Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

What’s on Tap Beer Columns


This column appeared June 11. 2008:

Coconut Porter from Maui hits shelves

By William Brand
Staff writer
Article Launched: 06/10/2008 12:28:49 PM PDT

AT EVERY big beer festival, there’s buzz about the best beers to sample. At the Great American Beer Festival, the granddaddy of American beer fests, the buzz is intense, and in 2006, the buzz said one thing: “Try the Coconut Porter from Maui Brewing. It’s a gold medal-winner.”

I tried and tried, but could never work my way through the crowd. But six months later, in Maui on a family vacation, I made it my mission to try it. Oh my, what a delight.

In another day, the term Maui Wowie was reserved for a different substance, of course. But that was well before Garrett Marrero and his wife, Melanie, moved to Maui from San Diego in 2004, took over a defunct brewpub, Fish & Game Brewing, and renamed it Maui Brewing.
Coconut Porter ***1/2 is indeed Maui Wowie and it’s our Beer of the Week. The best news is that, beginning this month, it’s being sold in BevMo stores throughout the Bay Area – four 12-ounce cans for $8.99.

That’s right – cans. Marrero, like a number of other craft brewers (including Live Free or Die IPA from 21st Amendment in San Francisco; New Belgium’s Fat Tire in Colorado, and Uncommon Brewers, a new Santa Cruz brewery, are taking the can back from the world of light lager and high-priced beer commercials.

Marrero explains that he wanted to create a product that was truly Hawaiian, not brewing on the mainland, and using local ingredients wherever possible. Marrero and his head brewer Tom Kerns decided on a coconut beer. They tried making a coconut stout, Marrero says.

“I’ve never been a fan of light lager,” Marrero said. “On the beach in San Diego, we’d buy Sam Adams Double Bock.”

But coconut didn’t work with a dark malt stout, so they moved back to porter, a somewhat lighter style, and started pouring on the coconut. They buy coconut, roast it in their own ovens and then use it liberally in the brewing process – 200 pounds for a 775 gallon batch.

Roasted coconut is added to the barley mash again after the mash is boiled, and again in the fermenter along with fresh hops – an ancient brewing practice that can produce intense fresh hop aromas in the beer.

So what do we have? Coconut Porter. It won gold in 2006 at the Great America Beer Festival and this year at the World Beer Cup, the Brewers Association international competition similar to the GABF.

Coconut Porter is an opaque brown with a roast malt nose. The taste is dry with notes of chocolate and roast barley and a faint, teasing sweetness. There’s a rush of coconut, mildly sweet, in the follow.

It’s 5.7 percent alcohol by volume, a touch more than your standard 5 percent Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It’s very drinkable; the taste is fairly light, and in no way is it heavy or cloyingly sweet. Simple delicious.

Marerro explains that roast malt, Crystal 45, a dark crystal, which adds color and a full mouth-feel, and chocolate malt – malt roasted to the shade of chocolate – are added to basic English Maris Otter pale barley.

Hops, which don’t predominate, are mainly American Centennials and Crystal. The beer’s 30 International Bitterness Units, exactly the same as InBev’s Stella Artois lager.
Two other Maui beers have also arrived here in cans: Big Swell IPA ***, a 6.2 percent 50 IBU India Pale Ale, and Bikini Blonde Lager **1/2, 4.5 percent 18 IBU, which also won a silver medal at the World Beer Cup. A six-pack of each sells for $10.99.

Think these prices are steep? Get used to it. The cost of hops and barley has zoomed with no end in sight. All craft brewers are raising their prices. But gee, compare $8.99 for four cans of Coconut Porter to a jug of cheap California wine, like Gallo Hearty Burgundy, which sells for about the same price. Choosing Coconut Porter is a no-brainer.

Coconut Porter is cited as the perfect dessert vehicle in “He Said Beer, She Said Wine,” (DK Publishing, $25), by Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head, and Marnie Old, a wine expert. The recipe?

Drop a scoop of super-premium vanilla ice cream, the kind
made with real vanilla beans, into a tall glass of Coconut Porter.
“Coconut Porter is spiked with toasty coconut flavors,”  Calagione

I agree.

And finally “… when in Maui, don’t miss Maui Brewing. It’s in the Kahana Gateway Center, Highway 217, Kahana, Maui. They have a rotating list of seasonal beers and the food is excellent.

There’s also a new production brewery a few miles away at 910 Brewpub – Kahana Gateway Center – 4405 Honoapiilani Highway #217 in Kahana, Maui.

Reach William Brand at or call 510-915-1180 and ask for his Retail Beer Store List or Good Pub List. Read more by Brand at

This column appeared June 3, 2008:

Alaskan Summer Ale glassWhat’s on Tap:

Alaskan Summer Ale golden and delicious

By William Brand
Staff writer

Article Launched: 06/03/2008 12:32:33 PM PDT

I’VE NEVER BEEN to Cologne, but I did spend one night at an inn near the city on my way west to France and I wandered into a pub where they served authentic Kolsch.
It was the pub’s major beer, and it came in a distinctive, tall, 0.2 liter glass called a “Stange.” It was a medium gold color — and being no fan of yellow American beer, I was a bit wary.

But after one sniff and a single hesitant taste, I became a fan. Let me correct that; I became a big fan: Shocking, silky malt, spicy, quenching hoppy follow.

I was on a tour and Cologne, the famous cathedral city bombed back into the Stone Age during World War II, unfortunately, wasn’t on the agenda. But since then I’ve chased American-made Kolsch-style ales relentlessly. Mostly, they just don’t equal the real thing. They’re just yellow beer, often finished with aggressive, piney, citrusy American hops like Cascades.

But American craft brewers are a creative, often sensitive lot, and American Kolsch-style beers are getting better. They’re being made with German pale malted barley, finished with the appropriate German Hallertau hops. The only problem remaining appears to be the often-ancient, proprietary yeast used in the brewhouses in Cologne. The yeast provides some of the finishing spice and the hard-to-describe earthy, mild fruity notes. Brewers in Cologin (in German it’s Koln) also lager their top fermented Kolsch at cold temperature, which mellows the fruity esters produced by the yeast.

Alaskan Summer Ale label 2008But the other night during a visit to Hopmonk, the new pub-beer garden in Sebastopol, I tried Alaskan Summer Ale and gasped. I thought for a moment I was back in Germany.

Then I realized there was a slightly different spiciness as well. But it was anything but off-putting. Alaskan’s Ashley Johnston says the grain bill includes speciality malts and malted wheat as well. The brewers say the spicy finish comes from the finishing hops.

Alaskan Summer Ale ***½, from Alaskan Brewing, Juneau, Alaska, is our Beer of the Week. It has a mild, spicy nose. True, it’s “yellow beer,” but the taste is full and mouth-filling, not sweet. Finish is dry with a pleasing mild, spicy finish. It’s a perfect summer beer. Forget PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) and the rest of that ilk. They taste overly sweet and corny by comparison.

I’m not alone in loving this one. It won a first place gold medal in April at the World Beer Cup in San Diego. The World Beer Cup is the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association international companion to the Great American Beer Festival: blind tastings, professionally-trained judges.

You don’t have to visit Hopmonk to sample Alaskan Summer Ale. It’s widely available in the Bay Area in 12-ounce bottles. But let me recommend Hopmonk. It’s the first pub that Dean Biersh, co-founder of Gordon Biersch, has opened in eight years, and he’s done everything right. If you’re being dragged northward to visit wineries, convince your people to stop at Hopmonk for lunch.

By the way, another excellent Kolsch-style ale’s made right here in Berkeley: It’s Pyramid’s Curve Ball ***. Over in San Francisco, Dave McLean at Magnolia (1398 Haight St.) makes Kalifornia Kolsh, a hoppy, very American version. Magnolia, incidentally, has just re-opened after a makeover with a greatly improved kitchen. It is, McLean says, becoming a “gastropub.” That’s U.K. slang for a pub that focuses on good food.

OK, what’s your fave Kolsch? Or do you hate the style? Let us know.


Curious about New Belgium Brewing? Here’s a column I wrote on March 28, 2007.

New Belgium SpringboardMOST OF US who are into good beer are aware of Fat Tire (**) the amber ale if not the brewery, New Belgium of Fort Collins, Co. When home brewer Jeff Lebesch and his wife, Kim Jordan, founded the craft brewery in 1991 after a bicycle trek through Belgium, they made a number of smart moves. One of these was to hire Peter Bouckaert, Belgian-born, Belgian-trained, as their brewer. So, while New Belgium has been churning out category leaders and best sellers such as Fat Tire, Blue Paddle Pilsner (**+) and Sunshine Wheat (***), Bouckaert has also had free rein to be, well, Belgian.His philosophy, he explained at chef Bruce Paton’s memorable Belgian Beer Dinner last year, is this: What matters most, he said, is whether or not he likes the taste. “That’s what’s important. We’re in the business of creating 10 minutes of pleasure. So just enjoy it,” he said.

By free rein, I’m not kidding. Beer fermented with wild yeast, with different yeasts, with odd ingredients, fermented in wooden barrels, re-fermented. You name it. Consider New Belgium’s spring seasonal, Springboard. It’s almost all of the above. Strange spices, addition of beer aged in barrels, whew.

Springboard (***+) is amazing, and it’s our Beer of the Week. I’m with Peter on this one. I liked it. It was 10 minutes of pleasure. A cloudy lemon color, the beer has a spicy, fruity nose rising from a large, lasting head of rocky foam. It has a full mouth-feel and an unusual, drying, spicy, herbal finish.

One caution: This is a beer to drink fairly cold. When it warms, the spices tend to take over and create a dry, almost herbal drink.

In all honesty, I believe this is the first time I’ve ever had to look up ingredients. Besides two-row pale barley malt, there’s a percentage of oats, which the brewer says adds to the full, malty taste. The fresh beer is blended with a bit of beer fermented in barrels.

The herbs are Schisandra and Goji berries. According to Wikipedia, Goji berries are renowned in Asia as a nutrient-rich natural food and have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for eons. Schisandra is a Chinese plant with bright red berries that have a sour, sweet, salty and bitter taste.

Springboard also has wormwood, the spice used in absinthe, the potent distilled drink made famous by artists in Paris early in the 20th century.

Quite a package; can’t wait to see what New Belgium does next.