Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

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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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Don’t miss RAP on May 12 in SF


Pink Out! is the rose extravaganza organized by the Rose Avengers and Producers and is absolutely one of my favorite annual wine events. I go to fewer and fewer these days, but this one is always on my calendar.

Overall, roses are cheap and pair perfectly with almost any food.

As always, it takes place at Butterfly (Pier 33) on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. Festivities begin at 6:30 p.m. Leave room for Chef Robert Lam’s Pan-Pacific yummies.

As a bonus, for the first time RAP is including more than a dozen roses from the Loire Valley this year, inlcuding one of my favorites, Remy-Pannier’s Rose D’Anjou.

Tickets are $35 online and $45 at the door. See you there!

Posted on Friday, May 8th, 2009
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Winemaker Don Blackburn dies at 54

Does everyone else know Pinot Noir pioneer Don Blackburn died on April 23? I didn’t even know he had cancer.

Don was the French-trained winemaker at Emeritus Vineyards. To some, he was considered the Plato of American Pinot Noir.

According to an obituary released by his publicist, he earned a BTS with honors in viticulture and enology from the University of Montpelier, and interned in the vineyards and cellars of Bordeaux and Burgundy.

In Margaux, it reads, St. Emilion, Mersault, Alsace, Monthelie, and Vosne-Romanee, Don’s passion for wine grew. Always the scholar, he studied texts dating back to the 17th century to uncover the roots of the practical aspects of winemaking, learning techniques that we are now rediscovering with the help of technology. While in France, Don also became the first foreign correspondent for the Wine Spectator.

His 25-year winemaking career in America included winemaking at Elliston Vineyards, Bernardus Vineyards, Byington Winery and David Bruce Winery. His last post was at Emeritus Vineyards in the Russian River Valley, where his favorite vineyard has been renamed in his honor as McDonald Mountain.

Here’s my favorite part of the obit: “Don believed the finest quality a wine could aspire to was charm, not concentration, and while appreciating technology, in the final analysis he relied upon his intuition. Don never made wine “by the numbers,” instead he used intuitive metaphors, often from music and poetry, when describing his wines. For Don, a wine might be like a Vivaldi concerto or perhaps a California bikini girl.”

A celebration of Don’s life will be held at Emeritus Vineyards on June 5 at noon. Emeritus Vineyards is located at 2500 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472.

Posted on Tuesday, May 5th, 2009
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An update on the Bistro Double IPA fest winners…

In case you don’t get all this blog’s comments via RSS…here’s what I just posted as a comment about the winners at the Bistro Double IPA fest today:

I’ve been at another Beer Week event and didn’t want to attempt posting anything with my cel phone — even if it is an iphone, which I just broke down and bought,


The winner was: Pizza Port/Carlsbad. The beer was Poormans IPA — Brewer Jeff Bagby. ABV: 9 pecent. Figure the IBUs in the 90s.  I didn’t get to try it; Got there about 3 and it was gone.  Everyone who did try it loved it. I really liked the Pizza Port Lou P Lin.

Silver winner was Triple Rock Imaxx Imperial IPA, Rodger Davis, 9 percent. 80 IBUs.

Bronze winner was Bear Republic APEX.  Brewrers Ricardo and Peter, 7.5 percent, 83 IBUs.

People’s Choice: Pliny the Elder, naturally.


Both were absolutely excellent, in my opinion.

Posted on Saturday, February 7th, 2009
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Bistro duipa results

Pizza Port wins DIPA Fest; Triple Rock se cond, Bear Republic third and
Pliny the Elder wins Peoples Choice

Posted on Saturday, February 7th, 2009
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SF Beer Week begins with a new beer from Anchor: Our Barrel Ale

Just left the kickoff party for SF Beer Week at Anchor Brewing in San Francisco and is there ever news.  Anchor unveiled a new beer and it’s a stunner.

Meet Anchor Our Barrel Beer. It’s 8.02 percent, aged six months in charred oak barrels that had been used to age Anchor Old Potrero Straight Rye Whisky.  They only have about 100 cases of  magnum –50. 7 ounce – bottles 12 bottles to the case. No kegs; no 12 ouncers.

The beer, Anchor Proprietor Fritz Maytag said, will only be sold at the brewery. Price: $30 a bottle. It’s going on sale sometime in mid-February, Fritz said.

The taste: It’s a medium brown beer with copper highlights; it pours with a bit of foam that fades fairly rapidly as barrel-aged beers tend to do. It has a nose of wood, vanilla and spice. The taste is very mellow, smooth, faintly sweet with a drying, mild vanilla finish and a bit of warmth from the alcohol.

On first taste, I give it FOUR STARS. It’s a great barrel-aged beer. As one brewer — not from Anchor — said during the presentation: “They really got it dialed in.:”

Maytag and Anchor brewmaster Mark Carpenter, as usual, had little to say about how the beer was made. Mark said it’s 9.02 percent alcohol. Fritz said it’s a blend of Anchor’s other beers, but not Anchor Steam.

So — just guessing we’re looking at Anchor Porter, Old Foghorn, Liberty Ale and maybe Bock.  Whatever, this is a beer worth waiting in line to buy. What a great start for SF Beer Week.

Posted on Friday, February 6th, 2009
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Tasting New Albion Ale: FOUR STARS


Don Barkley at the Toronado Friday noon.


Don Barkley's recreation of New Albion Ale, first brewed in 1977. Wow!

AT MAGNOLIA PUB AT 1:30 P.M…It’s the second stop on the New Albion Ale/SF Beer Week Friday afternoon pub crawl…with several pubs to go before ending up at 21st Amendment about 5 p.m, after stops at Magnolia Pub, Monk’s Kettle and City Beer.  See this post for the sked.

About the beer — New Albion Ale, that is — Dynamite. Tried it at the Toronado. What a great beer for a nooner. Let’s see: clean light copper color, hops on the nose, big time. Taste is very clean and malty with an unusual and quite tasty herbal, earthy background, from the malts and the hops. Deliciously hoppy finishish that leaves a tang on the tongue. I give it FOUR STARS.

Posted on Friday, February 6th, 2009
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Some special DIPAs on tap Saturday at the Bistro’s Double IPA fest

bistro-11th-annual-ipa-fest-glass-hebrew-lagerJust talked to Vic Kralj at the Bistro — he was busy getting ready for the big 7th annual Bistro Double IPA fest, which gets underway tomorrow (Saturday, Feb. 7) at 11 a.m. at the Bistro, 1001 B. St.  Vic says there will be 48 or 49 Double IPAs. New Albion Ale will be on tap as well.

Vic says the festival which officially kicks off SF Beer Week is getting huge; he’s expecting 1,500 people. I’m guessing close to twice that. The entries will be judged in blind tawtings; awards will be announced at 5 p.m.

The basics: Tickets: No reservations — $25 at the door buys a commemorative glass and five, 4-ounce pours. Extra pours $1.50. There will be live music all day and barbeque. They’re setting up an outside stage on Main Street. The street will be closed for the fest.

Getting there: Best way is to take BART to the Hayward Station, then walk three blocks straight east on B Street. Bistro’s on the corner of Main and B.

Here’s a lineup of  some of what’s going to be on tap:

  • Several entries from the Pizza Port breweries, Ballast Point, Alpine, a DIPA from Ithaca Brewing, Ithaca, NY, 120 minute IPA from Dogfish.
  • Sierra Nevada has sent a firkin of a special DIPA; Vic says it’s “absolutely gorgeous.”  Also DIPAs from Auburn Brewing, Rubicon (Sacramento), 50-50 Brewing, Truckee; John Maier of Rogue, Newport, OR has sent a special XS IPA. And, of course, Pliny the Younger from Russian River.

And that’s just part of the list. See you there!

Posted on Friday, February 6th, 2009
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SF Beer Week: Jay Brooks posts the New Albion Ale schedule

Wondering where to find New Albion Ale this week? Jay Brooks over at Brookston Beer Bulletin has just published today’s schedule for Don Barkley, the Napa Smith brewmaster and the beer today. He’s also listed all the places where it will be on tap and the story behind the beer…

The schedule for Don and the beer today:  Noon: Toronado, 547 Haight St., San Francisco,  2 p.m., 1 p.m., Magnolia Pub, 1398 Haight St., 2 p.m. Monk’s Kettle, 3141 16th St., 3 p.m. City Beer Store, 1168 Folsom St., 4 p.m. 21st Amendment, 563 2nd St.

It’s also on tap right now at the Bistro, 1001 B St., Hayward.

Posted on Friday, February 6th, 2009
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The Toronado’s SF Beer Week schedule…

Toronado proprietor David Keene

Toronado proprietor David Keene

The Toronado just sent out their SF Beer Week schedule. It’s awesome, naturally.  Each event goes until closing, but featured guests tend to leave after two or three hours. Happily, the beer remains.

Today, Noon (Feb. 6). SF Beer Week Kickoff:
Join Napa Smith brewer Don Barkley as he taps the first keg
of “Original Albion Ale” at High Noon. This beer is based on
the recipe from the pioneering New Albion brewery, which
was founded by Jack McAuliff in 1976. When New Albion
closed in 1983, Don moved on to Mendocino Brewing
company where he brewed Red Tail Ale, and one of the first
“reputation” beers, Eye of the Hawk.

Sunday, Feb. 8, 6 p.m. Port Brewing/Lost Abbey Night
Port Brewing’s Tomme Arthur for draft and bottle
specials.  On Draft:, Judgment Day, Devotion, Red Barn, Avant Garde, Hop 15, Midnight Sessions, Old Viscosity, Lost and Found, Phunky Duck and more
Special Bottles: Veritas 004, Saints Devotion, Cable Car (on premise only) and more.

Monday, Feb. 9, 6 p.m. Join Rob Tod of AllagashOn Draft: Curieux, Tripel, Odyssey, Interlude, Hugh Malone, Fedelta, Victoria, Victor, Black, Four, Bottle specials.

Tuesday, Feb. 10, 6 p.m. Russian River ‘Tion Night
Join Vinnie Cilurzo for a night of draft and bottle specials.  On Draft: Redemptionm Single (Blonde Ale), Perdition- Biere de Sonoma, Damnation- (Strong Golden Ale), Salvation- Strong Dark Alem, Rejection- Black Beerm Defenestration- Hoppy Belgian Ale, Benediction- Abbey Double, Mortification- Quadruplem Sanctification- 100% Brettanomyces Fermented, Temptation- Sour Blonde Ale Aged in Chardonnay Barrels (batch 3), Supplication- Sour Red/Brown Ale Aged in Pinot Noir Barrels (batch 3), Consecration- Sour Dark Ale Aged in Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels (batch 1), Beatification- 100% Spontaneously Fermented Ale (batch 2) Bottle specials including Toronado 20th Anniversary (on premise only)

Wednesday, Feb. 11,  6 p.mOmmegang Beers paired with a fine selection of cheeses. Three Philosophers, Chocolate Indulgence, Ommegeddon, Grand Cru Rouge
Cheese pairings to be determined.

Thursday, Feb. 12, 6 p.m. -9 p.m., A Night of Ales
Toronado, Firestone Walker Brewing Company, and the
Homebrew Chef Sean Paxton present A Night of Ales. Special beer
pairings from the Firestone Walker cellar, commentary
from brewmaster Matt Brynildson, and a six course tasting
menu from chef Sean Paxton. Tickets $95, available at the
Toronado. Check out the menu at

Saturday, Feb., 14, 11 a.m. onward…16th annual Toronado Barleywine Festival. The big kahuna!.

Posted on Friday, February 6th, 2009
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