Monday, February 08, 2010

SFBW'10 - The Younger and the rest of us

The sign says it all.

"I can't imagine getting in line for a beer," came one slightly tongue-in-cheek comment from the small assemblage of local beer writers huddled beside a table overflowing with Ryan Farr's chicharrones, as we discussed the completely unforeseen mad dash that had occurred earlier in the day up at Russian River, where demand for their annual February release* had formed, to say the very least, a "line". Even Natalie Cilurzo's own estimates on the lifespan of this year's batch of Pliny the Younger ("I don’t know how long it will be available at the pub. However, I venture to guess less than one week and more than one day!") turned out to be quite generous, as by 6pm Friday afternoon, after about 7 hours of being poured, the 600 gallons on tap at the Santa Rosa pub had already dried up. Even Mario, a Santa Rosa native and stalwart supporter of all things Russian River chimed in to say (unbeknownst to all of us that just as we were making the rounds at the SF Beer Week gala, the atmosphere up in Sonoma had already turned somewhat grim) had he would have been happy to wait until Saturday to get his share, had he been able to foresee the unprecedented crowds that had appeared well before the door's had even been opened. After all, last year there'd been no crowds at all, no lines, not the slightest bit of fuss - that easy, relaxed Sonoma pace had been shattered this time around, the pub apparently having fallen victim to its own success, the obsessive completists monitoring the ubiquitous top ten lists, and the ease with which social networking tools can amass armies of beer fanatics like blinkered, hops-driven flash mobs.

Not that it mattered entirely on my part, thanks to Mario having stashed my very own growler of the stuff by the gala entrance. And as we departed into the early evening, someone perched outside the event noticed the bottle I was casually swinging from my pinkie and called out, "Hey, is that Younger?", forcing me to glance over my shoulder the whole way back to the parking garage in fear that we were being followed...

Despite all the hype and a reputation it couldn't possibly live up to, it remains a wonderful treat of a beer, and one for which I'm happy to say that I didn't have to stand in line. A fortuitous way to begin SF Beer Week 2010, indeed. Expect it to make some further, albeit brief appearances over the course of the week, in your finer Bay Area drinking establishments.

* And as for that other February special release, the darling Valentines' Day black Belgian ale dubbed "Rejection", expect that one to make an appearance at Toronado tomorrow night.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What next?

After a month in the making, our Italian Modernists dinner is in the books. And while the jury's still out as to whether or not we'll have an official wrap-up of the event posted here, it would be unfair to go too long without publicly thanking the folks who made it the success it turned out to be. It's no small feat to collect nine relatively obscure beers in quantities to serve fourteen diners, nor is it terribly easy to convince those fourteen diners that an afternoon of Italian beer could be all that enticing (especially when up against the likes of Stumptown and the Toronado anniversary party), to say nothing of assembling and executing a equally lengthy pairing menu.

On the topic of the menu, here it is.

The first order of thanks has to go to our ably dexterous mate in the galley, Mr. Alex of Drink A Week, here caught childishly trying his hand at the delicate art of beer blogging*, who not only kept the food train running for the five hours that we were serving, but managed to keep a live microblog feed of the event running simultaneously for his dozen or so followers. If there's a kitchen assistant who can handle a bigger heap of verbal and physical abuse during an event than Alex can, I'd be shocked (and if you know of one, please let me know as I could probably use them next year).

Second in line for kudos is Dave Hauslein, the beer manager for Healthy Spirits, without whose help the wicked variety of beers we had chance to sample would not have materialized (here seen apparently doubling up on his portion of the polenta and sopressata). Dave goes way out on a limb to provide an unmatched service to local weird beer lovers, not only stocking the big name trends of the day, but allowing space for bottles that may sit a little while just waiting to be united with a certain taster with an adventurous palate.

(And on the topic of thanks, while I know Des is listed as a contributor on the masthead here, that's really just a formality that allows her to pop into any of my published posts and clear up any unbearably unsightly editing errors, and as such it would be completely uncouth for me not to publicly thank her for the enormous contributions, in cooking, hospitality, and the immense clean up effort, that she donated to what is truly my singleminded obsession of hosting this annual affair.)

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't thank our guests for not only taking a chance in coming in blind to our little experiment, but also for doing my job for me in taking some great pictures, bringing along extra delicious beverages, and even lending a hand in the kitchen when our pacing dragged a little. As taxing as these events can be, the guests make them completely worthwhile, placing you in the odd position of being simultaneously exhausted and eager to get the next event scheduled on the calendar, whatever it may be. So, until then...

* Yes, the Peroni made multiple appearances, and yes, it's intended as humorous irony.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Reminders - Italian Modernists & Fermentation Friday

When Jay Brooks went to witness Italian brewer Agostino Arioli brew a batch of La Fleurette with Vinnie Cilurzo and the Russian River Brewing team in Santa Rosa, he summed up the origin of this uniquely peculiar beer quite nicely:
How Agostino’s La Fleurette came about is a romantic tale. Seven years ago, he met a girl and fell in love. Awash with the emotions of new love, he set out to create something that would be “a celebration beer of personal happiness.” So he started experimenting and after a year of trial and error was satisfied with the beer and released it commercially as La Fleurette. To the kettle he adds turbinado raw sugar and orange blossom honey, but he also adds black pepper because, as Agostino puts it, “love is also spicy.” At the end of the boil he dry hops, or rather dry-flowers, the beer with both roses and violets.
This is precisely the vein of artistic spirit running through the current generation of Italian brewers that inspired us to want to host an event celebrating their individuality. Whereas it's arguable that American craft brewing boom was borne of a Wild West approach to re-imagining the ales of the British Isles, there doesn't appear (beyond the slightest Belgian whiff) to be a similar obvious precedent for what the Italians are doing right now. That's not to say that their approach is recklessly improvised: Despite an apparent lack of stylistic benchmarks, the Italian beers we're seeing come stateside have poetic roots, such as beers made with carob and chestnut in memory of the scarcity of food and sweets during World War II, beers modeled after the brewers' lovers, and recipes designed to evoke memories of the exotic foods the brewer had experienced in travels to India and Nepal. Combine that level of soul with with oddball techniques (only adding hops in the last 10 minutes of the boil?), odder ingredients (farro? wormwood? myrrh?) and the Italians' much romanticized love for food, and you have something truly unique emerging out of an area that has never been (and most likely never will be) known for its beer.

That's a rather lengthy way of reminding you that if you're in the SF Bay Area and want to try some of these exceptional creations at a centrally-located, public transit-friendly, private venue alongside some equally tasty food with a lively group of beer enthusiasts, you're in luck, as we've still got a handful of seats free for our dinner on Saturday, August 15. There's more information at the original post here.

On a similar topic, as our Fermentation Friday post will hinge on an inimitably Italian beer, let this also serve as a reminder that we're proudly hosting June's edition this Friday, so if you're a homebrewing blogger or a blogging homebrewer, you owe it to yourself to read the original announcement and get ready to join us on the 31st.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Introducing the second annual Pfiff! beer and food tasting - The Italian Modernists

It was last August when we found ourselves sitting around the patio table, weighed down in our seats by the twin burdens of good food and good drink, when the topic of conversation turned to what unifying themes we could explore in subsequent gatherings. But while there's no end to which we enjoy our fill of barrel-aged imperial thises and thats and peculiarly spiced holiday ales and unclassifiable Belgian nanobrewery miscellany, none of the ideas bandied about managed to spark the dim light of inspiration we needed. It just so happens that we're lucky to exist in a time and place where stylistic panel tastings aren't terribly difficult to come by, thanks to some pretty fine watering holes and the odd renegade social group. Putting on a tasting for a tasting's sake seemed arbitrary and redundant. Not to mention, as it turned out, the greatest pleasure we gleaned from the event came from the challenge of pairing each beer with foods that presented them in their best light, seeing as we were pouring some that were potentially challenging to unaccustomed taste buds. It was obvious that whatever guiding principle the next tasting would be focused upon, the food would play an important, if not more elevated role.

But it wasn't more than a few months after we'd closed the books on that day's affairs that the next subject we'd be attracted to became more apparent. If there's one thing that was made terribly clear at Slow Food Nation, it's that beer is taken very seriously as a part of its ethos. Its interesting to note, though, that despite the attention it lavishes on finely crafted beer, the Slow Food movement has its origins in the loosely populated agricultural heart of Piemonte, an area dominated by wine grapes within a country that's perhaps only second to France in having globally established wine as the cultivated palate's beverage of choice, particularly in consideration when pairing with fine foods. But things appear to be changing. Where the Slow movement has taken root, brewers with similar philosophies are beginning to flourish. In a place that's devoted to celebrating their regional specialties, beers are being designed with ingredients true to their own "Ark of Taste", and envisioned in terms of being enjoyed in tandem with the cuisine as an equal partner in the gustatory experience. Hence this year's event: The Italian Modernists.

Like last year, the event will take place in San Francisco, and will be a small, informal affair with the goal of tasting a wide variety of rare beers alongside some tasty nibbles. Festivities will take place on Saturday, August 15, at 3:00 p.m. Seats for this year's dinner are $45. For questions, or to reserve your place at the table, you can either email me at or leave a comment on this post with information about how I can get back in touch (and as I'm generally able to reply to emails within the day, if you haven't heard back from me, it's a good sign your message has been relegated to my junk mail folder, in which case you might want to tap me a second time). I'm also happy to announce that Healthy Spirits will be officially providing all of our beers this year, which helps guarantee you've got a local resource to stock up on any of the beers we'll be pouring, and we'll have the pleasure of their beer manager, Dave Hauslein, also in attendance. If last year was any indication, it'll be a fun, long afternoon of relaxed tasting, and we hope to see some new faces at this one!

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Belgium comes to 94117

Just over a week ago, on a clear and cool Sunday morning, I slipped into the pre-dawn air armed with a freshly sharpened chef's blade and a fully fueled butane torch, cruised quickly along the empty trellis roads that connect the scattered hamlets of central Marin, and scaled the Waldo Grade only to quietly descend into a still-slumbering and peculiarly vacant Lower Haight, through those fabled Dutch doors, to receive word of my next instructions. After having harvested one of the meal's ingredients the day before, my last directives had been simple: pack a nice blade and get a good night's rest. And thus it began.
Holding the key to my cheese n' beer loving heart.
To backtrack a little... It's Belgian beer month, which means the taps at Toronado are currently loaded with things like, oh Cantillon Grand Cru, Ellezelloise Hercule, and Struise Tsjeeses. It was but a year ago when, in assuming that we'd be the early birds, first in line to tap a flight of David Keane's annual cornucopia of imported wonderments, Des and I headed down to Toronado at our first free moment only to find it shuttered up, thanks to some mysterious and hitherto unknown special event. But based off the scraps of information we were able to glean from some considerably bent and slurry patrons, who shared lusty tales aside proffered dregs of some truly luminous rarities, it was then that I declared I'd find some way - by whatever means, if you want - to be on the other side of those locked doors when the following March's lambs and lions had marched through: in April of 2009, I was going to somehow be inside that kitchen.
More abbey cheese than you can shake a censer at.

And as it so happens, with the rusty tubes of my waking synapses gradually flickering to life as the caffeine made its steady course into my consciousness, that was the spot I found myself: Inside a bar still resonating from the nightlife that had only just departed scant hours before, alongside some familar and equally tired faces, with the unprecedented (and encore) privilege of joining Mr. Sean Z. Paxton for what was to be the culinary equivalent of the Ring cycle, a six-hour long gustatory bonanza nearly a year in the making (that is, since the last one).
Stinky gnomes and Westvleteren. As it should be.

Sean, as a man considered by many to be the premiere visionary in the realm of marrying beer with modern haute cuisine and molecular gastronomy,  is no stranger to the spotlight in the foodie-beerie circles. A well-known mercenary chef-for-hire, regular contributor to BeerAdvocate magazine, a speaker at the National Homebrewers Conference, and one who's consulted regularly by publications looking to get edubacted in the art of cuisine à la bière and beer and food pairing, his moniker of "The Homebrew Chef" alludes to his simultaneous passions of brewing, cooking, and finding harmonious inroads between the two. Here, under the auspices of Toronado's Belgian beer month, he's made it his mission to pull out all the stops. In a way, it's his tribute to Dave Keane's fearless ambassadorship of the challenging, palate-expanding beers of Belgium, aside from being a chance to flex some creative muscle for patrons who like having their culinary horizons broadened.
I imagine he's still airing out the suitcase all this arrived in.

First, the beer: Not only were there twenty beers with which to pair, but another twenty beers with which all the courses were prepared. And lest you think we're talking beercan chicken here, note that some of the world's most highly regarded and sought-after beers - Scaldis Noel, Fantome La Dalmatienne, De Ranke Pere Noel, Halve Maan Brugse Zot - never even made it to the table for folks to taste, only existing as ingredients within each of the twelve courses. Lest anyone be concerned that the day's events were going to be a retread of the classics, though, the day began with the first public West Coast tapping of a keg of Duvel Green, the new filtered, non-refermented, draft version of the quintessential Belgian strong golden ale. The next five hours saw a parade of Belgium's rainbow of beer diversity make its way to the tables, from the light and hoppy to the dark and strong through all iterations between, with the closing bookend on the day the 2007 Saucerful of Secrets that Sean brewed himself with Firestone Walker.
Well, that's certainly a lot of caviar. Or is it?

And then, the food: One course which I got to have my hand in (hence the freshly sharpened knife) was the cheese course, consisting entirely of Belgian, mostly abbey cheeses hand-carried by Sean himself in a single, 60 lb. suitcase just days prior to the event. And thanks to the beauty of sous vide cooking techniques, much of the actual cooking had already been taken care of, with curing, infusing, marinading, and pickling all having been done in sealed plastic bags, which was a comforting convenience as Toronado, in case you'd never noticed, doesn't actually have a kitchen.
My, my, what are you going to do with all those black truffles?

Ah, but of course.

That's correct. Somehow, some way, the entire twelve-course meal for seventy-odd diners with prepared with nothing more than an immersion heater and a couple of propane burners. And if there's a real bit of artistry at work in a dinner like this that needs to be spotlit, I think it has to be the orchestration of such a massive culinary undertaking with such limited resources. Sure, there was the "wort honey", a batch of pre-hopped homebrewed beer that Sean made, reduced to a caramel-like consistency, and blended with a local honey. And sure, there was the homemade pork pate and duck rillettes. And yeah, there was the aforementioned Cantillon Iris and bone marrow gastrique. But seriously, managing to supervise an amateur staff in a room primarily designed for drinking, coordinating the delivery of the equivilant of 900 dishes of five-star cuisine via a space the Toronado staff lovingly refer to as "the birth canal", and singlehandedly bringing this menu to life with not much more than a pot of hot water, a couple tanks of propane, a crack torch and a syringe?

Now that, my friends, is kitchen professionalism.

If you haven't already, go ahead and mark off April 4, 2010 on your calendar, as you've now got plans that day.
Because if you were duck fat aioli, you'd be smiling, too.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

18 Reasons and at least as many homebrews

Before we finally get around to completing the now nearly two-week old saga of the Toronado Belgian beer dinner, a quick interlude of the homebrew variety: This Thursday evening, we'll be joining a few other local recreational fermentation enthusiasts for a tasting at 18 Reasons, an arty foodie non-profit space in the Mission as part of the monthly SF Beer & Cheese group we've been semi-regularly attending. Jesse, whose brett-spiked witbier I had the unexpected pleasure of sampling this past weekend, will be pouring some of his wares alongside David, the SFB&C co-founder who introduced me to the group at last year's wild ale tasting, who will have his robust porter to sample, and a couple other brewers bringing the likes of a Belgian dubbel, saison, Simcoe IPA, and a Belgian strong dark ale aged with prunes.

But what are we bringing? In the spirit of Choose Your Own Adventure, I'd like that to be a decision best left to others besides the authors. Like chance music for the belly, the whim of teh internets will dictate what'll be crawling up from the cellar Thursday night. I've embedded a little poll below in which you can vote for as few or as many as you'd like on exhibit. Here's a quick reference guide to the options:

Imperial Pilsner - Just seeming to hit its stride now, a 9% lager based off a strict pilsner malt base and with a fresh bit of dry hopping in the keg. Pictured above with its little hoppy friend.

Black Lav - Definitely further up the dark end of the experimental alley. It's a saison. But it's black! There's some history behind this one here.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie - The most recent of our "tastes like" explorations, this one's finishing up as this is written, and is a but of a wild card in terms of what it'd taste like as young and green as it is. Details on its origin story can be read here.

X'07 - Our annual holiday ale, this Belgian-inspired dark one from the winter of 2007, which Jesse referenced in his post about last weekend's debauchery, amazingly hasn't all been emptied yet. We wrote a little bit about it back in August.

X'08 - Same idea, different beer. This past season's batch.

The Indoctrinator - Before the Inoculator (the last of which disappeared into the sun-warmed gullets of this past Sunday's Golden Gate Park denizens), there was the Indoctrinator. I bottled a couple magnums when we finished this Belgian-style dubbel back in October and have been sitting on them waiting for the right occasion. Is this it?

Old Ale - Nearly guaranteed to be nasty, it's a two (three?) year (m)old stock ale aged on oak that's seen some serious and strange refermentation in the bottle. Will probably explode. I still have some left.

Appelwoi - A cider. This one. Not beer, but not water either!

Go on, now. Vote!

And sure, it's just 48 hours away, but mark your calendars!

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Localize it, pt. 4 - Some closing thoughts

The completion of the premiere SF Beer Week seems an opportune time to close the door on our recent ruminations on "local beer" in its many iterations. In many ways, actually, a local theme did emerge throughout the ten days of competitions, dinners, and other festivities, what with a San Francisco brewery taking a medal at Toronado's storied barleywine fest, some of the country's finest chefs a la cuisine a la biere showing off on their home turf, North and East Bay breweries receiving honors at the Bistro Double IPA festival, Anchor revealing their very first barrel aged beer, and local bloggers hosting events to easily rival the pros, all amidst the reemergence of the "official" beer of the week, a historically recreated batch of pale ale hearkening back to the area's distinction as ground zero for the new craft brewing movement. And despite the appearance of some of the industry's highest profile figures, the most exciting "meet the brewer" event featured none other than one of our own.

And arguably, that could be the best lesson learned from our first ever rally for Bay Area beer, that the bash was at its best when it was celebrating hometown successes, be they brewers or bars or chefs or restaurants. In retrospect, some of the activities that would have been unmissable under any other circumstances - visits from brewers from abroad, for example - looked like nothing more than filler. Hopefully next year, the local businesses who strangely opted to sit out this year's beer week will recognize the goldmine of opportunity that they missed out on, and will enter into the fray when February rolls around again, making it an event where one really does "come for the bay, stay for the beer." We'll just have to see, won't we?

And on a side note, I'm still haunted by those growlers, too, the ones we saw getting filled up at Russian River on the day Pliny the Younger was tapped, how wrecked they must have been when they finally made their way into hands over 3,000 miles and who knows how many warm, oxidized, flat UPS-rattled days away. Retelling that horror story to another aficionado, he replied, "that beer doesn't even taste the same once it's been in the glass for five minutes." At Toronado, the bartenders were uncorking the 20th Anniversary ale in front of the buyers to make sure they didn't try to sneak out with them to post on Ebay or worse, which made me wonder how Vinnie and Natalie must feel about having their hard work represented so falsely and sloppily. Brewers care about how their work is perceived, simply. Something that tastes so good because it's fresh, because it's local, it's hard to imagine what those long distance traders look to really get out of the deal other than a fresh tick on their "to have" list.

And lastly, in closing the book on this first experiment in formally saluting the Bay Area's beer scene, it's only fitting to donate a moment of remembrance to William Brand, whose tragic death wove a somber undercurrent beneath the proceedings. Critically injured just two days into the celebration, finally succumbing to his injuries eleven days later, he was such an anticipated presence at so many of the events that his absence was a somewhat strange and chilling entity, despite the nightly toasts held in his honor in dozens of taprooms, restaurants, dining rooms, and brewhouses throughout the region. There's little I can add to the chorus of sympathies being sounded out around both journalistic and beer circles, but he will be sorely missed.

(Image above from SF Beer Week's culminating liverbasher, the Toronado Barleywine Festival: Firestone Walker Abacus Blend, Elysian Old Cyclops, He'Brew Human Blockhead, and Ballast Point Three Sheets.)

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Localize it, pt. 2 - SF Beer Week buddies

Something happened yesterday, something unplanned, unexpected, and for lack of a better description, something completely unintended. This dainty little blog turned four years old. And of the manifold benefits we reaped this past year, persisting to document some sort of beer tasting thought diary experiment, was the explosive array of new acquaintances we made. While we managed a marked return to our homebrewing experimentation (a discussion I'll save for this Friday), and likewise managed to get our hands on some pretty thought-provoking, sought-after bottles as well, but what was truly unique about this past year was the motley collection of wiseacres we came into regular communication with, transforming this formerly insular little notepad into a place where commentary, insight, and interplay came into the game.

That said, SF Beer Week is nearly upon us, and along with it, as luck would have it, a number of folks I've had the distinct pleasure of getting to know be just happen to be involved in hosting events under auspices of the golden Beer Week banner. Whereas the focus of these events might deviate from "the local", what with Belgian and German beers and whatnot, the sheer number of hardworking individuals - mostly bloggers, no less - organized here in the cause of raising an appreciation of fine beer in the Bay Area speaks volumes about the groundswell influence of local individuals. Where there have been obvious comparisons between SF Beer Week and it's relative Philly Beer Week, one could argue that our East Coast competitor is by the breweries and for the beer, whereas ours is for the people and by the people. In chronological order:

- Mario from Brewed for Thought has organized an Introduction to Belgian Ales at Alpha Sigma Phi on the UC Berkeley campus on Friday, February 5, along with a "meet the brewer" event with Tim Goeppinger of Sonoma Springs Brewing Company on Tuesday, February 10. A fellow member of BABB, Mario's a chatty, knowledgeable guy who fosters a pretention-free appreciation of craft beer, and who would be the perfect guide for someone who'd otherwise be turned off by a snobby introduction to arguably the world's greatest brewing culture.

- Chris and Meredith from have organized a German Beer Tasting at Rosie's Cracker Barrel in Carmel Valley on Saturday, February 7 at 2:00 p.m. Last summer I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with the two of them while they were visiting Iron Springs on their way up to the Santa Rosa Brewing Festival. Good folks with a serious appreciation for German beer (which I've always found a little sadly lacking in the craft beer circles), Chris and Meredith are well-traveled and well-versed, certain to use what they've learned in their time in Germany to provide some excellent insight on some overlooked styles. 

- Peter and Sammy from BetterBeerBlog are hosting a Beer & Dessert Tasting Event at Wine Affairs in San Jose on the evening of Monday, February 9. As many folks have been vocal about the decrepit state of craft beer on the Peninsula, this couple has resolved to be a part of the solution, trying to carve out an oasis of brewing appreciation with their beer dinners and pairing adventures. With keen perception on the nuances of beer tasting, they've been boldly creative in finding ways to bring beer to the table alongside all manner of foods. And dessert is, after all, the best course.

- Jesse from Beer & Nosh is presenting a beer dinner benefiting the San Fransisco Food Bank on Wednesday, February 11, hosted by Scala's Bistro. One of the local beer and food documenters that I just happen to run into more often than not, Jesse's a true gourmand of the local scene, and definitely the guy you want with a camera in hand when you're trying to show off. This dinner, subbed "New American Food and New American Beer", with a menu designed and executed by hotshot chef Jen Biesty, looks to be everything you'd want in a presentation that really showcases the elevated status and versatility of the new craft beer scene in this country.

- Sean Paxton is teaming up with Firestone Walker and Toronado for a beer dinner at the Peacock Lounge on Thursday, February 12.

It will be insane.

This last one is of a little more personal importance to me as I'll be donating the services of my delicate, lily-white hands to the man better known as The Homebrew Chef in his kitchen, a position garnered solely through the illusion I've cast as having some idea of how to find my way around a cutting board. We'll just see if I can pull that off. (If you see a bearded, bloodied man running back and forth across Haight Street that evening, there's a one-in-ten chance it's me.) It's a thrilling opportunity to get my hands dirty (after washing them!) in an arena in which we've always itched to dabble.

There ought to be a Pfiff! sponsored event, I suppose. Maybe next year? Or maybe something wild and impromptu will happen on the 8th, with the assistance of my four year-old nephew. On second thought, maybe the 13th would be better. But don't wait up. If you're attending events at this year's Beer Week, make a point of coming to some of these events, as they seem to define, as a group, what beer means to the current indie-by-way-of-foodie generation of the Bay Area.

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Localize it, pt. 1 - Towards a reconnection with beer as a staple

Like bread, milk, eggs... There's no describing the burden of shame and embarrassment that would follow me if I ever bothered to purchase one of those items from a source further afield than I could comfortably drive in a leisurely afternoon outing. But if there's a weakness to be exploited in my professed admiration for all things brewed, it's my relative lack of engagement with the local scene (a weakness I tried valiantly to resolve this past weekend with a glass of Marin Brewing's White Knuckle double IPA, as seen above). Of the breweries represented in the SF Brewers' Guild, I can only genuinely throw my weight behind maybe half of them, for example. But to the extent that my cynical, sarcastic, pessimist attitude allows, I have to concede that some of the core tenets that push the modern foodview (local, sustainable, affordable) are going to be major factors in the beer scene in the coming year. What was beginning to gnaw at me, a flux of super-high cost beers, the elevation of beer to the wine-drinker's table alongside the wine-drinker's price tag, may likely be less of a concern as locals begin to take closer care with their expenses and indulgences. In an area as obsessed with food and dining as San Francisco, though, where neighborhood farmer's markets are the norm, it would seem logical that locally-produced, handcrafted, affordable, fresh beer would edge out the $50 bottles of Brazilian méthode champenoise offerings on the menu. Currently, though, despite how much they may actually sell, and despite their quality, public perception hasn't shifted to acknowledge them as the obvious, socially, politically, environmentally, and health concious choices on the beer menu.

Thankfully, it will soon be SF Beer Week, an opportunity to redeem myself somewhat, and an opportunity for local brewers to perhaps reclaim the crown of percieved quality from their brethren from further afield. Amidst the plethora of happenings, too, there are some that hosted by folks I like to consider friends, some smaller events that will arguably pack in more passion about beer, food and the social, communal, convivial attitiude that belongs alongside them than some of the larger events. And all with a local bent, a local point of view. Expect a post about those gatherings in the next day or so.

Here's to reconnecting. Go out and grab something local to enjoy this weekend. And if you can't find anything local that you can enjoy, ask yourself why not? Why hasn't anyone bothered to fill that void, the simple pleasure of a simple beverage brewed well, freshly, for locals? With all the talk of "carbon footprints", fears over tainted food, the push of the organic movement, the current economic crisis, and the emboldened palate of the modern consumer, why wouldn't everyone have access to reasonable, quality, local beer?

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dissidents and dissonance, notes from the underground

If you've noticed a dearth of additions here of late, you're likely alone. That's part of the charm of the way this new media is digested, isn't it? We all subscribe to a gamut of spottily updated resources from around the web, and after a while it becomes a blur of content devoid of the linear narrative you can slip into when you're only following the exploits of a handful of writers.

It's not for lack of liquid material, mind you. But a quiet rule in publishing content here has been to limit myself to commentary that at least carries the veneer of insight. As the past couple weeks have been riddled with sicknesses, stresses, and a shaky return to the full-time grind, my capacity for insight has been duly diminished and the desire to share nonexistent. But rather that let this page languish too long, a little roundup of recent goings-on might be due, a quick gasp of breath before going back underwater.

- What prompted this brief return to soliloquy is the beer pictured above: A very fine, reserve offering from Deschutes in the Flanders brown style, the Dissident inspires a bit of thought on the state of the American craft brewer and their special releases. A deep, ruddy cherry ale that crackles with the sour tang of wild fermentation and the slightest musk of the barrel, it's wholly reminiscent of something you might expect to find in a cafe in Ghent. (Although it could potentially use another year in the cellar, what with a residual sweetness that left it tasting just a tad young, the same impression we recently had while tasting the new Ten Commandments release from Lost Abbey. Are breweries rushing their special releases out onto the market early? The press release said The Dissident had already spent 18 months maturing. But I digress...)

While brewed with cherries from the Northwest, there's nothing "Northwest" of note in the beer, which came as a little bit of a surprise considering how much of an impact Deschutes has had as a flag-bearer for the area's idiosyncratic brewing scene. While Mirror Pond and Black Butte both represent for many folks the ethos of the FNWONWCB (first new wave of Northwest craft brewing, not to be confused with NWOBHM), the only thing that struck me as being particularly American about The Dissident is its alcohol level (9% according to the bottle, versus the 11% it lists on the press release, but still up from the 5-6% you'd find in an oud bruin or Flanders red). Does Rodenbach do this? Do they celebrate their continued success by rewarding their fans with an anniversary California pale ale? It's a testament, perhaps, to what is happening behind the scenes in small brewhouses around the country, where brewers' worldly palates are being greenlit by the company number crunchers and marketing flacks alike, seeing the voracious appetite of the online beer enthusiast community as being recession-proof enough that there's minimal risk (and potentially excellent mark-up potential) in letting the brewers experiment in foreign styles in the cause of expanding their repertoire. It's arguable that the market for Rodenbach would not be so kind to their experimentation, and were the monks of the abbey of St. Sixtus to present the world with a Westvleteren Mandarin Orange Hefeweizen for those hot monastic summer nights, there'd likely be riots.

- Meanwhile, over at the Aleuminati, I've been involved in an open source brewing project of sorts, a groupthink recipe tinkering collective with the ambitious goal of creating a beer that even the most initiate of homebrewers could attempt, while being scalable in scope for the more ambitious of us, designed with the intent of being a good gateway beer to more expansive beer tasting for those looking to hook their unknowing friends into this little cult we call "beer snobbery". It's a little like a dubbel but with a bit of American oomph, and it's entitled The Indoctrinator. While the recipe itself is set (in silly putty, or mud maybe), there's still time to brew your own batch and get in the trading circle. Once everyone's confident their batch is sufficiently conditioned, we'll be shipping samples around to do our own personal horizontal tastings.

The morning after brewing up our version, I found it burbling away with a rhythmic regularity that momentarily entranced me like a Louis Hardin ostinato, and I was thrown: Has a day of listening to 5-year olds hack their way into the canon of Western music distorted my musical perception to the degree that I'm hearing regularity and pulse in the randomness of nature? So of course, I filmed it. See if you think I'm crazy.

(Des, meanwhile, has disavowed any knowledge of this video and will not admit to the possibility that anyone in this household is enough of a dork to have generated it.)

- Speaking of brewing, we also got around to throwing together a kettle of that hereto theoretical lavender-infused black saison on Saturday afternoon, bringing the amount of partially-fermented homestuffs in the basement to an unforeseen 25 gallons, a possible new record. Lord knows what we'll do with all of it. Good thing I've got another batch planned for brewing in the next few days. While it's obviously too early to post tasting notes, the phenomenal sensory overload that arose from adding the hydrosol to the pot was intense enough to make us wonder if we'd come across something wonderful, or terrifying. It'll be ready for Halloween, appropriately.

- Lastly, I'll most likely be AFK for the coming weekend as it's one jam-packed with birthday celebrations in a true Oktoberfest by way of autumnal equinox fashion, but I'd be remiss if there wasn't a nod to the Northern California Homebrewers Festival that will be going on concurrently, most specifically the brewer's dinner that Sean Paxton has planned. Hot diggety delicious dog. Maybe next year that'll be Mia's idea of a good time, camping up in the Sierra foothills with a bunch of homebrewers, but this year we'll stick to a pony ride and a day in the park with cupcakes...

(And thanks to fellow beer blogger Bailey for the Lomo photoshopping trick. Like most hipster grups, there's a Holga in our closet, but we hardly ever take it out. Instead, there's something delightfully ironic about using all of today's most advanced technologies in digital imaging to attempt a recreation of an iconic, singular, and strangely loveable classic. Hey, it's kind of like a storied Oregon brewery aping a historic Flemish beer.)

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Slow Beer Nation

Rodger Davis mans the bar while Shaun O'Sullivan
taps a virtual cask*

At first, there hadn't been any plan to write anything here about Slow Food Nation, as I knew that the assembled armies of local food and drink writers would not only do it justice in words and images, but also because, despite my particularly deep love of all things foodie, my inner editor hastened to remind me that the bulk of the 50,000 square feet of display and interaction was devoted to things other than the main topic of this particular site, that being beer. Sure, I had taken the liberty of printing up a list of the breweries that were representing (of which there were around 60) and circled, highlighted, and added obligatory exclamation points next to the specific beers that were going to be available (of which there were around 150). But like I said, this certainly wasn't a beer event. It was a food event, one that just happened to have a neat little hop-adorned tent outside where you could grab a beer to enjoy alongside your wood-fired pizza (or your chutneys, or your naan, or your ceviche, or your ice cream, or your chocolate, or your tea, or your salumi).

Granted, the tent was staffed by a continuous rotation of brewers ("Tell me what you think - I made it" was a typical refrain) and brewery insiders, pouring beer from three gorgeous reclaimed bottle-glass bars - for draft, cask, and bottle, respectively - while also making the rounds at a fourth bar which was set up as a "meet the brewer" scenario, with guided tasting flights being offered from their particular brewery. And they made an effort to actually pour the beers into appropriate glassware when possible (like when Des ordered a Salvation and Bruce Paton took away her original glass and replaced it with a flute). So if you wanted it badly enough, squinted just so, and really tried hard to ignore the enormous cavalcade of comestibles looming right over your shoulder, tendrils of otherworldly aromas snaking around you like horror-movie fog, you could have pretended it was a beer event. But then it would have been even less attractive to comment upon, since beer festivals tend to bring out the complainer in me.

I won't complain, for example, that none of the top-shelf beers remained on the boards by the time the doors to the last session of the event opened, since I'm sure that next time the pavilion curator [*Cough* Ahem, you! You there in the Brookston shirt!] will try harder to control the rotation of the truly rare beers to make them available to folks coming to any one of the four events, not just the first. Fact is, even though my number one choice was long gone off the boards (along with numbers two through sixteen), I did get to taste it, thanks to the warm generosity of Stone's Dave Hopwood, who had set aside a special bottle of Goose Island's Bourbon County Stout on the first day to enjoy by himself at the end of the festival, yet offered up a healthy pour to put a quick end to my unmanly blubbering, weeping and begging.

And I certainly won't complain that the pretty price of entry ($58!) included a limited number of tasting samples, because a "taste" from the beer pavilion amounted to a full serving, meaning that while Lost Abbey's Witches Wit isn't the most robust offering of their line-up, I had a delightfully full glass of it to accompany me on the 200-yard stroll back and forth through the food and spirits pavilions, and still enough to wash down some phenomenal albacore niçoise. Which then left room for a Matilda. And a Little Opal. And a Transcontinental. And an Old Guardian.

So much for not writing about Slow Food Nation, eh? I might as well mention now that we jumped on the vermiculture bandwagon this past weekend as a way of sustainably composting the leftovers from our biodynamically resourced organic, hand-crafted, and homegrown foods. Happy now? We're total foodie dorks hiding behind the toughened veneer of beer drinking.

Good thing the worms like spent grains from brewing. Otherwise y'all might think I'm getting a little fluffy around the edges. Beer is, after all, as William Brand suggested, "one of the original slow foods."

* With education as a high point on the Slow Food priority list, the cask trailer was streamed via video to a monitor at the bar so that folks could see what cask ale is all about. Ancient brewing traditions meets Big Brother.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

And on the seventh day, there was Brett

And a lot of Brett, to be quite clear. Yesterday, we hosted the first ever Pfiff! beer and food tasting, a five-hour session of "The New American Mavericks", a collection of American wild ales paired with fine nibbles held on a marginally summerish San Francisco afternoon in the garden with eleven very enthusiastic guinea pigs. Luckily, the convergence of some great beers, the luck of being in the midst of a bountiful harvest season, the advice of some generous and open brewers, and a wonderfully warm group chemistry, it was an almost completely injury-free (sorry Kris!) success.

The inspiration for the tasting resided in a pair of magnums that had been collecting dust in the cellar for a few years now: both from Vinnie Cilurzo's maiden voyage into wild brewing, batch 001 bottles of both Temptation and Supplication that were just demanding to be enjoyed with a crowd.

And enjoyed they were. In fact, if I may be so bold, my assertion that these beers and their ilk are easily loveable by a wide range of palates when in the presence of complementary foods (most of which were based off suggestions made by the remarkably accessible brewers themselves) proved itself repeatedly throughout the tasting. Unfortunately, my capacity for inspired insight has been hamstrung by the crippling exhaustion begat by pulling this event off only to turn around and hit the ground running with a brutal day at work. Summer is officially over, as it were. My brain is mush.

Rather than try to go into detail while saddled with the writing panache of a court reporter on traffic infraction duty, for now I'll simply leave you with this: A copy of the menu, and a gallery of images taken from the afternoon.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't extend a very special thanks to everyone for their involvement: Alex for *ahem* singlehandedly helping in the galley, Dave for suggesting the Allagash Interlude, JJ for paying her entry with a bottle of Isabelle Proximus, Jesse for taking all the photos, all the others for coming from far and wide to take a chance on an event that was undeniably experimental, and Des for finding the perfect apple tree. As apprehensive as we were going into yesterday, I think the question is not "if" we'll do it again, but "what" and "when".

Update: Peter has gone through the trouble to post a vividly detailed analysis of the proceedings. Thank you!

Update #2: JJ's gone ahead and posted a recap that includes some interesting opinion on the "wild ale" designation (along with the two "unofficial" tastes that concluded the day which were nothing less than spectacular.)

Update #3: Even Alex is getting into the act. Crazy Zen-themed recap action!

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Reminder: The new American mavericks tasting session

Just a quick reminder to all y'all adventurous Bay Area beer enthusiasts that the premiere Pfiff! beer and food tasting is coming up in two weeks - Sunday, August 17 - and there are a few spots at the table still remaining. More about the event can be found here. Whether you're a confirmed Brett-head or haven't the slightest clue what that even means, if you're in or around San Francisco and have a hankering for the wild side of new American brewing, you might want to join us.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Introducing the premiere Pfiff! beer and food tasting: The new American mavericks

In what promises to be the first of many, edutainingly inebriate gatherings of the local beer faithful, we're proud to announce "The new American mavericks", an afternoon of tastings and food pairings based around the subject of American wild ale.

"Maverick" is a term I could be accused of prancing out on stage more often than it's welcome, but in the case of these beers, fermented by blends of microflora outside of the realm of traditional beer yeast, oftentimes in vessels that contribute their own degree of mysterious inoculation, in conditions that, while closely monitored, are subject to enough happenstance to warrant the results as wild, it seems a fitting title. Mr. Samuel Maverick was a Texas rancher whose attitude towards his cattle was particularly lax: the unchecked breeding of his livestock left for a notable concern of unbranded cattle set to pasture around the ranch lands south of San Antonio. Luckily for his descendants, though, his last name dodged the colloquial connotation of "a completely lethargic sloth", and instead got the more positive spin of showing the "independence of thought or action" of "a non-conformist or rebel." And these beers demonstrate, above all else, independence of thought and certainly trebelliousness. Although rooted in Belgian techniques, the results are unmistakably American, and, thanks to the often challenging profile of these beers, require a somewhat independent spirit on the taster's part as well.

Distinguished in part by hand-numbered batches, public brewers' logs with details by vintage, dusty, dank barrel rooms inhabited by all manner of wild yeasty beasties, and dense, funky flavor profiles that take years to develop and are not always fit for the faint of heart, the modern American wild ale is not only deserved of some deeper attention by the beer enthusiast public, but by any who enjoy the interplay between fine food and drink. Let's try some together, shall we?

The tentative date, pending guest availability, is Sunday, August 17, 3:00 p.m., and the location will be in the city of San Francisco. The cost for the tasting will almost certainly be $25, unless something completely spectacular happens and I have to jimmy the price up to $30, at which point it will be totally worth it or I'll give you your $5 back.

If you would like to reserve a spot, or have any questions, please email me at . More details to come in the following weeks...

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Friday, June 06, 2008

The Session #16 - Ach! to beer fests

Before we get started here, a big thanks first and foremost to Geistbear for hosting this month's Session in light of the wildly blossoming writer base that's created a round-up task that's anything but quick (and for a time-lapse history of that bloom, Brookston's been keeping tab). The topic at hand, what with summer's outdoor venues calling from the edge of weather's horizon, is the beer festival, a topic that reflects the evolution of this blogging carnival from its origins as a outlet for collectivized tasting notes, into some more embiggened notions regarding beer's cultural influence, its place in the world. Or at least, this time, its place in the world of jockey-boxes, teensy tasting glasses, overpriced sausages, and blues bands with groan-inducing punny names. So maybe it's only as cerebral as you want it to be.

Considering I haven't got a worldly experience in festing to share, you'd think there wouldn't be much material for me to work from. A few previous drafts of this post, ranging in the ballpark of 1,200 words or so, have been quietly filed away, proving that a true rambleholic like yours truly can spin garbage out of the most meager thread. These were overlong, achingly painful drafts that reminded me what kind of abhorrent writing can spawn from the queasy marriage of a little guilt and a little more bitterness. Perhaps I'll air that dirty laundry on some other slow news day, but today, while the sun is out and I'm wearing my cleanly optimistic underpants, we'll just turn the subject to a quick reflection of the closest event at hand, our quaint, charming, and undeniably local Fairfax Brewfest.

Why so blue?*

Despite what might outwardly appear as an unrestrained obsession with all things beer-related, I'm not hugely hot on the festing thing, and this is actually the sole event in honor of malty comestibles I've managed to attend more than once. And why not? Something tells me that if every small town had an annual festival held in the environs of a historic building with ample patio space, under some of the first sunshine of the early spring, where you could relaxedly catch up with the locals while gawking at the out-of-towners, grilled brat in hand, you might not even need the beer to make it worthwhile. Add a bottomless glass (which regrettably needs to be manually replenished every four ounces or so) to the equation, and it's nearly a sure bet.

Thing is, for all the boy-howdy charm you can rustle up at a festival of this microtude, the stuff that gets poured from all those soda kegs is more often than not identical to a really good local bottle & draught list, but that's not the point (and matters little considering those beers are, for the most part, pretty gosh darned good). Depending on the economic climate, anywhere between 15 and 20 breweries make their appearances with a handful of varieties each, generally within comfortable West Coast standards, mostly local-ish and absent of anything wickedly highbrow. The concept of gourmet grazing was born of foodie thinking, and while there are some snob points to be earned - doing side-by-sides of local IPAs, seeking out that secret hidden gem amidst the field of cloned pale ales - this is not the place to whip out the monocle and moleskin. Events such as the Fairfax Brewfest seem to be from a time before every party needed a theme, some self-validating motif that grants the attendees fair excuse to have a little fun for a change.

Fun, along with good, honest enjoyment of the act of drinking craft beer, seems to be a lesser sibling in the family of beer writing, alongside its more popular, extreme-sports brother, the brainy, Ivy League-bound, tweedy brother, and the exotic international exchange student. Another reason why each small town ought to host a similar event, where by the fourth or so taste of whoozit's pale ale, you notice yourself smiling stupidly despite of yourself, even when your kid's trying to grab your full glass out of your hand?

* Stupid manual exposure settings.

[Help me out here, though. When I dial down the snark-o-matic, is this even worth reading? Would you rather hear some poor schmuck on the soapbox about the pitiful luck a genuine beer enthusiast has at chancing upon anything awe-inspiring in terms of actual, honest to goodness, pure liquid beer at one of these things? No, no. I'm sorry, I digress. Back out into the sun.]

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Can the circle be unbroken?

It was bound to happen at some point: A photo by a beer blogger of another beer blogger who happens to be taking a photo (of beer!) while sitting next to yet another drink blogger, only to be published on (you guessed it!) another beer blog.

From Bill Brand's What's On Tap site, I give you the following ghostly image:

It's an uncanny apparition in reference to the piece I wrote about that stellar evening, and how it spawned a discussion regarding beer writing in the context of the direction of this particular blog. (Also note Des' sneaky move on the cheese plate while I was distracted by the panoply of beer glasses in front of me.) If there isn't a better portrayal of the little conundrum I find tickling away in the back of my mind about the increasingly crowded field of beer writing, Pfiff!'s role within that community, and the "inside baseball" nature of this chosen hobby, I haven't yet seen it.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Dogfish Head to Toronado

There will doubtless be a dozen-odd posts over the next week about the day Sam Calagione showed up in San Francisco to deliver buckets upon buckets of his truly divine elixirs down the throats of a previously Dogfish Head-less town. And while I failed yet again to catch the attention of either Jay or Bill to ask, "Hey, is there anything about tonight that you're not going to talk about, or any photos from this event that you're not going to post?", the fact that I even had the urge to approach them like that (yes, Jay, that was me tapping you on the back while you were trying to scoot out; yes, Bill, that was me trying to introduce myself while you were taking my picture) speaks to the inner conversation I've been having lately, pretty much ever since I relit all the burners on this blog earlier this year after a bit of a hiatus, a conversation that could be summed up thusly: "What exactly am I writing about, again?"

The online beer writing scene has never felt as crowded as it does now, reminiscent in some ways to the sweaty wall of bodies three-deep at the bar last night*, of and while I recently posited that I'd lost my touch, I'm now prepared to consider that there was never much of a touch to misplace. What scared me was when I noticed that a blog I started under the pretense of having a place to post quick thoughts on beer and brewing and links to fun articles in the interest of reducing the amount of spammy instant messages I was sending to my friends was veering dangerously into the beerblog infested waters of an ocean of news-ish sites, trigger-happy with the ctrl+c ctrl+v , press releases at the ready, daily updates on current events, etc. etc. - stuff you can literally read on a million or so websites at this point - and that's only if you're too lazy to subscribe to the email announcement lists that generate all the content in the first place. It's time to pull this ship starboard and head for less crowded waters, methinks...

But first, a diversion of sorts:

Before anything else, I want to say a quick something about this guy, a man who I've sort of pseudo-idolized, teased, and made the subject of a faux brewer-man-crush over the past couple of years: Dude's for real. Not only would the brewer who's almost single-handedly responsible for the current level of respect this country's culinary critics have levied on craft brewing pose with a crazed, multi-grinned weirdo like myself for a photo (Des nudged me, "Tell him you have a beer blog so he doesn't think you're a complete lunatic," likely noticing I was reeking of eau de crazy stalker guy) - amidst his biggest debutante ball on the West Coast nonetheless - but never even flinched when I kept returning to tap him on the shoulder to ask the *stupidest* questions ("What the hell is in this?") throughout the evening like a preschooler needing to go to the bathroom, each time graciously replying with a smile and complete attention, regardless. So thanks, Sam, for being such a gracious host, even on the tail end of a whirlwind of a week. (David even had him running around the bar serving the cheeses, for chrissakes.)

While I'm at it, releasing myself from the dirty job of responsible beer blogging, I'll let Alex over at Drink A Week handle the mouth-watering poetic details, and simply list the initial reactions to last night's draft list by memory (mostly thanks to Des and her golden sniffer):

2006 Chateau Jiahu - A truly exciting historical recreation that makes you reflect on just how narrow our currently defined expectations of beer really are. Fruity, grape-y, with hints of sweet sake and wheat, it was again surprisingly balanced and easily drinkable, a trait that seems to be high on the list of Sam's philosophical priorities. These are "extreme" beers in a sense that doesn't allude to them being punishing to the senses, but in that they stretch all the boundaries of the brewing lexicon. Truly eye-opening.

2007 Olde School Barleywine - Again, they've pulled off a real high-wire act and a feat in balance - a balance that doesn't just line up equal amounts of malt and hops side-by-side, but a balance that's fully three-dimensional in the marriage of the sweetness and bitterness. I would've guessed this to be a well-aged example purely based off it's mellowness, but alas. Built on elements of bourbon and cognac, cherries, white sugar, and with a slightly boozy aroma, Alex and I compared it to a nice old fashioned.

2007 Immort Ale -This one was a challenge, a complex barleywine-style ale skeleton clothed in the most elusive taste components and with a uniquely resinous mouthfeel. Des pegged it right off the bat: moldy cheese. Gorgonzola. It was as if they put together one of my favorite pairings together in a glass.

Midas Touch Golden Elixir - Just barely effervescent, the archetype of the historical recreation brewing movement was very sweet and fruity, with a beguiling aroma with hints of both jasmine and marzipan. Not nearly as funky as I was expecting (not funky at all, actually), but very wine-y and pleasant.

90 Minute IPA - The fabled "continuously hopped" India pale ale, one for which I'd prepared my palate by warning it ahead of time about its IBU level hovering near the human threshold for bitterness. The real shock to the palate, though, was how stunningly balanced it actually was, with a malt backbone that perfectly meshed with the hops so that the end result was nothing shy of ambrosial, the floral quality of the hops blending with the sweetness of the grain to create the effect of warm, fragrant honeysuckle.

Palo Santo Marron - Their newest release was the least uniquely individual and stand-out of the bunch, surprisingly, this dark brown ale aged on palo santo wood was more one-dimensional than the others - big roasted barley taste, smooth and surprisingly light in character and body. In any other line-up, it would surely shine, I'm sure, but its older siblings here raised the stakes just a *little* too high.

Put those beers together with some nice cheeses, a hugely enthusiastic crowd, and - of course - sausages, and you've pretty much put Rob in heaven. There are details of the event that I imagine will be left out by all the other writers in their haste to pound out the definitive wrap-up piece, but rather than sniff out those crumbs, I'll just end transmission here.

Back on Earth, the nagging beer-blogging question remains. Whither Pfiff!? If you want the local inside scoop with great photo galleries, you've got Brookston's bulletin, if you want stomach-growl-inducing event write-ups, head over to Jessica's Thirsty Hopster site, and if you want the best tap list and store shelf updates, subscribe to Bill's blog over at Inside Bay Area**.

But, perhaps, just maybe, if you're looking for vignettes like this -
"God, we're only halfway down the street and I can already smell the Toronado vomit smell."

"I know! Isn't it great!"
- you might consider adding Pfiff! to your newsfeed. I share because I care. I expect the tone of the site will probably be changing over the next few weeks while searching out that niche to which this little Pfiff! of mine is best suited to attend. Thanks to all the great beer writers out there who continue to raise the bar and make all this readin', writin' and imbibin' so very much fun to do.

* A sweaty wall of bodies three-deep who could also all speak intelligently on the topic of craft beer, which is something out of a mind-bending alternate universe I never thought could exist.

**There are plentiful others (see that blogroll on the right?) that I'm probably going to regret not name-checking in this post.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bear flag domination at World Beer Cup

Okay, the hyperbole is fun and all, but here's the winner's list, for kicks:

AleSmith Brewing Co., Vintage AleSmith Old Numbskull, Aged Beer (Ale or Lager), Gold
AleSmith Brewing Co., AleSmith Decadence, Old Ale, Gold
Alpine Beer Co., Ichabod, Experimental Beer (Lager or Ale), Gold
Alpine Beer Co., McIlhenney's Irish Red, Irish-Style Red Ale, Silver
Anderson Valley Brewing Co., Brother David's Double, Belgian-Style Dark Strong Ale, Bronze
Black Diamond Brewing Co., Belgian Blonde, Belgian-Style Pale Ale, Silver
Elk Grove Brewery and Restaurant, Bock Lager, Traditional German-Style Bock, Gold
Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Firestone Extra Pale Ale, Other Low Strength Ale or Lager, Gold
Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Nectar IPA, American-Style Strong Pale Ale, Silver
Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Union Jack IPA, American-Style India Pale Ale, Silver
Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Velvet Merkin, Oatmeal Stout, Bronze
Green Flash Brewing Co., Hop Head Red, American-Style Amber/Red Ale, Gold
Iron Springs Pub & Brewery, Sless' Stimulating Stout, Oatmeal Stout, Gold
Marin Brewing Co., San Quentin's Breakout Stout, Foreign (Export)-Style Stout, Silver
Marin Brewing Co., Tiburon Blonde, Belgian- and French-Style Ale, Bronze
Marin Brewing Co., Star Brew, American-Style Wheat Wine Ale, Bronze
Newport Beach Brewing Co., Elmer's Reserve, Wood- and Barrel-aged Strong Beer, Silver
Oggi's Pizza & Brewing Co. - San Clemente, McGarveys Scottish Ale, Scottish-Style Ale, Gold
Pizza Port - Carlsbad, Poor Man's IPA, Imperial or Double India Pale Ale, Silver
Pizza Port - Carlsbad, Sticky Stout, American-Style Stout, Bronze
Pizza Port - Carlsbad, Night Rider Imperial Stout, American-Style Imperial Stout, Bronze
Port Brewing Co. and The Lost Abbey, Cuvee de Tomme, Wood- and Barrel-aged Sour Beer, Gold
Port Brewing Co. and The Lost Abbey, Red Poppy, Belgian-Style Flanders/Oud Bruin or Oud Red Ale, Silver
Port Brewing Co. and The Lost Abbey, Brouwer's Imagination Series Saison, Other International Ale, Bronze
Port Brewing Co. and The Lost Abbey, Veritas 002, Experimental Beer (Lager or Ale), Bronze
Rubicon Brewing Co., Winter Wheatwine, American-Style Wheat Wine Ale, Gold
Russian River Brewing Co., Salvation, Belgian-Style Dark Strong Ale, Gold
Russian River Brewing Co., Temptation, Wood- and Barrel-aged Sour Beer, Silver
Sacramento Brewing Co., Red Horse Ale, American-Style Amber/Red Ale, Bronze
San Diego Brewing Co., Hopnotic IPA, Imperial or Double India Pale Ale, Gold
Schooner's Grille & Brewery, Old Diablo, Barley Wine-Style Ale, Gold
Schooner's Grille & Brewery, Irish Stout, Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout, Bronze
Stone Brewing Co., Stone Pale Ale, Extra Special Bitter or Strong Bitter, Bronze
Third Street AleWorks, Blarney Sisters Dry Irish Stout, Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout, Gold
Trumer Brauerei Berkeley, Trumer Pils, German-Style Pilsener, Gold

Links and commentary to come, after I've had a cup of coffee...

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Congratulations, Vinnie!

In a bit of Bay Area craft brewing news, local boy Vinnie Cilurzo was awarded the “Russell Schehrer Award For Innovation In Craft Brewing” at the World Beer Cup in San Diego today. All the more reason to celebrate tonight with a bottle of Temptation (if you haven't drank your allotted single bottle already, that is). All hail the supremacy of the Bay Area craft brewing movement!

PS - And what? A Toronado in San Diego? Hwa?

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bilocation Monday

Not to give too much of a Catholic slant to today's posts, but there's no way I'm going the cheesy pop music reference on this one. This coming weekend is the annual fabled Cathedral Hill beer dinner, which means that the City will be crawling with some of our country's finest brewers over the next few days as they bask in the glow of getting the gourmet food pairing treatment they richly deserve, one that's characteristically reserved for vintners. The upshot for folks like me who neglected to get tickets to the quickly sold-out dinner is that we'll be treated to some other events while they recuperate around the Bay Area on Monday. Of course, that also means you have to somehow be in two places at once, if you want to hit the two best parties.

In this corner! Rob Tod, brewer for the consistently outstanding Allagash brewery in Portland, Maine, is hosting a (sold out?) tasting at the Trappist in Oakland, featuring the following libations:

Barrel-Aged - Musette
Barrel-Aged - Odyssey
Série d'Origine - Interlude addition to:

- Allagash White
- Allagash Curieux (served with eggplant and goat cheese focaccia & turkey and gouda cream biscuit)
- Black (served with Fleur Verte herbed goat cheese plate & almond fig cake)
- Allagash ?? Tripel aged in oak with the Rosalaere culture (unnamed unreleased beer)
(served with a Roth Kase Braukase Trappist Style cheese plate)
- Allagash Four (served with a flourless chocolate tort)

And in the other corner! Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head Brewing's founder, will be loading the jukebox at Toronado with NWOBHM before pulling out some Olde Beer & Moldy Cheese at 6:00 p.m. to celebrate DFH finally making its way into Bay Area taprooms. It's not sold out, but just because they're not selling tickets, making for a mosh pit of a tasting, for sure. Featuring nothing less than:

- 2007 Olde School Barleywine with Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddar
- 2007 Immort Ale with Isle of Mull Cheddar
- 2006 Chateau Jiahu with Berkswell

And while it's not quite the litany of beverages you'd get to sample with Mr. Tod, the fact that you couldn't even get your hands on these wickedly rare beers in San Francisco unless you agreed to sell your soul (and a bottle of Temptation) on a beer trading site is why we're going to be suggesting Motörhead and the boar sausage instead of hitting the Maze on April 21st. A recap, complete with photos of me licking Sam Calagione's beautiful face, are certain to follow.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Boontling for bloochin' harpers

The next notable brewfest of Northern California, the Boonville Beer Festival, is nearly upon us, which is good enough reason to comment briefly (and shaggishly) on the near-extinct dialect of the region, the somewhat disputed* language of Boontling. If you're a come-on boy looking to barney an apple-head while tasting aplenty bahl steinber horn come this May, it would pay to bone up on your Boont yebbelow lest you want to look like a real tally-whacker.

The Anderson Valley, a bucolic, pastoral appellation that runs east to west through southern Mendocino county near the coast, was historically isolated enough that it harbored its own unique character, as well as a contact language that's been described as a pidgin-English reputedly borrowing from Scottish Gaelic and Irish, and some Pomoan and Spanish. The irony won't be lost on devotees of Hop Ottin' IPA that some believe this language developed likely while locals did business with the Native Americans and other European settlers while establishing their hops farming industry. The other (and probably more plausible) origin story of Boontling ascertains that it was a sort of pig Latin for the kids of the area, a highly stylized slang used to speak in code around adults (ignited by a dude named Squirrel, nonetheless). This would explain both the short lifespan of the language as well as its popularity amongst the contemporary anti-establishment counterculture that pervades this part of the world.

Sadly, the most thorough chronicler of the language may have taken the unpublished secrets of Boontling with her to the grave, as Myrtle Rawles passed away in 1988, and her husband, Austin, a noted source for her book on the subject, died in 1969, just three years after Boontling: The Strange Boonville Language ($42, anyone?) was published. Thankfully, copies of her writings still exist, and the Anderson Valley Museum and Anderson Valley Brewing (not to mention Mendocino Middle School!) are doing their part to ensure that we pickem ups can sharpen our noch harpin'.

Here's wishing you all a slow lope'n a beeson tree Friday!

* The whole "beer" thing is a total prank, though.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

In honor of our beloved brewdogs

In the same way that the lambic brewers of Pajottenland consider the spiders that take care of housekeeping duties in their brewhouses throughout the summer as totemic good luck critters, it could be that in the breweries and wineries of the Pacific coast, it's dogs that deserve that role.

And it's a darn shame that floods and fires (not to mention systemic yuppification) have kept Rogue away from its origins in Ashland, since there's pretty much no way (sorry, Sierra) that I'm driving all the way to Newport to enjoy this brewfest in memorial honor of John Maier's singularly awesome brewdog, Brewer. Check it out:

I didn't even check on the site, but have to imagine that alongside the 50-odd craft beers they'll have on tap (and dog dancing?!) they'll be pouring some of this for our loyal companions.

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