Monday, May 28, 2007

Maibocks at Rubicon

This past weekend was Sacramento's Maibock Festival hosted by the good guys at Rubicon Brewing Company - an annual event at Sacramento's most celebrated brewery. The event is fairly low-key if compared to the festivals in the city these past few weeks (Raley Field and West Coast), with nine samples on tap from regional brewers. The crowd consisted primarily of beer-geeks, many of whom came with pencil and paper for notes, while others just found it an event to meet up with some good friends (another appearance from the Sacramento Hopheads, who seem to be everywhere beer is poured). While we'd hoped to enjoy the beers on their outdoor patio, we seemed to arrive too late to make that happen. We were, however, happy to secure a recently vacated window seat big enough for the four of us.

With me on this day were Mark (AKA, The Beer Geek), Joerge and Lothar. The latter two gents were born and raised in Germany, and my assumption was they were big Maibock fans... but you know about assumptions. They were certainly game for the sampling and actually enjoyed more than a few. Oddly, they enjoyed the ones that were most Americanized, but we'll get to that soon enough.

What are Maibocks? According to the BJCP folks, nobody cares. Oh, wait. My bad. According to the folks at the BJCP the style originated in Germany, in the Einbecker area (hence, Bock? Bock, Einbeck? More on that to come too). Maibocks are a subcategory of Bock beers. Traditional bocks were dark in color with a wonderful sweetness to them that reminds many of caramel. Oddly enough, there are very few commercial examples of the Traditional Bock around these days, but I do believe the guys at Anchor have done a good job mimicing this.

Maibocks are lighter in color than the Traditional and... well, read for yourself from the BJCP guys and gals...

The rich flavor of continental European pale malts dominates (pils malt flavor with some toasty notes and/or melanoidins). Little to no caramelization. May have a light DMS flavor from pils malt. Moderate to no noble hop flavor. May have a low spicy or peppery quality from hops and/or alcohol. Moderate hop bitterness (more so in the balance than in other bocks). Clean, with no fruity esters or diacetyl. Well-attenuated, not cloying, with a moderately dry finish that may taste of both malt and hops. (more info)
Geeky moment - I love the last sentence. Well-attenuated, not cloying, with moderately dry finish... Why comment? Each description says the same thing. If you were to ask me what well-attenuated meant, I'd say words like 'not cloyingly sweet' or 'slightly dry finishing'. Also like the "clean, with no fruity esters" bit too - I guess it is better than 'clean with fruity esters'.

Where was I? Oh yes - Maibocks. On the day in question the four of us each sampled nine beers in their lineup - seven of them were Maibocks (two were Traditional). Following is the lineup of beers with my comments on each.

  • Blue Frog Brewing's Maibock: Light golden color with great clarity and a light tan, frothy head displaying good retention. Very light aroma, overall, but clearly leaning toward a malt sweetness that was somewhat biscuity. The flavor seemed to follow suit of the aroma, complimented by a moderate hop bittering to balance and finishing slightly watery with the mild bitter aftertaste. Score: 2.8/5
  • Sudwerk Maibock: Light golden in color, with a beautiful white frothy head with very good retention. Aroma, overall, is very light - same with the flavor. Bready sweet with a slightly sticky hop presence... didn't hit me right. Still, a good beer overall. Score: 2.5/5
  • River City Brewing's Spring Bock: Golden color with good clarity and an off-white head that is less than spectacular. Aroma is very sweet, almost candy-like. Overall, a watery sweet mess of a beer that lacks the hop balance it needed. Finishes watery and sweet too. Score: 2.2/5
  • Bison's Golden Bock (Organic): Golden color with great clarity and a white bubbly head with low retention. Must be said, this is a very interesting beer, with a lot going on. There appears to be a corn-like sweetness with a peppery spice hop bitterness. Listed as a Traditional Bock, which it clearly is not, but a very good beer overall. Score: 2.8/5
  • Bear Republic Maibock: Deep golden color with significant haze. This appears to have used American hops, with citrus-like characters in the aroma and taste. Beer also appears to use an ale yeast, as it lacks the clean finish expected. A very good beer all said, but not a good representation of the traditional style. Score: 2.2/5
  • Sacramento Brewing's Maibock: A beautiful beer in appearance and aroma - golden color, bready malt sweetness and good clarity to make the rocky head more beautiful - but the taste is riddled with issues that range from an off-citrus character to a vegetal presence. I had high hopes for this local beer, as the company consistently puts out good beers, but this was not their day. Score: 2.0/5
  • Rubicon's Purple Maibock: Golden color, great clarity and a wonderful white frothy head. The beer starts off with a fantastic bready & caramelized sweetness, which is followed up brilliantly with a pepper/spice hop presence, which is not overwhelming, but very well balanced. Finished clean, with a lingering mild hop bittering. Score: 3.6/5
  • Brew It Up Maibock: Dark brown, almost amber color with good clarity and white frothy head. Very nice caramelized sweetness with mild spicy hop bittering and flavor to balance the beer. Finished slightly sweet with a lingering mild bittering. This is a very good beer. Score: 3.3/5
  • Elk Grove Traditional Bock: Sorry to report, but this beer didn't do so well, seemed to have issues in the flavor that were too distracting. Score: 2.2/5
Looking back at my scores, I feel I was pretty stingy at times. However, I'm not going to change them, that seems like a slippery slope. It was a very nice tasting, the help was great and the food was quite nice. Once the scores were put away the table did an impromptu ranking of the beers. Let's see if my scores match the ranks.

  1. Rubicon
  2. Blue Frong
  3. Brew It Up
  1. Blue Frog
  2. Sudwerk
  3. Rubicon
    Honorable Mention: Brew It Up
  1. Blue Frog
  2. Bison
  3. Bear Republic
  1. Brew It Up
  2. Rubicon
  3. Blue Frog

Thursday, May 24, 2007

New Brewery: Fifty Fifty Brewing Co, Truckee

Planning a trip to North Lake Tahoe anytime soon? Well, you'll want to add a stop to your list, as Fifty Fifty Brewing Company is opening their doors today, May 24! Yes, the much anticipated brewery has everything in place and 4 of their 7 house made beers ready to pour beginning at 5:00 this afternoon. The other 3 beers will be ready within the week, I have been assured.

Todd Ashman is the head brewer at Fifty Fifty, and comes to Northern California with some impressive credentials: 11 GABF medals, including honors as top Small Brewpub in the country while at Flossmoor Station.

The beers? Some standard, some not so much... keep in mind I haven't tried any of these, but have read their grain bill and hopping varieties.
  • Golden Ale** | 18 IBU / 4.9% ABV
  • Belgian Wit | 19 IBU / 5.3% ABV
  • Pale Ale** | 29 IBU / 5.3% ABV
  • IPA** | 65 IBU / 6.7% ABV
  • Belgian Trippel | 23 IBU / 8.1% ABV
  • Porter | 30 IBU / 6.7% ABV
  • Oatmeal Stout** | 30 IBU / 6.0% ABV
** denotes on tap now

About Fifty Fifty

11197 Brockway Road, Truckee, CA

11 AM to 2 AM, 7 days a week

Lew Bryson Interview with Todd Ashman

Look for more on this soon, as we'll be up as soon as we can make it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

West Coast Beer Festival 2007

Written By Jeff Barber, PBN Staff

The first stop, since we wanted to start light, it was the first tent, and they had the gold medal American Pale Ale, was Kona Brewing for their Fire Rock Pale Ale. While good, it lacked the hop character that you would expect from an American Pale Ale, especially for the gold medal winner. Next up was Full Sail Session. I’d heard Rick rave about this beer as an easy drinking light lager and I wasn’t disappointed. Noticed a slight sweetness in the flavor. Very drinkable. Next we went to Schooner’s for their pale ale. Jose had grabbed one in his haul after judging and said it was really good. Compared to the Kona, it was much better. Not sure why it didn’t finish in the top 3. More hops than Kona in both aroma and flavor. Still easy drinking too.

Next up was our first WOW beer. As most of you know, I’m a big wheat beer fan. I would have to say the Blue Frog Hefeweizen is now one of my favorites. Prominent banana and spice in the aroma that promises a great German hefeweizen flavor. The flavor had some orange in it as well as the banana, excellent body, and a nice full head. Great summer beer. I’ll look for this one. Talked to Nick, the head brewer, who also told us he was pouring a bottle conditioned DIPA. Since it was still early, we figured we’d come back for that. Nick was very appreciative of past pub he’s gotten on Pacific Brew and offered to send us some beer to put on one of the tasting shows. I will follow up with him on that.

After this, it was two pilsners. First was the gold medal winning Radeberger Pils. This was very good with a prominent spicy hop aroma and some noticeable bitterness in the taste. Deserving of its’ award. After this we tried the Trumer Pils since it is well known as a good pilsner as well. While it was quite good, it had less aroma and less hop bitterness. Joerg, our German Pils fan, agreed that the Radeberger was better.

Next we finally moved on to IPA’s. We started with the Deschutes Inversion which we obviously knew from past experience to be good. It should also be noted that the Deschutes had the longest line most of the time (only beaten by the longer food lines). Grassy hop aroma followed by the expected piney hop flavor. Excellent. After this it was the Sequoia brewing General Sherman IPA. This was also quite good with a little more noticeable malt. For those, who prefer a little more balanced IPA this was a great choice. Jose picked this one over the Inversion.

At this point, we took a break to enjoy the sights and have some lunch. Lisa from Beermann’s provided us with some great sausages from the trunk of her car that really hit the spot. We hung out with her and Starlight for awhile getting ready for more beer, while drinking a Beermann’s Maibock (quite good as well). I will say, while there were some excellent sights, i.e., females, I think I was more focused on the beer. I must be getting old.

Starting back with the beer adventure, we went back to Blue Frog for their bottle conditioned DIPA. This was outstanding. Very well balanced for such a big beer with some slight alcohol (about 8% ABV). The bottle conditioning also gave it great body. Very hoppy but with enough malt backbone. Excellent beer!

After this, it was off to Lodi Beer Company's for a couple of their beers. First up was the Harvest IPA. While good, it had a touch of sweetness and not enough hop character for an IPA. The other beer we tried was great however. Even though our palates might have been challenged at this point, we wanted to try the Orange Blossom Wheat. This was a great citrusy wheat beer with a noticeable orange aroma. Cloudy. Slight wheat beer “tang” noticed. I could definitely drink a few of these on a hot summer day.

Next was another Blue Frog DIPA, my only duplicate, while waiting for the 3:30 tasting of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot. As I said before, a great DIPA. The Bigfoot was great as usual. A big beer in all the best ways.

At this point, my notes start to get much harder to read. I know we had the Placerville Brewing's Strong Blonde and enjoyed it. We may even of had some more that I didn’t write down.

All in all it was a great day though. Miller Park is a great location. We never had to wait very long for a beer. We missed a lot of good breweries though. There’s only so much you can do on a day like this, Still I would have liked to hit Rogue, Sudwerks, Allagash, etc. I also noticed that a couple of favorites from past brewfests were not in attendance. Bison Brewing, past brewers of the unique Honey Basil Ale and a great Belgian Strong Ale, were not there. I guess now that Peter Hoey has moved to Sac Brewing they don’t do brewfests. Also, Etna Brewing was nowhere to be found. Both were missed.

By the way, the girl in the white dress and platform sandals I mentioned earlier was seen pouring beer in one of the tents. When we walked back to the car to meet Katherine, our ride home, we saw the same girl being propped up by her boy friend who was desperately trying to get her to the car. She could barely walk and undoubtedly was going to either pass out (if she was lucky) or be “selling buicks” in a short amount of time. Walking in 3 or 4” platforms while absolutely smashed-now that’s a challenge.

Lastly, my best of show beers were the following.
  1. Blue Frog DIPA
  2. Blue Frog Hefewiezen
  3. Radeberger Pils and Lodi Orange Blossom Wheat (tie)

We are lucky to live somewhere that holds events like this. I can hardly wait for the California Brewfest in September.

- Jeff

Monday, May 21, 2007

Sonoma Farmhouse Saison Style Ale (Lagunitas)

I was recently in Sonoma for a wedding, and as I always do I went in to some beer shops to see what the local brewers were putting out. I had heard of the Lagunitas "Sonoma Farmhouse" label, with Hop Stoopid gaining much attention in 2007; however, I had not found the products in the Sacramento region, largely due to the line's very limited distribution to date. I have heard rumors about distribution for the line expanding in the near future, but rumors are just those.

I am going to start my review from the end here, I hope you don't mind. Overall, this is a fantastic beer, brewed to style and highly drinkable. This beer is certainly worth the purchase price - although with the delicate nature of the style, I am not sure how far I'd ship it in the heat of summer.

Appearance: Light golden color, with some orange highligts found at the deeper top half of my fluted glass, with brilliant clarity. Rocky white head with good retention, head being dry and easy to build up over the rim of the glass. Yeah, this beer pours beautifully.

Aroma: While not aggressive in any way, the beer is full of aroma. Most notably are slight citrus notes, but unlike the grapefruit found in American hops, this beer displays hints of fresh lemon zest. There is also a bit of spice here as well, similar to black pepper. Clearly a beer made with European hop varieties.

Taste: Candy sweet initially, but not at all cloying. There is also a part of my brain that suggests a breaded biscuit too. Quickly after this initial sweetness is a moderate spicy hop bittering, which balances the beer wonderfully. The beer has a wonderful dry finish with a lingering mild bitterness.

Mouthfeel: The beers medium body, 5.2% alcohol rating and gentle carbonation make this highly drinkable. I admit too, I am a bit surprised this beer is 'only' 5.2% ABV, I suspected a beer of this body and flavor to push the 7% mark.

Food Pairing Suggestions? My initial thought was leaning toward grilled chicken or poached fish, each with a light spicy seasoning. However, when considering the beers powerful flavor, effervesent qualities and slight spice character, I think of a well made crispy duck breast with a slightly higher than average fat content. Additionally, I can easily imagine this with a pasta dish featuring a creamy white sauce, italian spiced sausage and fresh herbs. I think with both dishes you'll find this beer highly refreshing and palate cleansing.

I don't know what the immediate plans for this Sonoma Farmhouse project are, but I hope Lagunitas continues to explore some of these beers made with a great respect for tradition, and creativity.

More Info:
BJCP Style Guide

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bison Chocolate Stout

I was given a 12oz bottle of the beer recently, told I'd like it by a friend of mine. I've had good experiences with some of the Bison brews, their Honey Basil being one of my personal favorites of theirs. I am pretty sure I've had this beer in the past, but tonight I grilled a tri-tip and was looking for a hardier beer - I figured it was a good time to see what Bison had to offer.

To begin, the food:
Ribeye with generous amounts of fresh ground black pepper, salt, onion powder, garlic, chile powder, onion and red chiles. The meat was grilled 6 minutes on one side, 5 minutes on the other and then allowed to rest five minutes as to not lose the juices. The side salad was your basic spring mix, with an avocado dressing, fingerling potatoes.

As the meat was cooking the beer was taken out of the fridge and allowed to warm up a bit, I like my stouts somewhere above cold to really appreciate the flavors.

The Beer:
The aroma on this is decidedly bitter chocolate, with little alcohol presence and low peppery hops. The beer is black with garnet highlights when held to the light, showing it's clarity. Brown foamy head. The flavor boasts a deep roasted bitterness that certainly does remind one of the darkest chocolates on the market. There is also a definite astringency, which you expect in a beer like this. To my pleasant surprise, there is also a very nice subtle hop flavor which comes across a bit spicy. The body was something less than full, but certainly more than medium. Low alcohol warming in the throat and a carbonation level that is a bit too much for my tastes.

The beer was a great matchup with the meal. The spices on the steak slightly charred and with a mild spice demand a beer that has the ability to stand up and be noticed. The Bison certainly seemed up to the task, initially refreshing the palate and then providing some level of complimentary balance.

Now, apart from a meal a beer like this - or this beer in particular - are a bit too much on your palate with the bitterness and astrigency. It's a good beer to be certain, but the refreshing character is missing on it's own.

Some more serving suggestions:
- Blackened fish
- Chocolate lava cake, or a rich chocolate mousse
- Mexican food with a chocolatey
- Mole sauce

About Bison -
Known for their Organic commitments in brewing, Bison is located in Berkeley, California. Bison has five standard offerings and a handful of seasonal offerings.
More available on their site -

Breaking the Chain

I need to say up front that I am not a big fan of chain restaurants, or chain breweries. I've been to a number of them up and down the west coast. I won't be calling any out here, that's not a goal of mine. However, I would like to take a few moments to focus on a good example of a chain brewery - BJ's.

I am not sure how many locations BJ's has in the US, but in our neck of the woods (NorCal) there are a handful of locations, but only one brewery (located in Roseville). Their standard lineup of brews is pretty standard - a light beer, a pale ale, hefe, red, brunette, porter and stout. I don't have anything against these beers, but they're also not the reason I go to BJ's. Instead, I go for their specialty beers, and this week in particular I went to check out their newly tapped Juniper Rye - both on tap and on cask. While there I also sampled their seasonal Maibock, their ESB and IPA.

Following are my disjointed thoughts regarding these specialty brews.

Juniper Rye
Brewer: Andy Armstrong, head brewer of the Roseville location
Availability: Roseville and perhaps a few Sacramento area locations

Appearance: Deep golden color, great clarity and an absolutely amazing creamy head with a long lasting retention.
Aroma: The Juniper Berries really came through clean and clear, yet not overpowering, allowing for some peppery hop notes to come through. Malts came across somewhat biscuity, but was light overall. A beautiful aroma.
Taste: A beautifully balanced beer through and through, with moderate sweetness and mild tartness. The sweetness appeared to be slightly caramalized with a light roasted character. The Juniper Berries, again, served to accent the beers overall flavor and not at all overpowering. The beer finished slightly dry with a nice lingering mild bitterness, highlighted by a mild juniper aftertaste.
Body: This is one of the beers greatest attributes. Creamy, full-bodied, but served slightly over-carbonated for my tastes - I repoured it into an empty pint glass to cut out some of that CO2.

Overall this was a fantastic beer, worth seeking out. Andy has proven once again he's more than a talented musician or production brewer. It's great to see a bit of his passion for beer show in this unique, flavorful beer. I must admit, I am already curious to see what Andy has planned next and I hope the good people of my region make their way to BJ's to sample this Juniper Rye.

Without going into much detail, their IPA, ESB and Maibock were all masterfully brewed. The Maibock seemingly perfect for a warm Spring evening. The ESB, while lacking the hardness I expect in the style, wasn't pulling any punches in the hopping - assertive and clean. Then, of course, is the IPA, which was aggressively hopped with fresh American hops, lending to the beer's overall aroma, flavor and bitterness - much more than you'd expect from your typical chain brewery.

Which leads me to this post. From my experience, it is clearly an uncommon find when you discover a brewery with the high-gloss finish you see in each BJ's location serving up beers full of flavor, big in body and worth the trip to find them fresh on tap. It is a beautiful thing seeing a beautiful brewery inside a restaurant - even better when that brewery shows it's ability to brew top-notch beers as they do in Roseville. If you're in NorCal, check them out online and see if you can't find your way to one of their locations.

- Rick
About BJ's
  • According to Brewers Association, BJ's ranks #38 for largest breweries in the US - based on 2006 sales - just above Gordon Biersch and McMenamin's.
  • Their beers are sold in 1/2 gallon growlers for take-out
  • Seasonals and one-off beers most common at locations with breweries on-site.
  • Andy Armstrong came to Roseville from their Jantzen Beach location
  • The regional manager for NorCal is David "Puffy" Mathis, and that man has a palate to be proud of - I was able to judge with the man last year and he was sharp in his assessments. Incredible.
  • The bartenders in Roseville are among the best around when it comes to service - sadly the staff's overall beer-knowledge is lacking. Sad only because it's a brewery.
  • Southern California locations (Brea and Woodland Hills) has monthly beer appreciation nights that are worth attending - why they don't do them in my area is simply beyond me.
  • Oh, they almost always have some hard-to-find guest taps at the Roseville location. Right now they are pouring the Sierra Nevada Kolsch, Beermann's, Guinness, Lindemann's.
  • Find them online at

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Brew Fest at Raley Field

The Scene: Raley Field is a wonderful baseball park just off the river and only minutes from Sacramento's downtown. Strangely, this brew fest was not on the field as many expected, but instead was held on the concorse behind the seats. The good news was it was all under the shade and provided a nice view of the field. The bad news was that it was much more crowded and noisey than it really needed to be.

Lucky for everyone there, the weather was perfect - mid 80's and not a cloud in the big blue sky. Also lucky for those 3000 or so in attendance, the beers rocked.

The Brewers: This is the innagural beer fest created to raise funds for the Northern California Brewers Guild, and is all spearheaded by Glynn Phillips of Sacramento's Rubicon Brewing Co. In all there were more than 30 brewers in attendance from all over the region, including brewers from the Sierra Nevada foothills out to the north coast of the Golden State.

Of course there were the brewers we expect to find at a premier beer festival - Moylan's, Bear Republic, 21st Amendment, Rubicon, Sierra Nevada, Two Rivers Cidery and Beermann's. In addition, there were also several new faces and new beers - Auburn Alehouse, Rafters, Iron Springs, and many more.

The brewers in attendance were all in good spirits, their beers pouring continuously over the course of the four hour celebration. From the feedback I received, it was a day the brewers and volunteers all enjoyed, an event that will likely be a wild success in the years to come.

The Beer: No, I didn't try every beer. However, it was my goal to seek out new beers, those beers I hadn't had the chance to sample previously in my travels and tastings. Here are some noteable new beers worth finding if you're traveling in the region.
  • Auburn Alehouse Gold Digger IPA - This place isn't even open yet, but brewmaster Brian Ford has created a winner in this beer, proudly displaying Magnum, Simcoe, Summit and Chinook hops! Beautiful golden color, intense aroma and a taste that simply kicks ass (how's that for a review?).
    Auburn Alehouse is located in the historic area of Auburn.
  • Rafters - With brewer Dan Duncanson pouring the beers and sharing his passion, I found beers that were clean finishing, full of flavor and downright good. If you're in or around San Rafael, you'll need to check this place out. I am pretty sure I will.
  • Iron Springs Scotch Ale - Wow. Wonderfully peaty, balanced and easy to drink. Pouring a dark shade of brown, this beer hid well the fact it was 8% ABV. This is one of the beers that had people talking. Oh, and their IPA was pretty fantastic too! Big aroma, intense flavor - all done utilizing this small brewery's hop back.
    Located in Fairfax
Of course there were more beers I enjoyed, but these few beers and brewers proved to be the best find of the day for me.

The People: As I normally do, I found my way to the fest with my lovely wife. While there we found many familiar faces, friends you seem to only find at beer events. There were the serious beer enthusiasts throughout the event, surrounded by the revelers out simply to have a good beer or 20. Notable folks were there as well, including beer bloggers, magazine editors and even a rock star who pretends to be the editor of Celebrator.

Conclusion: For it's first year, this was well organized, well attended and just a great time. I suspect this event will grow significantly over the next couple of years and will provide many northern Californians with great beer and fond memories. With this and next week's West Coast Brew Fest (also in Sacramento), May will indeed be a month to celebrate.

- Rick

Post Script
I wanted to put out a big thanks to Chris, The Beer Retard, for hanging out with me while in the area, and his friend Kai. We warmed up nicely the night before the fest at Rubicon, enjoying a few beers and great conversations.

Also, thanks to the brewers who took time to talk in depth about their brews and breweries. As well, J from Brookston Beer Journal was kind enough to say hello as well. I love reading the Brookston journal and found it a pleaure to run into the guy personally. Good time.

Finally, it should be noted I had the opportunity to help pour beers for a while, at the Auburn Alehouse booth. That was a kick-ass time and a great opportunity to meet a lot of beer enthusiasts.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Dive Bar

Living in Northern California we are surrounded by shiny things and upscale places. We're fortunate, at PBN, to live in such close proximity to a wonderful wine and beer bar we have enjoyed supporting for the last year or so - a new place that looks like a good upscale bar should, clean, fashionable and comfortable. For wine lovers this is place offers everything you'd want from a bar so close the some of the world's best wineries. For beer lovers, an oasis of shockingly good beer.

There is a catch in all this though. Recently they bumped their price per pint up to 5 bucks. Not really a huge deal, as they serve great beer and generally feel as though it is worth it. However, in the last few weeks we have rediscovered something that was almost lost in this region (lost to beer enthusiasts, anyway)... the local Dive Bar.

You know about the Dive Bar, every city has them. Dark, dank, a bit sticky under foot, unkept and generally with an over-talkative barkeep more interested in the news than the current sporting events. These places have a history, generally speaking, and are rough enough around the edges to week out the more upscale clientèle. You've been here, right? Every beer enthusiast should find their way to a Dive at least once in their life, because they generally serve a good beer or two, something you won't find in the shiny bar down the street.

Our local dive bar has many great beers: Racer 5 (Bear Republic), Brother David (Anderson Valley's Dubbel), Alley Cat Brown (Lost Coast), Kiltlifter (Moylan's) and a few more. Now, the reason we're rediscovering this place has mostly to do with our love of Racer 5 on tap. You see, the upscale bar down the street serves Racer 5 and that's a pretty big draw for us - again though, at 5 bucks a pop. Racer 5 at the Dive Bar? $2.75 per pint.

And herein lies the beauty of the Dive Bar. Good beer and a great price. Now, I don't begrudge a new business owner for raising his or her prices, I understand that new real estate has a higher premium than the old establishments in the wrong part of town. However, as a markedly middle-class beer enthusiast, price is a consideration. Don't get me wrong - if there was no craft beer in the dive, we wouldn't be there, regardless of the price of beer. But, with the availability of fine crafted beer at both locations, can you blame a guy for saving a couple bucks per pint?

I don't know what the Dive Bars are like around the country, but I have been to enough on the West Coast to realize they're worth. There are two such bars that are pretty much world famous, the Toronado and Horse Brass. Both a bit rough around the edges, both with more history and character than one person could ever know - both must see destinations for the beer enthusiast.

So, if you have a local place you haven't been to, don't be afraid to stop in and see what they've got on tap, you may be surprised. In the last few days I have found two such bars in the Sacramento area - and each was a pleasant discovery worth the effort.

- Rick

Dive Bars Visited?
Roseville - Main Street Brewery (not really a brewery)
Sacramento - O'Mally's Irish Pub (really an Irish Pub)

Friday, May 4, 2007

Mild May

If you're a beer blog reader, you've read about this already. If you're a die-hard PBN in fan (ha! that was funny) then maybe this is new.

CAMRA (the beer thugs overseas) have come together to deem May "Mild Month". I won't claim to know a whole lot about the intentions for this, but I have a few thoughts related to this I'd like to share.

- Milds are just not that common in the US. In fact, the only commercially bottled version I know of on the West Coast is the Deschutes Buzzsaw. I understand a few of you will be quick to remind me of beers I am missing, which is great, but bottom line is still the same - they are not common out here.

- What are Milds? Doesn't it seem like Mild is a bad word in our society? It seems like salad, or white bread, or 'plain' coffee... We seem enamored with things that are spicy, big, packed with flavor and forever pushing the edge of what is palatable. I don't understand this fascination, although I know I share this bent with many of you. I love double IPAs, Imperial Stouts and other extreme beers - if you listen to our show, you know this. However, what I fear is that our shows and writings and those of other beer enthusiasts are only sharing those beers that are 'memorable' or an event unto themselves. I don't drink Double IPAs night in and night out. I don't have Barley Wines in the summer. My fridge isn't packed with beers 8% ABV and higher. No, my fridge is 'unremarkable' - a fridge probably not unlike yours. I am convinced we all enjoy a good light beer, but we don't share these with others because... well, they're everyday. It's like a commute to work in contrast to your weekend getaway.

Now, I do know people who only drink big beers. I imagine you know them too. They're not unrefined or immature - they're just extreme. The friends I am thinking of who fit this category all have collections of hot sauce, eat rich and spicy foods and drink the darkest coffee you can find. It's the culture. And I say, let them be. They're living high on the hog and who can begrudge them that? I do ask something from them in return. Let me enjoy my 'mild' beer and don't assume I can't hold my sauce or don't appreciate 'real' beer. If you see me eating my salad with light dressing and a Pilsner, instead of glaring perhaps lift your pint and know we're reading the same book, even if we're not on the same page.

Milds - yes, the dirty little word in our society of extremes. The beers that fit this style are great examples of brewer quality. It's not easy to brew lighter beers, as alcohol and hops can hide a lot of flaws. If you find yourself a good light beer, like a good "mild" (brown ale), know that the beer is actually more troublesome for the brewer to make than that 12% monster released in the fall.

Milds, take four - so, what are milds anyway? Here's the history according to guys who know more than I do - the folks at the beer judge cert program.
May have evolved as one of the elements of early porters. In modern terms, the name "mild" refers to the relative lack of hop bitterness (i.e. less hoppy than a pale ale, and not so strong). Originally, the "mildness" may have referred to the fact that this beer was young and did not yet have the moderate sourness that aged batches had. Somewhat rare in England, good versions may still be found in the Midlands around Birmingham.
Yeah, didn't mean much to me either.

If you really need a definition for mild, think light brown ales, generally under 5% ABV. With the Buzzsaw example I mentioned earlier, it's a 4.7% beer. These are great beers to enjoy after work, before dinner. They're also a wonderful addition to your cooler for camping trips or in the fridge when you have buddies coming over to watch Golden State when the NBA title (that was funny too).

I am not a big stickler for the rules either. If you can't find a Mild to enjoy in May - of if you just don't like brown ales - find some light ABV beers and enjoy them. THEN, with all the bravado you can muster, brag about the beer to your beer enthusiast friends like you would your commute to work... well, hopefully with a little bit more passion and nicer adjectives. I am proud to say I like a good mild beer. In fact, I can't wait to go to Vino's tonight to have some freshly tapped Buzzsaw, or to crack open a few Full Sail Session lagers tomorrow as I work on my garden.

- Rick
"Hi, my name is Rick, and I love mild beer."

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Auburn Ale House

I have more on this in the works, but wanted to put out a notice for the beer lovers of the region.

I was fortunate enough to spend an evening at the still-under-construction Auburn Alehouse last night and feel I should pass on the word that Brian Ford will be opening shop by the end of the month - assuming there are no hiccups. He has just installed all the equipment and hops to boil some water this weekend to make sure it's all in order. If all goes well, first brew will follow shortly thereafter.

He has put together his beer menu and you can view it online -

He has also hired his executive chef, who I also met, and you can't help but be excited about things after a few minutes chatting with them.

A few notes:
- This place is beautiful! Carefully restored 100+ year old building, making every effort to maintain it's character while also adding some modern touches. 30 stool bar up front, a standing bar toward the back and even more bar seating in the middle.
- 12 taps with an opening offering (tentative) of 6 beers, all Brian's. He also hinted at bringing in some beers you won't find anywhere else.
- Outdoor seating is going to be prime real estate on warm evenings.
- If you like bold, rustic bars, this place is for you - big burley bar top, massive steel beams (if they're not steal, sorry - it some sort of metal), old brick and an overall homage to manhood.
- His IPA recipe looks damn good
- Find his beers at the upcoming Raley Field beer fest - he brewed twice last week at the Rubicon to make sure he'd have some beers ready for that (believe he said Lager and Brown ale)
- Growlers available for 'to-go' beers, would also like to bottle some limited edition items in 22oz or 1 liter bottles (but not initially from the sounds of it).

This place has all the makings of a major beer venue for the region. If you haven't met Brian before, then you should know he's about the most likable guy on the block - as are so many of our regional brewers. This has been a dream of his for years, and you can't help but route for him and his wife.

No official opening date yet, but he thinks he'll be open in three weeks. He has plans for a soft opening, then after a week or so a bigger 'grand opening'. Yeah, I am excited.

Auburn, California - the Old Shanghai location
Online at

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Session Beer

I've been reading a lot of articles online lately about the nation's need for more session beer - beers under 5% ABV that are refreshing and flavorful. I admit, I love me a big beer. My 'favorite' style is the IIPA. I go crazy for Russian Imperial Stouts. I seek out as many barley wines as a guy can find. I love big beer, but it just isn't reasonable to enjoy them in quantity night in and night out.

That said, I seriously look forward to the Spring when craft brewers from around the country introduce beers missing the "Imperial" on the label. It pretty much begins in mid-April with the introduction of the year's Maibock releases. Yes, they're generally more than 5%, but not by much, and they're full of flavor with a wonderful mouthfeel. Yes, when I see the Helles or Mai Bocks on the shelf, my liver, waistline and senses are happy.

My latest trip to the beer store today was even more encouraging, as it is now becoming easier to find beers I can start enjoying before dinner. Let's examine some of my finds from the day, shall we?

Anchor Bock & Full Sail LTD 02 (6.4 & 5.5%) - Officially FS isn't a Maibock, but the wonderful sweetness in these beers are wonderful on cool Spring nights. The Anchor Bock is dark, rich and with a nice roast character.

Full Sail Session (5.1%) - if you haven't tried this beer, it may be the most perfect Summer time beer on the market. I've taken cases camping, buy them when I am doing home improvement projects or working on my '72 Ford Stepside. Light, crisp, refreshing and not lacking flavor.

Lagunitas Pils (5.3%)- I haven't tried this years version, but my memories have this as another crisp, clean finishing beer that is easy to drink more than a couple of.

Deschutes Buzzsaw Brown (4.8%)- At under 5% this beer is shockingly full of flavor, like lightly toasted bread and moderate hop spice and bittering. A great beer and hard to comprehend it has less alcohol than Session.

There were others, but I wasn't taking notes.

If you're a blog reader you're aware that May is mild beer month overseas - of course, celebrating the 'mild' style virtually unknown in the US. We don't have a lot of traditional Mild beers here, but certainly it will be worth your time to search out some of these more mild beers. Use the list above, or do some label reading yourself to find a new beer you like that is low in alcohol and full of flavor. If you find one you like, be sure to let us know.

More Info
Mild Beer Month - Brookstone
Cooking with Milds - CAMRA