Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for July, 2008

The beers of Gordon Biersch

Note: This review of Dan Gordon’s beers was published in the San Jose Mercury News on July 16, 2008. In case you’ve overlooked Gordon Biersch beers at your local supermarket because, they’s German-style lagers and not uber-beers, I suggest you look again. Photo: Gordon-Biersch Dunkelweizen in a Bavarian weisse glass. wb

Gordon Biersch brews made to code

NO RICE OR SUGAR IN THESE LAGERS, AND THEYRE FAR FROM LIGHT

By William Brand
MediaNews Staff Writer

Article Launched: 07/16/2008 01:32:24 AM PDT

Unlike brewers in the great ale-making countries of the United Kingdom and Belgium, German brewers adhere to the Reinheitsgebot, the Bavarian purity code religiously. The code allows only hops, malted barley (and wheat), water and yeast. No rice like Budweiser has and no sugar like the Belgians and the British sometimes do.

Dan Gordon of Gordon Biersch closely follows the Bavarian code: no rice. To brew Munich style beers, the water must be chemically altered to the same chemical composition as the water in Munich. To follow the code, Gordon’s brewers add a natural lactobacillus to the barley mash to adjust the water’s pH to the proper hardness.

It’s like that throughout the brewing process. And what comes out is, well, splendid. Don’t look for über-hops or extreme, high-alcohol beers. Gordon Biersch brews are marked by a mellow spice with subtle notes of malt up front. Hops are spicy German Hallertau. The range includes:

  • Gordon Biersch Dunkelweizen***1/2, the summer seasonal. It’s a dark, top-fermented, unfiltered, very drinkable, wheat beer, made with a special German yeast that adds a unique spiciness.
  • Gordon Biersch Hefeweizen***1/2. Made year-round, this hefe is made in the original Munich style. It’s a cloudy gold with a spicy nose from the German Hallertau hops. Gordon only uses German hops and a finish with strong, clove notes.
  • Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock****. This is one of the brewery’s stronger beers, 7 percent alcohol by volume. It has a delightful, silky maltiness. It’s just about a perfect beer to serve with dinner.
  • Gordon Biersch Märzen ****is an amber lager with a pronounced, malty taste with a fading sweetness lasting into a crisp, spicy finish. This is the original beer served at Munich’s Oktoberfest in the mid-1800s. It’s the company’s bestselling beer and no wonder. It’s an excellent example of the style.
  • Gordon Biersch Winter Bock*** is a strong Bavarian-style double bock. It usually hits stores in the Bay Area in late November. It’s 7.5 percent ABV, dark, malty, very drinkable.
  • Gordon Biersch FestBier. This is Dan Gordon’s version of the beer served these days at Oktoberfest in Munich. It’s due to be released in late August and is something to anticipate.

Gordon Biersch beers are widely available in stores in the Bay Area and throughout California; they’re also sold in Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii and in Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

Posted on Sunday, July 20th, 2008
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A 21-year-old visits Luka’s in Oakland and…read on..

Hmmm. My daughter, Amanda,  took three friends to Luka’s in downtown Oakland last night. Here’s her report. The photo is hers. The Belgian beer from Bosteels, Tripel Karmeliet is in the foreground in a lowly white wine stem and Old Speckled Hen, the English bitter, is in its more or less proper pint glass, American, not English, however. Old Speckled Hen was first brewed by Morland, which was absorbed by Greene King. It was named after a car in the MG auto factory. Bottom photo shows Tripel Karmeliet in its branded glass.

By Amanda Brand
In my humble, newly minted 21-year-old mind, there is a great divide in the land of beer: there are beer bars with food, and beer bars without food. Downtown Oakland best demonstrates this divide: you can go to the Trappist (cheese platter aside) or you can go to Luka’s Taproom and Lounge. And while the differences beyond that fragile fissure are numerous, when you’re looking to get a Rodenbach on Broadway, your hunger is probably going to dictate your footsteps.

Luka’s definitely has a vibe, and a decent one at that. Seating is abundant, servers are sprinkled generously around the bar and the Belgian frites come out quick and hot. On my inaugural visit to Luka’s last Wednesday evening however, my one gripe was, sadly, the beer.

The selection is decent, and I give Luka’s a pardon for listing 24 oz cans of Pabst on the same page as Rochefort 8. The classics are on tap: Chimay, Rodenbach, Triple Karmeliet, Tremens, et al. But you’re not going to get most of those in their designated glasses (a precarious wine glass served as a paltry stunt double) and you’re probably going to get them at a frosty temperature and with a dying, flat over tone that makes you long for the Speckled Hen they serve in a pint glass with a frothy top.

Luka’s isn’t lost, however. Get the glassware, open a fresh keg and get some warmth into the brew and you’ll have a beer bar that can keep pace. You can’t beat the food and the live line up of bands looks awesome.

And one last suggestion? To the bartender that met my request for a Rodenbach with a stunted “Uhm, have you tried that before?” Yes I have. And believe me, I know that’s not the right glass.

Posted on Saturday, July 19th, 2008
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It’s International Brewers Day: A salute to Dan Gordon of Gordon-Biersch

Video: A tour of Gordon Biersch in San Jose

It’s International Brewers Day. Jay Brooks, who writes the brookston beer bulletin blog started this. It’s a great idea to honor brewers, the men and women who make the elixirs we love (and some we don’t love so much.}

My contribution is the column I wrote this week in the San Jose Mercury News, I wrote about Dan Gordon and Gordon Biersch,

Photos: Top, left, Dan Gordon, Dean Biersch in archive photo from the brewery Web site.

Middle: Dan Gordon in recent photo at the brewery.He’s is surrounded by cases of beer which, some, will be shipped out of California as part of their nationwide expansion plans. The cold storage room at the micro-brewery houses 10,000 cases of beer, according to Gordon. They will be shipping to the Pacific Northwest, Georgia and Tennessee. Photo by Eugene H. Louie , San Jose Mercury-News.

Hometown brew: The beer that grew up with Silicon Valley

By William Brand
Media News Staff Writer

Dan Gordon pushed a lever that opens a tiny, clear plastic line extending from a gigantic fermenter, two stories high, at the Gordon Biersch brewery in San Jose and drew off a few ounces of amber beer into two glasses.

“It’s unfiltered,” Gordon says with a broad grin. “I wish we could sell it this way.”

The Märzen beer is crisp, malty with a fine, spicy finish and, even though it’s 10:30 in the morning, absolutely delicious.

That is no surprise. Gordon, flanked by a long row of fermenters, soaring to the ceiling at the four-acre, 100,000-square-foot San Jose brewery, has been at this for awhile, even altering the water to mimic Munich’s.

This month, Gordon Biersch brewery restaurants celebrate the 20th anniversary of the start of their brewpubs, born in the Silicon Valley at a time when putting a brewery in a restaurant was a novel idea.

Dan Gordon and Dean Biersch, two guys, still in their 20s, opened the first one in the former Bijou Theater at 640 Emerson St. in Palo Alto when there were only a handful of brewpubs in the country.

Now there are 28 Gordon Biersch brewery-restaurants across the United States and one in Taiwan, (probably as famous for their garlic fries as their beer) bearing the founders’ names even if the two no longer own them.

A mutual friend introduced the men in 1987.
The San Jose-born Gordon had just graduated from the prestigious, five-year brewing engineering program at the Technical University of Munich at Weihenstephan, Germany, a fact reflected in the German-style beers he still brews in his San Jose brewery.

Biersch, who was born in San Francisco and grew up in Southern California, had a background in restaurants and another important attribute: He loved beer.

They opened the Palo Alto brewery-restaurant with $720,000 raised mostly from young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, including Robert Miner, the co-founder of Oracle, who has since died.

Soon after the opening, Biersch recalls, Michael Jackson, an English beer critic, came to Palo Alto, tried their first beer, an unfiltered Dunkelweizen – a dark, unusual German-style wheat beer – and loved it. “He wrote this phenomenal story, and the business took off,” Biersch says.
They opened their second brewery-restaurant in San Jose in 1990, then a third in San Francisco. By 1999, they had 12, with Gordon handling the beer, Biersch supervising the food and restaurant design.

In 1997, they opened a separate brewery on East Taylor Street in San Jose to produce bottled and keg beer for retail sales.
Business boomed, then they hit a legal wall.

“A quirk in state law changed everything,” Gordon explains. The new law put a 60,000-barrel limit on beer that could be produced by companies that owned more than six brewpubs. (A barrel of beer each contains 31 gallons.)

“We had eight brewpubs in California and were producing 60,000 barrels,” Gordon says. Since they had opened their San Jose brewery two years earlier, they had to stop brewing beer or get out of the restaurant or brewery business.

“People were banging on the door to buy our restaurants, so selling them was an easy decision.”
In 1999, they sold the restaurants to Big River, a Chattanooga, Tenn., company, now the Gordon-Biersch Restaurant group. They previously sold majority interest in their brewing company,but not the brewpubs, to Lorenzo Fertitta’s Export Limited of Las Vegas. The Fertitta family runs casinos and owns the Ultimate Fighting Championship network.

Gordon remains director of brewing and also supervises beer quality at the restaurants. The companies do promotions together.

Biersch left the business in 2006 and recently opened Hopmonk, a European-style pub, beer garden and music hall in Sebastopol.

Gordon, who still has partial interest in the Gordon Biersch brewery, brews Hopmonk’s signature beer – a German-style, rich, malty pilsner – and continues to make beer in the German style in a former Continental Can Co. cannery. The cannery is across the street from the company where Gordon worked at one summer while attending University of California-Berkeley, long before a brand of beers carried his name.

Contact William Brand at whatsontap@sbcglobal.net, (510) 915-1180, or What’s On Tap, Box 3676, Walnut Creek, Calif. 94598. Read more by Brand at www.ibabuzz.com/beer. Can’t find a beer? E-mail, call or write Brand and ask for his 2008 Retail Beer Store List.

Posted on Friday, July 18th, 2008
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Monday wineries at California Wine Merchant

I just walked by California Wine Merchant on Chestnut Street in San Francisco. If you haven’t checked out their Monday Night Winery events, you should. For $20, you taste four wines and receive a discount for any take home purchases. Sometimes, you can even meet a star.

Last Monday, the wine bar showcased the newest wines from legendary winemaker Heidi Barrett, creator of four 100 point wines, including the iconic Screaming Eagle. In a rare appearance, Barrett was on site, signing bottles and chatting with customers. Can’t believe I missed it!

If you did too, you can still taste some of her wines for La Sirena, including a Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, at the bar. This coming Monday, July 21, the wine bar is featuring Ladera, producers of estate hillside Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. Another not to miss event. Check it out. 

Posted on Friday, July 18th, 2008
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Events: New Belgium Tour de Fat in San Francisco, Stone Sour Fest

EVENTS THIS WEEKEND:

  • Tonight: Friday, July 18, 6:30 p.m. It’s not to late to get into Beer Chef Bruce Paton’s beer dinner featuring the brews of Bear Republic at Cathedral Hill Hotel, San Francisco, $80, reservations: www.beer-chef.com.See you there
  • Saturday, July 19, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., New Belgium Tour de Fat, Speedway Meadows, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. I gotta hand it to the folks at New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colo., makers of Fat Tire Amber Ale, the beer named after an off-road bike — they know how to do an event designed to draw publicity. Consider “Tour de Fat.” This is a traveling chautauqua, going city to city, a kind of 21st-century dog and pony show. Well, dogs are unlikely and certainly there are no ponies. It’s a bicycle festival with beer, of course. Everyone’s urged to come and bring bikes. There’s a grand parade and all kinds of biking event, live music all day and did I say beer? Yes. Proceeds from beer and merchandise sales go to the San Francisco Bike Coalition and the Bay Area Trail Council.
  • They’ve added a new wrinkle. They’re going to select one person willing to give up his or her car for an entire year and only ride a bike, which New Belgium will furnish. Want to do that? Go to www.tour-de-fat.com
  • Sunday, July 20, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. , 2nd annual Stone Sour Fest, Stone Brewing, 1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido CA. Escondido is in northern San Diego County and we’re in the Bay Area, but if by any chance you live in Southern California or are going to be in the area Sunday, this is one not to miss. Stone’s Beverage Co-ordinator Peter Reeves said they have 33 beers on draft, all sour and most from American craft brewers. The include three primo sour beers from Valley Brewing in Stockton. This is a brewpug that’s earning a growing repuaation for Belgian-style sour beers. Their contributions to the Sour Fest:

Fat Freddy;’ Freaky Kriek, a Lambic-style aged with sour cherries and pomegranate, 7.5 percent ABV
Grand Cru- a blend of their eitht month old Belgian Quadruple and a 3 year old pomegranate lambic; 12 percent.
–Wild Cat- A sour stout aged in Bourbon barrels; 8 percent.

Posted on Friday, July 18th, 2008
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A truly funny Budweiser cartoon and some sobering thoughts

I just saw this cartoon on Jay Brooks beer blog. It’s drawn by Ben Sargent, who does a daily cartoon for Yahoo. First, I laughed, then I felt some pain. My parents were solidly middle class, came out of the Great Depression and Prohibition and did not drink beer, but our Texas relatives sure did.

Some of ‘em fit this cartoon’s stereotype fairly well. They used to give their 5-year-old a bottle of beer, usually a Lone Star “long neck”, but sometimes Bud in a can. He could chug ‘em right down and everybody laughed… Let’s see, they also chewed tobacco and never went beyond high school and the men worked for the railroad.

So, while I love the cartoon, the image pisses me off, because it suggests a guy of little brain – somebody, who for obvious reasons, could never appreciate or evaluate a Belgian tripel. Bull. My uncles Ross and Morris were damned smart and that beer-drinking kid did just fine; he grew up, got university degrees, is not fat — and he still drinks beer. Most likely Lone Star, although I haven’t asked. Possibly, he’s drinking Belgian tripels or certainly will if the popularity of Belgian beer ever reaches his Texas border town.

Also, Jay Brooks made a good point about changing the taste of Bud. It’s not gonna’ happen. They’re going to make Bud as it is right now today, an international brand,. Hell, they’re going to sell Bud in China and India and Brazil…

Posted on Friday, July 18th, 2008
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Barclay Perkins: Ten Dutch beers worth trying…

Headed to Europe anytime soon, If Holland’s on your itinerary, don’t scoff at the beer. It may seem like an endless sea of Heineken clones, but it isn’t. Ron Pattinson, the English travel writer, who lives in Holland and can read German and writes the Don’t Tell Me About Barclay Perkins blog has just posted “Ten Dutch beers you should try.” Here’s the first one, which I’ve seen in good beer stores here in the San Francisco Bay Area:

Christoffel Blond

Christoffel is the only new Dutch brewery to concentrate exclusively on lagers. Not surprising, as it was founde by a member of the Brand family who had studied at Wehenstephan. A pale lager, it’s usually classified as a Pilsner, despite its 6% ABV. The first thing you notice is the massive hop aroma. It’s one of those beers I could just sit and sniff all day. The aroma is that good. Should you manage to get it into your mouth, you’ll be greeted by more abundant hop flavours and a scorching bitterness. (Here’s an alternative description for American hopheads: there’s a little a hoppiness in the aroma and a slight trace of bitterness in the finish.) Distinctive and very drinkable. That’s a winning combination in my book. READ THE REST OF THE POST…

Also, Ron does the very authoritative European Beer Guide Web site.

Posted on Thursday, July 17th, 2008
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Can release party at the Toronado next Tuesday

I may be wrong, but I believe the Toronado,547 Haight St., San Francisco, is hosting its first-ever “Can Release Party” next week. Dare I call it a “can opening party?” The day is Tuesday, July, 22. The time is 6-9 p.m. and the event is the inaugural flight of 21st Amendment’s Hell or High Watermelon Wheat and Brew Free! or Die IPA in cans.

No admission charge, buy your own cans. Meet 21st Brewer-Co-founder Shaun O’Sullivan and business partner, co-founder Nico Freccia.

Be there or be square.

Posted on Thursday, July 17th, 2008
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Friday Monkey Shiraz great any night

Friday Monkey Shiraz

I spend most Wednesday nights with my best friend, Jenny. Both fresh off a workout, she whips up a salad or pasta and I bring the wine. With the yo-yo heat wave, I’ve been sticking to interesting, minerally whites that do well with all kinds of foods and cost less than $15.

But last night, with the sun significantly milder, I decided to bring a red, something soft enough to work if we went with salad, but hearty enough to stand up to a red pasta sauce. I went with a 2005 Friday Monkey Shiraz. I know what you’re thinking — South Eastern Australian Shiraz would squash a salad with its near 16 percent alcohol, right? Not this one.

The wine, which retails for about $8, was quite balanced, with light tannins, blackberry aromas and flavors and a spicy, American oak finish. We decanted the wine and drank it over three episodes of “Mad Men.” This morning, Emmy nominations were announced, and “Mad Men” walked away with a whopping 16. I think Friday Monkey deserves at least that many accolades.

Check out their other selections, including a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet-Merlot blend, by visiting the store locater on their web site.

Posted on Thursday, July 17th, 2008
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Oddbits…21st Amendment IPA, Watermelon Wheat in stores here next week, Breastfest raises $40,000

Oddbits…The canned IPA and Watermelon Wheat from 21st Amendment in San Francisco will be in stores in San Francisco next week and in Beverages and More stores in the East Bay, North Bay and South Bay in the first week of August. Live Free or Die IPA is dynamite, as good an IPA as you can find. Hell or High Watermelon Wheat is unusual, tasty…They’re brewed for 21st at Cold Springs Brewing, Cold Springs, MN.

…Don’t think beer festival benefits benefit anyone? Consider the 8th Annual “Fermenting Change” Microbreweries Battling Breast Cancer fest at, Marin Brewing, Larkspur, last Saturday. Fest organizer Jenn Procopio says they’re donating $40,000 to the Charlotte Maxwell Clinic, a clinic offering cancer services to low income women, with offices in Berkeley and San Francisco. That’s up $5,000 from last year…

...A regular blog poster notes that Firehouse Grill & Brewery in Sunnyvale is opening a new pub across the street from Ikea in Palo Alto. Haven’t called ‘em yet. Will post something later…Going to the Great American Beer Festival, Oct. 9-11 in Denver this fall? Better buy your tickets now. The Brewers Association is predicting all sessions will sell out before the fest begins. Happened last year for most sessions…Get tickets at beertown.org. If you;’re not going, stay tuned to this blog. I’m gonna be there from Thursday, Oct. 9 through Saturday and will post constantly. Also, The Brewing Network plans to attend and Webcast live from the convention center where the GABF is held.

Last note,,,my spies tell me that Craig Wathen at City Beer, 1168 Folsonm St. in San Francisco has a stock of Alesmith (San Diego) beers including the luxe Speedway Stout…

Posted on Thursday, July 17th, 2008
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