Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for December, 2008

Looking toward 12th night: 12 beers for Christmas


I spent my first Christmas in Mexico drinking too much Khalua in a hotel in Merida in the Yucatan after a too-long bus ride from Palenque, the Mayan ruins.  So I didn’t learn about  Twelfth Night until my next Christmas in Mazatlan.

I discovered that Christmas at least among some Catholics in Mexico doesn’t end on Dec. 25. The big feast, presents and all the rest comes on the night of Jan. 5, which marks the arrival of the Magi, the three wise men, in Bethlehem to pay homage to the infant Jesus.

So…with that explanation, here – in alphabetical order – are my 12 beers of Christmas. My criteria: Great beer, with enough muscle to ward off the winter’s chill and fairly easy to find.

  • Anderson  Valley Imperial IPA., Anderson Valley. Boonville, CA.  This beer came out last February, marking Anderson Valley’s 20th anniversary. The event at the brewery was quite a bash and the beer is quite a beer. It’s got everything Anderson Valley’s famous for: 100 IBUs, 8.7 percent alcohol by volume: a big, malty taste up front and a killer hoppy finish. It can still be found and the age won’t have hurt it a bit. I’ve got one more bottle in my beer fridge and I’m saving it.
  • The 1987 is long gone except in a collector's bin. But the 2007 and 2008 can easily be found – at good beer stores

  • Allagash Curieux, Allagash, Portland, ME.   Curieux is French for curious.  Brewer Rob Tod takes his Tripel, ages it for two months in Jim Beam bourbon barrels. Taste is complex: mildly sour with lots of vanilla and bourbon from the wood. 9.3 percent.
  • Fantome Saison, Fantome, Soy, Belgium.  Fantome is a one-man show. Brewer Dany Prignone, who has a reputatation for being daring and chaotic, makes Saison year-round, but importer Dan Shelton, of Shelton Brothers, says the ingredients change and he never know what’s in it: apple juice, peach juice, coriander added to a basic mash of two row pale and speciality malts: 8 percent, worth a hunt to find it.
  • J.W. Lees Harvest, J.W. Lees, Manchester, England. Truth-telling time: This is one of my all-time favorite beers. It’s released as a “vintage” each year and a tiny, 9.3 oz. bottle can cost nearly $10 and older vintages may cost more.  Don’t even blink, just biuy it. The version I like is aged in Calvados (apple brandy) barrels. We can thank Matthias Neidhart, founder of the Los Angeles-based import company B. United for the beer. Neidhart explains that J.W. Lees Ltd., an old-time Manchester, England brewer got the idea in 1986 to make a beer using just harvested Maris Otter barley and the new harvest of East Kent Golding hops. A few years ago, Matthias suggested asing the beer in barrels. It cuaght on and they age some in calvados, some in whisky barrels,  some in port and sherry barrels. I’ll take calvados.  It’s 11.5 percent alcohol and I can’t think of a better after dinner drink.
  • Malheur 10,  Malheur Bieren, Brouwerij De Landtsheer, East Flanders, Belgium. The late beer expert Michael Jackson discovered this tiny brewery and rightly extolled its beers. The brewery even makes a beer cave-aged in France Champagne stye, Malheur Brut Reserve. But Malheur 10 is equally delicious and at about $10 for a 750 ml bottle, far more affordable. It’s 10 percent alcohol, a light, unfiltered copper with a nose of spices. The taste is fairly sweet and full bodied with a surprising tart finish.
  • Old Stock Ale, 2008, North Coast Brewing. Fort Bragg, CA. Can’t say enough about this aged, high-powered, 11 percent winter bomb. Don’t let the pale copper color fool you, it’s delicious and gut-warming.
  • Ommegeddon 2008, Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY. The style is Belgian saison made with Belgian pale and pilsner malts; hops are Styrian Goldings and spicy Saaz. It’s 8 percent and a bit of brettanomyces wild yeast is added to each bottle for a slow fermentation that turns the beer slightly sour with a barnyard note. Ommegan is now wholly owned by the Belgian brewer Duvel Moortgat and the beer keeps getting better and better.
  • Road Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter, Flying Dog, Frederick, MD. Even though they long ago fled Aspen, CO. and after a lengthy sojourn in Denver, now brew in Frederick, MD.,  Road Dog is one of the beers that delineate Flying Dog’s style: 7.8 percent, 85 IBUs, a dark chocolate color with a silky, velvety taste. My tasting notes say its like a “chocolate shake with alcohol and hops.”
  • Santa’s Little Helper, Port Brewing,  San Marcos, CA., this one of a long line of strong, delicious tonics from Tomme Arthur.  It’s 10 percent,  almost jet black color with an aroma of licorice and ripe fruit. It’s faintly sweet with a dry finish. A great beer at the end of the day.
  • Salvation, Russian River, Santa Rosa, CA. This is a great beer, a darkly delicious, Belgian-style dubbel that hides in plain site. It’s obscoured by brewer-founder Vinnie Culurzo’s many outstanding beers, like Pliny the Elder, the double IPA, and his many stunning barrel-aged sours like Temptation. Salvation is a true-to-style, 9.,2 percent beer, with Belgian candi sugar added to give the Belgian yast more fermentables and help create a deceptively light tasting, effervescense. I call it sizzle on the tongue.
  • Rochefort 10. Made at the Trappist Abbaye Notre Dame do St. Remy, Belgium, this is a dark, strong, 11.3 percent beer. Once imnpossible to find in California, hanks to Mechant du Vin, the Seattle, WA. importer, it’s now easily found. Rochefort 10 (there;s also a Rochefort 8 and a Rochefort 6) is a true Christmas treat. If thick and chewy’s your bag, this one of the good ‘uns.
  • Unibroue Terrible, Unibroue, Chambly, Quebec, Canada.  Unibroue is now owned by Sapporo, but so far the Japanese maker of bland beer hasn’t messed with Unibroue and zounds! Terribly is awesome.  It’s a dark, almost opaque brown with a creamy, tan head with an aroma of alcohol, earthy yeast and licorice. This is a big beer, 10.5 percent alcohol by volume, double the strength of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.  It’s a blend of barley malt and wheat and “American” hops. Terrible’s also bottled conditioned, a bit of fresh yeast’s added to each bottle, so a slow secondary fermentation continues in the bottle. The older the beer, the drier it is.

Posted on Friday, December 26th, 2008
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Vintage Berkeley opens in Elmwood

Vintage Berkeley's logo

Here’s a fun one. If you haven’t noticed, my woefully bland neighborhood got a much-needed wine addition earlier this month. Vintage Berkeley opened its second Berkeley location at the corner of College and Ashby in Elmwood, injecting much needed spirit(s) into that block. They’re in the old hardware store location.

These guys, who also own Solano Cellars in Albany, specialize in small production value wines (that’s under $25) from around the world. Is there any other kind of wine? Make sure to stop by for their afternoon or evening tastings. I figure if we can’t get a sophisticated bar in the hood, this is the next best thing.

According to a press release, co-owner Peter Eastlake had this to say about opening up a third store in a dire economy: “Wine prices are undergoing an overdue correction, and consumers will benefit from the process.”

Cheers to that.

Posted on Friday, December 26th, 2008
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Joe Sixpack picks his top 10 Christmas beers on NPR today

Don Russell, author of Christmas Beer

Don Russell, author of Christmas Beer

Don Russell, who writes the Joe Sixpack column in the Philadelphia Daily News, and whose latest book is Wishing You A Merry Christmas Beer,  picks his top 10 Christmas beers today on NPR. Follow this link and click on “listen” to hear the interview. And it’s Christmas Eve, need a book for yourself – buy his book. It’s absolutely excellent

Here’s Don’s top 10:

  • Smuttynose Winter Ale (New Hampshire), a sweet dark beer with notes of cherry and chocolate. Pair with snapper soup.
  • Stille Nacht (Belgium), a sweet, very strong pale ale. Pair with a washed-rind cheese such as Limburger.
  • Troegs Mad Elf (Pennsylvania), a strong dark ale brewed with cherries and honey. Pair with bacon quiche.
  • Mahr’s Christmas Bock (Germany), a classic, malty Bavarian bock. Pair with a sausage plate.
  • Anchor Our Special Ale (California), a spiced winter warmer with a spruce aroma. Pair with cranberry salad.
  • Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome (England), a classic unspiced winter warmer with mellow roasted malt. Pair with roasted turkey.
  • Anderson Valley Winter Solstice (California), a spiced winter warmer with warming vanilla notes. Pair with pumpkin pie.
  • Baladin Noel (Italy), a Belgian-style strong dark ale with a vibrant, spicy yeast character. Pair with those red-and-green-wrapped Hershey kisses.
  • Samichlaus (Austria), a smooth, brandylike triple bock. Pair with a cigar next to the fireplace.
  • Gouden Carolus Noel (Belgium), a strong dark ale spiced with herbs. Pair with salted pecans.

Posted on Wednesday, December 24th, 2008
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The best beer videos and a beer-drinking tribute to George Wills and Hank Thompson

It’s that time of year….it’s BEST OF time… and for videos we take you now to Youtube for….

The best beer commercial of the year….with 489,168 views…this morning.

Then there’s the best beer commercial ever... 1,142,793 views…

No way I can leave out Homer Simpson and his ode to Duff beer with 659,511 views.

And lurching onward,…How about Epic Beer Pong Shots…only 12,116 views this morning, but hell, some of the shots are awesome.

For the closer, I have to stumble back to tiny town Nebraska where I grew up in and where the classics were songs by Bob Wills, Hank Williams and Hank Thompson….

Here’s Hank Thompson singing Bubbles in My Beer,  I understand it was a big hit for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys back in the 1940s. Thompson’s cover came a decade later. It’s the one I remember hearing when I was a kid…

Posted on Wednesday, December 24th, 2008
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Colorado wine Rockies my world

Oh hush up. I know it’s a bad pun, but I live for them. And I’m ancy. I’m going home in less than an hour to light my menorah and make curried sweet potato latkes that I will wash down with the nectar of the mountain gods – a Merlot from Colorado.

Yes, Colorado.

I received the 2002 BookCliff Vineyards Merlot as a gift a few years ago and just got around to opening it last night, letting it breathe for half an hour and enjoying it with some curried Israeli cous cous and sweet potato soup.

What a Merlot — Smooth, surprisingly crisp and light in body with all the classic aromas and flavors of plum, tobacco and soft cherries. This is a small production wine from the Grand Valley — the winery made less than 250 cases of the current 2004 vintage.

bookcliff vineyards merlot

A little about BookCliff: it’s located in the Vinelands, east of Palisade, where grapes were first grown about 100 years ago. Located across from the Colorado River, the vineyards benefit from evening winds and low nighttime temperatures that promote and lock in acidity. Hence, a Merlot that I can’t stop pairing with curry flavored dishes.

First New Mexico, now Colorado. The home of the Rockies has seen a tripling in the number of vineyard acres since 1990. Currently, there are 450 acres of vines. Learn more on the state’s wine site, Colorado Wine.

Posted on Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008
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Events: Benefit at the Bistro for Zap Comix artist S. Clay Wilson

I’m going to keep my comments short.  There’s going to be a benefit next Sunday, Dec. 28, 2 – 8 pm.  at the Bistro, 1001 B St. in Hayward, (CA). for S. Clay Wilson, the underground Zap Comix artist.  Donated beer,  great music, things to buy to support this very inportant and zany artist…Read on…

  • On November 2nd, legendary Underground cartoonist S. Clay Wilson of Zap Comix fame, creator of The Checkered Demon, suffered a serious brain injury. His recovery will be long and difficult, and he is currently too disoriented to return home to his normal life.
  • With expenses mounting, long-time friend and musician Dave Hodtwalker has rallied Wilson’s friends in the San Francisco Bay Area artistic community by organizing the Jomo Jam Blues Benefit for Sunday, December 28th at The Bistro in Hayward. In addition to The Dave Walker Band’s regular jam session featuring Hodtwalker, Kenny Gross, Andrew G., Vic and Whitt Vicena, and Roger Lind, special guest musicians will join in, including Underground cartoonist Mark (Cobalt 60) Bode. There will be food, free amplifier service coupons donated by Father’s Amp Repair, an art sale with Wilson’s comic books and other collectibles, and at the end of the evening a special raffle will be held. Prizes include: Wilson-signed posters donated by Hippy Comix, Inc., unique beverages donated by the Celebrator Beer News Magazine, a special S-type guitar created by Andrew G., paintings and drawings by Annette Hodtwalker, and more!
  • Come and celebrate the holidays by honoring S. Clay Wilson: a unique, original, and outrageous artist!

Where: The Bistro, 1001 B. St., Hayward CA (three blocks from Hayward BART station)
When: Sunday, Dec. 28., 2-8pm.

Posted on Monday, December 22nd, 2008
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Oddbits…An iPhone breathalizer, Black Diamond Winter Ale, no Sprecher IPA2 in the Bay Area…yet

OK, this is the topper in Christmas weirdness and it actually looks like it might be useful: Meet the  iBreath Breathalyzer & FM Transmitter for iPod.  It costs $79 and attaches to an iPod or – I guess – an iPhone.

You connect it to the iPod, then hit a button and little wand comes out, blow into it and a readout appears showing the percentage of alcohol in your breath.  Sounds handy.  Actually, I’m not sure what the iPod has to do with it, since it looks like a self-contained unit.

Oh yes, it’s also an FM transmitter and sends your tunes wirelessly to –- not sure where.

Here’s their video.

I’ve seen these devices on line for as low as $17.95 like this one here.

But I don’t know if I’d risk my driver’s license on something bought at steep discount on the net.  Personally, I take public transit whenever possible. I rely on beerbybart to get me to my destination.

One more possibility for a Christmas present would be a subscription to a beer magazine. The Alstrom Brothers, Todd and Jason, ( are offering a one year sub to their new magazine: Beer Advocate, $30 for 12 issues.  That’s far from cheap, I realized. But then, I really like the tone of their mag; it’s low on bs, with lots of useful info.

Two other beer magazines are the pioneering All About Beer, $20 for six issues, and Brew Your Own, aimed at homebrewers, 8 issues for $25.

On to beer… Bad news about the Sprecher IPA2, the stellar double IPA from Wisconsin I reviewed last week. I got a sample from the brewery rep.  He said they had a distributor network set up throughout the state, but the distributor in Los Angeles went belly up.  Now they’re regrouping. The beer should be in Beverages & More stores next month.

Black Diamond Winter Ale from Black Diamond Brewing, Concord, CA. is finally out. The brewer, Derek Smith, said it’s brewed with a yeast “similar to Chimay” and weighs in at 7.2 percent ABV. It’s dark, with a mildly spicy nose and a bone dry finish. Wish it wasn’t so dry, but then I’m prejudiced toward big and malty. THREE STARS – . It’s in stores around Contra Costa County (Suburban San Francisco) and in good stores in Alameda County.

Another new beer, making its way into fine beer stores here is Ballast Point Big Eye India Pale Ale. Nice beer: 6 percent, big rocky hjead, hops on the nose, cirus and pineapple. Taste is dry with a hoppy finish.THREE STARS. In 22 oz. bottles.

And another… Altenmunster Winterbier Doppelbock, 7.2 percent, in 25 oz, flip top bottle: Nice beer, not a stunner, but quite drinkable. It’s fairly sweet with lots of caramel. THREE STARS –.

Posted on Monday, December 22nd, 2008
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Corkheads makes must-read blogs list

Hey folks! I’m back from a week in Cabo San Lucas, where I drank enough Nebbiolo to transport me to Italy on that beach chair and then followed it up with lots of palate-cleansing Tecates to bring me back.

Great news I have to share. Corkheads has made Mutineer Magazine’s list of must-read blogs. If you haven’t read the L.A.-based beverage magazine, you simply must. It’s full of fabulous pieces about all things beer, wine, tea, coffee and food related. And editor Alan Kropf has his finger on the pulse of the wine blogosphere.

Here’s a cut and paste from the issue. I’m in excellent company with Alder Yarrow of San Francisco-based Vinography, Brix Chicks of Oakland, and Virginia’s Wanna Be Wino. If you want to see the whole issue, you have to subscribe to the mag with the link above. Otherwise, I’ve cut and pasted my portion below. Thanks for helping to make Corkheads a fun place to discuss wine!

Blogger: Jessica Yadegaran
Location: Walnut Creek, CA
Launch Date: Feb. ‘06

Jessica’s journalism experience adds a
unique edge to her blog, which covers a
wide range of wine topics, from news to
reviews to ideas.
Speaking about the vision behind her
blog, Jessica says that she tries to “educate,
enlighten, and entertain.”
Instead of rating wines by a numerical value,
Jessica chooses to focus on the sensory
elements and experience of a wine.
3 Recent Blog Posts:
Kendall-Jackson hearts Obama
A post about the bottle of Kendall-Jackson
Chardonnay mentioned in a recent
People magazine article as well as another
Kendall-Jackson fan.
Wine writer vs. wine blogger
A post philosophizing on the differences
between a wine writer and blogger drawing
on Jessica’s experience in both mediums.
Hard times for wine Down Under
This post explores the state of the Australian
wine industry and the factors contributing
to the challenges facing the industry

Posted on Monday, December 22nd, 2008
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Emails…storing beer, drinking beer at the right temperature, finding Firestone Walker 12 in Los Angeles, finding good beer in Silicon Valley

E-mails…that have come in to my blog email address this week –

William, In your findings/discoveries…what is your preferred way to store beer?  With the exception of the live beers (such as Pliny and Blind Pig) that should be refrigerated…have you found a good way to store beers?  My purpose is to do flights in the future (Alaskan Smoked Porters, Abyss, etc…).  I’ve been told as long as they are kept u right, in a cool dark place they should be fine.

Do you have other feelings on the issue? Thanks! Bob

Bob — What I do is refrigerate all my beer, but I keep the fridge fairly warm, about 40 – 45 degrees. If a bottle is corked. i put it on its side; if capped, i keep it upright.

However, a lot of brewers believe all beer should be stored upright. They reason that bottle conditioned beers contain yeast and if you store them on their sides the yeast sediment settles on the side of the bottle instead of the bottom. So when you open the bottle, the chunks of (not great tasting yeast, get mixed back in. That makes sense to me, but I haven’t done anything about it,  yet.

Serving beer ice cold is a deadly sin, unless it’s August and Bud

Bill – At what temperature should I serve my last flask of Old Crustacean Barley wine Style Ale? Also — how long will this keep in cool storage? Reed.

Well Reed..  it shouldn’t be served ice cold. Let it sit for a few minutes to take the chill off. At least that’s what I usually do. A little bit of warming (not a lot) brings out the malt, which of course you want in a barley wine.)

A flask? You mean it’s in a growler?  If you keep it refrigerated and sealed, it will last a while, but oxygen kills beer. Old Crusty’s pretty strong, so it will last, but it kind of gets flatter as the oxygen does its dirty work. If your growler is one of those plastic cubitainers, then squeeze the sides to get as much air out as you can. Sounds delicious.

Bill— Thanks! – My growler is a 750ml black ceramic bottle with a metal bottle cap on top – stored in a cool dark cabinet — So is “cool” but not “cold” your recommendation for most of the strong alcoholic beers you feature in your weekly “what’s on tap” article? – If not, you might mention your recommended serving temp for those us trying to catch up with you beer aficionados – R

Yes. Chilling is for light lagers on hot summer days. With beers that have a decent amount of malt, you want to be able to taste the malt. And the worst thing of all to do is try to drink a double or triple, uber-hoppy IPA ice cold. All you get is hops and to appreciate beers like Pliny the Elder, you need to be able to taste the malt; malt gives even the hoppiest beers balance.

Finding Firestone Walker 12X in LA

Hello William, I was lucky enough to taste the Firestone “XII” ale last week – and I would like to buy some.  I read your review on line, mentioning the 2008 Northern California Retail Beer Store List – but I live in the Los Angeles area.  Is there a retail beer store list for my area that you are aware of? B.G.

Hi there… I have no idea, but I’ve consulted a freiend Jay Sheveck, who is the author of The Beer Guppy’s Guide to Southern California.” The book includes a list of good beer retailers. Here’s what Jay recommends:

Hi William, That’s going to be a tough one…  I know of two retail places that had the magic elixir as of two weeks ago: Red Carpet Liquor in Glendale and Wades Wines in Agoura Hills.

Perhaps Vendome Liquor in Toluca Lakemay have it, but I’m speculating. I’ll pay them a visit tomorrow, because I am looking for a bottle as well. 😉  Actually, Stuffed Sandwich in San Gabriel would most definitely have it, (maybe even on tap, if Sam has his way)..Cheers, Jay  (You can buy the Beer Guppy guide at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, $9.95. It’s a great guide to the LA basin.

Help needed: Why is Silicon Valley such a damned beer desert?

Hi, I really like the article in Wednesday’s Merc. I am writing to you because most of the time these wonderful articles about beers (or wines) to try are just that…articles to read. Finding such gems, well, I have basically given up after years of disappointment.

You would think that people at BevMo would be glued to your article, contact their distributors and order this beer to be in stock…yeh, right. I’ve been to BevMo looking for the elusive brews in previous articles and most recently one of my cooking magazines, with no luck at all. So, if you have some idea as to where to score some the beers in your article, I would love to have that information. RC

William — For what it’s worth, San Jose has less of a foodie culture  than the rest of the Bay Area, and I think the dearth of beer options, as compared to the rest of the Bay Area, is an extension of that There are a few good options here and there.  The Los Gatos Brewing Company has a good hefeweisen, but not much else.  I like BJ’s Brewhouse in the Oakridge Mall in San Jose, and it’s a 15 minute walk from my place.  It’s good place, but not really a great place. I don’t know what the discussion might lead to, but would be interested what others have to say. Derrick

Hi Derrick and RC...yeah, the South Bay is indeed a dismal place for beer. I’ve never understood. It’s such an affluent, sophisticated place. I realize I need to spend some more time in San Jose and visit some of these places.  If you find a great store from this list, please let me know and I’ll update it.  That’s how the list developed. It’s the product of lots of input from people who like good beer. OK blog people, I’m looking for input here. Is there a secret great beer store somewhere in the South Bay/Silicon Valley? Let us know. Comments are very welcome.  If for no other reason, than I’m gonna print them and send them to the beer retailers association.

Posted on Saturday, December 20th, 2008
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This seems to be a day for videos. I love drinking songs and if they’re Irish, well, my (very, non-Irish) heart beats faster. Here’s a very cool one, The Parting Glass by The High Kings, of Dublin, Ireland. And a toast to everyone in this holiday season.

Last note. I was trying to find a video of The Kingston Trio singing Three Jolly Coachmen…”here’s to the man who drinks dark beer and goes to bed quite mellow. He lives as he ought to live, he lives as he ought to live and he’ll die a jolly good fellow…” But I can’t find it anywhere. If anyone can, post a link as a comment and I’ll put it up.

So other drinking songs? Post ’em here…

Posted on Friday, December 19th, 2008
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