Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

A night with Bruce Paton, Beer Repubic and barrel aged beer

By William Brand
Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 at 12:02 pm in Uncategorized.

Had a beery good time (couldn’t resist that one) Friday night (July 11, 2008) at Beer Chef Bruce Paton’s dinner featuring the beers of Bear Republic at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco.

I pulled two factoids out of the two evenings.

1. Visit a craft brewery almost anywhere here on the West Coast and you’re likely to find beer aging in barrels somewhere. Brewers (and many of us who just drink beer) are fascinated with the effects of aging beer in barrels and blending barrel-aged beers.

2. Bay Area residents of all ages, but especially those under-40 are absolutely fascinated with interesting beer, Belgian, English, American. Doesn’t matter. And all of us are becoming increasingly sophisticated. All of us dearly love Racer 5****1/2, the hoppy, but substantially malty India Pale Ale from Beer Republic.

As always, Bruce Paton’s beer dinner was special. The desert was a real highlight: Poached Honey Crisp Farms White Nectarine with whipped mascarpone and blueberry compote. Wild indeed.

And the beer? Bear Republic Wild Horse Quadruple aged in a Cognac barrel. Richard Norgrove, the homebrewer who founded Bear Republic in Healdsburg in Sonoma County, CA in 1995, explains the beer began as a strong Belgian-style triple two years ago, it was brewed in a small, seven barrel brewplant he purchased from the defunct Healdsburg Brewing Co. years ago.

It’s installed at Bear Republic’s big new brewery in Cloverdale, where Richard’s using it to brew experimental beers. Eventually, some will be released under the Wild Horse label.

Richard said he placed some of the beer in a 93 gallon, 100-year-old Cognac barrel; some in a whiskey barrel, some in a wine barrel and some in a stainless steel fermenter. He added Mexican cone sugar (piloncillo) to each batch to give the yeast some more fermentables.

Bruce Paton tasted samples of all four and chose the Cognac-aged beer, he said.

The taste? It was a lovely light tan color with a huge Cognac and cidery nose. The taste was dry with lots of warming alcohol. Really, a beer Cognac. It reminded me strongly of J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale, a beer from Manchester, England, aged in Calvados (apple brandy barrels). I give this puppy ***1/2 stars. Would love to have some in my beer fridge to try again tonight.

How do you follow a beer like Wild Horse Qaudrupel? Well Arnie Johnson, Marin Brewing’s head brewer brought one with him to the dinner: Starbrew Wheatwine, aged a year in Chardonnay barrels, fermented with Brettanomyces wild yeast and lactobacillus and pediococcus bacteria. supplied by Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa.

Arnie adds the Chardonnay barrels are rather unusual. They had held a Chardonnay for 15 years; immediately after they were emptied, he poured in the Starbrew, a delicious 10 percent ABV wheat beer. Over time the wild yeast and bacteria boosted the alcohol to 12 percent, Arnie says.

Again, a wild, wild taste, closer to a brandy than a beer, quite dry with a rush of warming alcohol in the finish. Damned interesting. Another experiment that may or may not wind up bottled. If it is, Arnie, put me down for a couple.

And furthermore…. Bruce Paton’s next ber dinner is Sept. 19, featuring the beers of Moylan’s, Marin Brewing’s companion brewpub in Novato. The menu will be paired with the exquisite beers from head brewer Denise Jones. Reservations at

Photos: Top, part of the crowd of 60 diners at the Bruce Paton Bear Republic Dinner.

Right: Richard Norgrove addressed the crowd.

Why is there no photo of Quadruipel or Arnie Johnson’s Barrel-aged Starbrew? Answer: Both beers were preceded by two glasses of Bear Republic Extra Pale Ale, two glasses of Bear Belgian Wit, a delcious wit with a lemon nose and crisp. sweet finish, paired with a sale of fresh gulf prawns with avocado, banana salsa and mango chipotle sauce,. folled by two glasses of Racer 5 IPA paired with chicken, artichokes heirloom tomatoes and fingerling potatoes.

Then, there was the vicious Bear Republic Black Mamba: mild malt aroma, a dry taste of black malt with an underlying sweetness and a hoppy finish, paired with lamb cutlets, mac n’ cheese and cacao nib beurre rouge. Damn. Well I did get a photo of Black Mamba, a draft only beer, served at the Bear Republic pub in Healdsburg.

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  • Shail

    Hey William – I had no clue you were at the beer dinner! My claim to fame is I made the far left corner of your photo. My first beer dinner, but I am definitely a fan now. Great food, great beer, and great company. Can’t beat that.

  • William Brand

    Let’s hear it for Bear Republic and Bruce Paton.