Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for December, 2009

Wall Street Journal lays off wine columnists

The news slapped me awake this morning, almost like a cork popping in my face. The Wall Street Journal laid off wine columnists John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter, easily two of my favorite American wine writers. In their final column on Christmas Day, they announced their departure from the Wall Street Journal.

I read about it on Vinography, which also has a really good discussion on the demise of professional wine journalism.

Our newspaper(s) has not been immune to these sorts of layoffs and budget cuts. But I have to say, I am proud of the way they’ve handled it. We seem to have a system that works.

As most of you know, I started writing about wine five years ago. I was allowed to take on wine on the condition that I still fulfill my obligations as a general assignment features writer, punting on food, nightlife, art, psychology, health, or whatever else came up.

At first, I was disappointed because I was passionate about wine and wanted to cover it and only it. But I have to say, writing on these other beats has brought context to my wine writing (as much as we’d like to imagine a bottle of our favorite wine on a pedestal, it is not above us but all around us; part of culture and geography and science). The balance has kept a sense of enthusiasm in my voice and kept out the jargon and snobbery often associated with wine and wine writing.

Posted on Wednesday, December 30th, 2009
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Live chat: What are you drinking on New Year’s Eve?

It’s the question beer and wine drinkers start asking each other sometimes weeks before New Year’s Eve. What delicious adult beverage – Krug? Duvel? – will be in your hand as you dig into that special meal or toast your friends at midnight?

Join me and beer blogger Jay Brooks on Wednesday, Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. PST at ContraCostaTimes.c0m for a live chat on the topic. We’ll share tips, talk about well-stocked merchants, and maybe even dabble in a little mixology.

Posted on Tuesday, December 29th, 2009
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Firestone Double Jacks Wins Pacific Coast Holiday Tasting

Before Christmas, I attended the 21st annual holiday tasting at Pacific Coast Brewing in Oakland. It was my first time at the long-running event and I had a terrific time. Owner Steve Wolfe and brewmaster Don Gortemiller were gracious hosts. I also didn’t realize just how much food would be served — which I should add was a welcome development — with the fifteen beers. Having done this for decades, they have the process down. Every fifteen minutes a new beer was poured and in between a new dish was made available for noshing.

Steve Wolfe & Don Gortemiller, a bit lighter
Pacific Coast Brewing’s Steve Wolfe with brewmaster Don Gortemiller.

Don and Steve chose all the beers with an eye toward serving the most special beers they could get their hands on, and ones which were appropriate for the holiday season. Nine of the fifteen were holiday seasonals, and three were anniversary ales.

Every attendee was provided with an elaborate scoring sheet along with some guidelines on how to score each beer. Most people in the brewpub seemed to take scoring the beers very seriously. At the end of the tasting, the completed sheets are collected and tabulated. Brewmaster Don Gortemiller released the results of the 2009 tasting a few days before Christmas. This year’s winner was the Double Jack from Firestone Walker Brewing in Paso Robles, California. Deschutes Black Butte XXI came in second and third place went to the collaboration between Dogfish Head Brewery and Sierra Nevada Brewing, Life & Limb. To see the full tally, check out the results on Pacific Coast’s website.

Beer #8: Firestone Walker Double Jack
This year’s winner, Firestone Walker Double Jack.

Posted on Tuesday, December 29th, 2009
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Twas The Beer Before Christmas: A Brewery Visit From St. Nicholas

While not widely known, St. Nicholas, among his many patronages includes brewers. He is a patron saint of brewers. The way we think of St. Nick in America begins with the publication of Twas the Night Before Christmas: A Visit From St, Nicholas by Clement C. Moore in 1823. So with my tongue firmly set in my cheek, I decided to rewrite Moore’s masterpiece, moving his visit from the home to the brewery. Hoppy Christmas. Enjoy.

Twas the Beer Before Christmas:
A Brewery Visit From St. Nicholas

‘Twas the beer before Christmas, when down in the brewery
Not a bottle was stirring, not a mouse dared to scurry;
The hoses were hung by the kettle with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would drink there;

The bottles, like children, nestled snug in their beds,
While visions of candi sugar fermented their heads;
The brewers, in hoodies, gave just the impression,
They’d all settled down for long winter’s session,

When outside by the tanks there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the brewery to see what was the matter.
Away to rollup I flew like a flash,
Tore open the lock, the door flew up with a crash.

The moon on the breast of the newly-paved tarmack
Gave the lustre of stout looking velvety black,
When, what to my sobering eyes should appear,
But a miniature delivery wagon, and eight kegs of beer,

With a little old brewmaster, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than fermenting his brewers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

Now, Vinnie! now, Tomme!, now, Batman and Rob! 1
On, Garrett! on, Sam! on, Greg Koch and Fritz! 2
To the top of the jockey box! To the top of the cask!
Now drink away! drink away! drink away the whole flask!”

As dry hopping that before the wild bittering fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, toast a drink to the sky;
So up to the brewery-top the brewers they flew,
With the wagon full of Beers, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, glasses tinkling, I heard on the roof
The toasting and drinking of each little goof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Out the fermenter St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in red, from his toes to his top,
And his coveralls were soiled with spent grain and hops;
A carton of Beers he had flung on his back,
And his rubber boots squeaked as he opened his pack.

His besotted eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were all rosy, like New Glarus cherry!
His droll little mouth was beseeching our pardon,
And the beard of his chin was as white as Hoegaarden;

The end of a zwickel3 he held tight in one hand,
While the other held Watermelon Wheat that was canned;
He had a beer belly, that bent two stumpy legs,
That shook when he laughed, like a half-emptied keg.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old brewer,
And I drank when I saw him, for what could be truer;
A wink of his eye as he poured generous heads,
Soon gave me to know he would join us instead;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And emptied the bottles; then sat with a smirk,
And raising his glass, he gave the first toast,
Then each brewer, in turn, drank to his own riposte;

Then he sprang to his wagon, to his brewers gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like a hop torpedo missile.
But I heard his last toast, ere he drove out of here,
“Hoppy Christmas to all, and to all drink good beer.”


1. Vinnie Cilurzo, from Russian River Brewing, Tomme Arthur, from Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey, Batman a.k.a. Matt Brynildsohn, from Firestone Walker Brewing and Rob Todd, from Allagash Brewing.
2. Garrett Oliver, from Brooklyn Brewery, Sam Calagione, from Dogfish Head Brewery, Greg Koch, from Stone Brewing and Fritz Maytag, from Anchor Brewery.
3. A Zwickel is a key that allows the master brewer to taste directly from the fermenting tank to insure the brewing is proceeding as expected. In Germany breweries, usually only the brewmaster has a zwickel and it’s a highly coveted item. There’s also a style of beer known as zwickel or zwickelbier, which is usually an unfiltered version of a particular beer style and is sometimes referred to as Kellerbier, too.

Posted on Thursday, December 24th, 2009
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The best wines of 2009

There are a lot of folks blogging on their favorite wines of the year. This is tough for me to do. But I’m working on it.

In the meantime, here’s one I like by Tim Rutherford. His selection of Kung Fu Girl is spot-on. That riesling rules.  I am also very intrigued by the Blackstock Reserve Merlot from northern Georgia. That made his list, too.

Posted on Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009
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21A Beer Cans To Fly Virgin

Great craft beer on planes is finally reaching the blue skies, as the 21st Amendment Brewery is set to launch their Brew Free! or Die IPA in cans aboard Virgin America Airlines. Starting now Virgin America will serve complimentary Brew Free! or Die IPA in First Class and Main Cabin Select and the beer will be available for purchase in the Main Cabin for $7.

21st Amendment co-owners Shaun O’Sullivan and Nico Freccia

“This is a huge day for beer drinkers looking for a full flavored craft beer while flying aboard Virgin America. The 21st Amendment’s innovative approach of putting craft beer with unique flavors in cans partners perfectly with Virgin America, a brand synonymous with innovation, creativity and an emphasis on the customer’s experience,” says Shaun O’Sullivan, Brewmaster and Co-Founder of the 21st Amendment.

Brew Free! or Die IPA is brewed with some serious west coast attitude. This aromatic golden IPA starts with a sucker punch of six different hops to the nose, quickly balanced by a solid malt back bone. The Brewery’s top selling beer, this IPA starts big and finishes clean leaving you wanting more.

“Craft beer in cans is better for the beer than glass bottles and better for the environment with a lower carbon footprint. Not only are cans lighter, take less energy to make, transport and recycled more often than glass, but they also don’t allow light to reach the beer which can cause spoilage. You can also take cans to places where bottles can’t go, like the beach, lakes, golf courses and of course airplanes,” says Nico Freccia, Co-founder of the 21st Amendment.

“We couldn’t be more pleased to partner with 21st Amendment. Our guests have been looking for an expanded onboard beer selection with more locally-produced micro-brews. We’ve received that feedback from many channels – including Tweets and Facebook posts received from 35,000 feet via our in-flight WiFi,” said Porter Gale, Vice President of Marketing at Virgin America. “As the only airline with a touch-screen in-flight entertainment at every seatback that offers on-demand food and drinks, Virgin America is all about offering flyers more and better choices. We’re pleased to partner with another San Francisco-based company to elevate the typical in-flight experience above the ordinary.”

“The great side note and cool little twist about this story is the whole thing started on Twitter. I was flying aboard a Virgin America flight and tweeted about the amazing in-flight experience and later inquired about the possibility of getting the 21st Amendment beer on Virgin America’s planes. One thing led to another and now we’re drinking 21st Amendment’s craft beer at 35,000 feet. Social networking, planes and beer go together,” says Shaun O’Sullivan, a self proclaimed Twitter addict himself.

Posted on Monday, December 21st, 2009
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Last minute gift? Let them make wine at Judd’s Hill

Don’t know what to get the person who has everything?

Humility would be a start. But seriously folks, if someone’s into wine and you can’t splurge on buying them a vineyard, I think a day at camp would make the perfect gift.

Judd’s Hill winery in Napa offers half-day wine blending sessions. You can get a reservation with only a day’s notice. Once you arrive, you get to taste the four Bordeaux wines (two Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlot, Cabnernet Franc) used to make your ultimate blend of Jessica Meritage.

After that winemaker-led session, you get to bottle your wine, label it, and top it with a rad wax closure. And yes, you get to take it home that same day. To me, this gift rocks.

Bottling wine

Three bottles will run you $195; half case is $370, and a full case, 12 bottles, is $690. Sign up and make reservations here.

Posted on Friday, December 18th, 2009
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New Bay Area Winter Brews Festival Announced

If you’re not familiar with The Brewing Network, you should be, especially if you love beer. The Brewing Network is one of the premiere radio and podcast shows about all things beer. Founded by Justin Crossley in 2005, four weekly shows air over the internet and are available as a podcast for download.

The BN has just announced their first beer festival to be held next month. It’s going to be a Winter Brews Festival and will take place January 30, 2010 from 1:00 to 8:00 p.m. The event will be held at the Linden Street Brewery in Oakland.


From the press release:

While Bay Area residents commiserate in a collective shiver at current winter temperatures, the East Bay based craft beer radio company, the Brewing Network, is finalizing plans for its first annual Winter Brews Festival to revive listeners, locals, and brewers from their wintery slumber to enjoy seasonal brews from more than 30 world class breweries.

The Brewing Network Winter Brews Festival will be held at the newly opened Linden St. Brewery in Oakland on Saturday, January 30, 2010, and will feature a wide variety of winter warmers and unique innovations from some of the best brewers in the Bay Area and beyond.

Partnering with Linden St. Brewery in Oakland, this festival combines the love of seasonal beers with the enthusiasm of the local craft beer scene. With barrels from breweries such as Russian River, Firestone Walker, the 21st Amendment, Speakeasy, Linden St., Moonlight Brewing, Magnolia, and many more, this Winter Brews Fest promises to provide big, malty beers to ignite the taste buds of beer lovers, new and experienced.

Hot food (will be available for purchase) and live music will round out the festival, which will run from 1pm to 8pm. For more information on the event, please visit

Tickets will most likely be $25, which will include a commemorative glass and five tastings, with more available for purchase. Details are still being worked out and the price is subject to change.

Posted on Wednesday, December 16th, 2009
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Hess Sauvignon Blanc w/ garlic crab noodles

Dudes, this pairing rocked my world.

I got the recipe for the noodles from this 2007 post by Foodie SF blog. We share an obsession for the garlic crab noodles from PPQ Dungeness Island in San Francisco’s Richmond district, and Foodie SF did a pretty good job replicating them.

When I would day dream about the noodles I always imagined they had vats of butter and salt but in reality it’s just vats of butter and garlic with oyster sauce.

First of the season, large, cleaned and cracked crab is currently on sale most places (I got mine for $3.99 a pound at Mollie Stone’s in SF) so I encourage you to indulge in the bounty.

Dungeness crab season

This dish in particular is quick, easy and pairs beautifully with the Hess Select Sauvignon Blanc because of the wine’s racing acidity, lemon-lime flavors and overall freshness. It totally cleanses your mouth and prepares you for more finger-swelling sodium goodness.

Posted on Tuesday, December 15th, 2009
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Sierra Nevada to Collaborate with Craft Beer Pioneers in 2010

Next year, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. will celebrate their 30th anniversary and will mark the occasion with a yearlong commemoration of the trailblazing brewers who helped transform America into the world’s most exciting brewing nation. In 2010, Sierra Nevada will be teaming up with the founders of the craft beer movement to benefit select charities and beer drinkers across the country.

March of 2010 will see the first of four beers in a series of collaborative projects with America’s craft-brewing pioneers: Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing; Jack McAuliffe, founder of New Albion Brewery; and authors, homebrewers, and beer advocates Fred Eckhardt, and Charlie Papazian. Together, this group is credited as ‘the men who launched a thousand breweries;’ and without them, our current day craft-beer-renaissance might never have happened.

“We wanted to pay tribute to the original pioneers who helped me and hundreds of others get started,” said Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman. “Few people in the craft-brewing world have accomplished more than these guys, and we thought it might be fun to get the original crew together and make something special.”


This project will begin where craft brewing started—Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco. Maytag bought the historic brewery in 1965, and his vision for American beer changed everything. In December 2009, these pioneers gathered at Anchor to catch up, reminisce about craft beer’s beginnings, and share their vision for the project.

“I feel honored to sit at the table with these guys,” said Grossman. “Without the help that these guys gave me in the early days, I never would have gotten started. Each of them has shaped craft beer in some meaningful way, and without them, who knows what American beer would be today?”

The beers will be released periodically throughout the year, starting with the first release in March, and continuing until Sierra Nevada’s 30th Anniversary on November 15. These limited-release 750ml cage-and-cork bottles will be available at select retailers and beer-centric bars.

These beers will be much more than a tribute: Proceeds from the project will go to benefit select charities chosen by the four pioneers.

Sierra Nevada started in 1980 with a humble hand-built brewhouse and some interesting ideas about beer. Today it’s America’s longest-running craft startup, and boasts the number-one best-selling craft brand in the country—the legendary flagship, Pale Ale.

A lot has changed in the generation since Grossman first met these brewing pioneers. When Sierra Nevada first opened its doors, there were less than 50 breweries in the United States. Today, there are more than 1,500 craft breweries in operation, and American brewers lead the world in variety of styles, innovation, experimentation, and quality.

Follow this collaboration of pioneering brewers at

Posted on Monday, December 14th, 2009
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