Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bear Republic Night @ Rubicon

Left to Right: Rich (Ricardo) Norgrove Jr., Glynn Phillips, Rich Norgrove Sr.

This week we celebrated the long-awaited Bear Republic pint night with Rich and Rich Norgrove both in attendance (Jr. coming directly from Yakima Valley for his hops selection of the year). This was the first of what Rubicon's owner, Glynn Phillips, hopes will be a running series of events that celebrate the cooperative spirit of the brewing community, a trend I'd love to see fly around the country. If this doesn't mean much to you, think about it for another minute.

Do you know of any business in your town that specializes in making a great product that would not only carry a competitor's product, but invite the people of the competition in for a night-long celebration and meet-and-greet with said competition's fan base? I don't. Perhaps this is a new wave of brewer collaboration, a move we've seen when brewers will make a batch of beer with their friends in the industry - like Isabella Proximus, Collaboration Not Litigation and the Mikkeler/Stone/Alesmith project. Rubicon is clearly not the ground-breaking company in this regard, either. Stone has been bringing in brewers to their facility for some time. That said, this just isn't something I see everyday.

About the Beers

The samples, eight Bear Republic beers

Bear Republic brought eight beers to Rubicon along with pint glasses and shwag for prizes. Among the beers were three offerings that were new to the PBN crew (who was there in full force): Double Aught, Mach 10, Rebellion. Rounding off the list were Racer 5, Red Rocket, Apex IPA, Big Bear Stout and Pete's Brown.

If you haven't been to the brewery you may not know of Apex, their IPA that is a touch bigger and bolder than Racer 5. The hops were a bit resinous and sticky, but also had a lot of flavor you hope for in an IPA.

Rebellion is a beer I think they were trying to pass off as a Pale Ale, but one sip made it clear this was yet another well-crafted IPA. Using only Simcoe hops the beer was bitter, peppery and featured a slightly oniony aroma. Yeah, it was good.

Double Aught was their twist on the American lager, but came across mostly as a big-bodied pilsner. The hops were bright, spicy and floral and at 4.2% ABV was a beer you could enjoy all day. They didn't it, but I think the name must be a take on the street name for Coors - Double-O. If that is the case, well... that's funny.

Mach 10 was their double IPA of the day. We didn't have time with Norgrove to figure out the difference of intent from this brew and Racer X, but they are clearly different animals. This brew was big in alcohol (8.7%) with a bit more fusel notes than expected. Still, in Bear Republic fashion this brew was full of hop flavors and bitterness.

The rest of the beers are a bit more common, so I won't get into them. If you haven't tried them, you can likely trade for a sample somewhere if they're not sold in your location.

Rich Norgrove Sr.

Before calling it a night, Rich senior was presented with a 3-liter bottle of Rosebud, Rubicon's old-ale that is brewed once a year. The bottle was signed by the entire staff and the presentation proved to be a very classy gesture by Phillips and the gang at Sacramento's oldest brewery.


Did you know that the first six batches of Bear Republic beer were brewed at Sacramento's Rubicon brewery? Yup.

Along those lines. There's been a rumor around Sacramento that Racer 5 was actually Rubicon's IPA. Just to be clear, that is entirely false. It ain't even close. But, to be fair, when the IPA category was introduced in the GABF, Rubicon won the first two gold medals! To this day they are the only brewer to win back-to-back golds in that category.

Also, Norgrove Jr. found his appetite for better beer while he went to school in Sacramento at - you guessed it - Rubicon Brewing. It was great seeing his facial expressions as Rich (Ricardo) retold the stories of his younger days in Sacramento drinking beers that the local legend Phil Moeller made. For those up on your local beer history, you can figure out just how long ago that was.

Extra! Extra!

As mentioned, Norgrove had just returned from his hop selection in Yakima. The news? Things are definitely looking up, but this year looks to be a little tight for American brewers. Sounds like things will be exponentially improved in 2009. Oh, with the declining dollar American hop growers have been selling a whole lot more hops to big European and Asian brewers who have one thing on their mind: Alpha Acids. In case you're interested, many American brewers look for a whole lot more.


The turn-out for Rubicon's pint night was outstanding! Thanks to all of you who made the event a success.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

SNR People's Choice

The votes are counted and people in the Sacramento region have spoken via the Sacramento News and Review. Here are the beer-related results for the area.

Best place for a beer

1. Streets of London Pub
various locations,

2. Rubicon Brewing Company
2004 Capitol Avenue, (916) 448-7032,

Best brewpub

1. Rubicon Brewing Company
2004 Capitol Avenue, (916) 448-7032,

2. Brew It Up! Personal Brewery & Grill
801 14th Street, (916) 441-3000,

3. Sacramento Brewing Company
2713 El Paseo Lane, (916) 485-4677; 7811 Madison Avenue, Citrus Heights; (916) 966-6274;

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

NCHF: The Dinner

You ever been camping with people who really like to cook? My mom is one of these people and when she "camps" she usually brings along an array of cookware used to make wonderful breakfasts and dinners. I know others as well who pride themselves on camp cooking. Nothing, however, compares to what Sean Paxton pulls off.

You may have read about The Dinner elsewhere and already understand that the meals are elaborate, well thought-out and above all, delicious. What isn't talked about a whole lot is Paxton's "kitchen". To be frank, there isn't one. Instead Sean has a few outdoor burners, a nice smoker for meat and odd-and-ends put to good use. To state this mildly, it is not an optimal cooking environment. Still, year after year Paxton pulls off a meal that leaves nobody wishing there was just a bit more, no complaints are heard about the meal or the beer.

To that end, allow me to talk about the beer at the NCHF Dinner. I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to several brewers who contributed beer for the dinner this year (Shaun O'Sullivan of 21st Amendment, Peter Hoey of SacBrew and Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker) and every one of these brewers were honored to have their beer poured at a Paxton dinner. By the way, this was not an easy event for Matt or Shaun to drive to - the commitment in the commute alone should impress anyone. OK, now perhaps I can talk about the beer...

Paxton spends a whole lot of time agonizing of the beers he is selecting for this meal and brewers are asked months in advance if a certain beer will be available. What's he looking for? Well, much like chefs on TV boast about their painstaking efforts of finding the best food at farmers markets, Paxton chooses only the best beers around. He isn't guessing either. He's tried the beers, knows the brewers and talks in advance with the brewers to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Additionally, what Sean does that is unique in his dinners is a prominent use of selected beers in every dish he serves. Again, this isn't an accidental step in his efforts, but a deliberate, thoughtful ingredient of choice. He wants the flavor of the beer to be detected in his dishes and for people to reevaluate the way they look at cooking with beer. To that end, Sean is successful. Already this week he's been asked for recipes for his dishes - recipes he's happy to share.

Perhaps the biggest key to his dinners' success is Sean Paxton, himself. This weekend was my third Paxton dinner and every meal, every dish, excites the audience not just because the appearance, taste and aroma, but because Paxton makes the dishes exciting. He'll walk you through the thought process of each dish and the beer pairing. He also invites contributors to talk about their beer (Hoey and Bryndilson articulated well the beers they brewed and why they worked so well with the dishes). This isn't a meal where you sit back and get served and walk away with only a full belly. Sean's enthusiasm drips on every word he utters, just as much as it drips off every bite taken. He isn't just a cook, he's more than a homebrewer - Sean Paxton is a true beer evangelist and time spent at his table only strengthens the diners' love of good beer and great food. If you haven't been to a dinner yet, keep an eye open for your shot - he gets around.

Other Notes

No, I didn't discuss the meal plate-by-plate. There was no need to I figured after reading posts by JJ at The Thirsty Hopster and Jesse at Beer and Nosh. You want to learn more about the dishes, that's all you'll need.

My beer of the night? Firestone Walker's unblended, unfiltered pale ale. All I know is I was still drinking this beer at 4:30AM with Sean, JJ and Matt.

Photo of Shaun O'Sullivan courtesy of Peter Hoey at Sacramento Brewing Co.

NCHF: What More Can You Ask For?

This past weekend saw me attending the Northern California Homebrewers Festival, a gathering of homebrewers from across the region all toting along their homebrew and food items to share with each other. I don't know how many attend this event, but it isn't a huge attraction for beer enthusiasts.
From left to right: Pete Slosberg, founder of Pete's Wicked Ales, Steve Wagner, President and Brewmaster at Stone Brewing, me, Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker, JJ of The Thirsty Hopster, Pete of Sacramento Brewing, Peter Salmond of SBC's Oasis and Sean Paxton the Homebrew Chef. Photo courtesy of Peter Hoey.

There is way too much that happened over the weekend to fit into one post, so here are just a few quick hits.
  • I am a lucky son of a bitch. Being there and seeing familiar faces along with new drove it home just how happy/lucky I am to have great friends at nearly every beer event I go to - around the country. Seriously, it's humbling.
  • There isn't a festival in Northern California that shows the diversity in beer styles as well as you'll find here. Big, mild, hoppy, malty, meads with fruit or plain, barrel aged, wild, tame - you name it, it was likely here. It was so cool to try, in order, a peach mead, well-hopped IPA, Berliner weisse, Flanders red, English mild and a 100% brett beer! That was just the tip of the iceberg too.
  • Reminds me. I wish there were more Berliner Weisse beers on the market in the summer.
  • Chile beers don't have to suck.
  • If you can't make Sean Paxton's legendary dinner, don't worry. If you bring along some good beer and some food you can typically find people around the campground Friday night interested in sharing what they brought along. This is a great way to meet new people, try new beer and kick the weekend off right.
  • Be careful though. This year saw a sickening sight as a fellow homebrewer fell into a ravine in the dark, resulting in a compound leg fracture and some worrisome moments. Lesson: bring a flash light.
  • The festival location is as beautiful as you can hope for. A large grassy area surrounded by rolling hills and a plethora of dragonflies can't be beat when sipping beers with origins from around the world.
  • Homebrewers can cook, and not just Sean - although, well, I'm not sure we can call what he does homebrewing or cooking. It seems to be something a tad bit more complicated. I guess it isn't a surprise for me. As someone who has been known to make my own beer, I feel confident in a kitchen and generally feel like I can make a good meal.
  • People - you can't go there and not appreciate the diversity there is among us. Sure, we all have one thing in common (our fondness for beer), but from there you see just about everything humanity has to offer (OK, not a lot of prohibitionists represented here). Man, you people are awesome.
  • It is apparently possible to set up a tent at 4:45 in the morning, even if you've been drinking for nine hours or so.
  • It may not be possible to do so without waking your neighbors.
  • If you wake the neighbors, they'll quickly forgive you if you share a beer with them at some point during the weekend.
  • No, I didn't set up a tent - I found the back seat of my car worked just great.
  • I predict that sometime in the next five years, Peter Hoey and Sean Paxton are going to collaborate on something that will blow people away. The way the two of them approach beer and food is so cerebral, geeky and passionate that I can't imagine anything they do together being anything less that spectacular.
  • Speaking of this duo - Hoey brought two blends of a beer they brewed together, Old Pappy bourbon barrel wheat wine. One blend was 17% barrel, the other was 30%. One sip, no - one wiff of the 17% barrel (83% stainless, lest you think that's an ABV) told me I was fortunate to live in Sacramento.
  • Be inspired. Be amazed.
  • Brynildson brought Porabola in a bottle too. I had to have a seat and some quiet time to fully appreciate the complexity of that beer. My goodness.
  • There is something to be said about driving to a place you don't plan on driving away from after a night of drinking. People imbibed on beer and mead from the morning hours with their breakfast till way beyond sunset. Yes, driving for many stopped being a legal option right around lunch time. The good news was their tents were only a short hike away.
  • To add to that last point, no there's nothing wrong with that.
  • The speakers here are inspiring. I know a thing or two about beer and brewing, but to learn in-depth geeky things about water and mashing was, well, impressive. Wagner also did a great job detailing the history of Stone and took questions with grace. If you didn't make the speakers booth this year, plan on resting your feet and engaging the brain next year, if only for a little while.
  • To add to that last point, it was quite interesting to learn about how chlorine and chloramine will impact your mash differently. Chloramine sounds as if it may be better for pipes and water supplies, but not so good for brewing. Gonna have to rethink my water supply.
  • Furthermore, seems like the water content readings homebrewers want from their municipal water agency aren't all that helpful. If I understood right the readings you get may not be more than a single day's testing - and sorry to say, it seems they don't really care about how water impacts our mash so long as there is nothing biological in the water. I guess that's not a horrible thing.
  • This isn't a scavenger hunt where the person who tries the most beers wins a prize. My first year I didn't realize this. My third year I could easily spot those who were learning the hard way - like I did.
  • I love it when brewers get geeky.
  • I love it when brewers just sit back and drink a beer too.
  • I need to brew a batch of beer sooner than later.
  • What was up with the talk like a pirate day carryover into Saturday?
  • I'd love to read something from Peter Hoey where he talks about some brewers inability to hop a beer properly. I believe the rant started with something like, "hoppy and bitter aren't the same thing". This, of course, came up after trying Mike McDole's Pliny Light - a beer that was certainly properly hopped.
  • The unblended, unfiltered pale ale Matt brought from Firestone Walker was a thing of beauty, and quite low in alcohol. Made me realize that I a lot of beer enthusiasts miss out on a whole lot when their focus is on extremes.
  • Watching Shaun O'Sullivan's face as he watched his cask ale abused (shaken, turned upright, then sideways, then upright again) while placing it on the stand was priceless. Sorry Shaun, I know it hurt you to see that, but from where I was sitting it was damned funny. Don't worry, all you reading at home, the beer was great.
  • You can't say enough about the fervor many homebrewers have about their hobby. Some know their history in and out, others can tell you the chemical reasoning for their brewing techniques and a whole lot can can tell you, accurately, the subtle differences in different malt and hop and yeast varieties. If you are willing to learn, to ask questions, you can't help but walk away from this knowing more than you did when you left the house.
Just a few random thoughts from a weekend I wish didn't end. A big thank you to those who make this event possible each year. This is an example of what a homebrew festival can be.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sour Night @ Sacramento Brewing Co.

Sour Beer Night, Come in, Pucker up

It isn't enough that Sacramento Brewing Company won a medal for its Imperial Stout at last year's GABF, and it isn't enough that SBC took a medal home from this year's World Beer Cup in one of the competition's deepest styles (Amber Ale). No, since that's happened Peter Hoey and the SBC team has brought in some barrels (bourbon, wine, port) and is doing some pretty wicked experiments with them, the first of which will be released this winter: Old Pappy, a bourbon barrel-aged wheat wine. Other barrels use strange, exotic yeast strains from around the world (California, Colorado, Belgium) in order to make what promises to be outstanding sour beer. Hell, apparently not even that is enough.

Peter Hoey has told me that he now has kegs of New Belgium's Eric and Deschutes' The Dissident with plans of tapping them both on the same night for a wild experience in sour ales we don't see too often around these parts (yet, waiting for his barrel-aged beers to mature). Now, what the heck are these beers all about anyway?

New Belgium's Eric is part of the brewery's Lips of Faith program that allows employees there to brew a batch of beer. This is a sour ale aged on peaches! I've had this only once and am certainly excited to hear it will be on tap locally.

Deschutes' The Dissident is a Flanders Brown Ale matured more than a year in barrels. This is a pretty special beer and I promise you won't see it around in our region for very long. This beer won't be as sour as Eric, but if you're new to the style it'll certainly grab your attention.

While both the Dissident and Eric will be available at both locations, you'll have to make it to their Town-and-Country location to participate in Pint Night.


Monday, Sept. 22 starting at 5PM

Oasis (Madison/Sunrise) and SacBrew locations (Fulton/Marconi)

Admission is free, just show up.

$4.75 gets you either the Dissident or Eric served in a wine glass (8-ounce pour)

$10 (estimated; only at Fulton/Marconi) gets you Eric in a New Belgium-logo stemmed glass that you get to keep! (very nice, by the way; 16-ounce pour)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Fresh Liberty @ Toronado

I don't know if you saw the July/August issue of DRAFT or not, but it featured Anchor Liberty as the PICK (a beer I considered appropriate for our All-American issue). Well, the only thing better than Anchor's Liberty is an Anchor Liberty kegged the same day you enjoy it on tap. The folks at San Francisco's world-famous Toronado understand this, and on Wednesday September 10th they will be pouring "Kegged-Today" Anchor Liberty at a "special" price (read "good"). I seriously doubt I can make this event, but if you live nearby, it may just be worth stopping in for a pint.

More Info

Kegged Today Anchor Liberty Night

Come try a keg on the day it was born! Anchor Liberty
delivered fresh from the brewery on kegging day.
Special pricing all night.

Location: Toronado, 547 Haight, San Francisco, California
Time: 5PM
Admission: no charge
Contact Phone: 415.863.2276