Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for December, 2008

Consumer groups up pressure for new alcohol labels

I’m a big Obama supporter, but a statement released today in the name of four national consumer groups scares me badly. They are demanding new labels on alcoholic drinks, showing information like calories, fat, etc.

This is something one group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has been pushing for years and there’s a federal proposal in the works to that.  Personally, it seems like a good idea, but what bothers me is their tone.  Consider:

  • During the season of eating, drinking and being merry, alcoholic beverages are the only consumable products not required to carry labels listing such basic information as the amount of calories and the alcohol content per serving.  To change this situation, four leading public interest groups — Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumers League and Shape Up America! — want the Obama transition team and incoming Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to move quickly to modernize alcohol labels – something that has not happened in more than 30 years.
  • At a meeting with members of the Treasury Department Transition Team yesterday, the organizations delivered a letter to Treasury Secretary-Designate Geithner urging the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to act now to issue a final regulation requiring “meaningful” labeling of alcohol beverages, including alcohol content per serving, calories per serving, serving size, number of servings per container and the definition of a “standard drink.”  Coinciding with the fifth anniversary of an unanswered petition originally sent to TTB on December 16, 2003, the letter summarizes the consensus among nutrition, medical and substance abuse experts that ready access to labeling information is an important tool for reducing alcohol abuse, drunk driving, and the many diseases attributable to excessive alcohol intake.

Me again. Holy hell.   It’s not what they’re saying, it’s the tone that worries me. I wonder what their long-term goal is? A new prohibitoin on alcohol?  Come on President-elect Obama, let’s don’t go there.

Comments anyone?

For the record, here’s the rest of their screed….

  • Because the current Administration has not acted on this matter, the four organizations also issued information all Americans should know about alcohol as we head into the Holidays:
  • When it comes to drinking alcohol, the old adage is true: It doesn’t matter what you drink, it’s really how much that counts.
  • One of the most important tips about responsible drinking is to know how much you are drinking. So, remember, 12 ounces of regular beer has the same amount of alcohol as five ounces of wine and an ounce and a half of distilled spirits.
  • Alcohol affects women differently than men. Besides producing less of the enzyme responsible for breaking down alcohol, women generally have a lower percentage of natural body water than men, which means alcohol levels are more concentrated and women are likely to feel the effects (including the onset of alcohol-related diseases) sooner. In light of these differences, the Dietary Guidelines recommends that women consume less alcohol — up to one standard drink a day while men are advised to limit their consumption to two alcohol drinks a day.
  • Sometimes the wisest decision is not to drink. This is the case if you are younger than the minimum legal drinking age, pregnant, driving or operating machinery, or simply cannot control your drinking.
  • In many cases, alcohol and medications don’t mix. Always read the label to determine if the prescription medicine or over-the-counter drug carries a specific warning about consuming alcohol.
  • If you are hosting a party, don’t over-serve alcohol and keep an eye out for anyone who may have had too much to drink and is planning to drive home. If necessary, take their keys and call a taxi. Have plenty of non-alcoholic beverage choices available.The obvious tip that everybody knows but sometimes forgets: before you go out, plan how you are going to get home. Designate a driver, have a taxi number, and have money ready to pay the taxi. Whatever you do, don’t drink and drive and plan on staying sober.
  • Whether you are a parent, family member  or a friend, don’t serve to or buy alcohol for people under 21.
  • The letter to Treasury Secretary-Designate Geithner and national press release are both attached below.  Please call me with any questions or if you would like to speak with representatives from any of the four supporting organizations.  Thank you! Amber McCracken, Vice President, Ruder Finn, 1667 K Street, NW, Washington, DC  20006

Posted on Friday, December 12th, 2008
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Bruce Paton’s beer dinners: North Coast, Beer and Chocolate and Oskar Blues

Events: Beer Chef Bruce Paton, the guy who holds those stupendous beer dinners at the Cathedral Hill Hotel, 1101 Van Ness Ave., in San Francisco has announced his winter dinner schedule:

  • We have some great events in the “Dinner with the Brewmaster” series lined up for 2009 so mark your calendars and save the dates. On Friday Jan, 23,  we will host North Coast Brewing Co. of Fort Bragg,  CA and enjoy some of their sensational ales.
  • Friday Feb. 13,  celebrate Valentines Day early with the Annual Beer and Chocolate Dinner
  • Friday March 20,  we will host Oskar Blues Brewery of Lyons, Co. As always there will be food, fun and friends.

Note from me – these dinners almost always sell out, so if you’re interested, make a reservation soon. Make reservations at the Beer Chef Web site.

Posted on Thursday, December 11th, 2008
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Sterling Vineyards tram goes green

Sterling Vineyards aerial tram

If this isn’t a sign of times, I don’t know what is. The Disney-like tram that takes visitors of Napa’s Sterling Vineyard from the winery’s entrance up to its tasting room is turning to solar power.

Each year, the aerial tram transports 200,000 visitors to the tasting room perched 300 feet above Calistoga. The conversion is just in time for the winery’s 40th anniversary. Pretty cool.

Here’s how it works: there are 336 solar panels installed on the roof of the Sterling Vineyards Reserve Winery, located at the bottom of the hill and throughout the grounds. The panels will generate enough energy to power nearly eight homes and save 33 tons of greenhouse gasses annually. That’s 821 tons over the course of 25 years. The system is equivalent to planting 11.3 acres of trees, according to the winery.

The additional energy will supply power at Sterling for other harvest uses, from fermentation and storage tanks to bottling lines and activities in the caves.

Tram riders will see the real-time levels of power being generated by the solar system plus the amount of power the tram is consuming and the cumulative amount of energy consumed by each on a flat-panel video screen at the tram’s entrance.

It’s an educational opportunity that makes it slightly easier for me to deal when I see a family lugging their kids along for a day of wine tasting. Maybe they’ll learn something.

As far as I know, the switch to solar will not impact visitors’ wallets. It still costs $20 to visit Sterling, and that includes the aerial tram ride, self-guided tour and tasting of five wines.

Posted on Thursday, December 11th, 2008
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City Beer San Francisco tapping de Struise Black Albert on Saturday

Whoa. This is flash newsCity Beer,  1168 Folsom St., San Francisco, is tapping De Struise Brouwers “Black Albert” this Saturday, Dec. 13 at noon.  De Struise is the tiny Belgian brewery that got embroiled in controversy on this blog and others when Ratebeer,com proclaimed it the best brewery in the world.

Is it? Isn’t it? Don’t know, but their beer is hard to find out here and very good. I finally got a chance last Saturday to taste De  Struise’s holiday beer: Tsjeeses at the Trappist last weekend. It’s a copper-colored beer with a toffee, liquid sugar not. Taste is light and frothy, deep and multi-layered. Unfortunately, the keg at Trappist had started to sour, Chuck Stilphen, the co-proprietor said. But, oh my, I liked it.

Here’s City Beer’s entire notice.

  • Some have seen it, some have tasted it, and some have only heard it spoken about it in hushed tones through various inner beer circles.  Many steps were taken to ensure this holiday season your taste buds would experience this rare beverage.

The De Struise Brouwers offering, “Black Albert”, will indeed make an appearance this Saturday, December 13th at the City Beer Store.  It is one of only twenty kegs imported into the United States.

De Struise Black Albert, Pannepot, and Tejeeses bottles will also be available for purchase.  Ah, holiday shopping just got a bit easier.

Your reading assignment on De Struise and Black Albert begins below, courtesy of the worldwide web:


  • Set up by two friends and a Brother-in-Law who started brewing beer in a barn at a local farm. Went commercial in 2003, but with no capital the beers were brewed on the Brasserie Caulier Plant. In February 2006, the decision was taken to move production to the Flemish SA Deca Brewery in Woesten-Vleteren (working) parts of which date from 1917.

From Shelton Brothers website: ” We can’t remember a time when there was such a buzz about a new brewery, but these chaps from West Flanders have Belgian craft beer enthusiasts all a-titter. Their signature beer, Pannepot, is a top 25 beer on both RateBeer and BeerAdvocate…
The name Struise has roots in the Flemish word for ‘ostrich’ — the brewers also manage an ostrich farm near the French border in West Flanders — and the Dutch word for ‘sturdy’ — hence the brewery’s nickname: the sturdy brewers.”

BLACK ALBERT: Belgian Royal Stout / 13% alc/vol
Commercial Description:
“Black Albert was brewed and crafted with a 100% Belgian ingredients. Pours a blacker than black beer with an inch of dark tan head that lingers as it cascades into it. Nice aroma of bitter-sweet chocolate, fresh coffee beans, barley, candy sugar, complex fruits, and floral hops. At the front, there is spiced baker’s chocolate, fresh mocha, caramel like barley touches, and underlying hints of dried fruits which marries the back of your palate and features a well integrated but not overbearing hop flavor. The after-taste is well balanced and shows a panorama of extreme sensations like chocolate and coffee bitters, a plum cake richness that covers the palate, and a crisp impression of hop bitters that brings elegance and freshness into this massive brew.”
From the brewer:  “Developing a new beer is always a challenge for every brewer, especially if one is talking about a new style, BELGIAN ROYAL STOUT. This beer comes with a bitterness of 100 IBU, 160 EBC for colour, a full bodied Belgian character, and the Struise signature. Although all these extreme values, still a powerful, elegant, and well balanced ROYAL STOUT.”
Currently it is in the 100th percentile of beers overall and for style on Rate Beer. Has an “A” (outstanding w/ 124 reviews) rating on Beer Advocate.  Rated #29 out of “top 100.”

Posted on Wednesday, December 10th, 2008
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Oddbits: Doggie Claws on its way, Michelob’s Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale ain’t cask

Damn. No Trappist beer in Oregon. In fact, the Mount Angel monastery’s media relations maanger Sandra Chiodo says they’re not even a Trappist order. They’re Benedictine. Oh well…Check comments on this previous post for the background.

Got an e-mail from Alan Sprints, of Hair of the Dog, Portland, OR. He had good news. A shipment of  his 2008 Doggie Claws is headed to the Bay Area. This is a big, malty, sweet, chewy holiday ale that gives new meaning to the description – barley wine. Look for it soon at your favorite great beer store. What? You don’t have a clue about good beer stores? Shoot me an e-mail at and ask for our 2008 Northern California Retail Beer Store List.

Moving from the big and extreme (and tasty) to Anheuser-Busch InBev, I finally tasted Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale.  This was originally a Budweiser product, but A-B, before InBev did its takover, created Michelob as a separate company, so “Cask Ale” is now a Michelob Christmas beer.

First, it’s not a “cask ale.”  It’s kegged and bottled and pasteurized. No casks, no living beer. The fact sheet I got lists bourbon staves and whole Madagascar vanilla beans as “other ingredients.  In other words, they’re added to the fermenter. That’s where they got “cask.”  To its credit, this is no rice adjunct beer. It’s made with two row pale barley, Carapils,  which aids in a full-mouth feel, and caramel malt. It’s 6 percent (ABV).

That said, this is a decent, if not wonderful beer:  It’s a tawny copper color with a big, creamy head that fades slowly leaving a bit of lacework down the sides of the glass. There’s vanilla in the nose and just maybe a hint of bourbon. The taste is mildly sweet with a strong vanilla hit in the follow and an unusual spiciness that might be from the French Strisselspalt hops.  I give it THREE STARS.

Am I way off? Does my assessment suck? Are my tastes “too catholic”  – as one column reader rather eloquently commented the other night?

Stumbling onward…Events. This comes from The Trappist,

  • Saturday December 13th 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Oakland Firefighters Toy Drive, The Oakland Firefighters Random Acts of Kindness will have a barrel on site for Oakland families in need, Bring in an unwrapped toy for a child and receive a token good for a ½ price beer anytime.

Oh no, it’s grinch time again…the good folks at the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest have gone too far:

  • Naughty Brewers Sully Santa in Beer Promos

St. Nick Used to Promote Beer, Despite Prohibition in Industry Code

WASHINGTON—MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch have been very, very naughty this holiday season, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.  The watchdog groups says that the companies deserve lumps of coal—if not

subpoenas—in their stockings for using the iconic image of Santa Claus to promote binge drinking events in Atlanta, Boston, Washington, and other cities.  Though the events are ostensibly charitable, they run afoul of the beer industry’s voluntary advertising and marketing code, which has a very specific prohibition on the use of St. Nick’s likeness:  a Santa clause, if you will.

CSPI today filed a complaint with the Beer Institute, the Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group that monitors compliance with the voluntary code.  The complaint was copied to representatives of the Federal Trade Commission, the companies involved, and the North Pole.  The singled out Coors Light and Bud Light for Santa Claus pub crawls.

Comeon folks, lighten up and hey – try a Lump of Coal Porter from Ridgeway in the UK. Great beer. Thank gawd they haven’t seen Ridgeway’s Santa’s Butt.

Beertown USA:, Colorado?
Charley Papazian,  the founder of the Brewers Association and the American Homebrewers Association,  both based in Boulder, CO. and who writes the Beer Examiner blog. thinks he  has found the top beer towns in the United States. Not Portland, not Philadelphia, not the Bay Area. Nope, he calculates breweries per thousand residents.  His list:

  • As near as I can figure, here are the top 5 Beertowns in the USA
  • #1 Durango, Colorado 4 breweries in 16,007  1 brewery per 4,001
  • #2 Boulder, Colorado 9 breweries in 93,552  1 brewery per 10,394
  • #3 Asheville, North Carolina 6 breweries in 73,875 1 brewery per 12,312
  • #4 Portland, Maine  4 breweries in 62,825  1 brewery per 15,706
  • #5 Portland, Oregon 30 breweries in 550,396  1 brewery in 18,346

Hmmm.  Read  the whole post here.

I know, I know, I’ve gotta’ stop posting 21st Amendment repeal party photos, but the site of co-founder Nico Freccia, right, in an outlandish yellow suit, and Shaun O’Sullivan, the co-founder, brewer in gambler togs….too much. What? You want more? Follow this link.

Posted on Wednesday, December 10th, 2008
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Italy is world’s biggest wine producer

italy biggest wine producer

A huge harvest due to favorable weather is expected to help Italy surpass France as the biggest producer of wine on the planet. It’s been a decade since the Italians held that title.

Must be all that Nero d’Avola I’ve been drinking.

Farmers estimate that wine production is 4.7 billion liters in 2007 compared to France’s 4.4 billion liters. There, production fell five percent last year.

Good story on the subject in the San Francisco Chronicle today.

As it explains, the change gives Italy a 17 percent share of the world wine market.

Posted on Wednesday, December 10th, 2008
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Tasting a real stunner from Steve Altimari, Valley Brewing at Barclay’s Oakland

Fat Freddy’s Freaky Kriek from Steve Altimari of Valley Brewing, Stockton: a year in a wine barrel with brettanomyces wild yeast, bacteria, cherry juice and crushed pomegranates. A stunner.

Is Steve Altimari the best, unsung, commercial brewer in Northern California?  Short answer: Yes. And that was the concensus of a small group of Valley Brewing – Steve Altimari fans, who gathered last night (Monday, Dec. 8, 2008) at Barclay’s, 5940 College Ave. Oakland, to toast Steve and sample his beers.

We all admitted than when we get to a festival and Steve’s beers are on the list, we go there first. Last momth at the Bistro’s Third Annual West Coast Barrel-Aged Beer Fest, I passed right by Allagash Curieux and Port Brewing’s Angel’s Share to try Steve’s beers. I

Steve Altimari, left, with James Costa.

Steve Altimari, left, with James Costa.

Barclay’s manager Ryan Westerman had several on tap including Steve’s dynamite IPA, which Arne Johnson, head brewer at Marin  Brewing, Larkspur, and Jim Costa. formerly of  Moylan’s, Petaluma and now in the process of opening his own establishment, were drinking.

Knowing that Steve was coming with a case of bottles of his barrel-aged beers. I settled for a glass of his Decadence 6, a 6 percent, light cooper beer with a Belgian spiciness. I gave it THREE STARS PLUS. Steve said  it’s a blend of German pils malt and Belgian caramel malt,  fermented with a Chimay yeast. Hops were spicy, herbal Sterlings. He added that he split the batch into three separate fermenters, ferments one with Chimay, one with a saison yeast and one with a pilsner yeast. “I added more hops to the pils,” he said. “They all came out totally different,”

Get the picture. This guy’s amazing.

Steve and his wife, Bari, arrived carrying a case of 22 ouncers.  There was Old Inventory, a 9 percent, English-stlyle barley wine  Curvee Especial, a 12 percent version of Decadence 6, aged a year in a 56-year-old Gallo brandy barrel. Both excellent.

And then there was a real stunner. He calls it – in a tip of the hat to the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comix –  Fat Freddy’s Freaky Kriek.  It started life as Decadence 6. After an initial fermentation, it was put in an American white oak wine barrel that most likely held Chardonnay. He added cherry juice and pomegranate juice.

The pomegranates came from a tree in his backyard. “I crushed the pomegranates myself,” he said. All that got tossed into the barrel along with a bacteria package and brettanomyces wild yeast. It spent one year in the barrel.

To me, it tasted like a young Lambic, a beer made with wild yeast in Belgium. It had a cherry nose and a hit of “horse collar or livery stable from the bret. It had a slight bit of sweetness and a rising, unusual, mild sourness.  My rating: FOUR STARS. Everyone at Barclay’s agreed. It’s a stunning beer.

In Belgium, they blend young lambic and lambic aged two or three years or more to produce geuze.  But  – correct me if I’m wrong – I don’t believe krieks are blended. Wonder what Steve’s going to do with this one

Curious about geuze.  It’s a style that was vanishing in Belgium, but – thanks at least partly to world craft brewing interest is surviving. Three excellent examples available here in the U. S.  are, ranging from sour to way sour are Drie Fonteinen Geuze, Geuze Boon Mariage Parfait and – at the breathtaking sour end, Cantillon  Geuze.

Posted on Tuesday, December 9th, 2008
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“The Bailout” wine eases pain of 401k losses

bailout napa valley cab

Need to feel good about yourself and what little financial savvy you have left? Buy a future of 2007 The Bailout, a limited edition Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon made at Crushpad and selling for $39.

The wine, worth at least twice as much, will be released in August of 2009, basically acts as a hedge against further drops in the market and lightens the load on one of the biggest corrections in our nation’s history.

Watch the video, “Dude, Where’s my 401k?” and order the wine.

Posted on Tuesday, December 9th, 2008
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Snarky wine gift labels

San Diego-based Cerebral Itch Inc. brands its no-you-didn’t wine labels as an alternative to wine gift bags, but I don’t see the resemblance. Wine bags are a vessel for carrying and giving a bottle to anyone — grandma, your boss — and I buy mine at the Dollar Store for a buck.

But, these clever removable and reusable labels essentially cover up a bad label. And they do it with more attitude than Marisa Tomei in “My Cousin Vinny.” After all, wrapping paper or a crushed velvet bag is no match for “Mommy’s Happy Juice,” or “Happy Birthday You Miserable Cranky S.O.B” or “What Do You Mean Your Hanukkah Thing is Over?”

Check out what Epicurious thought of them too.

Many have ample room for a personal greeting too, so it’s a good excuse to forgo the card since you never know what to write anyway. They cost $3.95 but the Web site is currently having a sale. Only $3 each. Stock up for the bloody holidays.

Posted on Monday, December 8th, 2008
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Update: Anheuser-Busch layoffs will happen quickly

Here’s the latest from The Associated Press on the Anheuser-Busch InBev layoffs…

Anheuser-Busch InBev to cut 1,400 US jobs

By AOIFE WHITE AP Business Writer

BRUSSELS, Belgium—Anheuser-Busch InBev announced Monday it would cut some 1,400 U.S. jobs—or another 6 percent of its U.S. work force—to help save the world’s largest brewer at least $1.5 billion a year.

It said three-quarters of the jobs to disappear will go from Anheuser’s North American headquarters in St. Louis, both at downtown offices and its Sunset Hills campus.

The job cuts go beyond plans Anheuser-Busch announced this summer to streamline costs, before it agreed to be taken over by Belgium-based InBev.

The company said the job losses will help it save at least $1.5 billion a year by 2011 and cope with a “challenging economy.” Most of the cuts will be made by the end of the year.

Anheuser-Busch provides half of America’s beer but it has not managed to expand around the world as fast as InBev—a Belgian-Brazilian hybrid that owns hundreds of local brands but few real stars.

InBev SA wrapped up its takeover of Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc last month after a bitter takeover battle turned sweet with a higher $52 billion takeover bid.

Anheuser-Busch had 8,600 salaried workers this summer and had planned to reduce that by 10 to 15 percent, mostly by offering some 1,000 employees a voluntary early retirement package. That aimed to save the brewer some $1 billion a year.

The new job losses mean the brewer will lose around a quarter of the salaried workers it had at the start of 2008.

More than 250 unfilled jobs…READ THE REST OF THE STORY…

Posted on Monday, December 8th, 2008
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