The magic vessel goes onward – the Rare Barrel hands off pH1 to Purpose Brewing

Where in the world is the most famous sour beer aging vessel of all? Home again to the man who scrawled pH1 on the French wine barrel years ago!

Once upon a time, at the beginnings of American sour beer, six used wine barrels were purchased by Peter Broukeart, the Belgian brewmaster at a young Colorado brewery. He treated the six barrels differently, hoping to get a head start on the complex learning ahead. And he recruited a dedicated employee who had stepped in to start a sensory program for the fresh beers they were releasing, Lauren Salazar. She would tend the beers that went into the barrels and eventually choose the best beers to blend into a sour wood-aged beer for New Belgium Brewing Co.

160120_5353Two of those barrels, pre-acidified to start the process at a different pH level, were named pH1 and pH2. The pre-treatment may have been what made the pH1 barrel such a favorable micro environment, or maybe something magical had been alive in the wine that formerly filled it. The story of how Lauren came to see pH1 as her most reliable barrel – respectfully calling pH1 “her” rather than “it” – and how Peter gave the barrel away to Vinnie Cilurzo to benefit Russian River Brewing’s young sour program… and how it was later rediscovered and sent on the road… Well, it has become American brewing folklore. And yet it’s true.

We told more of the tale of how the wooden vessel had ended up at the Berkeley sour beer palace named for the story in this article a year and a half ago. Lauren and pH1 are at the center of the tale, and Peter is the least engaged with the emotional heart of the tale. But now that changes.

Yesterday, Jay Goodwin and Alex Wallash showed up at the new brewery co-owned by Peter Bouckaert, who left New Belgium earlier this year to start his own place, Purpose Brewing and Cellars. With a gift. The founders of The Rare Barrel brought pH1 back to the brewer who originally launched this barrel into barrel aging history.

IMG_0732(Photo thanks to the Rare Barrel)

Alex told us one of the best things was that Peter said someday he will pass this still exemplary and rare barrel forward.

It will be a little sad not seeing her in the stack at The Rare Barrel in Berkeley, but this barrel is as much about beer friendships as about beer making. Onward!

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Session Round-up: Hazy, Cloudy, Juicy: IPA’s strange twist 

The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an open community gathering where beer bloggers coordinate to write about a single topic. Each month, a different beer writer from around the world steps up to play host to the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up review of all of the submissions, for the benefit of participants and blog readers alike. You can find a log of all of The Sessions and get involved in future topics on Brookston Beer Bulletin. This is the wrap-up for #126.

I asked “What’s the deal with these beers?”  and then asserted,  “We’re going to find out together.” 

That may have been just a bit optimistic.  One thing I learned is that the controversy is still alive and well.  Also, much is still  — forgive me — unclear about the borders of this style, sub-style or deviation.

Let’s start with two short strong opinions.  Reuben Gray at Tale Of Ale started with a willingness to accept these beers but simply got bored and a little annoyed by the lack of good old bitterness. The bottom line? It’s ultimately a matter of preference. And looks still have an effect.  “Some of them also look like a glass of bile.”
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Jack Perdue expresses the view from the other side of the hazy divide at his Deep Beer blog. He does express a touch of appearance skepticism, with a theory about the common packaging choice for the style that has probably crossed a few minds hereabouts, but goes to on touch on the importance of appreciative beer drinking friends, the joy of beer discovery, and the innovations yet to come. “I love the way the beer scene has meandered. First traditional European beers, industrial beer (I don’t love that), IPAs, and hybrids (mixing of styles). So, New England IPAs is another joyful iteration in the crazy world of brewing beer. It is a wonderful time to be a beer drinker!

Also, for those watching established breweries jump on board or try to cash in, depending on your viewpoint and their success at it, he mentions two interesting adaptations in the US mid-Atlantic area.   teenyhopLOGO

Another notable marker for the current state of acceptance is that there is still intentional agnosticism about the characteristics and definitions in this realm of beers.  Stan Hieronymus is still learning about these beers, seeking science — including sensory science — on what is going on within them.  At Appellation Beer, Stan talks of leading a tasting of these beers alongside clear IPAs.  “The hazy beers were different, and excellent in their own way. Rather obviously brewers are learning to wring more out of odor compounds in hops and consumers are willing to pay for the experience. There’s more science to be figured out…”

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Toronto’s Gary Gillman at Beer Et Seq. asserts that a 40 year increase in acceptance of visual haze led to this style, based on a misunderstanding of the degree of clarity of a traditional “unfiltered” English ale.  “Unfiltered in English practice meant the beers were fined on cask to ensure a clear pint.” He sees these beers as simply another form of the American adaptation of the English IPA tradition that started with Anchor Liberty Ale and the Cascade hop, keeping these new beers within the family.

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One thing that’s impressive is that those in this iteration of the conversation who dislike these beers still seem to be open to liking something hazy if it satisfies.  Californian Derrick Peterman of Ramblings of a Beer Runner starts by saying he’s not a fan, then gives a shout-out to a Sante Adarius Rustic Ales for a hazy farmhouse IPA, and defends experimental brewing.  But he has no respect for slavish trend-followers.  “Call yourself a “craft brewer” all you want, but if you’re chasing fads by resorting to brewing gimmicks like using flour or generating excessive yeast and grain in suspension, you’ve lost any right to claim you’re brewing with honesty, integrity and a passion for brewing excellence, even if you slap the Brewers Association Independence Seal on your label.”   teenyhopLOGO

At Mark Ciocco’s Kaedrin blog, yeast is the thing.  Appearance is secondary to the flavors and textures of the appropriate juicy yeast.  (For anyone who has not followed along, many yeasts have been used, but the consensus is to use one that’s not very flocculent and was derived from an English yeast that was generally fined to achieve clarity for centuries.)  For Mark it’s not about appearance, so imitating looks will not make a successful beer.

Mark prefers the idea of simply allowing the category definition of American IPA to include hazy and less bitter to encompass these beers as IPAs rather than putting them into a novel style. However, he takes the time to define the New England IPA based on both the yeast and the ingredients. His proposed flaws when judging the style would be grainy mouthfeel and staling. Appearance and bitterness can have a lot of variation:   “I’ve had some of these that are no cloudier than an equivalent unfiltered West Coast IPA. Of course, I’ve had others that literally look like orange juice or chicken broth, but again, not an absolute requirement. Bitterness tends to be lower, but it doesn’t need to be (I suspect the juicy character leads to a sweeter perception no matter what the IBU).”

This is such a feel-good post, with its happy growler picture.

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At The Beer Nut, Irish blogger John Duffy notes that not every brewery is up to the task of delivering juiciness. He delves into the promises made by appearance and aroma, and the curious confusion that happens when a hazy beer has more bitterness than expected. He has an appreciation for the diversity of good examples, yet still manages to deliver this visual description for the virtual slide-show: “It’s typically unattractive, with a dense custard-like appearance topped by a desultory effort at a head, but the flavour immediately exploded outward in a riot of ripe tropical fruit…”   Reading the rest will make you thirsty.

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Joe Tindall checks in from the UK on his The Fatal Glass of Beer blog. His defining description adds to our visual image of these beers, “cloudy bordering on murky, often brewed with oats for maximum fluffy mouthfeel and smooth, juice-like texture, and hopped only in the whirlpool for intense hop flavour and aroma with minimal bitterness.”  He likes these beers, and asks brewers who disdain them, “But is it really necessary to mock other brewery’s products in order to sell your own? The inference here is, ‘we have a new beer, but it’s not one of those stupid New England IPAs everyone else is making. It’s proper beer.’”  

He speaks to the diversity of flavors, and of hybrid approaches that, “like Cloudwater’s recent IIPA Centennial, marry the East and West coast approaches beautifully, using the intensity of the New England style to beef up the fleshy citrus quality of a now relatively old-school hop variety.”

And when he takes some of the critics to task, he makes an analogy to the What’s Brewing Letter Page, which, with a little googling, takes us into the back pages of CAMRA for a touch of the history of beer righteousness debates. (I was gleeful to read that, probably because I didn’t have to live through those particular arguments.)

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Brian Yaeger blogs about his initial skepticism about the juicy beers, from the current vantage point of being “firmly in the camp of take it or leave it.”

Recently relocated in California after being embedded in the Portland, Oregon beer scene, he traces the rise in popularity of the style there, and considers one of the reasons these beers may meet with disdain. ” …some adult beer drinkers slag these adult-beverages that sorta-somehwat appeal to more juvenile palates. They are fruity and juicy and sweet and, well, nostalgic. But hey, it’s not like the industry doesn’t have its share of famous beers that famously taste like Mexican chocolate cake or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or Cinnamon Toast Crunch, so there’s no reason to get sanctimonious about what other people enjoy in their glass of beer.”

It’s really interesting when a beer made from nothing but traditional brewing ingredients can be suspect for seeming like a hop-flavored alcopop. Weird times in beer land!teenyhopLOGO

Finally, my own post is here on the Beer By BART blog. Prompted by many conversations, including some during a recent judging event, I wanted to start to note for myself what makes this a style or sub-style.  And if they all fit together, what’s great?  And what’s a fail?

My current top ten Hazy IPA flaws include “too flabby,” “baby aspirin yeast bite” and any perceptible oatmeal or dough-like flavor.  Not sure making a list helps anybody else think about these beers, but beginning to define what I like and dislike is a natural process for me. I like some of these beers very much indeed, but am still grabbing a Blind Pig at the ballpark if I go to a baseball game.  Maybe something from Cellarmaker afterwards. Beauty comes in many forms.

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And now for a grand summary and unifying theory.  I see gradual community progress in figuring out how to understand this beer innovation, and acceptance that tastes will differ.  There is faddish behavior, and that can rankle, but the discussion has gotten beyond the idea that intentional haze is the same as a production flaw.  Our responses paint a composite portrait of where the beer community is with this kind of beer at this point in beer history and point the way to further conversations to be had.

Also, there are a ton of great story or manifesto angles within this discussion.  Thanks for these lovely posts.  I believe the next session will be hosted at Alistar Reese’s Fuggled, though as of right now his topic is not up yet.  Onward!

– Gail Ann Williams

 

Explore Beer By BART: Use our list of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best beer places with detailed transit info, so you can get out there to enjoy without driving.

 

Post your links for the Session #126

Hazy, Cloudy, Juicy: IPA’s strange twist

What’s the deal with these beers?  We’re going to find out together.

Welcome back to post your link to your content for the August 4th installment of The Sessions, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday! 

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Here’s the announcement post, for reference.  

On August 4, after you post your blog, add the URL pointing to your brand new post. Put it in a comment below on this page or on the announcement page.  I’ll check both.  Or, to get some buzz going, tweet your link with the hashtag #thesession or alert me directly @beerbybart on Twitter.

Monday I’ll do a round-up of all of the submissions and make links back to your work.  So, post today for impact, or wrap it up over the weekend.  

Cheers to August’s Beer Blogging Friday, aka The Session!

-Gail Ann Williams

Explore Beer By BART: Use our list of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best beer places with detailed transit info, so you can get out there to enjoy without driving.

Judging Juicy Beers: What makes a top quality Hazy IPA?

Ok, do you see the following image as a drool-inducing beauty or a muddy-tasting beast? For many beer drinkers, accepting hazy IPA (and its many cloudy cousins such as pale ales, DIPAs etc.) has been difficult. Clarity has been considered a signifier of quality in most beer styles, so the more you knew about beer making, the harder it was to take that first sip. The excitement expressed by fans and the widespread disdain from detractors has been about as polarized as beer preference can be.

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This intentionally soft, minimally bitter, hop-flavored variety has emerged over the past two decades, with most of the excitement centered on Vermont and New England in general. Hence, it’s becoming widely known as the New England IPA, or NEIPA,  However, unfiltered dry-hopped beers elsewhere in the land helped to push towards the look of the style as well.

Recently, my husband (and Beer By BART co-founder) Steve and I took part in a blind judged commercial competition, where a new category — style number 99 — was grafted onto the existing competition style lists to accommodate beers made with this style in mind.  Which is great because there are good beers competing but challenging since an emerging style by definition has no official description and the intentions of the brewers may not even be similar.

I didn’t serve on category 99 that day myself, though Steve did, but the inclusion gave me plenty to think about.  At one point, I was on a panel with one other diligent judge, carefully evaluating a flight of nine American IPAs.  Like in a lot of commercial competition flights, most were good, just not awesome.  Classic brewing flaws were few and far between.  We were to pass only one beer forward to the next round.  To our delight, it wasn’t even close. There was one beer that the other judge and I both felt was exquisite.  It was bright and clear, brightly aromatic in the circus-tropical range and delicately complex all the way through to a moderate but firm bitter finish with tropical hop flavors that lingered beautifully.  We were both wowed by this beer, in a day where we had already done other flights and styles but had not yet had a blind tasting tour de force.

An experienced judge who was not seated at the moment walked past as we wrapped up and asked how the flight had gone, and I said, “we just picked an amazing beer. You should try this IPA.”

He poured himself a sample, and commented, “Ah! A nice New England IPA.”

I think he saw the look on our faces. It was not hazy, and it had a satisfying but slightly restrained bitterness in the crisp finish.  Aromatics and fruity flavors from the hops were common attributes between this beer and a good NEIPA, I thought. But that was not what it looked or tasted like, nor how it was entered. It was, hands down, the best American style IPA in our flight.

Were our personal standards for a nice bitter IPA shifting? Are IPAs in general getting fruiter and less aggressively bitter?

So that reminded me that we already have a lot of East-West overlap going on in brewing today, from technique to hop selection to recipe development. Perhaps we actually have more like an IPA spectrum!

From that day, I started to work out the model for a great NEIPA based on the examples I’ve tried in California, around the East Coast and recently in Denmark.  (Yep, European craft brewers are happily playing with the style, too.)  This is in no way an attempt at a style definition, but here are the elements that go through my head as I decide if one of these hazy beauties is meant to be for me:

  1. Looks seem to matter. If it’s been filtered, fined or centrifuged clear, (or if the yeast flocculated unexpectedly), it seems to be a different beer with a notably different texture.  Whether the foggy look is from oat, wheat or rye protein, from yeast cells or from particles of hop matter suspended in a luminous cloud, it seems to matter.  (But wait — that’s only true if a clear beer with similar flavors has another place to fit in the beer style rainbow.  If that awesome beer I judged was deemed not to be an American IPA, then I’d want it included in here someplace. Oh, the problems with style definitions!)
  2. It’s highly desirable to have a soft, almost fluffy mouthfeel. Perhaps silky, akin to an Oatmeal Stout in texture. How soft? I would have to say that the American IPA gets to have a heavier malty body.  But choosing how to quantify and describe where the style border is turns out to be a head scratcher.
  3. The bitterness of this beer is very gentle. In the initial part of the sip, bitterness is something akin to the bitterness in a glass of orange juice or punch. There’s something there, but you may not even think of it as bitterness. Think all hop flavor and aroma. Of course, there’s a big range, with the ones I tend to prefer expressing gentle but notable dry hop bitterness along with the “juicy” impression.  Frankly, some other beers take bitterness down to where they come off to me as “flabby,” to steal a wine word that fits this experience even better. Mild, fluffy, approaching boring by the end of the pint. (No doubt plenty of people will prefer the ones I find flabby.  This is why this conversation is important now. Some better word will arise. Perhaps there will be sub-styles where flab is fab.)
  4. There has to be a finish. This may be just me, or it may be a West Coast take on these beers, but a few of them just sort of vanish!  A very gentle final bitterness or even just an impression of dryness will do it for me if there are no off-flavors. (Does this make me a West Coaster?)
  5. The beer can’t show raspy astringency or bitterness. Above all, it is kind to your tongue.  It has to present as if less bitter than a pilsner, let’s say, to match that mouth-watering low-bitterness idea in my brain when I see the glass. I have tasted some that are far too bitter or astringent. Talk about missing the point!
  6. No yeast bite bitterness, either. The best description is “baby aspirin.” Put a baby or adult aspirin on your tongue as a reminder. I’ve found this now and then. Hop bitterness is much more pleasant, if you want a touch of bitter finish.
  7. Aroma! Big hop fragrance is required! If it smells like nearly nothing, it’s not a great example. Tropical, stone fruit, old school grapefruit or forest breeze – just have a beautiful smell.
  8. A beer brewed with wheat and oats can’t taste like flour or bread dough.  I’ve come across that raw flavor a few times, and I don’t really think it meshes with the other hop, alcohol, yeast and subdued malt flavors. To me, drinking a hop porridge is a fail.
  9. Yeast esters can be part of the fun, but being able to pick them out is not required. A brilliant flavor mix is a delight. If the yeast has a neutral flavor contribution and the sexy hops show through, what’s the problem? So peachy, pear, or even banana yeast notes can be part of the mix, but if the hops don’t require that flavor in the mix, that’s perfectly OK.
  10. Are chunks and flakes a fail?  Yeah, probably.  But then again, if it tasted amazing, it might not win a medal but it could still win hearts.

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Sometimes I think the whole concept of styles is archaic.  New beers will never again spend centuries emerging in isolation in areas where only certain ingredients are found, certain yeasts shared and various pressures like taxes on specific strengths of beers work together to make an historical style.  Those days are over.

Competitions are the clearest reason popular new kinds of beers deserve categories. But competitions are not the most important social use for an agreed upon name and set of qualities for these inventive beers. As a consumer, I want a hint of what’s offered when an unknown beer is called an IPA on a menu board or a craft can.  This is a reason for style names in everyday life. NEIPA, or whatever consensus settles on calling them.

I like variety. I may want to order something clear today, or something cloudy, or a lightly hop-hazed glassful that falls in-between, but it would help to have a settled-upon style name so that seeing “IPA” doesn’t mean any possible beer you can brew with any detectable expression of hops.

Looking forward to find out how the language evolves along with the beers.

                     By Gail Ann Williams, for the Session, Aug 4, 2017

00-thesession150See the announcement post here!

Explore Beer By BART: Use our list of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best beer places with detailed transit info, so you can get out there to enjoy without driving.

A Juicy Session: Announcing #126

Announcing The Session #126

Hazy, Cloudy, Juicy: IPA’s strange twist

Ready for the next installment of The Sessions, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday?  On August 4th, 2017, the topic will be a still-emerging – though no longer new – unofficial beer style. This kind of beer has gotten so much buzz (and some mocking) in the last decade and a half that it’s surprising it has not come up on The Session yet.  New England, Vermont-inspired, Northeastern, Hazy, Juicy or whatever you like to call these low-bitterness, hop flavorful beers, they are being made everywhere now and people are definitely buying them. 

So fire up your keyboard – let’s hear about your own encounters with these strange IPAs.

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Any approach is welcome. Choose an idea or find your own:  

  • The encounter:  Do you remember your first NEIPA – if so, what was that like?  Details, please.  And how has your perception of the style changed over time? 
  • Or the name game: What style name do you prefer to describe the trend … why choose that one, and why are the other names unworthy or short-sighted? Does “IPA” still apply in a way that’s helpful to drinkers?
  • Or the crusade:  Testify!  Exactly why do you love or hate these beers?  How you could explain your stance to somebody who disagrees with you.  Could you/ how would you convert them to your point of view?
  • Or setting standards and defining flaws: What makes a classic example of the style?   What makes an IPA simply an unfiltered dry-hopped American IPA without much clarity instead of part of this style?  What about the sweeter “milkshake” IPAs – part of this style definition or something else?   What flaws make for weak examples of the style? Or maybe, where should the numbers be for this style – abv, ibu, color and clarity, etc.? What tasting instructions would you give to judges of these beers?
  • Or take another angle, tell another tale!  Have you been writing about these beers for several years now and watched them evolve?  Know something cool about the making of these beers, the people behind them, their spread to the UK and Europe?

Choose any angle and make it yours – they’re just ideas to get us thinking, not a questionnaire.  And if you have zero interest in such a beer, just say why in the fullest detail. Have fun with it!    

A few resources

The Brewers Association and the related Homebrewers Association both started out skeptical. This discussion (including comments) shows a step towards recognition: https://www.homebrewersassociation.org/news/new-england-ipa-haze-craze/  Check out the April Fools style announcement complete with gravy boat snark from 2016: https://www.craftbeer.com/craft-beer-muses/ne-ipa-recognized-official-beer-style

How to Participate in August’s The Session

On August 4, after you post to your blog, come on back here to add the URL pointing to your brand new post. Put it in your comment below on this page, or to get a little more buzz going, tweet your link with the hashtag #thesession or alert us directly @beerbybart on Twitter.  

I then follow up soon thereafter with a full round-up of all of the submissions with links back to your work and we all soak in the breadth of opinion and information of the beer blogging community.  Cheers to August’s Beer Blogging Friday, aka The Session!

Enjoy!

-Gail Ann Williams

Explore Beer By BART: Use our list of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best beer places with detailed transit info, so you can get out there to enjoy without driving.

The Importance of SMaSHing Beers

SMaSH is a catchy – really rather smashing – acronym for a simple brewers’ learning exercise. There’s no doubt both pro and home brewers get a lot out of tasting the experiment of beers constructed from limited ingredients. But why is SMaSH – Single Malt and Single Hop –  showing up as a description in commercial releases? Is it a buzz word, a brewer’s experimentation artifact or something the beer drinking public appreciates?

smash-sheetNot a lot of ingredients showing up on this brewing sheet from Black Sands Brewing Co.

Recently, just after noticing that SMaSH beers were a topic on The Sessions, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, and learning that Oregon even has a SMaSH festival, I ran into Cole Emde at the monthly Meet The Brewers Event put on by the SF Brewer’s Guild. Cole is the brewer and co-owner at Black Sands Brewery, a brewpub and homebrew shop in San Francisco. Black Sands often has a SMaSH beer on, so I was curious about how these brews are doing in his restaurant.  

I wondered about the trendiness factor – since creative beers seem to be going in and out of style at such a hectic pace nowadays.

So I asked Cole whether SMaSH is still a thing.

“Duh! If you haven’t gotten on board, you’re behind the curve, to be honest,” he told me.  “The simplest beers are typically some of the best beers.”   

He felt that some of his Black Sands SMaSH IPAs have been as good or better than IPAs made there with multiple grains and hops. And his customers love the idea of learning about hop varieties.

Cole began brewing SMaSH beers for himself, to deepen his education about specific ingredients. “What does this hop mean, what does this grain mean?”  It’s a learning experience for the brewers, but also for the consumer.

And for Cole, it matters most with new hop varieties or the release of the new annual crops.  “I want to know exactly how that hop performs.  It’s a great way to get really intimate with your ingredients.”  He cited the model of Russian River’s Hop To It, an experimental pale ale made (and served at the RR pub) intermittently, exploring each of the latest new hop varieties that come into the brewhouse there.   

This single-minded approach is not going away at Black Sands.  “It’s by far the most important thing we do,” Cole said. “Our Kölsch is a SMaSH – we always have a SMaSH on draft, no matter what.”  

After writing these notes up, I was tempted to look for a SMaSH beer in my own fridge. Even though modern brewing has developed a reliance on using blends of hops and malts and label laws do not require disclosure of materials that are built into the definition of beer, I knew I actually had one,  made with a single pale malt and just Sterling hops.

But I also knew this bottle of beer was not going to give me the desired simple SMaSH effect. A beer from a complex sour fermentation, brewed with wild yeast and lactic bacteria, that pint satisfied another thirst entirely. 

Which may go to show that a single strain of yeast is the unspoken partner of a simple SMaSH brew.  SMaSHaSY?

The next day, I spotted a draft SMaSH beer listed at San Francisco’s Holy Water, a neighborhood cocktail bar with a great beer program.  And, lo and behold, it was from Black Sands Brewing.  Curiously, the name of the hop and malt chosen for what turned out to be an excellent IPA were not listed on the board, and the bartender didn’t have more information. But that was fine with me. 

It was a mystery SMaSH – and it tasted good.

                                                – Gail Ann Williams, co-founder of Beer By BART

00-thesession150PS:  More about the July 2017 round of the Sessions, and more commentary on these simple beers, see host Mark Lindner’s blog:

http://marklindner.info/bbl/2017/07/smash-beers-session-125-round-up/

Want to participate in the next one, for the first Friday of August 2017?  You’re invited!  I’ll be hosting it.  Here’s the somewhat hazy topic announcement.

 


Explore Beer By BART: Use our list of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best beer places with detailed transit info, so you can get out there to enjoy without driving.

Conspiracy Under the Tarps: We Dig into the Origins of Barrelworks

The Best of the U.S. Meets the Best of Belgium
Firestone Walker’s David Walker (L) and Matt Brynildson (center)  share a lambic with Cantillon Brewer, Jean Van Roy (R)

It started with a chance encounter at Cantillon in May 2011.  Steve Shapiro (one of the two of us responsible for Beer By BART) visited the famed Brussels lambic brewery.  And he was delighted to run into Firestone Walker Brewmaster Matt Brynildson and a tall companion with a British accent.  Steve remembers that Jean Van Roy was astonished that he and Matt knew each other. That encounter was, however, Steve’s first introduction to Firestone Walker Brewing’s co-founder, David Walker. Steve remembers Matt whispering about Walker sipping one of the complex, acidic Cantillon beers. “Look, he’s smiling!”

Steve snapped a photo (above) as the three brewing legends enjoyed another lambic creation together.

Not long afterward, we ran into David Walker at San Francisco’s City Beer Store.  Curiously, he implied that he was the one interested in starting a sour program but facing resistance. It caught our attention. A few very nice sour “wood aged” beers from the brewery had already showed up here and there. What was going on?

David Walker, Jeffers Richardson, Jim Crooks
David Walker, Jeffers Richardson and Jim Crooks at the Firestone Walker Invitational beer fest, after the launch of Barrelworks

But eventually all was moot. We were delighted when we heard of plans for a sour fermentation facility called Barrelworks in Buellton, an hour and a half south of the main Firestone Walker location in Paso Robles, way down on the Central Coast.

We got to know Jim Crooks and Jeffers Richardson, the two who anchor the program, each with his own complicated and engrossing back story at Firestone Walker.  Still, the more we heard about their own stories and about Barrelworks, the more puzzled we were.  Had it really been a forbidden project when Walker sipped at Cantillon? The website hinted of drama, but was that just marketing hype? What was true?

So last summer we decided to track this down and take whatever time the story required.  The idea was that we would get the versions of the origin tale from various protagonists and show how differently they saw things.  We were delighted when Beer Advocate Magazine took our project on, and we dug in.

Curiously, each thing we looked into was deeper and more complex than the last. The secrets behind Barrelworks went all the way back to the unusual origins of Firestone Walker itself.  Matt Brynildson, Jim Crooks, Jeffers Richardson, Adam Firestone and David Walker all gave generously of their time and did deep dives into all kinds of tales that we reluctantly left aside as we sharpened our focus and fought to stay within the word count.  Our respect, friendship and appreciation for the people at Firestone Walker grew over the course of our investigation.

The story’s up now on the Beer Advocate website, and we hope you enjoy all of it.

“The problem was that it was getting harder and harder for Crooks to keep the burgeoning project secret. “It was like, this is Jim’s deal, and it was like, don’t tell Adam,” Firestone sighs, recalling his brewers’ increasingly ridiculous attempts to keep him in the dark. “‘Guys, I can see the barrels! They’re dribbling all over the floor. They smell like hell!’”

Alas, some of the weirdly wonderful or disputed details ended up on the cutting room floor as we trimmed the story down to article length. Thanks to Tom Griffin, who told about bringing the first second-hand bourbon barrels out to California, thus getting Matt Brynildson into the incredibly delicious Anniversary beer tradition that recently resulted in another must-not-miss example.  We hope to tell those tales another time.  Mike Hoffman told us how he lost the SLO production brewery, with many details that were eye-opening and fascinating but would have taken us far outside the original focus of the story.  Thanks to Ryan Sweeney from LA’s Surly Goat and related beer bars who told us about arriving at the Paso Robles pub one day and having a draft beer from that sour program that did not exist. There it was, on tap! We dropped another thread of the story that had to do with the unforeseen demand for 805, the popular mainstream blonde ale.   The rise of the Barrelworks program was mentioned as a soul-saving counterbalance to the monotony of producing so much 805. We kept scrapping quotes packed with astonishing insights in order to get the bones of the story in.

And we are excited for the next chapters and new beers coming from Firestone Walker. We’ll be bugging them about the progress of the Belgian sour project mentioned in the beginning of the article, and following their beers.

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Jim Crooks and one of his talented wooden foudres in the wood cellar at Barrelworks

So please check out our Feral Ones story in BeerAdvocate magazine.  And, as our editor Ben Keene reminds us, if you subscribe to BeerAdvocate, not only do you support beer journalism, but next time we write something there you will see it all gloriously laid out in a real glossy magazine you can touch, (perhaps with something akin to this issue’s historic Area 51 brewing images from Jeffers), a month before it ever goes up online.

– Gail and Steve

[photos by Steve Shapiro and/or Gail Ann Williams]



Explore beer destinations by Bay Area Rapid Transit

Don’t Miss the Pink Boots beers!

The month of March has special significance for beer, arising from March eighth, traditionally International Women’s Day. On or around that date, all over the world, brewers now host women from their own companies and colleagues invited from their local brewing communities in an onsite day devoted to creating a charity beer.

These beers — the result of the Big Boots international brewing effort — are perhaps the most visible manifestation of the Pink Boots Society, a group that has formed to raise funds for scholarships for women working in the brewing industry. The premise is that while the industry skews male, employers are looking for people with education and experience. Many brewers, distributors and service staff are essentially self-taught until they get to learn collaboratively on the job.  So, on the production side, just to get your resume looked at despite your feminine name you had best have formal beer education among your qualifications.

    This year some fine Bay Area brews are on the way! Freewheel Brewing, Laughing Monk Brewing, The Rare Barrel and Seabright Brewery all did group Pink Boots big brew days earlier in the month. 

Freewheel has released their version — “Herstoric Alewife’s Golden Ale” is on at the brewery and will soon be at select taps around town.

Seabright Brewing is now pouring “Nectar of Ishtar” honey wheat ale near the Santa Cruz boardwalk, meant to be a pleasant pairing with BBQ shrimp as well as a subtle nod to the sacred brewing traditions of ancient cultures.

“Pink Boots Prophetess” is the release from Laughing Monk.  It’s coming up on Friday March 31 in SF.  The concept of Lady Grey Tea led to bags of loose tea and orange peels in an ale that just may be your cuppa tea.

The Rare Barrel’s Pink Boots Collaboration, “Solidarity Forever,” is to be released on Friday as well, in Berkeley. The process (including all the microbes that had done the heavy lifting of the beer making to create the blending beers) is described in the excellent blog post by Danielle Byers, who organized a notably democratic process for a large group to discuss and rank choices at several stages. Ad hoc teams creatively dosed small samples with drops of custom herbal tinctures to envision a blend. (The winning combo would later be executed by placing herbs and flowers directly into sour beer and given some time to infuse.)

Zeitgeist in SF will be doing an event with as many of the Big Boots brews as they can bring in. (Watch their announcements.)  Look for more beer bars to jump in.

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[Blending day at The Rare Barrel in Berkeley involved well-organized tasting and comparing, finally followed by a full glass of beer to simply enjoy.]

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[Seabright Brewery’s Pink Boots brew in Santa Cruz, Ca. Brewmaster Cat Wiest front right.]

    Usually the Pink Boots group takes part in an early formulation discussion. Next, somebody at the host brewery finalizes a recipe so that the ingredients can be ordered on time.  After that, the collaboration day can take many forms.

    Some Pink Boots beer making days — like the sour blending session held at The Rare Barrel — are refreshingly educational and participatory.   Others are more of a brew day observation experience. Just witnessing a professional brew can be a valuable experience for sales people and front of house staffers in many cases, though it may not be as useful for most practicing or aspiring pro brewers.
     There are beer sampling opportunities and photo ops at all of these events, but the most memorable and inspirational collaborations take it further, with hands-on interactions and discussion of the engineering and the effects of that particular brew deck. (Or sour beer blending procedure, in the case of The Rare Barrel.) Doing tasks rather than simply watching them becomes a key part of the group day.  Even attaching an unfamiliar type of hose connector, ceremonially adding a handful of hops to the kettle or recording the temperature on a brew log as a guest brewer brings the group together while the others snap pictures.
    Whatever the level of involvement in the actual beer making processes, the primary goals of meeting the other local women in the industry and raising funds to educate women in the brewing world are first and foremost.

[Two kinds of honey and huge mesh bags full of tea leaves figured into the brew day at Laughing Monk Brewing, SF.]

I asked some of the women at the Laughing Monk event what it all means to them:
Amelia Franklin, Laughing Monk, sales:
  • The Pink Boots Society is really important for recognizing the contributions of women in all aspects of the field.  Hopefully also encouraging more women to participate when they see the industry is a little more diverse than they thought.
  • I have a lot of communication with the brewer in my role.
  • The beer we brewed today is my concept. I like how much you get to think!

Robin Knight, Laughing Monk, marketing and event planning:

  • PBS Big Boots brew puts the focus on women and gives us a chance to get a little more woman power into the brewery.
  • My take away from today is that brewing is physically hard work and that there’s a lot of waiting, so you really have to love it to do it.
Ashley Meredith, Harry’s Hofbrau, bartender:
  • Seeing inside other work spaces and how they are functioning has been the most eye-opening aspect [of these brew days] for me.
  • Today I’ve enjoyed learning about the development of Laughing Monk, from their opening til now, and about their future expansion, not knowing as much about the opening a business side of beer as I do about the brewing side of beer.

Erica DeAnda, Freewheel Brewing, assistant brewer:

  • Honestly, just coming together meeting so many women from all different aspects of the beer industry means we can all learn from each other. Whether you’re in sales, a brewer, a bartender — we can all come together to empower each other.
  • Freewheel is so English, so cask focused. The techniques used here today were different. Putting the lactose in was interesting. We don’t deal with that a lot!

Jaime Zlamal, Speakeasy, QA lab director/brewer:

  • I think Pink Boots as an organization is super-rad. Through networking, we can help each other to go where we want, whether it’s by sharing our experiences or our connections.
  • The brew day also involves all of us in something that’s creative and fun.
Jen Jordan, Anchor Brewing, brewer:
  • Sometimes it’s hard to take a class, due to production schedules. The Pink Boots Society manages to carve out these one day educational opportunities, and the industry sees value in the scholarship program.
  • It’s really enjoyable, just on a process side, to see how many ways there are to make beer well. It’s social learning: I learn so much about the bigger picture of the industry.
  • I never would have thought about brewing with tea, but it’s a no brainer.
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[Pink Boots participants learning about the blending philosophy at The Rare Barrel]
And there were more breweries making charity beers during these March brew days, around the state and around the world, most of which should be pouring now or soon.  To see world-wide Big Boots brew day images:   https://twitter.com/hashtag/bigbootsbrew2017
Words & pix by Gail Ann Williams

Farewell to Barclays, Welcome to The Cooler

One of the first places we sought out to explore interesting beers was a little restaurant and beer bar below grade off College Avenue in Oakland’s Rockridge area.  Over the years, we dropped by, took pictures like the one below, hung out with friends and eventually tried dozens of beers. One visit to Barclays using BART gave us the idea to list craft beer destinations near BART stations, leading to the Beer By BART website, and many adventures including writing for The Celebrator and other publications.

There wasn’t anyplace quite like Barclay’s, though it seemed as if there should have been. The food was pretty much straight-ahead pub fare.  Many a plate of fish and chips or a burger satisfied kids and adults between dart games and perusal of the deep beer list.   Plaques and mugs hung on the walls to honor regulars past and present.  Now and then a special meal by nearby resident Bruce Paton raised the culinary game.

The last special dinner was last weekend. The establishment was a casualty of rising rents.  Tonight the word is that people will hang out together until the beer is gone.  And then, the community that found home there will evaporate into the night.

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A Cooler Way to Go

There are many new venues opening, and perhaps, if we are lucky, some of them may come to provide the kind of home Barclays created for regulars and visitors.  One new gathering place that deserves a visit is The Cooler, the new project in San Leandro’s downtown, on East 14th Street.  It’s an easy, flat walk from BART, under half a mile and under ten minutes for most on foot.  We wrote up a description of The Cooler here.

arne-coolerIndustry veteran Jeff Botz, Marin Brewing Company Brewmaster Arne Johnson, and their partner, Eric Keyes, have got The Cooler up and running as a comfortable destination with a fine array of beers you can see on their website.

In this picture, taken just before the opening, Arne is fitting out the draft systems at The Cooler with easy connectors he cleverly customized, so that changing kegs in their roomy cold box area will be simple and swift.

Here’s to new places, new ideas and to remembering the pioneers and the places we first encountered the craft beer community.

Cheers.

 

Winter Fest becomes Spring Brews Festival

The Brewing Network, the podcasters who had the mojo to become publicans, were slapped with the same dilemma all of us in the SF Bay Area had with the Super Bowl in the winter months. It messed up our winter beer schedules, moving SF Beer Week back onto the new Rate Beer Best celebrations, and making the venerable BN’s January Winter festival simply too schedule-conflicted to make any sense.  The solution?

April of course, and a name change to the Spring Brews Festival 2016. And no foolish messing with the first, this festival comes to town on the second, Saturday 4/2. As always the list of brewers pouring is delightful, but just as important, the BN’s fest brings together old friends along with new faces in a delightful park, Concord’s Todos Santos Plaza, easy walking distance from BART in front of their popular pub, the Hop Grenade. This festival has been better run and more fun each year, and is especially appreciated for Tasty’s Tasting Room, one of the best ways to try top quality homebrewed beers from talented local DIY home brewmasters. From the start, brewing demos were part of the fun, along with seeing our beer community hanging out together.

Looking forward to a verdant vernal version of the now-classic annual festival! It’s been a blast every year.

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Grab your tickets and check out the list of brewers. We’ll see you there, if not on BART on the way out!