Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for December, 2008

Oh hell, I forgot the really important news…

Yowser, yowser…here’s the big news: Corona Light in cans! It’s true; they sent me a sample and a bit of a commercial:

Corona Light with only 99 calories and 5 grams of carbohyrdrates, is the number one imported light beer, and the number one imported high-end beer in the U.S. Corona Light’s ten year Compound Annual Growth Rate is 13.3 percent and the brand grew 10.5 percent in2007. It is ranbks number 13 overall in the chain grocery/drugstore segment, where importe light beer is growing faster than domestiuc light and the overall beer category.

Whew. That’s impressive. The only thing that beat out Corona for growth is craft beer in supermarkets etc. is craft beer.

Posted on Friday, December 19th, 2008
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Oddbits: An Aussie kiss, new beer here, Ballast Point Sea Monster, Sprecher IPA2…

Thanks to Stephen D’Arcy, the Campaign for Real Ale’s man in Brussels, Belgium for this Australian video….

Some new beers for Christmas…

Ballast Point, the San Diego brewer, has begun shipping beer to Beverages & More stores and other good beer spots in the Bay Area.Ballast Point beers are regulars at  fests at the Bistro in Hayward and the Toronado in San Francisco,  So it’s great to see them up here.

The list includes Sea Monster Imperial Stout, a 10 percent monster. Quite tasty: an inky black color with a big, lasting head of thick, tan foam, leaving lacework trailing down the glass.  The taste is fetching: multi-level, roast malt and ripe fruit in front, chocolate and figs in the follow. THREE STARS PLUS.

Also, Black Marlin Porter, Wahoo Wheat and  Big Eye India Pale Ale.  Haven’t tried them,  but I definitely will.

Also new to the Bay Area, a few beers from Sprecher, Glendale, WI.  I’ve tried Sprecher beers over a few years during family visits in Chicago. I’ve never been overwhelmed.  However, the first Sprecher beer I cracked the other night was total dynamite.

It’s Sprecher IPA2 Double India Pale Ale. It’s 8.4 percent, an unfiltered copper color with a lasting, creamy head and a nose of apricots, orange marmelade and maybe grapefruit — ahh those West Coast hops. Brewers no longer live in isolated enclaves do they. There’s a medium full mouth-feel with a rush of fruit and jam fading into a dry finish with a bit of warming alcohol. Damn nice. IPA2 could holds its own at the Bistro’s Double IPA fest next year. THREE/FOUR STARS.

And finally, Black Diamond, Concord, CA has released their Winter Ale. It’s 7.2 percent, fermented with a Belgian yeast. Taste is quite dry with a spicy background. THREE STARS.

Stumbling onward into the world of bureaucrats and beer kings and non-profits.  The National Association of  State Attorney Generals announced in San Fracisco this week that they cut a deal with MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev. The brewers have agreed to discontinue caffeinated alcoholic drinks.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Washington-based non-profit that brought the lawsuit which started the process, salutes the decision.

  • “It was a bad idea that never should have gotten as far as it did—adding caffeine to sweetened, high-alcohol-content malt beverages and marketing them to young people via word-of-mouth and infantile web sites.  Marketing caffeinated beer demonstrated a disturbing lack of restraint on the part of major companies like MillerCoors, and it put millions of young Americans in harms way.  That’s why we sued the company in September,” CSPI said.

To view this video, go here.

On to happier things… While drinking beer at Barclay’s in Oakland a few years ago, Chris Nelson and his wife, Merideth Canham-Nelson had an idea: Travel the world, visit great beer festivals and beer-loving countries and shoot video and publish it on the Web.

Now in 2008, they’ve done it:  A year in beer – The Czech Budweiser, 2007 Oregon Brewers Fest, Beer Beyond Denver, Dublin (Ireland), Germany (two episodes) Alaska, Ireland, Great British Beer Festival, Oktoberfest in Munich, the Great American Beer Festibval and San Diego.  The last episode: Belgium and The Netherlands is in the works.

For background, go here.  To watch the videos, go to

Also on the beer video front, If you’re a total beer newbie. That is, you like the stuff, but know almost nothing, Check out beertaptv/TasteBuds.  It’s a simple plot: Two guys who love beer, Erik Boles and Dusty Frazier do a weekly beer tasting video. Their explanations are coherent, their choice of beers respectable.  In the latest episode: Barleywine, they taste Rogue Old Crustacean and Avery Hog Heaven. Check ’em out.

Posted on Friday, December 19th, 2008
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Oddbits: World of beer on Discovery Channel tonight, Drake’s is looking good, vanishing British pubs, best brewers in the world

It’s not news, but I’m a sucker for a horse photo. These are the Budweiser Clydesdales and they’re gonna’ be in the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena on Jan. 1. Who are these horses? A-B answers:

  • The Clydesdales became part of Anheuser-Busch in 1933, shortly after Prohibition ended for beer, when August A. Busch Jr. and Adolphus Busch III presented a hitch to their father, August Busch Sr., to commemorate the first bottle of post-Prohibition beer brewed in St. Louis.

And now the news...If you’re into beer, there’s a TV production not to miss tonight. It’s “Beer” from  How Stuff Works on  the Discovery Channel. It airs tonight at 8 p.m. PST and 8 p.m. EST.  A crew roamed the U.S. and the world, talking to brewers and beer experts. They went to hop fields in Washington, went to Pilsner Urquell in the Czech Republic.  The show covers all aspects of brewing and homebrewing. Gotta’ be worth watching.

It airs again at midnight tonight, Dec. 18 and again on Jan. 2 at 6 p.m. If you miss it you may be able to watch it online here after it airs.

here’s a video promo… Couldn’t get it to display. But this link works, or cut and paste the coding below.

Moving on... Tom, a reader of this blog and my column and  like me a big fan of Drake’s Brewing (San Leandro, CA.), visited the brewery yesterday and found things humming. John Martin, the proprietor of Triple Rock in Berkeley bought Drakes with a partner earlier this year.  Here’s what Tom says:

  • Hey William I was up at Drakes yesterday for the first time in over a month and it was a wonderful surprise. The place was humming with activity.Fermenters were bubbling away with both Drakes IPA and some beers for Jupiter. The direct sales prices on Drakes kegs of the IPA Amber and 1500 have dropped $10 to $115 and the specialty beers such as the Imperial IPA ( which I picked up for the kegerator ) are $145 + tax. Case prices are also very low. They also have a sales force now. The office area has been cleaned up with all of the awards they have won on display. I’m so happy that my favorite brewery is back at full speed. I sure hope our great beer community will get support Drakes.

Onward…British pubs are dying at an alarming rate, more than 4,000 are expected to close in the next two years as the dear old UK becomes more like us, auto-oriented, home-centered.  Fewer and fewer people choose to while away an evening in the local.  The BBC aired a fascinating report on the subject on Dec. 12: Last Orders – Calling Time on Pubs. Major reasons: price competition from beer sold in supermarkets, many pubs owned by giant pub companies with the usual corporate, cookie cutter sameness and lack of beer choice.

The BBC has a video online, but you have to be in the UK to view it. Haven’t found a version on Youtube or elsewhere,  maybe someone can and post a link or e-mail it to me (  Here’s a link to the BBC’s story on their telecast.

Oh my gawd….the best beer, best pub conflab is heating up again. The Alstrom Brothers, Jason and Todd, the two Boston guys behind have come up with a list of the best breweries in the world and the best pubs in the world in the latest issue of their Beer Advocate magazine.  They note that the listings were determined by popular vote of Advocate posters,
Thanks to Stan Hieronymous of for pointing out how American-cenrtric the list is.

The lists are posted on the Stone Brewing Web site.

  • Top Breweries on Planet Earth. 1. Stone, 2. Three Floyds, 3. Ommegang.  Russian River is sixth.
  • Top Beer Bars on Planet Earth. 1. Ebenezer’s Pub (Lowell, ME.) 2. Brick Store Pub (Decatur, GA.) 3. HopCat (Grand Rapids, MI) Huh.  Nope, the Toronado didn’t make the list.

Posted on Thursday, December 18th, 2008
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A Christmas shopping list for beer lovers: Me and You

Note: This is today’s San Jose Mercury News column.

Great beer, gift packs, books and (yes) beer pong

By William Brand
for the Mercury News

OK, it’s the week before Christmas and there’s a beer lover or two on your list. Maybe it’s you. What to do? I’ve been making a list and checking it twice. . . .

Three suggestions at the top of my list:

  • Duvel Holiday Pack, $16. A spicy, lively, golden beer from Moortgat in Belgium, 8 percent alcohol by volume, it’s a beer that almost everyone will love; I rank it five stars, a world classic. The pack includes four 11.2-ounce bottles of Duvel and a distinctive, tulip-shaped glass.
  • Bourbon County Imperial Stout, four 12-ounce bottles for $19.99. A stunning, almost overwhelming beer from Goose Island, Chicago; 13 percent alcohol (Bud, by comparison, is 5 percent). Aged in bourbon barrels for a year, it has a bourbon nose and a mildly sweet taste. One to sip slowly on a cold winter night. Four stars (don’t miss it).
  • Malheur Brut Reserve, 750-milliliter bottle for $25. A stupendous, complex, copper-colored beer, cave-aged during a second fermentation in the style of Champagne from Malheur Bieren in East Flanders, Belgium. After fermentation in Belgium, it’s put into Champagne bottles and shipped to a Champagne cellar in France, where the bottles are stored and turned one-quarter turn daily. After three months, the neck of the bottle is frozen and the plug of collected yeast sediment is disgorged before the bottle is corked. Another four-star offering.

Great list, huh? The only problem is that the South Bay’s a beer desert. Aside from two chains, Beverages & More and Whole Foods, and some smaller grocers like Beltramo’s, Draeger’s and Zanotto’s, good beer stores are rare. That’s why I’ve compiled a retail beer store List. E-mail me at and ask for the list.


As with wines, each style of beer needs its own type of glass. As far as the look, I like glasses that are branded in the European fashion, but clear, high-quality, unlabeled glasses are also a great way to present beer.

  • New Belgium beer glass. This is a new, 13.5-ounce stemmed glass in a traditional Belgian globe shape from the Fort Collins, Colo., brewer of Fat Tire.
    Mikasa wheat beer glasses

    Mikasa wheat beer glasses

    It’s scored on the bottom like a Champagne glass, creating nucleation — a stream of small bubbles surging upward through the beer. Two for $10, plus about $6.50 for shipping;

  • Mikasa Brewmaster wheat beer glasses. Like the glasses used in Germany for wheat beers, these are tall and narrow with a wide mouth to gather the spicy, clove aroma of the wheat. Four for $23 from


What’s beer without silly games? Don’t answer that, just buy a beer pong kit. One I’ve seen in action is the Bombed Complete Beer Pong Kit, $16. Includes ping-pong balls, beer cups and a rack to keep the cups from falling over. Supply your own swill beer.

Brew your own

  • Williams Brewing in San Leandro offers a starter’s home-brewing kit for $84.90, plus $6.50 for shipping. Williams’ Tim Clifford says it includes everything one needs: fermenters, bottle capper, bottle caps, hydrometer, thermometer, home-brewing book and how-to DVD, plus all the ingredients for one 5-gallon batch.
  • Seven Bridges Cooperative in Santa Cruz is the place to go if you want to go organic. Co-op member-owner Amelia Slayton recommends the Home Brewery With Glass Fermenter & Ingredients, for $109.90. It includes everything, and the beer ingredients are certified organic.


  • “The Beer Book,” edited by Tim Hampson (DK Publishing, $25, 352 pp.). This is a sound-bite journey, nation by nation, through the world of great beer, from Louisiana’s Abita Purple Haze to New Zealand’s Twisted Hop Challenger. It’s a fun read.
  • “Around London in 80 Beers” by Chris Pollard and Siobhan McGinn (Cogan & Mater, $19.99, including shipping, from Even if you never hoist a pint of real ale in a London pub, “Around London” is a terrific read. Pollard and McGinn, who have written books about Belgian beers, returned to their native city to compile this fascinating tour. If the UK’s on your travel list, there’s an Underground map showing the location of each pub.
  • “Wishing You A Merry Christmas Beer” by Don Russell (Universe Publishing, $19.95). Russell, who writes the Joe Sixpack column for the Philadelphia Daily News, compiled this survey, subtitled “The Cheeriest, Tastiest, and Most Unusual Holiday Brews.” I love Russell’s no-nonsense, Philly edge: “Yes, Virginia,” he says. “There is a Santa’s Butt — it’s a porter from South Stoke, England.” Find the Butt on page 45.
  • “Red, White and Brew: A Beer Odyssey Across the U.S.,” by Brian Yaeger (St. Martin’s Griffin, $14.95). If you’re new to the American craft beer revolution or are just curious about the beers and the people behind them, this is the book to read. Yaeger set out on his own to visit the country’s famous and not-so famous breweries. His master’s thesis, for his professional writing degree from the University of Southern California, was on beer.

Last note: I haven’t seen it yet, but the Brewers’ Association, the Boulder, Colo., craft beer trade group (, has just issued a new edition of the late British beer writer Michael Jackson’s groundbreaking “Great Beers of Belgium.”

Contact William Brand at Read more beer reports on his blog,

Posted on Wednesday, December 17th, 2008
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San Francisco Brewers Guild tapping beer tonight at City Beer

This is kind of late, but I just got the info from City Beer Store, 1168 Folsom St., San Francisco:

  • Tonight, Tuesday, Dec. 16th join the San Francisco Brewers Guild in their monthly “Meet the Brewers” night.  Enjoy local flavor on tap and chat up your City brewers.  6-9pm

Me again. It’s the coldest night of the year, but if you’ve never been to one of these, it’s worth a visit. Brewers bring all sorts of good things not usually seen… Nope, you won’t see me. I’m tucked away by my fireplace (It’s not a spare the air night than gawd)…sipping Bourbon County Stout.

Posted on Tuesday, December 16th, 2008
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Oddbits…Beer, chocolate at EJ Phair, Christmas specials at The Trappist, Oakland, Brewpub founder to become U.S. Senator? Favorite holiday beers

There is no reason to post this photo, except it’s so absolutely stupid that I thought, why not? Can you imagine the work this took? Find more here.

Events: It’s not too late to reserve a seat Wednesday night at EJ Phair’s Alehouse, Todos Santos Square, Concord (CA.) for a beer and chocolate pairing:

  • Sweet and Savory Beer and Chocolate Tasting – 7 p.m. We will be pairing four tasty winter brews with four different chocolate creations.  Our Chef Brian Hampton and JJ Phair will be hosting this event  $25.  $20, Mug Club Members. Reservations: 925-691-4253

Beer here…The Trappist, 460 9th St. in downtown Oakland is offering a number of holiday beers for sale. They also have De Struise Tsjeeses on tap, $10 a glass. They apologize, but the beer is incredibly expensive.

Beer for sale that can’t be found most places includes,  Fantôme d’Hiver 8% ABV $24, De Proef Kerstmutske Christmas Nightcap 7.4% ABV 33cl $8., Struise Tsjeeses 10% ABV 33cl $10, Bink Winter King 8.3% ABV 33cl $10

  1. Exclusive Draft: We have one keg of: Strubbe Keyte Oosténdse Dobbel-Tripel 9.2% ABV 25cl $6. We don’t think anyone else has this awesome beer. Special Thanks to Dave Manzo at Manzo Beer & Ale for getting this to us. It has been described as ” a poor mans westy 12″ and “like an angel pissing on your tounge” (not my quotes)

Stumbling onward…A poster to this blog asks – if Jolly Pumpkin / Nøgne-Ø / Stone Special Holiday Ale,  is available in the Bay Area yet? The beer’s a collaboration between Jolly Pumpkin and Stone. Stone’s Dave Hopwood says: “The short answer is…not yet.”

  • I’ve been told there will be 60 cases of it for my distributor that handles the East Bay (Contra Costa and Alameda Counties) and another 60 cases for my distributor that handles the other side (San Francisco, Marin, Napa and Sonoma Counties).  The problem is they have both recently received huge loads of beer so they may not have a truck again for a few weeks.  Once they put in new orders and those trucks ship, the Jolly Pumpkin / Nøgne-Ø / Stone Special Holiday Ale will be on them.

Jack Curtin, the Philadelphia beer blogger has lots of news today. For instance, he notes that Wynkoop Brewing founder and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, may be in line to become a United States Senator succeeding Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, whom Barack Obama has named as his Secretary of the Interior…

  • The excellent political site looks at five prospects this morning and has this to say about one who will be familiar to most of you: Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. Extremely popular in Denver. Has an interesting and salable background, with credentials ranging from geology to business development. Generally seems to be liberal, particularly on environmental issues, although he bought himself some credibility with moderates by opposing Denver’s marijuana decriminalization initiative (which passed anyway). Arguably the most upside of anyone on this list; however, there isn’t that much history of mayors of large cities transitioning into the Senate, as the two positions require fairly different skill set.

Jack also notes that InBev has been shot down by the European Community courts in its effort to market Budweiser in Europe as “Bud”. (They should try Budsucks.)

And finally, a commenter to the blog asks which are my favorite Christmas beers so far….Hmmm.

1. Brrr, Widmer Brothers: spicy, well-balanced.
2. Samichlaus Helles, giant sweetness.
3. Doggie Claws, Hair of the Dog, ditto.
4. Petrus Winter Ale,  Brewery Bavik, Belgium, (barrel aged and mildy sour)
5. Gouden Carolus Noel,  Brewery Het Anker, Belgium, big, malty, spicy, strong.
6. Malheur 12,  Brewery Maheur, Belgium. intoxicating nose, sweet with great complexity, licorce, chocolate, raisins.

So what’s your fave? Let’s build a list (and go shopping).

Posted on Tuesday, December 16th, 2008
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A stellar tasting of holiday beers at Pacific Coast, Oakland

Pacific Coast Holiday Tasting servers, left to right, Lauren McCullough, Shareen Baumgarner, Valerie Boes and Michael Klinge

Pacific Coast Holiday Tasting servers, left to right, Lauren McCullough, Shareen Baumgarner, Valerie Boes and Michael Klinge

Had a great afternoon Saturday at the 20th annual Holiday Beer Tasting at Pacific Coast, 906 Washington St. in downtown Oakland.  The pace was leisurely, the food was excellent – whole hams, jambalaya and among the 15 beers there were some stunners. In truth, this list can serve as a shopping guide for your personal holiday stash. Also, many of these beers remain on tap this week at the brewpub.

Old Stock 2007Old Stock Ale, 2007 FOUR STARS PLUS, North Coast Brewing, Fort Bragg, CA. Personally, this was a star among stars. The one we tasted is now at least 15 months old, it was the color of a fine brandy with an compelling aroma of  chocolate and a brandy note from the alcohol. It’s 11.4 percent. The taste is complex; it starts out dry with a rising, mellow sweetness and a tang of alcohol in the follow. This an English-style Old Ale on LSD: English Maris Otter barley malt; funky, earthy, English Fuggles hops. But it’s nearly twice as strong as a typical English old ale.  It not pastuerized, The strength and aging mellows this beer into a beauty to behold. The ’09 comes out in January. It’s a beer to buy and hold for a while.

Pizza Port Belgian-Style Quadruppel The Mother of All Beers FOUR STARS , Pizza Port, Solana Beach CA. (San Diego County). This big, 110.5 percenter is a stoner. I’m not sure if it’s brewed at Pizza Port or at their sister-spinoff Port Brewing, co-owned by Tomme Arthur, in San Marcos. Doesn’t matter. It has a wild, brandyish nose, a clean brown color with ruby highlights. Initially there’s a bit of sweetness with a building complexity, levels of sweetness and hops and alcohol. Whew.  They used to bottle it, don’t know if they still do. If you see it, my recommendation is to snap it up.

Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout FOUR STARS, Stone, Escondido,

Don Gortemiller and part of the crowd.

Don Gortemiller and part of the crowd.

CA. (San Diego County)  As this 9.2 percent beer ages, it simply gets better and better. This beer was made with a lot of real chocolate added to the fermenter and as it ages – it’s about nine months old now – the chocolate becomes more and more pronounced. Simply delicious from the dark malt-chocolate nose to the big choco finish. Another year of aging? Wow.

Doggie Claws THREE STARS PLUS, Hair of the Dog, Portland OR. The aroma alone was enough to win me over, It has a huge, sweet malt nose. This is a real American-style barleywine: lots and lots of sweetness, toffee, caramel, you name it and whack from the hops int he follow.11.5 percent, 70 IBUs (Internatioal Bitterness Units. Quick comarison, Bud’s 13 IBU, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale 37.). Doggie Claws is one of those beers that will only improve with age. A year or two from now all that sweetness will fade, leaving a silky malty taste and a real champ.

Green Flash Grand Cru, Green Flask, Vista, CA. (San Diego County). THREE STARS PLUS. Brewed first with Green Flash’s regular yeast, then a Belgian yeast, it’s 9 percent. Lots of spice in the nose from that Belgian yeast and a blast of hop bitterness in the follow. A fine, very drinkable beer.

Pacific Coast XX Holiday Belgian-Style Double and Pacific Coast 20th Anniversary Ale both get THREE STARS PLUS. Both were brewed with honey malt, caramel malt, Belgian dark candi sugar, brown sugar, molasses, real honey and a big hop package. Both are 8 percent. The Anniversary was fermented with Pacific Coast’s regular yearst; the Double was fermented with a Belgian yeast – and because they had a problem with their chilling equipment – got more a warm treatment.  Big differences resulted. The Double had a spicy fruity nose and taste, the Anniversary was drier.

Doggie Claws

Samichlaus Helles THREE STARS PLUS, Schloss-Eggenberg Brewery, Vorchdorf, Austria. For years Samichlaus, brewed once a year and released a year later on Dec. 6, was the strongest beer in the world. At 14 percent, it’s still heart-stopping, but it’s been surpassed by Sam Adams Utopias (27 percent), by De Sruise Double Black (26 percent),  Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA (21 percent) and a dozen others. Go to for the whole list, mostly of beers that can’t be found out here or for that matter in the U.S.

First brewed in 1979, the original Swiss brewery was taken over by another brewery and that appeared to be the end of Samichlaus.  But two years ago, Schloss-Eggenberg got the recipe and released its firstSamichlaus last December. This year, for the first time, it’s a blond beer, a light copper color with a nose of liquid malt and alcohol. It has a toffee sweetness that you’ll either hate or love. I really liked it. This would be a great beer to sip with dessert. It’s available now in good beer stores and worth a hunt.

People’s Choice Award: They’re still tabulating the scores. But my guess might be Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin. It’s a 6 percent. oatmeal stout, aged at least a year in bourbon barrels and is a key component of the blend of beers used to create Firestone Walker’s 12th Anniversary Ale.  People I talked to at the sold-out tasting almost universally loved it. And true, it’s a fine beer: roast malt nose, silky, velvet taste, coffee in the finish. I give it THREE STARS.  Problem was, it was in very august (and strong) company.

Biggest and really, the only disappointment of the day, was Harvieston Ola Dubh Special 30 Reserve. Pacific Coast’s Don Goretemiller and Steve Wolff said they paid far more for this keg than any other beer in the list. But it was disappointing. It poured flat with a heavy dark malt nose. It tasted like machine oil with a bourbon finish.  Both Don and I have had this beer in the bottle. It was entirely different: Honey and vanilla, smoke. Dazzling.

Photos: Glass of beer is North Coast Old Stock Ale 2007.

Pitcher of beer: Very, very fresh Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws.

Posted on Monday, December 15th, 2008
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De Struise on tap tonight at the Trappist, Oakland

On this decidedly cold and rainy night, there is good news and bad news. First, the bad. The De Struise Black Albert on tap at City Beer, 1168 Folsom St., San Francisco that went on tap at noon Saturday, is gone.

The good news is that The Trappist, 460 8th St. in downtown Oakland the the De Struise Christmas beer, Tsjeeses, is on tap tonight: $10 for a 25 cl glass. They also have 33 cl bottles of Black Albert for sale, $12, Tsjeeses, $10 and Pannepot Old Fisherman’s Ale, $10.

Posted on Sunday, December 14th, 2008
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Beer of the Week: Deschutes Abyss

Note: One of the great beers here on the West Coast is Deschutes Abyss. I wrote this column in January, 2008. The new version of Abyss has just been released.


On the edge, Abyss has A licorice whiskey punch

Occasionally, a beer comes along that’s so interesting, it boggles the mind. Our first Beer of the Week is one of those. It’s The Abyss (***3/4) from Deschutes, Bend, Ore. In its two short years of life, it’s become a cult beer. And no wonder.

Talk about a walk on the wild side. The name’s appropriate: It’s 11 percent alcohol by volume, almost coal black with a thick, dark head. The aroma’s intense: Bourbon whiskey and licorice, among many other notes. This is a beer that slides across the palate like silk — first sweet, then a whiskey taste, then vanilla and licorice and wine and roast malt that lasts into a long finish, warmed by alcohol.

The intricate manner in which Abyss was brewed shows us how far craft brewers have come in this great beery adventure of ours. Deschutes brewer and barrel master Jake Harper said the idea came from a licorice stout and a blackstrap molasses stout both brewed at the Deschutes brewpub in 2005.

“We decided to combine them, barrel-age them and dry-hop them with cherry bark and vanilla beans,” Harper said. They brewed the beer in two sessions in a process called a double mash. Then when the mash liquid was boiled, they added three hops, strong and bitter Northern Brewer and herbal Millennium and Nugget hops, also hard licorice sticks and blackstrap molasses.

After the boil, the 500 barrels of beer were divided into two fermenters — half fermented with the house Deschutes yeast, the other with a Belgian yeast. About one-quarter of the whole batch was placed in a combination of used bourbon barrels, French Pinot barrels and regular Oregon oak wine barrels.

Part  of the brew stayed in barrels for eight months. Finally, the whole batch was reassembled into stainless steel tanks and dry-hopped. Usually that means placing fresh hops in the fermenter. But instead of hops, whole vanilla beans and cherry bark were used.

Finally, Abyss was carbonated and bottled. The only technique they left out was bottle-conditioning, adding a bit of fresh yeast to each bottle for a slow second fermentation in the bottle. They figured that at 11 percent ABV and 56 International Bitterness Units (Budweiser’s about 13 IBU), the beer didn’t need that extra step.
Abyss runs $10 for a 22-ounce bottle.


Posted on Saturday, December 13th, 2008
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The perfect pair: Maytag Blue cheese and Anchor Old Foghorn

Old Foghorn: Creamy head, malty nose, full taste, hop-filled finish with a bit of warming alcohol. Old Foghorn, first brewed in 1975 was America’s first barleywine in modern times. Maytag Blue: Creamy, tart, excellent.

I’m not sure where I got the information, but someone told me that a great cheese and beer pairing is Anchor’s excellent 8 percent barleywine, Old Foghorn Barley Wine Style Ale and Maytag Blue, the blue cheese from Newton, Iowa that Fritz Maytag’s grandfather developed on their Iowa farm.

It’s above excellent: Superb.

So I tried it at the Anchor Christmas Party earlier this month – it’s an annual bash for the trade, the retailers and distributors and all the other people who support Anchor. Guests also include homebrewers – Anchor holds a special dinner each year for the winning homebrew club in the state.  And, a few of us beer journalists get to attend as well.

At the party, which is at the brewery, 1705 Mariposa St., San Francisco, I went straight the bar, ordered a class of Old Foghorn, then proceeded to the wheel of Maytag Blue that’s always at the party.

A bite of cheese, a swallow of Old Foghorn. Lord allmighty. It’s a pairing made in heaven. The creamy, tart cheesemelds with the beer, a bit of hoppiness, a bit of alcohol. Just dynamite. Try this at home, but don’t plan to drive or eat anything else, it’s nearly a complete meal.

Maytag Blue’s for sale in good supermarkets and cheese stores all over the Bay Area. Old Foghorn is too. I give the pairing FIVE STARS. It’s a classic.

You can order the cheese online and request a catalog. Also, back in 2002,  the Chicago Tribune published a fascinating account about the origins of the cheese, how E.H, Maytag dug caves for the cheese and worked on creating a blue cheese using his prizewinning Holstein cows…


Posted on Friday, December 12th, 2008
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