Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for October, 2008

Events: Junior League of Oakland benefit with great beer tonight in Walnut Creek

I’ll admit, I never thought it would really happen, that good beer would become so established in the American psyche that a solidly middle-America organization like the Junior League would commission a beer for a charitable fundraiser.

Well, it’s happened. The Junior League of Oakland-East Bay had done just that. Meet  “Make a Burger, Make a Brew, Make a Difference”  It’s happening from 6 – 10 p.m.,  tonight Wednesday, Oct. 22. The place is The Counter,  1699 N. California Blvd. in Walnut Creek. The Counter, a national chain where patrons make assemble their own hamburger trimmings,  provides the burgers. Black Diamond Brewing, of Concord, will provide the beer.

The public, you and I, buy burgers and beer and the money goes to the Junior League, which uses the money for a number of charitable works. The Junior League’s Dana Young says a large cut of the food and beer proceed go to the League.

Derek Smith, Black Diamond’s head brewer, says he’s bringing a Belgian Blonde and Black Diamond’s IPA.  The blonde’s easily my favorite Black Diamond Beer. It’s a 5.2 percenter, brewed with an “Antwerp” yeast (Think  De Koninck) , which gives it a delicious spicy, earthy note. It’s a blend of pale barley, Belgian aromatic malt, which adds color and a pronounced malt aroma and Cara 20, a kind of crystal malt, bringing a full mouth feel and color to the beer. There’s also a touch of malted rye with its characteristic dry, spiciness.
Hops are Hallertau and American Liberty hops.

The IPA is in the English style,  6 percent, emphasis on malt, which is Scottish Golden Promise malt,  with decent hopping from Styrian and East Kent Goldings  providing an earthy note and – Derek says – a touch of orange marmalade from the Goldings.

All that and good hamburgers, How can I resist. See ya’ there.

The Junior League chapter, by the way, was founded in Oakland in 1935 in Oakland. Members come from all over Alameda and Contra Costa County and the chapter is headquartered in Lafayette.

It’s an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities.

Posted on Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008
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Has anyone tried Deschutes, The Dissident? Loved it, want more

In my weekly column today in the Oakland Tribune/Contra Costa Times I wrote about The Dissident, the Old Brown, Belgian Style sour from Deschutes, Bend, OR.   Great beer, but unfortunately only a small batch was bottled and released and it’s sold out almost everywhere.

Two questions: Anybody know where it can still be found?  What about American alternatives? Suggestions anyone?  Comments welcome.

Here’s an outtake from the column:

Deschutes’ The Dissident ****  is indeed a step back into time, and drinking this beer, I have a feeling it’s just the beginning. It’s an attempt by a team of American brewers in Bend, Ore. to recreate a style of sour brown ales that long were the staple of Belgian workers.

They’re not alone. American homebrewers and craft brewers are intensely interested in these beers.

Beers in the style of The Dissident called “Oud Bruin” were sour because of the way they were made.

Originally fermented with wild yeast in much-used wood barrels; the wood itself acquires bacteria – the harmless kind – which also works on the fermentables in the young beer. It’s a wild outcome. The beer can be intensely sour.

The Dissident, at the moment, is halfway to intensely sour. It was fermented for 18 months; wild yeast works slowly. Part of the beer was placed in Pinot and Cabernet wine barrels for more than three months, then blended back into the rest of the beer. Then, a year ago, Central Washington cherries were added.

The beer is 9.1 percent alcohol by volume. It’s a translucent brown. The taste is initially mildly sweet, but there’s a growing sourness with a faint background sweetness and perhaps a note of fruit

I loved The Dissident. It’s refreshing, interesting, unusual.  A lot of people agree, including several panels of judges in blind tastings at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver two weeks ago. It won the gold medal in the Sour American Ale category.

Posted on Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008
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Killer pairing: pork and Chardonnay

Iron Horse Chardonnay

I experienced a unique four-course food and wine pairing last night at Jack Falstaff in San Francisco. It was a growers’ dinner, so the intention was to showcase the greens from two local – Marin’s Star Route and Manteca’s Long and Bailey – with wines from the Sonoma’s Iron Horse Vineyards, located in the cool-climate Green Valley.

The stand-out pairing was a Braised & Roasted Pork Trotter with Iron Horse’s 2005 Estate Chardonnay. When you consider evolution of palate, I’ve gone from hating Chardonnays with oak and drinking only naked Chardonnays to understanding and appreciating the subtle nuances, depth and beauty of balanced Chardonnays with a kiss of the right oak. This is such a wine.

Joy Sterling and her fellow vintners at Iron Horse understand that malolactic fermentation is a winemaking tool to balance acid, not a Band-Aid for poor, lackluster fruit. The apple and tropical fruits shine in the nose and on the palate of this sophisticated Chardonnay that only gets better with each bite of fatty pork. Worth every penny of the $27.

Posted on Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008
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What America needs: A beer-care certifcation system for retailers

Here’s a topic for the day: Great beer suffering at the hands of indifferent distributors and worse, retailers who obviously don’t have a clue about the care of beer.

Background: Yesterday I published a  review of  Bay Area brewpubs and breweries by a guy from the Washington, D.C. area. It was fairly critical. One of his many notes about Anchor:

  • ” I also found the tasting of actual Anchor Steam to be fascinating as I had never tasted it before. Or, to be more precise, the Anchor Steam I have drunk in DC for the past 20 years never tasted like that I had at the brewery. But after seeing their packaging operation, I can see where oxidation would be a real challenge for them.”

His assessment about bottling makes me laugh.  If you drank Anchor in the Washington area that didn’t taste like it does here, the reason is you were drinking beer that had been shipped 3,000 miles,  and most likely was OLD BEER, not that there was a flaw in bottling.

One of the curses of buying bottled beer in America is both indifferent retailers and indifferent distributors, who treat their top-selling light lagers like gold and yank bottles and cans quickly, but ignore craft beers and let them sit on store shelves forever.

Personally, while I know the three-tier system with brewers, distributors and retailers has its strong points, good care of craft beer is a notorious disributor weakness. Ditto to retailers who boast a wide stock of beer, but keep it on dusty shelves in brightly lit, warm rooms for months, even years. That’s criminal.

What we need is an independent beer-care certification system for disributors and retailers, perhaps a label on the door that tells patrons that the retailer know how to take care of beer and does it.

In England, a group of real ale brewers and pub owners have started something called the Cask Marque system. It’s an independent non-profit, supported by subscription fees from pubs and brewers.  An independent inspector checks the condition of beer at each pub twice yearly.

Pubs that meet cask ale standards can display this logo on their  front door.  Patrons see the logo and can be assured that they’re going to find a decent pint inside.

We need something like this for retailers who sell beer.  It’s probably inpossible, but why not dream.  Comments anyone?

Posted on Tuesday, October 21st, 2008
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So-so beer in the Bay Area? A Washingtonian is mostly unimpressed

Note: I’m posting this from an e-mail list I’m on, because it provides a spontaneous and unrehearsed glimpse of our home turf by an outsider.  I disagree rather strongly on some of the author’s opinions. Here we go….. (The bold face is mine, so are the links and photos)

Outside San Francisco Brewing on the edge of North Beach.

A few weeks ago, I asked DC Beer for beer-related suggestions
for San Francisco & Northern CA in general. A lot of you offered quite a
bit of help, which I really appreciated in my planning. Kathy & I just
returned from the trip, so I thought I would put together a beer-trip
report for DC Beer …

Overall, from the standpoint of beer-brewing, there are a couple
of great places north of SF, but San Francisco itself is only an average
. Now, before anyone takes too much offense, there are some caveats
to that statement. I am only talking about beer-brewing w/in SF, as
there are several fine places just outside SF which some might consider
SF breweries, but I am listing them elsewhere. Also, while a place such
as Toronado is a great bar, it’s not a brewery, so I’m trying to
differentiate bars w/ breweries.

Here is my run-down for the whole trip:

San Francisco

  • San Francisco Brewing Co – the 1st brewpub I ever went to, 20 years ago. The ales were marginal at best, but I was pleasantly

surprised at the quality of their Czech Lager & Maerzen.

  • Thirsty Bear – A bit disappointing. “Perfumey & Treacly” were my descriptions of several of the 8 beers of theirs that were on tap when I visited. But I did like their wit & brown ale, so I guess I was mainly disappointed in the variance of the beer quality. I also liked the feel& ambiance of the place.
  • 21st Amendment – Mediocre beer & poor food. This experience really disappointed me. I thought their strong & hoppy beers were pretty decent, but the session beers were either lacking in any character, or had too many grainy or unusual phenolic flavors. And as for food, it made their beer look really good …
  • Magnolia –  (Photo: Magnolia proprietor Dave McLean with some of his beers.) After two of their pale ales/bitters, I almost wrotethis place off. But then I got a sampler of six that I picked at random. Fantastic! They had 10 beers on CO2, & 5 on cask. At $6/pint, they were also the most expensive. While the bar feels somewhat pretentious, IMHO, this was the best brewery in SF.
  • Anchor – We also took the Anchor Brewing tour. If you ever get a chance to take the tour, my suggestion is to take it (but sign up at least a month in advance), but show up at least 45 minutes late, as the tour guide will spend at least that long in just the first location droning on (w/o any beer to drink!) But the tour is interesting, as I found it to be similar to a working museum. I also found the tasting of actual Anchor Steam to be fascinating as I had never tasted it before. Or, to be more precise, the Anchor Steam I have drunk in DC for the past 20 years never tasted like that I had at the brewery. But after seeing their packaging operation, I can see where oxidation would be a real challenge for them.
  • Rogue – The Oregon brewer has a bar in SF offering all of their beers. I really like Rogue, so I tended to really like this bar.
  • La Trappe – One of the 3 new Belgian bars in the SF/Oakland area. A fine selection of Belgian beers with 15-20 on tap, and over 100 in bottle. Unfortunately, the food was not up to the level of the beer list. Someone needs to tell them that a Belgian frite needs to be double-boiled in oil. Simply offering a French fry with mayonnaise does not cut it.
  • Toronado – A classic bar; I’m glad I finally have drank there. A fantastic selection of beer. My first beer was a Schlenkerla Rauchbier, which was followed up by a Moonlight Brewing “Death & Taxes”. So, a classic from Bamberg followed up by a brand new beer from a one-manoperation brewing out of Santa Rosa. Also interesting; the last time I was in the Haight-Ashbury area was 20 years ago & I was accused of being a “Yuppie-F*ck” by one of the natives. This time, two lawyers discussing briefs bought Kathy & I beers as we let them sit at out table. While the patina of Haight may seem similar, there seem to have been real changes underneath it in the past 20 years.


  • Jupiter – Owned by the same people as Triple Rock (2 blocks away) & Big Time (Seattle). They had 9 of their “own” beers, plus 14 guest taps. Evidently, their beers are made for them on a contract basis, but I’m not sure by whom. A pretty interesting place; very eclectic interior.
  • Triple Rock – I had 5 of their ~10 beers & found them tasty, if also somewhat turbid. It looks like a 7 Bbl system, & I don’t think they have enough time & capacity to let everything settle properly. Barclay’s – not a brewpub, but a neighborhood bar w/ about 30 different beers on tap at any one time; a fine selection.

Travelling North

  • Marin Brewery – In Larkspur, about 5 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. As BART services this area, maybe I should have included it with SF, but for me it was the northern suburbs. They had 8-10 beers on, of which I tried 5. Very good beer. I guess my only strike against it is that it’s a pub in a strip mall. But then again, if that strip mall were near me, I’d be visiting quite often.
  • Moylan’s Brewery – Another strip-mall brewpub a few miles further north in Novato. I had 8 of their beers & was quite pleased with them all. In fact, their dry stout, served on N2, was one of the best I’ve ever had.

Santa Rosa

  • Third Street Aleworks – 9 beers on tap, plus 2 more on cask. A fine pub with very good beers. I really liked this place. Unfortunately (for them), there was only one problem, but it was a big problem: the bar is only one block away from …
  • Russian River Brewery – From the standpoint of beer alone, this may be the finest brewpub I’ve ever visited in the States. And in terms of the general ambiance of the place it’s quite enjoyable, but the beer is the real star. But I find that quite annoying, as it’s located 2841 miles from my house (at least according to MapQuest). I’d rather not describe the pub in too much detail, or else I’ll start crying & cause my keyboard to short-out.


  • Hopmonk – This is a relatively new place (1-2 years old) created by Dean Biersch (of Gordon-Biersch fame) to be his local. They have 3 beers of their “own”, but not brewed on premises, and another 13 beers of exceptional quality. This was the first time I can ever remember ordering Alaskan Smoked Porter off a bar’s menu (as opposed to getting it only via the mail or at a beer festival). While the interior of the place has kind of a weird feeling to it (70’s Vegas lounge combined with a ski lodge?), those were some fine beers!

Fort Bragg

  • North Coast Brewing – This is another 100 miles up the coast. It’s probably not worth doing unless you were already planning to travel along the coast for sight-seeing. Fort Bragg is a weird-feeling town. It’s a coastal town with no access to the coast. There used to be a lot of timber industry there, & when it shut down, the beach was also shut down due to toxic waste issues, so there’s lots of metal fencing keeping you off the beach. I tried 8 of the 12 beers they offered. To be honest, most were just mediocre. But the Red Seal is quite tasty, & Old Rasputin on N2 is the perfect dessert.


  • Anderson Valley – This place has changed a lot over the past decade as they expanded into a larger brewery in 2000, and then built a separate Tasting Room in 2002. They offered 10 beers & I was happy to try them all (and also to then let Kathy drive). I still think their Oatmeal Stout is the best in the business. We took their tour, but as tours go, it was somewhat lacking.


  • Mendocino Brewing – While it was fun visiting a town called Hopland & one of the first brewpubs in the country, Hopland hasn’t grown hops since the 1940’s & Mendocino brewing moved all their brewing up to Ukiah (about 10 miles north) around 10 years ago. The pub was decent enough, but with Mendocino having been bought by Kingfisher, I kept expecting to see papadums on the bar menu. It’s also somewhat disconcerting to stay the night in a hotel where you are the only guest & the sign for the hotel also offers the sale price ($2.2M for those interested).


  • Bear Republic – A great pub in an unusual setting; this is wine country. The pub is just off the main square, but it’s not advertised in any of the town’s literature & even its location is a little awkward to find unless you know where to look. They had 16 beers on tap, & in interests of proper reporting, we had to stay until I tried them all. Their Double Aught Lager (Czech Pilsner) had just won Bronze at GABF, so they were quite proud. They make some great beer. A trip to Sonoma County is not complete w/o a visit to Bear Republic. Sonoma
  • Wine Exchange – On the town square in the heart of Sonoma wine country is a wine store offering samples of wine, but they also offer a rather impressive yet eclectic selection of beer (Traquair House, Samiclaus, Zum Uerige Stikke, etc.) and offer five beers on tap. So I had to sample here before descending into SF for one last time.

I enjoyed the search for good beer on this vacation to San Francisco & coastal parts of Northern California. The trip was helped by 10 straight days of blue sky, sunshine, and 75F weather. But the search for beer was also helped by all the advice this beer community gave me.
And in thanks for that advice, I just wanted to submit this trip report.

Cheers, Andy

Posted on Monday, October 20th, 2008
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Oddbits: Zima unplugged, Half Moon Bay Mavericks Ale: Obama all the way, new Belgian-style beers coming, Trappist haiku contest, Beer Drinker of the Year contest

News flash…It’s all over for Zima, the ridiculous water-colored malt beverage alcopop from Coors. They’ve pulled the plug…. A beverage not even worth a burp and the public has voted.

Moving on…Who’s on first? Well,we know for sure the San Francisco Bay Area sure ain’t Orange County or rural Missouri.  For the last few weeks,  Half Moon Bay Brewing has offered beer drinkers a chance to vote their presidential preference by buying either a Mavericks Obama Ale or a Mavericks McCain Ale (oughta’ be a rice lager, shouldn’t it – considering McCain’s wife’s family owns the Anheuser-Busch distributor in Phoenix).  Well Obama’s way ahead as the chart above  shows. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, October 20th, 2008
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Question for a new week: Why is craft beer still such a small percentage of the beer sold in America?

We ate dinner at a little Mexican place near our house tonight and I saw this Bud Light en espanol sign and it hit all my buttons. Damn.

Then I thought a moment, oh hell, what do I care if Anheuser-Busch takes a chunk out of the Latino market away from Corona et al.  The thing that bugs me  is why craft beer can’t get more than a toehold in the total American beer market.

What! You say. Craft beer sales are booming, up double digits for the last three years. But comparing bottle for bottle, keg for keg,  the craft beer segment is tiny: about 4 percent, even adding quality imports and the few good beers the big guys make, it’s still small: 10 percent? 15 pecent.

All the rest is light lager – a sea of light lager. Different names, but it all tastes just the same. Like the song Malvina Reynolds wrote about those “ticky tacky” houses in South San Francisco.

The question is: Why is craft beer still such a tiny segment? What do we do? How do we boost the segment or, for that matter, do we even want to?
What do you think?  Opinions welcome here.

Posted on Sunday, October 19th, 2008
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Beer of the Week: The delightful Duchesse de Bourgogne

Note: This column was first published in The Oakland Tribune in 2006.

By William Brand
Are you a beer evangelist? I certainly am. When someone tells me they like wine, but “really don’t like beer” – I usually rise to the challenge. Vic Kralj,, who owns The Bistro in Hayward, is the same way.

What follows is a true story. Vic brought a selection of Belgian beers to a Hayward Chamber of Commerce event featuring Hayward Mayor Roberta Cooper’s charity, Chime-In, which buys musical instrument for Hayward students. The mayor, of course, went for the wine.

“I said, `I basically don’t like beer,” Cooper explains. Then, Vic handed her a glass of Duchesse de Bourgogne and a beer lover was born. “It was just delicious,” she said. “It had flavor. It was a real delight.”

Duchess de Bourgogne**** is our beer of the week. Named for the Duchess of Burgundy, a 15th century champion of the Flemish people, who died at 25 in a fall from a horse while falconing. READ THE REST OF THE POST…

Posted on Saturday, October 18th, 2008
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Pacific Coast celebrates its 20th, Come on down

Here I am, sitting at the bar at Pacific Coast Brewing a couple hours ahead of this brewpub’s 20th anniversary celebration, which begins at 5 p.m. here in downtown Oakland. Then, tomorrow they’re rolling all beer prices back to 1988. $2.50 pints (normally, they’re $5).

Quick note: Street is closing, three bands. Headliner is Kevin Cadogan, formerly of Third Eye Blind the alt-rock group. Music is free.

Out on Washington Street, they’re going to be pouring pints of Pacific Coast’s Anniversary Beer in commemorative glasses ($7 includes the glass, refills $5). Just sampled it: 8 percent, at least. It’s a big coppper beer with a malty nose. Barley sweet with some hops in the finish. They also just put their Columbus, a beer made totally with Columbus hops, 7 percent, on handpump.

The brewers,  Don Gortemiller and his assistant Steve Sites, used 20 ingredients, including brown sugar, dark Belgian candi sugar and honey. Whew. Don calls it a strong Scottish Ale. No kidding. Excellent.

I’m aghast. Has it really been 20 years since Don Gortemiller and Steve Wolff launched this puppy? It’s been my local since they opened their doors on Oct. 19, 1998. I’ve always loved the beers that Don and – since 1991, his assistant Steve Sites – have cranked out of their tiny, basement brewery.

To save room,  no mash tun, Don has always used malt extract as his base malt. Some home brewer purists claim they can tell the difference. I can’t, I’ll bet most of you can’t either.

In a minute for background, I’m posting a story I wrote for North West Brewing News about Pacific Coast. In the meantime, here’s a link to our Staff Writer Angela Woodhall’s story about the celebration and Pacific Coast in this morning’s paper.

Photo: Don Gortemiller, Pacific Coast co-founder, with a pint of 20th Anniversary Ale.

Posted on Friday, October 17th, 2008
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Bill Wood, Elk Grove’s brewer moves to Auburn Brewing, also an Elk Grove tribute page

Here’s a quickie update on Elk Grove Brewing, the late, lamented Elk Grove, that is. The brewer Bill Wood left me a message and said he’s signed on at Auburn Ale House Brewery & Restaurant. So we can expect some more of his great beer.

If you’re headed to the Sierra or Reno, this is a great pit stop. Eschew the faset food emporiums and head for the brewpub (with a designated driver, of course.)

Alson Jon, who posts comments here occasionally, and is a big Bill Wood fan, has launched a tribute page to Elk Groe Brewery

  • Hey Bill, Was bummed to hear about Elk Grove brewpub. I had a chance to visit back in August……I thought it was actually time to do a tribute/post and get some photos up. Have a look when you get a chance.

Posted on Friday, October 17th, 2008
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