Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Session #73: Not Necesarily Better with Age

For this month's Session, Adam over at Pints and Pubs asks us to itemize all the beers in our cellars, set aside to age, and asks us to indulge in a bit of navel gazing to consider how our beer collections reflect our drinking preferences. 

So here goes.  In my beer cellar are:

That's it.

I expect this is going to be one of the shortest lists for the session.  It's worth noting that the overwhelming majority of beer does not improve with age, and only a tiny minority of beer drinkers cellar any beer at all.  And so my meager two bottle list is tiny by the standards of beer geekdom, well over 99% of the world's beer drinkers have put away less than three bottles to age.

Jeffers Richardson, looking very un-mad scientist-like,
explaining how he creates his world class barrel-aged beers
These statistics aside, my short three bottle list indicates that while I'm pretty fanatical about beer, cellaring beer is not something I get too excited about.  I realized this most recently during an event at Harry's Hofbrau in San Jose, where the acclaimed Firestone-Walker Barrelmeiser Jeffers Richardson spoke to a small handful of local beer enthusiasts about Fireston-Walker's Barrelworks Program.

Self-described as a brewing mad scientist, Jeffers Richardson calmly spoke about the unpredictable barrel aging process, as well as art of blending different barrel aged beers to create the wonderfully layered complex intensity beers like Parabola, Velvet Mirken, and XVI Anniversary Ale that are often further cellared by beer aficionados.  As Fireston-Walker's original brewmaster, it was clear over the course of the evening that Richardson forgets more about brewing in a week than most brewers learn in a lifetime.  He carefully, yet enthusiastically answered everyone's questions, even a couple of the dumb ones.  The evening was easily one of the more fascinating learning experiences I've ever had on beer and the samples Harry's Hofbrau graciously supplied of Richardson's highly in-demand brewing creations were every bit as intense and flavorful as the hype.

And yet, as world class as these beers are, they just aren't beers I would drink very often.  My preferences happen to lean towards the "sessionable" edge of the beer spectrum, and also think there's nothing better than a recently bottled IPA where the fresh hops sing,  something that is totally lost whenever beer is aged.  It's odd, feeling a certain indifference to beers lots of people spend considerable effort to seek out and rave about, but I guess that's just the way I am.

Sure, they are special occasion where I'd happily break out a bottle of Parabola to share with family and friends.  The thing is, special occasions only happen once in a great while.  After all, if they happened more often, then they wouldn't be special.

Jeffers Richardson, with his back to us, holding court in
San Jose's Harry's Hofbrau

Monday, February 25, 2013

Beer of the Month: Budweiser Black Crown

Budweiser Black Crown with one of my favorite
books on world altering events.
The fall of the Roman Empire.  The sinking of the Titanic.  Tearing down the Berlin Wall.  To these historic events which shattered the earth to its core, we now add the release of a Budweiser Black Crown.
I'm not exaggerating.  (OK, maybe just a bit.) For nearly two centuries, Budweiser served as the icon of light lagers, held up as the highest example of the clear, refreshing, easy-drinking standard for beer. This shining beacon has lead the way for all those who shun the unpronounceable foreign imports, funny looking craft brews and simply want a cold one. Brewed by some of the worlds finest brewers, Budweiser has survived Prohibition, two world wars, and countless battles for decades with similarly deep pocketed brewing rivals both here and abroad who dared challenge its supremacy.

And now a lightly roasted malt tarnish has soiled this American classic as a result of a sales tactic that seems as cunningly conceived as it is desperate.

Is Black Crown Budweiser's "Nixon to China" Moment?
As many of you know, so called "craft" beer sales are growing, beer sales from big industrial giants are declining.  While the typical craft brewer produces less beer each years that one of Budweiser's twelve US breweries produces in a couple days, all these little Davids are nipping away at the Budweiser Goliath with consumers slowly turning away from light lagers to dark yellow, orange, brown, and black beers with complex malts and hops in them. It's apparently gotten to the point where even Budweiser could no longer pretend it wasn't happening and had to do something to recapture lost market share.

They held a competition called Project 12 with their twelve brewmasters who each concocted their own little twist on the tried and true Budweiser formula. The winner was Los Angeles brewmaster Bryan Sullivan with his lightly roasted take on Bud, which according to the marketing folks, was a hit in taste tests all over the country. So Budweiser launched Black Crown with great fanfare and of course, ran commercials heralding its arrival during the Super Bowl.

What would Karl Marx think about Budweiser's
capitalistic ambitions with toasted malt to
recapture the beer drinking proletariat?
Having picked up a six pack and tried it, I have to say the light caramel malts meld with the traditional green apple flavor to produce an interesting light caramel apple flavor.  It's interesting, but probably not something I'm going back to. If forced to choose between traditional Budweiser and Black Crown, I'd reach for a Black Crown.

There lies the dark ominous cloud Black Crown may hold in store for Budweiser.  Budweiser may be very well providing a gateway beer for their own customers to discover the greater possibilities other breweries already provide. For so long, Budweiser has staunchly held up their light lager as the highest standard of American beer that the release of Black Crown isn't just a brand line extension. It's like Rush Limbaugh conceding President Obama has a good idea or two.

So as Budweiser reaches out to bring wayward beer drinkers back into its grip with Black Crown, it may be unwittingly sowing the seeds of its own destruction, relegating itself to the dustbin of history. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Is the South Bay Beer Scene Shedding its Inferiority Complex?

Maybe the South Bay is no longer the beer desert it once was
One event I made sure to attend during SF Beer Week was the Hermitage Brewing Beer Dinner at Scott's Seafood in Mountain View. When I finished the dinner, pushing aside my dessert plate I sat there struggling to figure out just what I should write about it.  Writing about beer dinners seems like an almost pointless task to me.  I just sort of wing it when it comes to food criticism and since few, if any of my readers attended, and the dinner was over, never to be repeated.  The food was good, the Hermitage Beer was definitely good, and my wife and I enjoyed it.  What more is there to say?

Hermitage's Ale of the 2 Tun Imperial Stout and
Scott's Seafood's Molten Lava Cake 
That didn't stop me from thinking.  Clearly San Jose's Hermitage Brewing, the featured brewery of the night is putting out plenty of strong beers on the strong side of the ale spectrum after only three years in existence.  The smooth, malty complexity of their Maltopia, the bright tropical flavors of their single hop  Galaxy IPA, and their dry, bitter chocolate bomb of 2 Tun Imperial Stout are as good as any beers you'll find from the Bay Area.

And Hermitage isn't the only notable brewery to emerge from the South Bay recently.  While Hermitage strives to make the big beers, Strike Brewing, barely over a year old has gone in the opposite direction with their excellent Session Series.   And of course, in recent years, Steve Donohue won no less than four GABF medals at Sunnyvale's Firehouse Brewing before leaving late last year to start his own brewery, Santa Clara Valley Brewing which hopefully will come on line before the end of the year. 

With these South Bay breweries come a number of great new venues to enjoy craft beer.  There are gastropubs Liquid Bread in Campbell and Original Gravity in Downtown San Jose, both less than a year old.  In the last three years, California Cafe at both its Palo Alto and Los Gatos locations has established their brewmaster's dinner series, featuring inspired pairings of food with beer from some of of the finest breweries in California.  Harry's Hofbrau in San Jose, an old school German buffet restaurant is an unlikely place to find a great tap selection and it has been hosting a number special events devoted to craft breweries, a development that's started there about a year ago.  The Yardhouse the opened a couple years ago in San Jose's swanky Santana Row Mall, and yes, it's slick and corporate, but you can get some mighty fine beer there.  And we even have an honest to goodness independent bottle shop now with Jane's Beer Store in Downtown Mountain that opened last summer.  There's probably some new place I'm forgetting.

The South Bay has long been consider a weak sister to the nearby craft brewing epicenters of San Francisco, Santa Rosa, and the East Bay, but has anyone noticed this recent acceleration of craft beer culture in the South Bay? 

Well maybe. Five years ago, the  general buzz amidst beer geekdom was "The South Bay Beer Scene sucks".  None other than the late Bay Area beer writer Bill Brand regretfully declared the South Bay "a beer desert" shortly before he passed away.    Then a couple years ago, you could find grudging admissions that a couple of good beers could be found down here. 

And today?  Maybe it's just me but you hardly hear anyone complaining about the beer scene in the South Bay anymore. Instead, people are just enjoying it.  Isn't that the way it should be?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


There are many great looking SF Beer Week Beer Events in the South Bay.   One  that look particularly promising comes this Friday to Harry's Hofbrau in San Jose.  Check out the press release below.  A map to Harry's Hofbrau in San Jose can be found here
One of California’s most acclaimed barrel-aged beers is set to be deconstructed as Firestone Walker Brewing Company and Harry’s Hofbrau in San Jose present “The Roots of XVI,” a one-of-a-kind tasting of the rare component beers that were blended to create Firestone Walker’s XVI Anniversary Ale.
The doors open at 6 p.m. No tickets or reservations are required. Guests can simply come and purchase samples as they wish.
This SF Beer Week event will be hosted by Jeffers Richardson, director of Firestone Walker’s new Barrelworks facility, which is dedicated to barrel-aged wild beers and strong ales.
The Chop on XVI…
XVI is the seventh release in Firestone Walker’s anniversary series, dating back to the release of the inaugural anniversary release called “Ten” in 2006.
Every year, local Paso Robles winemakers gather with the brewing team to taste through a variety of strong ales and determine the final blend. This year, the result was XVI, which was composed of 226 barrels spanning eight diverse components.
“Dozens of notebooks, hundreds of questions and countless beers have refined our approach to creating the best flavors possible through barrel aging,” says Brewmaster Brynildson. “Then we step back and let our winemaker friends help us put the final puzzle together. This year, the result is XVI—our finest achievement to date.”
At “The Roots of XVI,” the puzzle will be pulled back apart, and guests will savor these rare component pieces and learn about the art of blending. The featured component ales are:
Velvet Merkin / Aged in Bourbon Barrels
-Traditional Oatmeal Stout
Double DBA / Aged in retired Firestone Union Barrels
-Double strength English Pale Ale
Parabola / Aged in Bourbon Barrels
-Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout
Helldorado / Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels
-Blonde Barley Wine
Bravo / Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels
-Imperial Brown Ale
Wookey Jack / 100% Stainless Steel
-Black Rye India Pale Ale

Monday, February 11, 2013

This probably isn't the article the makers of "Boobzies" had in mind

Amanda Boobzie in her
"Just Hang Out" shirt.
As a beer blogger, I get maybe 10-15 e-mails a day from breweries and marketing firms promoting beers, beer events, and beer related products hoping I'll write about them.  Usually, I can tell just from the subject line if I'll have any interest.  So the other day, when an e-mail landed in my inbox with the subject line "BEER ACCESSORY PITCH: Boobzie: Man's Perfect Coozie!", I did not have high expectations for its contents, but of course had to take a look.

The message cheerfully opened with  "Hi!  For your upcoming stories, please consider Boobzie, a line of voluptuous coozies for canned and bottled beverages. Boobzie is the perfect accessory for any guy's hand looking to keep their drink cold and fun!"  As you can see from the picture to the right, the product really has to be seen to be believed.  That's right, they're selling beer coozies shaped as busty female torsos adorned with supposedly clever breast related puns.
Go to the company's website and you'll find no fewer than 24 different Boobzies, an astonishing level of creativity for what seems like a highly one note product.  I should warn if you mistakenly add an "s" to "Boobzie" and go to "", you'll end up at a completely different website also featuring women's breasts but leaving a lot less to the imagination.  
All the Boobzies even have names.  There's a Boobzie called Wanda, wearing a shirt saying "U Can't Touch This", while Amanda Boobzie displays "Just Hang Out".  Then there's the athletic soccer playing Samira Boobzie sporting a shirt saying "World Cups", while Becky Boobzie displays the simple and direct message "Boobalicious". 
Now as a heterosexual male, I've been a fan of voluptuous female breasts ever since the day my hormones kicked in at the age of twelve.   But fondling synthetic breasts made of insulating material while I hold onto a beer seems to take this appreciation a bit too far.  A Boobzie just doesn't seem like the accessory that's going help make me appear more "classy".  And of course, there will be those outraged by the concept, complaining these "women" certainly have breasts but lack both a brain and a face.  
But let be said that each Boobzie is more than just a pair of big breasts. Each one has an actual personality.  As the e-mail goes on to explain, "Each Boobzie girl comes with an entertaining back story and fun facts such as:
· Hobbies
· Likes
· Dislikes
· Education
· Favorite Color
· Favorite Food
· Relationship Status
One can only imagine what a Boozie personality is actually like, but it's a safe bet the target audience of Boobzies won't find these personalities particularly challenging or complex.
As anyone would easily predict, the female publicist of Boobzies had no interest engaging in a discussion of gender issues raised by this product.  When I responded to her e-mail asking, "As a woman, how do you honestly think and feel about this product?" she gamely wrote back, "I think it's a fun little accessory that lightens up my day and my mood! I have never seen anything like it and think it's unique." 
Fair enough.  I just hope she believes there's no such thing as bad publicity.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The 4th Annual SF Beer Week Beer Run is in the Books! Thanks to all!

Beer Runners taking a short rest and milling
around the turn-around point at Vasona Dam. 
(Photo by Bryan Kolesare of
The 4th Annual SF Beer Week Beer Run is in the books!  After three years in San Francisco, the run headed to the South Bay in Los Gatos, and we were fortunate to enjoy some awesome running weather as we ran along the Vasona Creek Trail.  It was also great to see Beer Run Co-founder Bryan Kolesar make it for the run,  all the way from Philadelphia as he was in town for many of the SF Beer Week Festivities.  Many thanks to Strike Brewing and C.B. Hannegan's for their great help and support.  And I'm especially thankful for all the participants, who created a spirit of friendship and generosity that always seems to coalesce whenever runners get together.  We raised over $100 for Autism Speaks and 2nd Harvest Food Bank and proved beer running is alive and well in the South Bay!  Can't wait until next year!

Update:  Bryan Kolesar has posted a number of Beer Run pictures online (as well as others from his travels that day) you can find here.  You just might find a picture of yourself.

Yours truly giving final run instructions before we all hit the course.
(Photo by Bryan Kolesar of

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Can Van, and a Peter Slosberg's Latest Beer Venture

I have to thank The Can Van CEO Jenn Coyle, JE Paino of Ruhstaller Beer, and Pete Slosberg of newly formed Maverick's Beer for their time and insights for the latest article I wrote for Adventure Sports Journal.  The Can Van is a mobile cannery serving the craft brewing industry, while Slosberg is partnering with Half Moon Bay Brewing on a line of session beers gear to the the outdoor set.  You can read the article on the Adventure Sports Journal website here.