Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for October, 2008

Toasting the President Elect? Which beer?

Question for the weekend. I know everybody’s glued to the TV, watching election developments,  minute-by-minute. Blog traffic is down. Beer just doesn’t seem important in the face of the failing economy and the presidential election.

My question is – If your candidate wins the election. What beer are you going to toast him with? If your guy loses,  what’s your choice then?

I’m voting for Obama and if he wins, I’m going to crack open the oldest beer I own: A 1987 Thomas Hardy’s Ale.

If McCain wins (and don’t get me wrong, I respect the man. I was also in Navy air, although I didn’t fly, I did target planning for Sixth Fleet pilots), but I’m going to open a bottle of French cider. Yes, I realize that’s a bit like an upraised digit. But hell, I’m a sore loser. Maybe I’ll eat some French fries too.

How about you?

Posted on Friday, October 31st, 2008
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Events: Another election night party, Bistro’s Barrel-Aged Beer Fest

Events: Besides the Election Party Tuesday night (Nov. 4, 2008) at Triple Rock in Berkeley, they’re also having a bash at Park Chalet, the downstairs restaurant at Beach Chalet on the Great Highway at the western end of Golden Gate Park. Starts at 5 p.m., ends at midnight, when hopefully we’ll have elected a new president.

Please join us for Election Night Taco Tuesday at the Park Chalet! Watch the returns on our 120 in” screen, groove to Diego’s Umbrella, enjoy Taco Tuesday specials ($2.50 tacos, $3 pints, 2-for-1 margaritas!)

…Nothing to do with the election, but Bistro proprietor Vic Kralj reminds me that the Bistro’s 3rd Annual West Coast Barrel Aged Beer Festival / Street Party Saturday, November 15th. Over 60 beers aged on wood. Live music and BBQ all day, doors open 11 a.m.  Believe me, this is an event not to miss.

Posted on Friday, October 31st, 2008
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Firestone-Walker’s Anniversary Beer: How it’s made

Firestone-Walker is releasing their 12th Anniversary beer next week (and yes, it will be available in all the good beer stores in the Bay Area in very limited quantities), so I thought I’d post this column about their 10th Anniversary beer which explains how head brewer Matt Brynldson blends the beer. Since then, he’s limited the number of winemakers to a couple and they’ve added more kinds of barrel-aged beers to the blend.

By William Brand

Our Beer of the Week is easily one of the most unusual beers any of us will encounter this year. It’s Firestone Walker Brewing’s “10’’ ***+, which commemorates the Paso Robles brewery’s 10th anniversary.

In a sense, it’s  a back-to-the-past beer. Before the modern era, beer was fermented and aged in wooden barrels and it was common to blend several brews together to achieve a desired taste. It’s the way a lot of wine is still made.

Firestone Walker’s 10 was made that way with a couple of modern twists. It’s a blend of 10 batches of strong beers of various kinds, most fermented and aged in a variety of wooden barrels,  which had been used in Kentucky to make Old Fitzgerald Bourbon, Old Fitzgerald Wheat Whiskey, Heaven Hill Bourbon and Heaven Hill Brandy.

The brewers also used new oak barrels, the wood toasted to their specifications. In all, the project involved beer in 80 barrels.

As an added wrinkle, Central Coast winemakers, experienced in blending wine, helped the Firestone Walker brew crew produce the beer. “A number of amazing people had a hand in crafting `10’,’’ head brewer Matt Brynildson said. But it was Brynildson who did the research.

Beers in the blend included Abacus, a strong English-style barley wine, Parabola Imperial Oatmeal Stout; Ruby American Style Barley wine, Bravo Imperial Brown Ale, eachg aged in a variety of barrels, plus Walker’s Reserve, Humboldt Hemp Ale and Double Barrel Ale, which also is aged in oak. More kinds of hops and malts went into these beers

Brynildson said that when it came time to blend the beers into `10’, winemakers and brewers had differing opinions. The  brew crew favored a rock-your-socks blend emphasizing the Parabola Imperial Stout and the Bourbon barrel flavor. Winemakers – perhaps thinking ahead five years when `10’ has matured – wanted complexity and balance.

In the end, `10’ was blended much like a wine, with a bit of Abacus providing the dominant flavor and Parabola providing cherry and chocolate. There’s a lot more.

It’s a wild conclusion, I know, but at this point, `10’ is a very young beer. It’s very much a digestif, a beer to enjoy after dinner in a brandy glass, perhaps, Brynildson suggests, with an assortment of fine chocolates. I taste vanilla and oak and other mysterious notes. This is a great beer today and without a doubt a world class beer in a year or two.

There’s so much more to say about this beer, that I’ve posted Brynildson’s notes on my blog at .It comes in a 22 oz. bottle, $9.99, meant to share with friends.  Can’t find this beer? E-mail me at or call (510) 915-1180 and ask for our `10’ beer store list.

Photo: Matt Brynildson at the Great American Beer Festival in 2006. Photo by Gregory Daurer/Denver

Posted on Friday, October 31st, 2008
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Firestone-Walker releasing their 12th Anniversary Beer

Flash news. Firestone Walker is releasing their 12th Anniversary beer on Nov. 8 at the brewery in Paso Robles. Bottles will be on sale for $19.95 (Well, they’re big bottles).  A limited amount of the beer is making its way northward to the San Francisco Bay Area and all the usual good beer stores and good beer pubs will have it, however briefly. Hint: Reserve a bottle today. This is a beer that will improve with age, although I’ve never had enough self-discipline to to keep one long enough to find out. I always drink it.

Here’s a bit of detail from Firestone-Walker:

  • Head brewer Matt Brynildson enlisted the help of Paso Robles area wine makers to assist in the blending of several barrel-aged beers into the finished product.  Parabola, a Russian Imperial Stout and Bravo Brown, an Imperial Brown are just two of the beers making up the final blend.  Some of the component beers have spent over 2 years aging in a combination of retired bourbon, rye, and wine barrels.  This process contributes unique and one-of-a kind flavors not typically found in beer.
  • The anniversary release will be available to select accounts in limited quantities throughout California and Oregon later in the month.  Only 600 cases of this vintage beer were made and Firestone Walker co-founder David Walker doesn’t expect it to last long.
  • “Our anniversary beers have become somewhat of a phenomenon.  Each year beer fans make the pilgrimage to the brewery to get this limited release and before we know it, it’s gone,” said co-founder David Walker.
  • The release party on the 8th of November will also feature a few other special beers only available at the brewery.  Bottles of  “XII” will be on sale for $19.99 plus tax with a 12 bottle limit per person to insure everyone has an opportunity to purchase.

Posted on Thursday, October 30th, 2008
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Oddbits: 21st Amendment night at City Beer, Freaktoberfest, Pliny is a best-seller, a video on the GABF, Slow Food is deserting us, a Joe Sixpack votes for Obama video

Events. It’s late notice, I know, but City Beer, 1168 Folsom St. in San Francisco is holding a 21st Amendment night tonight, (Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008). 21st head brewer Shaun O’Sullivan says they’ll be pouring Fat Bavarian, Double Trouble IPA, Back in Black and Diesel Imperial Smoked Porter.  Hours 6-10 p.m. No admission. Buy your own beer.

By the way…if you’ve never visited City Beer,  I highly recommend it. Proprietors Craig and Beth Wathen  have an unusual off-sale, on-sale license and an extensive beer list. You can buy a bottle of any beer, share it with friends at the pub. If you like the beer, you can buy more to take home.

Another event… Shmaltz Brewing, makers of He’brew are unveiling their blood red beer (yes it’s a red lager) tonight (Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008)  9 p.m. Elixir Saloon
3200 16th St., San Francisco. No cover Cash Bar. They’re having a Halloween party Friday night at Amnesia, 853 Valencia St, San Franciaco, $10 cover.  The beer’s a 6.6 percent lager with a dry finish.

Moving on… Got this note from Ben Eksousian, who coordinates speciality beer sales for Whole Foods Markets in Northern California:

  • William, We are flying through Pliny (Pliny the Elder, Russian River Brewing) at all our locations that carry it..Last week it was in our top 10 best selling beers for the region. Amazing stuff…

To which I say: Amen.

Also got a note from Chris and Merideth Nelson that they’ve posted their latest video…on the just concluded Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Find it at

…Remember the Slow Food Nation expo at Fort Mason over Labor Day. They had a great beer pavilion, overseen by the San Francisco Brewers Guild, with craft beer from across America.. (Read our report here).  Did the expo draw a crowd? You betcha”

  • Slow Food Nation today announced that after analyzing all post-event surveys, they have found that the total number of unique visitors to the event was over 85,000. The new analysis also shows that the Marketplace on Civic Center Plaza vendors made a total of 48,000 individual purchases; that Californian family farmers sold $300,000 of product directly to the public during the event; and that the Slow on the Go vendors sold over $150,000. The event raised $45,000 through Slow Dinners for partner non-profit organizations in the Bay Area, including the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy, Greenbelt Alliance, La Cocina, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, City Slicker Farms, and People’s Grocery. Thanks to a collaboration with Fora.TV and Participant Media, the Slow Food Nation Food for Thought videos posted to the web site have been viewed by over 25,000 people, more than triple the number who attended in person.

Enough blah-blah-blah. The bad news: There won’t be an expo here next year.  Maybe Washington, Chicago or Des Moines. Drat.  Hey! Maybe we should do another Slow Food Beer Expo here next Labor Day on our own. How about it SF Brewers Guild?

There’s news about Fuller’s new whiskey-barrel-aged beer. It’s coming to the U.S. at some point in the next few months  and will be for sale in very limited markets, the importer Distinguished Brands Inc. says.  Gotta’ try this one.

Hi William– I think you’ll like my song, I’m Joe Six-pack and I’m voting for Obama: Here’s the YouTube link:
Thanks, Rita Abrams

Whoa. Stop the presses…Here’s news from MillerCoors:

MillerCoors is excited to announce the national launch of MGD 64 – the lightest beer on the market with just 64 calories and 2.5 grams of carbohydrates per 12 oz. bottle. The differences between MGD 64 and other light beers and alcohol beverages really add up – take a look:

·         A 12-ounce bottle of Bud Light has 110 calories
·         A 12-ounce bottle of Michelob Ultra has 95 calories
·         A 6-ounce glass of red wine contains 128 calories
·         A 6.5-ounce margarita contains 246 calories

Question: Why is drinking these beers like making love in a canoe?  You answer that one. This is a family blog.

Posted on Thursday, October 30th, 2008
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Election night party at Triple Rock and a discount if you voted

Hey, I’ve finally got a place to go next Tuesday night after the election: Triple Rock Brewery, 1920 Shattuck Ave. in downtown Berkeley. Here’s the word from brewer Rodger Davis:

  • Join us at Triple Rock Brewery and Alehouse, as we “TRIPLE ROCK THE VOTE”. Starting Thursday October 30th, we will be tapping our “Votemeal” Ale, a single hopped Pale Ale with Stryian Goldings and brewed with whole oats and a touch of flaked barley. We will also be serving Democratic and Republican plates from our grill that will feature ingredients from both sides of the race. First up, flown in from Chicago, ½ pound hotdogs with all the fixings you desire. Second up, Caribou stew, made from Alaskan Caribou and spiced to perfection. Then on Election day, Tuesday Nov. 4th, join us as we serve up the “Votemeal” ale three ways; cask-conditioned via our hand pumps, nitro tap and through our regular bar taps. We will be serving up specials on the beer, for everyone wearing their “I voted today” stickers all day. So get out there and vote and join us after to watch our states turn blue and red until the polls close.

Hey Rodger, I’ve already voted (for Obama and against Prop. 8.) Can I get a discount now?

Posted on Wednesday, October 29th, 2008
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Cambodian soup and Gewurztraminer

I had a rocking pairing the other night. In anticipation of the season finale of “Mad Men,” my boyfriend Joel and I made a Spicy Chicken Soup from a fabulous French-Cambodian restaurant cookbook we picked up at the Elephant Walk in Boston.

We cracked open a bottle of 2006 Anderson Valley Dry Gewurztraminer from Castello di Amorosa, and together with a side of corn doused in sweet and spicy sauce, it was heaven. The lime and basil and bird’s eye chilies in the soup matched similar exotic flavors in the Gewurztraminer, and the wine’s hypnotic floral aromas took us much farther away than 1950’s Manhattan.

Posted on Wednesday, October 29th, 2008
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Le Freak: A new wonder from Green Flash Brewing

I wrote about a new favorite beer of mine in my column today in the Oakland Tribune/Contra Costa Times: Le Freak, from Green Flash Brewing in Vista near San Diego.  Green Flash is one of the leaders in the Double IPA style that’s made San Diego County famous.

Le Freak
is a brilliant copper color with a thick head of foam and an interesting kind of brett-like (wild yeast) nose. Taste starts out mildly sweet with a rising dryness and slight spicy, sour note that made me think of a beer brewed with brettanomyces.

It isn’t. After I filed the column, Green Flash head brewer Chuck Silva called me back and told me a bit more about the beer.

  • “It’s a creative style and I’m really proud of it,” Chuck said, “I call it ‘Belgian-style tripel meets San Diego imperial IPA.’ I guess I was inspired by Belgian brewers. If they can do a hoppy Belgian, I can do a Belgian-style beer my way.”

He explains that the beer is fermented with two yeasts, the Green Flash house yeast and a Belgian yeast.  He starts with regular Green Flash Imperial IPA mash. (This is a big beer, 9 percent ABV. But it has such striking balance that it drinks like a session beer.)

The mash is a blend of two row pale barley, a little bit of Carastan, a British crystal malt that provides a full mouth feel and color and crystal malt. Hops are all American, Summit and Nugget. It’s dry hopped during fermentation with Amarillo. The hop blend gives it a delicious, orange marmalade note.

He starts fermentation with a White Labs Belgian-style yeast, then on the second day,  adds their regular American ale yeast, the same White Labs yeast used in the regular triple. As he says, it’s definitely Le Freak.  Oh yes, it’s bottle conditioned with fresh yeast. And it’s 9.2 percent.

The Le Freak in stores now was made months ago and Chuck says he’s about to brew  a new batch. That should be interesting, comparing the two, the fresh and the aged. I’m gonna’ do that definitely.

Can’t find Le Freak? E-mail me at and ask for my Bay Area Retail Beer Store List.

Posted on Wednesday, October 29th, 2008
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Photo of me sniffing for the Chicago Tribune

Bill Daley of the Chicago Tribune must have snapped this photo of me right before the semi-finals of a blind tasting at the Wine Bloggers Conference last weekend. Bummer my quotes didn’t get in, but still cool. I enjoyed meeting Bill – super nice guy – and have always devoured his food writing.

Posted on Tuesday, October 28th, 2008
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Wine writer vs. wine blogger

I’ve been given to musing lately on the differences between wine bloggers and wine writers. I’ve got one foot in the print world and the other in the blogosphere, after all, so I feel like I’m straddling two cultures. Guess it’s not unlike my childhood growing up as an Iranian-American.

Many wine writers write about the lifestyle of wine. They tend to assign numerical values to wines and more often than not gear their content to a holiday, season or PR push. Wine bloggers – the ones who take the time to do their research, anyway – are independent, go against the grain, and shake things up. They write about the way wine makes them feel because they have the luxury of throwing life into their writing. A blog post can include the presidential election, choosing the right preschool or why making wine is like a first date.

Wine bloggers fuel – or launch, really – wine movements. Despite the technological advances that fuel their media, they function in a pre-press-release world. Perhaps the great equalizers will be the big issues – climate change, global palatization, sustainability. Those need all of our attention and help.

I have great respect for wine writers like Jancis Robinson, Natalie Maclean and Jay Mcinerney. I think Maclean and Alice Feiring do a particularly good job of straddling writing and blogging . And I’d give one of my kidneys for any of their jobs. Still, I aspire to engage in the ways that Alder Yarrow, Tom Wark and Gary Vaynerchuk do. They don’t make a fuss. It is what it is in the glass. Oh, Gary and Alder also have insanely sweet consulting gigs, but anyway, I digress.

I struggle because I like the credibility that comes with a wine writer business card. I get paid an annual salary to do this. But I love the potential and infinite possibilities of introducing myself as a wine blogger. Sometimes, I wish my print colleagues understood my job better. When they see me lugging cases of unsolicited wine samples, they crack jokes instead of lending a hand.

I am very much a wine blogger in the sense that I pay out of pocket to properly store the wines sent to me for review. But I am a wine writer in the sense that I complain about it. Either way, I figure if this double wine life goes anything like my childhood and cross-cultural upbringing, I should turn out just fine.

Posted on Tuesday, October 28th, 2008
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