Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for December, 2010

Sierra Nevada’s Hoptimum

One of the first beers of the New Year will be a new Imperial IPA from Sierra Nevada Brewing, whose Hoptimum will be officially released January 1, 2011. If you’re fortunate enough to be in Chico, it was released there locally on Monday, but the rest of us will have to wait until 2011.

The Hoptimum was created during on of Sierra Nevada’s “Beer Camps,” a new program where people — usually beer distributors, retailers and others — spend two days at the brewery’s pilot brewhouse learning about the brewery and making their own small batch of beer. I was fortunate enough to attend Beer Camp last week, but more about that later.

After the success of the single batch, beer camp Hoptimum, Sierra Nevada tweaked the formula for a commercial release, which they describe as follows:

Hops, hops, and more hops are the stars of this big, whole-cone Imperial IPA. Resinous “new-school” and exclusive hop varieties carry the bold and aromatic nose. The flavor follows the aroma with layers of aggressive hoppiness, featuring notes of grapefruit rind, rose, lilac, cedar, and tropical fruit — all culminating in a dry and lasting finish.

And the label is one of the coolest I’ve seen from any brewery, featuring a true “hop head” in fancy clothes. According to the label, it’s a “Whole-Cone Imperial IPA” for “the Ultimate Whole-Cone Hop Experience.” That’s a nod to Sierra Nevada’s philosophy of using whole-cone hops rather than pellets, which are common for breweries to use since pellets last far longer and are easier to ship, too. Most hop producers also pelletize their hops because of their ease of use.


And here’s how the original “beer camp” beer — made for last year’s SF Beer Week — was described:

A group of hop-heads and publicans challenged our Beer Camp brewers to push the extremes of whole-cone hop brewing. The result is this: a 100 IBU, whole-cone hurricane of flavor. Simply put- Hoptimum: the biggest whole-cone IPA we have ever produced. Aggressively hopped, dry-hopped and torpedoed with our exclusive new hop varieties for ultra-intense flavors and aromas.

And here are few of the particulars for the commercial version:

  • Alcohol-by-Volume: 10.4%
  • Bitterness Units: 100 IBUs
  • Bittering Hops: German Magnum
  • Aroma Hops: Simcoe & New Proprietary Variety
  • Dry Hops: Simcoe & New Proprietary Variety
  • Topedo Hops: Citra & Chinook
  • Malts: Two-row Pale, Golden Promise, Munich & Wheat

By pure happenstance, I was in Sierra Nevada’s sensory lab last Friday when random sample bottles of Hoptimum came in for analysis, in this case tasting, before being released locally on Monday, and the rest of the world on January 1.


I had the beer camp version last year, but too long ago for any meaningful comparison. The commercial version, though, is quite wonderful. Despite being a big, hoppy beer, it’s well-balanced and almost mild for an Imperial IPA. I mean that only in the sense that the hops, while enveloping and intense, are not over-powering, harsh or astringent and meld nicely with the malt character. The beer has great conditioning. It doesn’t taste like a 10.4% beer, either. It’s not hot, but warming. You could drink a lot of it. I plan to. It comes in 24 oz. bottles making it an ideal beer to share with a friend or loved one. If this is how 2011 will begin, perhaps it will be a great year. I’d certainly toast to that. But forget the champagne, give me a Hoptimum.

Posted on Tuesday, December 21st, 2010
Under: On Beer | 4 Comments »
Leave a comment

Local Brewer Becomes 3rd “Master Cicerone” in the World

Join me in congratulating local brewer Rich Higgins on being named a “Master Cicerone.” That makes Higgins one of only three people to achieve the designation of “master.” A Cicerone is essentially the equivalent of a sommelier, but for beer. The Cicerone program was created by noted beer expert and educator Ray Daniels, who launched the program in Chicago in 2007.

Higgins is currently the brewmaster at San Francisco’s Social Kitchen & Brewery, a brewpub at 9th Ave. and Irving St. in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset neighborhood, and is also the President of the San Francisco Brewers Guild and Director of SF Beer Week. He also operates the beer consultancy Rich Higgins Consultant à la Bière.

From the press release:

Rich Higgins is one of two candidates to pass this year’s Master Cicerone exam, becoming one of three individuals to achieve this pinnacle certification of beer expertise. The Master Cicerone exam was offered in the Chicago area in October of this year, occurring over two days and consisting of ten hours of essay questions, two hours of tasting and sensory panels, and two hours of oral examination.

The Cicerone Certification Program certifies expertise in beer styles, tasting, ingredients, service, and food pairing. To date, the program has certified 3 Master Cicerones, 172 Certified Cicerones, and over 2,000 Certified Beer Servers. Because anyone can call himself or herself a “beer sommelier” regardless of knowledge or experience, the Cicerone Certification Program objectively certifies beer expertise through independent testing of knowledge and tasting ability, focusing on five areas of expertise: 1) Beer Storage, Sales and Service, 2) Beer Styles and Culture, 3) Beer Tasting and Flavors, 4) Brewing Ingredients and Processes and 5) Pairing Beer with Food.

Rich Higgins at the Social Kitchen Brewery
Rich Higgins in his Social Kitchen brewery.

Posted on Tuesday, December 14th, 2010
Under: On Beer | 1 Comment »
Leave a comment

Fundraiser at Residual Sugar in Walnut Creek Dec. 13

Yes, that’s tonight. Residual Sugar General Manager Aundrea Wainscott’s house burned down last month due to a faulty wall heating unit. She and her boyfriend, Daniel Sharp, and Wainscott’s daughter, Zoe, lost all of their belongings and a place to call home.

The food and wine community has gathered around them, and the magnitude of this event is proof of how much this community cares about Wainscott and Sharp. They have more than 20 years of experience in the Bay Area’s hospitality industry. So if you’ve had great experiences at Va De Vi, SPQR, Residual Sugar, or Chez Panisse, they probably had something to do with it.

Va De Vi, Havana, Sasa, and the Walnut Creek Yacht Club, among others, are donating food. Wineries and distributors including Southern Wine & Spirits are providing wine.

The event is from 6 to 11 p.m. $20 gets you all the food and wine you can want, and a feeling that you’re doing at least one solid thing this holiday season to help a good, hard-working person who is dealing with a tragedy. There will also be an auction. All proceeds benefit Sharp, Wainscott, and her daughter.

Residual Sugar is located at 1684 Locust Street in Walnut Creek. For more information, visit their web site,

Posted on Monday, December 13th, 2010
Under: Corkheads | No Comments »
Leave a comment

SF’s Newest Brewery To Hold Beer Dinner Next Week

Social Kitchen Kitchen & Brewery, San Francisco’s newest brewery, will host a beer dinner next Wednesday, December 15. Just six days before the beginning of winter, Social Kitchen’s fifth beer dinner is their “End of Autumn Feast Brewmaster’s Dinner,” held each month on the second Wednesday. “The meal will be a multi-course food-and-beer-pairing dinner designed by Brewmaster and Master Cicerone Rich Higgins, pairing the flavors and textures of Higgins’s house-brewed beers with a special menu of SKB’s sustainable, seasonable cuisine.”
The menu will include:

  • Tuscan kale, fennel, and mandarins in ginger vinaigrette paired with Easy IPA (American-style IPA)
  • Beet soup with garlic labneh and torn croutons paired with L’Enfant Terrible (Belgian-style table beer)
  • Meatloaf or squash steak with Brussels sprouts chips, mustardy potatoes, and crispy shallots paired with Sgt. Pepper (Belgian-style red ale with black peppercorns)
  • Housemade persimmon ice cream with salted caramel saucepaired with Rapscallion (Belgian-style Golden Ale)

The Brewmaster’s Dinner Series embraces cuisine à la bière, the idea that beer has a place in the kitchen as well as at the table. The dinners are always omnivore- and vegetarian-friendly, and each course is paired with a Social Kitchen & Brewery beer. The dinner price is $30, and includes the beer pairings. Reservations can be made by calling 415.681.0330 after 4:00 PM.


Posted on Friday, December 10th, 2010
Under: On Beer | No Comments »
Leave a comment

Searching For Science In A Glass Of Beer

NPR’s Science Friday had an interview this week with Charlie Bamforth, talking about beer and his latest book, “Beer Is Proof God Loves Us: Reaching for the Soul of Beer and Brewing.” Bamforth is the Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Brewing Science at the University of California at Davis, and was my professor when I took the short course on brewing several years ago. He’s also trained many of the brewers working in Bay Area breweries today. In the segment, entitled Searching For Science In A Glass of Beer, Charlie takes questions and discusses the brewing process more generally. There’s also a transcript of the talk on their website. Enjoy.

Posted on Saturday, December 4th, 2010
Under: On Beer | No Comments »
Leave a comment

Sam Calagione Discusses Brew Masters on Fox News

Fox Business yesterday did an interview with Sam Calagione, of Dogfish Head Brewery, promoting his new Discovery channel show, Brew Masters. If you haven’t watched the show yet, check it out.

Posted on Friday, December 3rd, 2010
Under: On Beer | No Comments »
Leave a comment

Mutineer Magazine’s Holiday Comedy Festival In Wine (& Beer) Country

This should be a fun — and funny — event. Mutineer Magazine is hosting a comedy event to benefit A Child’s Right, an organization with a mission to ensure children have access to safe drinking water. The Mutineer Magazine Holiday Comedy Festival will take place at the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards in Sonoma on December 11, beginning at 7:00 p.m. In addition to Jacuzzi wine, tequila from sponsor Don Roberto and beer from Lagunitas and Firestone Walker will also be served.

The evening of stand-up comedy will include comedians Ben Morrison (host), Bryan Callen (co-headliner), Natasha Leggero (co-headliner), Ben Gleib, Greg Wilson, and Daryl Wright. In addition, the winner of a Laugh Factory contest is scheduled to appear. Also special guest Jonathan Goldsmith will appear. He’s the Dos Equis spokesperson for the “The World’s Most Interesting Man” advertising campaign. You can read more about each performer at the Mutineer event website.

Tickets are only $35 and can be purchased online.


From the press release:


Performing against this fantastical blue backdrop (blue for water relief, naturally!)? An all-star lineup of standup comedians and special guests, no shortage of Hollywood-style glamour (think paparazzi-style photogs on the blue carpet) and outstanding libations from some of the finest names in beverage. It’s all in line with the publication’s rep for pushing boundaries and exceeding expectations where drinks and lifestyle experiences collide, and looks to be one of the wildest nights wine country will see this side of 2011. Los Angeles-based funnyman and festival host Ben Morrison – known as well for being Ashton Kutcher’s right-hand man on the hit MTV show “Punk’d” as for his prolific appetite for Single Malt Scotch – says, “It’s a totally rare opportunity to see this caliber of comedic talent all under one roof, in one night outside of Hollywood.”

Even better: it’s for a good cause.


The festival is an ebullient catalyst for Mutineer’s 2011 trek to Nepal, where magazine staff, select “cultural influencers” and beverage industry reps will install five water filtration systems on behalf of relief organization A Child’s Right. The systems will provide clean drinking water to 25,000 children for ten years. To bring the full impact of the outreach home to readers, magazine editors will blog about the trip along the way and report on the endeavor with significant coverage in the May 2011 issue. Kropf sees it this way: “There’s nothing funny about the need for clean water. But bringing top comedic talent – and lots of laughter – to wine country to raise funds for water relief among at-risk kids? Priceless.”


Officially on the program roster: Cocktails by presenting sponsor Don Roberto Tequila and other select purveyors in the beverage tent, festive surprise guests, base-thumping holiday soul and funk beats, and lots of laughs. As for the show itself, the endlessly funny Natasha Leggero (as seen in NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” Comedy Central’s “Reno 911” and “Ugly Americans”) and Bryan Callen (“MadTV” and “The Hangover”) are set to co-headline an elite group of seven Hollywood humorists, all of whom have pledged to share with guests their most amusing insights into the theme of thirst. One of the comedians for the evening will be a wild-card performer selected at a Mutineer-sponsored search contest at LA’s Laugh Factory November 18, 2010, and a special appearance will be made at the festival by Jonathan Goldsmith, who famously portrays “The Most Interesting Man In the World” in Dos Equis’ advertisements.


Best part of all? Festival guests will know that they’re laughing and sipping in the name of charitable water relief. And thanks to the show’s top-shelf talent, delicious drinks, eye-popping blue décor and insanely affordable ticket price — Mutineer tagged entry at a rightly reasonable $35 to make the show as millennial-accessible as possible — it looks as though everyone gets to have the last laugh come December 11. Cheers to that.

Posted on Friday, December 3rd, 2010
Under: On Beer | 1 Comment »
Leave a comment

Lagunitas Beer Dinner At Hopmonk This Sunday

This Sunday the Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol will be hosting a beer dinner featuring the beers of Lagunitas Brewing. The dinner begins at 6:00 p.m. on December 5th and the cost is $60 per person. Bring an unwrapped toy for Toys For Tots, and receive a Lagunitas logo glass. Lagunitas’ “beer weasel,” Ron Lindenbusch, will be on hand and also Mario Rubio from Brewed for Thought will be a guest speaker with music by “The Horse you Rode in On.”

Sounds like a fun time. Call 707.829.7300 for reservations, which are recommended.


Here’s the menu:

Welcoming Pint



Roasted turkey wing in pan jus & ale reductionw/ savory corn pudding

paired with Fusion 4


Almond and spinach salad with strawberries & cider vinegar

paired with Pils


Stout braised pork belly w/ seared sea scallops & sweet potato risotto

paired with Imperial Stout


Selected sweets paired with 3 vintages of Brown Shugga’

Posted on Wednesday, December 1st, 2010
Under: On Beer | No Comments »
Leave a comment