Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Great American IPA

This isn't a review, but an observation and admittedly random post. I've been going through the results of the World Beer Cup and comparing winners with last year's Great American Beer Festival. I'm doing this mainly to see how the two stand up in terms of preference, you can tell a lot about a judge by what wins, when the hair is split which piece to they hold...

Of the myriad of awards out there, one stuck out - the American IPA - but before I get to the beer, allow me to step back for a moment. We've all followed the craze for the next hopped-up beer, or the next great imperial whatever. Beer rating sites love these beers, the tops of the IPA category on both RateBeer and BeerAdvocate becoming a commodity worth trading for, traveling for or paying a premium for. What's funny about both of these sites? Neither of them list, in their 'best of' IPA categories, the one beer that took home a gold medal at both the GABF and World Beer Cup. Not even on their list!

Odell's IPA, from Colorado, is the beer that won at both events. At GABF this beer was followed by Russian River's Blind Pig and a new brewer from San Diego, Mission Brewery. You can surmise, by the ranking of Blind Pig, that the judges at this event liked them some hops, California style. At the World Beer Cup Odell beat out a new-to-market beer, Union Jack by Firestone Walker and Pelican's India Pelican Ale. Saying nothing about the undoubted quality of FW and Pelican, these beers both have more subdued hop profiles, have more balance. Different judges with different beers on the podium, but with one clear winner. I don't know about you, but I find that impressive.

Again, this is not a review. That said, in the past eight months Odell has beat out some really major beers, with drastically different flavors and aromas. Believe me when I say this beer's got my full attention. I have sometimes scratched my head with some results from these events, but seeing the caliber of judges for both, I would not dare to challenge their ability of palate or understanding with regards to brewing. If judges at both events deem this beer worthy of two gold medals, you can bet I'll be searching this out soon.

In case you were wondering, lovers of all things hoppy, there were no duplicate winners in the Double IPA category and only Laurelwood (Portland) was on the podium for the Double Red Ale in both events, bringing home a GABF gold and WBC silver - impressive indeed.

Sacramento's Newest Brewery: Mary's Pizza Shack

As I was making my way to Mary's Pizza Shack in Roseville I wasn't sure what I would see, but I prepared myself for the worse. I called to try and get some info from the manager, he was cagey to the point I was frustrated, not even going so far as to tell me the name of the brewer or where he came from. This worried me greatly, I wasn't sure if that was a sign of a manager unfamiliar with the industry or worse, that maybe they'd implemented a "turnkey brewery" and had one of their barkeeps pouring powder into water and calling it beer. Luckily, this place exceeded all my expectations.

Mary's Pizza Shack (and brewery) is like a miniature version of BJ's, only with better food and not as much beer. Behind the bar were large windows that showed off the cramped brewhouse, a much larger brewery than I would expect from them (they can't brew very often there, I wouldn't think). The decor was a cross between country farm and classic California, warm colors trying to subdue barn-red colors, an eclectic mix of photos and craft-like art and a lot of natural light that really brightened the place up on a nice sunny evening. On this day they had four house beers: Amber, Wheat, Pilsner and Pale Ale. I ordered the sampler of each and was impressed.
  • The pilsner was not as sharp in the hops as I'd wanted, which has little to do with IBUs before you assume that's what I'm looking for. It was a good beer, clean and crisp. The malt was somewhat husky, biscuity, understated - as it should be. For some reason they felt obligated to serve this with a lime wedge! Why on earth would they do that?
  • The Wheat beer was the weakest of the bunch, slightly hazy and showing some signs that it wanted to be a hefeweizen, but not really delivering more than weak and watery flavors. The aroma was generally lacking and there was just no body to the beer, made worse by the mandatory lemon wedge that came with it.
  • The red was really quite nice, very malty with what seemed like a touch of Vienna twang. I didn't think this beer 'worked' with their menu, seeming to be somewhat out of place when compared to the pizzas and calzones of the menu, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with this brew.
  • My favorite beer of the night was their pale ale, which honestly had the hopping of a well crafted IPA, quite assertive without blowing out the palate. The server said it was his best because it reminded him of Racer 5, if that gives you any indication on the hopping of the pale. Beyond the hops it was very drinkable, very low alcohol presence and a nice touch of caramel up front. Clearly the brewer has done this before.
For food we ordered was way too much, a calzone that could have served three people and their smallest pizza that too would have been enough for the two of us. The calzone was filled with cheese, marinara sauce and meatballs, then topped with more sauce. The bread was obviously fresh made, with a great texture, not too heavy. The pizza was topped with just as much cheese as the calzone, with caramelized onions and chicken - it was great. I watched as other plates went by and realized that this is a place that does pub food right, by hand.

Actually, by the time we were done eating it occurred to me that a place like this would never have a turn-key brewery, realizing the value of making things by hand by people they know and trust.

Before we left I walked up to the bar to take a look. The barkeep told me Mary's has happy hour each week night, every house beer is only $3 a pint from 3-6PM. I'm thinking I'll be back for a pint or two of the Pale. I also noticed that they have seven taps at the Roseville brewery, but only four beers. If there were one suggestion I could pass on to these guys, who already have a great thing going, it would be to bring on one or two guest taps from our region's fine brewers. How great would it be to have seen Sacramento Brewing's Red Horse, or Beermann's Lincoln Lager?

I never did meet anyone who could tell me who the brewer was or where he came from. I was told two different names for the guy, told he might have been short, but... I'll get to the bottom of this soon enough, figuring I'll have to endure an early lunch trip there for further research. It has to be done.

This place worked for me. The food was good, the beer was too, and the staff was attentive and knowledgeable. In fact, our server had worked at Beermann's for a spell, knows his way around beer and can talk it up pretty well. Additionally, one of their cooks, maybe their head cook, used to manage a joint next to Vino's, I'd shared many pints of great beer with him and was happy to see him associated with a place like this.

If you're looking for something different for dinner, check this place out, it's in the Nugget shopping mall on the corner of Fairway and Pleasant Grove.

California Gets Craft Beer From Mexico

When I was in San Diego I was happy to finally meet the owner and brewer from Cucapa Brewing in Mexicali, BC, Mexico. I've have had some of their beer in the past and each time walked away impressed at how good it was. I admit I have held certain assumptions about the quality of beer in Mexico, buying the imports we get can do that to you. You can imagine then how happy I was to learn that California had begun receiving good craft beer from south of the border. I found these products in San Diego's Whole Foods Market.

There are three brands Cucapa is importing, Obscura, Honey and Chupacabras. I won't pretend to know more than the names, I just don't. I will relay that their brewer worked with a guy named Tomme Arthur for a number of years, so you can assume he knows quality and how to achieve it.

Cascade Peaks: Oregon's First Organic Distiller

News out of Southern Oregon's Mail Tribune says that Cascade Peaks Spirits will begin distribution of it's organic vodka today. According to the story, the product uses rye from nearby Etna (California). There's also a bit of info related to the business and finances, the struggles of securing credit from banks due to the national crunch we all know about. This is Oregon's first certified organic distiller and the operation sounds painfully small, using a still that produces eight gallons in two hours.

I don't see that the owners have a deep history in the industry, their website has no information about them and the article only states they took a course in Arizona on how to use their still, which was purchased from Bavaria.

I'm not a big vodka guy, but I love the region I grew up in (Southern Oregon) and wish these guys the best. If you're in the market for an organic vodka, you may want to check them out.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Hey, this is the 300th post on this blog! This month is also the one-year anniversary of the blog, even though Pacific Brew News has been online quite a bit longer.

Thanks to everyone of you who have sent us kind emails, left nice comments and have said hello along the way.

A Quick Look at Beer's Economic Impact

For a couple years now I've tried to get beer folk to check out Beer Serves America, a site the collects data for the national brewing scene and breaks it up state-by-state. I haven't done the due-diligence to see who owns BSA, but I suspect there is a natural bias if that were investigated. That said, I think these numbers are pretty darned close, the ratios certainly seem appropriate when comparing states like California, Oregon and Colorado (the big three brewing states).

I'm looking at this now because after Assemblyman Beall proposed his idiotic tax there have been a lot of emotional responses and arguments made that may or may not move a real conversation forward. I believe that if you see the numbers you should be able to reason that our brewing industry is good for the economy as it is, and as it grows its financial benefits will too. Remember, Beall is asserting that the tax increase on beer is purely economics, that the industry isn't paying its "fair share" in our state's cost. Let's take a look.


6,599 Jobs | $531,614,283 Wages | $4,212,218,647 Economic Contribution

9,272 Jobs | $598,797,248 Wages | $1,593,161,856 Eco. Cont.

85,211 Jobs | $2,060,954,758 Wages | $5,147,394,705 Eco. Cont.

Admittedly, not all of the 100k jobs listed here are solely dedicated to beer, we know that wholesalers and retailers likely have portfolios that are broader than beer. That said, look at the economic contribution column for a second. This is what the industries listed put into the economy in order to pay the wages and create the jobs. In the brewing industry this is mostly material costs: bottles, grain, hops, etc.

At the craft brewers conference last week each attendee was given a bottle of IPA in a box. On the box listed all the companies involved in bringing that beer to us, the are:
  • Green Flash Brewing
  • Port Brewing
  • Lost Abbey
  • San Diego Brewers Guild
  • Brewers Supply Group
  • Hopunion
  • Briess Malt
  • Cargill Malt
  • California Glass
  • Sterling Press & Packaging
  • Crisp Malting
  • WS Packaging
  • White Labs
One beer that made it to production through the efforts of twelve businesses. Now, if this beer were to make it to your local bottle shop you could add distributors, wholesalers and retailers, not to mention the added staff at the brewery needed to represent the company. This stuff isn't magic, it doesn't show up on shelves on a wish, and every finger that touches the product before it is bought wants their cut.

Now, imagine what would happen if a massive tax increase was introduced upstream, way upstream. Beer prices, of course, would blow up. However, I think it would be safe to assume that many brewers simply wouldn't make beer for off-premise sale, opting to sell to the people that come to their location. Actually, many brewers may just cut their losses and walk away. That leaves wholesaler's out, distributor, reps - out. All of a sudden that job column number is less, wages are less... and the tax paid for those is less! So, naturally, if we were to follow Beall's logic, if the industry is contributing less to the economy, shouldn't we just tax them more? It doesn't make any sense.

Before closing, let's look at taxes, while we're at it.

Total Taxes (Bus. Personal, Consumption):

4.5 billion dollars in taxes generated by the brewing industry, for California alone, and someone has the audacity to claim they're not paying their fair share?

Now, of course, the economics of beer is only the beginning of neo-prohibitionist arguing. Beall has gone on to make some statements I simply don't think can be proven, statements that are clearly penned to raise fear and create ill-will toward our state's brewers. Those statements perhaps deserve another several posts. Today, however, just see how brewers benefit the state of California - by the numbers.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Farewell Vino's Wine and Cheese

It wasn't that long ago the crew at Pacific Brew News were elated with our new favorite local bar, and it was a wine bar nonetheless! Vino's opened in 2006 in Roseville, California, as a purveyor of fine wines and great cheese - that was how they billed themselves. Along with that, however, was the owner's passion for beer, more specifically his passion for Bear Republic beer. He had been on a wine tour some months before opening his place and stopped in at the Healdsburg brewery, ever since he knew he needed to have it on tap in the place he was about to open. He had only six taps, but when they were first opened each of those taps were pouring stand out beer, with nary a Bud or Corona to be seen (they sold these in bottles, but they were expensive and not promoted whatsoever).

Sean Hunter was the original owner and together with his business partner and friend, Toby, they created an environment that worked for everyone. Toby and Sean had good chemistry and, more importantly, great energy. They weren't 'the experts', but they knew enough to sell their product and were great at paying attention when someone had something to say.

Sadly, Sean's marriage was ending. It wasn't really a secret, but not really something people liked to talk about either. The divorce wasn't pretty and you could see it taking its toll on Sean. Eventually, he lost the bar to his ex-wife and was forced to walk away from a place that he built. It was a sad and bitter day. Not long after Toby too had had enough and took his exit, things were going downhill fast.

I don't know what lessons there are in everything life deals us, but this closure sort of hits home for me. Sean had a great business plan, he operated it smoothly and created great buzz - it was the region's new great bar where importers and brewers would come to show off their product and mingle with their fans. But what a fragile thing that is, right? It has to be less than a year ago that Sean left, and shortly there after it was like watching a train wreck. It was bad enough that we stopped going, we had to. The service was horrible - one of my last trips in I walked into a mostly empty bar, took my seat and waited for about seven minutes without even a nod or a word that I'd be taken care of soon. So, without refreshment, I left. What's worse, the person behind the bar was none other than the new owner.

About six weeks ago they listed the business for sale online, at a pretty ungodly price given where they had taken the place. Tonight, the walls are bare, the lights are off and what was once a place of great beer and cheer is no more. I don't believe they sold, there were no emails or farewells given, but I don't know anyone who will be surprised it's closed - only sad at the story it is. Additionally, we'll need to find ourselves a new bar in Roseville and so far nobody seems to be stepping up to the plate in that regard.

Sean, Toby, wherever you guys are please know that we at Pacific Brew News truly loved the place you built. Speaking for myself, I'm truly sad to see it's gone.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sacramento: Set Your TiVos

KVIE, our local PBS affiliate, will be doing a semi-beery show this week on California's Gold, titled HOPS. The only information I have on this show is from the KVIE website.
The last independent hops grower in California is profiled.
Air Times for KVIE:
4/24 @ 9:00 PM
4/25 @ 3:00 PM
4/26 @ 4:00 AM
4/26 @ 4:00 PM
4/28 @ 4:30 AM

So, set your TiVo's or VCR's to record this if you're in the area. If your PBS affiliate carries the show California's Gold, you may want to check out their local listing for the show in the future. The only listing I could find was for Sacramento.

Found more info with some more digging.
Huell travels to the little farming community of Sloughhouse near Sacramento. Once there he meets up with George Signorotti, owner of the last family-owned hops farm in the sate, and witnesses firsthand the harvesting and baling of hops, which was once a huge crop in California
And you can buy the video online, in DVD and VHS format.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

SacBrew's Spring Brewmaster's Dinner

I just returned from my second beer dinner at Sacramento Brewing Company and the night was lovely. Granted, I believe the first dinner was more solid throughout the experience, but this night rocked.

The highlight of the meal, for me, was our first course, fish that was caught in Hawaii the day before and flown into the region for our enjoyment. Let me tell you, it was enjoyed! The people behind me, beside me, all doing a good job of cleaning their plate in what was really a very healthy portion for a first course. It was paired with SacBrew's IPA, it flat out worked too! Man, the soft caramelized malts with bright citrusy hops played well with the light spices and fat of the fish, and cut right through the amazing gravy it was on.

Up next was a bean soup that was quite light, for a bean soup, and full of flavor. I made pretty quick order of this dish, it actually surprised me that it was gone. To go with this dish we had a Brown Ale that isn't very common at SacBrew. The nutty flavors of the beer working brilliantly with the acidic tomatoes and earthy beans.

The dinner salad was perfect, served just in time. I've eaten a whole hell of a lot of food this week (this was my third brewer's dinner in as many cities) and salads seem like a lost art sometimes. This, however, was great, with lightly dressed arugula, fresh mozzarella and paired with their Hefeweizen - the whole course lightened and refreshed the palate.

The main dish, to be frank, was my least favorite of the night, but I still managed to eat quite a bit of it - it clearly wasn't bad. In fact, it was quite good, but duck and me have a fickle relationship you see. I didn't give it a fair shot, the fattiness of the bird, the rich flavors... there are many days I would have been all over this dish. Indeed, most of those around me were. The duck was paired with Red Horse Ale, the beer that just days ago brought SacBrew home a bronze medal at the World Beer Cup - in a category with a lot of entries nonetheless. If you've not had Red Horse, well, you should. It's a beer that will confuse you, thinking one minute it's a big malty beer, but then wondering just how hopped up this baby is - it's got it all! The aroma of Red Horse is something I can appreciate any day of the week. Come to think of it, I think I have enjoyed that flavor on every day of the week, albeit not the same week.

Dessert was a pear pastry, the pears infused with Peter's Brussel's Blonde Ale. My goodness, what a way to end the meal, I was certain I couldn't eat more and still found a way to finish the plate! I really need to exercise more. This was served with a beer that I certainly enjoyed, SacBrew's unfiltered Maibock. Sometimes I wonder why we filter beer at all. The texture of the beer, the subtle flavors throughout, present only because they haven't been stripped. I know SacBrew lightly filters their beer and that most of these flavors will still be in the finished product (IF he filters it), but it just won't be the same. Doesn't need to be I suppose.

It was a lovely evening, Peter doing his usual best to make us feel at home, addressing us without boring us, and sticking around to shake hands and say hello. It was also great to see the Homebrew Chef, Sean Paxton, again - this guy is one of the class acts of the world. In addition, it was fun to hang out with Peter Salmond, the head brewer as SacBrew's Oasis as well as the new(ish) owner of SacBrew, George.

If you're interested in attending the next meal, I suggest you go in and ask to be put on a list. There's no date set, but I suspect a summertime dinner will be on the calendar.

See All Pictures

2nd Annual Raley Field Brewfest

When: May 24, 1:00-4:30 PM
Where: Raley Field, Sacramento Ca (just off the I-5)
Price: $25 in Advance, $30 at the Door
Buy Now!

This is a premier brew festival in Northern California and the proceeds go toward the Northern California Brewers Guild. Last year, in the events inaugural swing, there were more than 30 brewers in attendance. This year Glynn Phillips, President of the guild, says there are 43 brewers committed and he expects there will be more than 50 when the event happens.

For those keeping score at home, last week's World Beer Cup saw Northern California brewers bring home a lot of medals. In fact, there were 14 different breweries in the region that were recognized for their product - on a global scale. You can expect to see the big guns here, Trumer, Gordon Biersch, Sierra Nevada, Bear Republic, Moylan's, Drake's, 21st Amendment, and many more (including SacBrew and Rubicon, two local brewers that won medals at CBC). What you won't see here are any beers made outside of Northern California, this is a celebration of our beer scene after all. With the location and promotion of last year's event, Phillips says he got a lot of calls from brewers around the country wanting to get in, but the guild (Phillips especially) is set on limiting this event to pouring only the great beers of the region. That doesn't suck.

So, just where does the money go? The NCBG is a young organization, and with the proceeds from last year they were able to secure their 501C6 tax license as well as get the guild members beer to San Diego for last week's Craft Brewers Conference, where it was enjoyed by brewers, distributors and writers from around the world. Phillips says "It's about helping people understand that Northern California makes the best beer in the world". This year's proceeds aren't set in stone, but will likely go toward purchasing some high-end measuring equipment most small brewers can't afford. This equipment will be shared by the guild members, ensuring their beers are consistent and of top quality.

Connoisseur Pass

Admittedly, the lines at Raley Brewfest are minimal. Really, you're not going to wait more than a few seconds for a beer. However, there are clearly enough people there to make it hard to get a word in with a brewer, they'll say hi and be polite, but there are thousands of people there! Well, if you want more face time, spend the extra cash and buy a Connoisseur Pass, which gets you in an hour early and allows you the chance to meet the brewers! There are only a few hundred of these tickets available, and to be honest I don't know how much they are, but given that they're apparently selling like hot-cakes, I suspect the price isn't too high.

Note: This may be listed as a VIP Pass or something other than Connoisseur.

The Other Stuff

Of course, no beer festival would be complete without food, and this year's event will have plenty. Food won't ever be the highlight of a beer festival for me (at least I hope not), but I remember having a great ball-park sausage last year, loaded with grilled onions and green peppers - great with Trumer Pils! There's certainly more than sausage dogs, but I wouldn't hold your breath for smoked salmon in a cream sauce topped with capers.

Like last year, the RFBF will be giving away a Kegerator this year. Don't worry, you won't be required to buy extra raffle tickets, your ticket to get in will put you in the drawing!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

HUB: Incredible Beginnings

As you are probably already aware of, the World Beer Cup winners have been announced - last night in San Diego where the party was boisterous and the beer never ending. This is a huge event, for brewers they can enter this competition for years, submitting great beer, yet never bringing home any hardware. With that in mind, please allow me to mention my amazement with Portland's newest brewery, Hopworks Urban Brewery, or HUB. This place is so new, in fact, their site still has the announcement on the homepage that they "is opening" on March 25.

HUB has been opened for three weeks in a city bursting with breweries, where it can be more than a little difficult to make a name for yourself. This new establishment is surely making waves now, bringing home TWO medals for their beer: one gold, one silver!

They won gold for their organic IPA, in a category with 51 other beers, edging out Firestone Walkers Union Jack, a wonderful beer that is also new to the market. Oh, if you're not familiar with competitions like this, not all categories have that much competition, some categories having less than ten entries in all, to pull ahead in a style with such deep competition is no easy feat.

Their silver medal was awarded for HUB's Organic Lager, where there were 41 total entries. I was fortunate enough to sample this in Portland, it was a wonderful lager with a bit more color than what most expect, but just right for the Bohemian style pilsner.

There were, of course, many other great stories and I may talk more about them soon, but for me this was my most impressive outing for a young brewery, bringing home two medals from the World Beer Cup in their first year. Yes, that is impressive.

For those planning a trip to Portland, maybe for the Oregon Brewers Festival, you may want to add HUB as a place to see. If you live in Portland, I hope you already have first-hand experience with this place.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Off For a Few Days

I'm heading out in a few hours for San Diego for the Craft Brewers Conference, doubt you'll see much action here. Of course, being that this is also deadline week at work, you really haven't seen that much of me the past week or so.

If you're in Sacramento, check out SacBrew, I hear there's some Saucer Full of Merkins still, and that current batch of IPA rocks. A trip to Auburn Alehouse could do you well too, Brian's pilsner is just right this time of year, especially if you're sitting outside (with coconut shrimp... yummy). Downtown? You just need to hit up Rubicon, where their brown ale is refreshing, the IPA is great and the guest taps are enticing.

Sunday I'll be in San Francisco for the Beer Chef's dinner with Five Guys and a Barrel. Hopefully I can put something up by Monday - pictures or something. Thanks to everyone who has emailed me recently with good and kind words, you all are great inspirations for me.

Now, if you've got a few minutes, check out the inaugural episode of Celebrator Beer News' CBN Evening News, a quick and hi-quality video with the latest news in beer. It's time well spent.

CBN Evening Brews : April 14, 2008 from Celebrator Beer News on Vimeo.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Buzz Kill

I really don't know where to start on this, so I'll just post a video for your viewing enjoyment. This is Fox News doing their best to make the "sin" tax on alcohol seem reasonable. My hope is that you, the consumer/voter/citizen will see that a clearly unfair idea is being treated by our media as something normal. Why aren't they putting up a rebuttal or opposing view? I don't know. I do know that the more air time these stories are given - in a positive light - the more likely voters will be to not care when bills like these are introduced.

No, I don't think this idea is going to go anywhere right now. That said, if this gets any traction whatsoever - in our media or legislature - we could see a "compromise" in the future that will seem more reasonable than the ideas originally floated, but still unfounded and further promoting misconceptions and an overall lack of education with regards to alcohol. Oh, and it will cost you at the till too.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Who is Jim Beall, Jr?

“As responsible corporate citizens, breweries should be willing to pay their fair share of the damage that alcohol wreaks on society" - Jim Beall, Jr.
OK, I'm going to try and be cool headed about this one, even though I'm not really feeling that way now. MSNBC ran this story today about a new plan, introduced to state assembly, that will tax brewers for the evils the sell. The fact this is in MSNBC's "Health" section bothers me too, but that's another story.

Jim Beall, Jr is a California Assembly Member for the 24th District and he feels that the beer industry has created a "staggering burden" on the state and now wants it to pay its dues. His bright idea? Impose an excise tax that will raise $2 Billion for the state, because well all know that's all the state needs. It seems like Beall doesn't really have a plan for the money, only that it "could" be used for "health and law enforcement services", again asserting it's only right because of all the burden beer places on the these services. It appears Beall also sits on a drug and alcohol committee, scary considering assertions like this - which just doesn't even make sense if you think about it for more than a half second.
More than 70% of the costs of prison, parole, local criminal justice and child welfare are the result of untreated alcohol and other drug problems.
Look at the above link to see some more of the bills listed, the one on screening and "brief intervention" for expecting mothers is particularly troubling.

Here's the grand idea. He wants you, the beer consumer, to pay $1.80 per six pack extra, that's 30 cents a can or bottle. Think about that for a minute, will you? Pretend you're a Bud fan, just for the sake of argument. Right now in California you can buy a six-pack of Bud for right around six bucks, after tax and CRV. Don't you think tacking on an extra buck-eighty is a bit insane?!

Imagine a legislator suggesting we pay 30 cents extra for a $1 bottle of Coke, or for an item off a fast-food value menu. Doesn't research suggest that these are bigger concerns for our state's than alcohol abuses? Don't get me wrong, I don't support a tax for those items either, but following Beall's logic you'd assume that would be on the table as well.

Oh, if it were only the taxes too...

In his list of complaints Beall lists curbing underage drinking, because we all know this will help with that. He sites "research" in all this, research that sounds an awful lot like that coming from the Marin Institute - remember them? In fact, he uses the same tired arguments about the evils of beer, and beer alone mind you.

The 24th District

Take a look at the map below. If you have friends that live in this area, call Beall's office and tell him what you think of his short-sighted plan to save the state's budget, kids and crime rates. For far too long his excuses have been used to justify heavy taxation for beer lovers, he needs to know that you disagree with his assumptions and conclusions, and that the "research", when seen in a much broader context, actually does not support them.

Monday 4/14 In Sacramento Only

For a few moments today the world slowed down, the heavens opened and light shone upon my cell phone, then it rang. It was Peter Hoey, brewmaster at Sacramento Brewing Company, and he had news that he was certain I'd be interested in. What can I say, sometimes I'm obvious. If you live in Sacramento, grab your day planner, you're going to want to write this down. You ready?

On Monday, April 14th, Firestone Walker's Saucer Full of Merkins will be pouring at Sacramento Brewing Company's OASIS location, on Sunrise and Madison. It will be on tap when they open and I doubt it's going to last all that long. In fact, I'll be there Monday because I will be out of town the rest of the week, I can't count on it still being available when I get back.

So, what is Saucer Full of Merkins? It is a blended beer, to begin, a mix of Oatmeal Stout (Velvet Merkin) and Saucer Full of Secrets - the beer that defies definition. The ratio on this is 80% Merkins, 20% Saucer, making this incredibly smooth, creamy, slightly roasted with a long lasting aftertaste that is nothing short of wonderful. Really, it's dessert in a glass. If you really want to learn more about Saucer Full of Secrets, read the notes and see the pictures of the guy who made it, as a guest brewer, at Firestone Walker. Of course, you can also learn more about SFoM at his site too. In case you were wondering, only 80 kegs of this ever existed.

I don't know what the asking price is on this, but I know it will be worth it.

If you need more encouragement to get to SBC's Oasis on Monday, just remember that the following day is Tax Day - you could use a beer by then. Don't forget, they also have all you can eat ribs on Monday and Tuesday, with a sauce made from their Red Horse Ale - it's so good.

Now, there is a second keg of Saucer Full of Merkins in Sacramento, also in the trusted hands of SBC, but Peter was not certain if it would be on tap at their other location on Monday or not. You can call if it's closer, there's a good bet it will be on. However, if you want to play it safe, be at Oasis Monday after work.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Beer & Baseball

The Beer Marketer's INSIGHT page pointed me to a couple of stories from back east, talking about beer in the stadiums. I'm not the biggest fan you'll meet, but do enjoy going to the local minor league team (the Rivercats) to watch a game now and then. I've always considered beer prices at stadiums to be ridiculous, so I wasn't all that shocked to see that fans in Pittsburgh, DC and Boston were paying a premium for beers.

Boston: $7.75 for a 12 ounce Heineken, a buck less for the non-premium drafts.

What's more important to the Red Sox fans is the simple fact they can get a beer at the game! Why, I just assumed... ah, yes, I remember what assuming does. No matter, this new beer in the park concept seems to have been well received on opening day, but they did have to beef up security and, as a Red Sox spokesman says, they "are confident it is going to work." Work? I am afraid to think what they even means. I do know that at the prices they're charging, something is going to work.

Pittsburgh: $7.50 for the most expensive 16 ounce beer

This park looks like a steal when compared to Boston, paying 25 cents less for their most expensive brand and getting four more ounces! Take THAT Red Sox fans! Comparisons aside, the folks in Pittsburgh have a good gripe going, with the new Onorato tax on alcohol driving up the costs in and out of the park.

DC: $7.50 for a draft beer, unsure what size that is

The INSIGHTS page mentions that a 12 ounce bottle of beer is $6.50 and the drafts are a buck more. They also point out that a bottle of water will set you back four bucks!

One thing is clear, fans like their beer while watching the game, and who wouldn't?

Sacramento Brewing Bourbon Barrel Project

Ever swear you did something you can't find evidence of actually doing? I could have sworn I posted this last week, clearly I didn't.

I had the great opportunity to hang out with friend and brewer, Peter Hoey, last week as he did the work of filling his newly acquired bourbon barrels with his wheat wine, Old Pappy - which was brewed with the assistance of the Homebrew Chef, Sean Paxton several weeks back. Turns out Paxton had quite a bit to do with this project, as it was with his help that Peter was able to procure the bourbon barrels that have held a single batch of whiskey for the last 23 years - a single bottle apparently fetching 100 dollars.

Topping off a barrel of Old Pappy

Filling barrels can be messy, but worth it. If you've never been in the room with barrels are filled trust me, the aromas that filled the room are nothing short of impressive and memorable.

Sampling the Old Pappy, this is a big freaking beer! It was still a bit disjointed, but with the months of aging it has to look forward to, I am certain the flavors will meld together nicely.

No, Peter's not partying up there, he's working his ass off. Me? I'm just taking a picture, feeling lazy and appreciative that I didn't have to climb up there.

As you can see, not a lot of room to work here - luckily, Peter's still skinny.
Peter and myself after the barrels were filled.

View all pictures here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Beer Podcasting Milestone: The Good Beer Show

Before there was The Brewing Network, long before iTunes supported podcasts, there was The Good Beer Show. Based in Muncie, Indiana, the talent behind this podcast has gathered in celebrated local bars, brought together regional musicians and comics, world-class beer experts and a wonderful and supporting show for those who love better beer. In fact, over the years Jeffrey T Meyer has made a pretty big name for himself in his home town, appearing on TV and newspaper spots and helping to launch bright young musical careers. In fact, their most recent show has a room full of local 'groupies', for lack of a better term, showing the same sort of support to the Good Beer Show that they've shown to their hometown heroes.

This week the Good Beer Show released their 150th show (listen), a milestone I don't believe has been achieved by any other beer podcast, and this show is just another example of the entertainment we've come to expect from them. JeffreyT having to use that signature dry and raspy voice to coral the other hosts, reign them in and keep them close to their target. The beer reviews are presented by a number of individuals who, while not nationally known for their beer palates, display a level of taste sophistication uncommon in the world of Football Beers - JeffreyT's phrase to describe Big Brother Beers, which he uses to describe the Macro beers of the land. Between the beers they talk music, Muncie, beer news and anything you'd expect good friends to discuss while enjoying a beer.

In the years since they started their show, the Good Beer Show has received two Peoples Choice Podcast Award for the broad "food" category, outplaying shows about coffee, wine and cuisine. I don't know if they'll be up again, but I'm certain JeffreyT and his team will continue to produce a masterful show with real entertainment value and a good beer education.

Congratulations on 150 shows to the team at The Good Beer Show. If you haven't listened to them before, give them a shot and see how beer information and entertainment can be put together at a high level of quality.

Picture: JeffreyT on a trip to Oregon in 2007, enjoying a fresh Rogue ale.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Celebrate: 75 Years of Beer

What more can be said? As you enjoy your beer today, lift a glass in celebration for the country's 75 years of legal beer drinking. Cheer!

Toronado's Belgian Beer Dinner

On April 6th I was fortunate to be in attendance for the annual Belgian Beer Dinner at San Francisco's famed Toronado. The chef for this year's event was no stranger to Northern California beer and food enthusiasts, Sean Paxton - the HomeBrew Chef. Paxton worked with Toronado owner, David Keene, to put together a most impressive dinner menu, seen below.

Before getting to the menu, however, I wanted to give some major cudos to Paxton for not only putting together a great tasting meal, but for really working to make the best presentation possible, throwing in facts of the food and personal stories of his beer and food journey. I think I speak for many people when I say it was a wonderful way to spend a day.

See pictures of the event.

The Menu
Amuse Bouche
Foie Gras Torchon
Flemish Red Ale Marinated Foie Gras on Potato Bread Toast, Mache Leaf, Chardonnay Barrel Smoked Salt and Duchesse De Bourgogne Foam

First Course
Charcuturie Platter
Homemade Duck Rillettes Infused with Saucerful of Secrets Soaked Dried Figs, Cashew 'Samaranth' Urthel 'Cheese'*,
Spicked Cornichons, Homemade St. Bernardus Abt 12 60th SE Mustard, Cantillon Iris 2005 Jelly and Homemade Crackers and Local Breads

Saucerful of Secrets - Firestone Walker
Oude Lambic - Oud Beersel

Second Course
Frisee Salad
Home Cured Dark Candi Syrup Bacon, Brioche Croutons, Endive and Fresh Herbs and a Poached Egg Tossed in a Boon Oude Geuze Vinaigrette

Beet & Goat Cheese Salad*
Frisee Greens, Endive, Roasted Baby Beets, Homemade Goat Cheese Encrusted in Brewers Malt and Tomato Powder
Tossed in a Boon Oude Geuze Vinaigrette

Avec les bons Vœux - Brasserie Dupont
Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait Single Cask #52 - Boon

Third Course
Potato Leek and Wit Shot

Forth Course
Duck Braised in Hansens Oude Kriek
Slowly cooked Duck Legs with Leeks. Shallots, Thyme, Dried Montmorency Cherries Topped with a Duck Kriek Demi-Glace on a Bed of Celery Root Potato Puree with Milk Poached White Asparagus

Carrot Wit Bisque*
With Coriander Infused Roasted Almond Oil and Milk Poached White Asparagus

Toronado 20th - Russian River Brewing Co.
Duchesse De Bourgogne - Verhaeghe
Christmas Ale - Brouwerij St. Bernardus

Fifth Course
Hop Shoots*
Blanched Hop Shoots from Moonlight Farms with Delirium Tremens Sabayon and Micro Herbs

Sixth Course
Assorted Belgian Cheeses*
Chimay Vieux - Trappist Style, Aged 8 Months, Cows Milk
Orval - Trappist Style, Med. Soft, Cows Milk
La Ramee - Rind Washing in La Ramee Beer, Cows Milk
Echte Loo - Trappist Type, Med. Hard, Cows Milk
Pere Joseph - Cave Aged, Med., Cows Milk
Wijnendale - Full Cream, Med. Soft, Cows Milk
Beatification Marinated Pearl Onions, Easter Egg Radishes, Flemish Style Roasted Pistachios and Fig Wood Smoked Celery Salt

Saison D’Erpe-Mere - De Glazen Toren
2001 Grand Reserve 3L - Chimay

Liquid Nitrogen Cantillon Saint Lamvinus Sorbet*

Seventh Course
Lobster and Morel Mushroom Waterzooi
Lobster Stock, Local Cream, Avec les bons Voeux, Leeks, Rainbow Carrots and Baby Fennel, Purple Potatoes and Lobster Meat

Wild Mushroom Waterzooi*
Leeks, Rainbow Carrots, Baby Fennel, Purple Potatoes, Roasted Garlic, Morels, Chanterelles, Mushroom Broth, Local Cream
Duvel 6L- Moortgat
Saison - Fantôme

Eighth Course
Rodenbach Grand Cru Panna Cotta*
Drizzled with a Drie Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek Syrup and Fresh Raspberries

Bière Biscotti, Flanders Spiced Cookies, Rochefort 8 Bottle Cap Candies

Abt 12 - Westvleteren
Bacchus – Van Honsebrouck
Malheur Brut Noir - De Landtsheer

Ninth Course
Rochefort 10 Espresso Espuma*

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Session: Beer People | Santa's Little Helpers

For this month's Session beer bloggers from around the world are focusing on the Beer People, once thought of as mythical creatures with round noses and long, white beards who only recently found work selling cheap travel deals on the tube. OK, I somehow doubt we're talking about those beer people, the Urthel's or whatever you'd call them, but instead focusing on those among us who have helped shape the industry into what it is today. For this posting I'll be looking at three people - real people - who represent something larger than themselves, I hope you enjoy.

The Rep, Jim Shevlin of Full Sail Brewing

I first met Jim a few years back, I had wanted to meet with him to discuss some statewide legislation that was coming down the pipes and I was looking to get a beat on how it would impact him and his work. He met at the end of a busy day meeting people around the region and doing the work, the real work, of educating the buyers and managers of area shops and retail outlets. I could tell he was tired and I knew he had other stuff to do, but he was his ever-gracious self and it wasn't but a few minutes before we hit it off and started talking shop. Jim's job is a tough one, it really is. Working as a rep for a small brewery from another state, he doesn't have a song-and-dance, no fancy sheets and presentations, no gimmes. Instead, all he has is the price sheets in his kit, samples in his cooler and the internal drive needed to make his next meeting as great, or better, than his last.

Reps don't get a lot of thanks in the beer world, but they should. I won't go out and say Jim's the hardest working guy in the business, he's a good example, however, of so many reps I've met from all over the country. It's a dirty job, and these guys do it. The results? Remember how happy you were when you first saw that favorite craft beer on the shelf in your grocery store? How about that hard-to-find beer you had on tap recently? That doesn't just happen, grocery store managers don't wake up one day and realize they should sell more craft beer - it's too expensive and the customers have too many questions. The good beers on the shelves of your market, deli, bar, restaurant are very likely there because the Jim's of the beer world made a stop, shared a beer and SOLD their beer.

I don't think I would make a good rep. Honestly. I don't speak the language, I don't have the patience and I certainly don't have thick enough skin. I have nothing but admiration for the work these guys do for us and our love of beer: their cars are always full of samples, papers, and god-knows what else; their significant others used to the call saying they're running late, that a meeting presented itself on the other part of town, or they had a potential sale and now they have to sit and work out the details with the distributors and store managers. No sir, I don't think this is a job for me.

For the "Jim's" of the world, thank you. You have my respect, appreciation and I only wish I could buy you all a beer.

Larry Otterness, Wine Steward for Nugget Market (Roseville)

There are people with personalities larger than their stature would ever suggest, and Larry's passionate appreciation for the world hits you long before he has a chance to shake your hand - and he will shake your hand. Larry's one of the managers people like Jim talk to, try to finagle shelf space from and, if the stars align, an end cap! Beyond that, Larry does the same with wine, whiskey, tequila, champagne, sake - whatever the expanded selection of alcohol at the store includes, Larry's your guy. He's a 'breadth' of knowledge sort of guy, he wouldn't claim to be otherwise. He knows just enough to get buy and actually be of assistance. Do you know what kind of beer you like? He can help. Do you know what's for dinner, but your folks are wine drinkers? Yup, he knows that too. What about a gift for the boss that loves his fine bourbon? Sure enough, he's tried it and knows it well.

Again with the patience thing - I don't have it. Certainly you've heard the beer-aisle conversation with the beer guys. "Can you help me, I'm looking for a beer for my boyfriend." Larry is eager to help. "Certainly", he says "what kind of beer does he like?" This is where the train brakes kick in, you know it. "I don't know, we were in a shop in Yosemite last year and he had a beer he loved. I think it came in a brown bottle, but it might have been green. The name was something like River, or Spring... maybe Tree? Do you have any of that?" Long before the train comes to a complete wreck, I find my exit - maybe I can look at tampons or something less awkward.

Larry amazes me, his skills aren't so good he's ever going to guess that beer, but he finds a way to point her in a direction she thinks she wanted to go in all along, leaving with a good craft beer in the cart, happy to get home and see her boyfriend's expression when she offers the gift SHE got for him.

Oh, did I mention that happened after inventory, after meeting with the distributor for Bud who's concerned about space on the shelf and why doesn't he buy more Bud for the weekend. It also comes after Jim has come and gone, not just the beer Jim either, but the Jim for wine and booz too! Then, of course, there's the endless price checks, phone calls from confused customers and non-stop nagging... shit! Clean up in the beer aisle, someone dropped their six-pack of beer.

No thank you, that is not a job for me either. This is just another reason I respect Jay Brooks, by the way. He was part of this nonsense before becoming one of the all around beer expert and super wonderful beer writer he is today. Yep, before Celebrator, Jay was Larry. Sometimes I think I should have been a Jim or Larry for a while, I even applied for a Jim job a few years back.

Like Jim, we wouldn't be able to appreciate the beers we do near as much and as easily as we do if it weren't for Larry - all the Larry's in across the country. The people who do more than the status quo, Larry isn't just another wine dept manager after all. There aren't a lot of these folks when compared to the run-of-the-mill manager; Larry's care about their product's quality and the customer's experience - they care about their reputation, and that's tied directly to the area they run.

To the Larry's of the world, I applaud you.

Betty and Brett, the Barkeeps at every beer bar in every city

This time I'm using a fake name, because the stories I have are true - and embarrassing.

Betty works at a local bar, like so many Betty's of the world, she's attractive, makes good drinks and does her best to make you feel at home when you're at her bar. Sit there long enough and you can watch as she smiles while taking orders from the locals, ignores the drunk hitting on her, cleans the bar, the dishes, serves food, changes the channel on the TV and so much more. She simply doesn't stop moving, ever.

I've seen her quite a bit, we're friends now, and after closing we sit with the other Betty's and Brett's of the bar and share drinks and stories. "That guy grabbed my tits!" one Betty exclaims. "What did you do?" inquires another. "Nothing, just removed his hand and told him he'd best go home". I am not making this up. Another Betty chimes in, "I had the same thing happen the other night, I wanted to punch the guy's lights out." She didn't, of course.

Brett recalls escorting a young punk out the door, and it was clear by the way he was talking that wasn't a big deal for him. He's not a big guy, doesn't have that "bouncer" appearance, but you can hear in his voice the sense of duty he has with his job. If customers get out of hand, he steps in when he can. If not, he's the guy who gets the boss, and if he goes to the boss and the boss has to ask you to leave, you can bet your ass you're not coming back - not while he's around.

Looking at them all I see they're filthy, with food-caked pants and sticky shirts. They're not angry, not even bitter, they're genuinely enjoying the time they have together after another night on the floor. I've shared many nights like this, this is a job I once knew all too well - it got me through a couple years of college. Sitting around the last uncleaned table - all the others have chairs on them for cleaning, of course - and sharing a beer over the freakish stories of the day is a beautiful thing to be part of, but if you listen and watch, you can see just how hard the Brett's and Betty's worked that night. Under the smiles, they're tired, their feet are sore and more often than not, a few have to get up in the morning for their other job. Grueling, unglamorous and too frequently, thankless.

For the barkeeps of the world, thank you! We never tip enough, frequently don't know how out of line we are, and rarely appreciate the fact that we're not your only customer. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Another Bill to Watch in California

Assembly bill 2294 is raising some eyebrows for those close to the adult beverage industry. According to the California Small Brewers Association website,
This bill would grossly erode the current tied house laws by allowing suppliers to “furnish, give, lend or rent video display devices” and provide advertising on those devices. This means that a beer supplier could furnish a plasma screen TV and advertise on the programming of that TV. Traditionally, suppliers have not been allowed to provide anything of value to a retailer. This provides assurance that there are no inducements for a retailer to carry any particular brand.
You can guess what companies can afford such lavish gifts for retailers, it isn't your local craft brewer.

There's one other issue they list on their site, regarding a ruling for the California Board of Equalization. This issue was well covered by Jay and can be found on a few online forums.
A recent ruling by the Board of Equalization that will reclassify as ‘distilled spirits’ any beer that has 0.5% added alcohol derived from flavorings. This ruling it slated to take effect October 1st, 2008. It will require every brewer in California to file a form with the BOE stating that each product produced does or does not contain over 0.5% added alcohol. This ruling may reclassify some craft beer as “distilled spirits” for tax purposes, dramatically increasing the cost of that brand to the consumer. For more information call the CSBA office.
Things to keep apprised of if you're a resident of California. If you have any concerns on either of these, you may want to call your state representative. That said, if I understand right, that BOE issue may be out of their realm, but they should still know how you feel and what your concerns are.

On TV: Choose Responsibility

A few quick things on the organization I've mentioned in the past, Choose Responsibility.

First off, their website says they will be featured on an upcoming 60 Minutes episode in the month of April. There isn't an exact date, so check your listings and TiVo's to see what is coming up on the show.

If you're interested in the debate, be sure to check out this story covered on ABC. This actually has some meat to it, not like the blurbs you'll find below. If you're really passionate about the subject, be sure to read through the comments as well, like all online forums there's a wide range of opinion. From the article came this quote, summing up the logic in lowering the drinking limit in South Dakota.
"I support the idea of lowering the drinking age in South Dakota for several reasons, but it all boils down to respect. In South Dakota, when a person turns 18, he or she can enter into contracts, pay taxes, do business, get married, bear arms and fight overseas to protect our national interests. It is simply disrespectful to tell that same person that they can't handle a cold beer when they come home,"
There's also some great words by McCardell, founder of Choose Responsibility, in the piece. It's good to see some actually giving this story the time of day, especially network stations who seem to have forgotten what news was over the last 20 years or so.

Next, take a look at a short news blurb discussing the legal drinking age in the country, aired on MSNBC. It's terribly short, under three minutes, and doesn't do more than ask the question about lowering the legal drinking limit, but I think you'll appreciate some points made.

Finally, there's another short video (nearly six minutes) online with some sort of public forum discussing the lowering of the legal drinking limit from 21 to 18. Not really heavy on content, mind you, but if you're interested in some of the considerations surrounding the debate, go ahead and take a look.

If you haven't already, be sure to spend some time on the CR site, and if you can you certainly have the ability to donate to their organization.

Drinkers: State's Source of Revenue

South Dakota recently saw the end of a brief movement to increase drink taxes for the state, a good thing really. The proposal was dubbed the "dime-a-drink" tax, for obvious reasons (they wanted to raise taxes on alcohol a dime per drink in bars) and the backers simply couldn't find a way to convince residents it was for their own good. I'm not going to make a huge post of this, I've got places to be soon, but there was a quote in here that should strike you all in some manner.

This comes from a SD county commissioner, Carol Twedt (sorry, didn't see what county):
"I'm almost tempted to say you'll never hear the words 'liquor tax' out of my mouth again," she said. "We need to find a source of revenue, though."
Did you catch that? Did I misread or misunderstand that? Did people who frequent bars for an after-work drink suddenly become a "source of income"? Now, the sentiment doesn't surprise me, but the blunt nature of the statement certainly does. What's more, with that clear message given by an official, how does that hit you?

With states across the country facing budget hurdles and shortcomings I think we'll see more and more elected officials viewing you and me in just that light, a source of revenue. If your state is in the process of trying to correct their budgets, you will do well for yourself to keep tabs on who the officials look to place the burden of their shortcomings on. I don't think South Dakota will be the last state to see us as an easy fix for their bloated budgets. Here in California we already know that the Marin Institute is selling us as a viable revenue stream, how about where you live?

Diet Beer: Miller 64

I made it to Owl Club the other night with several friends, our feeble attempt at recapturing our old Friday night tradition. The club is doing well it seem, and with the change in ownership things are really looking great in there - new paint, clean bar, super-friendly staff and, in turn, super-friendly patrons. If you're in the area, it's worth giving another look - it's miles ahead of where the club was when Bill ran the place (into the ground).

While we were there enjoying our pint of Racer 5 the "Miller Girls" walked in, two gorgeous women in short shorts, tights shirts and way too much make-up. Their shirts read "64" over the breast, which in itself seemed a bit odd, and I seemed to be the only person in the room who knew what they were there for and what they were selling. For those of you not familiar with this diet beer, here's the important information:
  • 64 Calories in one 12-ounce bottle
  • 2.6 grams of Carbs
  • A "Miller Genuine Draft" product
The girls were nice, I mean nice to talk to, and in so doing I learned they both have day jobs in the corporate world (where I imagine their coworkers have no idea) and each has her own ambitions. They're pro pushers, and that's not a put-down, I just don't have any better way of communicating their role when they're on the MGD job. They did seem a bit out of place, however, as the conversation was steered toward the target audience for the product they were promoting.

According to them, MGD 64 is targeted to women, drinking age to the mid/early 30's, those who are concerned about their weight and overall appearance. When I pointed out they were appealing to another audience, specifically of another gender, they simply shrugged it off. Perhaps I was incorrect in that assessment? Do hot young women dressed in tight clothing have a specific appeal to the young women of our society? Perhaps, who knows, that wasn't really where this post was going.

I had to try the beer, you know that. We all had to try the beer. It came in that clear glass that really turns my stomach. I was once told by a woman that she finds men who drink Corona from the bottle to be sexy. How on this green earth can that be true? I don't really need to tell you how bad pale yellow beers look in clear bottles, do I? There's nothing sexy about them. The MGD 64 was a far cry from attractive in its presentation.

I believe we made a mistake in pouring the beer from the bottle to a pint glass, its aroma being that of musty and stale pantry products. Now, keep in mind, we were pretty sure we weren't going to be big fans of the beer, but we seriously wanted to give it a fair shake. We didn't set out to blast it, but seriously... the taste was repulsive. I took a big mouthful of the beer and that musty quality only got worse. There were no hops, no bitterness and nothing short of a watered down sweetness with carbonation. Someone in attendance said, rather insightfully, that it reminded him of weak and old green tea. If that's diet beer, count me out.

Back to target audiences for a minute. I assume there's a hope that the MGD crowd will be drawn to a low calorie version of their product, but really? If you're the MGD guy, wouldn't you just taste this and wonder who watered your beer down - and why? Clearly I don't understand this beer, the intended audience or even the product's benefits.

There's just nothing redeeming about this beer. It didn't taste good, we all agreed we'd rather have fresh brewed iced tea over this, if we were looking for a low calorie option. When looking for a beer, however, this simply doesn't have anything we'd wanted. We tried it though, and if you want to discover for yourself the joyless 64, look for it in select markets.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Two IPAs

I love well crafted India pale ales (IPA), specifically those made in the relatively new American tradition, unfortunately I've been a bit neglectful in my IPA consumption of late. It wasn't a hard problem to fix.

Earlier in the week Tracy and I made it to BJ's in Roseville and found a beer I'm appreciating more and more, Alaskan IPA. This beer seems to embrace what is becoming a more popular flavor profile for the style, one that highlights the great flavors of hops - bursting in the aroma and taste - while restraining the bitterness that you'd expect from the style. Really, this beer was juicy, sweet - while finishing fairly dry - and generally showing off great flavor. It didn't take any convincing for me to order a second one to go with my meal.

Then last night we headed to Sacramento Brewing Company's Oasis, their restaurant and production brewery. We went SBC for the Brussels Blond, Peter Hoey's tank conditioned Belgian triple that is nearing it's end, but soon discovered he and Peter Salmond had crafted a truly remarkable IPA themselves. It's sad really, as the Brussels really does deserve a write up all its own (oh, how good it was with our grilled artichoke appetizer), but really, this night soon became all about the hops.

They've been tweaking with their IPA recipe for a while now, in fact a few months back they'd made one that I didn't think they'd top (it was so full of flavor, bitterness and goodness). Tonight's IPA stopped me in my tracks. To begin, they must have dry-hopped this to a point that nears obscene, the aroma seemingly dripping with the orange resinous powder you see on the cones - so good you found yourself telling the palate to relax, it would get its turn soon enough. I suppose the tongue only settled down the salivation because it knew the payoff would be worth the wait. It didn't disappoint. This was one of those beers that just grew in flavor as it ran across the tongue and down the throat, starting with subdued citrus and pine before moving into an assertive sassy mood, then just becoming down right aggressive, almost taunting the palate in some strange way. Just when you thought you'd experienced the beer in all its goodness there comes the after-burp that finds a way to only impress you further.

Don't misread the above sentences, there was certainly more than one dimension to the beer - with enough malted sweetness to satisfy throughout. Really though, to call this "balanced" would only be to say the malts introduced the hops for their hour-long performance. At the end of it all you can remember those malts were there, but the show belonged to the hops. Seriously, how often do you long for the opening act to play another set before the stars come on stage? Same deal here.

Am I gushing? Sorry, I did mention some hop deprivation earlier, right?

Point? Do I need one? Find a local brewery, go there, buy a pint and enjoy it. How's that work for you? Cheers!

Picture is of Peter Hoey, SBC's brewmaster, and me.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rick's Travel Notes 2008 (Updated)

I figure I go to enough places for beer, I might as well start a travel log. So, what follows is just a few notes for my own use, but feel free to follow along.

  • Medford & Ashland, Oregon: Stops at Southern Oregon Brewing; Caldera Brewing; Standing Stone Brewery; Market of Choice; Gold River Distributing;
  • Phoenix, AZ: Yardhouse; Papago's Brewing; AJ's Grocery (great selection)
  • Hayward, Ca: The Bistro Double IPA Festival (judge)
  • San Francisco, Ca: Toronado Barleywine Festival (judge)
  • Oakland, Ca: Celebrator 20th Anniversary Party
  • Philadelphia, PA: Too many stops to list
  • New York, NY: Brooklyn Brewing; 35/35; New Beer Distributors; Whole Foods; more
  • Philadelphia, PA: Philly Beer Week, lots of stops, including Sly Fox Brewery; Iron Hill Brewery; Standard Tap; Fooderie; South Philly Tap Room; Side Car; Nodding Head Brewery; Jose Pistolas; several more.
  • Phoenix, AZ: Ah, love this city more each time I go. This time around I hit up Four Peaks Brewing, Papago Brewing and AJ's Market - all great stops for those who like beer. Stayed right downtown, which I hope to avoid in the future. Scottsdale seems to have more to offer.
  • Portland, OR: Spring Beer and Wine Festival - (judged) Made it on the local Fox affiliate while there, but the highlight was sitting on a panel with Tom Daldorf, Fred Eckhardt and Terri Farendorf to talk about beer and food - moderated by John Foyston. Also made my way to Horse Brass, Green Dragon and a few area bars, had a great time with the Beer Northwest team.
  • San Francisco: Went with Tracy to see what could be seen. Started with the Farmer's Market, then headed across Gold Gate Bridge to the GG Park, where we spent a little time enjoying the view of The Bay. From there we headed to Toronado for a few beers, then to Oakland for a quick stop at The Trappist.
  • Sacramento: Joined Peter Hoey from Sac Brew to transfer Old Pappy wheat wine into bourbon barrels. That was awesome.
  • San Francisco: Toronado Belgian Beer Night - it doesn't get much better than that! Seriously.
  • San Diego: Upcoming (Craft Brewers Conf.)
  • San Francisco: Five Guys and a Barrel Dinner at Cathedral Hill, San Francisco: Upcoming
  • Sacramento: SacBrew Brewing Brewmaster's Dinner: Upcoming
  • Phoenix - maybe
  • Still Open
  • Portland, OR: Oregon Brewers Fest
Additionally: Hopefully Belgium in the fall, at least one trip to Denver and hopefully time in Seattle and Idaho.

Repeal Day: One Week Away

As you're likely aware, Repeal Day is coming. With that in mind I thought it would be interesting to see how our dry friends are doing and what they're up to.

First, let's look at Marin Institute. Recently they were featured on a Fox News story about remedying California's financial issues with an increase on the (this is the word Fox used) "Sin" tax, and not just a little one. No, they're thinking of taking taxes for drinks from around two cents to more than twenty-five cents! Oh, and they sound so good when they say it too, pointing out that the Governor wouldn't have to cut any programs for, who else, the kids and that healthcare would be easier to pay for if only us sinners would pony up the dough. Their concern for the state's fiscal issues is admirable, as admirable as can be expected from the alcohol industry's watch dog.

I know beer enthusiasts tend to be pretty easy-going people, but don't we ever get pissy about anything? I regularly write my congressman about issues I care about, and almost always get a reply from him addressing specific questions I have. We don't see eye-to-eye on alcohol issues in the country, but with my certain knowledge that he's getting emails from the religious folks bemoaning alcohol and its evil, I can't help but think he needs another opinion. After all, if their's is the only voice he hears, it would seem like his duty to legislate the will of the people... the people who has his ear. Seriously, as the date for Repeal Day approaches, do something more than lift a pint in honor of the event, sit down and compose a quick email or make a quick call (I hate phones, so email works well for me). If not to your reps, then maybe to shop owners, county officials or law enforcement. I don't know what you'd necessarily say to the law, but they're good people and I've had great talks with them over the years with regard to alcohol consumption.

Marin Institute isn't just out to raise taxes on alcohol either. Another big push they have is to eliminate alcopops. I'm not a fan of the crap, but this isn't about your personal tastes. Reading Jay Brooks' blog should be all the education you need to see where the open door is leading - and with some new laws in Utah coming up, it's clear there are gray areas in the conversation. If we're not vigilant, we may lose more than the crap drinks. I encourage you to check out their site in the days leading to the celebration of prohibition's end. While reading think of the voices of Lew and Jay who border on fanatical when they mention "new dries" or "neo-prohibitionists" - they're not making that stuff up. What's more, it's all happening right here in the open, with players like the Marin Institute spelling it all out pretty clearly.

Another fun agenda the MI has going on is the "Free Your Festival" campaign. You can guess what that means, right? Recently Jay did a piece on St. Patrick's day and how absurd it's become. He is right, I think we know that. What's freaky is we feel that way, and that's the exact sentiment MI is going for when they claim an interest in taking back festivals from the clutches of the alcohol industry. If you let yourself you can almost see how it makes sense, but we know too that this isn't as it appears.

Again, it's all out there in the open for us all to read.

My last MI point is something closer to my heart, influencing the media. I guess I don't want to talk about them so much, but more want to push you all to do the same damn thing. What do you do when you read a story in your local paper about craft beer, or beer in general, when it's done in a positive light? Many of us pick it apart - I used to - and email editors correcting them on their errors. Don't do that. We can pick it apart amongst friends, over a beer, but for now, at this stage in the industry's progress, we should be emailing the editors thanking them for the good story, a story that makes you and me seem more human. Face it, beer is typically mentioned in a shadowy context: brawls, sex, violence and DUIs. If that's the only face they give beer drinkers, how can we expect public opinion to: a) embrace craft beer for what it is; b) care if the above mentioned agendas get pushed down our throats? Seriously, find the food editor's email address and thank him/her whenever a good beer story comes out.

Conversely, and I've had to do this too, email said editor if your local paper never has stories in that discuss beer in any good terms, especially if they've got a wine column (grrr...). Like I've said before, you won't get anywhere if you're a dick, so construct a well thought email that encourages and educates - and demands more good beer coverage. Who will write it? Well, you probably frequent more than one beer blog and probably know that a few bloggers also have backgrounds and experience writing for newspapers. Send the editor their way if you're not up to volunteering for the job.

Yes, influence the media. If we don't, we know at least one organization who's rallying their troops to make sure it happens for them.


I don't want to write as much about MADD as I did with MI, but you should note that April is "Alcohol Awareness Month" for the organization. Why isn't it "Drunken Driving Awareness Month"? Well, maybe it's just too many words, but it seems safe to point out that they've long departed from their truly admirable goal of curtailing the problem of drunk driving in the country. Nope, these days their agenda seems so much more broad.

I'm too uninformed about their programs and initiatives to really provide any insight, but with recent stories on my local news about DUIs, there are certain members who make very quick assumptions about those who drive while legally drunk. I don't really want to get into the .08 issue, or the sheer black-and-white-ness of it all (.07 is ok, .08 is a felony? how's that work?), but having talked personally some members, there's clearly a lack of education at play with some of the more squeaky of their wheels.

These guys do have a well publicized pilot program in Texas where citizens are encouraged to assist local law enforcement with DUIs by following folks and determining themselves if the drivers are drunk. It's ok, they're well trained to spot the otherwise elusive habits of drunk drivers, just look.
Here are signs that a driver may be drunk:
  • Turning with a wide radius
  • Driving below the speed limit
  • Straddling the center of the road or lane marker
  • Drifting or moving in a straight line at a slight angle to the roadway
  • Driving with headlights off at night
  • Erratic braking or stopping without cause
  • Slow response to traffic signals (sudden stop, delayed start)
  • Nearly striking an object, curb, etc.
  • Weaving or zigzagging across the road
  • Driving on the wrong side of the road or completely off the road way
  • Tailgating
  • Appearing to be drunk (eye fixation, face close to windshield)
  • Swerving or abruptly turning away from a generally straight course
  • Turning abruptly or illegally
  • Signaling that is inconsistent with driving actions

My goodness, where do you even start with a list like that? It's safe to assume participants in the program have some level of zeal for what they're doing, so how quick do you think it is before the volunteer spots someone driving below the speed limit, or having a slow response to a traffic signal, before they're on the phone to the authorities? What's more, shouldn't we be encouraging people to have slower responses when lights change, lest they be blasted by the drunk who's barreling down the road well over the posted speed limit? Right, drunk = slow.

To the Point

There are several other organizations out there, like the Southern Baptists and other faith-based folks, believing the world will be a better place once they rid it of alcohol. For now though, that's enough from me.

While we engage in a national celebration for our 75th anniversary of the government-blessed right to enjoy alcohol, don't forget that there are organizations out there actively working to make it more difficult for you to enjoy it. If we ignore them, believe they're harmless and that it won't ever happen, then I fear we'll be in for some tough blows in the future, with taxes on alcohol through the roof and odd laws in place telling you when and where you can buy and enjoy your beer.

Enjoy the beer. Don't be afraid to stick up for it either.