Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for August, 2008

New York Times takes a look at extreme beer – the mild kind

The New York Times Dining Out section  this morning (Aug. 27, 2008)  has a brilliant article by Betsy Andrews on low alcohol beer – the style the English call “mild.”  By all means, read the article: The Other Extreme: Low Alcohol Beer.

Andrews reports that brewers across the country – well, some brewers, at least – are becoming inerested in low alcohol beer, that is – beers around 3.5 percent.  One she mentions is Dupont Avril, which has  become a best-seller at Monk’s Cafe in Philadelphia.

I tried it there in June and loved it. I didn’t even know it was a mild until later. It was a beautiful cloudy gold, taste was malty upfront with a delightful, enticing, mildly sour, spicy finish. Haven’t been able to find it here, but it’s worth a search.

One place I always find and usually order a mild  is at Magnolia Gastropub in San Francisco, where  Dave McLean nearly always has Sara’ s Ruby Mild, 3.7 percent on tap. It’s his, very-American, hoppy version of Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild, a famous English beer.

Also, read my previous Slow Food Nation post about the second running, low alcohol beer being served this weekend by Firestone Walker at the Slow Food Nation taste pavilion at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

Posted on Wednesday, August 27th, 2008
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The spoof on Spectator

The ultimate joke has been played on the most reputable wine publication around. Have you heard? In the August issue, a restaurant in Milan, Italy named Osteria L’Intrepido was awarded the coveted Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its impressive wine list. There’s just one teensy problem. The restaurant doesn’t exist.

Talk about August Fools. The faux submission was the brainchild of author Robin Goldstein (“The Wine Trials”) as part of his research for an academic paper on the standards of wine awards. The Spectator’s annual wine awards, which started in 1981, often go to the world’s best and most expensive restaurants. You can read about the hoax from Goldstein’s perspective here.

In a nut shell, Goldstein selected 250 highly-rated Spectator white and red wines plus a reserve list (many of which scored poorly with the Spectator, ironically), added some sleek Italian fare and sent it in. The name of the restaurant is a play on the name of a restaurant guide series Goldstein founded called “Fearless Critic.”

But the Spectator folks didn’t notice. Their fact-checking included calling the fake phone number of the restaurant and leaving a few messages, in addition to Googling the restaurant and reading a few reviews on Chowhound. They were planted by Goldstein, of course.

I’d say I’m shocked that Spectator doesn’t have a correspondent somewhere in Italy who could’ve sniffed this hoax out, but the fact is that most of these awards programs are not bastions of journalistic criticism. Rather, they’re huge money makers. There is a $250 fee for submitting a wine list, and two thirds of restaurants who submit win an award. And with more than 4,000 restaurants making the 2008 list, that’s a profit of $1 million. Heck, I’m surprised the Oscars don’t charge a fee. The Webbys do!

Anyway, the Spectator responded by saying they never promised to visit every restaurant but that their mission is to evaluate their lists fairly. You can read their side of the story here. I think consumers would much rather see the magazine send reporters out to visit the restaurants and evaluate the menus and wine lists in their hands, not to mention the restaurant’s ambiance, service and, er, location. Heck, I’d be much happier with a list of 400 restaurants that exist and pay a way smaller application processing fee. Like $25 instead of $250.

Posted on Wednesday, August 27th, 2008
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Anderson Valley taps first Winter Solstice keg tonight at the Toronado

Events… This is late notice, but if you’re a fan of Anderson Valley Brewing , the place to be tonight is the Toronado, 547 Haight  St. in San Francisco. It’s Anderson Valley Brewing Night.

They’re going to tap the first keg of Anderson Valley Winter Solstice – August for a winter beer. Yup. This one has always been a spiced Christmas ale.

Also, Deep Enders Porter from a cask and Brother David’s Double and Triple, plus the other Anderson Valley starts, Hop Ottin IPA, Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, Boont Amber – all on tap, all on special.

Fun starts at 6 p.m. No cover. Pay for your beer. Personally, I’m going for the Deep Enders Porter on cask.

Posted on Wednesday, August 27th, 2008
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Slow Food taste pavilions at Fort Mason this week include a great beer tent

Craft brewers will strut their stuff

at Slow Food expo at Fort Mason

in San Francisco this weekend

Slow Food Expo Expected to draw 50,000
Slow Food Nation
A ‘Slow Food’ road trip

Highlights of the Slow Food Nation
What is Slow Food?

Note: This is my column that ran today (Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2008) in the San Jose Mercury-News. The Merc Food Section did the whole section on the Slow Food expo. Follow the links to see the whole report.  As for tickets, apparently, there are none. The entire three days of the event, Friday-Sunday is sold out. Well, yesterday, there were a few tickets left at four Whole Foods. Scroll down to my post Monday for the store addresses.

By William Brand
Bay Area News Group

IF YOU LIKE GREAT BEER,  the only place to be this weekend is the Slow Food Nation Taste Pavilion. Beer, the real stuff, brewed with love and tender care and great creativity, is one of the original slow foods, and it will have a tent of its own at this amazing, first-in-America, exposition at San Francisco’s Fort Mason.

The curator is Dave McLean, proprietor and head brewer at San Francisco’s Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery, and he says it’s going to be quite a show. “It’s a well-designed space, and it’s much more than a typical beer festival,” McLean says.

“We’ve got beers from 40 or 50 different breweries across the United States.”

There will be three sections, or stations, McLean says: one for real ale, unfiltered, not pasteurized, served straight from casks; another serving regular keg beer — that is, brew that may or may not be filtered and pasteurized, pushed to the tap by carbon dioxide; and the third for bottled beer of nearly every conceivable style and kind.

“The goal is to showcase the diversity of beer styles within American craft beer and also to show the community, the camaraderie, surrounding craft beer,” McLean says. Stations will be staffed by brewers and volunteers who understand the beer they’re serving and talk about it with festivalgoers.
“A lot of people are bringing some very special beers,” McLean adds.

He’s not kidding. Consider:

  • Matt Brynildson, brewmaster at the award-winning Paso Robles brewery – Firestone Walker – says he’s bringing a beer dubbed Little Opal. “One of the beers we brewed this year was a ‘wheat wine,’ ” he explains. It was rich and very strong, and after it was made Brynildson’s brewers ran hot water through the remaining grain.

They made a second beer with that runoff that was not nearly as strong. The process called the “second running” is ancient. It allowed brewers to squeeze more product out of the same, very expensive grain.

After boiling the second running wort with hops, it was fermented with a yeast that came from Saison Dupont, the spicy, peppery, Belgian farmhouse beer. “We got this wonderful beer,” Brynildson says. “It was just 3.8 percent alcohol by volume, and it’s been my beer of choice all summer.” (By comparison, a regular Sierra Nevada Ale is 5.5 percent.)

“We’re bringing this beer to San Francisco raw, not filtered and unfined. It’s just a real drinking beer with taste elements of a Belgian farmhouse beer.”

  • Oh, yes, Firestone Walker’s also sending a cask of 100 percent oak-aged Double Barrel Ale, the brewery’s flagship beer, aged in toasted French oak barrels.
  • Meanwhile, Jolly Pumpkin, the Dexter, Mich., brewer of some of America’s most unusual beers, has shipped three beers rarely seen on the West Coast:
  • La Roja, a 7.2 percent alcohol, Belgian-style artisan amber ale, unfiltered, not pasteurized, and blended from beers aged in barrels for two to 10 months.
  • Weizen Bam Bière, a 4.5 percent spicy wheat beer.
  • Bam Bière, a 4.5 percent bottled farmhouse ale that has been bottle-conditioned and dry-hopped. In bottle-conditioning, a medieval method of preservation, a small amount of fresh yeast is added to each bottle so a slow, second fermentation continues in the bottle. In dry-hopping, fresh hops are added to the beer while it’s undergoing its first fermentation before bottling. The process gives beer a fresh-hop aroma and taste.

There will be much, much more, curator McLean says.

San Diego’s Green Flash is among brewers sending a pallet of beer. Stone Brewing, of Escondido in San Diego County, is bringing Cali-Belgique, a new, Belgian-style ale.

Russian River, Santa Rosa, and Anderson Valley, Boonville,  are bringing several unique beers. And offerings by Lagunitas, from Petaluma, include a cask of aged Brown Shugga, a 9.9 percenter aged in oak, and a cask of barrel-aged Gnarly Wine, the brewery’s head-spinning, 9.7 percent barley wine, beer so strong it approaches the strength of table wine.

See you at Fort Mason.

Contact William Brand at, 510-915-1180, or What’s On Tap, Box 3676, Walnut Creek, Calif., 94598. Can’t make it to Slow Food Nation this weekend? Brand will be there. Check his blog at for a report.

Posted on Wednesday, August 27th, 2008
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Two East Coast wine lists

Hey Corkheads. I’m back from vacation.  Sigh. We headed east, starting in the Boston area and ending up in the tri-state glory of Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Where else can you eat mouth-watering, Zagat-rated Peruvian chicken in one state and hop to another for a frozen salted caramel in a hip chocolate lounge?

Yes, we ate our way through these states, relishing in the restaurants of Boston’s Newbury Street and up-and-coming South End not to mention Washington, D.C.’s revitalized downtown. But we didn’t necessarily drink our way through these towns. Granted, we couldn’t hit every restaurant, and wine bars were scarce.

Nonetheless, two restaurants’ wine lists impressed me, and I wanted to pass them on to you. The Elephant Walk in the Brookline neighborhood of Boston showcased wines made for this restaurant’s aromatic and hypnotic French-Cambodian cuisine. For whites, the wine director went as far as to separate Rieslings into “crisp with minerals” and “fruit-driven and off-dry.” They separated Old World Sauvignon Blanc from its New World counterpart, and offered plenty of Alsatian and Austrian options. Red-wise, my favorite part of the list was that they separated Pinot Noir into Burgundy, California and cool climate Oregon and New Zealand. Comes in very handy if you want to experiment with a red wine and all those exotic, lemongrass-based  soups.

Alas, we were seduced by two 2006 whites imported exclusively for the Elephant Walk by J.L. Wolf in Pfalz Germany: the Riesling and Pinot Gris. Both showed beautiful stone fruit flavors with a silky texture and a long mineral finish.

In Washington, D.C., I really enjoyed perusing the progressive list at Clyde’s, a chain restaurant that caters to the government crowd and had a keen knowledge of California Pinot Noir. The location in the heart of Chinatown won me over with its reasonable mark ups. Some great Carneros buys.

One observation: I was asked to select the wine for a table of eight and after much deliberation (this always brings out the geek in me but also stresses me out a bit)  I went with a 2006 Saintsbury Pinot Noir, figuring its ample fruit and light to medium body will be a good accompaniment to my clam bake and my neighbor’s barbecued chicken sandwich. Anyway, when the wine arrived and I went through the usual drill of swirling it in the light, under my nose and in my mouth, I garnered a few giggles!

It reminded me that wine is so much a part of life here in northern California — the observation of it, the discussion of it and the enjoyment of it are weaved into our lives here. When we go away it’s a swift reminder of how it’s not the same elsewhere, and even how silly all those things can seem.

Posted on Tuesday, August 26th, 2008
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Oddbits: What makes a pub great, favorite pubs and about that Obama poster – oops

Oddbits…I wrote about the Urban Tavern yin the downtown San Francisco Hilton,esterday. It’s tavern without beer on tap …Last night I was leafing through “Beer,” the new quarterly magazine published by the Campaign For Real Ale in the UK. They had a great quote about what makes a good pub from Roger Protz, the beer writer-author and CAMRA activist:

“…great welcome, great beer, great food, flagstones, beams, open fires and a welcome for dogs…

Roger, by by the way, was talking about CAMRA”s National Pub of the Year, the Old Spot in Dursley, Gloucestershire.

One more quote from English beer writer Ben McFarland

A perfect pub is somewhere you don’t want to leave, a home from home where your troubles are barred. It makes you feel content as soon as you arrive. The only theme should be leisurely drinking. It should be free of bicycles on the ceiling, fruit machines, signs to Tipperary, plasmas (TV) on the wall and clowns behind the bar.

Snacks and food should be simple and play a cameo role, and there should not be nuts that require shelling – which requires a hand that could be clutching a pint.

The perfect pub should never be mistaken for a restaurant, be called gastro or be part of a chain. The beer choice must be varied and immaculately kept, yet not dictate conversation nor the the clientele; the perfect pub should have a sun-trapping garden and it helps if it has a dog – preferably a big one to keep avaricious pub company fools from changing things…

Ben McFarland says the Bell in Aldworth, Berkshire is that perfect pub.

I have several favorite pubs, Pacific Coast in Oakland, The Trappist in Oakland, E.J. Phair’s Alehouse & Brewery in Concord, 21st Amendment in San Francisco and about a half-dozen others tied for fifth.

Got a favorite pub or a top 5? Post it here or e-mail me at

CORRECTION: I read the info too fast and didn’t catch on. The item I ran yesterday about the Obama poster and the Dale’s Pale Ale poster…kinda’ got it wrong. According to Marty Jones of Oskar Blues (maker of Dale’s Pale Ale), the Obama poster, below, was created by the Obama campaign. The beer poster is a Oskar Blues’ takeoff on the poster.
Oh hell, anyway…

Posted on Tuesday, August 26th, 2008
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Slow Food Nation Fort Mason tasting sessions sold out – Almost

The entire Slow Food Nation tasting pavilion sessions this weekend at Fort Mason in San Francisco are sold out, the organization says.

The only exception is the session Sunday night, Aug. 31, from 6 – 9 p.m. Right now, at 3:45 p.m., Monday, Aug. 25, there are a limited number o tickets at four Whole Foods Markets:

  • Whole Foods, Berkeley (3000 Telegraph Ave, 510.649.1333)
  • Whole Foods stores in San Francisco, SoMa,399 4th Street, 415.618.0066)
  • Potrero Hill (450 Rhode Island St., 415.552.1155)
  • Franklin Street (1765 California St , 415.674.0500

Tickets are $58 and gives one three hours to A. check out the Beer Pavilion, featuring cask, keg and bottled beers from about 50 breweries across the counry, and 14 other pavilions, wine, cheese, and so on. If you want to go, get a ticket right now.

If you don’t go, check out my blog Friday night. I’m going to the opening session and will post a report. No, I know it’s a poor substitute. But…

Posted on Monday, August 25th, 2008
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UPDATE: Details about the Obama, McCain ales from Half Moon Bay Brewing

The McCain Ale and Obama Ale being sold by Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. at the pub on the San Mateo Coast and online, are identical, Half Moon Bay Master Brewer Alec Moss says.

“They’re both light ales, they’re our regular Harbor Light Ale,” Alec says. “They’re 4.8 percent alcohol (ABV), brewed with German pale malt and Czech hops. They’re fermented with an ale yeast, but at a lower temperature than a regular ale, so they’re less estery than an ordinary ale, but they’re definitely ales.”

Sounds good to me.

Posted on Monday, August 25th, 2008
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Half Moon Bay brews Obama, McCain ales: Vote for your fave, Obama’s way ahead already

Oh my…the hits just keep on comin’…Now Alec Moss, head brewer at Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. out on the San Mateo Coast has gotten involved in the election.

He’s produced both an Obama Ale and a McCain Ale. They’re both traditional light English ales – knowing Alec, I guess “light” means light in color, not strength. They’re being sold in four packs at the brewpub and are on top there as well.

You can buy them on line for $3.75 a 22. oz. bottles, in 4-packs only. Each online purchase is a vote for the candidate of your choice. At the moment,m thre have been 1,920 purchases of the Obama Ale and 16 purchases of the McCain ale. Why so many Obama purchases?

Obama supporters bought the first 2,000 to distribute at the Democratic National Convention this week in Denver.

“We wanted to make sure the election process will still had a bit of fun and light-heartedness, so we created our version of a brewery election,” said Half Moon Bay Brewing Company Director of Marketing Wayne Meyer. “We will be tracking the purchase of the Obama and McCain Ales individually and posting it on our Web site each week to see who is in the lead. Vote at the brewery, vote early and vote often is what we like to say.”

Posted on Monday, August 25th, 2008
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Oskar Blues does an Obama poster for DNC, Flat Earth celebrates the GOP

…The Democratic National Convention is getting underway this afternoon and Denver’s many craft breweries are taking part big-time. Charlie Papazian, founder of the Brewers Association has a roundup, they include my fave, Obamanator from Wynkoop.

The one that caught my eye this morning is a poster from Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, CO. (Hint: They make Dale’s Pale Ale, the one in cans.) It’s a takeoff on Obama’s Hope poster.

But what about the GOP. So far, according to Papazian, the only craft brewer to come out with a convention special in Minneapolis, where the Republican National Convention begins next week is Flat Earth Brewing, St. Paul. Gee. Why do I find the name appropriate for the GOP?

Yes, yes. I know Flat Earth’s a reference to the boundless prairies that extend west from Minnesota into the infinity of my home state of Nebraska. Howsoever, I’m still laughing.

One more DNC tidbit, again from Oskar Blues. The brwery furnished the beer for a benefit for New Orleans last night in Denver. The $500 a plate gala was sold out and raised about $1.5 million. Well done. New Orleans is one of our greatest cities and it was hit hard by Katrina and spurned and ignored for too long by …well you know who,…those flat earth folks., No, not the brewery.

Posted on Monday, August 25th, 2008
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