Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

The Slow Food expo at Fort Mason in San Francisco – Tasting the beer

By William Brand
Saturday, August 30th, 2008 at 8:59 pm in Uncategorized.

Photos: Left, customers at the Draught Beer section. David Hopwood, of Stone, behind the bar.

Right: Transcontinental Ale

Left, below: A bottle of Jolly Pumpkin La Roja leaves a trail of thick foam.

Bottom: Little Opal, a prizewinning mild from Firestone Walker.

I hate writing reports about festivals that are over or – in the case of this one, the Slow Food Nation Taste Pavilions expo at Fort Mason in San Francisco this Labor Day weekend, a fest that is sold out.

So I’m going to keep this short, a sort of for-the-record report, helpful mostly to those among us lucky enough to have tickets. If you do have a chance for a ticket, grab it. It’s a fun event and the beer alone is worth the ticket price.

I spent my first hour at the cask section and the two brewers handling cask, Arnie Johnson, Marin Brewing’s head brewer, and Magnolia head brewer Ben Spencer fielded questons like, “Do you have any pilsners” and “I’d really like a hefeweizen” and “do you have any really sparkling beers?”

They patiently explained over and over that real ale is non-filtered and unpasteurized, so a slow secondary fermentation continues in the keg or cask.  People were fascinated and appreciative.

Best beers of the night. The star ratings are mine:

Transcontinental Ale****, 21st Amendment, San Francisco.  A cloudy copper with a malty nose. Taste is soft and malty with a fine, but not bitter, hoppy follow.  This is stunning beer and it’s also on tap right now at 21st Amendment. If you’re anywhere near, it’s worth a visit.  It was brewed earlier this month as a collaboration by Shaun O’Sullivan, 21st Amendment co-founder and Mitch Steel, brewmaster at Stone Brewing,  Escondido.  It’s a very strong 7.9 percent ABV and 85 IBUs. But the silky malts mask the strength and the hops are in great balance, so there’s not bitterness.

Bootleggers Brown***1/2, Half Moon Bay Brewing, Half Moon Bay.  Head brewer Alec Moss always makes a a beautiful brown ale and served here straight from the cask with no fizz from C02 is the way brown ales were meant to be served. Malt predominates, but it’s not sweet and there’s a dry follow.

Stone 12th Anniversary Bittersweet Chocolate ***3/4. Chocolate nose, taste of dark malts and chocolate lasts right into the finish. A champ.

Starbrew****, Marin Brewing, Larkspur, CA.  Arnie Johnson has won lots of awards with this stunning. powerful 10 percent ABV “wheat wine.”  A cloudy, dusky gold with a creamy head. Taste is mouth-filling. Love this beer. It’s usually available in 22 ounce bottles at the pub.

La Roja****, Jolly Pumpkin, Dexter MI. A dark copper with a big head, taste is full, starts out malty finishes sour, 7.2 percent. A real champ.

Temptation****, Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa, CA.  It’s all been said about this champion, 7.2 percent, barrel-aged,  sour beer. Just splendid.

Bourbon County Stout***1/2, Goose Island, Chicago.  This is the first beer I ever tasted that had been aged in a Bourbon barrel. That was in 1995. It hasn’t changed, 11 percent, thick, almost viscous taste, fairly sweet. Today, the bourbon nose seems restrained and I guess compared to some barrel aged beers these days, it is. If you get to Fort Mason this weekend, don’t miss it.

Little Opal****, Firestone-Walker, Paso Robles, CA. Made with the second running of a strong beer, it’s just 3.5 percent ABV, a British-style small beer or mild. It’s stunning: Malty, nice hoppy follow. It’s impossible to believe it’s low alcohol. Find out more about Little Opal here.

The beer pavilion is in front of a giant, enclosed warehouse wharf, where the other “taste pavilions” are located. Bread, Asian food, fish and seafood, olive oil,  chocolate, charcuterie, distilled spirits and wine.

After two hours in the beer pavilion, I wandered inside. Tastes were small and I made repeat visits to one serving rice balls and those great sour Japanese plums and to an Indian stand with great nan.

Biggest crowds naturally were at the wine pavilion at the rear of the  wharf.  Friday night was VIP night and the section was jammed. Invitations to the evening suggested “cocktail attire”, so I wore a suit jacket on top of a t-shirt.  I needn’t have bothered. Attire in the beer pavilion was, as usual, “relaxed.”

What was way cool was that the beer pavilion’s being staffed by craft brewers and volunteers who know a lot about beer. So they could answer questions intelligently and there were lots of questions. Crowds were more modest at the beer pavilion. Slow food fans are obviously only slowly catching on to the fact that beer  is one of the original slow foods.

For a report on the whole Slow Food weekend, check out Food Gal.

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