Monday, March 31, 2008

Milli Vanilli & Beer

Sorry, I can't help it, I'm on a music kick lately.

Today's thought is inspired by the boys that could boogie, just couldn't sing, Milli Vanilli. You remember them? They had the hit song "Girl you know it's true", had a few good months of fame and then it was pointed out they were lip-synching. Oh, the shame! They were essentially banished from the world of radio and MTV and the album made under their name never really to be heard of again. Now, I am not a big fan of pop music and certainly don't have anything great to say about the songs of the album, even though I do remember the song "Blame it on the rain" more than I should all these years later.

What was wrong with the album for those who bought it? I remember this, people tossed their tapes, recorded over them and generally spoke with utter disdain for the work... even though the songs hadn't changed. I often wondered why they just couldn't relabel the music to the real singer, who probably couldn't dance near as well as the cover boys. While the music as just as good (or bad) as it was the week earlier, the idea that 'someone else' had sung the songs was seemingly too much for the world to appreciate. Odd, really. As I often do, I have a beer tie-in.

What if you found out the beer you love was brewed by another brewery? Maybe not you, per se, because clearly you're an educated drinker who reads beer blogs in your free time - you know the scene. But what about those that blindly love [brand X], what would their reaction be if they learned the beer in their hand was really made at, and by [brand Z]. It happens you know, a lot.

I've been to a lot of breweries in the last several years and have seen a whole lot of beer being produced under contract by brewers not otherwise affiliated with the label they're making. Does that matter to you?

I'm not going to call anyone out on either side, it's just an observation I've made. Recently the Food Network fired a chef for misrepresenting his credentials. The guy was qualified and put on a good show, but fudging a few details about his status on certain jobs was too much - no questions asked, he was gone. And to really derail the post, I've known people who become upset upon learning that the breasts they've admired were enhanced - some opting to move on to another relationship because of the misleading 'nature' of it all.

I guess that's the crux of it all, isn't it? Are brewers that have their beers made under contract misleading us, or would they care if the beer-drinking public knew of the arrangement? I don't know the answer to that, it's a sensitive issue to discuss. Clearly, I'm just wondering here. I don't think most drinkers would care, honestly, but there must be a certain percentage of people who have a deep loyalty to their brand. I can't help but see them on a brewery tour for a company that makes beer on contract, in addition to their own beer, having them notice kegs or bottles of their brand and realize that X was made by Y.

Oh, in case you're wondering, it doesn't matter all that much - in my mind. If you have a brewer that knows his or her stuff, they're very detailed in their recipes and strict on their quality threshold - if the batch falls out of spec, it won't be released and the brewer is likely to lose a contract if they can't hit the spec.

Really, it's no different than thinking a certain brewer makes every batch of beer, when in reality he or she has a staff of brewers that also brew to recipe and have strict specs they're aiming for. Just like a contracted brewer, if the assistant brewer can't hit the brewmaster's specs, they likely won't be around too long. Right? Sure, there are some considerations that may impact a beer - like the water quality and fermentation conditions while a batch is getting to spec - but overall, contract brewing can be done very well, obviously.

Just a thought turned ramble. Thanks for playing.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Revisiting March Madness - Hoops and Hops

So, remember a couple weeks ago when I made my expert picks for the NCAA bracket? Well, now the Final Four has been decided, so let's look at how much I know college hoops.

Upsets: I said that I though USC and Notre Dame would not make it out of the first round. While USC came through for me (sorry Steve), Notre Dame found a way to win a game. Turned out the biggest upset was San Diego beating #4 UConn in the first round.

Cinderella: I had a strange feeling Indiana & St. Mary's may do some incredible things this year, but that feeling may have just been gas - neither team even made it out of the first round. No, this year's Cinderella was clearly Davidson, beating Georgetown and Wisconsin in games I certainly didn't see them winning - let alone playing in.

Final Four

East: I had Louisville beating Washington on my bracket, but with Washington not even making the game it wasn't a huge shock that this pick was blown out of the water when top-seeded NC came through and beat Louisville.

Mid-West: It was supposed to be Kansas over Georgetown, but then Cinderella showed up and knocked out the G-men. At least Kansas went on to the Final Four.

South: Memphis over Stanford is how I saw it coming out, but Stanford lost to Texas a round earlier than I hoped for. Yes, Memphis made it - lucky for me.

West: This is where I look like a genius! I picked UCLA over Xavier, and can you believe that's exactly how it turned out? Yeah, the only bracket I called right.

So, three of the four teams I had selected to be still in the tournament are there. My bracket turning out to be 73% accurate to date. It's actually better than I would have expected it to be, but clearly I have little idea what the hell I'm talking about.

Keep in mind my original pick of UCLA beating Kansas in the finals (74-68 is my 'tie-breaker' score for the game), a prediction you shouldn't take anywhere.

Beer Madness

How about that Beer Bracket? Well, their Final Four consists of the following scenario.
  • Troeg's Hopback winning over Stone Pale Ale (agreeing with my selection, even though Stone won the popular vote)
  • Raven Lager beating out Flying Dog Old Scratch (not how anyone saw it going, with FD having a whopping 84% of the votes - a major upset indeed!)
  • Ommegang Hennepin outlasts Oxford (Who didn't see that coming?)
  • Hook and Ladder takes out Sam Adams Honey Porter (Hook and who? Nope, didn't have that either - it did have a majority of votes, 56%).
So, with the panel proving they have their own tastes, there's no way in knowing how it'll turn out in the end. Personally, I'd have Hennepin overtaking Hopback in the end, but at this point it's just a good waste of time. All in good fun though, it's certainly gotten a lot of attention - good for those who made it to the bracket.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Toronado: April is Belgian Beer Month

Toronado was our final stop in San Francisco this afternoon after a morning of sight seeing and touristy activities, including some time at Golden Gate Park, a stop at the Farmers Market and little stops along the way. I was happy to see Dave around, along with Stewart, and had a chance to talk with Big Daddy as we enjoyed some of the great beer he was pouring. Dave was there preparing for Belgian Beer Month, getting the kegs ready, setting prices and getting signs printed out in preparation for April 1st - no fooling. I won't pretend to know all the beers that will flow through the Toronado taps during the month, but I was privileged to sample a straight lambic I was told you can expect to see while it lasts.

If you're visiting the city anytime in the month of April, for business or pleasure, take a cab to the Toronado (Haight & Fillmore) and imbibe in some fantastic Belgian (and Belgian-style) beers.

Beer of the Trip

While at Toronado we were lucky to enjoy one of the last glasses of Saucer Full of Mertin from Firestone Walker. Oh my goodness, this beer was an education in drinkability. While black in color, there was little in the way of roasted quality to the beer, nothing husky either. Instead, this beer had vanilla, cherry, toffee and a body that just perfect. In fact, it was a sad thing to see the sign for the beer being taken down as we were finishing our glass, we certainly had hoped for another. Oh, in case you're interested, the name reflects the beer's blended nature - part Saucer Full of Secrets, part Mertin (milk stout is what I was told by the man at the bar).

One last note while talking about FSW. Have you seen their new labels? They're great, I believe a great improvement over what we've been used to - and those weren't bad either.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Like That Annoying Song Stuck In Your Head

I don't really have the meat for an entire post here, but I've noticed over the last several years I've been getting really bad music stuck in my head, music from the '80s that clearly made an impression on my brain. Some of it doesn't totally suck, but then there's the days when "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" pops in and won't go away, or something from some crappy-ass rapper, hair band or worse, one-hit-wonder pop stars. For the longest time I wondered if I needed therapy for this condition, the bad music stuck in the head, but eventually I realized it was more common a condition than any of us lead on - yes, I suspect it happens to you too. Right now, in fact, I've got "Don't give me no lines and keep your hands to yourself" looping between the ears - not nearly as bad as Cindy Lauper. Heck, there are even times I don't mind Dave Matthews...

So, what's the harm in listening to, and enjoying, a crappy song once in a while? Really? While in Phoenix recently I had a rental car that was tuned to some 80's station, it was a fun ride into the office that day. And now we have online streaming stations we can customize, stations like Pandora or even some found through iTunes' radio feature. It's easy to indulge in the music we won't listen to with friends, or in public, the music we avoid when walking the aisles of the music shop. Not only is it easy, I think it's good.

All this brings me to this past weekend in Portland. After hitting up Horse Brass and Green Dragon I met up with some friends at a dive bar. There were a couple mega-craft beers available on tap, but something in me was just dying for an Pabst Blue Ribbon, from the bottle. Figuring I wouldn't ruin relationships with those around me, I bought one... and thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, I had a second one.

You probably get where I'm going on this, right? Pabst isn't a bad beer, but after college and the age when we sought after only the cheapest pints, we're more comfortable imbibing more characterful beers, the craft beers of the country. It's sort of like those bad - and marginal - songs we have stuck in our head. It happens. Its OK, you can still be part of the better beer enthusiast club.

What's more, there are nights I've gone out with friends to a local club for dancing and drinks (and no, I can't dance). When there the music that's stuck in the head from time to time just seems right, shuffling feet to "To the beat of the rhythm of the night" doesn't seem as sorry as it would if you were alone in the living room. In those times, the setting makes the music more palatable, acceptable, fun and down-right entertaining.

The same with beer, even macro beer. Every year I share a few Buds with my father and brother. Sure, they'll dabble with craft beer, but for them it's almost as though 'beer is beer'. I gotta tell you, for as long as I've been drinking beer as an adult, there are no better beer drinking memories than these times, especially if we've been hiking in the Cascades in Southern Oregon in the heat of summer. Getting back to the truck and pulling a Bud from the ice, sharing it with my family while sitting in the dirt - there's no bar in the world that offers that lasting emotional memory.

I guess as Don Younger says, "It's not about the beer, it's about the beer".

Perhaps I should have titled this entry, "Confessions of a better-beer and better-music enthusiast"...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Podcast Worth Hearing

I just finished listening to a podcast some of you super-geeky beer folk should be interested in, on Basic Brewing Radio. In this episode James Spencer has a lengthy conversation with John Palmer, author of How To Brew, about hops and IBU measuring. You see, Palmer went to a hops conference at Oregon State recently and evidently learned a few things about hops - from the science end of things. Interesting, educational.

Sacramento Brewing @ OBF 2008

I was speaking with the organizers for the Oregon Brewers Festival over the weekend, they hadn't finalized their brewers list yet - that was the story I was told. Well, either they had and didn't want to tell me, or they figured it out right quick, because today they've got the brewers listed on their site - even though there are a few holes in the beer column.

What stands out? Sacramento Brewing Company! Peter Hoey, you've gotta be happy about that! For those outside the Sacto area, you'll want to try the newly hopped-up version of the Red Horse that'll be flowing here - refreshing, easy to drink and feeling something like hop candy. It's good, I think you'll agree.

Additionally, I don't see Walking Man on the list. I guess that means I'll have to find a way to get to Stevenson on my own this year, I can't be up at OBF and not get my Homo fix - it's simply a wonderful beer.

Finally, can there be a happier man with the way the Fest is looking than Shaun O'Sullivan at 21st Amendment, in San Francisco? First of all, look at that poster. Yeah, that doesn't suck for the 21A team. They're also listed as the top participating brewery - which is listed alphabetically.

Yes, I'm excited for my return trip to OBF in July. If you haven't made your plans to get there, this is a good time to do it. Last I checked the airfare from NorCal to Portland was incredibly cheap - around 200 bucks round-trip. See you there?

Oskar Blues Coming to California

I got an email from Oskar Blues yesterday letting me know they're coming to California at the end of April, or early May, good news for people who like good beer, better news for people who like their better beer in cans. For those scratching your heads, sure you know of the company, but not remembering their products, don't worry - I had to check too. They're the makers of Old Chub Scottish, Dale's Pale Ale, Gordon (some sort of strong ale), One Nut brown ale and the much discussed Ten Fidy imperial stout. I've never tried an Impy Stout from a can... that should be fun. I'm assuming it's a beer you chug and then immediately crush the can on the forehead for good measure - that is what cans are for, right?

Seriously, I'm excited with all the new and great beers we've got heading our way and I can only hope that our great California craft brewers are finding just as much success getting their product east. There is, after all, only a certain amount of shelf space in the state and as much as I'd love to believe the new Dogfish Head and Oskar Blues (and others) products will displace only the economy beers, I also know it's more likely that some regional brewers will be losing their space on shelves wanting to carry the newest/coolest product.

Additionally, it will be interesting to see how California deals with canned craft beer on the shelf. In Oregon the stores finally figured out to include the great beers from Caldera in the craft beer section, but that took a bit of time and education. Here, where I have so little faith in the store management overall, I can only imagine a knee-jerk reaction to want to place the canned products near the other canned beer - yep, right next to the Silver Bullet. That's something I suppose Oskar Blues' reps will be all over, I hope.

So, good times! It sounds as though PBN may throw some sort of release party for the good people there, although there are no details, commitments or anything more than a friendly email or two. If we do, we'll post the details and you that live nearby will know what to do then.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Come On California...

April 7th is just around the corner, and on this day American beer enthusiasts should join in celebration for the 75th anniversary of Prohibition's repeal. Key word there, "should".

Looking at the BA site it seems that of all the breweries in the state, less than 10 are signed up to have a formal party. Seriously? That's it? Oh, and there's not a single event planned for the Sacramento area - the state capital for one of the world's largest economies...

Here's hoping that as the day gets closer someone will put something together. If you're looking for a fitting celebration in your area, check out the Brewers Assn website for a listing of events.

Hey, I know we're all busy, but I can't think of a better thing to celebrate, or a better venue to educate the beer loving public on your products, the laws that may impact your business or better way to say thanks for your support to the throngs of people encouraged to support their local brewers - reminding folks to be on the lookout for the "new drys" as Lew likes to put it.

Anyway, won't stay on my high horse too long, I just felt like pointing out something that bugged me.

Regional Barista Competition & Brewing Stuff

This weekend in Berkeley, California, is the Western Regional Barista Competition - where I can only imagine great coffee will be served. You know I love good coffee, but alas I don't see me making this event. It seems as much as I like coffee, I won't go through any great lengths to get a cup like I do for beer. Not yet anyway.

This isn't exactly a coffee post, as I've got questions that relate to beer. Really.

The WRBC appears to be playing on a level field, from what I've gathered the beans are provided by the organizers and not brought in by the participants. I've not received confirmation on this, although I've tried to call a couple of local participants. If that's the case, the competition will truly be about the skills of the barista, and not simply about who can procure the best beans.

Now, on to beer.

Could you imagine running a brewers competition like this? I would be so interested in seeing some of the country's elite brewers sign up for a friendly competition where they were all given the same ingredients to make a single batch of beer - say a brown ale. The beers would then be "judged" by whomever, assuming it'd be industry folks mixed with some pro judges. The winner could then boast, although they likely wouldn't, that it was truly their skill that set them apart and not the ingredients available to him/her.

I'm not an event organizer, but if I were this would be something I'd look into a bit, see if there were any brewers interested in playing along. Hell, with so many of the top-tier brewers being so friendly with each other, it doesn't seem implausible that they'd organize something like this among themselves - just for fun. Right?

Anyway, that's all. Reading through the barista competition stuff got me thinking, figured I'd share my ill-conceived brewer competition. Cheers!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sprig Beer & Wine: Day Two

I'm in my hotel lobby, feeling sorry for my bracket and generally feeling content after another good weekend in Portland. Yesterday's festivities proved to be a bit much for me and today I'm moving a little slow, feeling a little tired.

The beer judging started at 9:30 a.m. and I sat on the odd panel of ambers, browns and reds - as well as two jalapeƱo beers! The brews were all pretty good, our winner being a well crafted Northwest 'styled' American Red. I actually found the use of "Northwest" in the category (officially listed as a NW Red) to be both comical and frustrating, as it doesn't really seem to mean anything to anyone. Sure, there's an assumption the beer will be 'hoppy', but really - that's what the American style is for.

What's more, you'd think, listening to the locals here go on and on about their hopped up beers, that you'd have no troubles finding a good IPA. That's not the case. I've had several great options made in the city, but for every one of the great IPAs you'll find five that seem to be lacking the hop profiles commonly found throughout California. I've said it before, but California just knows how to make and appreciate great IPAs and Double IPAs.

BREAK - Sorry, got busy, came home, worked, relaxed... ready to finish this.

From the judging I was compelled to travel a bit and hit up one of my favorite bars of all time, Horse Brass. God, I love this place. For the weekend they were pouring cask ales, eight at a time with 30 cask beers planned to be served by the time it was all said and done. I had a few of them before all was said and done, but ultimately had to try the C Note from Lompoc, which was on tap - a big, hopped up IPA that did some work in proving my above statements incomplete. While I was at it, I ordered up a plate of Steak and Kidney Pie - my favorite item of their old world menu. After a couple hours here, with my good friend Carl, who was celebrating a birthday, it was time to leave - an exit I never like to make.

The Spring Beer and Wine event was lively when I returned, complete with a line 20 folks deep at the door. Inside it was clear what the popular booth was, the large wooden keg on wheels, Deschutes newest festival attraction. I should mention I was able to sample their Witbier, which we should see in bottles this year if all goes well, and it was amazing - really, great texture, body and flavors from start to finish. We should all look forward to sampling this, again, if all goes as planned. Having indulged at Horse Brass and in earlier judging, my afternoon around the fest was casual, finding time to enjoy the chocolates and other non-drink booths found along the way.

By the time it was wrapping up, the festival had cleared out pretty well and it seemed most brewers had blown their kegs, were packing up and getting ready for the hall to completely clear out so they can go home. I was again impressed with the well-behaved crowd of beer drinkers, and again I'd wished there were news outlets on site to put out a story that contrasts most of the beer drinkers we see on the news - those who cause trouble 'because' of their beer consumption.

Leaving the Convention Center I had one more stop on my list, Green Dragon. I'd heard a whole lot of good stuff from this place, DRAFT had thrown a party there earlier in the week and I'd had a great time with their cook/brewer, Tyler. Green Dragon is about six-months young, but have all the ingredients to be a great brewery for years to come: 19 taps, 3Bbl brewery, swank look with high ceilings and a long, rounded stone-topped bar. The crowd was your standard 20-30 somethings, from the well-dressed to the ultra-casual, each having a great time while enjoying the beer and food - the mussels looked damn good.

Here I met up with the crew from Beer NW, the regional beer magazine, along with reps from Sierra Nevada and Deschutes - and friends. While I was ready to call it a night, I was also happy to join their party as we bar hopped a bit more, met even more people and ultimately had us a good time. It was around 4 a.m. when I arrived back at my hotel, way too late for my tastes, but man... that was a great day.

I'm back in Sacramento now, the weather is dreamy and calm. Recalling the weekend that was, I can't wait to get back to Portland, at least for the Oregon Brewers Festival in July. If you've not been drinking in Portland, you really ought to fix that, but make sure you get a hotel, take cabs and stay for a whole weekend, long enough to see several of the great beer stops the city is known for.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Spring Beer & Wine: Day One

5:00 A.M. is too early to get up for a beer fest, but if I wanted to have that scheduled TV interview for KPTV at 6:30, I had to be awake and on my game. Right? So there I was, at the Oregon Convention center, many hours before the event officially began, waiting for my two minutes of fame. It was probably the best time of the day, really. Not the interview, but the quiet moments with people in the industry as they scurried to get their booths set up and looking nice, all at a leisure pace that most certainly wasn't present the night before when all the stuff had to be lugged in after their journeys to the event from wherever home is. I tagged along with Lisa Morrison, the Beer Goddess, shared stories with the guys of Green Dragon, Deschutes and met some other-industry folk from Hotwicks, Yelp and those pouring their wines and serving their food. I've been here before, the early hours of the fest before it's crazy, and it's just a delight to be around.

The fest started like they tend to do, with lines of eager people awaiting their green light to come in and imbibe the region's best. It wasn't too busy at first, the hour or two after opening still seeming casual and unhurried. This is my kind of event.

At 4:00 P.M. I was beckoned to the stage for a seminar on "food and beer". I joined the heavy hitters up there too, it was humbling, hororing and a little weird. To my right was Terri Farendorf, the Road Brewer with 19 years brewing experience as a pro. To my left was the moderator for the event, John Foyston, of the Oregonian (and several other beer publications). Seating next to John was Tom Daldorf of the Celebrator, looking dapper as always. At the end of the table sat the legendary Fred Eckhardt, perhaps the father of American beer writing. To say I was in good company would be a gross understatement, I was on stage with some of the best beer minds in the country - and that significance was never lost on me.

The seminar went well, my biggest mistakes coming from talking too far away from my microphone. The questions were pretty general, overall, with only one very specific question: what do pair with Easter dinner of ham or turkey (my answer: turkey & a dry kreik; ham and doppelbock). It was a great time up there, Terri was whitty, Tom was his long-winded and entertaining self and Fred... well, Fred was Fred (funnier than you'd think, and very thoughtful in his responses). Before we knew it, it was time to wrap up and move on. That was truly a great time and a memory I won't soon forget.

The rest of the evening was spent talking with folks in the industry - both the publishing and beer industries I guess. Megan and the team at BEER Northwest were fantastically hospitable, entertaining and fun to see. Daldorf was good for a laugh or three at any given time. Lisa Morrison was busy as hell, but never too busy to be nice and say hello. Distillers from Rogue - oh my goodness - on top of great liquors, these guys are just a kick to be around! Seriously, among the more entertaining folks to be around at their booth. I'm not sure exactly what the deal is, but I think to work as a rep for Full Sail you just have to be cooler than snow, Jesse up here making life seem a bit more friendly. Brewers rock too, of course.

I also met some old, beer-fest friends, the people you see along the way at various beer fests, faces you recognize long before the names come to you. Theres something great about these people, you don't know a thing about them, except their fondness for good beer. Ed was one of these guys, it was fun wandering around sampling this and that with someone interesting to be around.

In the end, I wound up shutting the fest down, but remained in pretty solid condition - not overdoing it to the point several on the way out appeared to have done. After all, I had to get up this morning and judge a few beers for the event. It's about half way through the second day, I'm just taking a bit of a break off the feet, but will try to get up more notes from today soon.

For all those those kind enough to say hello, thank you.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Quick Post from Phoenix

I am pretty spent, a good day in the office followed by a good night of brewery hopping makes me think sleep's not a bad idea. However, I did want to pass on some notes for good places to find when you're in Phoenix, for whatever reason.

Tops Liquors - If you live in Phoenix and like beer, I sure hope you've been here. This is a bottle shop that simply must be visited by those who like great drinks - from beer to whiskey, tequila and more. Best selection I've seen in the city, hands down.

Four Peaks Brewing Co. - I went here with co-worker Adrianne (and friend), and the beers, atmosphere and food were all top-notch. The brewery is located in an old warehouse, high ceilings and open floor space - really, it's pretty spectacular, I wish I'd had my camera. I tried both their IPAs and was quite satisfied, the Popper Burger (topped with cream cheese and jalapeƱos) really topping off the already good experience. The service wasn't in a hurry, but all was good when the it was time to go.

Papago Brewing Co. - I went here mainly for the Cantillon Kriek, a treat I'm not accustomed to in NorCal. This may be my favorite bar in the city, great taps and amazing bottled beer selection, complemented by a pretty good service staff (Mel seems to know more about beer than almost any barkeep I've seen). I enjoyed my Kriek and met a wonderful lady who offered to introduce me to a new bar - and I'm happy I joined.

British Open Pub (same strip mall as Papago) - This is a bar a very nice woman (Adi, I believe her name was) introduced me to. Weinstephaner on tap, with several other great European beers (better than Guinness options, if you catch my drift), complemented with a pretty impressive import bottle selection. The bar just worked, and the barkeep (Amy) was friendly and knowledgeable. Besides the beer, patrons can enjoy darts, pool and arcade games - again, this bar just worked for me.

Another great place I discovered in Phoenix today was Tortas El Guero, where I had lunch. I come from California, a place proud with their Mexican food, but I'd not had a torta as good as this. The bread was fresh, lightly toasted, and the adobada was simply exceptional. Seriously, if you're in the city, find this place (2518 N. 16th St) and have yourself a great meal served at the right (low) price.

One day in Phoenix, filled with great beer and great food. What more can you ask for?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Another Week on the Road

I'm back in the Sacramento Int'l Airport, a place I've become acquainted with over the years here. I'll be off line for several days, making another couple quick trips this week. First, I'll be in Phoenix Tuesday through Thursday, then flying directly to Portland for the Spring Beer and Wine Festival. Phoenix is all office work, but I'm certain I'll have a few minutes here and there to enjoy the weather & another fine area brewery (I'm hoping to be at Sonoran Brewing on Weds).

Again, if you're in Portland this weekend, stop by the DRAFT Magazine booth anytime for a copy of the magazine, also taking time on Friday afternoon to stop and listen as I do my best to keep pace with Fred Eckhardt (a personal hero), Tom Daldorf and Teri Farendorf in the beer & food seminar (Friday @4). I'm quite certain there'll be after parties around the city that weekend, and of course you should stop at the kick-off event at Green Dragon on Weds night (sponsored by DRAFT).

Monday, March 17, 2008

March Madness: Rick's Picks

I'm never all that good at choosing an NCAA March Madness bracket, but each year I try - at least a little bit. Applying some logic and a few ground rules, this year I came close to putting some real thought into the whole thing. So, with that said, I figured I'd share my Final Four choices, the winners from each bracket. Keep in mind, I follow NFL football a lot more than college hoops, and I was the guy that said Randy Moss wouldn't do anything in 2007 for the Patriots, who would ultimately underachieve. Yeah, I'm not being called on by the numbers guys in Vegas, I promise you that.

Maybe if we're lucky, Mike will submit his picks here for the world to see - looking at his picks for top 25 athletes you'll see he's got more going on upstairs when it comes to sports.

Biggest Round 1 upset? I saying Notre Dame, ranked #5 in their bracket and USC, who is ranked #6. I see them both losing in the opening round.

Picks for Cinderella teams? These are just silly to pick, but I have a feeling everything I'm picking is silly too. Indiana (ranked #9) & St. Mary's (ranked #10) seem to have the right match-ups to make it to Round 3.

Who Gets to the Final Four?

East: Louisville beats Washington
Mid West: Kansas beats Georgetown

South: Memphis beats Stanford
West: UCLA beats Xavier

Who Wins the Finals
UCLA over Kansas

Best of Sacramento?

It's that time of year again when local news folk put out their surveys to list their 'best of', however they name it. I don't normally do these, but for some reason the KCRA A-List has had me voting for the last couple years. The winners annoy me to no end, perhaps I feel as though my vote really will count sometime. Just to give you an idea, here's some of last year's beery winners.

Best Beer Selection
  1. Elixir Bar & Grill
  2. Streets of London
  3. Bonnlair
  4. Yager's
  5. Fanny Ann Saloon
My list would not have seen Elixir at all, and Streets of London must be riding the coat tails of days past, when they were something worth talking about. BonnLair is great, Yager's is decent. Vino's Wine and Cheese was good last year, but how quickly they have fallen! But hey, they're for sale now, so there's hope.

This year my vote went to Manderes.

Best Brewpub
  1. Pyramid Alehouse
  2. Elk Grove
  3. Placerville
  4. Brew It Up!
  5. Rubicon
Wow! You've gotta be kidding me, right?! Last year Pyramid didn't even brew in Sacramento, it was just a beer bar. Elk Grove makes good beer, Placerville can too. Brew It Up can be great, but can also be less-than-stellar. My list (last year) would have seen Rubicon at number 1, BJ's at number 2 (again, last year) followed by Sacramento Brewing. Sacramento really started coming on strong about this time last year, and news of their turnaround is still working its way through the community.

This year I voted for Rubicon at number 1, but if they're not careful they may soon be overtaken by Sacramento Brewing or Auburn Alehouse. Funny/sad thing about this year's voting, they didn't even include Auburn Alehouse! Come on KCRA guys, use your brains and amazing internet searching abilities!

Missing from the Ballots

Something else screwy with this year's ballots, they include a best wine bottle shop category, but not a beer bottle shop category! If I were voting for that, here'd be my selection.

Best Place to Buy Bottled Beer
1. Total Wine
2. Corti Bros
3. Nugget Markets
4. BevMo (Arden)
5. Whole Foods tied with a bunch of others that are almost there.

Vegetarian selections don't include Sunflower?! Now, they've done gone nuts there at KCRA I tell ya...

I'll consult the powers-that-be at PBN and we'll put a bit more thought into a real beer enthusiasts "Best Of" list for you all.

Forbes: 8 Healthy Reasons to Drink Beer

Is beer becoming high-brow? Well, yes. I believe this is the second beer piece by Forbes in the last month or so. They do well at stating craft beers have more to offer all around than industrial beers, and do pretty well at elevating beer's overall status - often comparing beer with wine (rather than contrasting it).

You may, or may not, learn anything here, but it's fun enough to read. The piece features several quotes from Dr. Bamforth of UC Davis, who is apparently the only doctor qualified to identify health benefits in beer - do you not see him in every beer+health piece? Great guy, don't get me wrong, but it is fun realizing you've read much of the same stuff before, largely because it's the same guy saying it. In case you didn't know, Bamforth's specialty is in malting and brewing. According to his UCD page,
"His current research program focuses primarily on the wholesomeness of beer, including studies on the psychophysics of beer perception, on polyphenols and on the residues from non-starchy polysaccharide digestion that constitute soluble fiber and potential prebiotics in beer. Research in the laboratory also embraces the enzymology of the brewing process, foam stability, preventing oxidation in wort and beer and alternative paradigms for beer production."
He knows more than I do, likely more than you too, when it comes to beer. I keep thinking I should take one of his classes, being that I'm so close to UCD. I imagine someday I will.

I suppose we can expect to see more from his with his thoughts on "alternative paradigms for beer production", with folks around the world looking for new ways of making beer that tastes good, but perhaps with non-standard ingredients.

Anyway, enjoy the story, and pass it along to those who could learn from it.

New Winos, Imports and General Buying Habits

LA Times recently ran a piece on the Young Winos, a wine enthusiast group based in LA. Toward the bottom of the first page of the online story, the piece really gets interesting, as the story shifts a bit from the group, itself, to buying habits. The more I read the more I wondered how much correlation there is with your wine enthusiasts and young beer buyers. This little piece stood out most of all:
Unlike baby boomers -- whose first wines were then-inexpensive California wines and who, in large part, continue to stick with the state's brands -- local loyalties mean nothing to this group. With quality wine no longer the exception worldwide but the rule, this new generation buys wines from anywhere and everywhere. They focus on the best value they can find within their limited budgets.
Local loyalties, that's something I wonder about quite a bit. With all the beer enthusiasts out there bearing their Support Your Local Brewer bumper stickers, I can't help but think about the ever-increasing popularity in online trades and sales or beers from far away. Not only that, there's a whole beer sub-culture that seems obsessed with clicking off beers, those wanting to try anything new-to-them simply because they can. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't see a big problem with this, to a certain degree I do it myself. often I've gone through great lengths to try a style of beer I've not had before, not always worried about who brews it or what others say about it.

The other thing I haven't really thought much about is the "limited budgets" young drinkers have. I'm not old, just 31, so I won't pretend to talk about the 'younger days' too much here. That said, my college days were quite lean and I could barely afford gas in my Geo Metro, living on a ramen noodle diet with many of my dorm-mates. When I splurged on beer then, it was Corona Extra, and that was pretty much for taking to parties. It's odd to think that there's a significant portion of the young drinkers that can afford to explore new wines to the degree speculated in the LA Times piece. It isn't just there, check out the ages found on BA and RB, there's a lot of people under 25 with more than a hundred beers clicked off their list.

The Times article goes on to mention more of the buying habits.
Of the wine purchased by the 70 million Americans ages 21 to 30, 40% is imported. That purchasing tendency has been credited with pushing the rate of growth in sales of imported wines ahead of domestic wines, Gillespie says. Gen-Xers (the 45 million people ages 31 to 44) buy imported wines 32% of the time, whereas imports account for only 26% of wine purchased by 77 million baby boomers.
I can't help but think this is a status thing, whether it's the hot wines of the day being purchased by my generation, or even the not-hot wines bought by those thinking they're going against status quo. Of course, with older generations, a significant portion of the beer bought/consumed would be from industrial wineries, the economy wines that were popular before Napa Valley was synonymous with great wine - which really wasn't too long ago. The same is true for beer. Older generations didn't have the selection and their buying habits were formed long before the first craft beer revolution in the States. Still, if you're an industrial winery or brewer, this can't be comfortable to look at.

How about this?
Boomer wine drinkers play it safe; surveys indicate that 4 out of every 10 bottles they buy represent "favorite" wines. This younger group takes risks, relying on "favorite" wines for just 1 in 10 of their wine purchases.

"They are ruled by the joy of discovery," Gillespie says. So far, the industry has reached out to them with what he calls "fun" brands, priced $10 to $15, some with appealing animals on the label (sometimes called "critter wines"), others with funny names such as Oops and Red Truck.
Now this does sound familiar. I'm of the mindset that I'd rather experiment with a beer I've never heard of than pick up and old-standby I know I like. As with wines, there are stinkers out there, but those are few and far enough in between that it hasn't yet detoured my new beer buying habit.

In all, the LA Times piece was interesting, and thinking a bit more about how we will continue to support our local brewers while still developing our tastes for better imports and hard-to-get domestics from afar has been fun as well. Clearly I think we'll succeed in doing both, choosing to seek out new beers at a much slower rate than we appreciate and consume those brewed in our own back yard. Hopefully we can do that, right?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Coffee Update

I mentioned previously that I'd just finished roasting a new batch of coffee, and that it may have highly acidic qualities when brewed. Well, I couldn't be more wrong. What the coffee presents is an intense floral and grassy aroma, complementing the rich dried flower and lime leaf flavors. There isn't much body to speak of, but with the intensity in flavor and aroma, that's not necessarily a knock. What's funny, the aftertaste reminds me of an English Old Ale, having a very dry finish and tannin qualities that are nearly husky. I may be thinking too hard on that though, but there's something... My goodness, this is a great cup of coffee.

Again, this is a Nicaraguan coffee, Limoncillo Est, Java Longberry. I roasted this to what is referred to as City Roast, which is light brown in color and doesn't have the oily appearance found in Vienna or French roasts you're likely familiar with. On my iRoast 2, I used Preset 2 and manually stopped the roasting process after seven and a half minutes. From there I allowed the newly roasted beans to set out for 17 hours or so, allowing them to breath and quickly mature into something usable.

Learn more about roast levels with a picture guide I found at Sweet Maria's, where I get almost everything I need to roast coffee at home.

Sober Anniversary

Today is apparently the 35th wedding anniversary for Mike and Terri Sober, hosts and dear friends of Pacific Brew News. They are also the founders, movers and shakers behind the legendary SOBER group in Northern California, frequently hosting epic beer tastings at their home, finding time to make up some great grub while we all enjoy their endless hospitality. Rumors swirl around these parts of the woods that beer will be consumed in celebration of the event, and it seems likely that I'll find a way to join in their great party.

As is frequently the case, the thing Mike and Terri are (and should be) most proud of is their kids, who rarely get any mention here on the site, Zack and Cody. Some of the greatest moments of the past couple years has been sharing beers with all four of them under one roof, each matching the others' joy in the moments shared with the biggest IPAs and smoothest Hefeweizen's you're going to find in these parts.

So, here's to the Sober's on their celebration of 35 years of marriage (even if your certificate is from Germany, I'm sure it's real).

Check out:
Mike's blog
Zack's blog

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Babies, Bathwater and the War on Drugs

Today, I figured I'd talk about a topic I really know nothing about, feel free to correct my misguided curiosities. I ran across this story on Reuters, about Peru's fight to keep Coca chewing legal. We all know that Coca is key for producing cocaine, but evidently it has more mainstream uses as well. For instance, the article states that chewing coca leaves helps with altitude sickness, is used in cooking and seems to be akin to our energy drinks we're so fond of here in the US. I don't know anything about the leaf form of the plant, but the little I've read seems to suggest it's great for increasing energy output of workers and can be consumed on a regular basis without ill effect (certainly, moderation is key). Oh, it also seems to suppress hunger, and I bet there's fewer potential side-effects than found in our prescribed and overly advertised pills that do the same thing.

So, what's the big deal? The war on drugs has deemed coca to be a bad thing because of what it's processed into, then distributed around the world. I don't condone cocaine use and in theory support keeping it out of schools and streets. However, it just seems like another typical over-reaction to ban the base substance, a product that most don't believe to be harmful and can be, in apparent situations, useful. Additionally, there are many cultural, historical and socio-economic issues that seem to not be considered in all of this - there really is more to the story.

It's been enlightening to read more about this, as well as entertaining. In the original Reuters piece it made mention that, in the trial/debate/hearing surrounding its ban, coca was passed around in a hat by a congresswoman. To my surprise it seems as though several folks there - other members of congress - partook of the gift, much to the dismay of those who believed it to be the menace we're comfortable believing it to be (there were "boos" and "hisses"!). Gotta love that.

Why am I posting this here? I still have no idea, thought it was an interesting story, figured you might think so too. Oh, and if you do find it interesting, check out this quick study on energy output and productivity of workers who chew coca vs. those who don't. When done, think of all the silly ads on TV that promise to make you more productive, the energy drinks that I'm convinced to be more harmful for your body over time than good for us. Wonder if we'll be seeing coca tea on the market anytime soon?

Beer & Peru

This was online a couple weeks ago, not really anything I felt needed repeating, but evidently Peruvians are enjoying a more prosperous life these days - evidenced solely by their increased beer sales. Yup, the good people of the country apparently bought 11.5% more cerveza in 2007 than 2006. From the article:
"Household earnings are up, we are building more houses, buying more telephones and consuming much, much more beer," President Alan Garcia told reporters in front of the presidential palace.
Prosperous, all while having laws permitting coca chewing? Go figure.

Saturday As It Was Intended

I'm sitting on the couch now, the day cooling off, but still feeling like late Spring. We just returned from a nice long walk around the neighborhood, working off the corned beef and cabbage I'd made earlier in the day. When not prepping and cooking, eating or walking, I found time to nearly complete a book I'm having trouble parting with and even made a new batch of home-roasted coffee. In fact, with the day I've had, I wanted to share a bit about what life is like for me on a good Saturday.

First, the Book

I love everything Christopher Moore has put out, in fact, he has one of the most entertaining blogs I've ever run across (don't believe me, check out his Christmas story). I first realized his genius with the book The Stupidest Angel, then confirmed it with Lamb - hand's down the funniest book on Jesus you will ever (EVER) read. These days I've been obsessed with his book, A Dirty Job, about a man who sorta-accidentally-kinda becomes death. I started this on a plane to Philadelphia and had to finally put it down when I couldn't stop laughing under my breath, drawing strange looks from the very sweet woman sitting next to me. More than a couple times these laughter fits came on, luckily for the good people of the world, most of these happened at home. I'm a bit sad at the prospect of finishing the book tonight, or tomorrow, unsure where I'll turn to next. If you're a fan of funny and you haven't already read his works, pick up one of his books. Several of his works tie in with others, so if you don't start with Lamb, consider starting with his earliest works.

Up Next, Coffee!

I just finished roasting a Nicaraguan coffee, Limoncillo Est, a Java Longberry. I didn't roast this as long as some of the most recent batches, hoping bring out the bean's acidity - which when brought out in the right beans will remind you of lambic - if only lambic was like coffee, and that coffee spontaneously roasted itself. Seriously, the lime, lemony qualities can be intense. Sometimes this acidity is overpowering for me, although my wife loves it, so this may be a batch that requires cream in the morning cup.

Hopefully you've experienced better coffee in your life. I admit it's sorta new to me, but it doesn't take long to make you realize just how duped you've been with Starbucks or something worse. I am sure I've mentioned it before, but if you're looking for something better in your coffee, check out Redshoe Roasting. The coffee's sold here are made by hand by friend of Pacific Brew News, a man of many names, we'll just call him Dave.

Finally, the Beer

I had a mixed bag of beer goodies today. First I enjoyed a Big Daddy, by Speakeasy - a light, easy to drink IPA from San Francisco. With dinner we had Rogue's Irish Lager, Kells. This just didn't work for me, and it wasn't until after tasting it that I read the bottle, which happened to boast of the green apple finish. Sorry, that just didn't work for me, it seemed like an off-beer they found a way to market. Unwilling to finish the Rogue, I moved on to Furious by Surly, which was an absolute gem of a beer, a strong and full-bodied double IPA from a can.

I've sort of been out of it lately, just not driven to type and often lacking time. However, there's a lot of great stories out there and I hope you're keeping up. Additionally, I just have to say I loath the new Guinness campaign/joke to make St. Patrick's day a national holiday - or whatever it is they're doing. It's odd really, turning what really is a celebration of a religious figure into a day that holds little more meaning than the drink in front of you. Also odd, I've read that Catholics in Ireland used to prefer a Murphy's over the Guinness (while protestants leaned toward Beamish, my particular choice for dry Irish stouts). I'm no expert on such matters, haven't even made the trip to Ireland that seems obligatory for anyone who takes beer too seriously.

So, in closing, go out and read a good book, make a good meal and enjoy a good coffee, as well as a good beer - or, eat, drink and be merry.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Craft Brewers: Growing & Growing

Yeah, I know you've seen the big numbers of the overall growth in the craft beer industry, but what about individual growth? Well, the folks at Beer Marketer's Insights have put together some numbers for the great state of Massachusetts. According the Massachusetts beer shipment numbers for the 2007 year, there were three companies that grew more than can be sustained, at a truly astonishing percentage.

First, we have Dogfish Head, who saw an increase in sales of more than 56%! I can only assume DFH didn't have a great foothold in the state in 2006, but still - that's a good number for the guys in Milton, Delaware. They finished off 2007 with just over 4,000 Bbl in sales.

Smuttynose, the brewers from Portsmouth, NH, grew an impressive 32.2% in the state, going from just over 3,000 Bbls in 2006 to almost 4,000 in 2007. Again, great growth for a small brewery, they must be happy with that.

Long Trail is a company I'm only becoming familiar with, and they're much bigger than I'd imagined. In 2006 they sold about 8,000 Bbl in Mass., compared to more than 5,700 Bbl last year - a growth of 38%!

Of course growth is good, but before calling this a post let's look at the numbers for the top craft brewer in the state, Boston Beer Co. Their growth was just over 13%, not as sexy perhaps as the other companies, but their other numbers are staggering. In 2007 BBC had more than 200,000 Bbl in sales - roughly more than a whole lot more than the other three I mentioned, even if they were combined. As big as their numbers are for the state, they still only rank in #6 for beer shipments in Mass. I guess that tells us once again just how big the industrial brewers are.

Coming Soon: Spring Beer and Wine Fest

The good and beer loving folks in Portland seem to have a beer fest every other month, don't they? It's not a bad thing, mind you, except I just can't make it up there as often as I'd like to. That won't be the case next weekend, as I'll be in the City of Roses for the weekend-long Spring Beer and Wine Festival.

To start things off right, DRAFT is throwing a party at Portland's Green Dragon Bistro and Brewpub. I don't know much about the party at this point, just that it's happening Wednesday from 4-7PM.

Friday and Saturday the festival really gets going, at the Oregon Convention Center. Throughout the weekend there'll be seminars, food, live chef performances and much more. On Friday at 4PM I'll be part of a panel discussing Food and Beer, along with more notable folks like Fred Eckhardt, Tom Daldorf and Teri Fahrendorf. I'll also be on hand for some good old fashioned beer judging, and overall enjoyment of all the festival and city have to offer.

If you're in the area, it will be worth your time stopping in. There's more than 25 brewers in attendance, Alaskan seems bent on even serving some vintage Smoked Porter, while Walking Man dares you stay awake whilst enjoying their Somnambulator Doppelboch. Yeah, it'll be a good time. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

DRAFT's Newest Gig

I just found this online earlier this week and spoke with our guy behind the scene setting it up. It's the first in what appears to be a regular series of concerts sponsored by DRAFT. Not surprising, this first concert is in Phoenix (where our office is) and features three bands and beer provided by three area brewers (Papago, Four Peaks and BJ's).

Admittedly, I'm not familiar with the bands and I'm unlikely to make the event (I'll be in Phoenix the week before). That said, how cool is this? I love good local music as much as I like good local beer, combining to two seems like a no brainer! In fact, I'm a bit bummed to not make the event, I'm very interested in seeing how we handle something like this - the whole beer-to-music-ratio thing. If you're in Phoenix on March 26th (maybe you're there for Spring Training), I don't feel ashamed to encourage you to find your way here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

SacBrew Blog

I've intended on putting a link up for a new brewer's blog, the Sacramento Brewing Company blog by their own rising star, Peter Hoey. When browsing the blog a couple things become very clear, very fast.
  1. Peter can write. It isn't a surprise really, I've found that many great brewers have the creativity and ability to clearly articulate their passion. Peter joins a few other abundantly capable brewers/bloggers around the country and while his journal is largely regional, I think you'll appreciate his work wherever you are.
  2. Peter dreams big. Look at the last two posts and you'll understand. Most recently he details the brew-day with Sean Paxton (the Homebrew Chef) as they work together to make a California Wheat Wine that will be aged in Bourbon barrels. The post before that? His taking SBC from zero to 20+ barrels in one week! His plans aren't to put his beer in for a week or even six, but for months and years, however long is necessary for the beer to be ready.
I was in SacBrew on Monday and got to see the barrels first-hand, it's exciting. You see, Peter isn't a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants brewer, he puts a lot of thought and energy into his work and that's paid off well for him in the past year alone (Best of Show at Cal Brewers Fest along with hardware from GABF for different beers). Peter's a highly resourceful brewer too, not afraid to call those who know more and have more experience than he. I have no doubt with all he knows, and all who are willing to help him succeed, he's going to continue making great beer for years to come at Sacramento Brewing.

Lucky for us, we can now follow along online.

Philly Beer Week

Pictured to the left is Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Joe Sixpack himself, Don Russell. This was taken at the official kick-off of Philly Beer Week, a 10 day celebration of the city's proud beer scene. It's an overwhelming week for beer enthusiasts, with more than 150 beer events spattered around the city, too many to possibly attend and a lot of them certainly seeming worth the time and effort to get there.

I was there for the kick-off, along with several other beer press folk, making my way to a handful of early events. I think it's important for you who weren't here, but are considering a trip next year, to bare in mind that this isn't a beer festival as much as it is a city-wide celebration of their beer culture. I've never seen anything like it.

Like the week itself, I've got more thoughts and stories to tell than I could possibly fit in. That said, I'll just cut this off and tell you that a week in Philly in March 2009 may be in order for you who love beer - as well as learning about beer and hearing from those who know more about beer than you do. The flights from NorCal to Philly were dirt cheap, the hotels plentiful and more to do than you'll ever get done. Yeah, it was a good time.

To see my 400+ pictures of the week that was, click here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

BJ's Brewmaster's Dinner #2

There wasn't a lot of publicity given on this. In fact, Tracy and I went in last night unsure whether or not this was still on, lucky for us it was. The Brewmaster's Dinner series at BJ's Brewhouse/Restaurant is different from many other brewer dinners I've been to, as their goal is to bring in the best beer they can find to pair with their standard menu options. Other brewers make new and off-the-menu dishes to go with their beer. I don't think one approach is better than the other, and after last night's offerings I walked away very impressed with the food menu options at BJ's - more so than I was prior to the meal.

To start things off, the newly promoted Director of Brewing Operations for BJ's, David (Puffy) Mathis' crew poured generous portions of their 2008 Grand Cru (a beer I've written about previously). This was, in his words, our calibration beer and at 10.4% ABV you could also call it a social lubricant useful for those sitting near strangers, feeling awkward in their own skin (there weren't many of these folk, but there's one in every crowd). The Grand Cru has aged well, even though Puffy seemed annoyed at the cloudy appearance. It wasn't overpowering, had well-rounded flavors and was generally appreciated by those around me.

Our first course of the day was Sweet Onion Strings paired with North Coast Old Stock. While many at the table found it to be a great combination, the beer was just a little too big for my liking at that point. Yes, the flavors worked well with the breaded caramelized onions, but after a few sips the young nature of this years Old Stock begun to take hold - this is a beer that ages so well.

Second Course, their Sesame Chicken Salad paired with New Belgium's 2 Below. I was a lone ranger back in our Winter Beer Tasting (for PBN), as I really enjoyed the dry-hopped goodness found in the beer, floral and a little sticky. In fact, I think there is more hop flavors in the beer from late hop additions and dry-hopping than there was bitterness. Whatever the case, this worked well at bringing out the bright citrus flavors of the salad.

Course Three consisted of BJ's very own Barrel Aged Juniper Rye served along side their Shrimp Pasta. As far as courses go, this was my favorite pairing - hands down. The pasta wasn't too heavy in the cream sauce, and the rye aged in a red wine barrel, on top of the lees from the wine, was a real treat. The beer was slightly soured, and seemed like a spicy version of a Flanders Red.

Time for the palate cleanser? How about Sierra Nevada's Celebration? To help introduce the beer was one of Sierra Nevada's brewers, and for the life of me I can't remember his name right now. This was a nice touch for the meal, a classy nod to the guys at SN (only 90 miles away). This beer is as you probably know it is - fantastic.

Onto the Fourth Course, their Spinach and Artichoke Pizza with Allagash's Grand Cru. At this point in the meal, I was losing interest in food. Yes, it was good, but I was getting full. I picked at the pizza enough to know it was good, but found it in me to really appreciate the entire portion of Allagash's beer. Surprised? Me neither.

Course Five? You gotta be kidding! BJ's California Burger with Pyramid's Snow Cap. I was shocked to find I really enjoyed both the burger and beer at this point. The burger was a tad spicy for some at the table, but that spiciness combined with avocado really played nice with the Snow Cap - a beer I quite enjoy in the winter. At this point the audience was in full talking mode and many missed that Puffy worked for the fine folks of Pyramid for a spell.

Final Course, BJ's Old Fashioned Apple Crisp topped with Vanilla Ice Cream, paired with BJ's Lasto's Oatmeal Stout. I was done eating at this point, really. I had one bite, found it to be good and a very good match with the stout. Lasto's is apparently a result of blending their porter and stout and uses a small percentage of sour mash (grain allowed to mash for several hours, going slightly lactic). This beer just worked, all on its own. Wonderfully creamy in body, but not pushed with nitrogen (as their house stout is), the beer went down quite easily.

After this, conversations convened as folks mingled with other tables. We finished the night with several rounds of applause for our great wait staff, the brewers and cooks. The dinner was not as well attended as the first, but I think this must have to with their lack of communicating the event to their customers. At 30 bucks a person, the night was well-worth the price of admission, and it seemed everyone there was already looking forward to the next event.

Other Notes

Talking with the brewers at the Roseville location, I discovered they're no longer free to make a seasonal beer! I think that has to be one of the cruelest and demoralizing things to do to a brewer. Yes, they make good beer, and a lot of it, but you could just see it in their eyes - the longing for a chance to do something different at least every once in a while. I don't know why they'd pulled this from the brewers here, as one of this locations greatest strengths in the past was their ability to make a single batch of something unique and pleasing on the palate.

In the crowd was the owners of Madrona Winery, who supplied the wine barrels used to age the beers served that night. Good people.

A little bit of the Barrel Aged Jeremiah Red made its way around following the meal. Oh my goodness! This beer is nothing short of wonderful, with more acidity than the Juniper Rye in the barrel, and a much deeper complexity overall. The malt forward nature of this beer just worked on wood - it's only too bad they don't have enough to put on at the bar.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Congratulations: Bearer!

I just got word from Jeff Bearer, host of the most popular craft beer podcast, Craft Beer Radio, that he is now a FATHER! The baby's name is Allison Nicole Bearer - a girl, in case you were wondering. I've met Jeff a few times, talked with him online a lot, he's one of the good guys, and I can't be happier for him and his lovely wife Heather (who I've also met). That's all the info I have now, I am certain he'll be putting updates on his site as soon as he settles down a bit (could be a while). Again, to the Bearer's, we at PBN offer a big congratulations - now open that Utopias already!

Happy Birthday Jay Brooks

I don't have the ever-amazing beer index that Jay has on his site, but he is a friend on Facebook so I see that today is his birthday. Happy Birthday Jay!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Beer Towns: Philly vs. Portland

Today's Philadelphia Inquirer has a nice piece (front page) on the city's craft beer scene, something I've become quite familiar with over the past week. The article has a thought provoking quote by Canadian drinks writer, Stephen Beaumont:

If Portland is Munich on the Willamette, then Philly is Brussels on the Schuylkill.

Perhaps that isn't the most thought provoking statement on its own, but as it bounces around in my head it leads to more thoughts.
  1. Is the "best beer town" title really down to these to cities? I haven't been to all of the city's in the country, but from what I've seen, I think it must be. I don't think there's any doubt that Portland rules when it comes to breweries, boasting more than any city. After this week, I am confident Philly must be atop the list for beer bars - and this town has more going on than it's much-touted Belgian obsession. Somewhere in here I can't help but think San Diego has it going on when it comes to balancing the two, with their celebrated breweries and bars.
  2. Something both Portland and Philly have in common - it's easy to get around without having to drive. Portland has a great transit system and Philly is very walkable given how flat it is. Not only that, cabs in Philly are pretty cheap if you're not staying in the heart of the city.
  3. Another common thing for Philly and Portland, the city's are proud of their beer cultures. Both areas have regular beer story's, or columns, in their local papers, giving the culture a positive appearance. Alternatively, most cities seem to only print the word 'beer' when covering the idiots that give beer drinkers a bad rap. I can't help but think this seemingly small thing plays a bigger role than we might think.
There are more thoughts on this, but for now it seems time to pack my bags and fly back to California. I've been impressed beyond measure this week with the people and places I've seen. If you've not been here, find a way to fix that. Next week starts their "Philly Beer Week", with more events than I care to list, that should get you on the right foot.