Saturday, December 29, 2007

Catching Up a Bit

I've been enjoying my time in Southern Oregon with family and old friends so much that I've pretty much neglected life 'on-line'. This morning I was able to catch up a bit, however, reading through several pieces I thought would be of some interest for you all.

First, a piece from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution which highlights a few struggles brewers in Georgia face with new proposed laws/restrictions.
Tasting tours are coming under scrutiny as state regulators revamp rules governing the production, distribution and sale of alcohol products. Under a new set of proposed rules being unveiled this week, visitors to Georgia's microbreweries may soon be limited to 24 ounces of beer, roughly half of the self-imposed amount brewers poured.
There's also an interesting quote from the man who runs the Dept of Revenue for the state, which oversees such things.

The next story I found through Hop Talk (another quality beer blog). They quote an article posted on the Knoxville News Sentinel that discusses the somewhat new trend of business savvy brewers and breweries around the US.

The biggest beneficiary of the emergence of the craft brewer as executive may wind up being the consumer as more companies use their new skills to secure distribution contracts that allow them to offer their brews to a wider audience.

The business know-how is also helping brewers negotiate supply contracts for ingredients - a necessity in a period of sharp price increases for commodities and packaging materials.

Overall, a good read.

The final piece I'll share with you all is about the decline in German beer consumption.
Per-capita consumption of beer in Germany, once the world's largest consumer of the drink, fell by 3.5 liters in 2007 to 112.5 liters -- the eighth decline in the last nine years.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Holidays

The bags are packed and soon we'll be on our way to visit our families for this holiday season. All of us at Pacific Brew News wish you safe travels, good times and good beers. I'll be in Oregon for about a week and may have the chance to post an entry or two if there's anything worth posting, but likely we'll be 'offline' till around the new year.

Last night Tracy and I made a quick trip up to Auburn Alehouse to meet up with Mike and Terri. Mike had texted me earlier in the day to tell me Brian's barleywine had been tapped and was flowing from the taps, all the motivation needed to drive up the hill a bit. I was happy I did too, and from the looks of it Mike was happy to have also made the discovery. We enjoyed a snifter of barleywine, along with Brian's masterfully crafted pilsner, great beers with great friends, from a great brewer in a great bar. What more could you hope for?

Thank you all for the kind words, news tips, suggestions and overall support. Mike, Mark and I do this as a hobby and it certainly an easier thing to enjoy with the emails and posts. If you're heading to a brewery this holiday season remember to tip well and be generous with your compliments - these people are busting their humps to serve us.

I am looking forward to my first trip to Southern Oregon Brewing Company, recently opened in Medford, along with trips to Standing Stone and Caldera Brewing in Ashland, perhaps even a quick trip up north to Grants Pass and a few drinks at Wild River Brewing. I also wouldn't mind catching up with Russ at Walkabout Brewing in Central Point, but it may not happen as he enjoys getting back to his home land of Australia this time of year.

Rumors suggest that Mike will be making a trip to Berkeley to check out the beer scene there - a beer scene he is familiar with. I've even heard it suggested the guy will be at Russian River before too long, hoping for a rare sighting of Pliny the Younger and Big Huge Pils. I surmise that his timing is no accident, having lost our local supply of Hop Stoopid on tap only three days ago. Besides, nothing says 'ho ho ho!' quite like a seat in front of Vinnie's taps, taking in the aroma of Blind Pig and savoring the rich flavors of Pliny the Elder. Oh, and with a barkeep on duty whose name is Christmas, you'd assume a trip to this place was almost mandatory for beer loving folks in the area.

Hopefully we'll all gather together in early January to share our spoils, the growlers of good beer collected along the way. If that happens, we'll do our best to pass on the notes and audio for your pleasure. Till then, be safe and do what you can to enjoy the season.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Devil's in the Details

I read a whole hell of a lot every day; whether it's online, in print or even on TV, especially about the beer industry. I hope this blog helps pass on some info we all glean so that you don't have to read it all, as do other great beer bloggers online today. With that said, I read the Fitch Ratings for Anheuser-Busch in its entirety, something I suspect I wouldn't just volunteer to read had I a different job and passion. In this there's some pretty important and revealing information for those of us who enjoy our craft beer. I'll try to keep this short.

Domestically, BUD participates in a mature beer market and is facing growing competition from craft and imported beers as well as spirits and wine. In addition, rising energy and commodity costs have pressured margins recently. Price increases instituted in the United States late in 2006 and the beginning of 2007 and less promotional activity have produced a better than expected operating performance in 2007. BUD is again raising prices going into 2008, which should help to partially offset continuing rises in commodity costs, particularly agricultural ingredients. The pending SABMiller/Molson Coors joint venture, which could close in the second quarter of 2008, is expected to eventually result in additional competitive pressure on BUD's brands but may sustain an improved pricing environment.

Longer term, low domestic beer volume trends, limits on pricing actions, changing consumer tastes regarding craft and imported beers as well as other alcoholic beverages, and trading up to more premium products are concerns. Expected profit growth from international markets including equity investments, which accounted for 24.5% of net income in 2006 up from 14.2% in 2000, somewhat offsets potential weakness in domestic operations.

A few things I find important to note.
  1. "facing growing competition from craft and imported beers..." No surprise here, right? Hooray for craft beer!
  2. "rising energy and commodity costs have pressured margins recently." OK, pay attention to this. If there's ANY concern with margins and costs with energy and commodity prices for A-B, you can bet your shiny pennies that craft brewers are feeling the squeeze even more. Why? Well, it sorta says it when it talks about 'economies of scale' prior to this quote. A-B accounts for 48.4% of beer's total market share in the US today, which means they get the sweetest deals in terms of raw material and indirect costs... and not just by a little bit.
  3. "BUD is again raising prices going into 2008..." Did that get your attention? If you missed the point of number 2, this is it folks. Price of beer is going up, and if there's an exponential savings afforded to A-B for their buying power and sheer size, you can assume an exponential nature in price increases for your favorite craft beers. Now, there is something we've got going for us, the vast majority of brewers in the country are private businesses owned by a few investors. It is more likely that these people won't demand equal compensation, like A-B's share holders, but they're business people too and won't sit back and just eat all the new/rising costs of materials. Remember this. Your beer will be more expensive in 2008, but you can rest assured this increase isn't making your favorite brewers rich. Tip well.
  4. "... changing consumer tastes regarding craft and imported beers... and trading up to more premium products are concerns." Interesting, I think that's pretty self explanatory.
The report referenced was all supporting one thing, Anheuser-Busch is still a "stable" investment, regardless of the items mentioned here. Why? Seems largely due to their impressive cash flow and manageable debt. You can read that to also say, they can absorb the flux in material pricing experienced globally right now. Can the same be said for the craft brewers of the world? I suspect, for the most part, they can. I really don't think we'll see a horrific year of doom and gloom - I just don't see it happening. However, I suspect there are more than a few who don't have the cash-flow and perhaps lack the credit to get them through these price increases.

Birthday Cheer: Jeff Bearer

Best known for his role in Craft Beer Radio, Jeff Bearer and I were born a mere six days apart in December, 1976. I've had the pleasure of drinking with Jeff on at least two occasions the last couple years and consider the guy a friend - even if he sounds like a Muppet. In fact, I was fortunate enough to become an official beer taster at the Budweiser facility with him and it turns out we both sucked at tasting Bud. Somewhere I even have the certificate to prove this happened, perhaps it's still be hanging on my fridge. If only Vinnie gave us a matching certificate while downing beers at Russian River.

Here's a fine picture of Jeff at this year's media tour of the Anheuser-Busch barley malting facility, in a super-top-secret location in the northwestern United States. Jeff and his co-host Greg have been on these tours for the last couple of years, a well-deserved nod for the world's most popular craft beer podcasters.

Happy 31st birthday, Mr. Jeff Bearer!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

21 Debate Moves Forward

Just ran across this story about a Rep in Kentucky, David Floyd, wanting to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18 for military personnel. I don't see this going anywhere, but it's interesting to see the conversation even taking place. In his own words:
“What do I say to a soldier who comes back from Iraq, having served his country and asks me if he could have a beer?” said Rep. David Floyd of Bardstown. “And I just could not possibly imagine myself saying, ‘No, son. You're too young.'”

This week, Floyd pre-filed a bill making it legal for military personnel 18 years or older to drink. That would apply to bars and the purchase of beer or liquor at stores.
While I believe 18 year old service men and women should be afforded the right to drink, I disagree with giving those in service a 'pass' as it were in this regard while non-service men and women of the same age aren't included. Hopefully the day will come with all adults have the same rights to alcohol, or we simply redefine what "adult" really means.

Hey, This Mayor Makes Sense

In the far northern region of California, in the heart of the Siskiyou Mountains, is a small town named Weed. I stop in Weed several times a year as I travel to my folks' place in Southern Oregon, the people are great and there's quite a nice 'homey' feel to the downtown area - this, by the way, is not a big city, it's barely a small town. Anyway, Weed is home to a nice little brewery, Mount Shasta Brewing Company, that recently was granted permits for an outdoor beer garden, a place for tourists and locals to enjoy a pint (or sampler) of beer when the weather is nice (and it can be down-right beautiful).

Not surprisingly a few town-folk got mad about this new development. After all, the brewery was 'near' a park and a public swimming pool where youngsters could be corrupted by the view of adults enjoying a beer. Petitions were filed and an appeal was made to revoke the license, for the kids' sake of course. Finally, the city council convened over the matter and a shocking clarity of opinion was expressed by none other than the Mayor of Weed. But first, let's get an idea of what the city was fighting here (this is from the Mt. Shasta Herald).
“Children use the swimming pool all the time,” said Gubetta, “this is too close to the park, it's not right.”
Well, that's almost logical, right? I mean, what if a kid accidentally mistakes the beer garden for the park and then gets his hands on a few pints of beer - don't you care about poor Johnny, you know he gets confused... and garden, park... they're so similar sounding. I may be a bit mean there, but come on.

The mayor had this to say in response.
“in regards to the park, people can go to the park with a keg of beer and cook, and get drunk. So, being next to the park, as far as I'm concerned, is a little insignificant.”
Whoa, seems the only logical thing to do now is ban alcohol in the park, lest the kids be forever endangered by the evils of beer.

In all seriousness, I am impressed with the logic expressed here by the mayor. I'm even more impressed with his next comment.
“I don't think some people understand what a beer garden is. It's not a bar or a party house, it's a place where people go to taste beer and have a sandwich or a hot dog. It's not a place where people typically go to get drunk and party, that's not what a microbrewery is.”
How do you like that? I couldn't agree more with this rational statement expressed in a meeting where it seemed some lacked reason. Wouldn't it be great if all city representatives had the same reasoning ability, to be able to look at the world around them and realize that it isn't black and white? I love that this mayor understands the business of his town, that he can distinguish a beer garden from a frat house. Score of for Mayor Sutton.

Welcome, Lance Brent!

I am simply overjoyed today, as late last night one of the world's best people, my cousin Holly, delivered a nine pound, five ounce baby boy! His name is Lance Brent and measures in at 21 inches in length. Baby and mother are doing well, in good health - what more can you ask for? I don't have any pictures yet and I so wish I could be there today to see him (and Holly and her husband, Logan). A couple years ago I officiated the wedding of Holly and Logan, they're about the coolest people you could hope to meet: farmers in eastern Oregon, they're among the hardest workers you'll ever find. For them to bring a child into the world is truly cause for celebration.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A-B Increases Ad Budget for 2008

As if we weren't already saturated with the goofy, often entertaining ads from Anheuser-Busch, it seems that 2008 will feature more Bud, more of the time.
A-B will spend about $70 million more than it has this year on advertisements for its top-selling beers, Bud Light and Budweiser, according to the Journal's online story. Also, its other two core brands, Michelob and Michelob Ultra, will receive about $30 million in ads focusing on the traditional way A-B brews the beer.
This story goes on to say that A-B paid $247 Million in the FIRST SIX MONTHS of 2007, which would suggest an annual budget of just under $500 Million! With about 60% of their ad budget highlighting their four core brands, it seems safe to say that we'll be seeing a lot more advertising from the company that only has a 48.4 market share in the US beer market. I suspect the 70 million extra dollars won't do a whole lot to get them to 48.5, if trends of the last several years continue (and there's no reason to think they won't).

The most intriguing part of this press-release looking story is the last paragraph where they tell us what A-B is.
St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. (NYSE: BUD), the largest domestic brewer, manufactures and recycles aluminum cans and operates theme parks.
I know it's all true, but the manufacturer and recycling bit struck me as odd. I don't really know why yet.

Anyway, look forward to a few more Bud and Bud Light ads in 2008, it seems they'll be here whether you want them or not.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Coffee Roasting: A New Hobby

Taking a beer detour. I think this may have to do with just turning in a pile of beer writings, my brain and palate needs a reprieve from the topic - if only for a moment.

I like to make things in the kitchen and believe I'm a pretty good cook, with an ability to roast, grill, bake and generally make food that tastes good. About four years ago I began making my own beer at home, starting with the extract method (which I still do today when time's an issue) and then moving into all grain - then onto my own recipe development. Experimenting, after all, is more than half the fun in my kitchen. I have a lot of cookbooks, but I see them as more as a guide and an inspiration more than a directive (unless baking).

A few weeks back my wife and I started a new kitchen hobby: Roasting Coffee. The coffee roaster was a mutual gift to ourselves and we were amazed at how easy it was to roast really good coffee beans. We're still learning and when we get comfortable with the process we'll begin tinkering with different roasts (from light to dark). For now, however, let me just say that this is a hobby worth picking up if you like good coffee. We used to drink mochas, with some chocolate and milk added, but with our home roasted beans we've been thoroughly enjoying our coffee straight up.

Right now we're working through a Sumatran bean, Classic Mandheling. We roast this pretty dark, but not burnt like a Vienna or French roast, and the flavors are intense: earthy, nutty, floral, chocolate and even a bit fruity! And the body, wow! I never knew coffee could be so deep and complex - and no, my favorite coffee shop was not a Starbucks before we started this.

If you're looking at perhaps doing something different in 2008, this may be a good hobby to pick up (assuming, of course, that you're already making your own beer). The roaster isn't cheap, but there are options to make it affordable if you're handy (I am decidedly footy when it comes to mechanics - can barely replace batteries in my remote), the green beans are affordable and the time it takes to make a few days worth of great coffee is under 20 minutes, including clean up! With the advice of a friend, Dr. Death, we checked out Sweet Maria's for all our supplies and they've been more than helpful along the way. I think you'll agree the hobby is easy and highly rewarding.

As an aside, perhaps a post script, I have noticed that there are a whole slew of beer enthusiasts that seem OK with mainstream food and drink. I find that a bit odd, the notion that one is passionate and interested in the quality of their beer, but seemingly fine with industrial foods (American cheese, white bread, McDonalds and BK come to mind). With this in mind, I often wonder why. Why is it that the same person that argues the brewing capacity of a 'real' craft brewery doesn't seem all that interested in the other, admittedly larger parts of daily consumption? With my mind a bit on coffee now, I can recall a whole lot of friends that only buy better beer, wake up and brew Folders to go with their pop-tart or Eggo waffle. This thought is clearly incomplete, but is mine - figured I'd share.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I Am Not a Criminal

I have a job that demands I ship beer from point A to point B on a consistent basis, but laws and rules in the private sector don't allow shipment of beer for folks like me. In fact, as I learned today, they don't allow for shipment of beer by most anybody. Stay with me, this could be a rough ride.

Today I went to FedEx to ship beers to the office to be photographed. I brought in a single box to the office and began to fill the out the paperwork when I was asked what was inside the box. Knowing I can't ship beer I told the lady behind the counter I was shipping 'stuff', I can't really remember if I said "yeast samples" or "books" or "cds"... but it wasn't 'beer'. [The beers weren't rattling, there was nothing to provoke the following actions of the help.] She proceeded to open the box of beer, revealing the true contents for her and others to see. A gassed, she explained how what I was doing was against state and federal laws and could wind me in jail for 10 years or a fine of 25k dollars. I tried to explain that these weren't for consumption and that they weren't being illegally sold or moved. To no avail, I was busted, flagged and 'let off with a warning' (a phrase I remember a cop telling me in my adolescence).

To say I left there upset would be a gross understatement, I was embarrassed, mad and bordering on tears of frustration for the way they made me feel. Sadly, the more I thought about this the more angry I became, realizing that I had been made a criminal by laws that have little more purpose, rules that aren't for governing so much as they're for controlling. How is it that I can be of legal age and rightfully in possession of this product, yet unable to ship it to another individual who is of age and in all ways 'legal'? What gives?

In my steaming anger I called FedEx to figure out a few things. Now keep in mind here that I wasn't calling to complain, my call was to simply ask "how" I could send beer legally from point A to point B. According to these guys, I can't. "I can't ship alcohol in this country, legally?" I asked the help on the phone. "Rules state you can ship wine, but only from the winery to licensed vendor" was her answer, followed by "beer and other hard alcohol is not allowed". I quizzed bit at this point, blood boiling and mind collapsing. "So, can a winery ship sparkling wine", thinking perhaps they had fears of carbonated alcohol in bottles, thus the rules banning beer. "Yes, as long as it is wine", she replied. This next question was just me being a dick, I know. "What about champagne?" She answered, "No, I don't think that's allowed either."

Not even getting to the lack of help offered at this point, I'll just say that I find it hard to imagine that we can't ship beer legally in this country. I was, at this point, dumbfounded. I didn't know what to say, what I could do, so I just kept talking, trying to find a way to get my job - they way I make my living now - done.

As I type this, many hours later, I can't recall exactly how I got transferred to the Hazardous Materials Dept of FedEx, but I did. "If you really wanted to, you could burn beer" the new voice on the phone explained, telling me why exactly beer wasn't allowed. "Actually, no you can't. It's a different kind of alcohol." I replied, at this point quite calm and collected (I admit, at this point I knew I was getting nowhere and that I wasn't going to change anything - I just don't give up that easily). The guy seemed genuinely pleased to hear you can't burn beer, saying something along the lines of "then it isn't a hazardous material, let me transfer you to someone who can help you." Thus, he did.

"International Delivery, my name is [blank], how can I help you" was my greeting from helpful voice number three. Again, I told her that I had to ship beer from point A to point be, for work, and needed to figure out how I can legally do this. Clearly my brain's collapse was in full effect now because I don't even remember how this call ended, except that apparently shipping beer in the US is a cross between smuggling heroine and c4 explosives to toddlers. I know I have sputtered more swear words tonight than I have in a really long time, I simply cannot express in any better way the way I feel right now, except to say "fuck!".

How can this be? I know you know tips and tricks to get around this, but what does that say? We have rules in the books that make you, me and others like us (tens of thousands at least) criminals! I am not a drug dealer. I don't distribute child porn. I don't even sell cheap Viagra. So, why then do I need to sneak around like a common criminal to send a few beers to my office in Phoenix, just so they can be photographed? Why?!

Yes, there are bigger problems in the world today and in the whole big scheme of life, this is but a drop in a very large bucket. However, I feel ashamed, violated and uneasy about the next time I ship a beer to work - let alone the idea of trying to pass on to a friend across the country a gift of thanks or genuine appreciation. Congress, if you're worried about your tax revenue, I'll fill out a form and probably accept a tax for this privilege. There must be a way this can work, there's just no good reason it can't, right? Our current three-tier system won't really allow a compromise or deal with brewers around the country, so why not do SOMETHING that makes sense for all parties involved?

I ship a lot of beer, have for a while now. This is the second time a package has been opened and I've been made to feel this way. I can't help but wonder what would happen if some nimrod really had it out for folk like me, how far would they press and would they stop at anything less than the 10 year 25k punishment, or is this a perpetual slap on the wrist in a lame effort to enforce laws that simply don't make sense?

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Bane of Better Beer

As an unofficial charter of Pacific Brew News I say that I am about 'promoting' craft beer, which is one reason you'll not find poor reviews on this site or our podcast (for the most part). However, there is a subject I've been trying to ignore for far too long now, something I just didn't know how to approach.

The Turnkey Brewpub is a concept that is taking off here in Northern California. In fact, here in my home city of Roseville there are at least three such operations: Main Street Brewing; Owl Club and La Provence. These are a varied mix of establishments, ranging from high-end dining to the dirtiest bar in town. They've all installed 'micro breweries' in the last five years or so and each of them makes the most god-awful excuses for beer you'd imagine. Sadly, a couple places seem to attract large audiences of misguided and misinformed beer enthusiasts. I have so much distaste for these establishments, even though two of them serve otherwise good beers on tap. I'd love to rail on these owners a bit, and perhaps I will, but my harshest views are reserved for those selling this crap.

To begin, let's look at the sales pitch:
  • No over-priced brewpub system
  • No large floorspace needed
  • No grain storage or grinding
  • No spent grains to get rid of
  • And Most Important-No Brewmaster!
    Just Real Profits For Your brewpub
No over-priced brewpub system... that's rich! These cheap-o uni-tanks only run you 36-82k, depending one how cheap you care to be. Of course, if you use their ingredients and their methods, you can make and serve beer that only costs you 30 cents a pint!

Does this list piss you off as much as it does me? No spent grains to get rid of... how nice, I wonder if Vinnie at Russian River knows of this? Oh, wait, no Brewmaster either... we'll keep that a secret from him for today at least. Just real profits... without the hassle and fuss of actually having to brew beer at your new brewery.

I've dubbed these systems "dump and stir", based on the fact the only thing you need to do is open the bucket-o-powder, dump it in the magic beer maker and let is sit for five days. After this time you too can dupe your customers with cheap beer with good profit margins. I hate these. If I see them in a bar, my stomach turns. I wish I could round every last one of them up and throw them off the Bay Bridge. But, sadly, it appears they're here to stay and the only thing I can do is bitch and bellyache.

BACKGROUND

It doesn't take a math wiz to figure out why these systems are popping up all over Northern California, they're going for a 'brewery' license that allows restaurant owners to sell beer, wine AND spirits for far less money than the traditional liquor licenses we know well. I've tried to find the exact license for this online, but haven't had any luck. However, I've talked with owners for two facilities that have confirmed the installation of these systems was directly linked to a license that would allow them to bring in hard alcohol. The tanks take up nominal space and require absolutely no background with the process of brewing. Essentially, if you can make Kool-Aid you can make 'beer' on these monstrosities.

Somehow all this seems appealing to those who are out to make a buck, damn the fact that they're back-handing the world of true micro-brewers that work and sweat their asses off to make a real beer with real flavor.

WHY I CARE

I've been to these places too many times, seen young beer drinkers get their first 'craft beer' for two bucks and immediately long for the Coors they gave up for this. It embarrasses me to hear about a new 'craft brewer' in my city from eager and naive drinkers who are mainly happy a craft beer is the same price (often cheaper) than their favorite macro-beer. It embarrasses me more when I hear from the barkeeps how the place makes their own beer and that they can make all types of beer - "light and dark".

If you've not had the pleasure of sampling one of these beers, I can tell you they all pretty much taste of green apples, have no body and nothing going on for them. One may be yellow and the next a darker shade of yellow (I've yet to see one that I'd actually call brown). I have been asked to look at a couple of these to see how I can improve the products, and without an actual ability to boil water or (often) control the fermentation temperatures, the folks are just SOL.

Of course, you and I both know the deal here and we can get angry together at what we see, but what about those whose only beer knowledge comes from a TV ad? What about the patrons who we all know, those we frequently encourage to just try a craft beer? You think their first impression of the industry and beers we love will be glowing, or even better than shitty? I don't, and I can't really convey how that makes me feel.

SO WHAT?

I don't have the answer. I fear any complaints to the state would only trigger more dumbass inspections or retooling of the permit process - and that isn't good for anyone. I don't begrudge anyone the right to make a buck, after all, but where is the line in all this from an ethics perspective? I assume the owners know they're making crap (and selling crap), so perhaps ethics isn't an issue they'll care too much about. I don't have an answer, so I guess I've only got complaints. Sorry, sort of hate to be that way.

If you're considering opening a joint, or know someone who is, please steer clear of this practice. About the only place I could appreciate this system would be Taco Bell, or maybe KFC. To seriously believe you're buying a brewery with this is nothing short of absurd.

Favorites of 2007

With the year nearly done, it seems only natural that we take a few moments to reflect on the year of beer. The PBN team has had a pretty incredible time discovering beers, beer bars, breweries and bottle shops in 2007, so the list could have easily gotten out of hand. So, with that said let’s take a quick look at the “Favorites of 2007”, as told by Pacific Brew News. Notice, we did not say "the best" - although you can assume that many of these would bleed onto that list as well.

This year saw a few big parties up and down the west coast, from Toronado's 20th Anniversary (that's Vinnie pouring a special beer for that occasion) to the OBF celebrating 25 years. It was a pleasure being part of so much celebrating in 2007 and can't wait to see what's in store for next year.


In No Particular Order, With No Particular Theme

Mark "the Beer Geek" Zahn:
Pilsner by Auburn Alehouse
Isotope Double IPA by Auburn Alehouse
Harvest Ale by Sierra Nevada
IPA by Rubicon
Tripel by Maredsous
Tripel by Grimbergen
Hennepin by Ommegang
Maibock by Sudwerk
Pilsner by Schönramer
Hop Henge by Deschutes
Four by Allagash





"Big" Mike Sober:
Hop Stoopid by Lagunitas
Duet by Alpine
Blind Pig by Russian River
Hop Idiot by Coronado
Imperial Hefeweizen by Pyramid
West Coast IPA by Green Flash
Birthday Red by Lagunitas (brewed for Toronado’s 20th Anniversary)
Freedom IPA by Elk Grove
Imperial IPA Green Flash
Hog Heaven by Avery
Harvest Ale by Sierra Nevada


Rick "the host" Sellers:
Oude Kriek by Hanssen’s
Toronado’s 20th Anniversary by Russian River
Hop Stoopid by Lagunitas’
Dunkel Weizen by Hopf
Blind Pig by Russian River
Supplication by Russian River
Red and White by Dogfish Head
La Follie from New Belgium
Harvest Ale by Sierra Nevada
Hopsickle by Moylan’s

Thanks for another great year, we look forward to finding new beers with all of you in 2008.

Folsom's Newest Watering Hole: Manderes

I wrote last week of Manderes and the hype I was hearing from reps and distributors in the area, also mentioning they'd be open for business this weekend. It wasn't a big surprise then that Mike and Terri Sober found Tracy and I there yesterday, enjoying the area's newest beer haven.

Manderes is not an easy place to find, with a sign that seems to have been hung to keep people away, blending perfectly with the background and being dimly lit (if lit at all). That said, I was more than happy to find them, knowing as soon as I walked in I'd be there for a while. Greeting patrons walking in is a long, sleek bar with 20 taps of top-notch beer and literally 100 bottles of beer on the wall (yes, 100 bottles of beer). The warm color scheme, complimented by ceiling fans that are more modern than I and tile floors, are a welcome feel for a beer bar - a place where business lunches could be held or quiet evenings with your loved one.

The Beer

Owners Brent and Dave clearly have a taste for the finer things in life, as taps featured Maredsous, Chimay, Allagash, Brother Theloneous, Old Rasputin and a Belgian Quad from De Koningshoeven. In bottles, the lineup is equally impressive, with dozens of bottles from Belgium, Germany and Italy, featuring the finest from each country.

I met up with a group of local beer enthusiast friends and was happy they were there, affording me the opportunity to sample beers without getting trashed. For ourselves, Tracy and I enjoyed glasses of Allagash White, De Koningshoeven Quad and Old Rasputin, all poured fresh from the tap. The table next to us was full of eager beer nuts ordering bottles of beer and enthusiastically appreciating the area's newest beer joint. One fellow, a beer traveling man, told me he thought this place was a top-four beer bar for the entire state of California. I don't know if I'd put them that high in a state that boasts bars like Toronado, O'Briens and Liar's Club, but these guys certainly have a top-tier establishment. Will they stay that way? Too early to tell, the place isn't the easiest to get to and depend solely on word-of-mouth promotion, so no one really knows how their vision will play out long term, but I'm one who's desperately hoping this place succeeds and works to serve the masses of the Sacramento region for years to come.

I will go out on a limb here. Manderes, as it is today, is already the best the beer joint in my area. There is little doubt about that.

The Food

Manderes isn't just your run-of-the-mill beer joint. With immaculate seating and great lunch and dinner menus, you will be in no way embarrassed to go here with your date for a romantic meal. Tracy and I were there for lunch, so we ordered the Steak Salad and a Cheeseburger to share. The salad was fantastic, the beef cooked to order (rare for us) and too easy to enjoy - we both wanted more, even though the portions were generous. The burger was also impressive, served medium-well and topped with cheddar and blue cheeses (our choice) and atop a fresh made roll (not pre-packed buns). On the side of the burger was a fine wasabi sauce that was a hit with all at the table, just the right amount of heat, not overpowering the meal.

We were told by others that the dinner menu was perhaps better than lunch, with the pork dish (sorry, no name given for this) being good enough on its own to bring one patron back. Prices for the meal were appropriate, in the ten dollar a plate range for lunch. I suspect dinner options will run around 15-20 bucks per, but with the quality of the food and the care of presentation, it's money well spent. There were finger food options too for pub fare prices, so if you just need to have onion rings, you can get those too - although they're a bit gourmet.

The Atmosphere

From the newly laid tile flooring to the slick new flatscreens on the wall, this place was carefully designed for comfort. Nice tables, proper glassware for the beers you choose (not just pint glasses) and one ounce tasters from the taps ensure that you're time at Manderes will be as good as you'll get at any upscale restaurant in the 10-20 dollar per plate range. We were there in the height of Sunday football, and each TV featured a game for our viewing pleasure. However, unlike a 'sports bar', the volume was low and it was easy to converse with friends around us.

The help was more than friendly, and while it was all still new to them, they did a hell of a job making sure we had what we needed, what we ordered and that we weren't left wanting. There were the bumps you'd expect in a place like this on their opening day - sometimes it took a while for them to find the beer you asked for (and with over 100 in bottles, that was expected), but they never missed a beat when it came to making you feeling welcomed and appreciated.

Will I be back? You bet your ass I'll be back, hopefully soon.

Manderes
402 E. Bidwell
Folsom, Ca
http://www.manderes.com/

Saturday, December 8, 2007

BeerCaster's Christmas

When not writing on this blog or working for a magazine, I try to find time to create beer-based podcasts, and I'm not alone. This year for the Holidays a group of beer podcasters, friends, got a brilliant idea to do a video podcast beer exchange, and I was happy to be a part of that. I put our piece in without Mark and Mike because of time considerations, certainly wish I could have delayed my part a few days to get their input on this - but there's always next year.

Below is the video, if you're interested. It does contain strong language, beer consumption and one guy gets slapped. It also contains a lot of humor, well wishes and another illustration of the diversity and good-nature of those who love good beer.

I sent a few beers out to Muncie, Indiana, for the good folks of the Good Beer Show, headed by JeffreyT and received a wonderful beer from the guys at The Beer Report. You'll also get to see the guys from Craft Beer Radio, Should I Drink That, Speaking of Beer, Dude Night, Brain Gravy and Big Foamy Head. We are all part of Beer Safari.


Two Bars and a Bit of Booze

Last night my wife, Tracy, had a "social" with her classmates at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, which seems to be a quarterly event for the school and typically features pretty drinks and well mannered establishments. This night saw us arrive, for my first time, to Sacramento's Hangar 17, a hip industrial place in mid-town that features dimly lit tables, a long-ass bar, good finger foods and lots of flat-screen TVs. Sadly, the place had an awful beer selection, so I chose to enjoy the only decent offering of the 20+ bottles offered - Black Butte Porter. Luckily, I had been beer shopping earlier in the day so there was a Hopsickle that came in handy shortly after the BBP was consumed.

Not shockingly the management wasn't pleased with me bringing in a beer of my own and for a few minutes there was some tension until I finally convinced him I'd be 'more than happy' to pay a 'corkage' fee for the opportunity to drink a beer I would enjoy while there. I guess I don't get this, never have. I don't want to be a dick, but I also know my tastes and would rather have a good time with friends and a beer I love - rather than settling for something different. Wine folks seem to have a free pass on this, they frequently bring wine in to establishments and pay the nominal corkage fee while nobody bats an eye, and it is frustrating to have to justify this same practice with better beer.

What is more frustrating to me, however, is the fact that far too many 'up-scale' places skimp out on beer options. I honestly can't comprehend this! I've been to good beer bars and paid the price for a really good bottle of beer, just like I have done with wine or a well made mixed drink. I'm going out, after all. If I was all that worried about a few bucks, I'd stay home. Mark the beer up, I am not going to worry about it in a place and situation like this. Sell me a Belgian Dubbel or American IPA for 8 bucks, or provide a Lambic for 20 - that won't hurt or offend me and it may just encourage me to come back again. But to offer a vast selection of high-end booze and fine wines to compliment a horrid beer selection (no, quantity doesn't impress me when all your imports and American lagers all taste the same) is absurd. By the way, I blame the distributors and reps for this one. Case sales drive the reps business and they're focus is, perhaps rightfully, on the grocers and markets of the community. There is nobody going to a proprietor of fine dining and selling them on the value of better beer. Want to talk margins? I don't think offering a top-notch beer selection will hurt you in that area. Sorry.

Anyway, the place was nice (really, it was a great time) and we were there for several hours enjoying the Kings game (they lost to the Clippers), a seemingly endless supply of appetizers (all good) and good company. I eventually moved from my beer obsession to a top shelf margarita and the night never sucked.

From here a group of students decided to go and check out the 'new bar' in town, Whiskey Wild on Q and 21st. This is where life got interesting. Walking in to this swank 20-something hangout you're immediately impressed by the line of ladies on the bar in some odd and awkward attempt to relive Coyote Ugly. Immediately feeling sad for them and their obvious unease at this part of their job, I wasn't sure this place and me would work too well together - it was crowded, it was loud and I just wasn't convinced they'd have a drink for me. I was wrong.

Turns out there's three sections to this bar, thankfully. The front features ladies with low-cut shirts and men with low hanging pants, each trying to act as if nobody notices anybody and nobody cares (man, I'm so happy not to be in that life anymore). The back bar is quieter, seemingly made for the 30-something crowd I am now part of, with couples and groups of friends all gathered around enjoying conversations and good drinks (more on that soon). Finally, there's an outdoor patio that was underutilized on this cold night in Sacramento, a place of solace for me as I regained some hearing in my blasted ears.

Then, there's the drinks. Turns out this place has some pretty high end whiskey and tequila and a very impressive offering of bottled beer. Now, I know I don't know what constitutes a good whiskey or a fine tequila, so my assumptions are based on price and my own limited experience. For whiskey, it was a bit of a surprise to see Bookers available for sipping or adding to top shelf drinks, and that wasn't cheap. However, at this point my interest was back to beer - which surprised no one.

A bottle of Full Sail Session? Good start. Alaskan IPA on tap? Even better. Green Flash's West Coast IPA in a bottle, better yet. Now, I only ordered the West Coast IPA, mainly because I didn't want to overdo a fun night with friends, but it was good to know that a place like this didn't forget about the good beers of the world. Oh, just so you know, there was a lot more beer and many more good options to choose from.

How was the night? For my tastes, I don't plan on hitting Hangar 17 anytime soon, but Whiskey Wild could be a good place to meet friends on nights when quiet and calm are not on the menu, but good times and good drinks are.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Celebrating with Shmaltz

Earlier in the week I was fortunate enough to make my way to San Francisco's iconic Toronado for their party honoring He'Brew's (Shmaltz) 11th Anniversary and special pouring. I know I've gushed on about this place in the past, but there simply isn't a place I can think of that offers what I'm looking for in a beer bar better than what David Keene is doing out there. Sadly, speaking of David, he had to miss the festivities due to illness.

Sidenote: The current issue of DRAFT Magazine features Toronado as their Pub of the Month, which I was happy to write. I've receive a lot of good feedback on the piece, but I'd say that has more to do with the great quotes by Tomme Arthur at Port Brewing and Vinnie Cilurzo at Russian River (both major Big Daddy Keene fans). It was my first trip back since the article was published and was more than happy that the barkeeps had read it and liked it.

Back to business. The event started pretty casual, with Zak and Isaac both in attendance and providing finger food and a Chanukah cake (it was the second night of the Festival of Lights, after all). By 7pm the bar was hopping, with revelers of all types enjoying the fine beers on tap that night. Crowd favorites included the Jewbelation on Rye, Lenny on Rye and the 2006 Jewbelation. For my tastes, I couldn't get enough of last year's Jewbelation, the creamy body and deep, complex flavors were just spell binding.

Jeremy Cowan was fashionably late, a point we could criticize were it not for the fact his tardiness was caused by an appearance on CNBC's Donny Deutsch that afternoon on the east coast. When he arrived it was a wonderful thing to see his face as he gazed at "the board" and found an entire column of it dedicated to his beer. I've seen that look on other brewer's faces when they see a single beer of theirs on the board, further proving the 'lore' of this beer mecca.

Because of my lack of time, here's a quick list of things I remember of the night.
  • If you've never perused the bottle list, you're missing a real treasure of the Toronado. Talking with Wine Warehouse Beer Specialist, Peter, he passed on more than a passing praise for Dave's beer procurement abilities.
  • Don't let the rough exteriors fool you, the barkeeps at this place are about the friendliest folks you'd hope to meet, just don't ask 'what's good?' or 'anything new on tap?' or 'what do you suggest?' - you may be met with well deserved scorn.
  • I really do love my job. I went wearing a DRAFT polo shirt on and a dozen magazines in bag, just in case. First of all, it is cool to know that people even know about the magazine. I had several people come up and mention their thoughts on the publication, most of it very good. Second, I didn't bring near enough.
  • Walking in the city is a wonderful thing. My wife and I stayed at Cathedral Hill Hotel, which is home to Bruce Patton's monthly beer dinners, and decided to walk from there to the Toronado. The night was brisk, the walk mostly downhill, and each block interesting. In particular, we found the City Hall area to be stunningly beautiful at night and for the holidays.
  • Peete's Coffee kicks ass. I'm not a major coffee dork, but that seems to be the best chain coffee joint I've found, blowing Starbucks out of the water.
  • Cab's in the city are fun, so long as you don't take yourself too seriously. Our driver on the way back to the hotel was a real character, short tempered and in a sort of hurry that made us wish he'd have a beer.
  • Driving in the city is a bad idea, even before you have beer. I've learned that over the years, if you're going to the city and plan on hitting up the good breweries, restaurants or bars, a hotel is an absolute must! I only live 90 miles away, but I'm more than happy to drive my big car to the hotel and walk/cab-it for however long I'm there.
  • Duck/Fig sausage next door to the Toronado doesn't suck.
  • Neither does Ali Baba's lamb schwarma wrap.
  • Jeremy Cowan is a great guy, with a smile that just won't quit. In fact, the Shmaltz crew all seemed to be top-notch personalities.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Meaning of Christmas (Beer)

For this month's Session, Ted at Barley Vine has selected the theme of Winter Seasonal Beer, and this is my contribution to the cause.

What is Winter? Clearly, the temperature has dropped, and now as I sit here on my couch I can hear the rain falling. The air this morning was foggy and the morning commutes are sloppy at best. This is winter, we all know that. What we can't seem to figure out, however, is what the heck Winter Beer is.

Holiday Sweets
A-B has released their Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale again this year, an horrifically sweet beer made with too much vanilla and too little balance. Should we take our lead from these guys, you might get the impression the Winter Beer is sweet beer, thin and shallow, the 'white elephant' gift of the season of specialty beers. While A-B's has the sweetness and lacks the character, there are several beers out there right now that lean on the sweets, but offer a bit more depth: Brown Shugga by Lagunitas, Winter Solstice by Anderson Valley and even Alaskan's Winter Ale can be considered among this category.

I don't dislike these beers, some of them I quite enjoy. However, when I look outside and as I avoid the malls of the region, these just aren't what I dream of having at the end of the day. So, no, not Winter Beers in my book.

High Hops & Deep Snow
A staple of in my home each and every winter is Sierra Nevada's Celebration, a brilliant beer for certain. With hops bursting through the aroma and taste there is little doubt in anyone's mind that this is a wonderfully crafted American IPA. Among the beers in the aisle this time of year, there are a few who take the high-hopped road, seemingly giving the glass-lined gift to the hop heads of the world. Among the hopped beers of the day: New Belgium's 2 Degrees and Avery's Hog Heaven.

Yeah, I love these kind of beers, but I'm a fairly proud hop head so that shouldn't be a major surprise. That said, there's just nothing about these beers (apart for the pleasure I have each time I open one) that defines the holiday season.

Getting Close To Home
There's something comfortable about a big beer, with its warmth and full body you can easily find yourself longing for this in the cool and dreary nights of winter. It seems that Belgian brewers know a thing or two about brewing comfort, with beers like Scaldis Noel, Affligem Noel and Gulden Drak on the shelves proving their abilities. In fact, beers like these are great gifts this time of year, if you're looking to give the gift of beer. That said, for all the comfort and warmth each bottle offers, the beers just aren't the quintessential Winter Beer in my book.

Christmas in a Bottle
Every year the masterful brewers at Anchor Brewing release their ode to the holidays. Not only is the beer excellent tasting, but every year their beer undergoes a recipe change - making this a surprise every year for those who find the beer. This year's version is among my favorites they've offered, with smells and tastes like... Christmas.

Now, I can't think of a beer that is like Anchor. Sure, there are beers that have spruce, juniper and spice... but nothing like this. This isn't a beer you long for in the heat of summer, not something that goes well with sushi or hot dogs. This is, however, the beer you'd be proud to serve to eager and loved guests, or bring to your friends' holiday parties. The aroma, the taste and comfortable body are the best beer way to say "Merry Christmas".

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Enjoy a Good Beer Today

Need motivation for that? On this day (December 5th) back in 1933, the 21st Amendment was ratified by congress, paving the way for Americans to legally enjoy a cold one. While enjoying your beer, consider this quote by John D Rockefeller, Jr, who was once an avid supporter of Prohibition in the US - clearly he understood the flaw in his hopes.
When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognised. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.

MD and the Spririt of Giving

You're likely growing weary of the pleas to be generous this time of year, but this message may just be something you won't mind doing. Modern Drunkard has an old story, called 40 Things, with a list of things the cool drunkard will do before moving on. Two of them you might try to cross off your list this holiday season.

10.) Extravagantly overtip a bartender.
The next time a bartender is especially kind or proficient, lay a massive tip on her. I mean, massive. You must be relatively sober or they’ll discount the act as drunken foolishness. Say something smooth like, “You’re the best of your kind,” drop the bomb, and—this is important—walk out of the bar without another word. With this single act of unexpected generosity, you will restore a bartender’s faith in humanity and give your own self-image a healthy boost.

I bet many of you have plans to visit a place or two that serves alcohol this time of year, maybe this is a good time to cross this off the list of things to do.

This next piece has a story to go along with it from our local news personalities.

26.) Give a hobo twenty bucks.
Make him promise he’s going to spend it on hooch. It won’t be a hard sell. Twenty bucks is the price of a crappy shirt to you, to our alley brethren it’s a gift from the gods.

Just before Thanksgiving a Sacramento "morning news" TV personality gave a case of beer to a homeless person, which drew venomous attacks from those who thought it was mean, cruel, demeaning or otherwise tasteless. One such attacker was noted to say something along the lines that it was probably alcohol that led the the person's plight.

As someone who has a bit of experience working with this population, I don't think there's any harm in the generous giving of booze to someone on the street. I mean, we give gifts of beer and wine to those we love, how much more charitable is it to pass on this same gift to someone we don't know? Just a thought. I mean, what else were you going to do with that 20 bucks?

The '40 Things' list is a good, fun read for a dreary Tuesday afternoon. If you choose to pursue a life that sees you happily crossing off everything on the list, I hope you are a good writer because the adventures could prove to be fun reading.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

2007 Winter Beer Tasting

This weekend saw the third annual SOBER Winter Beer Tasting, a gathering of good friends, food and the newest round of Winter beers on the shelves. The tasting featured 14 beers for competition, and a few beers from years past we have been holding on to. The event is pretty well organized, I suppose the fact that many of us judge at competitions throughout the year helps with that, and all beers are judged blind. This is not a sanctioned event by any means, but we do take notes and keep score, awarding 1st, 2nd and 3rd place awards for top finishers.

The Beers:
Frambozen, by New Belgium
Santa's Butt, by Ridgeway
Jubelale, by Deschutes
Noel, by Scaldis
Winter Solstice, by Anderson Valley
Vintage 2007, by Gulden Drak
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, by Anchor
2 Degrees, by New Belgium
Doppelbock, by Sudwerk
Celebration, by Sierra Nevada
Noel, by Affligem
Winter Ale, by Alaskan
Bad Elf, by Ridgeway
Brown Shugga, by Lagunitas

The Results
I won't get into a blow by blow account of the beers, but there were many surprises - beers that did well in the past that just weren't up to snuff, the winners the new look at beers we thought we knew. On that last point, we do a few blind tastings a year as a group and there is simply no better why to be honest about the beers you know best, no devotion to a product based on a label. I, for one, have enjoyed a few pints of one particular brand this season - to my surprise because I didn't like it last year. Well, when I had it blind, with only a number, it just wasn't what I remembered - and that was the general consensus.

So, in an attempt to keep this a bit short (I'm a bit tired tonight), I'll just pass on the results.
Affligem Noel - Honorable Mention
Scaldis Noel - Honorable Mention
Sierra Nevada Celebration - Third Place
Anchor Christmas - Second Place
Sudwerk Doppelbock - Best of Show
The scores for the final round were pretty freaking tight, meaning all the beers listed above were very good. There was a bit of debate in our BOS round about the number 2 and 3 order, because we found the Celebration to be a beer we could drink more of, but Anchor's offering was just so... Christmasy, which earned it a couple points to edge out Celebration. The Doppelbock by Sudwerk was just a treat. It wasn't everyone's 'favorite' beer, but when the scores were all averaged out, it was clear that everyone thought it was a top three beer - everyone.

I was more than a little disappointed in the showing by last year's winners, specifically Alaskan Winter Ale, Anderson Valley's Winter Solstice and Lagunitas' Brown Shugga. These beers just didn't do it for anyone in attendance. Luckily, we had a few bottles of the 2006 Brown Shugga to sip on when things were all done, a welcomed treat for all of us.

If you're so inclined, or if you'd like to hear the reactions from the tasting, check out the audio from the day - at under an hour this is heavily condensed and fairly manageable to get through.

Special Thanks
A big thanks to the SOBER crew there in attendance: Mike and Terri, Mark (beer geek), Jeff (radio personality and owner/host of Wild West Radio), Jose, Bob, Amy, Jay and Linda, Brian (owner/brewer at Auburn Ale House) my lovely wife Tracy - I can't wait for our Barleywine tasting in February.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Celebrate: He'Brew Turns Eleven

If you're in the Bay Area this week, you'll want to do what you can to make your way to Haight and Filmore (in San Francisco) to take part in He'Brew's 11th anniversary party. Jeremy Cowan, a guy you can't help but like, will be there to tap the Jewbelation 11, along with a few other Schmaltz products.

Keeping with their tradition, "11" was made using eleven types of malts and eleven hop varieties - they wimped out by not going for 11 types of yeast if you ask me. Maybe in 2008 they'll man up and bring in water from 12 different streams - just a thought. I've thoroughly enjoyed the previous Jewbelation offerings and look forward to trying this years version, hopefully with Jeremy on his big day.

In addition to the "11", the Toronado will also have on tap a few other great beers to enjoy. According to his email, this is the lineup:
  • Jewbelation 11
  • Jewbelation 11 on Rye (soaked in Rye Whiskey barrels)
  • Vintage Jewbelation - from 2006
  • Origin (Pomegranate Strong Ale)
  • Bittersweet Lenny's RIPA
  • Lenny on Rye (also aged in Rye Whiskey barrels)
  • Genesis
  • Messiah Bold
  • Coney Island Lager
NOTE: I have tried the Lenny on Rye and found it to be utterly fantastic, a unique flavor profile to be certain.

Can't make this? Don't worry, Jeremy's got two other San Francisco events lined up for the week.

December 6th
"3rd Night of Chanukah"
The Hotel Utah (500 4th Street, 9 pm, $6)

December 8th
Chanukah versus Christmas: The Battle Royale of Beers
The City Beer Store, 1168 Folsom St

Sacramento's Newest Beer Joint?

I've heard now from a couple reps and distributors that there is a new place about to open that will pique my interest, Manderas in Folsom. After calling a few times and emailing the owner, I got a call back this morning and have a few details to share. I can't vouch for the establishment, as far as what they deliver, but if you're in the area you'll want to check this out.

"We've got about 120 beers, 20 on tap" says owner Brent Whited. From the sounds of it, they've got a 'no crap on tap' policy and expect to rotate all their taps, a bold move I applaud. Of the 100 bottled beers, Whited says they represent the best of the region, as well as the northwest and fine imports. Talking with the reps and distributors, it sounds as if there is a great Belgian beer selection.

Brent wanted to be sure it was known that this isn't just a beer bar. With a fine wine selection and a food menu featuring American, Asian and Italian dishes, this is a place for socializing, either with a loved one or a group of friends. I was actually struck by how much the word 'social' came up in our conversation, obviously a goal they have for the place.

There is a bar and seating for 50 guests. Additionally, I got the impression that there was a patio in back that would be made available in the future - maybe when weather is more inviting. Manderas will also have TVs for those interested (although he claims this is not a sports bar) and WiFi for those on a working lunch.

They open on Sunday, December 9th, at 11 AM. I'll be there soon enough to check on all this, as it sounds like the kind of place I was hoping the region had just a couple days ago.

Mark your calendars. Manderas will be hosting a Winter Beer tasting on December 13th, an aggressive and bold move if you ask me. I like it.

More Info:
Manderas

View Larger Map
402 E. Bidwell St.
Folsom, Ca
(916) 986-9655
http://www.manderes.com/
Owners: Brent Whited and Dave Matthews

Friday, November 30, 2007

South Salt Lake City Seeks to Remove Beer Bars

I ran across this story to, out of Utah, about the South Salt Lake city counsel's frustration with the plethora of beer bars - all 24 of them. Apparently, the city has a crime problem and we all know that there's a direct correlation between crime and beer bars... or not. Now, in general I don't care too much if any city wants to limit the number of beer bar licenses they allow. However, this is not the case.

In normal, thoughtful cities bar owners are allowed to transfer alcohol licenses when and if they sell their bar - I mean, that is the business. Right? This is the right thing today because anyone who has purchased the bar from a prior owner ponied up the money for the license.
A few years ago, the City Council capped those licenses at 15, hoping to trim the numbers as taverns folded. But the bars - including the mom-and-pop saloons on and near State Street - kept chugging along. Sellers simply transferred their beer licenses to bar buyers. Now the council, possibly as soon as next week, hopes to prohibit such transfers and thus, over time, slash the number of bars.
This, on the cover, is absurdity.
Anderson described South Salt Lake's resurrected push to thin out its bars as the next step of several to upgrade the city, cut crime and lighten the financial burden of excessive police and fire calls.
Then again, what do I know?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A-B Stocks: As Good as Their Beer?

No, this isn't a big surprise. If you're a craft beer enthusiast, you're likely familiar with the declining market share for this juggernaut brewery. However, it was interesting seeing this on MSNBC today.
Anheuser-Busch's recent weak stock performance reflects concerns surrounding the future for both the company and the overall beer market. While I don't see beer disappearing from our culture anytime soon, its sales growth has been anemic, while wine and spirits have become a more lucrative market. Within the domestic beer segment, consumer tastes are shifting away from mass-market brews, toward more flavorful craft beers and imports. The overall effect of these two trends has favored distillers like Diageo (NYSE: DEO) and Constellation Brands (NYSE: STZ) and smaller brewers like Boston Beer (NYSE: SAM).
Imagine that. Given the CHOICE, consumers seem to choose beers with flavor. Who would have figured that?

Oh, by the way, I don't want to appear to be mindlessly bashing A-B - I'm not. I think they're probably better for the craft beer industry than they get credit for. However, I don't really like that any company in any industry can have close to, or more than a 50% market share.

Also, if you're a big investor and want a good return on investment, check out what's going on in the craft beer market these days. If I had the means, I'd put my money in a VC to help a startup brewery with a good plan and an established brewer. There ya go, my financial tip of the year.

Where Have the Good Beer Bars Gone?

Yesterday was a bit of a sad day for me. I was to meet a beer rep in my area and it was arranged to meet at Vino's Wine and Cheese at three. I get there only to find they're no longer open before five. No biggy, we'll go to old town and check out the new Owl Club. Closed too. The Dirty Place across the street? Closed. Finally, we found our way into the Onyx club, a run down hell-hole with few beer options - I ordered and enjoyed a Blue Moon. The barkeep was nice, an old grizzled retired bus driver (school bus) who enjoyed the company.

Well, unsettled by the events of the day, I went back to The Dirty Place (properly known as Main Street Brewing) to find the owner just opening up - he'd been out shopping for the bar. I went in and was somewhat happy to see a few good beers on tap: Celebration, Hop Trip (by now, not so fresh) and Alaskan IPA. Steve talked it up a bit and seemed frustrated with the way things were headed, specifically with a few local distributors and their new ways. I won't take sides here by relaying his message, it was his beef and I don't know what end is up in that world.

In talking, however, we got on the Owl Club topic and his face told the story I didn't want to read. If you back up a bit, this story may make more sense I suppose.

The Owl Club used to be THE place for beer in the Sacramento area. In the 90's the manager, Jeff Scammon, brought the place to new heights, with regular pint nights and a rotating selection of beer that was nothing short of fantastic. They did have a few bottles of wine for those who needed, and there was bad-beer tucked in the back of a fridge for regulars who just didn't care for the craft beers on tap, but this place was all about the better beers.

Well, that went away a few years ago when the owners sold it to a real sonofabitch, a man who dismantled all that was good about this place. Bill took over with his son, Nathaniel, and it wasn't long after that the beers became more mainstream and the people were no longer interested. To say business there was slow would be a gross understatement - the place was dead. With Playboys on the bar and a dreary overall impression, all that was good about the Owl Club went away and we were left without a watering hole.

Bill finally sold the place to a woman we all appreciate. Thank God! I hadn't been in yet, so my conversation with Steve was a bit disappointing. It seems that new ownership of the Owl Club would like to convert this historic bar (oh, this place is about 100 years old, by the way - rich in history) into a 'lounge'. Roseville is a rich town, one of the wealthiest in the US to be honest, but there are two sides to the city. The rich side has a few 'lounges' already, places that focus on serving bland sweet drinks in fancy stemware from waitresses that are more than pretty - like the 'girl in the corner' in that Lyle Lovett song. The Owl Club is not in the rich part of town. Located a block from the biggest train yard in the region, among the largest in the country, the area isn't a bad one, but the high end clients found in the 'lounges' of the city wouldn't find their way to this area on purpose.

So, seems as though the Owl Club may be lost forever... but we're hoping.

After leaving old Roseville I headed over to Vino's to meet up with friends. Vino's, like Owl Club, has recently changed hands and we didn't think too much about it at the time because we didn't really think new owners could muck with the premier beer bar in the city. Built a couple years ago as a wine bar, upscale in appearance and attracting an audience who didn't mind buying high-end wines and beers, Vino's shocked the beer community when they rolled out their six-tap beer bar - all with top-notch beers of Northern California.

Well, last night seemed like a pseudo punk fest with people there drinking fake liquor and bad beer - from bottles. The bottles of Corona in the fridge were discouraging, the lack of inventory troubling, and the sheer apathy of the barkeeps sad - at one time I watched as a customer filled his own pint glass. I fear that this new ownership at Vino's may have a devastating impact on us beer lovers, leaving one last spot for a better beer: The Dirty Place.

Now, I really like the help at TDP - they're nice and have always been more than welcoming when there with friends. Their problem? Yeah, they are that dirty. Sticky bar, sticky floor, trash everywhere and bathrooms that seem as though they were just given up on. Thank god they have Racer 5, at least one standard rotating tap, a few other craft beers and the rest pouring the B/M/C stuff you expect at a dive bar.

Thinking about how things are turning in a city that 6 months ago seemed headed in the right direction is a bit sad. I want a watering hole, a place I can count on to have good beer pouring in an atmosphere I can take friends and business folk to - and I want it in my town, I don't want to battle traffic getting into Sacramento. I don't think Roseville is unique in this, however. I've talked with bar owners up and down the west coast and it seems that only those who build the bar from the ground up, those who started their bars, have the passion for beer that may mean slimmer margins in profit. I guess that makes sense though - those who buy bars are more likely to do so for profit concerns more than a passion for better beer. Sure, there are exceptions, but this is the way I see it.

Oh yes, there is good news. With Auburn Alehouse, Beermann's and BJ's all in the area, there will be no shortage of beer. The only problems are that Beermann's is only open on Friday, BJ's is almost always crowded with 20-somethings looking to score and AAH is a ways up the 80. I guess I just need to become wealthy quick so I can open a bar of my own. I've wanted to for a while now, actually. With that in mind, I'd best get to work.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tis the Season for Good Beer

There seems to be a new beer finding its way to my local beer shops every day around this time of year, the winter seasonals!  I've sampled quite a number of them already, with 2 Below by New Belgium being the most shocking thus far.  No, it wasn't the best beer, but I really (really) did not enjoy this beer last year - maybe I didn't 'get it' or perhaps my palate was just off.  Either way, I've found 2 Below to be a great hoppy beer this season.

OK, this isn't a beer review!  Among the vast selection of seasonal beers on the shelves now are beers that you should consider putting away for a few years.  I won't go into a list of beers for you to buy, but there are a few guidelines to remember this holiday season when you're buying beer, and these are in no particular order.
  • Smoked beers age better than you might expect.  In fact, I recently discovered that smoking malts serves as a preservative of sorts - similar to hops, but not.
  • Beers high in ABV generally age better, but... remember you have to actually like the beer before you lay it down.  Lots of alcohol doesn't guarantee 3 years will make it an exceptional beer.  If there's a beer out there that's over the top in alcohol, but tastes like hell, you can put it away if your only other choice is to toss it.  Just don't expect miracles.
  • High Hopped beers are good to age, really.  I recently enjoyed a bottle of 2005 Hopsickle that I found to be exceptional.  Yes, much of the signature qualities of the beer had gone away with time, but what was left was absolutely wonderful.  Just remember that if you're a hop fanatic, the kind that needs to feel assaulted by your beer, you may lose some of the endearing qualities of your favorite dumperial IPA when you lay it down for a few years.
  • Light beers don't age well.  I've tried too many Pilsners and Pale Ales, Wits and Hefes that have been forgotten on someone's shelf - they really aren't meant for aging.  Then again, I hear rumors that some of you actually like skunked beer.
  • Corked beer - lay it on its side if you're aging it for a long time.  If you keep it upright, the cork may dry and allow more oxygen into the bottle - which won't be horrible, but not great either.
  • Capped beer can be aged standing up just fine.
  • Sour beers can age forever, I am just convinced of that.  I had a 1994 lambic earlier this year that seemed as hard as the day it was bottled (not that I had it in 1994).  I've heard that well crafted Krieks will age for decades with no ill-effect.
  • Keep beer out of light if you're serious about doing a series of vertical tastings some year in the future.  You have some wiggle room on ambient temps, but generally you don't want them over 65 degrees because it can damage or kill whatever yeast may be in a bottle.  If you get a beer below 50 degrees it won't harm your beer, but you also won't be 'aging' it in a very effective way as the yeast will become dormant, lazy (like me in the winter).
  • Speaking of vertical tastings - age your beer for a good reason.  I don't necessarily think aging hundreds of beer just to say you have hundreds of beers is impressive.  You should try to collect a case of a few different beers every year (for me, I have years of Bigfoot and Anchor Christmas, along with Alaskan Smoked Porter I build upon each year) and then, when you have 5 or 7 years worth - enjoy them!  Bring a handful of friends over and either take notes or just see if you can detect the differences of the beer from year to year.  Vertical tastings are great, mind opening experiences.
  • Be patient.  If you can, don't open your collection for a few years, minimum.  
  • Belgian strong ales age wonderfully.
  • German strong lagers age wonderfully too.
As an aside of sorts, it is a good idea (in my mind) to give nice beers as Christmas gifts - especially when going to informal events for work or friends in the next few weeks.  Good beer is relatively cheap and almost always appreciated by those who receive it.  The last two years I attended "Pink Elephant" parties where gifts were exchanged - and they had to be under 10 dollars.  Well, just so happens I could pick up a 22oz Bourbon Barrel Barleywine from my local brewer for that price - so I picked up a case and put them in those cheap (but nice looking) wine bottle holders you see everywhere.  I kept the case in my trunk actually, as it seemed that you never knew when you'd bump into someone or find yourself in need of an emergency gift.  The beer was a hit, everywhere I went.  In fact, at one party were you're allowed to 'steal' gifts from someone, that bottle of barleywine was the most commonly stolen gift!

I know that Miller Light has an ad on TV now suggesting you give that as a gift for the holidays, but why?  If you're going to give the gift of beer to someone you know this year, at least make it a good beer.

With that, I bid you good day and happy shopping (anyone else love shopping online in order to avoid the holy hell that is The Mall?).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Christians Relaxed on Beer? Not So Fast

Well, this piece of news is certainly a bit off-beat, but beer-blog appropriate.  According to a Christian Net poll, a whopping 51% of Christians surveyed believe drinking beer is not "wrong".  Now, I'm no mathematician here, but does this mean that 49% of Christians polled believe, as the question is stated, it is "wrong for a Christian to consume beer."  Evidently, according to the Christian News Wire, 38% of those surveyed did, in fact, believe that drinking beer was "wrong". 

Wow!  Now, I know many of you read (and you should) Jay Brooks' Brookston Beer Bulletin, which at times seems fanatical, but is certainly necessary reading for those who appreciate not only a good beer, but the right to enjoy a good beer.  Jay has often bemoaned the Neo-Prohibitionists around the world and, quite often, I catch myself thinking there's no way we, as Americans, have anything to worry about with our beer related rights.  Now, if there are this many "Christians" in our country who think my beer consumption is flat wrong, it would seem appropriate to assume they wouldn't mind seeing form of control on my consumption.

Many of you know that I was a pastor in a very large Christian church some years back, so I think I have a pretty good handle on the people who took this survey - they're the noisy and nosy few who like to muck up things in the name of compassion.  I don't believe that 38% of all Christians share this feeling about beer.  Instead, it is likely only those with strong enough opinions took the survey.  But that too scares me, because it isn't just the church goers in our country who are more than slightly apathetic - its seems to be the American way these days.

Grolsch Goes to SABMiller

I just ran across the news that Grolsch shareholders have accepted SAB Miller's bid to buy a controlling share of the Dutch brewery.  This story, on its own, doesn't mean all that much to most of us, but the impact of global brewing consolidation is getting more and more apparent.

The buying offer made by SAB Miller was 48.25 Euros per share, which seems to be about 8 Billion total.  The International Trader had a few interesting points on the logic behind this move, along with a few of the risks involved.  However, the thing that caught my eye was this is that Grolsch is called a high margin beer.  I take this to mean that Grolsch is relatively cheap to make and sells for a premium, with its iconic flip-top and green bottle.

The South African Times seems to think, and I would have to agree, that this move will spur A-B to pick up another major brand.  This piece also talks about the long-rumored joining of forces between A-B and InBev - only now they paint the picture to suggest that A-B needs InBev more than InBev needs A-B.  There's a few other good nuggets to be found here, suggest you take a look.

Now, according to the Times UK, the biggest loser in all this could well be Heineken - and this makes sense to me as I consider marketing and shelf space.  If, all of a sudden, we start seeing Grolsch pushed as the Heineken alternative, with a green bottle all its own, that could hurt them in the long run.  The Times also suggests that this move may not be the end of SAB Miller's quest to consolidate, with a potential target found in Scottish and Newcastle.

Something else caught my eye in all this, SAB Miller's offer wasn't for current value, but based instead on 'future profitability'.  In this market, that isn't a gamble I'd want to take.

Again, this is probably something that won't impact you in any immediate fashion (unless you happen to have stock in Grolsch), but eventually all this consolidation will bite craft beer enthusiasts everywhere.  Just a couple of weeks ago, on the Brewer's Assn harvest phone call (discussing hop and barley harvests for the year and what that all means) it was mentioned that with consolidation comes less excess in ingredients - fewer brewers with 'left-overs' that have been so common and so vital for smaller breweries.  As consolidation continues and barley availability becomes more scarce, there could be some very real issues in the coming years, with regards to global ingredients.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Happy Holiday

I'm writing now, sitting on my couch in my living room and tired beyond belief.  I had a great holiday and hope you all did too.  This week I was able to get back in the brewing habit, making two batches of beer - one batch of honey & spice brown ale and a batch of bock, each ten gallons in size.  This was my first opportunity to use my newly acquired B3-1000 brewing sculpture, and what a difference that made in the overall efficiency of the brew day.

Aside from the brewing, this time of year seems to encourage festive drinking. Thursday my wife, Tracy, and I went to Mike and Terri's place, and he seems to always have a healthy stock of beer - his beer fridge includes offerings from Alpine, Sequoia, Green Flash, Beermann's, Auburn Alehouse, EJ Phair, Jack Russell and Russian River... and that is just what he had in growlers.  I believe his fridge also had a few imported hefeweizens, a stock pile of Celebration, Harvest, Lagunitas, Mad River, North Coast, Sacramento Brewing and more (much more).  Add to the beer selection that rivals the best beer shops in our area the great people, massive amounts of food and generally beautiful weather and it isn't hard to figure out that this was a good week - indeed.

In all the excitement surrounding the holiday, I've neglected beer news for the most part.  I do know that Russian River's construction appears to be delayed a bit, with their first brew expected to come out in March, luckily it appears the other beer bloggers have stepped up to keep us all informed.

So, I do hope you all had a great week as well.  I imagine I'll shake this near-comatose state soon enough, then I can come back with more insightful postings.  Thanks to Big Mike and Terri for playing host for Tracy and I this week.

Friday, November 16, 2007

One Whirlwind Week

Hard to believe that today is Friday.  A week ago I was on my way up to Oregon to see family and visit a brewery or two.  I made it back from Oregon about 14 hours before I would board my plane and fly to Phoenix, where I met co-workers and visited a brewery or two.  I arrived home from there on Weds night, and found myself on I-80 East going to the Noonan's Bar and Grill "Brewmasters Dinner", featuring beer from Moylan's and several courses of masterfully crafted food.  I made it back into my driveway about 1AM this morning.  As I sit here now, I realize that it is only a few hours before I am to again pack into my car and drive HWY 99 North to Chico, where I have a meeting set up with Sierra Nevada.  I'm tired.

A Few Notes from Along the Way:
  • Still impressed with Ashland, Oregon's, very own brew-pub, Standing Stone.  The place has simply grown on me over the years, as I remember once dissing it for its upscale looks and being unimpressed with their beer.  Now, I still remember the harvest ale and chocolate stout I had there nearly a week ago.
  • Papago's in Phoenix was a great little discovery.  I had dinner there on Monday with the Editor and Chief for DRAFT, Erika Rietz.  There you can finds hundreds of bottled beers from around the world, including offerings from Lost Abbey (which is NOT available here in Sacramento) and Cantillon (also not available here).  Enjoying a couple glasses of the Cantillon Kriek reminds you of the finer things in life, just an absolute treat.
  • Brendon Moylan's enthusiasm is catchy.  He had just installed new bright tanks in the Marin Brewing location, there in Larkspur, and was more than eager to walk me over to see them.  Along the way he stopped to say hello to patrons and employees, always genuinely excited to see them, making every hello special.  
  • Along those lines, Brendon has a lot to be excited about.  With his head brewers bringing home SEVEN medals at the GABF and an impressive staff of assistant brewers to lend a helping hand where they can, I suspect we haven't seen the last of the great things to come out of his breweries.  In fact, at the dinner last night we were given a Moylan's first, a lager!  Yes, as part of the feast we were treated to Denise's own Octoberfest/Marzen and, let me tell you, it was good.  
  • Something seems very right about a wet-hopped, barrel-aged Hopsickle, which we were treated to last night.  Actually, the dessert course came with THREE barrel-aged beers -  barley wine, hopsickle and stout.  While the Hopsickle was great on its own (didn't work with the dessert really), the Stout was simply spectacular.  
  • Tom Daldorf, Celebrator's publisher, should have a camera crew following him around for a year, a new reality TV show pitch.  I maintain that where you find Tom, you're bound to find great beer and the great people of the beer industry.  
  • Beer People are good people.  You know this already, I am sure, but it is just wonderful to travel around and visit new bars and new breweries and meet new friends along the way.  I met people at bars in Phoenix that I'd love to have another beer with, a guy on the plane to Sacramento that I had a great conversation with (all starting with beer) and another gentleman I met yesterday at Noonan's bar prior to the main event who was friendly and generous with his conversation.  And these are just strangers.  Brewers, themselves, are about the greatest folks you can meet, with interesting lives and entertaining stories to tell.  Even some of you, people I have yet to meet, have emailed me and it just seems friendly and warm.  As good as a beer may be, it won't ever hold a candle to the folks who make it, distribute it, sell it or enjoy it.
Well, I have a date with FedEx in 15 minutes.  I believe next week should be a bit less chaotic, and hopefully I'll have a bit more time to get something up worth reading.