Thursday, January 31, 2008

Congratulations to the Hoey's!

I got the text message Monday that Peter and Brittney Hoey were on their way to the hospital, time (some might say 'finally') to give birth to their first born. The message was simple, "OK, this time it's for real". The next morning (1/29) a follow up announcing Lorelai's birth, at 10:56 AM (must be a brewer's daughter).
To follow this up, last night I attended the Northern California Brewer's Guild meeting, hosted by Sacramento Brewing Company, where Peter is the beloved brewmaster. Above the bar was a sign that announced "It's a girl!" with the weight, length and time of birth. More than a couple times you could watch patrons lift their glass in celebration of the event. In fact, to begin the NCBG meeting, all glasses were raised in genuine cheer. You see, Peter is about the most respected brewer you'll find - passionate, friendly and someone you're happy to know. He and Brittney are just a joy to be around, we can't wait to meet Lorelai.

If you live in Sacramento, be sure to partake in the celebration in February, as Peter releases the much anticipated "Rorie's Ale", a Belgian-inspired quadruple made with pomegranate and other wonderful additions. This beer was brewed in celebration of their first born and can be seen right now in the first fermentation tank as you walk in the brew-pub.

Peter (I know you're reading this), you're a lucky man. Congratulations!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Shark Attacks in February

Beer Enthusiasts, mark your calendars.

In checking new TTB approvals, I found that Port Brewing just received label approval for their Shark Attack Double Red, which is due to be released in February according to the man in charge down there, Tomme Arthur. This is a 9% big red ale and this is the first time it will be available in bottles.

Now, I don't always post new releases, but for some reason this label just works for me. Oh, and I believe this one of the beers Mike brought back in a growler for us to try a while back. If it's what I think it is, this is a hopped up red - the kind of beer we like around here. Of course, all the growlers of beer Mike brings back from that part of the world are nothing short of an ass-kicking experience and joy to drink. Look for this around the end of February where Port Brewing beers are sold.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A-B Fighting an Uphill Import Battle

I ran across an interesting (mildly) piece in BrandWeek about A-B plans to tout their import brands in the near future. While it focused a bit on their ad campaigns, I found it interesting that the import market had such a seemingly big lag in late 2007 - growing only 1.8% versus the 2.4% growth of 2006. The article never factors craft beer's success in the slowed growth for this segment, and perhaps there's really more to the story (when you start talking in those volumes I feel less confident I have any idea which way is up). Personally, I can't help but think that there are so many craft pilsners, hefeweizens and tradition styles on the market now that is has to cut in a bit on the import market selling beers with the same words on the labels.

Perhaps this is why it seems A-B will market "authenticity" this year with it's import brands. It seems at least two brands will tug the beer heart strings a bit, Bass Ale and Amstel Light. According to BrandWeek Bass will tout themselves as the necessary ingredient for an "authentic Black and Tan". I suppose this will be a campaign designed to pressure bar-owners to keep Bass on in fear they'll be blacklisted for serving the fake black and tan made with a fake pale ale. Additionally, you wouldn't want to be the douche that throws a party and makes a fake B&T now, would you? Yeah, didn't think so.

On the other hand, Amstel seems to be playing off a different theme: "Spirit of Amsterdam". I don't quite have a handle on this one, the only connotations I think of have little to do with beer. Perhaps that's what they're hoping for? I mean, it is served in a green bottle. The "Spirit of Amsterdam" slogan sounds a bit like "The Great American Lager", in which case I'd assume some think-tank/study group identified authenticity as a key selling point for products.

In any case, it seems the big big guys (A-B, InBev, SABMiller, etc.) will be ramping up their ads this year, perhaps making more direct affronts to beer enthusiasts who long to 'keep it real'. I wonder now, actually, if the whole HofbrÀuhaus story Stan had the other day is in line with this, as they claimed to be the only real "double bock" on the market today.

I suspect if the slowed growth really is linked the white-hot success of the craft beer industry all the ads these guys put out won't do much to address their concerns. Of course, if they start making consumers feel like they've sold out by enjoying a fake representation of an old-world style who knows that that'd do. I did read recently that A-B would start playing nice with the craft brewers in their advertising, but we'll see how long that lasts.

Why Leave the Telling to Everyone Else

If you're a fan of Ani DiFranco, you'll know that lyric. It isn't really a life-guiding statement for me, but more and more it seems like a good idea. Why? I don't fully know, but it just seems necessary - and not just for beer. Reading a few blogs today got me thinking...

First, there was Jay's bit on Cognitive Branding, which was really about another story, but as Jay tends to do, it all made sense in the end. The premise had a lot to do with A-B's marketing success, or what makes their marketing a success - specifically related to Super Bowl ads.

The other post was by Lew as he passed on a story about Don Russell and his overall contribution to Philly's beer scene. I read the piece and learned a few things about Don, being a younger guy in the beer blogging/writing world there's a lot I still have to learn about those I casually know (or know of). You can also add to this pile of thoughtful contemplation yesterday's post by Lew encouraging all to check out Pete Brown's Blog, which I have now and then, but without any real dedication.

Anyway, where am I?

There are great beer writers out there, and beer bloggers who warrant the attention they get. Each with their own drum to beat, stories and information to pass on. They're not leaving the telling to anyone else, and we're the better for it! Imagine a world where all our beer knowledge came from A-B ads, or where everything we know of food comes from restaurant chains. We're inundated with crap, everywhere we turn there's misinformation, half-truths and "spin" - retelling stories in a way that meets an agenda. I guess you don't really have to imagine too hard if you were around before this maturing anti-industrial culture - which I hear pre-dates the internet!

The world needs your story everyday, and that doesn't mean we need your words on another blog (necessarily). You don't need to be the fool nobody wants to be around, but each of us (I'm assuming a bit about the PBN audience) has something to say when it comes to beer, food, life. Why leave the telling to the Industrial Brewers, or even Jay, Stan, Lew, Pete or anyone else for that matter? Here's a few things you can do to find your voice.
  • Ask restaurant managers why they don't have a local craft beer on tap. Be polite, but direct. Restaurants around the country have wine lists designed to impress, with a beer corner for those who just gotta have a beer - you know, the corner with B/C/M. In these places you won't find Ernest and Julio Blush wine, so why do they insist on carrying the industrial swill that does little for the community, offers little flavor and doesn't really go well with the 20 dollar plate you're going to enjoy? Ask, challenge, engage.
  • Do the same with grocers, corner shops and office parties. Too many grocers carry "what sells" when it comes to beer, but again carrying wines galore. Challenge that notion a bit, again as diplomatically as you can. Best selling wine in the US is something like Franzia or E&J Gallo, nothing any wine person would be proud to serve at dinner or to friends. Point that out, tell them that just like higher-end wines you expect to see beers of variety, character and depth. If it's a good buyer, they'll listen. Face it, they've really got little to lose and often welcome the suggestions - and your word may mean a whole lot more than the same exact words coming from the brewery reps that get paid to make face-time with this guy.
  • Don't be a dick. This may seem counter to what I mentioned above, but you'll earn little points in a real life situation if you make a scene, belittle anyone for their taste in beer or disrespect someone for not catering to your consumer needs. I've witnessed too many 'beer geeks' rail on a guy who is just out to have a good time, or servers who have no control over what's on a menu. Oh, and telling someone they're going to lose your business is just silly, boycotting an establishment rarely gets anything done except make folks happy to see you walk away. While telling your story, remember who you're talking to and who you represent.
  • Oh, if you don't like that last line, know that when you speak for better beer, you do represent a community of beer enthusiasts, the better beer industry and people who have the same end goals as you do (we all want the better beers on the shelf, on the menu). In a way I'd call us ambassadors. If you're out only to represent yourself, well that's your thing. Maybe you only want to see the beer you want because you want it - and I suppose that's fine. But for me I speak because I assume the only beer-sense someone has is what they've seen on TV. Trust me, I have enough good beer at home to live a merry beer-rich life. I know that the fine brewers of the world don't have the marketing budgets the industrial brewers have, so I see myself as their way to communicate to people outside their brewery.
Now, I know that not everyone is really cut out for this sort of advocacy - and trust me when I say that is more than OK. I just know that many of you have the ability, and even the desire to speak up sometimes when you feel it's necessary. For those in the latter group, I ask again - Why leave the telling to everyone else?

About the Image: No explaining that one, it wasn't anything close to what I was looking for, but seemed only mildly inappropriate for this post.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Beer Hunters Beware: The Younger is On Tap

Yes, that's right, Russian River's famed Pliny the Younger is on tap, as of today. This won't last too long, so if you can make it out there in the next couple of weeks, do so. For those who don't know, Younger is Vinnie's "Triple IPA", a hopped up super beer with more alcohol and flavor than you're used to.

Enjoy it if you can, knowing that it won't be long before Pliny the Elder (Double IPA) and Blind Pig (IPA) are available in 16oz bottles.

Speaking of Russian River... It appears assistant brewer Travis has set them up with a WordPress page. I don't know ANYTHING about this, but can only drool at the pictures here. It was only set up today, but the pictures here are stunning! 400+ barrel (wooden) capacity! It's a dream...

A Wet-n-Wild Weekend

We left our house mid-afternoon on Friday, headed to Monterey - our favorite winter destination of the past 7 years or so. We go primarily to see the monarch butterflies on their winter migration, they arrive in November and leave in February. I'll get to that later, but for now, let's start from the beginning.

Stop #1: El Toro Brewing Co., Morgan Hill, California

We pulled into El Toro's sorta-new brew-pub in the midst of a downpour that made driving a harrowing activity. Too bad really, with still an hour to go in this mess I played it cool here, sampling only a portion of the beers offered. The beers here are nothing short of fantastic. Of course, I tend to quickly move to the hoppy side of taps, thoroughly enjoying the Deuce Double IPA, an Alpha King winner from a few years back. Wicked good beers here, by the way. Right now they've got a four year vertical of their barley wine - all on tap, and all beautifully made.

The brew-pub has been open about a year and a half now, and before this was bank and then a jail. The old bank vault is still installed here, and they've gone ahead and converted that into a little banquet/party room. You can see the outside of the room in the picture to the left, the vault door presenting its own sort of ambiance. Now, I didn't do a lot of inquiring about the jail days of the pub, but it's clear the place has history - and I love places that have stories. We didn't stay too long this time around, with the weather sucking as it did we just wanted to reach our final destination.

Butterflies and Beer, Oh My!

Monterey is a well documented travel destination, with tourists from around the world descending on the place for a trip to the wonderful Monterey Bay Aquarium and to see other picture perfect sights along the way. While we're members at the Aquarium, and have been for a few years now, we come here this time of year to see the butterflies. However, that doesn't stop us from checking out our favorite bottle shop beforehand to restock, Bottles and Bins.

Bottles and Bins is just a couple blocks up the hill from the aquarium, a little and run-down market you wouldn't really expect much from on the first look. However, inside you'll be impressed with their selection of quality American craft-beers as well as impressive imports. We picked up four bottles of Allagash Four (which is hard to find, to say the least, these days), Cantillon Gueze and some other odds and ends. Left behind were more good beers than I have room to describe. Funny really, when looking at the post below, I am more impressed with a little corner shop in Monterey than I was with the monster bottle shop that boasts 1000 beers. In actuality though, Bottles and Bins has it going on for those among us who appreciate great beer on our holidays.

Back to the Buttterflies
The Butterfly Grove is found in Monterey's south-neighboring town, Pacific Grove. Tracy and I love to stay at the Butterfly Grove Inn, a quaint and older establishment that butts up against the butterfly grove. In the mornings you can walk through and find thousands of butterflies clumped together, hanging (dangling) from cypress and eucalyptus trees. If you've not seen them before, it can be hard to spot, as they look more like brown leaves than colorful butterflies. If you look carefully at the picture above, that messy clump throughout the middle is nothing but butterflies. In late November, early December if there hasn't been a storm, you can find butterflies in the tens of thousands. This time of year, the grove's docent speculated the population was down to about 4000 - after major wind and rain storms in the past few weeks, it's impressive there was that many.

The monarchs won't fly until the ambient temperature reaches 58 degrees (unless they really need to, but even then they lack the grace we're used to in the creatures), so getting there a little before 11:00AM is a good time to be there. As the temperature climbs and the light breeze kicks in, you'll find the butterflies beginning to quiver, shake, an early morning exercise that gets the blood flowing and the body temps up. After a few minutes of quaking, and without any additional warning, they're off! On Saturday we were fortunate enough to witness two butterfly bursts (both around 11:15) where hundreds of butterflies, all at once, explode into the air, fluttering magically overhead. It's hard to not be excited when you witness this, to let out subdued noises of awe and amazement.

We sat in the grove for more than an hour that morning, nursing large glasses of peach lambic and wielding cameras and binoculars. If you've never seen anything like this, you probably should add it to a list of things you must do - especially if you live in Northern California. It's nothing short of amazing.

Other Things To Do

We did more than look at butterflies on our trip. We spent a good deal of time on the ocean, looking at tide-pools and enjoying good food. Here's a quick list of places to see when you're in Monterey.
  • Little Chicken House (1193 Forest Ave) is hands down the best chicken you'll find within 100 miles any direction. We've been hitting this place up for years, the owner/cook/manager/host is a gentle spoken man who just knows how to make a great chicken. If you're in town, you simply must stop in. Seriously. Oh, this is a cash-only place, so keep that in mind. Dinner for two - about 20 bucks.
  • Crown and Anchor - this downtown English-inspired pub is a pretty well known joint, as evidenced by the lack of seating on weekend evenings. Decent beer, great ambiance and good servers make it a worth-while stop.
  • Sea Harvest Fish Market (598 Foam St) - We love this place! Fish-n-chips made with whatever was brought in from the boat that morning, oysters on the half shell for 1.50 each (and oh so good) and a handful of other great offerings make it a place you'll likely stop at again. There are certainly more trendy places, but... come on, why do what every other tourist is doing? While there, get the Caramel Wheat beer (Caramel Brewing, made in Ukiah - but hey, it's the thought that counts), relax and enjoy great seafood.
  • Peter B's Brewery (in the Portola hotel) - No, the beers aren't the best you'll find in town, but the servers are super-friendly and it seems like a place where locals congregate. I love local joints, and even though it's connected to a hotel, you'll appreciate the laid back pace and good times.
  • Butterfly Grove Inn ( - This is where we like to stay when we go to see the butterflies. It's cheap, clean and a bit off the beaten path. There are nicer hotels out there, and certainly those with more amenities, but this just works for us. Right next to the grove, close to town - a good deal.
  • Bottles and Bins (898 Lighthouse Ave) - This is the bottle shop you'll want to stop at for the weekend's beer needs, or perhaps to take home and add to your cellar.
More Pictures
Butterflies and Beach
El Toro Brewing

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Northern California's Alcohol Mega-Store

I made my first trip into Total Wine today, a chain-type place that has done well for itself back east and is now coming into California. I have only a few thoughts.
  • While the beer selection is vast, there is little that we haven't seen before. That said, there were a few nuggets there for those looking. I did buy a bottle of Deus for 22 buck - that ain't bad. They've also got the Victoria Ale beer from Allagash, a beer with wine grapes added to the mash. I hadn't seen the beer before, so it found its way home with me. Other than that, bunches of beers you'll find elsewhere.
  • Good selection of whiskey. We picked up a Bookers bottle for 40 bucks - a good price for certain.
  • Walk-in humidor is fun and should be popular with the Roseville crowd. Just for fun we got an Ashton Maduro to take with us to Monterey this weekend, where it promises to be wet and windy.
  • Service is too young to gauge at this point, happy folks who know enough to get by I suppose. With the selection they have, I don't expect they'd be experts by any measure - but they're clearly giving it a go. I was greeted by a grump of a man, but after than the staff seemed generally cheerful and excited to be open.
  • Prices seem too low. I don't know a lot about this side of business, but it seems some high-end products were priced to entice people to come in. If so, it's gonna work - I called two locals to tell them about beers they need to find and stock up on while they can.
In general, the place is good. I couldn't help but feel, however, like I was shopping at a big-box store for alcohol (a feeling I don't like). While I took advantage of good pricing, I just didn't feel the same connection I get when shopping at other local places, where I think the guy selling me beer actually knows a thing or two about beer. I don't know, I think one of the coolest things about beer is the people in the industry overall, and taking that small element out of the equation seems to bother me. Of course, I think it has mostly to do with my connection with those who sell me my beer, those who have to sell at higher prices because that's what they do.

I suppose there's more to the story, there always is. I was at Nugget market tonight and talking with their beer/wine guy, Larry, a man whose enthusiasm seems to boil over whenever you see him. He was worried about a few things in the beer world, mainly price. He'll be raising prices on six-packs next week, as much as a buck-n-change, and he's worried about 'sticker shock' with his loyal customers. I suppose he should be, too.

We've heard for a while now that prices will be going up for beer this year, I don't think I was even prepared for that price hike to be so sudden. I don't know if this'll be news for any of you, but if so, consider this your head's up: the price of beer will be higher within days.

So, back to big-box store and impersonal service. What they can offer is lower prices, and I see a draw to that, especially as price of product hikes. So, call it a perfect storm if you will for those who sell good beer for a living in Placer County, just as they have to raise the prices and face the customers who don't understand, the new/shiny/enticing store will be opening its doors, perhaps willing to hold off any price increases as a means to get buyers in the door. Who knows?

I do know this, I'm looking forward to seeing the ocean tomorrow and stopping by El Toro Brewing in Morgan Hill. I'm also looking forward to fresh seafood from a little place in Monterey, chicken smoked the good way (the right way) up the hill and a chance to let life pass me by as we watch the rain in the woods with nothing more to do that eat, sleep and be merry.

Phoenix Wrap-up

Just returning from Phoenix, where the DRAFT offices are, and I already miss the near-perfect weather they're having there this time of year - sunny, cool (not cold), clear and clean. The city's already humming with anticipation for two major events happening next weekend: the Super Bowl and FBR Open - each bringing in hundreds of thousands of people. DRAFT will have a booth and sponsorship at the open, where it sounds like a party out of Happy Gilmore - you know, the sort of party where if you're not careful a golf tournament might pop up. Of course, you know about that other event. What a great time to be in Phoenix, I'm happy for the folks there - this is going to be great for business... bad for traffic.

On arriving Monday it was all work. We're buttoning up our next issue and that requires a lot of team-work. I've not been part of a publication in the past, it is simply amazing the work, re-work and re-work of the re-work goes into each issue, it's mind-boggling. Luckily, we've got one of the coolest and most talented people I know keeping us all in line, overseeing the operation with great passion and a keen eye. I meant to get some audio interviews with the editorial staff, but it became apparent quickly that this wasn't the week for that.

Tuesday was work too, starting early, but winding up early for a night of celebration. You know you have a good team when they play as hard as they work - or work as hard as they play. We started at Yard House, home of the 100+ taps and pretty solid food offerings. How did we start our night of celebration? Utopias, of course.

I've had Utopias once before and remember not being blown away by it. This was different. The beer was absolutely shocking, beautiful really. A beer you'd want to nose more than smell (putting your nose in the glass, but breathing in through your mouth, not your nose) and sip while contemplating the finer things in a good life. It really is an inappropriate drink for a noisy bar - or for a first drink of the night - but with good friends celebrating, it was perfect. Oh, I did find it impressive that Yard House had Utopias available for sale. It wasn't on the menu, but apparently they'd bought five or six bottles for that location.

After Utopias we settled into a hop frenzy, IPAs all around. I find it amazing the number of beers available in Phoenix that aren't available in Sacramento - beers from all over that I've wanted to sample. While the rest of the table went to California for their IPA selection, I headed to Delaware for a 90 Minute trip. I've had Dogfish Head's 90 Minute a few times in the last couple years, it is nothing short of impressive. If there was a single beer I'd love to see on tap on the West Coast (from the East Coast), I think 90 Minute would be it. Perfect on its own, or with a meal, the beer achieves a sort of balance that is only slightly off-balance - sweet up front, but decidedly hoppy throughout.

There would be more beer flowing at Yard House, beers that were all good, but it wasn't long before I got restless and wanted to speak with their manager, get a tour of their keg-room and appease several curiosities I had about turnover. Their keg room is impressive, a super walk-in fridge with well over 100 kegs. I'd asked about spoilage for beers that don't move and he was a bit surprised by the notion - apparently they don't have a keg of anything that last more than three weeks. Sure enough, while I was in there shooting some video and talking it up the keg changer came in twice to replace kegs that had blown. I stopped the guy and asked how many he'd changed that day on his shift. After thinking a second, he guessed it was 8 or 9 kegs in the 3 hours he'd been on - a "light day" for a quiet Tuesday afternoon. I had to ask about the Super Bowl and if the manager thought he was prepared. While saying the staff was ready and the beer orders were in, it was clear they were expecting something 'super' indeed. Great place.

The night continued and we soon moved on to Hazelwoods bar, primarily to play fooseball and shuffleboard. Here, they're pretty serious about the drinking aspect of beer, as each beer is served in a mug that will wear your arm out. I had the Kilt Lifter, made locally and not to be confused with Moylan's version (Tip: don't even mention Moylan's version to the servers down there, apparently they only know of one KL and that ain't it). Playing fooseball was fun, even if my team lost - twice. Hazelwoods is a great local hang-out, I could see why the DRAFT staff was eager to get here. On an otherwise quiet Tuesday night, the place seemed pretty busy. News of Heath Ledger was still trickling in, and images of Tom Brady's foot were on all the sports channels - both stories leading to moans from the locals who longed for something more sporty on their TV.

Being me is tough, I want to see it all sometimes. So, a few hours and a few beers into Hazelwoods I found myself ready (more than ready) to hit up a place I'd been to before and knew I had to return to: Papago's Brewing. Papago's is one of those places you don't want to leave, a haven for beer enthusiasts and refuge for weary workers seeking friendly, albeit pointless, conversations with strangers who, for a couple hours, could just as well be their best friend. The staff here really fosters that sense of belonging, their not only beer-savvy, they also greet each patron warmly, making sure they never go without - and they're fantastic at helping the unprepared choose a beer they're sure to enjoy. In short, Papago is everything you want in a beer bar.

Here I started with the Hitachino Red on tap, the red-rice beer from Japan that I simply can't get enough of. I'd never seen this on tap, and was more than happy to finish my pint in short order - what an easy to enjoy beer. What's more, Papago carried a whole new and expanded lineup of the Japanese beer, I was sad to not be able to enjoy them all. To finish the night I bought a bottle of Hop 15 from Port Brewing to share with colleagues (and a couple sitting at the bar next to us), finishing off with a bottle of the 2008 Bigfoot (again, shared with folks around). This place rocked. I bought a couple bottles of Cantillon to bring home with me and stared for a while at the hundreds of bottles of beer I was just sure needed to be sold in my home market of Sacramento. Incredible.

Clearly this was a night of celebration. Starting with Utopias, ending with Bigfoot, you know the next morning would be rough, but worth it. It was too, worth it. This isn't a sustainable form of consumption, but it was a night I won't forget for some time - and that's all we can ask for when celebrating all that is good in life with people we know and love, or those we just know and work with. It reminded me, once again, that even the best beers in the world taste better with friends, are more enjoyable when shared.

Wednesday was back to the office putting a few more finishing touches on the next issue. In fact, it turned into a late night in the office as we tried to get as much in as possible. A quick dinner and a curb-side drop-off at the airport and that seemed to be my allotted three days in Phoenix. I'll be back soon, hopefully visiting Sonoran Brewing and other new-to-me places. Till then, I've got an east-coast trip to plan and a whole lot of work to do. For the next few weeks I'll be largely unavailable for blogging, but hopefully I can put up newsy bits and smaller updates. We'll see.

Monday, January 21, 2008

In Phoenix

I'm back in Phoenix doing some work for the next issue of DRAFT, so don't expect a whole lot from here this week. I woke up this morning around 4:30, left the house at 5 and was on a plane at 6. Upon arriving at 9 it was straight to the office where the day seemed to last longer than days should. A quick dinner and drink session at Papago's, which would easily be the best beer joint in town if it were in Sacramento - I suspect it is here too - and a soak in the hotel's jacuzzi. I'm done.

Quick Notes:
- Papago's has beers from around the country that I want to try. Serious beer selection.
- Hop 15 is pretty hopped up, in case you didn't know.
- Cantillon Kriek simply kicks ass

Early day coming up, so this is it for now. Check back Thursday-ish for a quick update, but then I'm off to Monterey on Friday with my wife for a quick weekend get-away. Monterey, if you didn't know, is near perfect this time of year, hopefully the butterflies will be migrating this early - at least a few.

Oh, and there's this cool news for those who read beer blogs. Chris, the Beer Retard, has been asked to start a regular contribution for Seattle Metroblogs. Of course, this will be beer contributions. I can't wait to see more stuff from Chris, a quiet man with a lot to say. Congrats, by the way, on that opportunity Mr. Beer Retard.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Rubicon Goes Wild

Last night found me and my lovely wife in Sacramento's most beloved brewery, Rubicon, for what we thought would be a quick drink before getting home at a reasonable hour. We were both a bit tired and looked forward to a relaxing weekend ahead of us - we were clearly not out for a party. We realized soon after arriving at Rubicon, however, that we'd need more than just one drink, as their menu read like a dream: IPA (of course), Dunkel Hefeweizen (seasonal), English Porter (seasonal), Winter Wheat Wine (seasonal) and High Mountain Cherry (the last of it).

You'll recall Rubicon took home a GABF gold medal for their sour cherry beer in last year's festival, a beer that took years of patience and craftsmanship to create. Well, it was going to be a thing of history in no time at all, the last of this one-off beer is headed to San Diego for a few festivities down there - we were quick to order a glass.

Phone call, unknown number. I answer and piece together that the caller is none other than Tom Schmidlin, Wyncoop's 2006 Beer Drinker of the Year. With all the noise in the bar it was hard to make things out, but it was clear he was in the bar. Hanging up it only took a minute to spot Tom walking toward me with a gift in tow - Hair of the Dog's Fred of the Wood. We exchanged the necessary pleasantries and before too long he too had a glass of the cherry to enjoy.

Tom, for those who don't recall, won the Beer Drinker honors for his work with yeast strains and other science stuff that, even when told, didn't quite understand. I did catch this though - the guy's smart, likes his beer and knows more about the magic of fermentation than I will ever hope to know. On top of that, he's one hell of a cool guy to have a drink with - or a few.

Within a few drinks of cherry beer I figured it'd be a good thing to introduce Tom to the long-time brewer at Rubicon, Scott Cramlet, working the midnight shift in a small brewery that seems to never stop. From there, the night only got better. Scott told the stories you'd expect a man to have after 18 years working in the same brewery, a brewery that has seen very little in the way of change since opening its doors more than 20 years ago. He's a masterful brewer, by the way, helping to shape the current-day understanding of one of the country's most beloved beer styles - the American IPA. In fact, Scott's beer took the very first gold medal at GABF when the style was officially recognized - then again the following year. By today's standards one would argue it's not hoppy enough, or lacks the intense aromas needed in the category - but those who say that are weird. It really is a great beer, and over the years we've enjoyed our share.

The night bled into the morning and Scott treated us to some great beer, the wheat wine being particularly fantastic this year, like candy! The on-tap version of the IPA is unfiltered, full of flavor and completely satisfying. Sadly, this is not a treat we should get used to, as the market demands Scott filter the beer before leaving the brewery - Rubicon's IPA is on tap throughout the region and without him to explain the hazy quality of an unfiltered beer, bar-goers seem quick to return the beer without appreciating the haze and hand-made goodness in front of them. Before too long that bottle of Fred was opened too - man is that oaky!

It was 2AM when we parted ways. Scott still had a bit of work to do, Tom had a hotel and Tracy was eager to drive me home.

Conclusion: beer people are cool people. I've said it before, you've heard it before, but its truth cannot be overstated. Tom and Scott are examples of a story played out around the country, brewers taking time to really talk with those who really appreciate the work they do, making people like me feel at home. With people like this, there's no wonder the people of the country are flocking to support craft beer and the craft beer industry.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Weekend Listening

I've been wanting to do this for some time, but today's the first day I've actually gotten around to it. I'd like to start a Friday afternoon post for the podcast of the week, the show I found most entertaining. Oh, and I won't just plug my own show, promise.

This weekend, give a listen to My Life As a Foodie, hosted by Phil N. His show this week focuses on Blinis & Duvel, but also covers a broader array of topics - FDA, Supermarkets vs Farmers Markets and more.

I've appreciated Phil's food-centric personality for a couple years. I was first introduced to him through his other podcast, Dude Night, a top-quality beer show (highly entertaining).

Listen to show
Visit website

Corrections & Clarifications | SOB

I received an email from Tom at Southern Oregon Brewing. Turns out in my original posting on SOB I had a few misunderstandings about a couple of things, and came to some conclusions that may not have been accurate. I could slide it in the story already posted, but figured it'd be best if it was right out in front - I don't like the idea of misleading y'all.

From Tom:
In the section on beers, I think you have the Gold and the Pale interchanged. The Gold is the entry level beer, lighter beer. The Pale is the beer that looks like a pale and drinks like one too. [He's right, I did get those mixed up - Rick]

I know I can’t change your impressions of our brewery, but I don’t think we talked much about our ambitions. We will certainly build our base in Southern Oregon but we have aspirations of state wide distributing of our draft products by the end of the year. Because of Anders statewide connections and experience, we have already shown our beers to several locations in Eugene and Portland and should see our products land in limited locations in those markets in the near future. The size and quality of our production facility gives a favorable economy of scale over most startups. This makes us attractive to distributors and should facilitate our growth as well.
Thanks for Tom in being kind to me in his corrections. I did, by the way, add this to the SOB story as well. I know a few folks who read this will be going to SOB soon, so wanted to get the word out as quick as possible. Again, if you're in Southern Oregon, make sure you check this place out - good beer made by great people. What more could you ask for?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Beer Benefits

This is not a post on health benefits of beer, but beer as an employment benefit. A couple weeks ago Career Builder put out a story about companies in the US keeping their employees happy with different out-of-the-box ideas. A common perk was beer, free and on site. In fact, the company listed as having the best perks was an ad agency that had Boulevard beer on tap, available to employees after 4PM.

I've worked in a couple of places that allowed a beer at the end of a given shift, one place let us call it quites 30 minutes early on Friday to sit together and enjoy a beer together in the break room. It's funny how cheap it is to make a small difference in employee morale, that was an awful warehouse job, but I have nothing but fond memories sitting with my boss and co-workers having a can of Bud (no, craft beer wasn't in the picture).

At my most recent job the company had quarterly parties on site where beer and wine poured for those interested. In fact, this was an important part of the work culture, as there's something refreshing and freeing about sharing a glass of beer with your manager, co-workers or even people from other departments you're only beginning to get to know. Come to think of it, I can't think of a real reason more employers don't have programs like this.

I was up at the region's newest brewery earlier in the week, Auburn Alehouse, and while sitting a group of sixteen walked in, still wearing their name badges and clearly part of a work group. I don't know who they were, but I can imagine them in the office perhaps having a tough week, or going through a training seminar. Here, away from the office and each with a beer in their hand, they were buddies.

It turns out I don't really have a point to this post, only that I think more companies should consider beer days. It's an inexpensive way to foster strong relationships and bring people together after a rough day/week in the office/warehouse/yard/field, and if you're anything like me the good memories of sharing a beer with a co-worker may be the best memory your employees have.

January 16: A Sobering Day to Remember

January 16th, 1920: Prohibition Begins

I read an interesting piece in Playboy recently about "Sex in America", looking at how far we, as a nation, have come in the last 40-odd years. The story talked about TV families, like Lucy and Ricky, who loved eachother, but from separate beds. Then, there was the Brady's, snuggling together in a shared bed. Now, today, well you know.

I was thinking about that piece and how it relates to alcohol, more specifically - beer. 88 years ago, it became illegal to buy and consume alcohol in the USA. Clearly we have come a long way, but have we arrived to a place we should be comfortable with? I don't think so. Yes, the craft-beer resurgence is nothing short of fantastic for those of us who enjoy a good beer, but it seems we still rely on the industry's apologists to defend our enjoyment.

To drive this point home there was an interesting thread on Beer Advocate asking how beer enthusiasts "feel" when they talk about their beer consumption. It seemed that the vast majority of people replying to the subject were responsible consumers, having one or two beers a day; however, an alarming number of people seemed uneasy sharing their beer habit with others - those who wouldn't understand. Why is that?

Odd, isn't it? In 2008 America will celebrate, albeit quietly, the 75th anniversary of Prohibition's repeal, but how far have we come? In contrasting the comfort of our societies views on sex on TV (as PB pointed out, we see openly gay relationships, divorced, out of wedlock relations, flirts and - well, you watch TV), I find it a rare sight to see open drinking on network shows - with the exception of Medium, which seems to have a scene in every show with the husband/wife enjoying a beer in their home. Are we really more comfortable with sex than we are with alcohol? My gut says no, but my ears and eyes wonder. With shock jocks given free reign to talk about the sexual gossip of the day, it seems they only get in trouble when they 'promote' alcohol and tobacco. Sure, we saw the church rise up when Janet Jackson's nipple popped out on national TV, but that seemed to not really materialize into anything substantive. On the other hand, beer and spirits are watched carefully for any adverts that may attract underage drinkers.

Now, let me back up a minute here. As a person exposed to the church of America, I know there's just as much moral concern with regards to sexual morality - I feel, however, that the people of the church realize that they can't legislate sexual morality. That said, there's still a contingency who believes "regulating" alcohol is a good way to curve its consumption. In many ways I think that's why the church is opposed to the morning after pill, not to get into religion/sex/alcohol too much.

In fact, if you listen carefully to the arguments surrounding sexual deviance in the US (their words), you'll often hear off-based associations with alcohol - creating correlations where there ought not be. As pointed out here earlier, and by Jay this week, there are organizations out there asserting that alcohol consumption leads to rape, abuse and overall societal dysfunctions. Yes, right now they're an annoying voice in the wilderness, but the voices are heard and the assumptions felt by those of us who legally and ethically enjoy our alcohol.

80 years ago the same arguments were made, the same off-based associations with society's ills and alcohol. While we don't see an overt push to ban alcohol entirely, there are movements afoot that are aimed at curtailing your beer consumption - mainly in the form of tax increases and legislation that makes it more difficult to buy your beer. Yes, we have come a long way in 80 years, but don't forget that we still must make our case to the powers that be. For me, that signals we've still got a ways to go.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

So, You Learned to Brew on Food Network

I just finished watching Good Eats with Alton Brown on the Food Network, they were doing a piece on homebrew (titled: Amber Waves). While I must say the show was informative, I could see some issues popping up with your beer if you followed his instructions step-by-step.

Alton did a great job highlighting yeast, fermentation, sanitation, hops and barley. Really, it was very well done. He missed a few terms, but if you watched the video below carefully you will notice I do too. Of course, in 30 minutes you're not going to learn the subtleties of brewing, but you don't need to. I mean, what homebrewer do you know had it figured out on their first batch? His equipment was good too. In fact, a few pieces of equipment seemed quite logical.

Where Alton began to fall apart was the actual process of brewing. I won't rag on the specifics, if you're a brewer and you saw the show, you probably have a pretty good idea what I'm referring to. No, instead I'd like to point you to a resource that will be the best tool you can have before you brew your first batch of beer: Basic Brewing.

James Spencer started Basic Brewing back when most of the US hadn't heard the word 'podcast' and his show has been an online hit ever since. If you've not caught his shows, you need to - even if you're not a homebrewer. James brings in guests you want to learn from, people with the experiences and reputations you know and trust. Not only does he bring the guest on, he actually knows how to interview them! I've had a couple interviews on our show - they're painful! Listening to James, you'd swear you were listening to a high quality national radio program.

As if that weren't enough for a free show, James also puts out a regular video podcast that rivals programming on television! In these shows he will frequently partner with Steve to create some wonderful dishes, paired and made with homebrew. The stuff is incredible.

In addition to the shows, James offers a few DVDs you shouldn't be without.
  • Introduction to Extract Brewing: This DVD has almost everything you need to make sure your first batch of homebrew is done right. I've given this to family and friends when they've wanted to start the hobby, it's never disappointed. The info is thorough, but not overwhelming.
  • Stepping into All Grain: For those who have dabbled in extract and want to move on, or perhaps those who'd like to jump right on in, this DVD is even more complete than the first. With menu options allowing you to select the methods you'd like to use, you can literally have this set up and playing while you're brewing. To this day, I have not seen a better produced DVD for homebrewers.
  • Low-Tech Lagering and Decoction Mashing: A DVD made for homebrewers who don't think they have the means to lager a beer or do a decoction mash, which I believe is the majority of homebrewers in the US today. If this is you, don't hesitate to pick this up.
Finally, to wrap up my sales pitch for a man I've not met, James has put together Brewing Logs that are really quite helpful. I haven't ordered my 2008 book yet, but 2007's made note taking simple, clean and concise - way better than the spiral pad I'd been using for years before.

I promise you this, if you take the info Food Network gave you and put it along side the info found in any one of these DVDs, you'll certainly go into that first beer with more confidence and, most likely, a better finished product.

Monday, January 14, 2008

PBN Video: Virtual Brewery Tour

A week or so ago I bought a new toy, a cheap HD Video Recorder. I am not a video nut, although I used to work with video about... oh... eight years ago. I haven't splurged for any trendy software, so I am stuck using what came on my macbook.

I bought the camera because I'm hoping to put together a series of videos in 2008, ideas I've had kicking around for some time now. This is my first idea, the Virtual Brewery Tour, in Hi-Def. I'm pretty happy with it overall, for my first attempt. However, I'd love to get your feedback for the idea overall of beer videos and if you think there's a good place for them.

Brewery Tour | Beermann's Beerwerks from Rick on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Marin Institute's Solution for California's Debt

Our good friends at the Marin Institute have devised the perfect solution for decreasing our state's debt/deficit - tax alcohol! No, I suppose this isn't a shock for anyone who has heard of the "Alcohol Industry Watch Dog", but sometimes their stuff is just beyond ludicrous. This is from their release:
“A simple 25 cents per drink increase would generate almost $3 billion in revenue,” said Bruce Livingston, MPP, executive director of Marin Institute. “Raising the alcohol tax for the first time in 16 years is a common sense and fiscally responsible option to help close the budget gap.”
"Simple". Right. As if this weren't enough, they go on to really muddy the waters of this budget problem, showing their true intentions with this statement:
“Each year thousands of lives in California are cut short or forever damaged due to alcohol,” said Michele Simon, JD, MPH, Marin Institute’s research and policy director. “By not requiring industry to pay its fare share of the massive costs of its products, the state is actually subsidizing the alcohol industry. Now is the time for our elected leaders to find the political will to push through a long-overdue alcohol tax increase,” Simon added.
Without even getting to their claim and the assumptions it holds, did you notice how they shifted the issue from one of taxing to help the state's deficit to basically suggesting the industry owes the state for the damage they do? How did they make that leap, and in only two paragraphs?

I suggest you poke around their site from time to time, see what they're up to. Right now, they're pushing to abolish advertising of alcohol on buses as well as long story titled "Get What You Pay For" that discussing, none to favorably, California's alcohol lobbying body.

Marin Institute is a terribly misleading group, even if not quite reaching a main-stream audience, but if we completely ignore them and their agenda, allow them to say what they will about alcohol and its evils, we could see more and more people taking them seriously - which would be a very bad thing. Take, for instance, their list of what alcohol can be blamed for today:
Heavier consumption is associated with cancer, liver cirrhosis, stroke and birth defects. Drinking has also been linked to community blight as well as domestic violence, rape, assault, homicide, suicide, and lost productivity at work and school.
Also, their mission statement is pretty clear as well.
The Marin Institute fights to protect the public from the impact of the alcohol industry’s negative practices.
So, back to their tax proposal. Do you think they're as concerned with the balancing of our state's budget as they are with getting rid of alcohol? No, me neither.

Regarding taxes, the people of Beer Serves America list the California beer industry (not distillers or wineries) as paying the following in STATE Taxes alone:
State Business Taxes Paid Annually: $1,418,662,763
State & Local Exise & Sales Tax Paid Annually: $805,593,292
In addition, BSA lists California as having more than 6,500 jobs in the industry, paying out more than $530 Million and having a total economic contribution of $4,212,218,647! That's not a small number, by the way.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Sac Brewing Updates

I just spoke with Peter Hoey, brewmaster at Sacramento Brewing Company, and have a few nuggets I think you'll find interesting - even if you're not from the region.

First, the sale is still pending TTB approval. Estimates for this to go through range from days to months - typical of the feds, right?
(Pictured: Left - Peter Salmond, head brewer at SBC's Oasis; Right - Peter Hoey, SBC Brewmaster)

In the Tanks

Peter has two very interesting projects going on right now.

His most complete project is a tank-conditioned Tripel/Strong Blond. Peter has a fondness for bottle conditioned Belgian beers, when compared to the tap versions. He feels they have more character, especially styles like Saison, which he is well familiar with. So, with that in mind, and given he has an empty tank for the winter slow months, he's decided to condition an entire batch in a tank! He capped off the tank last night, went home and wondered if his hair-brained idea would work, or if he'd come in to find nothing happening. Overnight, the pressure of the tank rose to 4 PSI! That is a very promising result. This beer is very lightly filtered (6 microns) to allow a hazy appearance without being thick. In addition to the base ingredients, Peter has added Turbonado Sugar - or sugar in the raw. With the way it's looking now, patrons can expect to see this beer in early February.

The other project is one closer to the heart, Rory's Ale (I guessed on the spelling, that could be really wrong). This beer is being made to celebrate the birth of his first baby, due any day now - and his wife, Britney, looks fantastic, ready to deliver! This beer is due a couple months after the baby, with an expected delivery of March. It is also a Belgian inspired beer, with pomegranate and sour cherry juice additions. From everything I've heard, from before it was ever brewed till now, this beer is going to kick ass.

Finally, something a bit more 'regular'. Peter's just finished brewing an English Style Porter. This will be ready soon and is intended to get the locals through the rest of our cool months here. I believe this is their first 'straight' porter. In the past they've made "Double Shot", a porter made with coffee additions - which is currently on tap too, very drinkable with coffee notes that are not overpowering or long lingering.

Till they are complete, locals and regulars can go and enjoy Sac Brew's regular offerings - the Red Horse and Sacsquatch are exceptional these days, with minor tweaks by Peter proving to have serious impact on the beers' overall flavor. Red Horse is again dry-hopped, with slight changes in the varieties used. The Sacsquatch has less smoked malt and is incredibly drinkable (oh, it did win the Best of Show honors at the 2007 California Brewers Fest). Of course, you could also enjoy the Russian Imperial Stout that took bronze at this years GABF, great this time of year. What's great about these beers, they're bottled and distributed in a number of Northern California markets. I believe I also heard they are making their way into San Diego these days too, but I don't know many details there.

Sacramento's First Gastro-Pub?

For dinner last night Tracy and I decided to see how things were going at Folsom's new beer haven, Manderes. We arrived to a place bustling with activity, with what appeared to be an office party, couples enjoying dinner and a bar full of regulars watching sports and drinking good beer. I was happy to see people here, on a random Thursday evening. I spoke with Brent, owner, and he said business was good. Sure, he had the off day, but this time of year you'd expect that from even the most established restaurants.

We knew the beer here was good, but what we weren't fully aware of was the food. On our first visit we shared a salad and a burger for lunch. While our first meal was good, it's pretty hard to really gauge a place on the quality of their burger. Last night's meal included the Beef Kabob's, served atop mashed potatoes, and Lobster Ravioli's served in a cream sauce. Both were excellent, satisfying meals, well beyond standard pub fare. The beef on the kabob was tender, cooked to order, and generous in portions - a great deal for under 15 dollars. Tracy's ravioli's were equally impressive. She was hesitant to order them, fearing they'd be bland and hard to enjoy. To her surprise they were bursting with flavors, savory and filling. Each meal came with a generous portion of salad with house-made dressing. I wouldn't normally mention a salad, by the way, but it really set the tone for the meal - fresh lettuce, a wonderful dressing... yeah, it was good.

In addition to the meals we enjoyed, Manderes offers aged steak, pork chops I've heard wonderful reports on, glazed and grilled chicken and beautiful salads and soups. The price ranges from 8 bucks (for a soup) to 25 bucks (surf-n-turf). Add to that a beer menu that is best in the region, and you've got yourself a hell of a dinner. And, as if this weren't enough, for dessert they offer a cheesecake, wrapped in a tortilla, fried, topped with ice cream, caramel and cinnamon. Yeah, it looked pretty freaking good.

As a side note, I was able to talk with one of Manderes' chefs, Earnest, last night. He was hired straight out of a major casino in Vegas. The guy's got a great personality, warm and friendly - very easy to talk to if he's not too busy. Talking with him and Brent, it sounds as if we can expect special menu items in the future, once they get a handle on the business side of things - including staffing, orders and all that fun stuff small business owners do on their own. Manderes also has a chef named Warren, who apparently has been on from the beginning. Brent feels lucky to have both, so much that he can't help but look like the cat that ate the canary, with a sheepish grin that only serves to prove his genuine appreciation for the work they do.

What to do Before Dinner in Folsom
If you're thinking about going to Manderes, but aren't from Folsom, there are a handful of great activities you can enjoy to work up an appetite.
  • Historic Folsom is just blocks away, has a number of unique ma-n-pop shops, as well as swanky stops.
  • The American River is just down the hill. If you're looking for a work-out, you can ride your bike along the trail there. It's been a few years since Tracy and I have done that, but on a cool clear day, there's nothing better.
  • Folsom's Brewmeister is at the edge of the historic area. If you're a homebrewer, you can pick up your ingredients or equipment, talk it up with Eric or Kevin, then head just up the hill for great beer.

Manderes | Folsom, Ca from Rick on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Beer and exercise

I believe that Rick was perfectly correct in his suggestion to get out and walk before (or during and/or after) enjoying any of your favorite brews. Another great alternative to that is of course bicycle/brewery touring.

There are a great many areas of our country where it is possible to get out and get some decent road work (or trail work) in and at the end of the ride find yourself perfectly positioned to do some proper rehydrating at your favorite Ale House, Pub or brewery.

I have participated in a few self guided 'Beer rides' in the past two years alone to fill a small scrap book. Actually.... I have filled a scrap book with ride/route descriptions and brewery beer menus loaded with beer sampling observations and notations.

Now I'm not suggesting that you immediately log on to Google and search for the latest book, pamphlet/map or website that will fill you in on detailed descriptions of other peoples ideas for rides; but that you take the time to research your own favorite places to ride and your favorite breweries to visit.

Or perhaps even better yet concoct a completely new ride that takes you to a beer destination that you always wanted to visit. It's quite simple and fun really. Just get yourself a Beer Celebrator and a map and you are just a weekend away from some proper adventure.

Of course a bike would help too.......... but then I naturally assume that everyone already has one of those contraptions hung up in the garage behind the old ping-pong table next to the snow shoes....

Ahhh... reminds me of the time we got lost on the roads outside of Healdsburg but somehow managed to find our way to Bear Republic.......I think it was the scent of hops in the air.

Well actually we parked in the free public parking lot about 200' from the door...rode a 55 mile loop on some beautiful back roads just littered with wineries and made it back just in time to replenish our systems with fresh Racer 5, Hop Rod Rye and Racer X.
That... as I'm prone to say... didn't suck.

Mike (The Hop Hunter)

The Abyss: 2008

It's bottled! December 28th they finished wax dipping. Now, all we have to do in Northern California is wait. For what, you may be wondering?

75 Cases
6 Kegs

That's what's on the way to Northern California. The expected arrival time for this is the last week of the month. Then, it will have to be distributed to the right places. I'll keep you updated, if you're interested, on where this beer will be tapped and available. For those who don't recall, Abyss is Deschutes' Oak Barrel Aged Imperial Stout that took the beer geek world by storm last year.

From the Abyss Press Release:
“The Abyss has developed somewhat of a cult following,” reveals Deschutes Brewery’s Jason Randles. “In fact, we’ve had reports from some bottle shops where six or seven cases have already been reserved through single bottle orders.”

In addition to being a beer aficionado’s favorite, The Abyss has been showered with industry and consumer awards including being named the “Best Stout in the World” by Men’s Journal’s October 2007 issue, Top 10 on’s World’s Best rankings, “Gold Medal Imperial Stout” at the 2007 Great American Beer Festival and “Best Beer Above 7%, International Champion Beer & Supreme Champion” at the 2007 International Beer Challenge.
The suggested retail price on this year's Abyss is $10 for a wax dipped 22-ounce bottle. I personally thought last year's was a bit hot and needed some time to lay down and mellow out. That said, it was still a strikingly good beer. You can bet I'll find a couple bottles of this year's release as well.

LIve Healthy, With Beer

As much as I love a great beer, I'm not one who will try to convince you of the 'health benefits' of drinking. While I don't think it's harmful to the body (and I've read enough to convince me that's true) I just don't beer will extend your life. There appears to be new research every six weeks with regards to drinking and your health - one month it's good for your body, the next it seems the next pint will do you in. This story, however, seemed to make the most sense of the studies I've seen in the past.

People who neither drink nor exercise have a 30 to 49 percent higher risk of heart disease than people who do one or both of the activities, the researchers said in the European Heart Journal.

"The main finding is there seems to be an additional beneficial effect of drinking one to two drinks per day and doing at least moderate physical activity," said Morten Gronbaek of the University of Southern Denmark, who led the study.

See, told you it made sense. Of course, this next quote seems like the kind of 'no-brainer' people shouldn't need to be reminded/informed of.
People who had the lowest risk of dying from any cause were physically active, moderate drinkers while those at highest risk were the physically inactive, heavy drinkers, the study found.
So, get out and walk a bit, enjoy the outdoors and then enjoy a pint of your favorite beer. Wouldn't it be a better world if we could enjoy a pint while we got our outdoor exercise in the community?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Latest DRAFT Magazine

DRAFT's January/February issue is on shelves now, as many of you know. This is the first issue with me listed as Beer Director and I'm still humbled and amazed at my new job - so much so I don't mind pushing it on you all!

I won't give too much info away, but there are a few things you'll want to know if you're thinking about buying a beer magazine this month.

- Stan, from Appellation Beer, has put together a beautiful piece on Barrel-Aged beers. I know he could have written a book on this topic, but in the four pages of the story I'm certain you'll either learn something, or be inspired to find a barrel-aged beer for drinking.
- This is our food issue, and boy howdy is it ever! From the cover man, Dave Lieberman, to gastropubs and pretty exotic recipes, I think we've got something for the foodie in all of us. I also quite liked the food/beer pairings pieces where we were able to pair more common dishes with great beer to make a great meal.
- Our celebrity likes good beer! I found this interview to be quite enjoyable and have heard from others the same thing. Go Dave!

There's a whole lot more too. Again, I'm honored to have the job I have and am pretty proud of the product overall. I hope you'll agree.

Blue Moon Rising

You know that age-old debate about what a "craft" beer is, and all those who have stood by the quiet success of Blue Moon? Well, starting soon Blue Moon won't be so quiet anymore. No, that doesn't naturally disqualify it from being a "craft" beer, but I suspect it'll only stoke the flames of those who insist it cannot be part of the Craft family because of super-rich parents - Coors.

Yes, now it seems we'll be seeing Blue Moon on billboards and print media. From the story on Ad-Age, which I found through Brew Blog, the folks at Blue Moon know who their market is. Imagine that.
Coors has been reluctant to support the brand with media because it didn't want to advertise its corporate-backing to the brew snobs who are a key craft-beer constituency, and it didn't want to interfere with the sense of consumer discovery that's fueled the brand's growth.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I suspect this is preparation for A-B's new craft beers coming out, which I mentioned last week.

Pliny Gets a Label

The Beer Advocates sniffed this out for me (well, they referred to the TTB site), a good group of guys they are. Sure, you get the impression some would trade their pets for a bottle of this beer, but you gotta love that enthusiasm. Right?

Heres what I sorta know - just don't quote me on anything too loud.

Vinnie didn't expect to brew a batch in the new brewery before March. Therefore, don't expect to see this beer bottled before late March - at the earliest. Of course, once it's bottled, that's only half the story. Last I talked with him (mid-December) they were about half-way through construction.

I DO NOT know where this beer is going to be distributed, won't claim to. I have heard rumors that bottles of Russian River beer will likely be headed to the greater Northern California region, out by Sacramento (the I-80 corridor). I suspect they'll likely add pallets to their San Diego runs. Will it also be in Philly? That seems likely, but I just wouldn't have a clue.

If I were a betting man, I'd say this would be about all Vinnie is set up to do right now. With all their talents, it's just hard work to build a new brewery, run an existing one, own a business in a new calendar year, have a life and think about all the people in the world who wants their beer.

Now, about that label. I hope you take a minute or two to read it - especially those who think every good beer needs to be laid down to get better. You'd almost get the impression that the guys at Russian River are worried about this happening, wouldn't you? Anyone else find the size of the bottle odd? 1 Pint?

All this does is remind me that I received a growler of this for my bday last week! Hmmm... that won't last long. Thanks Mike and Terri!

Monday, January 7, 2008

BJ's Grand Cru 2008

Each winter the guys at BJ's Brewhouse release an extra special beer, their Grand Cru. While the recipe changes each year, you can be assured of one thing - the beer's going to be good.

This year's beer was brewed by Dan Pedersen, who has been with BJ's for eight years - most of them in Portland, but the past year's been spent at their biggest brewery in Reno. The Reno operation, by the way, augments beer supplies for BJ's across the country, down to Southern Oregon, up to Utah and into Colorado.

Grand Cru 2008 drinks an aweful lot like an Imperial Wit, even though you won't get Dan or anyone at BJ's to attribute any sort of style to this. It is brewed with Coriander, Orange Peel and Beet Sugar, in addition to their grain bill, and at 10.4% ABV this beer is nothing to take lightly. Its aroma is intense, zesty and rich overall. The tastes belies the beer's strength, while it isn't light in body you certainly wouldn't be guessing it's the monster it really is. As an added bonus the beer is served in commemorative 10-ounce fluted glasses, enhancing the aroma and overall drinking experience. You can buy the glass to take home if you'd like, we've got a collection of them ourselves that get their workout through the year.

If you like big Belgian beers, you won't want to dally, find your way to a BJ's near you and hope they've still got a bit for you to enjoy.

San Francisco Brewers Guild Night at Toronado

Occasionally, the good folks of the San Francisco Brewers Guild put together a "Meet the Brewers" event. I've never personally been to one, but this sounds promising.

When: Jan 17th, 6-9PM
What: "Toronado will have one beer from each of the Guild breweries on tap."
Where: Toronado | 547 Haight St San Francisco
Guild Members Include: Magnolia, Speakeasy, 21st Amendment and others...

More info can be found on their website,

Remember, Toronado is a cash only venue.

No, I Don't Get It

I found this over at The Beer Report's message board, could not help but pass it on. This is audio of Alabama's legislature 'debating' a measure that would increase the cap of beers legal to be sold in the state from 6% to 14.9%. You may want to watch this a couple of times, as the words on the screen are a bit distracting (but meaningful). Listen to these elected officials and their absolute refusal to reason together. I don't live in Alabama, but if this is the representation you have there - well, it's a little sad.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Good Life

There are times in all of our lives when we're reminded just how good we have it, last night was a good example. My wife, Tracy, had come home a bit early from work, the weather wreaking havoc on the neighborhood. While I finished an abbreviated work day of my own she worked out and was ready for liquid refreshment. She'd suggested a trip to Sacramento Brewing for a Red Horse, but I was excited to make my way to Beermann's to see if the brewers there had seen their barleywine pictured in the newest Draft issue. She insisted on a Red Horse, but was willing to stop by for a quick drink with the good folks at Beermann's.

Upon walking in to SBC we meet good friends Jeff and Dianne. What great timing is this, to see good friends in a place where good beer is served? From behind me walks up SBC's head brewer, Peter Hoey, a shock because I'd texted him prior to see if by chance he'd still be at work - he replied he wouldn't be. Again, how lucky am I? We'd come with a gift for Peter and his expectant fiance, Britney, so it was good to hand it off in person. More to my surprise was the news that Britney was here too! We were invited to join Peter and Britney, they had a large table and were apparently waiting for guests to arrive to join them for dinner.

At the over-sized table it was good to chat it up with the happy couple, looking forward to the birth of their fist child any day now. After a few minutes a tap on my shoulder, I turn to see Breanne and Cody Sober - what a freaking coincidence! And who is that behind them? Mike and Terri? But I talked with him not two hours ago only to learn that he and his lovely wife were under the weather. Then, there was Joel and Sarah? Wait a minute...

It was a SURPRISE birthday party, in my honor!!! All quietly planned by my wife of ten years. How cool is this? My birthday was the 27th of December, a time when most were with families - as we were in Oregon - so it was great to share time with those I love.

In addition to the before-mentioned guests were Mark and Lori Zahn, co-hosts of PBN; Greg and Beth Willey, who I worked with for nearly five years; Ami the Great and Marsha the Wonderful. It's a rare treat when your friends gather together to celebrate with you and for you. I know it's cliche, but you can't help buy feel richer at time like that.

Unless there are other surprises out there, this was truly a great way to finish off what seems to be weeks of endless celebration. Yes, this is a good life.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Session 11: My Life With Goats

This month's Session crept up on me, I admit it. That's sad because of my affinity for the subject matter, Doppelbocks. Today the weather has taken a turn for the obscene, with gusts of wind in the 50 mph range, causing the rain to fly sideways more than fall vertically. It is winter, I suppose, nothing to do but wait out the storm and hope for the best.

The Session: 11 - Doppelbock
hosted by Brewvana

One of my favorite books of all time is Godric, by Frederick Buechner. Its opening sentence reads "Five friends I had, and two of them snakes". The story is of a haggard old monk with a lifetime of adventures and few regrets, a monk with attitude who loved making other monks blush with his life's stories. In the latter years of his life he'd wade into the middle of the icy river Wear to freeze his nuts off, a sort of crazed ritual done to harness the ever wandering desires of the old monk. His life, as told by Beuchner, is now limited to dank and dreary quarters with few comforts.

I often wish I were like Godric. I started my adult life with ambitions of joining the priesthood, secluded and stashed away to study my Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic while discussing the subtleties of proper hermeneutics. I never quite fit in though, often clashing with authorities and challenging the leadership more than they wanted. Like Godric, I loved telling stories of my youth, my several arrests and life with the less pretty of our society, those I still love to be around. Yes, I still long for this life in some ways, I still have a great passion for theology and historical biblical studies. For me, Godric is and always will be a personal hero - even if a fictitious one.

Were it my story, however, the opening line of my life's memoir would read "five friends I had, two were goats". And in my life's travels these goats would be with me, at my side, joining in my pleasures. You've probably pieced it together by now, my "goats" that is. Doppelbocks, a superior beer in my mind. I simply can't think of a better beer to hold in the dark and damp quarters of life than the comforting and pleasurable beer originally made by monks centuries ago - probably in their own dark and damp quarters that afforded few pleasures.

Imagine it for a minute. A life of solitude, vows of chastity and charity and complete devotion to the mystical. A few times a year you'd skip daily meals, relying only on two of your best friends for nourishment. I suppose I'd like to see one of these goats named Plarao (play-rah-oh), which is Greek for "Fulfillment", as doppelbocks were designed to be just that. As the monks' liquid bread, it would be their sustenance for their fasts, and I can't help but imagine it was used in their celebrations - making Celebrator a more than appropriate name for goat number two.

Yes, that would be my life with goats. As it is, I am an editor for a national beer magazine. I've traded in much of my Greek to understand another mystical passion, the art and science of fermentation. It isn't a bad life and it's great to live a life with more than a couple goats and a few friends. While doppelbocks are truly a beer of beauty and wonder, I'm happy there's more to my beer life.

Bigfoot's New Gigs: UPDATE

A few days ago I posted this picture with a few questions. It took a few days, but I did get a reply from Sierra Grossman. I'd asked whether or not this was a "one-time" thing, or if Sierra Nevada was moving forward with a new label. Sierra answered:
"Bigfoot - this is a onetime occurrence. We thought we would celebrate the 25th expedition of our Bigfoot Ale and do something a little bit different. It's a one-of-a-kind beer and we wanted to have a one-of-a-kind label to go with it!"
So, there you go - we can now rest a bit easier and appreciate the Bigfoot and its new get-up.

UPDATE: I clarified with Sierra Grossman that "one-of-a-kind" beer is not an allusion to a change in recipe. It was a general statement regarding the overall quality of the product. So, expect the same great beer in 2008 with a one-of-a-kind label.

Sierra Nevada's Early Spring Beer

Yes, Spring does come a bit earlier in California than other parts of the country. While many of you are digging our and scraping windshields, the folks in Chico have released their ESB, or Early Spring Beer.
“Our ESB blends the best of English tradition with the boldness of West Coast style. Featuring English ingredients, we added a Sierra Nevada twist by leaving the ale unfiltered, which enhances mouthfeel and hop aroma creating a slightly reddish-copper hue,”
That, according to their press release, is how Sierra Nevada's founder/owner, Ken Grossman, describes the traditional English Bitter. The press release continues
The 2008 ESB features England’s premier heritage malt, Maris Otter, and is blended with Canadian two-row malt to create a uniquely rich, malty sweetness. With the addition of hand-selected English Challenger hops (used for their earthy spiciness) and blended with U.S. Goldings, the beer presents a woodsy-cedar note and a slight citrusy aroma.
If rumors have it right, we can expect a couple more special releases from these guys in 2008. Let's hope so.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Night to Remember

Tonight my wife and I officially celebrated our tenth anniversary, with dinner at Sacramento's semi-famous eatery, Biba's and beer from the legendary Lost Abbey. Started some years ago by a then famous TV chef, Biba Caggiano, Biba's is a fine place for great food. Unfortunately, they don't really have a beer menu to speak of, so we went prepared. I won't give the blow-by-blow of the meal, but need to at least share the basics.

Appetizer: Sweet Breads, followed by Blood Orange Salad, followed by Spinach Gnochi's in a smoked ham and butter sauce.

Appetizer Beer: Lost Abbey's Gift of the Magi

The Bier de Garde went shockingly well with the almost-fluffy sweet breads, slightly overpowered the salad and was sensational with the gnochi. With the gnochi, the beer seemed to simply enhance the savory flavors of the dish, allowing the aftertaste to flourish. We poured a glass with our server (a practice I highly recommend for those bringing fine beers to fine dining establishments) and he was impressed with the beer's overall complexity and wine-likeness (he didn't really have a good starting point to describe the beer). Astounding start.

Dinner: Lamb, cooked rare, with white beans and eggplant.

Dinner Beer: Lost Abbey's Amazing Grace

This is where the night got serious. Again, we poured a glass for our server and his eyes lit up once the red-wine aromas and surprising tart characters came through. In fact, we watched as he shared his glass with other servers, making the rest of the room seem to wish they had what we were having (oh, if they only knew). The lamb was savory, to be certain, tender and cooked to perfection. Shockingly, the beer just worked. If you're a fan of lamb, like we are, you'll know that pairing beer with lamb can be really tricky - especially those with herbal qualities that seem to dominate. However, with the mild wood, dry finish, red-wine aromas and perfect effervescence, Amazing Grace played nicely off the savory qualities of the dish and cleansed the palate between bits.

It's not very often a dinner goes quite so smooth, but tonight delivered like we'd hoped it would. If you've got a big dinner planned and you're unsure of the beer selection, you could go for wine (there's really nothing wrong with that - I love a good glass of wine now and then), or you can bring your own. Expect to pay the corkage fee, but don't be surprised if you don't - a few times now we haven't been charged for the 'service' because, well, they didn't quite seem to know what to do with a bottle of beer. Not only will great beer complete a great meal, you'll likely find yourself engaged in fun and lighthearted conversation with the staff and those around you, it's a great way to safely introduce people to just the idea of fine beer.

Ten years... I better buy some more beer to put in my cellar for the 20th.

For the Love of Lager

The Times Online has a series of articles that are well worth reading, about Lagers: perfect pints, tasting, beer sommelier's life, history and variety.

A few excerpts:

From "So Many Lagers..."
From slight variations in all these ingredients come all the different lagers available, a range that is growing continually in the UK as consumers become more aware of the possibilities of the style. There’s the gently flavoured, golden Pilsner with its slight sweetness, the equally golden German Helle, with its rich tang of malt, and the clean taste of Dortmund.
From "How to Sip..."
Then comes the drinking. Don’t guzzle it down, but don’t sip either. Instead, take a good mouthful and let it run gently over your tongue. You’ll taste the juicy sweetness of the malt, followed by the gentle, tangy bitterness of the hops and, depending on the lager, all kinds of tantalising hints, sometimes fruity, sometimes biscuity, but always interesting.
From "Spot the Perfect Pint"
It may seem simple, but the pour is vitally important. Getting it wrong can produce a messy pint that’s either so thick with foam it spills over the sides of the glass, leaving long, thirsty minutes before the liquid rises to drinkable level, or so thin and temporary that with one swig the liquid is exposed to the air and stays like that all the way down.
There's more, but you get the picture.