Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for October, 2008

Beer 101: First, Be Sure The Glass Is Clean

What’s in a glass of beer?  Most of us care a lot. Is it a stout or an India Pale Ale, is it sweet or bitter? But after two days sitting  in on the very  famous University of California, Davis, week-long Intensive Brewing Science course, I learned that the first thing someone who loves good beer should consider  is the glass. Or rather, what’s on the glass.

Listen to Dr. Michael J. Lewis, Professor-emeritus of brewing science, one of the inspirations  for the American craft beer movement:

First, Lewis said, always drink beer from a glass, not from a bottle. “If you drink beer from a bottle, you are a a pig.

“A special part of  drinking beer is enjoying the aroma.  That’s quite hard to do drinking  out of a beer bottle _ you get a retro-nasal effect that spoils the aroma,’’ he said. “Drinking beer out of a glass is a habit I recommend everyone should cultivate.’’

However, one must consider the glass as well, Lewis says.

“We all appreciate the clarity and the carbonation that a brewer has worked hard to achieve. The beading  (down the side of the glass) is a lovely sight, as lovely as the beading in a glass of Champagne.

“Finally,  in a well-made beer, you have a proper head of foam. It’s an integral part of enjoying a glass of beer.’’
But, Lewis said, the foam often doesn’t last long. And that’s a not-so-subtle  clue that you’ve poured your beer into a dirty glass.

Foam is quite stable. If it disappears rapidly, there’s something on the glass that is reacting with foam and killing it, Lewis said.

If you’re in a pub and that happens, you should suggest they take that glass out and smash it, he said. “Make sure your glass is clean, so at least the beer has a chance,’’ Lewis said.

“Foam on beer is a bubble of gas that has escaped; it’s an emulsion of a gassy liquid.  Impurities,  (grease residues, soap traces, other invisible  compounds)  on the glass will de-stabilize  the foam.

Here’s what to do, according to Professor Lewis:
First, gather all the glasses you use for beer; look at them closely. If a glass is old and it etched with tiny scratches, toss it. All kinds of beer-killing  compounds can live there.

Lewis quoted a master brewer at Anheuser Busch, who walked into a tavern with him and, of course, ordered a Bud. “The beer comes and the foam evaporates _ varooom.

He called for the manager and asked what happened to the beer, Lewis said.  The manager replied that his beer was in front of him.

“Well,’’ the brewer replied, “this doesn’t look like beer. What happened to the foam? Do you realize how hard I worked to get foam in the glass?’’

Then, in true Germanic fashion (although the guy was an Austrian, Lewis said), he outline the way to care for beer glasses:

First, run an empty dishwasher  with soap through its cycles. Then take all the beer glasses, put them in the dishwasher and wash them twice with soap.

After that, never in the rest of your days, put your beer glasses in the same load with other dishes. And don’t use your beer glasses for anything except beer.

Here are a few more tips, from Professor Lewis and other experts:

Let glasses air dry; if droplets remain or if spots show, it usually means the glass still  isn’t clean. Wash it again.

Wash beer glasses in very hot water with a detergent, not soap.

In Belgium,  bartenders  immerse each beer glass quickly in cold, running water before  pouring beer into the glass.

Professor Lewis adds that brewers always demand clean beer glasses.  Once he visited a pub with Ken Grossman, co-founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico. “He ordered a round of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The beer arrived in glasses with no foam.

“I thought  Ken was going to go through the roof. He said, `Look at this Michael. Where’s the foam?’’

It’s the same with brewers at the other end of the American beery spectrum. Lewis recalled

Posted on Tuesday, October 28th, 2008
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A soapy beer glass wrecks the beer and turns me grumpy

This seems to have become a “the trouble with good beer:” forum in the last few days, and oh hell, I’ve have another complaint: Beer glasses with soap reside or in some other way not spotlessly clean.

We’re in Santa Fe, NM  for a brief vacation and last night we went to one of our favorite restaurants, La Choza Of course I ordered beer, so did my wife’s cousin’s husband, Bob. He got a pint of Santa Fe Pale Ale. Prudently thinking of the night ahead,  I ordered a 10 oz. glass.

Bob’s beer was beautiful: Big creamy, long-lasting head, lacework trailing down the glass.  Mine sucked. No foam, and a bit of an off-aroma, the kind that usually comes when beer hits a soapy glass. Damn.

I looked at my wife. Did she gently shake her head. I think so.  You see, we’ve got history together. She really doesn’t drink at all, so she’s my valiant designated driver and as a non beer-drinker, she’s seen a lot of pubs. Her only request is a Diet Coke.

In all honesty, we’ve had some scenes when there is no Diet Coke or similar diet soda.  The last time was a visit to an organic brewery in the Bay Area.  Bet they have a soda at their bar now.  And, being utterly honest here, my requirements are a clean glass and fresh beer. I always try to be polite. But, well, I’ve sent back my share of beer.

Neither of us really like scenes, so I tried to be tactful. I asked the waiter for another beer in a clean glass. She brought out another glass.  Same story. Crap, hell and damn. We were in company, so I dropped the subject and ignored the beer,

Walking out, I was dying to stop and tell the bartender his 10 ounce beer glasses had soap residue. But hey, this is a vacation, so I left quietly.

However, if any of you reading this post happen to be in Santa Fe sometime soon,  don’t miss La Choza. It’s a great, inexpensive, off-the-tourist-track restaurant. And please tell them to put their 10-ounce glasses through another rinse. Over and out.

Oh yes. So how do you make sure your glasses are clean? Thought you’d never ask.  Post on that coming up in a minute.

Photo: Beer in a sparkling clean glass. Ahhh wonderful. (This  photo wa taken of a Belgian-style tripel at the Alembic in San Francisco. Note, the clean glass.

Posted on Tuesday, October 28th, 2008
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Five things I learned at the Wine Bloggers Conference


1. Able Grape. This is a search engine for wine information with some 38,000 sites and 15 million pages. Call it the Google for Grapes. I was a semifinalist in a blind tasting competition along with the founder, Doug Cook. Great guy.

2. Vino Chapeau. Searching for the honey in a Muscat, I plunked this round, plastic disk on my glass and swirled. When I removed it and sniffed my wine again, it was honey to the third power. Really does what it says: help enhance a wine’s aromas.

3. Alice Fiering, the author of “The Battle for Wine and Love: How I Saved the World from Parkerization,” not only penned a fierce book on palate globalization, but fell into wine blogging at In Vino Veritas by accident, because she was sick of writing “wine entertaining” stories for newspapers that underpaid her. She taught us all to keep stirring the pot. She is also shorter and tinier than me!

4. Cruvee. This social information site allows you to personalize the wine 411 you want to receive. Need recommendations? Want to invite your friends? Want to know who’s making the best wine-related podcasts? This site does it all.

5. Keynote speaker Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV may have had a family business to get him started, but the Vaynerchuk clan had humble beginnings. They immigrated from Russia and lived in a one-room studio. Eight of them. Gary’s father stopped his son’s lucrative baseball card trading business when the kid was 13 and made him work the cash register of the liquor store. During down time, he read the Wine Spectator.

Posted on Monday, October 27th, 2008
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Company’s coming: What beer should you serve?

Question for a new week…This is part of an ongoing discussion about why does craft beer only account for about 4 percent of total beer sales in America,  make that about 7 percent, if you count sales of decent beer like Coors Blue Moon, Leinenkugel, etc.

Here’s the question: OK, you’ve got company coming over tonight. Mostly they’re not beer drinkers or they drink swill (fill in your own light lager brand here).  You want to introduce them to craft beer.  What should you serve?  A bridge beer, say a Sam Adams or some version of a brewpub golden?  Or should you burn all your bridges and bring out your best?

Opinions?  Comments?

Posted on Sunday, October 26th, 2008
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Joe Sixpack’s voting for Obama

Hey Sarah Palin, Joe Sixpack’s voting for Obama.  After a couple of weeks of non-stop calls from the news media, Don Russell who writes the Joe Sixpack column in the Philadelphia Daily News gave up and said it: Joe Sixpack is voting for Obama.

He adds, thank God they materialized Joe the Plumber as the new Republican chestnut. Takes the heat off Joe Sixpack.

Read Don’s blog here, with links to the media coverage of Joe Sixpack.

Posted on Saturday, October 25th, 2008
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More live blogging from conference!

Up next: James David 2007 Muscat is dry, barrel-fermented and has a nose of pure honey and apricots. What a beautiful wine! It’s also got .17% residual sugar, so naturally it’s not sweet. What a beaut! I would love to have some halibut right now with this wine. It’s like Viognier, but with more acidity. David Cole, the owner and assistant winemaker, makes 105 cases of this and it’s going to come out next month and cost $18. The fruit is from Paso Robles and he’s buds with Bennett at Wine Thieves in Lafayette so you’ll be able to find it there. 

Here comes El Jefe from Twisted Oak Winery. The 2006 Twisted Oak Spaniard is 2/3 Tempranillo and the rest is Graciano and Grenache and hails from Calaveras County. What a wine! Just enough oak to give this blend a kiss of vanilla. Look out for more Spanish varietals from California. They’re gonna make a splash.

Next up: Sonoma Coast’s Small Vines located in Grayton. A husband and wife team, they produce 150 cases of this wine. It will be released in November to mailing list-only customers at $65. I don’t quite understand it, but they farm a high density vineyard, which means that they have 3,000 vines per acre. The average is 1,000 in California, but in Burgundy it’s common to be much higher. All I know is that Pinot is the most yield-sensitive varietal in the world. More on that later.

Last up!!! 2007 Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay. Makes you feel like a kid again. Not too astute that it intimidates, but complex enough, like a precocious 8-year-old. It’s aged for six to eight months in New American Oak. I  like it, especially for $11.99. Megan, my friend who blogs as Wine Clubbie, says she wants popcorn with this wine. I agree!

The live blogging session is over!!! Phew.

Posted on Friday, October 24th, 2008
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Live blogging from Wine Bloggers Conference

Okay folks, trying something totally knew here. I’m at the first ever North American Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa, CA and we’re tasting wines and blogging about them for one minute each – live. There are 16 tables and 10 bloggers at each table but there are only 14 pourers, so I think we’re going to get neglected. As we all know,

First up. A 2004 Bonterra McNab – an organic and biodynamic blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot and 14% Petit Sirah. It’s dark as a pistol with firm tannins and a lot of meaty fruits. YUM. Bonterra made 500 cases of this beauty and they sell it for $45 retail. Here’s the kicker: the Petit Sirah vines are old (45 years) and we’re talking original root stock. I’s not grafted so it’s got phylloxera in there, but they resist ripping it because the fruit it produces is so stellar and biodynamic farming allows the vines to resist disease. Pretty fascinating, eh?

Phew, ok, I only had a minute to type all that. Next up: Clos LaChance 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, It retails for $30 and they produced 1220 cases of it. The family started the winery in 1992 out of their backyard in Saratoga with 100 cases. The winery is now in San Martin, about an hour south of San Jose. Thirty seconds, ahhhh! The first thing that hit me about this wine: The entry is soft and so is the mid palate, but the finish is spicy and astringent. I like it. The property is filled with hummingbirds that are good to have around because they are very territorial and kill the naughty birds. LaChance is the matriarch’s maiden name.

Ok, I have a few seconds to think so I’m starting to get the point of this thing. It’s an exercise to help you not overthink the wine. Just taste it and jot down the first few things that hit you about it, and get out. Very cool.

Next up: Boho Vineyards. 2006 Central Chardonnay. I wrote about the 2005 in a column I wrote  about boxed wines a few months ago. Boho rocks because it’s high quality, has a toasty nose and all the pineapple and other tropical fruits you expect from a Chardonnay but without the butter and oak.

Posted on Friday, October 24th, 2008
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Tasting three vintages of Alaskan Smoked Porter

Alaskan Smoked Porter: A Good Reason to Collect Beer

By William Brand
Friday, September 29th, 2006 at 8:48 am in General.

At the Great American Beer Festival…Do you squirrel away bottles of great beer that you really like? I do. I have, for instance, in an old dorm refrigerator in the garage, a single sample of the last seven or eight Sierra Nevada Barleywine Style Ales. I never touch them because,  well I’m waiting for the right moment.

Last night at the GABF, I learned something about collecting beer. Geoff and Marcy Larson, who founded Alaskan Brewing in Juneau in 1986 were pouring samples of four “vintages” of their primo, prize-winning Alaskan Smoked Porter**** at their booth. In fact, the line of punters waiting for their sample was the longest in the vast, 188,000 square-foot hall, lined with brewers offering well 1,647 different beers. READ THE REST OF THIS POST….

Posted on Friday, October 24th, 2008
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Oddbits: Genetially-engineered beer, The Dissident still on sale in Bay Area, Brewer’s Resrve – Fuller’s barrel-aged beer, Obama IPA, Alaskan Smoked Porter, and why we should invest in beer

Hi there oddbits fans… here’s what’s come across my desk in random fashion so far this week…

Science. Genetically engineers beer to make us live long and prosper. A team of scientists at Rice University and the University of Wisconsin are using genetic engineering to developed a strain of brewers yeast that will produce “resveratol,”   a substance that has been found to promote longevity in mice. It’s believed to be the ingredient in red wine that keeps French people healthy despite all the high fat foods they eat. Thanks to Emily, a frequent poster to this blog.  Read the whole story here.

Beer news…if you’ve been reading comments posted to this blog, you know that Deschutes gold-medal-winning sour, The Dissident, can still be found around the Bay Area, especially at Whole Foods Markets, despite the fact that the brewery says they’ve sold all they made.

Also, the discussion continues on the blog on how we can jump-start craft beer sales and insure that beer retailers keep the beer in good shape. Join the conversation.

In the UK, meanwhile, Fuller’s has just released Brewer’s Reserve, a beer aged in whisky barrels.  Here are a couple of reviews:

  • Brewer’s Reserve – (From Taking the Beard Out of Beer) Finally, after 507 days, Fuller’s whisky-aged beer has been launched; lovely soft vanilla & spirit nose and then fabulous sticky fruit flavours (quince jelly & orange marmalade for my money) in the mouth, with a spicy bitter finish that reminds me of Green & Black’s Maya Gold chocolate. Be warned, there are going to be different wood ages every year so make sure you lay your hands on some of the first one quickly! READ THE REST OF MELISSA COLE’S  POST…
  • There has never been a better time to be a beer drinker: and I’d like to submit as just one plank in the platform that supports this claim Fuller’s new Brewer’s Reserve, its 7.7 per cent abv whisky cask–aged ale. READ THE REST OF ZYTHOPHILE’S POST…

It had to happen, according to Jay Brooks in the Brookston Beer Bulletin, we now have Obama IPA

  • Sixpoint Craft Ales in Brooklyn, New York has released an IPA called Hop Obama, though at 42-44 IBUs it doesn’t sound like too much of a hop bomb, at least not to my extreme west coast hop sensibilities. But perhaps a more centrist IPA is in keeping with Obama’s political leanings.

Liquid Assets is now selling Alaskan Smoked Porter, 2008  by mail order. Haven’t seen it here and when I do, I’ll grab several, drink one now and keep the others to drink in succeeding years (If I can control myself. Love this beer.) How did Alaska Brewing do at the Great American Beer Festival this year? Let us count the ways…., well, let Alaskan do it in this publicity release…

  • Alaskan Smoked Porter won two medals this year solidifying its reign as the festival’s highest award-winner with 18 medals since 1988. The 2006 Smoked Porter took gold in the Aged beer category while the 2007 vintage took silver in the Smoke-Flavored beer category.
  • Alaskan Summer Ale, which won a gold medal at the World Beer Cup earlier this year, took home its first GABF medal this year with a silver in the Golden or Blonde style ale category.
  • Finally, judges selected Alaskan Raspberry Wheat as a silver medalist in the Fruit or Vegetable beer category. Alaskan Raspberry Wheat is part of Alaskan Brewing’s “Rough Draft” series available on draft only with limited distribution in Alaska.

Oh boy this old (and funny if you’ve never read it) chestnut has been recycled to fit the current stock meltdown. This version comes from Stephen D’Arcy,  the Campaign for Real Ale’s Brussels rep:

If you had purchased $1,000 of shares in Delta Airlines one year ago, you will have $49.00 today.

If you had purchased $1,000 of shares in AIG one year ago, you will have$33.00 today.

If you had purchased $1,000 of shares in Lehman Brothers one year ago, you
will have $0.00 today.

But, if you had purchased $1,000 worth of beer one year ago, drank all the beer, then turned in the aluminum cans for recycling refund, you will have  received $214.00.

  • Based on the above, the best current investment plan is to drink heavily &

recycle. It is called the 401-Keg.

To see an earlier version version  I posted in 2005, go here.

Posted on Thursday, October 23rd, 2008
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Fall fundraiser at Devil’s Gulch Ranch

If you’re dying to get your hands on some magnums of Marin County Pinot Noir while doing a good deed, check out the fall fundraiser at Devil’s Gulch Ranch in Nicasio on Nov. 8. It’s their first, and all proceeds benefit the educational programs offered by Mark Pasternak and others who run the camp and operate the ranch. It’s a full day and there’s something for everyone, so check out your options:

Ranch tour (2 to 4 p.m.): Experience the excitement of a working ranch – vineyards, pigs, sheep, horses and rabbits – and stroll through the gardens and areas where campers spend time learning and connecting with nature.

Kid’s day ( 4 to 10 p.m.; $75/child): Children enjoy camp craft activities while the parents enjoy wine tasting, dinner, and dancing in town. At the ranch the kids can make their own pizza using local ingredients, and enjoy a movie and popcorn. Transportation provided back to Nicasio Square.

Just wine tasting at Druid’s Hall (4 to 6 p.m.): Open to the public and free admission. Devil’s Gulch Ranch sausages available and tasting prices vary. Wineries/Winemakers participating: Brookside Cellars; Dutton-Goldfield Winery; Kendric Vineyards; Moonhill Vineyards; Orogeny Wines; Pacheco Ranch Winery; Pey-Marin Vineyards; Point Reyes Vineyards; Ross Valley Winery; Schramsgerg; Sean Thackrey; Starry Night Winery; Stubbs Vineyard; Thomas Fogarty Winery; Vergari Wines; Vision Cellars; Willowbrook Cellars.

Just dinner and dancing ($75/person not including wine): Enjoy a gourmet dinner with Devil’s Gulch Ranch meats and local produce. Various renowned chefs will participate. Dancing will follow with live music. If you have kids it’s the same price to bring them for the kid’s day listed above. For more information or to RSVP, visit the link above.

Posted on Thursday, October 23rd, 2008
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