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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Monday, July 14, 2008

The dichotomy of Supplication

Unraveling the twist of wire that cages a mushroomed mass of cork can quickly transport you to a supplicatory state, the capgun pop and curl of steam rising from a heavy bottle evoking a musty cellar, one rich and ripe with oak shavings, stained by acidic splashes of red wine, mysteries hidden behind dusty cobwebs, inviting a taste of toasted bread, tart cherries, slowly becoming engulfed in funky barnyard haze. There’s not denying the snob appeal of such a unique intoxicant. Demanding patience and attention, exclusionary beer with qualifiers of acquired taste ("You get used to it!") can naturally generate distrust.

Yet, this: The swell of a pushing crowd, the same fat cork flying above throngs of glasses amidst an elated cheer. Could it be? Amazing that, on the eve of a landmark announcement (the bottle release of their flagship IPA), this strange, wild, unorthodox brew would be the star attraction. A gamble that paid off, betting on good faith and camaraderie that our palates would come along for the ride, and would love it.

(This post was written in response to Stonch's call for concise reflections "on a beer": limited to 175 words, describing a tasting. I found it strenuous.)

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

WTF - Jolly Pumpkin's La Roja

A cat, in some sort of a swashbuckler or pirate costume, poses with a cunning, mischievous grin on his face while on board what one could only assume to be the schooner under his command, quite possibly christened La Roja. "Mahalo!" reads the label, Hawaiianly thanking me for giving this unique Jolly Pumpkin concoction a whirl. And oh, what a whirl. An amber, oak-aged (read: sour, not "oaky") bizarro-beer, this Belgian-inspired bit of madness comes from the obvious brewing mecca of Dexter, Michigan. And what's in a name, anyway? It's a joyous conundrum of weirdness that just begs the question of whether the contents of the bottle could possibly be as fun as the packaging and backstory.

Like the good people at Russian River, the Jolly Pumpkin folks post a bottle log containing release notes for each of their beers, giving consumers a hint at what to expect in terms of flavor, aging possibilities, and more, and as far as this batch is concerned: "Sherried barnyard funk" is right. This is a strange and wicked bit of brewing wizardry, this red cat is. Sour and fruity like a Flanders red, but way more dry, vinous and earthy than that, with a blending that's far more representative of the older barrels than the new, as in Rodenbach or Duchesse de Bourgogne, where the sweetness of the younger blends can make you believe there are cherries and currants floating in your glass. No, this is serious stuff, and brilliantly so. It's exactly what a barrel aged beer should taste like: worth cellaring, challenging to the palate, deeply rewarding once confronted, structured to match perfectly with fine cuisine, and richly nuanced enough to warrant 750 mL of tasting enjoyment. So to you, Captain Spooky Ron J (General Mischief Maker, chief squeegee operator), I say this: as weird as the voyage ahead appears, there will be no mutiny on La Roja. Lead the way.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Tasting notes - De Proef Reinaert

With Belgian beer month having just passed into fond memory - hence the low yield of of posts through the month of April, no excuses yet for May - it's a good time to reminisce about some of the wonderful imports (oh Silly, oh Bernardus, oh Troubadour!) that made their way through the taplines at Toronado last month. But amidst the panoply of wickedly rare beverages that found themselves settled comfortably in my ample belly, wild ales were conspicuously absent from the varietal line-up. Enter the fox!

De Proef Brouwerij's Reinaert belongs to that family of beers that's oft neglected when it comes time to celebrate the products of the world's finest artisinal brewing culture, simply because while those events take advantage of the opportunity to open their market to a new audience, they worry that said audience isn't properly prepared for THE FUNK.
The what, you say? In the same way your mother would have discouraged you from drinking milk from a carton you'd left on the radiator for a few days, most professional brewers would discourage the novice from letting their beer get fermented from whatever microorganisms just happen to be hanging out in the cobwebs of your brewhouse. But there are distinctions amongst the wildbrewers of the world regarding how and when they allow the funk to funktimify their creations, amongst those the Flemish being the most conservative (with the possible exception of the British wood-barrel brewers who probably don't consider themselves "wild" at all, yet whose beers undeniably reveal low levels of bacterial infection through a malolactic fermentation that slowly softens and horses [read as a verb] up the beer during aging).
The vulpine entry in De Proef's phenomenal Brewmaster's Collection (which features such other luminaries as an imperial saison and imperial wit) is no more offensive at first blush than a saison with hints of oak and a touch of sourness. As it warms in the glass and your senses open up to it, however, the deeply complex aromas of yeast become more apparent, but nowhere near the face-melting barnyard bonanza one would encounter from a straight up geueze.
Like a diplomat from the great funky beyond, Reinaert might just serve to open discussions with the American craft beer enthusiast with an invitation to take a walk on the [redacted: I just couldn't bring myself to write it].

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