drinking a soda. Sam was one of the featured brewers at Beer Chef Bruce Paton’s sold-out Five Guys and A Barrel beer dinner Sunday night at the Cathedral Hill Hotel on Van Ness. There was a whole lot of very strong beer consumed. More on that in a later post, hopefully tonight if I have the energy.

The San Francisco Chronicle is going to do a BIG DEAL on Sam. Jay Brooks is writing the piece and he has a sheaf of questions to ask. Chron photog Katy Raddatz is unwinding a roll of background paper and setting up lights. I told you it’s gonna’ be a big deal. So I have literally seconds to talk to Sam, whom I’ve interviewed many times before. He’s invariably polite and quite brilliant. Brilliant, hell, from a journalist’s standpoint, this guy’s a walking sound bite.

Me: You’ve been on a book and beer tour through California for the last few days. (The book is He Said Beer, She Said Wine. You can find my interview in the San Jose Mercury News with the authors here. How’s the sophistication of California beer drinkers compared with the rest of the country?

Sam: California is amazingly craft beer savvy…The beer IQ of the average California beer consumer dwarfs the average elsewhere. They not only understand craft beer, they have real preferences. They’ll tell me, ‘Yeah, I like hefes and ipa’s or I like imperial beers and extreme beers. They have a broader understanding of beer styles out here.

My friends with breweries out here, like Tomme Arthur (Port Brewing/Lost Abbey), Greg Koch (Stone), Vinnie (Cilurzo, Russian River) and Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada) have done great leg work in educating people to experience a wider breadth of styles. Because of what California craft brewers have done, breweries like ours that play on the outer edges of the craft beer world have a chance.

Me: So what’s the deal with Dogfish? Why’s it taken so long to get your beers out here?

Sam: We were in Southern California seven or eight yers ago. Our friends at Stone Brewing distributed us. But we grew so fast on the East Coast that we couldn’t keep up. The East Coast distributors got pissed at us. They said, ‘Stop selling beer out West until you can supply us around here.’

Well, we’ve just completed a $9 million expansion, We did 55,000 or 60,000 barrels last year and we’re on pace to do 75,000 or 80,000 this year. So we’re back.

Me: What are your biggest sellers?

Sam. We’re a little different than many craft brewers. We have four best-sellers: 60 Minute IPA is 40 percent of our sales, 90 minute IPA is 20 percent, Midas Touch and Indian Brown are about 10 percent each. 90 minute is 9 percent alcohol, 90 IBUs. It’s got big malt and hops and it’s our fastest-growing brand. It’s on track to pass overtake 60 Minute by 2010.

Here in California, we’ve come in initially with just three, 90 Minute, Midas TouchPalo Santo Marron and . They’re all in four packs, all 9 to 12 percent, so they have great shelf stability and can make that cross country journey in good shape.

Going into Georgia, we had great anticipation and within a month of opening distribution there Georgia became a top 10 market for us. The excitement here in California is even greater than it was in Georgia. I’m really hopeful and excited that our off-centered ales will be embraced by California beer drinkers.

LAST NOTE: Bob Stahl of DBI Distributing, the San Francisco distributor, says a four pack of 90 Minute IPA will have a suggested retail of $11.99, Midas Touch, $12.99; Palo Santo Marron, $13.99.

Are you a pub owner? Bob says a half-barrel will cost $200. For comparison, a half barrel of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is $110.

CORRECTION: I typo’d the name of the Dogfish distributor for Marin and Sonoma counties. It’s Mesa Beverages, Santa Rosa. Sorry about that. b

PHOTOS: Top – The crowd at the Toronado Monday night marking the beginning of distribution of Dogfish Head beers in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Below: Sam Calagione hoists a pint of Dogfish at the Toronado. He’s standing in front of the Chronicle’s background paper. 

Credit: Photos by William Brand

Posted on Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008
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