Tuesday, October 30, 2007

NFL: Midway Point

I predicted, before the 2007/2008 NFL season began, who I thought had the best chance of making the playoffs for each division. To refresh your memory, I'll start with the good news - the AFC.

My Preseason Predictions
AFC Division Champs

* NE Patriots
* Baltimore Ravens
* SD Chargers
* Indianapolis Colts

AFC Wild Cards

* Denver Broncos
* Pittsburgh Steelers
So, clearly the Patriots and Colts are doing well, both undefeated going into this weekend's cage match. It would also seem that the Ravens and Steelers are in good shape to battle for the division and wild card berths to the playoffs. The Chargers are finally looking good, but are in no way the powerhouse I'd thought they'd be, and the Bronco's are just playing ugly football right now - which is sad because they're my team. All in all, I am pretty pleased with my AFC predictions, but unless Denver really turns it around, it seems the wild cards belong to the South, with Tennessee and Jacksonville looking in to be in the best shape. At this point, the Patriots seem utterly unstoppable - and even if they lose this week to the Colts, I think their depth alone puts them in the best place to win it all. Oh, and I don't think they' go undefeated. They'll wrap up home field and sit their stars, happens every year.

My preseason predictions for the NFC
NFC Division Champs

* Chicago Bears
* NO Saints
* Seattle Seahawks
* Philadelphia Eagles

NFC Wild Cards

* GB Packers
* SL Rams
Now, onto the ugly. Can you believe this conference? I can't, they seem to be living in the Twilight Zone or something, its just odd. It appears that Seattle can pull off the division championship, but that isn't saying much and that isn't a lock - Arizona looks as though they could be dangerous, if it weren't for injuries that is. The Bears flat suck! I can't even begin to figure them out - the defense isn't good, their offense is horrible they seem like a team on the verge of imploding. The Saints are looking good now, but I can't ignore how aweful they looked for the first half of the season overall. I do suspect they'll figure it out and take the division, but that has more to do with my lack of trust in Tampa Bay than it does my confidence in the Saints. That division will be a fun one to keep an eye on. Then there are the Eagles, who appear to have a snowball's chance in hell at winning their division away from the Cowboys or the Giants. I haven't seen any of their games, but from their stats it seems like the window for their shot at the prize has closed.

So, who do I like now?
- Dallas
- Detroit
- Saints
- Seahawks

Wild Cards
- Green Bay
- Carolina

Monday, October 29, 2007

Life on Tap

Well, here's some news for you all to enjoy. DRAFT Magazine has a new Beer Director, and its me!
DRAFT Publishing is pleased to announce that Rick Sellers will take on the role of Beer Director for its flagship publication, DRAFT Magazine. Rick has worked in the beer industry for several years as a homebrewer, beer judge and owner and host of Pacific Beer News, an online news source and podcast focused on the West Coast beer scene. He has previously contributed to DRAFT Magazine as both a writer and editor.

“DRAFT has grown considerably since its inception, and Rick’s level of experience and expertise make him an ideal fit as we continue to expand the breadth of our beer coverage,” says Erika Rietz, editor-in-chief and co-founder of DRAFT Magazine.

For further information, contact Brian Chartrand at brian.chartrand@draftmag.com.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Pizza Port San Clemente

By Mike Sober

In the early planning stages of yet another round of Brewery fact finding missions to San Diego the reoccurring theme in my head was that I needed to start my journey with a stop at the Pizza Port site in San Clemente. I’d been to the original Port site in Solano Beach on a couple of occasions but had yet to step my taste-buds into the San Clemente or Carlsbad locations. The three Pizza Port sites, as well as Port and Lost Abbey Brewing are under the guidance of brewing legend Tomme Arthur, who is has been director of brewing Operations since 2005; although he has been brewing at Pizza Port since 1997. We arrived in front of the 2-story white beach town building just prior to three in the afternoon and found a place to sit amongst the tall stools and benches that make up the outdoor drinking areas that are placed on either side of the entrance to the pizza parlor proper. Being rather early in the day there were only four other patrons in the place. Two at the inside bar and two in the same outside area where we sat.

I strolled up to the bar, checked the beer menu and ordered two El Camino IPA’s. Both patrons at the bar called out “Good Choice”. And indeed they were correct. The El Camino was a Golden amber to light copper color, a solid West Coast style IPA with a nice floral nose, big backbone and a lingering malt aftertaste. While my wife,Terri, was fetching our vegetarian Pizza with Sausage I made my way back to the bar and ordered a round of the Doheney Double IPA. Now this is what I’m talking about. Nice big beer with a huge sustained crown, light amber color and hopelessly balanced Hop character.

Naturally on our way out I ordered a growler which I’d like to say made it home with me to Roseville…... but that would be a lie.

In addition to the two fine IPA’s they also offered a nice assortment of their other beers.

  • Sticky Stout
  • Shark Bite Red
  • Pig Dog Pale Ale
  • Amigo Mexican style Lager (I continue to be amazed how this became a so called style)
  • Way Heavy Scotch
  • Badonk-A-Dunkel
Guest taps included
  • Bear Republic “Hop Rod Rye”
  • Russian River “Pliny the Elder
  • Hop Town DUIPA (Terri reported an odd barrel aged aroma in her sample)
  • Hop Town IPA
  • Avery “Reverend”
  • Alaska Brewing “Summer Ale”
  • Rubicon Brewing Amber
  • Firestone Double Barrel
  • Ale Smith “Nautical Nut Brown”
  • Paulaner Salvator Dopplebock
  • Hofbrau Original Munich Lager
A rather impressive list of beers that under different circumstances would have had me looking for a room to spend the night. However, the new Stone Brewing facility is just an hour away from San Clemente and was beckoning me considerably. Upon leaving the facility I noticed a sign on the side of the structure that said “Additional parking on the roof”. I’m not sure exactly what I think of that idea, but I’d damn sure I’m glad I parked my butt on one of Pizza Port’s bar stools for the afternoon.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Innovation: I Don't Get It

So, a friend emails me a story about the new European IPA by Greene King, called St Edmunds. The story was obviously structured from a press release, talking about the cool new 'system' that would let consumer choose if their beer would be "Northern" (with head) or "Southern" (without head). OK... that's odd. So, being naturally curious, I check out the Greene King press release to learn more about this magical system that can pour a beer with head or without, depending on my mood. Ugh.

Why, oh why, do large brewers insist on cheapening the beer experience? Is it that hard to pour a beer with head, or to pour one without? Oh, wait, it gets better! Turns out their marketing the headless beer as a CASK version! From the same keg, nonetheless! Oh dear.
What we have achieved is the holy territory - an ale that’s as easy to drink as a lager, with the premium cues of Guinness and the provenance of cask.
That's Justin Adams, who has the job of Director of Brewing and Brands for Greene King. I really don't even know what Justin was saying there, but I suppose it sounds good to someone.

This is from a Press Release
Greene King, the brewery, is piloting a new premium chilled cask beer called St Edmunds to target men and women who are exploring new beers other than lager.

The new chilled beer, served below six degrees Celsius, is being rolled out across 100 selected pubs in south east England over a three month trial period from November.

Got to love that, eh? Another "chilled" beer hits the market. Want more?

Greene King managing director Justin Adams said the new product aimed to reinvigorate the declining casked ale market by creating an ale with a “gold, fresh, crisp finish” and “provide a great consumer experience by giving more theatre”.
More theater (sp), that's just what I'm looking for in a beer... right up there with a gold finish.

When will this madness end? I find it hard to believe that we, as human beings, continue to fall for the newest "innovation" in brewing, especially when the innovations have nothing to do with brewing! In fact, the best innovation I've seen in years in this industry is the Merlin kettle I saw at New Belgium! Stop creating high tech labels, pseudo cask ale and beer dispensers that promise to be the coldest in town! They're not that cool, and 99% of your innovations are junk in 18 months or less.

Please, for the love of beer, focus your creativity on the product (beer), its history and overall quality. To do anything less serves only to cheapen the beverage you claim to be all about.

Rucion Brewing: 20th Anniversary Party

Just a quick and minor update regarding this weekend's festivities in Sacramento. I just received the updated and final list of IPAs on tap at Rubicon Brewing this weekend, from Rubicon's owner, Glynn Phillips. If you're not familiar with the brewery, it is located at 2004 Capital in Sacramento's downtown area (20th and Capital). For lovers of Craft Beer, you'll want to do what you can to get here.

If you don't have a lot of time to go through all the beers, may I suggest you start with the Wet Hopped Rubicon IPA on Cask? After that, the SacBrew Imperial Red and Elk Grove's Imperial Red. You can't go wrong with those choices.

Here's the complete list:
#4 TRIPLE ROCK- RED ROCK 5.5% Hoppy American Amber Ale
#9 MOYLANS- HOPSICKLE 9.2% Imperial Ale9VG
#10 BLACK DIAMOND- IPA 7% Traditional IPA
#12 LAGUNITAS-IPA Homicidally Hoppy Ale
#20 DESHUTES- HOP TRIP 5.5% Fresh Hop Pale Ale
#22 Wet Hopped Rubicon IPA on Cask

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Old Foghorn & Vella Dry Jack

I've been asked to sample a few barleywines this week for a piece I'm working on, and I can't even begin to tell you how much that doesn't suck. Tonight I'm drinking the Old Foghorn by Anchor Brewing, in San Francisco, a classic barleywine for certain. Knowing I'd be enjoying the beer tonight, I stopped in and asked my local cheese monger if he had anything new for me to sample. I told him what I was drinking, described the general profile of the Old Foghorn, and he walked me over to a good looking wheel of cheese, Vella Dry Jack.

I am not, nor would I pretend to be, a cheese expert, but I will tell you this beer and cheese just works! The Vella website has this to say about this cheese:
Made like fresh Monterey Jack and further aged for another 7 to 10 months. Firm, pale yellow with a sweet nutty flavor. This cheese is great for grating, shredding, slicing, cooking or just plain eating. Marvelous in toasted cheese sandwiches, omelets and souffles. Delicious shredded on pasta, soups or tacos --for a taste that is unique and special. Can also be added to casseroles and enchiladas. Dry Monterey Jack will become one of your favorites!
It did become one of my favorites, and a much larger quantity will be procured for the PBN 2008 Barleywine Festival I've started piecing together.

Before tonight, I'd never heard of Vella Cheese, so you can imagine my surprise to learn they're regional! Yes, these guys made their cheese in Sonoma - which makes a great detour when you're out sampling the better reds of the region. For more info on them, check out their site.

How was the Old Foghorn? As good as you'd think it was.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Northern California: What Are You Doing This Weekend?

If you live in Northern California and you love good craft beer, then this weekend will be a tough one for you. Here's what's on tap:
  1. Toronado Wet Hopped Beer Festival
  2. Rubicon's 20th Anniversary / Hoptoberfest
Need more information? Well, let's take a look at the details for each event. First up, the Toronado lineup.
  • Deschutes Hop Trip
  • Drakes Brewing Co. Harvest Ale
  • Bear Republic Confiscation
  • Beach Chalet Hop Patootie
  • 21 st Amendment Harvest Moon
  • Half Moon Bay Green Gold
  • Blue Frog Last Hop Standing
  • Moonlight Brewing Co Sublimmminal
  • Moonlight Brewing Co Greenbud Chinnook
  • Moonlight Brewing Co Greenbud Cascade
  • Sierra Nevada 20th Street Ale
  • Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale
  • Marin Wet Hop Cask IPA
  • Moylans Wet Hopsicle
OK, just a few notes on this mother of all wet hopped beer lineups. Oh, and according to the Toronado site, there were 5 other beers that didn't make the trip from San Diego.

Moonlight's beers have been getting way too much attention this year to not be worth the sampling. I mean, really, have you read a bad report on these, or even one that wasn't glowing? Brian out there went overboard this year with a bit of help from Russian River's expansion. You see, Vinnie just wasn't able to use his harvest, so he passed them on to Brian - and that seems to have been a great use of them.

Next up, did that say Wet Hopsickle? I don't know if I can even pretend to comprehend that one... I mean, just how many hops could they actually fit into this bad boy? Man, this sounds like a good time.

Then, of course, we have the celebrated Rubicon's 20th Anniversary Party, featuring no small lineup themselves.
  • Rubicon IPA
  • Rubicon IBA (India Black Ale)
  • Mendocino Redtail Ale
  • Triple Rock Red Rock
  • Sac Brew Imperial Red
  • Elk Grove Woody's Hop Head Red
  • Hoppy Super Hoppy
  • Marin White Knuckle
  • Moylans Hopsickle
  • Black Diamond IPA
  • Anchor Liberty
  • Lagunitas IPA
  • Sudwerk IPA
  • Auburn Gold Digger IPA
  • Bear Republic Racer 5
  • Green Flash West Coast IPA
  • Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' IPA
  • Speakeasy Big Daddy
  • River City Hoptumus Prime
  • Deschutes Hop Trip
You would almost think, just by looking at this lineup, that the guys at Rubicon enjoy a well made IPA. I recently tried the still-young Imperial Red by Sacramento Brewing, and holy crap this is a monster... a hoppy, wonderful, fun loving monster. Another beer you may not know, the Gold Digger IPA from Auburn, is worth the trip to 2004 Capital in downtown Sacramento this weekend.

So, once again, what are you doing this weekend?

Now, check out the dope video from the 2006 Anniversary/Hoptoberfest.
Hoptoberfest 2006

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San Diego Fires - Greg's Video Blog

Greg Koch, Head Brewer/Honcho at Stone Brewing Company, has put together a nice video blog, showing his drive into the brewery, the walls of smoke and some of the damage in the area. It appears that he and his family fared OK through this, as did the brewery. You can see, however, that this fire was knocking on their doorstep.

Check it out Greg's blog.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

San Diego Fires - An Update of Sorts

I don't have a lot of info, but a couple of pictures to show how close the fire is to some of our favorite brewers.

The first image is from BeerMapping.com. Along the 78, the red dots represent (from left to right) Green Flash, Lost Abbey and Stone Brewing. Take a look at the landmarks, I-15 and 78.

The second image is from local public radio station, KPBS', website. This shows the fire areas. Orange being where fires have been located, or where evacuations are in effect. Yellow is those places not in immediate danger, but certainly on pins and needles. It seems that the three breweries there in the Yellow are safe, and I know that Lost Abbey is not in harm's way (and more importantly, that the families there are safe).

Again, I'm not 'reporting' any breaking news, just passing on info I've found that you, as beer enthusiasts, may have interest in.
So, if you're out and about tonight, stop in and pick up a Green Flash or Stone produce (or both) and lift it with a fond thought for all those in the region impacted by the crazy fires.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Thoughts and Prayers in San Diego

Obviously, if you love good American Craft Beer, you know that much of the country's best comes from the San Diego region. I haven't heard anything, nor would I claim to report anything, but I did want to wish our friends in the industry, along with their family and friends, the best in this crazy wild fire. I see on the news that Escondido is in the heart of this, and I know that Stone and Lost Abbey aren't far from there - along with many others. So, to you all down there, I wish you the best.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Good Night for Mead

Today, Sunday, seemed like a bit of a slow day. I started off with a breakfast date with my wife, Tracy, as we went to King's in West Sacramento for the region's best dim sum - and this region includes San Francisco from what I can tell. If ever you're visiting Sacramento for a weekend, check them out on a Saturday or Sunday from 11 - 1... if you like authentic ethnic foods, you'll not be disappointed.

After brunch, well, the day got a bit more domestic, with laundry, dishes and general cleaning required after several weekends in a row on the road. In mid-afternoon I rested for a bit with a can of Caldera's IPA, the best IPA in a can I've discovered. Caldera Brewing is out of Ashland, Oregon, and aren't much to look at - a warehouse facility with dock sales only on Friday evenings (the last I checked). If you're planning a trip to the region, maybe you'd like to take in a play at the world-famous Shakespeare Festival down the street, you'll need to call ahead and see if you can't try what they have available at the time - their Dry Hopped Orange, the Caldron Brew and, well, just about everything they have rocks. The IPA, in particular, is a joy from the get-go, with a massive citrusy hop aroma exploding as soon as the can is cracked. Pouring a deep golden color, the beer also shows off a frothy white head with good retention. There's little in the way of sweetness here, but the massive hop character doesn't seem over-the top, somehow. Sadly, I have only one can of this beer left (good thing I'm scheduled to return to Southern Oregon next week).

Tonight I wanted to have a nice night with Tracy, so I made a wonderfully rubbed pork loin (broiled 10 minutes per side, then cooked at 375 degrees till done), with a side of applesauce from a local orchard and crisp green beans (seasoned with fresh ground lemon pepper). To compliment the meal I pulled out a bottle of 2004 Redstone Mead with Juniper berries. Oh, you can follow that link and buy this online!

The mead is part of Redstone's Mountain Honey Wine series, which means it is a 12% ABV still mead (no carbonation), aged a bit before they're even released to market. I picked my bottle up in Portland's Belmont Station, back when they were still located next to Horse Brass, and was inspired to finally open it after making my first trip to the meadery last week during the GABF festivities.

My goodness this is a good mead.

If you've never tried a mead, or honey wine, I suggest you fix this, and as soon as possible! When properly made, like this is, you'll get strong honey notes in the flavor and aroma, but you won't find a cloyingly sweet product - as you might expect. This particular mead has a strong peppery spice to it, and the juniper is understated to the point you might miss it if you weren't looking for it. Additionally, a well made mead will go great with a meal, such as the one described above, or on its own (I'm still sipping mine as I watch the Red Socks inch closer to another World Series). Finally, meads are so easy to make at home, you really ought to try and discover the hobby for yourself. I think, and this is my opinion here, that meads of 10+% ABV are at their best at three years, and will continue to be wonderful for five to seven years (seven is pushing it, only with higher alcohol meads).

I'd like to say thank you to Rick and Dick at Big Foamy Head, the beer, blues and bbq podcast, for giving me the rub I used for tonight's pork loin. The rub, for the rest of you, is called Rendezvous Famous Seasoning, and was perfect for the meat. I applied the rub about 5 hours prior to cooking, it was too easy for a meal that good.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Garrett Oliver on CoorsMiller

In today's New York Times, Garrett Oliver discusses the Coors/Miller joint venture in the US, if only briefly. I appreciate Garrett's take on this, as well as his warning for Craft Brewers around the country.

MillerCoors is not a threat to craft brewers but a warning: we should not walk the road of overexpansion or be tempted by the lowest common denominator of the mass market. Miller, Coors and Anheuser-Busch were once small breweries making fine local beer, too.
Check out the piece, it's a quick and easy read.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sacramento Brewing Company Brewmaster's Dinner

Tonight I was lucky to attend the "Brewmaster's Dinner" at Sacramento Brewing Company, hosted by brewmaster Peter Hoey and chef Chef Crescencio Rodriguez. What a great night, with wonderful food and beer, as well as fantastic company - sitting with Sean Paxton, Peter and Peter (brewers for SacBrew) and the rest of our lively table. Here are a few pictures, I'll work on getting a proper review up ASAP.

Sacramento Brewing Company's Brewers: Peter Salmond (left) and Peter Hoey (right)

Lamb chops, served with the Imperial Stout that just won the Bronze at GABF last week. This dish, wow, it was good.

Sean Paxton, the Homebrew Chef, was my table neighbor.

Chef Crescencio Rodriguez - this guy did a wonderful job with every dish.

See more pictures from the night.
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GABF 2007: Audio from the Event

Jeff Bearer at Craft Beer Radio has posted a whole bunch of audio content from the floor of the GABF, and around the Denver area, for your listening enjoyment. I think it is safe to say that Jeff has the best quality of audio for the event, featuring three pages of audio content: great interviews with interesting people and entertaining conversations. Check it out at http://www.craftbeerradio.com/gabf

Even if you were at the event, check this out. He seemed to do a great job making the rounds and probably has different angles and events than you experienced. If you weren't there, well then you've simply got to hear what you've missed and plan ahead for next year.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

GABF 2007: The Pacific's Big Winners

With the GABF all wrapped up for another year, I figured it is appropriate say congratulations to all the brewers of the Pacific region who took home some hardware. In all, the brewers of California, Oregon and Washington brought back 62 medals: 26 Gold, 20 Silver and 16 Bronze.

Also, I'd like to give a big congratulations to the big winners of the region, those who took home 3 or more medals for their beers.
  • Elysian of Washington - 3 medals
  • Deschutes of Oregon - 3 medals
  • Pelican Pub or Oregon - 3 medals
  • Firestone Walker of California - 5 medals
  • BJ's of California - 4 medals
  • Green Flash of California - 3 medals
  • Marin of California - 4 medals
  • Moylan's of California - 3 medals
  • Pizza Port/Port Brewing/Lost Abbey of California - 6 medals
  • Russian River of California - 3 medals
For those who live on the west coast, this is just further validation that we're bless with an abundance of great hand crafted beer.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Imperial Day at Pyramid Brewing

by Mike Sober, Pacific Brew News

After a hard day of NFL football watching my wife Terri and I decided, after a bike ride of course, that we really need to heed the advice of Mike. Mike is, of course, Michael Mathot General Manager of Pyramid Breweries in Sacramento Ca. On our previous Friday night trip to Vino’s in Roseville to help drain the remaining glasses of Lagunitas Hop Stupid we were fortunate enough to run into Mike for the first time in over a month.

Mike informed us that, not only did they still have the Imperial Hefeweizen on tap, but they also currently offered Pyramids first attempt at a Double, or as they preferred to call it, an Imperial IPA. It was decided right then and there… we had to go, simple as that.

After finally getting parked near Pyramid’s downtown Sacramento location, Terri went straight for the “Thunderhead IPA” while I chose to go directly to the grail and ordered a tall glass of the Imperial Hefeweizen. I really liked the fact that they didn’t automatically deliver their wheat beers with a wedge of lemon, but first served it and then inquired as to whether I preferred fruit in my beer. Naturally I did not. The Imperial Hefeweizen is, to me, a very interesting idea that I have to admit is an even better reality. Surely a much better reality than I anticipated when Mike first told me that his brewers in Seattle had brewed a batch of ‘Imperial’ Wheat. Mike’s contagious enthusiasm, and the fact that Pyramid Breweries specialize so thoroughly in wheat based brews, convinced me that if anyone could pull off an Imperial Hefeweizen, it would be the wheat masters at Pyramid. And indeed they did.

The beer is a golden orange color with an unfiltered cloudy hue and a white crown that dissipates rather quickly. It possesses a nice balance that I half expected to suffer in such a ramped up version of what is essentially a traditionally light beer style. Still light and drinkable while at the same time possessing a much larger, bolder body that you would expect in any beer labeled an Imperial. Naturally I ordered another….just to be sure.

Terri finished off her IPA and was eager to move up to the Imperial and I have to admit I was right behind her in curiosity. The Imperial IPA surprised me with its almost copper color that reminded me more of a Red, or more precisely an Amber, than an IPA. I soon found out it had other features of a red with its delicate roasted malt flavor that lingered in the aftertaste. After a few sips I realized, “Man, I really like this beer”. The body was a bit thinner in body than most Imp IPA’s, but the bittering hop was right there in your face with every swallow.

Tasting the Imperial and the Thunderhead side by side I came to the conclusion that the same basic bittering hop is present in both beers, the Imperial just has three times the bitterness. I didn’t really detect a lot going on in the aroma, but the pleasing lingering hop taste more than made up for it.

To no one’s surprise I purchased a growler of the IPA and took it home and I think I heard that there were 22oz bottles of the Imperial Hefeweizen available in select local stores as well. The Imperial IPA won’t be around long so I suggest a trip to Pyramid… soon.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

GABF 2007: Congratualations!

The results are in! Everyone, please lift a glass up to celebrate along with these great brewers, who were honored today at the 2007 Great American Beer Fest. Pictured is Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing & The Lost Abbey.

Mid-Size Brewing Company and Mid-Size Brewing Company Brewer of the Year
Sponsored by HopUnion CBS, LLC
Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Paso Robles, California
Matt Brynildson

Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year
Sponsored by Microstar Keg Management
Port Brewing & The Lost Abbey, San Marcos, California
Tomme Arthur

Large Brewpub and Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year
Sponsored by Brewery Supply Group
Redrock Brewing Company, Salt Lake City, Utah
Kevin Templin

Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year
Sponsored by Briess Malt & Ingredients Co.
Montana Brewing Co., Billings, Montana
Travis Zelstra

Lessons From Don Younger

I grew up in the Northwest, spent my childhood in Oregon and went to college in Washington, so I am not afraid of the rain. In fact, so long as I am not bitterly cold, I quite enjoy spending some time out in a light rain - what we call a 'drizzle' in the great NW. Denver tonight was a wet, many said it was raining, but in all reality it was only a drizzle, but regardless, people in Denver sought shelter from the wet. So when I saw an American icon alone in the rain, I knew it was my chance to spend some quality one on one time with the one, and only, Don Younger, owner of Portland's famed Horse Brass pub.

"What are you drinking?" I asked. "Doesn't matter" was Don's reply (I never did find out what was in that pint glass). Don went on to share his personal phylosophy on beer and being a successful bar owner.

"People want to get back to their communities" was a phrase he'd stated more than a couple of times in our chat. I asked him to explain a bit more and words just weren't finding their way out of his mouth, so I prompted him with his own famous quote - "It's not about the beer, it's about the beer." At hearing this his eyes lit up and words no longer seemed to escape him. The conversation that followed was great, and I don't have a lot of quotes because of the setting and circumstance of it all, but I will do my best to convey his thoughts - I believe he is more insightful than you might think.

Getting back to your roots, that is what Don thinks makes a successful bar today (and for the past 30 years in his case). In my efforts to prod more information out, I realized for him it was more about people wanting to get away from the industrial aspect of everyday life. We tossed around examples of artisan breads, cheese, beer, chocolates and everything we see in our fine grocers around the country. With this in mind, it all began to make sense. It isn't about THE beer, it is about the BEER. What if Don didn't have the newest and greatest beer released by the hottest brewer in the region, would his bar suffer? Not likely. Because people go their to relax in an atmosphere that includes beer - good beer to be certain, but not necessarily THE beer.

Now, I feel like this isn't making a bunch of sense in writing, and I apologize if it is confusing - that would be my fault. What I think the point is, if I can distill this, is that Don thinks his success, along with the success of craft beer overall, is more about people appreciating things that are made by people with names we either know, or can know, and not corporations who produce at a scale that is so vast it simply cannot have a human eliment to it. When I think about it, I think the man is right.

I don't buy Velveeta (not even sure that's spelled right), or Wonder bread or Twinkies or even Snickers bars. I buy cheeses that are made by hand, bread from my local baker, deserts from a local grocer and chocolates that are made by hand. It is no wonder, therefore, that my beer selecion largely meets this criteria.

I imagine that to Don Younger the phrase "Support your local brewer" carries a lot more weight than it does on many of us who wear the t-shirts. I appreciate that, just as I appreciate all Don has done and continues to do - even if he tries to tell me he's not really doing anything.

Thanks Don for talking with me again, standing in the rain never felt better.

Side Note:
Writing this, I have a crazy longing for the Steak and Kidney pie served at Horse Brass, the best I've had - even though I won't claim t have had a lot.

GABF 2007: Half Way Point

The Great American Beer Festival is on the downhill slide to completion, with the two final session occuring this afternoon and evening. I took the evening off last night, largely due to an actual pain in my neck that wasn't going to heal itself by standing in lines at Falling Rock or the Flying Dog parties, so I am feeling pretty darned good today - ready for some business in a glass.

Here, once again, is a quit hit list of various thoughts from GABF.
  • My DRAFT VIP dislikes from Session One were corrected, in shocking fashion. No, it still wasn't the coolest place on earth, but it was clean, the food was good and it was the good place to relax I'd hoped it would be the whole time.
  • Two new beer magazines on the floor, going two very different directions.
    • Beer Northwest is a sharp looking magazine highlighting, of course, the Northwest USA. I wasn't surprised to like it when I read that Jay Brooks was a contributor, his passion for the industry and quality are exactly what the industry needs - so I assume that he wouldn't contribute pieces of his work to anyone with a different focus. BNW features very well done articles on pubs, brewers and even a few homebrew tips - and the story on Hops that Jay put together is a must read for those inclined to learn something when reading.
    • Beer is 180 degrees apart in direction and focus, it would appear. With articles teaching me 7 ways to open a beer without an opener, featuring three attractive ladies in little in the way of clothing, pretending to open bottles in these seven ways - which includes using your teeth - I was pretty sure this magazine was not intended for me.
      To make it worse, their feature story was the "Great American Beer Shootout - Blue Collar Beer". This 'shootout' features nine economy beers, like MGD, Schlitz and Old Milwaukee. The piece bothered me from the get-go, the notion that 'blue collars' and cheap beer somehow go hand in hand - it doesn't! I this this frustration around this piece may spark a whole post of it's own, but for now I'll just leave it at that.
      There were shining spots in this magazine, don't get me wrong. They have a Beer 101 section that is wonderful, something I've been trying to get other publications to do for a while now. This month's Beer 101 focused on Pilsners and was several pages in length - looking at the ingredients, proceess, history, variations and overall characteristics of the style. Very well done.
  • There is something almost perfect about a soft, warm pretzel at a beer fest.
  • The stage area, where the Brewing Network did their live podcast, is just not good. Hard to hear, and not really a well thought out place for entertainment.
  • Pliny the Elder still kicks ass, and it was a treat that Vinnie brought their Toronado 20th Anniversary beer for the early birds to enjoy.
  • Speaking of Vinnie... he and his wife, Natalie, are among the coolest owners out there. Prior to opening the gates, Natalie was talking with the volunteers for their booth, and being very complimentary toward both of them. She'd requested that they resist any requests to relieve another booth, that having the same team at their booth was important. And, as a thank you, she was taking their names and contact info so they could send out thank you gifts once they returned to Santa Rosa. I suspect Vinnie and Natalie will be treating their volunteers well -as all brewers should.
  • People are crazy! I love to watch people, and beer fests provide a lot of opportunity to do so. On this day we say a man who'd shaved the words "Beer Me" into his head, several guys dressed in sharp suits... from the '70's and a more crazy shirts than I can really do justice for. It is great to see, especially because most of the outrageous looking people were really quite nice.
  • It is truly amazing to see brewers genuinely excited to be at a beer fest, and so many brewers at the GABF are. I spoke with one brewer about the cause of his excitement, and he was quick to point out just how great it was to see the first impressions of the people drinking his beer, often oblivious that he is right there watching. So, with him, I watched people for a minute or two, and the faces told it all. There was a woman trying a sour beer he'd made, her eyes got really big for a second, and then sorta contorted into something not so pleasant - but she immediately told the man with her that he "needs to try this". About that same time a young guy with attitude written on his face took a drink of a pale of some sort. After his first sip, his head nodded and it was almost as if he were relieved - he clearly appreciated his beer. So, I could see how a brewer could get excited here, I suppose they can learn more then any panel of folks with pen and paper could afford him.
  • Two breweries I think need your support: Sacramento Brewing and Rubicon Brewing, both of Sacramento. Yes, this is my town, but the reason you should check them out is the fact that they surround Russian River, and often are treated pretty poorly by people who are just after the liquid gold of Santa Rosa. SacBrew is pouring a beer called Petersen's Pride, a British Double IPA unlike most beers I think you'll find, and Rubicon had a great lineup of beer all around. I actually watched a guy with a camera ask a brewer to kindly step back as he tried to get a picture of Vinnie... and that wasn't a good thing to witness. Yes, I agree that Vinnie is a rock star in brewing, but don't become so singularly focused while around him to miss some really good beers right next door.
  • I enjoyed the second session a bit more than the first for one big reason - I'd stopped looking for the beers I had to try. In fact, on day two I didn't even have a paper/pen. My goal really was to seek out beers I'd never heard of, small brewers who don't get a lot of airtime, so to speak. Shorts Brewing was one of these places, and the owner/brewer was a great guy to talk to. There were many more, and today at the Members Only session I suppose I'll continue my trek to find new beers from places I've never been to and probably never heard of.
  • Beer is good.
Well, I have places to go, so I'd better call this a post. Thanks to those I've met who have been very encouraging - Stan in particular. Oh, and thanks to Jay for a classy t-shirt, which I promise to wear with pride.

Friday, October 12, 2007

GABF 2007: Top Five List

What I liked:
  1. Subtle, yet clearly present, tributes to Michael Jackson - very classy.
  2. The people. Its amazing to me that you can get all them people in a room full of beer and not see it wind up in some chaotic mess fueled by rage and alcohol. OK, it isn't really a surprise, I've been to enough beer fests to know that doesn't happen, but a lot of subtle beer fans aren't aware this can happen. I met a lot of new people, shook hands with a lot of old friends, and generally walked away feeling good about everyone there.
  3. The Beers, a quick hit list
    1. Troegg's (Pa)
    2. Victory (Pa)
    3. Sprechers (Wi)
    4. Allentown (Pa)
    5. South Hampton (NY)
    6. Stoudt's (Pa)
    7. Walking Man (Wa)
    8. Silver City (Wa)
    9. Several others...
  4. The food - no, it wasn't great, but the five buck roast beef sandwich was perfect for what I wanted, and I was very happy it wasn't three dollars more expensive, what I thought they'd charge for it. Also, the Lucy Saunders booth with the free foods was a good find too.
  5. The Volunteers. I loved their enthusiasm, even if they weren't sure what they were pouring, they did a kick-ass job making me want to try their beers. Great job guys.
Things I didn't like
  1. The lighting - I mean, does it have to be that dark in there? C'mon. It was almost as if they were going for the romantic part of beer drinking, and that was just odd.
  2. The DRAFT VIP Lounge - it just wasn't right. Cheap food, messy tables, and decent beer hardly seemed worth the "VIP" hype. Sorry guys, you know I love you, but that was bad.
  3. The new "Beer" magazine. Something very inappropriate about the cover of this inagural issue, which appears to be breaking some common rules. I haven't read it yet, but wasn't impressed at all with that cover.
  4. Not enough water. I, along with nearly every booth it seemed, was on a constant look out for water.
  5. The Brewing Network live podcast. I'm sure (I hope) it sounded better if you were sitting in your living room. On the floor, however, it sounded like the teacher from Charlie Brown. I like the idea, especially as a podcaster of sorts, but this just didn't seem to work for me.
The list of "didn't likes" is so minor, by the way. Just a few things I thought of. I did think DRAFT did a good job attracting people to their floor booth, with games and prizes. Then, of course, I have to mention my fondness for the night's 'afterparty' at Falling Rock. Sampling the '04 Stone Old Guardian, '03 Stone RIS, He'Brew's Lenny on Rye (IIPA aged in Rye Whiskey barrels) and Oscar Blues' sour beer made for a good time. Throw in fellow beercasters like Jeff Bearer, Rick and Dick from Big Foamy Head and you have yourself a damned good time. Also enjoyed seeing regulars, like Jay Brooks, Tom Daldorf and others.

There, my condensed Day One write up.

GABF 2007: Video of Day One

I am NOT a video genius, by any stretch, but did have a string of videos and stills I thought I'd put together for your viewing pleasure.

Also check out the pictures from around the area.

GABF 2007: Day One

Sitting in Denver, a bit worn out from the day before, I figure this post won't be all that long. Yesterday was a fairly epic day in the life of a beer enthusiast, starting early and going well into the next day (I got home around 3 this morning).

To begin the day, we drove up to Boulder again for a private tour of Redstone Meadery, makers of fine honey wines. Along the tour we sampled all their products, got a brief education on meads and their process for making them and learned the absolute beauty of the Redstone Reserve Series meads - absolutely wonderful. Joining us on the tour, lest I forget, was Jeff Bearer of Craft Beer Radio, Rick of Big Foamy Head, my dad, uncle and Gary (who was Jeff's guide for the day I believe).

From Redstone we chose to make our way down the street to Avery Brewing to sample their beers - we'd been told about their Bad Karma and needed to try it. We arrived at the right time, let me just say that. Walking in I many folks from the industry. They were nice enough to let us tag along for the Avery tour, and I must say this - Avery is the strangest brewery I have ever seen!

Avery is located in an industrial area and house four or five sections of a long strip of businesses, with businesses in between their own brewery operations. They also had an outdoor fermenter! Now, think about what kind of hell it must be to transfer beer from this outdoor fermenter when it is well below freezing, as Boulder is prone to be in the winter... man, I still can't believe that. Their bottling line is so cramped I couldn't believe it, but it turns out this bad boy was custom made to fit in this small little room - insane. Clearly these guys are creative in their abilities, including their ability to adapt to what the world gives them as far as working space goes. I suppose this creativity is shocased in all their beers, isn't it?

Speaking of beer - their Bad Karma was pretty outstanding. A sour version of Karma, this beer was an ease to drink and a pleasure to consume. Their other special beer of the day was the Salvation aged in Oak, with the oak coming through pretty clearly.

Next, it was finally time to make our way to the Denver convention center for the 26th Great American Beer Festival! I'll have to get to this soon.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

GABF 2007: The Day Before

See the day in pictures...

Here in Denver, the night before the 2007 GABF, and all I can think is "WOW". The day started off simple enough, getting my bearings on a city I don't know and then going to the airport with my uncle to pick up my step dad. I just have this to say about that - Denver International is huge!

From the aiport we drove to Fort Collins for our private tour of New Belgium Brewing Co. There I met a lifelong friend, her newborn son and her father-in-law as we all had an extensive tour of the NB facility. Along the way we chatted about their sustainability practices and sampled their beers, even the ones not on the menu. We also got to see their "barrels" used to age La Follie and Le Terroir, barrels like I'd never seen before. Hell, we even got a few samples from these larger-than-life barrels, and I must say that in itself was an incredible thing. In all, I'd say that Sierra Nevada is doing more for sustainability, but NB is certainly doing all they can... Great place.

From NB we all headed down the street to another Ft Collins brewery, Coopersmith. If ever you're in the area, you need to find this place, they simply serve wonderful beer. I had a Kriek here that was wonderful, dry and clean finish with a fantastic tartness up front. They also were pouring an English Bitter that was wonderful in every way, served proper of course. Their chile beer was astounding, with wallop of fresh peppers in the aroma and a mild heat - this was right up there with the Great Basin Jalepeno beer I had at the California Brewers Festival.

While at Coopersmith we got a chance to sit with the head brewer, Dwight Hall, who told us the story of the place and described a bit of the process they use to create the beers we were enjoying. They opened in 1989, a few years before New Belgium, and have enjoyed a great relationship with the locals ever since. They do small batch brewing, using a 10 barrel system, and still do the brewing the hard way - by hand, with much sweat and frustration put into the great beers you'll find there. Dwight mentioned the Kriek I loved so much was fermented with only the organisms found in the oak barrel that once housed wine from Napa Valley. He'd keep the beer in the barrel for 18 months, allowing it to fully mature before releasing it. Dwight (pictured) rations the beer a bit so you have a good chance of finding it year round, you just won't be getting any to go.

Leaving Fort Collins we all headed to Twisted Pine Brewery in Boulder, just 30 minutes south. Twisted Pine is a production facility with a tasting room and the only food you'll find is the peanuts they give you when you order your beer. Here, they had just put on their Bourbon Barrel Red, a beer aged in Buffalo Trace barrels for a year and a half. Wow. The beer was full of wonderful oak and bourbon flavors and aromas, a delight to drink. Sitting outside there, we were surrounded by the locals, those folks just getting off work and finding their way to their favorite watering hole - it was great to see. The brewers too were enjoying the nice weather, gathered together for a few pints of their own after a long work day with the constant interuptions by folks in town for the fest.

We had just one more stop to make the day before GABF, Falling Rock Taphouse in downtown Denver. If you've never been to Falling Rock, find a way to do so. We met people from around the world, in town for the GABF, who were all too eager to enjoy the fine beers poured at Falling Rock. In attendance this night were brewers and publicans from around the country, those we all know and respect. The festivities ramped up when Hildegard, of Belgium's Urthel brewery, walked up in somewhat of a rock star fashion, with people asking for pictures and gushing about their love of her beers and her status as a female brewer. It was good to see her again, last time she was out PBN helped organize an Urthel night in the Sacramento area, and tonight again would be her night.

Hildegard was here to put on a very special beer, at treat for the GABF - the Samaranth aged in oak. What a treat, for those fortunate enough to get a glass, a wonderful Beligan Quad with more than a hint of oak in the flavor. They went through the first of two kegs in about 9 minutes I'd guess, and the other keg wasn't going to last long either.

Yes, it was a good way to usher in the 2007 GABF. In about an hour we'll pack into the car again and make another trip to Boulder, but this time to check out the famed Redstone Meadery. Our tour is slated for 11AM, then it is time for all things beer.

Step-dad and Uncle in New Belgium
New Belgium Barrels
Dwight at Coopersmith
Inside Falling Rock

See more pictures

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

GABF 2007: Getting Here

Writing now from Denver, having just arrived. To tell you I am excited about this weeks beer fest would be an understatement, but I am trying to remain a bit level headed about this whole thing and remember how I was at my first OBF... and how I was the second day of that event (it wasn't pretty). So, moderation, that seems to be the goal. We'll see how well that works out.

The flight getting here were good and I was happy to have a good beer in both the Sacramento and Las Vegas airports. In Sacramento I stopped at Capital Brewery (not a brewery) and had a bowl of barley / split pea soup with a pint of Sacramento Brewing's "Red Horse" ale. This was a whole hell of a lot better than I remembered it - less Vienna malt character and a bit more like an American Red Ale, complete with a wonderful hop character throughout. Very nice, indeed. I'll have to talk with Peter this week and see if he's tweaked this like he has their IPA.

In Vegas, well, it just wasn't as good. Here I had a crappy pizza that was typically overpriced to go along with something called "Sin City". I don't know who made it, what it was or anything - and frankly I am a bit too tired by the days events to care enough to look it up, sorry. The beer was good, I'll give it that, but it was a beer I only wanted have a glass of, and when I left the other half still in the glass the barkeep seemed a bit miffed. It clearly wasn't worth the "Vegas" airport price, which seemed to be a couple bucks higher than a glass of Sacramento beer.

A couple side notes:
  1. I really don't like Las Vegas all that much. Sure, I love the shows, and the magic of it all, but I just don't have any desire to gamble, and slot machines annoy the hell out of me. I can't even be in the same room with these monsters and their annoying noises and irritating flashing lights.
  2. Parents can suck. I sat one seat in front of a girl who had to be around 7 years old. Now, evidently she was upset at something, but I (sitting right in front of her) heard no crying or complaining whatsoever... but that mother! She was raising her voice, chewing her out and making a big scene of god-knows-what. It was shocking really. The whole time the mom practically yelling (yelling with an indoor voice) to her kid to stop crying because they were on a plane and she was embarrassing herself. Now, I am NOT a parent and I suspect that is the ONLY reason I found it in me to sit there and say nothing.
  3. Bloody Mary's... I don't think I enjoy these frequently enough. On both legs of the trip I asked for a glass of the Bloody Mary mix - no alcohol. It wasn't great, but it was good. While sipping away at my second glass I was reminded of some truly fantastic Bloody Mary's I've had in mornings. I had a homemade version once with a bright horseradish bite to it that was, well, memorable. Do you have a Bloody Mary recipe? I figure I'll need to try and make up a batch someday soon, that non-alcoholic version, as bad as it may have been by your standards, just hit the spot.
  4. Denver Hiways - they SUCK. Sure, these roads are clean and easy to navigate, but leaving the airport to get to my uncle's place for the night, I literally hit FOUR toll booths, each wanting 2 bucks, cash! I was on this road for 20 freaking miles! And cash? I just spent the last of my cash at the airport, all I have is plastic (which is fine at toll booths in the west - even the Coquahala in BC, middle of nowhere, takes cards... c'mon!). So, I now have 48 hours to call some lame phone number and give them my payment over the phone. Yeah, that's cool. I can't imagine this happening in California... that is just nuts. Ever ten miles you pay a 2 dollar toll? Oh, and some exits costs 75 cents to use, "exact change". I sure hope, for the good people of Colorado's sake, that I found the crappiest freeway in the state to travel on.
  5. Drink of the night? Water. Lots and lots of water.
Thanks to all the nice emails regarding our kitty. It was a super rough way to start our days and I'm still pretty bummed by the whole thing. My wife and I both appreciate your kind words and well wishes, thank you.

Thank You Yin - The Pretty Fluffy Kitty

Yin, our long haired kitty of thirteen years has passed away, her kidneys just couldn't do it anymore. But, rather than be sad at the passing I hope to reflect some grateful sentiments for all she offered us.

To begin, Yin was born on Bowen Island of British Columbia, Canada, a couple of years before I met my wife, Tracy. She was adopted by Tracy along her with sister, Yang. Yin was always the prettier sister, but for most their life they got along great - there's even a picture here of them sleeping together as they did so often in their younger days. Yin seemed to have a knack for catching birds in her younger years, loved the outdoors and even did OK on ocean kayaks (although they weren't her favorite thing). In our college years this trooper of a kitty saw the west coast up and down - Vancouver Island (Victoria); Kelowna (Interior BC); Seattle; Fullerton (SoCal); Aneheim and Sacramento.

For the first half of her life, Yin was the prettiest and prissiest kitty you'd ever seen. She loved sitting in places that made sure you would see her, and loved it when you commented on her beauty; however, in this part of her life she didn't like to be petted much, just fawned over. Yes, she loved to pirch on anything she could - trees, tables, sinks, bookshelves - whatever seemed to be the best spotlight to show off her pretty fur to all who'd pass by.

Speaking of perching... The first time I met this kitty was a bit more than 10 years ago, in Kelowna. I was sleeping in my girlfriends spare bedroom and woke up just in time to see Yin happily drool on my face. She was perched atop my chest and all to eager to greet this new house guest. Tracy was impressed because Yin was known for her stand-offish behaviors, so I was obviously someone special to garner this sort of attention from the Princess.

Prior to this, Yin had also been known for her expert hunting ability (see her sneaking up on that bird pictured)- something she tried to pass on to the humans in her life. Yes, on occasion it has been told to me that my wife would wake up and see Yin sitting on the bed, super excited. As soon as my wife would become aware of the whens and wheres of it all, Yin would make a quick exit and let the little snake that was being kept warm by the fluffy kitty loose. Ah, what great fun this was for Yin as she observed Tracy's snake catching abilities (or lack thereof).

When we moved to Sacramento in 2000, we noticed a major change in Yin's behavior. Shortly after buying our home she turned from Little Miss Priss to something a bit more dirty. She'd figured out the joy of laying in loose leaves and piles of dirt and would often come inside looking like an absolute mess! Ah, but she loved it, don't be fooled. She never seemed more happy than when she was at her messiest - and this was a bit more than shocking for Tracy and me.

She took it too far earlier this year, as she found herself on the wrong end of a Skunk that had found our yard. Oh, for the love of all things decent, this was a long night for everyone. Sadly, I think Yin got the worst of it, as evidenced by this picture of her getting her peroxide/lemon smell removing bath. Poor kitty. It didn't seem to change anything for her though, she'd still tromp around the house and come in dirty as she could.

Ah, 13 years of good stories, they simply can't be told her at this forum. I hope you all don't mind my sharing something personal like this, but today I just can't imagine talking about beer, the industry or even the upcoming GABF. It is just a sad and quiet sort of day, a day we all experience.

No, today will likely be full of shared stories about this cat who meant so much to our little home for so many years. It may even be tough to pour a glass of milk, as this was a favorite for Yin - fresh milk poured into her little bowl would make her sing, dance and generally show a lot of personality. She will be missed, and I am thankful that we have all these stories and more to share.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Hardly Strictly Weekend

It is true, there's more to my life than just beer. Seriously. This weekend my wife and I will be in San Francisco for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. This is a free weekend of great music with artists you can't help but love. Who will we be seeing?
  • James McMurtry
  • Michelle Shocked
  • Nick Lowe
  • Steve Earl
  • Gillian Welch
  • Guy Clarke
  • Robert Earl Keen
  • Bela Fleck
Oh, and that is just Saturday's plan. My wife and I are proably most excited to see Michelle Shocked for the first time, but James McMurtry is right up there too - his shows are always worth it. I know it is too late to get you there, but this happens every Fall and is one of the best weekends you can spend, if you like good music. So, if you are interested, make sure you check out their site next Summer to see when it will be in 2008 and who all will be there. I'll promise you this, you won't be disappointed.

If you're going, pack a lunch and bring your own beer. There are vendors there, but selection is limited and prices are high. If you're still wanting something afterword, stop by Toronado or Magnolia.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Homebrew Notes: Rick's New Toy

This week I bought a used B3 1000 Brewing Sculpture, and I can't wait to use it. This sculpture is less than one year old, has many upgrades and looks to be brand spanking new - it was a great deal. The system consists of:
  • Three 14 Gallon pots, with spigots and thermometers - Hot Liquor Tank, Mash Tun & Kettle - perfect for making 10 gallon batches
  • 55k BTU propane burners
  • Wort Chiller
  • Mash Tun complete with false bottom & fly sparge setup
  • Kettle equipped with Diverter Plate
Now, this will be a fun new development for me because it is a 10 gallon brew system. I have been brewing 5 gallon batches and hope the learning curve isn't too hard to overcome for my holiday brewing (I give a lot of beer away for the holidays... a lot of beer).

I am in a bit of a confused state now, I have to admit, I don't know how to break this thing in. I'm considering brewing a second batch of Northern Brewer's Bourbon Porter (it's pretty darned good), a Milk Stout (I really like this style, not sure how the family will like it though), my own "Pale Warrior" (an American Single Hopped IPA, using only Warrior hops) or something entirely different. Ah, the tough choices in life... right?

I am pretty stoked about this, to a point that is nearing embarrassing. I have walked out and looked at this thing-of-beauty more than a couple times, just to stare and wonder. I never thought I'd get one of these, couldn't imagine being able to afford one. However, when someone is selling the complete system for less money than I could get the kettles, well, you have to rethink a few things.

There is some level of sadness too, don't be fooled. I love my Gott coolers. I love the challenge they've offered me, the messes, the insanity of it all. I imagine I'll make messes with this too, but I can't imagine a bigger mess than that double IPA I made with Mike last year... when the false bottom became dislodged and we had to scoop out the mash with a measuring cup and everything within three feet stuck to us. As messy as that was, though, that beer came out wonderful.

In fact, I can safely say that most of the beer I have made at home has come out great - the extracts (which I still do on occasion), the partial mash and the all grain. There was that one year I made a pumpkin beer with real pumpkin that proved to be a really bad idea, but that was all for fun anyway.

If you're interested in homebrewing, there's one resource I think you should check out - James Spencer's Basic Brewing. James is a great guy with all the right contacts to make sure you get the best information out there. Even if you're already a homebrewer, I think James' interviews are diverse and thorough enough that you'll learn something. Homebrewing is fun, easy and often results in beers you'll be proud to share with friends and family.

While I'm at it, if you're new to brewing might I suggest you check out Northern Brewer's website. Out of Minnesota, I think Northern Brewer has the best ingredients out there in the webosphere. If you're looking for equipment, I think More Beer would be my first stop.

I do think I've figured out my first 10 gallon batch to brew, a Porter (man, I love a good porter):
  • 17 LBS Rahr 2-Row Pale
  • 2 LBS Simpsons Crystal 60
  • 1 LBS Crisp Pale Chocolate
  • 2 oz Chinook
  • 2 oz Cascade

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Vintage Beer Auction: Liquid Solutions

Liquid Solutions, for those of you who don't know, is a great online beer shop with a beer selection you simply can't beat. In addition to great beer, Liquid Solutions offers a variety of meads, sakes, coffees, wine, cider and soda - including Kambucha and Coca-Cola from Mexico (which uses a different sweetner, lending a unique flavor to the staple cola I quite appreciate).

Some time ago, I can't remember when exactly, Matt Maples (who runs the place) began hosting online Vintage Auctions for beers that are both rare and well aged. I was lucky enough to be there when they started, almost weekly, so I got some pretty outstanding deals on beers that I thought worth the effort and price - the three bottles of 1996 Kulmbacher Eisbock are safely tucked away, but I did have to do a quality check on one just to see how good it could be (great).

This week, Matt auctioned off a bottle of Chimay Grand Reserve from 1994, which sold for $100. That's right, one bottle of Chimay sold for 100 bucks. In the same auction, bottles of '93, '95 and '96 Old Crustacean sold for $61. At first blush I think about how much money people are spending on... beer. I realize pretty quickly, however, that this is a pretty cool thing for those with the means to utilize this service.

You see, aging beers is a wonderful thing, and I know that we all have to start somewhere - I mean, how often can you find a 13 year old beer in a store? So, if you're new to beer aging, or if you haven't ever tried a well-aged beer, I recommend you find a friend who's got a good cellar, or try your luck with Matt's Vintage Auctions. I am pretty sure if you win the auction, you won't be disappointed.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The State of Jefferson: Notes and Musings by a Weary Traveler

I spent the weekend in Southern Oregon, with family, for the opening weekend of deer season, and now I am just beat down, tired and sore all over. My brother, Jason, and I both filled our deer tags opening day before noon - it was a great day for the family, but I won't get to the details because I figure a lot of you won't be interested. Getting our deer out of the woods was, well, miserable, with steep and wet terrain frustrating the efforts we put out - painful. Dripping with sweat, but somehow chilled to the core, I was reminded once again that beer is just beer.

Why? Well, in our fatigued and celebratory conditions, it was time for beer - we all needed it. However, there is no craft beer to be found here, just Bud and Coors Light in cans. Just like last year, under similar circumstances, the moment was perfect, even if the beer was 'lacking' for my tastes. You may not appreciated that, or maybe you will, but standing with my worn out, yet joyous, father and brother drinking a cold Coors when words were nowhere to be found - replaced with silent glances of admiration and love - it was just right. No beer-politics, no numbers and no judging, replaced by something so much more important.

That was Saturday. By Sunday, I was itching for better beer. Luckily, Southern Oregon has it going on.

I stopped at Dick's Market in Central Point, knowing this little, run down, market always has the goods when it comes to beer. While there I picked up a six pack of Sirius to share with family and happily noted the high percentage of small, hand crafted beers to choose from. If you ever find yourself in Medford/Central Point, check out Dick's on Beal.

For dinner I went with my folks to Wild River Brewing, who makes a mean pizza and fantastic fish and chips. Here I enjoyed their IPA, one of my favorites of the west coast. They also had a pretty fantastic Pilsner, light bodied and displaying a nice crisp hop bittering - not at all overpowering.

I was a bit sad to not find my way to Southern Oregon's newest brewery, aptly named "Southern Oregon Brewing Company". This place opened up early in the Summer and has so far generated little in the way of reviews, from what I can tell. I had hoped to make it here for a beer, but I suppose I'll have to try again in three weeks when I return.

On my way out of town I stopped in Ashland's "Market of Choice", just down the street from SOU (formerly SOSC). I absolutely love this store - think Trader Joe's meets Whole Foods meets Nugget Market - wonderful produce, meats, cheeses and, of course, beer. I believe MoC has 10 beer fridges, 8 of them full of craft beer and quality imports. This place always has something new, something I haven't tried, and Sunday's stop was no different. I picked up a couple Ale Smith products, Caldera's IPA (now in cans!) and the Oak Aged Yeti I've read so much about, from Colorado's Great Divide Brewing Co.

My trip home to California was interrupted by mechanical issues, so I found myself in Yreka for a night. No worries, the little market there had Triple Exaltation by Eel River, their Old Ale. I'd been meaning to get to this beer, but never found occasion to actually do it. Sitting in my hotel room, watching MNF and enjoying this beer wasn't a bad idea - it was a great beer.

Monday, with a new rental car, I drove south a bit till I got to Redding's Liquor Barn, a must stop for any lover of good alcohol. This place is 90,000 square feet of goodness - great whiskey's and wonderful beers. Here I loaded up on more Alesmith beers (keep in mind, I can't get Alesmith in Sacramento - and I still can't tell you why!), including their ESB, IPA, Imp Stout and something else in a foil topped bottle. I also picked up a couple bottles of Sierra Nevada's Harvest ale, the wet-hopped gem released in bottle for the first time this year. I actually was able to try this beer too, and think I can say if you see it, you'll be best to pick it up - it just seems like a beer anyone can appreciate, not over the top, but full of flavor. There was also the new-to-me Imperial IPA from Mt. Shasta Brewing Co, in Weed that found its way in my basket, along with a six pack of the 2007 release of Lagunitas' Imperial Red.

In all, I feel well stocked with good beer. I love the "State of Jefferson" region I grew up in, the far northern part of California and far southern part of Oregon. The place is just beautiful, with rugged terrain and majestic views of Shasta and other mountains of the region. Add to this our love of great beer, and there is no doubt these people know how to live - simple, with clean air, great food and fantastic beverages to cap off a day of hard work.

A few more notes: It appears the proposed tax increase on beer in Oregon has failed for now. Good news, but brewers are still leary of this coming back soon.

The State of Jefferson is still a neglected region. No, it isn't as bad as it once was, but it is sad in some areas. All public libraries in Jackson County have been closed and public services are reduced significantly. This is due to a depressed forestry industry, with nothing there to fill that void. It bothers me a bit, I suppose, because other regions that were once logging dependent have found ways to retrain their workforce, most notably some towns in southern BC, like Chilliwack who now has call centers for computer companies employing former loggers and mill-workers, largely due to the BC government's willingness to retrain workers and do what was needed to attract these companies to do business in their small town. I love the area I grew up in, and it is sad to see what has happened there. Hell, just two years ago my childhood school district had to cut classes to four days a week because they couldn't afford to pay teachers for five days - so they effectively reduced classroom time by 20%. Now the libraries are closed. I hope for better things in this area, I really do. Right now, however, I just don't see things changing.

Finally, on a personal note. I love hunting with my family. I wouldn't hunt on my own, I don't really feel the call to do this, but it is easily the most enjoyable time I spend with my family. Up at 4:30 and on the road by 5, the cold, damp and cold mornings in the mountains are a conversation of their own. There is just something about the activity I think you can't understand if you have not done it. Now, I don't mean to suggest you all need to hunt, but for me and my family this time of year is amazing. In fact, my brother and father, uncle and cousin, all spend most of the year dreaming about this time of the year.