Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for November, 2010

Anchor Christmas Ale Day

Time was when today, the Monday before Thanksgiving, was the traditional day on which Anchor’s Our Special Ale — a.k.a. their Christmas Ale — was released each year. Every year since 1975 the brewers at Anchor Brewery have brewed a distinctive and unique Christmas Ale, which is now available from early November to mid-January.


From Anchor’s website:

The Ale’s recipe is different every year—as is the tree on the label—but the intent with which we offer it remains the same: joy and celebration of the newness of life. Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew.

Until recently, Anchor’s Christmas Ale was not released until the Monday before Thanksgiving each year. A few years ago they bowed to pressure from their distributors, who wanted to have it earlier to compete against all of the other holiday beers that are released much earlier. So while I can’t argue it’s a bad thing to have this wonderful beer both earlier and for a longer period of time each year, I do actually miss it coming later on a very specific date. There was something I really liked about having to wait for it — admittedly vague and unspecific, but the feeling was there all the same. And there was something I admired about their stubbornly refusing to release it until they were damn well ready. I think it added something intangible to the beer’s mystique, making it more special somehow.

I realize I sound like a sentimental fool, but beer (and many other things) used to be ruled by the seasons and their availability was something that created anticipation and deep satisfactions, too. To me fruit is a great example. Wait, hear me out. There was a time when you couldn’t get almost every fruit year round, but now thanks to agreements with growers in the Southern Hemisphere, we can get most of them all year long. But the very fact that they’re around all the time makes them less desirable. How much better did a strawberry taste when you couldn’t eat one all winter and they suddenly appeared each spring?

Of course, I don’t really think Anchor’s Christmas Ale will lose much — or any — of its specialness by being released a couple weeks sooner each year. I know I still wait eagerly to try the new one each year. But I really think there is something to building up demand and the perceived value that artificial scarcity brings. And there are beers that have suffered for going from a seasonal to a year-round beer. Mendocino’s Eye of the Hawk comes to mind. Back in the early 1980s they only brewed it three times a year (for the 4th of July, their annual anniversary and Oktoberfest). They released the strong ale in 22 oz. bottles in limited quantities and it sold out quickly like clockwork every time it was released. That went on for years until around 1999, when they made it available all the time and in unlimited quantities. Sales fell and although it sold steadily, we sold more in three bursts than when it was always there. Let’s also not forget that seasonals are now the number one craft category at mainstream outlets like grocery and liquor stores. It’s clear people like picking up something different. I don’t think we’ll see popular everyday beers going away, but it should be remembered that limited and seasonal releases can have their own cache and sell better in direct proportion to the difficulty in obtaining them.

Today I’m celebrating “Anchor Christmas Ale Day” and picking up some more today, I’ll drink some tonight, and also save some for my Thanksgiving Day meal on Thursday. This holiday will continue to be the Monday before Thanksgiving, to honor the idea that some things are worth waiting for.

But back to Anchor’s “Our Special Ale.”

Each year our Christmas Ale gets a unique label and a unique recipe for the Ale itself. Although our recipes must remain a secret, many enthusiasts save a few bottles from year to year—stored in a cool dark place—to taste later and compare with other vintages. Properly refrigerated, the beer remains intriguing and drinkable for years, with different nuances slowly emerging as the flavor mellows slightly.


This year’s label has one more unique feature that makes it different from the 35 that preceded it. Take a good look at the label, you probably won’t notice it. I didn’t. Every other label included the Latin name for the tree. But this year’s tree was the Ginkgo biloba tree and our intrepid TTB would not allow the words “Ginkgo biloba” to appear on the label for fear that someone might think the beer contained the drug Ginkgo biloba, despite the fact that for the last 35 years having the Latin name has never been a problem. You’d think there might have been some precedent set, but alas, no. I’m told Anchor considered appealing the decision and fighting it, but in the end decided it wasn’t worth the effort. But it certainly feels like a bureaucratic snafu that serves no legitimate purpose. Oh, well.

Over the years, there have been 36 different labels and each year Anchor prints a beautiful poster with all of the past labels plus the current years’ label.


Posted on Monday, November 22nd, 2010
Under: On Beer | 1 Comment »
Leave a comment

Local Saloon Owner’s Son Missing

Over my nearly twenty years covering the craft beer industry, if there’s one lesson I’ve learned it’s how much of a true community the beer community really is. We’re a great big extended family. So when something happens to one of us, it concerns us all. Case in point, you’ve probably heard the news about the disappearance of a Concord man, Brian Erb. His father, Jeff Erb, owns the Back Forty Texas BBQ Roadhouse & Saloon in Pleasant Hill. If you know anything or have seen Brian Erb, please contact the authorities. All the details about what’s known so far are below. Thanks for your help.

Brian Erb is 33 years old, a father of two young girls. He was last seen Wednesday morning, November 10, leaving his home following an argument with his wife Michelle. Brian drives a dark-blue, four-door longbed Ford F-350 truck, CA License number 7P94909.

As of Friday, November 12th, he was considered a “Missing Person” and the local police have launched an investigation but so far they’ve turned up nothing to indicate where Brian Erb is or may have gone. Described as a very “social person,” he’s had no contact with all of his known friends and acquaintances and there’s been no activity on his credit cards or bank accounts. Here’s a recent photo.

Brian Erb

Anyone with information about Brian Erb’s whereabouts can contact Concord investigators at 925.671.3030 or call the police tip line at 925.603.5836.

UPDATE 11.20: It’s my sad duty to report that Brian Erb was found dead Friday afternoon in northern Idaho. You can read the full story at Inside Bay Area.

Posted on Thursday, November 18th, 2010
Under: On Beer | No Comments »
Leave a comment

E.J. Phair Now Open in Pittsburg’s Liberty Hotel

E.J. Phair of Concord, has opened a second location in Pittsburg. The new alehouse is in the historic Liberty Hotel in the downtown area at 200 East 3rd Street. Beginning this week, they’ll be airing a new television commercial on Comcast, which you can see below.

Posted on Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
Under: On Beer | No Comments »
Leave a comment

Lot 18: New wine sale site from Snooth founder

People in the wine industry are always lamenting the way wine is sold, and how they can better reach consumers who might otherwise never visit their wineries or taste their wines.

According to this Mashable post, Phillip James, the founder of, is answering the call with a new website called Lot 18.

It’s still a bit under the radar, but Lot 18 is basically online private sales. The website will have a team of wine specialists who work with small producers to get their affordable products into the hands of appreciative, thirsty wine geeks.

It’s a great concept, and I’d be interested to see if it improves the way wine is sold, from a commodity to a hand-crafted, living thing. There are a limited number of invitations to preview the site. Check the Mashable link to see if any remain.

Posted on Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
Under: Corkheads | 20 Comments »
Leave a comment

Holiday Beerfest at Fort Mason This Saturday

The 2nd annual BevMo Holiday Beerfest will be held at Fort Mason this Saturday, November 20, from 5:30 until 9:00 p.m.

More than 100 local and international breweries will be pouring over 150 holiday, seasonal and special beers, including cider. For the designated driver, they’ll also be serving craft soda.

Tickets are $40 and may be purchased online, and include unlimited samplings of the beer. Food will be available for purchase and three bands will be performing throughout the evening: Con Brio (Funk, Jazz & Soul), Sentinel (Indie Pop Alternative) and the Jugtown Pirates (Acoustic Psychedelic Bluegrass).


This was a fun festival last year and a great opportunity to try a number of different holiday seasonals at one place. See you there.

From the website, where you can also see a list of the beers being poured:

“These special brews are produced once a year in very limited quantities”

Holiday, Seasonal & Special Beers, (some are called Winter Warmers), date back thousands of years. Brewers today have continued the ritual with either very old recipes or new fangled ideas using spices, fruits, herbs, coffee & chocolate. These unique brews will bring a smile to your lips and a glow to your spirit.

Posted on Monday, November 15th, 2010
Under: On Beer | 2 Comments »
Leave a comment

Bistro’s West Coast Barrel Aged Beer Fest Tomorrow

The 5th annual West Coast Barrel Aged Beer Festival will take place tomorrow at The Bistro in Hayward. Over 60 beers from different barrels will be poured all day long. In just a few short years, this has become a great festival I look forward to every year.

Over 65 Wood-Aged Beers were available, the most of any Bistro festival
Last year’s Barrel Aged Beer Fest at The Bistro

Posted on Friday, November 12th, 2010
Under: On Beer | 3 Comments »
Leave a comment

Anchor To Receive Ralston Award From SF Museum & Historical Society

Fritz Maytag may have stepped back from his daily duties at Anchor Brewing, the brewery he owned and ran since 1965, but that doesn’t mean he’s slowing down. He’s still running his winery, York Creek Vineyards, and consulting with the new owners of Anchor Brewing & Distilling.

And later this month, on November 18, the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society will present their William C. Ralston Corporate Award to Fritz Maytag and Dave Burkhart on behalf of Anchor Brewing.

From the press release:

Receiving the Ralston Award on behalf of Anchor Brewing will be Fritz Maytag and David Burkhart. Maytag, considered the father of modern microbreweries, had been at the helm of Anchor Brewing for 45 years. Maytag helped spark a revival in the craft of making beer by hand and inspired thousands of entrepreneurs to follow him in creating small, artisan breweries. He won the 2008 James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award. The company was sold this spring but he serves as Chairman Emeritus, Anchor Brewing Company.

Burkhart, a staff member of Anchor Brewing and a California-born historian and honors graduate of Yale, is the author of Earthquake Days: The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake & Fire in 3D and the editor of Cocktail Boothby’s American Bartender. He is also a professional trumpeter who teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and performs with the San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Symphony. His latest book project is called Cocktails & Punches in Mark Twain’s San Francisco.

Congratulations to both, and to Anchor. Tickets to the Awards Luncheon may be purchased online.

Posted on Monday, November 8th, 2010
Under: On Beer | No Comments »
Leave a comment

Local Homebrew Star Jamil Zainasheff To Open East Bay Brewery

Jamil Zainasheff over the last ten years has become something of a rock star in the homebrewing community, and especially the Bay Area, co-authoring two books on beer and homebrewing: “Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew” (with John Palmer) and “Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation” (with Chris White). He also hosts the Jamil Show on The Brewing Network and has a website online entitled Mr. Malty. I had always heard that Jamil had no plans to turn pro, but that appears to be not the case, after all.

This Thursday on an episode of Brewing TV, Zainasheff announced that he was starting a 30-bbl brewery in the East Bay. The brewery will be called Heretic Brewing, but the website is just a place holder for now.


Jamil says he’s hoping that his first beers will be available beginning in February or March of next year. Initially, the beer will be available in kegs only, and will then make either 750 ml or 22 oz. bottles once they’re up and running. It’s always great news to see a new brewery opening in the Bay Area, and we wish the best of luck and look forward to trying his commercial beers.

Posted on Saturday, November 6th, 2010
Under: On Beer | 1 Comment »
Leave a comment

Half Moon Bay’s Budgetary Alement Ale

Since today is election day, here’s the perfect beer to help you through the political machinations of the day. It was brewed by Half Moon Bay Brewing, which is located at Pillar Point Harbor overlooking the Marina in Princeton-by-the Sea. The beer is Budgetary Alement Ale and they’ve sent a five-pack to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. They also sent bottles to the rest of the state’s “Big Five” Leadership “in honor of the recent passing of the state’s budget, which was 100 days overdue.”


According to Half Moon Bay’s press release:

One dollar ($1) from every sale of Budgetary Alement between now and the end of the year will also be donated to California Forward — a nonpartisan organization dedicated to reforming California’s fiscal and budgetary ails.

“A strong ale for a weak economy,” Budgetary Alement was created by Lenny Mendonca, co-founder and co-owner of the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company. It has been on the brewing rotation since February 2010 and is available on tap ($5.25/pint), by the growler ($18.75), or by the bottle ($6.75). It is sold at the restaurant and in local retail outlets such as Bay Area Beverages and More locations, New Leaf Community Market in Half Moon Bay and Roberts Markets in Woodside and Portola Valley, Calif.

“We hope Governor Schwarzenegger, Assembly Speaker John Perez, Assembly Minority Leader Martin Garrick, Senate President pro tempore Darrell Steinberg and State Minority Leader Dennis Hollingsworth can take a moment and set partisan issues and budgeting stress aside to enjoy a nice, cold bottle of our handcrafted Budgetary Alement,” said Mendonca. “We’re very proud of our ale and know it’s helped many of our guests take the edge off during a rough economy.”

California Forward co-Chair and former Speaker of the Assembly Robert Hertzberg said, “California Forward is committed to ensuring we fundamentally fix California’s broken budget and governance and we hope that some Budgetary Alement can help lubricate that conversation.”


Emblazoned with a grizzly bear, red star and the outline of the state filled with $100 bills, the Budgetary Alement bottle label reads, “Brewed as an English-style IPA, the malt bill, comprised of Golden Promise and Munich Malts, has been paid. No IOU’s in this beer. The hops are East Kent and Styrian Goldings, with a touch of Centennials and add up to about 50 IBU’s, the same as the number of states that should have a budget in place. Also, we have not cut any of our brewing programs to make this beer. It’s whole and complete, just as our schools and parks should be.”

Politics and social activism are also brought to life every month at the Brewing Company with “Brews and Views,” a regular speaker’s series that tackles public issues that affect us all, from California to Washington, DC. Founded by Mendonca, who is a Director at McKinsey & Company and on the Leadership Council of California Forward, Brews and Views serves as both public forum and fundraiser for Coastside non-profit organizations.

So get out and vote, and then enjoy a Half Moon Bay Budgetary Alement Ale as your reward.

Posted on Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010
Under: On Beer | No Comments »
Leave a comment

BRU/SFO Project Returns To Present 12 More Belgian-Style Beers

The BRU/SFO Project is back for a second year. A play on the airport codes BRU (for Brussels, belgium) and our own SFO, the Project is between the 21st Amendment Brewery & Restaurant and Magnolia Gastropub. Each brewpub will be creating six Belgian-inspired beers throughout the month of November, with a new one released each Monday. Here’s the release schedule:

  • November 1
    21st Amendment: Via (Belgian Single), Noir de Blanc (Cocoa Witbier) and Papa Parks Porter
    Magnolia: Deep Ellem (Dubbel), Destiny UnBlonde, Chocolate George Stout
  • November 8
    21st Amendment: Drunken Monk (Dark Abbey Ale)
    Magnolia: Gordo
  • November 15
    21st Amendment: Oaked Baby Horse (Belgian Oak- Aged Quadruple)
    Magnolia: Saison De Lily
  • November 22
    21st Amendment: St. Lupulin (Imperial Belgian IPA)
    Magnolia: Sunbust


As last year, you can pick up a “boarding pass” at either brewery to get each beer marked off as you try them. “When you’ve enjoyed all 12 you get to take home and keep for your very own the special BRU/SFO commemorative glass” (good while supplies last). According to the breweries, the “Belgian beer project is a unique time to take in and enjoy Belgian-style beers, with interesting styles and tastes all with an American twist. We hope you enjoy your flight.” And Magnolia adds that their “exploration of Belgian-style and Belgian-influenced beers includes both old favorites and brand new beers.”

Magnolia has also “put together a special menu of snacks and smaller dishes to enjoy in the spirit of this Transatlantic project. Be sure to try the duck fat fries, chicory gratin, roasted tomato crevette, mussels (steamed in beer, of course), and a special cheese plate, all of which are available throughout the month. Look for other specials throughout the month, too, most of which will be intended to pair with a specific BRU/SFO beer.” And that the end of the month, they’ll host “One Dinner To End It All,” a “4-course dinner [to be held] on Monday, 11/29 with each course paired with a beer from the Project. More info coming soon, including the menu and price.”

Posted on Monday, November 1st, 2010
Under: On Beer | 1 Comment »
Leave a comment