Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for June, 2009

2006 Hess Collection MV 19 Block Cuvee

I enjoyed this wine recently with a grilled vegetarian dinner and just had to share. I’m doing a story on mountain wines at the end of July so be prepared to read even more about Hess Collection then.
The reason this wine left such an impression on me was because it had all the power and intensity of fully concentrated fruit, but without the alcohol or tannin punch. It is just so elegant. Besides cherry and raspberry flavors, I got a lot of herbal aromas and flavors, including sage and rosemary. Malbec does particularly well at higher elevations, and the 11 percent in this bottle provides glorious color, flavor and weight.

Posted on Tuesday, June 30th, 2009
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Honey Basil Ale From Bison

Here’s another summer seasonal on the horizon, a nice spicy ale that’s ideal with summer’s heat. Bison Brewing has been releasing this one each year since 1994. According to the press release. “The brewers infused this unique ale with organic honey and organic basil. Honey lends a hint of sweetness and rich aroma, while fresh organic basil, in lieu of finishing hops, infuses a slight herbal note and basil aftertaste—a perfectly refreshing brew for the dog days of summer.”

Bison Honey Basil Ale

Bison also recently moved their production to Ukiah. All their beer is now brewed at the Mendocino Brewing facility there, after the brewery went through the process of being certified organic.

Here’s what owner Daniel Del Grande has to say about his summer seasonal:

“Like my other specialty brews, this year’s Honey Basil Ale uses specialty ingredients judiciously – we don’t hit you over the head with the ingredients, but rather hint at it,” says Brewmaster Daniel Del Grande. “All our beers focus on drinkability and balance, so after finishing the bottle I leave you wanting another! Some beers out there fatigue my palate; I like to enjoy a couple beers with food and friends.”

It’s brewed with three malts (2-row, munich, and crystal), organic honey, and organic basil. One suggested pairing: “pasta and marinara sauce, maybe some sautéed shrimp and the basil in the beer leaps forward on your palate.”

This year’s Honey Basil Ale is available in 12 ounce bottles, which retail for $7.99 per 4 pack. The company produced its first 2500 case batch. It’s now available in 4 of Bison’s 12 state distribution networks; it will be available most of the summer.

Posted on Monday, June 29th, 2009
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Session Black Lager

Dark beers aren’t necessarily heavy beers and in fact some famous dark beers are downright light. Guinness, for example, is only 4% a.b.v. Budweiser, by comparison is 5%. Dark color comes from the use of roasted malt, that is barley or wheat that’s been slowly heated until it gets darker. This also imparts different flavors, especially as it gets darker. Brewers use a variety of different malts in most beers, the combination of which (along with the hops, water and yeast) help to give each beer its distinctive flavor.

Next month, Full Sail Brewing, from Oregon, will be launching the newest beer in the Session line of beers, Session Black Premium Dark Lager.

Session Black Lager

While there’s more than a little hyperbole here, this is what Full Sail’s press release has to say about their Black Lager:

Session is more than just another beer brand. It’s a breath of fresh air. Sporting a stubby old-school bottle, distinctive name and retro-cool logo, Session has rewritten the rules of creating a new beer brand. Session is neither a micro, a macro, nor an import. It’s a little of each. And yet, none of the above. In other words, Session is a true original. It has an authenticity all its own and that is something to be proud of.

“Session Black is short, dark and totally drinkable. The initial tastes are a subtle pairing of caramel and chocolate malt flavors with precise hopping to provide an elegant citrus background to the delicate finish of dark cocoa,” said Jamie Emmerson, Full Sail’s Executive Brewmaster.

But I’ll withhold judgment until I get to try it. The original Session Beer is pretty good, though I generally prefer my beer with a bit more flavor. But I can also see how it makes a good alternative to macro lagers, and is especially good for, as intended, “sessions” where you’ll be having more than one. But the black lager is promising because it will undoubtedly be more flavorful and yet retain its thinner, drinkable mouthfeel. That’s the same reason I love dunkelweiss beers, dark versions of wheat beer, because they’re as light as hefeweizens but with richer flavors. I’m certainly willing to devote a session to find out.

Posted on Saturday, June 27th, 2009
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Weekend Update 6.26

Unless you’re in Reno, it’s a quiet weekend, beer-wise, I’m sorry to say. But there’s certainly some fun events on the horizon.


Saturday, June 27

The 13th annual A’s Beer Festival will take place during a game against the Colorado Rockies, with the BeerFest from 4:05 p.m. to 6:05 p.m. For those two hours, enjoy over 30 different breweries, live music from Wonderbread 5, and other festivities at the Oakland Coliseum. The Oakland A’s Beer Fest will take place in the East Side Club. Tickets will be $10, which includes a special acrylic souvenir beer mugs and and 2 tastings, with additional tastings available for purchase. “Mugs and tasting sales end at 5:30 p.m., last pour is at 6:00 p.m. Admission is free with a game ticket.”

Saturday, June 27-Sunday June 28

If you ever needed or wanted an excuse to visit Reno, Nev., this is probably the best reason I know of. The Eldorado Hotel & Casino will again be hosting the 14th annual Great Eldorado BBQ, Brews and Blues Festival. With world-class blues musicians, tasty barbecue and great beer, what more do you want? Oh, and you can gamble, too, if you like that sort of thing.


Tuesday, June 30

The last June Meet the Brewer event at Rogue Ales Public House in San Francisco, on June 30th will feature Daniel Del Grande from Black Bison Brewery, who now brews at Mendocino in Ukiah.

Friday, July 3

On Friday, July 3rd from 5-6:30pm in the Tasting Bar at the Redwood City K&L Wines (3005 El Camino Real) will be holding their 3rd Beer tasting of the year. The cost of the tasting will be a bit more expensive somewhere between $8-10, as they’re still putting together the list of new beers they’ll be opening at the tasting, though it’s likely there may be new releases from the Lost Abbey, Port Brewing, Avery, Allagash, Victory and The Bruery. They may also include some old faves from De Glazen Toren, Cantillon, De Ranke and Corsendonk.

Friday, July 10

The Rate Beer Invitational beer dinner by the Beer Chef, Bruce Paton, at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco.

Saturday, July 18

In mid-July it will be time once more for the 9th annual Fermenting Change: Microbreweries Battling Breast Cancer at Marin Brewing in Larkspur, a great opportunity to take the ferry over from San Francisco. 25 breweries will be pouring their beer from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Tickets are $35 in advance and $40 at the door.


July 20: The Beer Chef, Bruce Paton, will host a beer dinner featuring the beers of Lagunitas Brewing and The Chefs Association of the Pacific Coast at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco.

July 25: The Sierra Brewfest, a.k.a. Music in the Mountains will be held at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley.

July 31-August 2: The 14th annual Mammoth Festival of Beers & Beerapalooza. It’s a bit of a trek to Mammoth Lakes, but worth it.

August 8: The 12th annual Bistro IPA Festival at The Bistro in Hayward.

August 28: Brewfest at the California State Fair in Sacramento.

If you know of an upcoming beer event, please let me know about it so I can share it here. Let me know at

Posted on Friday, June 26th, 2009
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What’s really on my mind is not July 4 wines

I’m really not sure how I’m supposed to blog about wine when the Basij are beating old men into bloody pulps and throwing young women over bridges throughout my parents’ homeland of Iran.  God is watching you and there is a hell. Yes there is.

This is no longer about a rigged election. This is about 30 years of suppression and corruption and taking a beautiful country with a rich history and a cultured people and trying to kill their souls.

You can blame the West and say that we are encouraging your people but you are wrong, you backwards and savage and worthless excuse for a government. Your own people have brains and hearts and know the difference between right and wrong and they will die martyrs so the rest of the world knows the difference between them and you.

Finally, they know the difference.

Iran is not Korea. Thanks to Cyrus the Great, these people knew human rights one millenia before the Magna Carta. They have dignity and passion and pride and you can not beat those things out of people with a club or tear gas or water cannons.

Despite the  Brain Drain that occurred when Ah-magh-dinejad (for you non farsi speakers, ahmagh means ‘idiot’) first took office and the one that took place after the Islamic Revolution in the late 1970s- that one was the largest in the world – Iranians are still among the highest population of post-secondary educated people in the world and the majority are under the age of 30 and not afraid of mullahs.

I feel better now.

Posted on Wednesday, June 24th, 2009
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Brewery Profile: El Toro

El Toro Brewing Co.

Location: Morgan Hill, Calif.
Founded: 1994

El Toro logo

El Toro Brewing first opened fifteen years ago, in 1994, after two years of “planning, research and construction.” Geno and Cindy Acevedo built a modest 17-bbl brewing system on their rural property in Morgan Hill. They’ve been at it ever since. Geno and Cindy are two of the nicest people in brewing I know.

El Toro brews five year-round packaged beers, each in 12-oz. 6-packs.

  1. Poppy Jasper Amber Ale
  2. El Toro Oro Golden Ale
  3. El Toro Negro Oatmeal Stout
  4. El Toro India Pale Ale
  5. El Toro Deuce Imperial IPA

In addition to those, several other seasonal and specialty beers are packaged throughout the year, including William Jones Wheat Beer, El Toro 500 Barleywine and occasional anniversary beers. Many more beers are available only at the brewpub in downtown Morgan Hill.

El Toro brewpub

Years in the planning stages. three years ago El Toro opened a brewpub in downtown Morgan Hill, on Monterey Road just a few minutes from Highway 101.

El Toro outdoor bar

Outside, there’s a separate bar with a pizza oven.

El Toro pizza oven

The oven is made out of an old brewing fermenter.

El Toro bar

The bar inside features “the world’s only Poppy Jasper Bar. Featuring over 45 feet of gorgeously inlaid and polished Poppy Jasper rock into its surface.” There are 25 taps, featuring, in addition to all the El Toro regular beers, many one-off beers and even homemade sodas.

El Toro brewery

Many of these are made on the brewpub’s tiny 3-bbl brewhouse.

El Toro safe room

The brewpub building used to be a bank, and inside the former vault is a private room with seating for 17.

The menu consists of pub fare, sandwiches, wood-fired pizza (from the outside fermenter oven). The food I had there was quite tasty and the fries were excellent. And check out their beer list.

Posted on Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009
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Nat Decants’ Drinks Matcher mobile app

Ever want to know what red wine goes with Chinese food and don’t have time to tweet your friends about it? You might want to try Natalie MacLean’s new Drinks Matcher.

The sommelier and wine writer just launched the mobile application for food and beverage pairings that gives users access to 380,000 matches.

It’s only $2.99 and does not require Internet access. So you can use it when you’re going camping with the family this summer and need to hit the liquore store for the perfect s’mores wine.

You can also search under type of cuisine, grape varietal, wine or cheese.

Blackberry users can get more information on the Blackberry Web site, and iPhone users can go to This page took a while to load for me, fyi.

For more information in general, visit MacLean’s site.

Posted on Monday, June 22nd, 2009
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Pali Wine Co., and Pinot Days June 24-28

Sorry I’ve been MIA. It’s been a hectic week on the story-front, and I’ve been Tweeting about the protests in Iran.

In half an hour I will be drinking a 2007 Pali Wine Company Pinot Noir from from the Momtazi Vineyard Willamette Valley. The winery is based in Lompoc, a 45-minute drive from my former newspaper, the San Luis Obispo Tribune. Lompoc is known for its chalky soils, a rarity in California that yields semi-Burgundian Pinot Noir.

But the Momtazi Vineyard should yield spectacular fruit. It is managed by Moe Momtazi and his daughter Tahmiene, who is also the winemaker for the Momtazi’s estate label, Maysara. The vineyard, located in McMinnville, Oregon, is planted to 200 acres of Pinot Noir.

I’ll let you know what it tastes like in the morning, as I’m dashing off for a SLO reunion and plan to share it with girls. But I wanted to get this post in before I left as a reminder that Pinot Days is coming to San Francisco June 24-28 at Fort Mason. The Pali Wine Company will be in attendance as will 200 other producers.

At $50, the Grand Festival Public Tasting is probably the best bang for your buck. For more information and tickets, visit Pinot Days.

Posted on Thursday, June 18th, 2009
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The Homebrew Chef’s Wit Chicken

Today is Tuesday and that means once again it’s time for another delicious recipe courtesy of Sean Z. Paxton, better know as The Homebrew Chef. Sean’s experiencing the withdrawal of being without a computer for the last few weeks, so this month we’re featuring a dish from his website.

Wit Braised Chicken

Served with White Asparagus and a over Celery Root Purée

By Sean Z. Paxton

Sean Z. Paxton, The Homebrew Chef

The recipe for Wit Braised Chicken serves 4

You’ll need the following Ingredients:

2 TBSP Olive Oil
3 Slices Pancetta, thick cut or bacon (optional)
1 Whole Chicken, cleaned and cut into 6th (Leg/thigh, breast, wing) with Sea Salt and Pepper
2 TBSP All Purpose Flour
1 TSP Coriander, whole
1 TSP Orange Zest, dried
1 Each Leeks, cleaned and sliced
2 Each Shallots, peeled and diced, about 1 cup
3 TBSP Thyme Leaves, fresh
1 Bottle Wit Style Beer, 750ml (Sean recommends Blanche de Chambley from Unibroue, Blanche de Brugge, Hoegaarden or Celis White. If you can’t find one of those, any wit beer with coriander and orange peel will work.)
1 Cup Chicken Stock, preferably homemade
1 Cup Heavy Cream, organic

2 Pounds White Asparagus, bottom ends removed
1 Recipe Potato Celery Root Purée
Chervil or Italian Leaf Parsley (garnish)
Dried Orange Slices (Garnish)

Wit Chicken

Follow his step-by-step directions, with photos, on the Homebrew Chef website. Recommended beers to pair with the dish are a Belgian or Belgian-style Dubbel or Tripel, such as one made by Westmalle.

Posted on Tuesday, June 16th, 2009
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Longshot Homebrew Finalists

For the third year in a row, the Boston Beer Company, who brew the Samuel Adams line of beers, has hosted a homebrewing competition. It’s called the Longshot American Homebrew Contest. Two winners have their homebrew brewed commercially by the Boston Beer Co. with their picture (well, a drawing) and sold throughout the country.

So far, the contest has been good to California, with a Golden State winner from each of the first two years. The first year, Mike McDole, from Clayton, won for his Double IPA (though due to the hop shortage it wasn’t made until the following year). Last year, Livermore resident Alex Drobshoff won for his Traditional Bock.

This year about 1300 entries were submitted from around the country which were judged in three regions; New England, Chicago and San Francisco. Four winners advanced to the finals (two from New England, because they got the most entries by a wide margin). I flew to Boston Wednesday to judge the four finalists and help choose this year’s winners.

Longshot Judging

The judging was held in a back conference room at Boston Beer’s pilot brewery and tour center in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, Mass.

The Longshot Judges

There were seven us, to break any ties. From left: Jason Alstrom (from Beer Advocate), Tony Forder (from Ale Street News), Bob Townsend (a food & drinks columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution), Jim Koch (founder of the Boston Beer Co.), yours truly (on assignment for Celebrator Beer News), Julie Johnson (from All About Beer magazine), and Todd Alstrom (also from Beer Advocate).

Naturally, each of the four finalists had gone through quite a lot just to get to the table, so it was no surprise that all four were excellent beers. This only made our job tougher. So we each evaluated the four beers on our own and then discussed each one in turn. First, there was a Maibock (or Helles Bock), a delicate beer using noble Hallertau and Tettnang hops. Then a big 9% a.b.v. Old Ale using four different hops and mostly pale 2-row malt. Our third beer was an American-style Barley Wine at over 100 IBUs, employing Magnum, Chinook, Northern Brewer, Amarillo and Centennial hops. It was nearly 10% a.b.v. The last beer was a sour Straight, unblended Lambic that in addition to the traditional ingredients, used dried elderberries and Irish moss. They all had their merits, and we discussed them at length for over an hour until finally a decision was made and the two winners were agreed upon. Unfortunately, the story here turns enigmatic because we’re all sworn to secrecy about the outcome. The winners will be announced at the end of September at a special reception during the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colo. I’ll be there again this year, and will reveal the results once they’ve been officially announced on September 26.

Posted on Saturday, June 13th, 2009
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