Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for January, 2011

The Clydesdales in California

The iconic Budweiser Clydesdales debuted on April 7, 1933 and have a big promotional part of Anheuser-Busch ever since. Most come from Grant’s Farm in St. Louis. Today there are six teams of Clydesdales. One is headquartered in St. Louis and the other five travel the country. On Saturday, one team — or “hitch” — visited the A-B brewery in Fairfield, which is the smallest of the twelve ABI breweries in the U.S.

Believe it or not, I’d never been to the Fairfield brewery (I have visited at least three others, however). But my six-year old daughter’s love of horses made this weekend the perfect time to finally correct that oversight. So I responded to the press release I got, and arranged to come a little early so I could still make the Brewing Network’s Winter Brews Festival in Berkeley the same day.

But back to the horses. Clydesdales are Scottish in origin. They’re large draft horses, often six-feet high (18 hands) at the shoulder, weighing as much as 2,000 or more pounds, and are thought to be at least 300 years old. After a quick tour of the facilities, Alice and I arrived in the parking lot just in time to watch the horses being taken off their tractor trailers and hitched up to the wagon.

Two at a time they are off-loaded

Each hitch consists of ten Clydesdales that travel in three tractor trailers, along with the ceremonial beer wagon. Horse-drawn wagons were quite common for beer deliveries before the invention of the automobile, and continue to be used for ceremonial purposes throughout the world. The Radeberger brewery near Dresden, Germany still makes local beer deliveries on a horse-drawn wagon. It was a cool sight when I visited the brewery several years ago.

My daughter Alice in front of the wagon
My daughter Alice, with her stuffed Clydesdale, in front of the Budweiser beer wagon.

The first two hitched to the wagon
The first two hitched to the wagon.

Eventually, eight Budweiser Clydesdales were hitched to the wagon. Then, for about an hour, they paraded around the parking lot to the delight of a few hundred people, who showed up even in the drizzling rain. And especially my daughter, who was thrilled to see the horses up close. You can see a short video of the parade’s start below.

Below is a slideshow of the Clydesdales’ visit. This Flickr gallery is best viewed in full screen. To view it that way, after clicking on the arrow in the center to start the slideshow, click on the button on the bottom right with the four arrows pointing outward on it, to see the photos in glorious full screen. Once in full screen slideshow mode, click on “Show Info” to identify each photo.

Posted on Sunday, January 30th, 2011
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Win a Trip to Atlanta Cask Festival from All About Beer

All About Beer magazine, one of the publications I regularly write for, has launched a cool contest, where you could win a trip to the “Brew Your Cask Off” beer festival hosted by Georgia’s SweetWater Brewing in Atlanta, Georgia on March 5, 2011. The festival will include around 80 special one-of-a-kind cask ales created by brewers from around the country, each competing to win the “Best Cask Ale” or be declared the “Biggest Loser.”

You can win a trip for two to the event, courtesy of All About Beer, by telling them — in 300 words or less — what type of cask beer you’d brew. That’s roughly the equivalent of two tweets. Impress them with your beer description and you could win big.


All the details, along with the form to enter, can be found at the All About Beer’s website. In a nutshell:

Tell us what type of cask you would brew in 300 words or less and you could win a free trip for two (two nights of lodging included) to the Brew Your Cask Off festival. In addition, you and your guest will be celebrity judges helping decide who made the best, and who made the worst cask ale.

Entries will be judged on entertainment value, imagination, artistic abilities, historical accuracies, whatever criteria strikes us at the office when we all sit down to decide the lucky winner of a trip for two to Brew Your Cask Off. You need not be a professional or even an amateur brewer — just someone with a palate for what makes a good cask ale.

Start thinking about your beer, but don’t ponder it too long. All entries must be received by Valentine’s Day, February 14th, and the winner will be announced on February 18.


Posted on Friday, January 28th, 2011
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Beer Can Appreciation Day

Today is “Beer Can Appreciation Day,” because on this day 76 years ago — January 24, 1935 — the humble beer can was sold for the very first time. So join me in wishing the beer can a happy birthday.

Below is an article I wrote about beer cans five years ago telling the story of their history.

The beer can debuted in 1935, when an otherwise obscure brewery from New Jersey — Gottfried Krueger Brewing Co. — test-marketed them in Virginia, as far from their home market as possible. Breweries may have been initially reluctant, but the public loved cans — they were an overnight sensation. By the end of that first year, Schlitz (then one of America’s biggest brewers) had their beer in cans and every other brewery quickly followed suit.


The beer can was invented by American Can, who patented “Vinylite,” a plastic lining for cans marketed under the brand name “Keglined.” Over the years, the technology continued to improve, from tin to all-aluminum, from cone tops to flat tops, from clumsy openers to pull tops, yet one seemingly intractable problem remained: metal turbity. That’s the technical term for metal leeching into the beer, and consumers increasingly complained about the tainted metallic flavor in canned beer.

But then craft beer became popular, and with it better beer evangelists preached that canned beer could never be good. And that remained conventional wisdom for decades, made virtually dogma. During that same time, however, research by the can companies solved the metal turbidity problem. Using an organic polymer — really a water-based epoxy acrylic — that was sprayed inside each can during manufacturing, it could now honestly be said that the beer never touched the metal.

Unfortunately, the only beer in cans was not the type that most beer geeks would willingly quaff. The other great hurdle to getting craft beer in a can was the cost. You could buy a cheap, used bottling line but canning lines were quite massive and very expensive. And the people who made cans were used to selling them to big breweries, and so the minimum run for a can was something on the order of a full railroad car, too many and too expensive for even the biggest microbreweries.

But then the bottom fell out of microbrewing, and by the late-1990s equipment suppliers were also feeling the pinch. Hoping to survive the economic downturn, Canada’s Cask Brewing Systems created an affordable solution. They designed a small manual canning line that was cheaper than the average bottling line and persuaded Ball Corporation (a leading can manufacturer) to significantly reduce their minimum orders. All they had to do was convince someone to try canning their beer.

And so Cask started appearing at trade shows and repeatedly sending literature to breweries. When Dale Katechis, of Oskar Blues, in Lyons, Colorado, first read the pitch, he “just laughed and laughed,” thinking there’s “no way this can be done.” But the more he looked into it, the less he laughed. A few months later — in 2002 — Dale’s Pale Ale was released, the first craft beer to be hand-canned. By 2005, Oskar Blues was the biggest brewpub in the U.S. and Dale’s was declared by the New York Times to be the best pale ale in America.

The Oskar Blues team became evangelists for canned beer with the slogan “the canned-beer apocalypse.” Other small breweries noticed Dale’s success and he was only too happy to show them the light. Today, there are nearly forty craft brewers hand-canning their beer.

There are almost as many kinds of beer in cans as there are styles these days, too, from extreme, strong offerings like Surly’s Furious (a 100-IBU Imperial IPA) and Old Chubb (a Scotch Ale) to more unusual beers like Maui Brewing’s CoCoNut Porter and 21st Amendment’s Hell or High Watermelon to lighter lagers like Sly Fox’s Pikeland Pils and Steamwoks Steam Engine Lager. And now that New Belgium Brewing, one of the largest American craft brewers, is canning their popular Fat Tire Amber Ale, expect to see many more beers in cans in the future.

The biggest challenge is unmaking the dogmatic perception of beer in cans as an evil. It’s a persistent prejudice, but is slowly beginning to change as the advantages to canned beer become more widely known. They keep out all UV light, avoiding the skunky taste of clear and green glass. Cans have lower oxygen levels, meaning longer shelf life. They won’t break; they chill faster and can be taken more places, especially where glass is prohibited. And they’re more environmentally friendly, using less packaging plus more of the can is recyclable, with more used in manufacturing recycled cans. Cans are also lighter, resulting in lower transportation costs and fewer fossil fuels needed.

But in the end, the only thing that matters is how the beer tastes. Side-by-side can vs. draft taste tests reveal that it is virtually impossible to tell the difference. That, coupled with the real advantages of the packaging, means that craft beer in cans is where the future of craft beer is heading.

Shaun O’Sullivan, co-owner of 21st Amendment, showing off one of his early can designs. 21A was the third brewery in California to can their beer.

When I originally wrote that article, around two dozen small breweries were canning their beer, today that number has quadrupled, and there are now over 100 small brewers canning their beer. It’s great to see good beer in cans become more and more common, and we should continue to see more canned beer from craft brewers in the future. Why not pick up some today and see for yourself how good it now is from a can.

Posted on Monday, January 24th, 2011
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“How Beer Saved The World” To Be Revealed January 30

The documentary that the Discovery Channel was rumored to be working on, How Beer Saved the World, is now scheduled to air on Sunday, January 30 at 8:00 p.m. Pacific time. The trailer is a bit overwrought, but they appear to have some good people being interviewed on camera, such as Charlie Bamforth (brewing professor at UC Davis) and Gregg Smith (a beer historian). This should be interesting.

Posted on Friday, January 21st, 2011
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Swirling with the San Jose Sharks Jan. 24

Sampling with the San Jose Sharks

Hockey players have surprisingly good taste in wine. I mean no disrespect. Just figured they prefered cheap beer.

But anyway, the San Jose Sharks have a great event planned for Jan. 24, and all proceeds benefit the Sharks Foundation and their 201-2011 Grant Recipients. Last year, they raised $256,000 for 11 nonprofits in the Santa Clara County. Pretty impressive.

The Jan. 24 event could exceed that. They’ve got 14 wineries on tap, and they’re the upper crust if wine was pie. I’m talking Duckhorn, Far Niente, Schramsberg, Silver Oak, Miner, and Flora Springs. And you get to mingle with Sharks players and coaches while you swirl and sip.

Tickets are $225 a smack. Register online at the Sharks website. The event takes place at the Club Auto Sport, 521 Charcot Road, San Jose.

Posted on Friday, January 21st, 2011
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Brewing Network’s Winter Brews Festival Set To Return January 29

January is usually a slow time for beer in the Bay Area, so it’s nice that last year the Brewing Network stepped up and put on a nice beer festival featuring winter beers in Oakland. They’re back again and this year it will be held in a new location at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in Berkeley, just two blocks from the Downtown Berkeley BART station.

The 2nd Annual Winter Brews Festival will be held on Saturday, January 29, 2011, from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. “Tastings will feature a wide variety of local brews and unique innovations from some of the best brewers around, many of whom will be pouring their own beers giving visitors an opportunity to learn more about how the beer is made.”

Tickets are $35 before the event, or $40 at the gate, and include unlimited pours and a commemorative glass. Advance tickets can be purchased online. For more information on the event, visit the Brewing Network website.


Posted on Saturday, January 15th, 2011
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Contra Costa wines take home 36 medals at SF Chronicle Wine Competition

Le Melange Blanc 2009

The results of the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition are in, and wines made from grapes grown in Contra Costa County did pretty darn well. Yes, we have terroir.

Brentwood’s Hannah Nicole Vineyards took home 13 medals, including a gold for their 2009 Le Melange Blanc. They won silver medals for four wines, including the 2007 Meritage Red, and eight bronze medals.

It’s the third year in a row that Hannah Nicole wines have placed in the competition, which received more than 5,000 entries from around the country this year.

Five more wineries that are either located in Contra Costa County or make wines with grapes grown there took home a total of 23 medals. Walnut Creek’s Shadowbrook Winery won a gold for its 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and Bloomfield Vineyards took home an impressive Best of Class for its 2008 Pinot Noir.

The public tasting is Feb. 19 at Fort Mason in San Francisco. For more information, visit the competition’s site.

Posted on Tuesday, January 11th, 2011
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SF Beer Week One Month Away

In exactly one month, SF Beer Week will start up again. For ten days beginning on February 11, beer in the Bay Area will be front and center. Last year there were over 225 diverse events and this year promises to have even more beer-centric events throughout the Bay Area. In a couple of hours — at 4:00 p.m. — this year’s website will go live with the first batch of events added to the schedule. Start filling up your dance card now, to make sure you have a seat at as many of the great events as you and your liver can manage.


Posted on Tuesday, January 11th, 2011
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The Bay Area’s Newest Brewery, High Water Brewing

You may recall the formerly wonderful beers of Valley Brewing in Stockton, California. That was due to one singular reason, their longtime brewmaster, Steve Altimari. Steve’s beers have became some of the most creative, innovative and diverse of any brewer. He perfected one style after another and brewed some truly experimental gems. His Uber Hoppy Imperial IPA was one of the best and his London Tavern Ale, a delicate English-style mild was a great session beer. But back on June of last year, Steve left Valley and began work on his own new venture.

So it’s six or so months later, and I’m pleased to announce that Steve’s new brewery — High Water Brewing — has begun brewing. They’ve set up offices and cold storage in San Leandro, California, near Drake’s Brewing, whose brewing equipment they’ll be using to make High Water’s beer. They’re also installing their own fermenters on site but will store the finished beer in their separate offices nearby.


Initially, they’ll be offering three regular beers:

  • Hop Riot IPA (7.3% a.b.v. / 73 IBUs)
  • Retribution Imperial IPA (9.5% a.b.v. / 95 IBUs)
  • Old and In the Way Barleywine (11% a.b.v. / 95 IBUs)

The beers will debut on draft — 5 & 15.5 gallon kegs — in February during SF Beer Week (yet another reason I can’t wait for SF Beer Week!). Packaged beer, in 22 oz. bottles, will follow in early Spring, most likely in April. You can see the new labels on the website.


In the interest of full disclosure, the name High Water Brewing was suggested by me in a post back in June when this all went down, and after an exhaustive search, my suggestion turned out to be the one they liked best. The founders of the brewery were kind enough to thank me by awarding me some shares in the company, giving me a very teeny tiny interest in the company, essentially a symbolic, but very much appreciated gesture.

Posted on Friday, January 7th, 2011
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