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.

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


Faction is brewing up a strong community

Faction hosts the Ales for ALS Beerfest for 2015

Beer drinkers rejoiced over the selection of one-off brews made with an exclusive hop blend when Faction Brewing Co. presented the second invitational Ales for ALS Beerfest.  The fest was part of a broader charity initiative that provided the coveted hops to breweries that pledged $1 per pint from sales of the resulting beers to research amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. On a warm, breezy August Saturday in Alameda, Calif., the event lived up to its promise as a destination festival. The Ales for ALS Beerfest attracted more than 1,500 beer lovers who swarmed the brewery to enjoy live music, food trucks, a raffle and outstanding brews.

Ales for ALS is an annual project founded by hop growers Mike and Cheryl Smith, third-generation hop farmers in Yakima, WA. The couple knows the face of the debilitating failure of nerves and muscles brought by ALS all too well.

“My dad died of ALS, my 54 year-old brother has ALS now, as well as a cousin and an uncle,” explained Cheryl.  “Six out of eight kids in my father’s generation died of ALS.”

“When my brother was diagnosed, we just began thinking we had to get busy raising money to find some kind of treatment or cure.”

Get busy is just what they did. Their Loftus Ranches are best known for developing varieties such as Simcoe®, Citra®, Mosaic® and Equinox. To raise funds, Loftus partnered with Hopunion hop supply company to offer a proprietary blend of experimental and hard-to-get hops to participating breweries, to support the ALS Therapy Development Institute, a major research organization working on a cure.

Initially the Smiths selected the breweries, but now brewers come to them. Mike Smith said, “it’s really touching, because every volunteer brewery has a family member, friend or colleague who has ALS.”

Last year Vinnie Cilurzo (Russian River Brewing Co.) selected the hops with Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.) and John Mallett (Bell’s Brewery).

This year Mallett returned. Ken Grossman brought his son, Brian Grossman. Cilurzo nominated Rob Kent (Bear Republic Brewing Co.) and Julian Shrago (Beachwood BBQ Brewing) in his place. Although Equinox and Mosaic® have names now, these recent graduates of the breeding program were included this year. Five as yet unnamed, experimental hops also made the mix. (291, 260, 344, 438 and 522, for those keeping score at home.)

Kent poured Bear Republic’s Red Racer IPA for ALS at the fest. He said it was an honor to choose the hops. “The selection process involved the ‘rub,’ which is squeezing and rubbing hops between your hands to heat up the lupulin to release its aromatics,”  Kent explained. “At this point there was debate about which hops make the cut. There were many good varieties to choose from. They ranged from fruity to earthy.”  

Most breweries brought one-off IPAs and hoppy beers, but there were stylistic surprises, such as a dry-hopped sour from The Rare Barrel, and a Brettanomyces-fermented interpretation from Cellarmaker Brewing Co.

Night-shift brewer Molly O’Brien got to formulate her first professional recipe, a saison, for this year’s version at Drake’s Brewing Co. “When I logged on to the ALS site, everyone was kind of doing pale ales and IPAs. And I love IPAs, but I wanted to do something different,” she said.  

View of San Francisco from Faction Brewing on Alameda Island. Photo by Gail Ann Williams
View of San Francisco from Faction Brewing on Alameda Island. Photo by Gail Ann Williams

Faction’s founders and festival hosts Rodger Davis and Claudia Pamparana poured their elegant imperial pale ale interpretation of Ales for ALS.  “The ALS beer was the very first beer we brewed at Faction and released in September of 2013,” said Pamparana. By the time the second Ales for ALS hops blend shipped, Davis and Pamparana had volunteered Faction as the festival site.

According to the Smiths, last year, 68 breweries got hops, and donations more than doubled from the prior year to $325,000. This year, after the accounting is done, 89 breweries in 25 states expect to combine donations with proceeds from the festival to again more than double last year’s contribution. Faction’s donation totaled $44,000.

Davis, too, has personal connections to ALS.  He’s made friends with Corey Reich, a Piedmont High School tennis coach who was diagnosed several years ago and has beaten the odds so far. Davis invited Reich to the event at his brewery, where Reich enjoyed the festival in his wheelchair.

While there’s still no way to halt this usually fatal disease, as the ALS Therapy Development Institute website reminds us, “ALS is not an incurable disease. It is an underfunded one.”

How to visit Faction

Donate to Ales for ALS

(This story was originally written for Celebrator Beer News, which comes out every other month on paper, by Gail and Steve in collaboration. Mike Condie submitted cool photos as well. Publishing works in mysterious ways, however. So, here it is electronically at Beer By BART instead. )

World Beer Cup 2012–Bay Brewers Bring Home Gold and Silver

Grab a train, bus or boat–there are Bay Area beer victories to celebrate. Bay Area beer appreciators can head out to toast the international recognition of two breweries conveniently within the local transit footprint, plus a dozen more from around Northern California.

Brewers from around the world converged in San Diego this week for the Craft Brewers Conference, which incorporates a trade show and educational conference for the craft beer industry along with the prestigious biennial World Beer Cup, a competition which evaluates beer in 95 categories.

Arne Johnson
Arne Johnson of Marin Brewing at the reception after the awards

Brewmaster Arne Johnson of Marin Brewing took home a gold medal for Star Brew in the Other Strong Beers category, where this beer has done well in the past, and picked up a a silver for his Three Flowers IPA in the Rye Beer category.

Head Brewer Zambo of 21st Amendment Brewing picked up silver in the Indiginous Beers division for his archeologically-inspired ancient Egyptian brew called Hqt, which included the planting of antique barley on their brewpub roof on San Francisco’s Second Street, near the Giants’ ballpark.

Brewer David “Zambo” Zamborski and 21st Amendment Brewery co-founder, Nico Freccia celebrate after their victory.
21A also took top honors for the space-monkey design of their Bitter American session-strength IPA in a can.

Looking a little further afield around Northern and Central California, awards will soon be going up on walls and in display cases at Half Moon Bay, Russian River, Lucky Hand, Third Street Alehouse, Bear Republic, Fifty Fifty, Feather River, Sierra Nevada and Mad River. Many of these breweries and some of these latest medal-winning brews can be found on tap and in bottles around Northern California.

A couple of beers you can easily find (and one that you’re not likely to see) brought medals home for Firestone Walker out of Paso Robles. Their “second brand” Mission Street Pale Ale, sold at Trader Joe’s stores, got Silver while their Firestone Walker Pale 31 took Gold in the same Pale Ale category. Their harder to find 805 IPA won Gold in the Australasian Style Pale Ale category (we’ve never heard of this either). These victories resulted in brewery Firestone Walker and brewer Matt Brynildson taking home the Champion Midsize Brewery and Brewmaster trophies to Paso Robles. That’s north of the Grapevine, so we’ll claim it as Northern California.

The San Diego beer scene represented itself very well in the awards and provided unfailing hospitality to brewers from around the world. Along with expressing hearty cheers of California brewing pride for friends who won, the crowd at the banquet showed audible delight at some Gold Medals awarded to brewers from countries not traditionally known for brewing those specific styles — such as Haiti (for American Style Cream Ale or Lager), Boliva (for International Style Lager), Mexico (for Chocolate Beer) and Iceland (for German Style Pilsner).

Marin Brewing and 21st Amendment Brewing are easy to visit using BART and connecting street car and ferry systems. Cheers to all the winners!

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.

True Lambic: Sick beers and the magic of Cantillon

This is the spring when Jean Van Roy came to San Francisco, to pass along traditional sour beer making lore to the next generation of adventurous brewers at the 2011 Craft Brewers Conference.  Jean is the one man in the world who carries on an unbroken family lineage and training in the twin traditional crafts of brewing and blending spontaneously fermented beers in Brussels, once a brewing center of the Senne Valley in the heart of Belgium.  His grandfather’s elegant, tart, complex Cantillon beers nearly died off in obscurity when the industrial revolution’s cheap and inoffensive lagers swept the world.

Jean Van Roy of Cantillon
Jean Van Roy tells the story of Cantillon and Lambic tradition
Due to the dedication of his father and himself, Jean’s family brewery survived to a new era of recognition and demand. He and a small handful of fellow Lambic brewers and blenders went from obscure to revered with the help of friends including the late British beer writer Michael Jackson, the two siblings who created the Shelton Brothers company to import his beers into the US and a growing cadre of appreciative American brewers such as our local Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa.  In return, we can thank Jean and his father for maintaining the tradition of their beers, and for a wide range of new tart, leathery, funky non-Belgian craft beer concoctions inspired by this ancient Belgian beer knowledge. The large hall was packed with attentive brewers, seeking information to help them participate in one of the most exciting trends in craft brewing.

The more you know about Lambic brewing, the more different it seems from other beer traditions. Modern ales usually take merely weeks to produce, after a very pure dose of specific beer yeast is added to start a typical vigorous fermentation. True Lambic beers will have a slow life-cycle closer to that of a wine fermentation.  Traditional Lambic breweries allow a hodge-podge of yeasts and local bacteria to blow in on the breezes to land in a vessel called a coolship, and later to live deep in the wood of fermentation barrels. Those strange “spontaneous” mixtures of microorganisms are totally responsible for fermenting and conditioning these beers at their own pace.

While aging, the mixed organisms form a strange-looking protective film over the surface of the beer, and then go though two summers of warmer temperatures where they become extremely weird, ropey and viscous throughout the entire barrel. This harmless but off-putting polysaccharide slime can pour with the consistency of oil or perhaps thin snot, so it is no surprise that this condition has come to be known as “sick” beer, or more specifically as the fat sickness, “la maladie de la graisse” in French.  For contemporary brewers who are embarking on a journey to make a beer inspired by the Lambic method, it’s comforting to know what strange things may happen along the way.

Cantillon's Jean Van Roy talks about sick beer

Jean comments about beer sickness and beer quality (30 seconds)

Jean Van Roy stated that he is not a “brewmaster” because he cannot master or dominate his beers.  He says he is a bit of a partner and a bit of a guide to his beers, using his knowledge of the peculiar paths these fermentations can take, passed along from his father and grandfather.  He helps the beers along.  This brings to mind some of the older words, like “alewife” from England (once used for women who brewed with undoubtedly mixed fermentations,  serving almost as midwives to deliver the beers of their day).   In using his experience to guide these great beers to fruition, Jean says that he is compelled “to follow my beer.”

The Van Roy family has faced several generations of adversity, ranging from a century-long decline of interest in Lambic in its native land and loss of many of their respected peers, to a dilution of meaning of their magical process and place-specific beer style.  While regional wine style names like “Champagne” are protected by having a legally enforced definition in Europe, traditional Lambic has not been so fortunate.  Some other Belgian companies filter and sweeten modern industrial products that can legally still be called Lambic.   As a result of the great new sour beer making explosion of recent years,  admiring brewers around the world are marketing their beers as “Lambic” or “Lambic Style.”

At the question portion of the conference session, Brian Hunt of Moonlight Brewing brought up this question of the Lambic appellation.  What should we call other contemporary beers, from outside the Senne valley, that were inspired by Lambic beer making traditions?   They could be named for their region, as Lambics were originally. They might be called “spontaneous,” Jean suggested.   Cantillon will be working on a new Lambic cellar in conjunction with the city of Brussels to honor the tradition and make long-aged beers available.  We can honor that resolve to save the authentic traditions by not calling our non-Belgian domestic beers “Lambic Style,” and by leaning on groups who present brewing competitions to change course and avoid the use of “Lambic” in category names.

Americans seem willing to call the related beers “sour,”  though that is often an exaggeration.  Jean wants his own finished beers to be complex and mellow.  Many people comment on the similarities between the true Lambics and fine aged dry wines.  There is a tartness, but there are layers of mysterious character that balance the acidity. Tasters search for analogies for the complex and compelling wood and animal aromas and flavors. “Wild” is used on labels sometimes in the US and other areas outside of Belgium, and not always when the fermentation is open to local organisms.  Sometimes the use of Brettanomyces yeast is noted on a label.  Those of us who seek new examples of these remarkable beers sometimes have to embrace beer-hunting and label scrutiny as an extension of our hobby.

caution - sour beers - a sign on a cooler
CAUTION: Special beers protected from accidental purchase at the Jug Shop in SF.

Now and then the scary sound of “sour” works to the advantage of the sour-seeking consumers. It is reassuring to see that people who might not yet appreciate these beers have been cautioned to leave them for those of us who already love them, and who would never pour them out or return them as “spoiled” in confusion.

We are already seeing Cantillon beers available less often locally, as the global interest in the wild and sour increases. One great moment of optimism in the CBC panel came when an audience member asked about building a coolship, prompting the panelists to all speak with great enthusiasm.  (You want a very large surface area on the cooling vessel, but it should not be so shallow as to make for a too sudden a cooling of the hot liquid.  Some of those ambient organisms in the cold night air only get “spontaneous” when their food source is still warm.)  We can only hope that this contemporary recognition of the importance of teaching the old ways will revive the craft in a deep way in the Brussels region, too.  It is clearly opening the rest of the world to experimentation.  Enough of us have fallen for these beers that Cantillon has a growing world wide audience, waiting for that the next batch that has made the journey through time, surviving seasons as a sick beer to heal, become even stronger and flourish.

Here’s a recording of Jean’s talk posted by Jay Brooks for your listening pleasure.   

Local notes:
The Craft Brewer’s Conference was a big week for local breweries, who did the region proud. Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo, along with their Russian River brew crew, appeared to have boundless energy up to and through the week. Along with convening this panel, they hosted a pre-conference symposium at their own place, they prepared and bottled a special conference attendees’ brown sour ale made in conjunction with Sierra Nevada, and they held an event to announce that these two fine northern California breweries will undertake another sour collaboration to be released to the public.

Russian River
Natalie Cilurzo and a member of the Russian River brew crew pouring for industry colleagues in front of a wall of fish at the Academy of Sciences.

How to learn more: For San Francisco Bay Area sour beer learning, an afternoon at City Beer Store, Beer Revolution, The Trappist or La Trappe, all walkable from the BART or MUNI system, is a good way to begin or to continue your education, providing you can get the time and attention of the experienced bartenders there. Three or four people sharing a few bottles can put together an excellent flight to explore fine American and Belgian tart and funky flavors. Cantillon beers may not be not as easy to find in California as they were a few years ago, but the new craft beers from North America and elsewhere that they have inspired are also worth exploring. Ask your better beer bartender or bottle shopkeeper what’s new… and what’s ancient. For book-learning, seek out a copy of the excellent “Wild Brews” by Jeff Sparrow, which has insights for those who drink, brew or home-brew beers inspired by these traditions.

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.

Get out there to the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) public events!

The brewers are coming to town, and that means excellent beers pouring for all of us.

The annual Craft Brewers Conference, an industry conference and trade show for craft beer professionals, has come to San Francisco this year. This sold-out professional gathering features technical and business sessions in tracks such as Brewery Start-Ups, Government Affairs, Selling Craft Beer, Quality, Sustainability and more. Many of us have heard our favorite brewers, pub owners and beer salespeople excitedly talking about being the host city.  There’s a lot to be excited about. CBC attracts brewers from all over the world and many of them will be out and around the Bay Area sampling the beers offered in our part of the world.

The benefit for the rest of us is that our local breweries, tap houses and brewpubs get to show off their best offerings.  Below is a list of the public events we are aware of. The list of no-badge events is growing as venues alert their fan lists. Check for public events posted there, watch our FB page, or our tweets and ask around at your favorite pubs. (If you do have a conference badge, there are also some attendee-only events including receptions, a private concert at the Fillmore, a chocolate and beer reception at Tcho and more, listed on the CBC page, but this public lineup is looking pretty amazing.)

Late Additions

Added 3/22:
Another one for Thursday 3/24

CBC Happy Hour: Oskar Blues “Canned Beer Appocolypse” Happy Hour with Oskar Blues Brewery
“Oskar Blues Brewery Can Apocalypse Night featuring Head Brewer Dave Chichura pouring cans of:
Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Dale’s Pale Ale, Old Chub Scotch Ale, G’Knight Imperial Red, Ten FIDY Imperial Stout, GUBNA Imperial IPA and the limited run of One Hit Wonder Imperial IPA.” Happy hour.

Urban Tavern, at The Hilton, 333 O’FARRELL ST, San Fransisco

Added 3/21:
Another for Wednesday 3/23

New Belgium Comes To Toronado

New Belgium will be bringing several of their rare beers to The Toronado to ramp up the CBC Week fun. 6:00pm-Close

Toronado, 547 Haight St (Between Fillmore and Steiner), San Francisco

Another for Friday 3/25

Speakeasy Brewery Special CBC Open House Firkin Friday

In addition to the usual Friday music, food and beers they will release a new beer, Snatch Racket India Pale Lager. Snatch Racket – named for the surge of kidnappings and ransoms in 1920’s during prohibition – is a unique blend of styles, a 6.5% full bodied lager dry-hopped like an IPA with all German hops. They’ll also be pulling a few rare aged beers from the cellar just for the night. House opens at 4:00 closes 9:00
Free tickets and details here

Speakeasy, 1195 Evans (at Keith)


No Badge Needed CBC Special Event List

Tuesday 3/22

Deschutes Collaboration Beer Dinner

“Deschutes Brewery Chef Matt Neltner and Monk’s Kettle Chef Adam Dulye collaborate to deliver a menu made for beer. The special menu, from which anyone visiting the restaurant can order, takes the expertise of these two chefs to create food and beer pairings that will kick of the week just right. On tap will be a large variety of Deschutes beers including: The Abyss 2010, The Abyss 2009, Black Butte XXI, Hop Henge Experimental IPA, Red Chair NWPA, Mirror Mirror, Jubel 2010, Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Green Lakes Organic Ale. Visitors will also have a chance to discuss the beers and brewing processes with Deschutes Brewery brewer Robin Johnson. Open to all patrons that evening.”

Monk’s Kettle, 3141 16th Street, (at Albion) San Francisco

Deschutes Brewery Night at The Hop Yard Featuring Woody

Sample many of the Deschutes Brewery’s special beers dispensed from their traveling kegs in the famous Woody-mobile. 5:00 PM-Close

Hop Yard, 3015 Hopyard Rd., Pleasanton   (a significant walk from the BART Station)

Saison Night at Beer Revolution

The good folks at Beer Rev will feature as many fine examples of Saison style ales as they can get their hands on and will pair them with “some very fancy stinky cheeses.” The saisons start pouring at  6:00PM

Beer Revolution, 464 3rd St (Between Broadway & Washington), Oakland (12th Street Oakland BART Station)

Wednesday 3/23

East Bay Brewers Tasting

Barclay’s Pub and Restaurant features beers by the growing number of East Bay brewers; OBC (Oakland Brewing Company),  Ale Industries, Drakes, Triple Rock,  Linden Street Brewing,  High Water Brewing and more!

Barclay’s, 5940 College Ave. (at Harwood), Oakland (Near Rockridge BART Station)

Drake’s Brewing CBC Limited/Barrel Aged Beer Week

“Porky’s Pizza Palace will feature some limited, barrel aged & some of our favorite Drake’s offerings from the past & present with a twist added!”

1. Jolly Roger-Imperial Brown Ale, 2009

2.Bourbon Barrel Aged 2009 Jolly Roger

3.Bourbon Barrel Aged Drakonic Imperial Stout

4.Exclusive CBC I.P.A.1/2 Brewed for CBC attendees and in limited release-we have just 1 keg! Not a double IPA with a just right balance of malt and hops!

5.1500 Hoppy Pale Ale(Nitro-Dispensed)adds a creamy body to one of our favorite beers from Drake’s!(think hoppy Boddingtons)

6.Hop Salad-8% Agressively Hopped Limited Double IPA, a limited release from mid-January, saved for this event, Cheers.

7.Hopocalypse Imperial IPA – Bronze Medal Winner at this years “The Bistro” Double IPA Fest, 3rd out of a field of 56 other professional judged Double  IPA’s

8.Alpha Sessions-American Session Ale-Lighter session ale with a big hop character just 3.8% & 75IBU’s.

Event continues through the weekend or as long as the beers last

Porky’s Pizza Palace  1221 Manor Blvd.( at Farnsworth), San Leandro

Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XXII California Debut

The Republic hosts “a very rare appearance of last year’s coveted Black Butte XXII, which never released to the public. What we can tell you is that this imperial bourbon-aged version of our popular Black Butte Porter, brewed in 2010 with chilies, dark chocolate and orange peel, is well worth a taste during its California debut. You may be familiar with Black Butte XX and XXI which were released to celebrate the Brewery’s past anniversaries, but because XXII was not available outside of our brew pubs, most have not had the pleasure of tasting this spectacular beer.”   8:00-11:00 PM

The Republic, 3213 Scott Street (at Lombard), San Francisco

San Diego Beers at Public House

“The Craft Brewers Convention is coming to San Francisco and we’re celebrating opening night with special beers from San Diego brewers Ballast Point, Green Flash and Stone. Not only will we have the beers at PH, but we will also host some of the owners and brewers from these small craft breweries giving you a chance to hobnob with them over your tasty San Diego beer.”

Public House, 24 Willie Mays Plaza (3rd and King Sts.)

Deschutes Joins the Revolution

Beer Revolution welcomes the good folks from Deschutes Brewery.  20 taps will be devoted to these Oregon revolutionaries.  6:00PM-Close

Beer Revolution, 464 3rd St (Between Broadway & Washington), Oakland  (12th Street Oakland BART Station)

Thursday 3/24

Deschutes Brewery Night at The Englander, Featuring Woody

There will be 5-6 Deschutes Brewery beers on tap from 5-8 PM.

101 Parrott St. (between Washington & E. 14th St.), San Leandro  Not far from BART.

“Northeast Night” at the Monk’s Kettle

“Two breweries not usually found in this area, Pretty Things Ales, and Cambridge Brewing Company.  Pretty Things, from the East Coast, will soon be available in this area; we will be pouring the first keg of their saison Jack d’Or to be found on this coast.  We will also be pouring two drafts from Cambridge Brewing, Project Venus and Blunderbuss.  Dann and Martha, owners of Pretty Things, and Will Myers, brewmaster of Cambridge, will be on hand for the evening.”   (Beer By BART has learned that “Project Venus,” the collaboration beer by women brewers from Cambridge, Victory and Stone and will be on tap, and that Megan Parisi will be there.  Pull on your pink boots and go enjoy a pint.)

Monk’s Kettle, 3141 16th Street (at Albion), San Francisco  (16th Street BART)

Sierra Nevada & Russian River CBC Collaboration Beer Event

“Public House will be hosting a party to announce a very special collaboration beer from Sierra Nevada and Russian River breweries.  In celebration of this event we will be offering vintage, limited edition and other hard to find beers from both breweries!  This is a good chance to try some great brew that won’t be available anywhere else, so plan on stopping by PH to have a pint or two and let us know what you think. This collaboration is part of the Craft Brewers Convention and sure to be a highlight of the week.” 6:00 PM – close

Public House, 24 Willie Mays Plaza (3rd and King Sts.) San Francisco

Deschutes Brewery Night at The Toronado

(No Woody, after all, how could you park it in the Lower Haight?) From 8:00 PM-close

Toronado, 547 Haight Street (between Fillmore & Steiner) San Francisco. (MUNI 71 and N-Judah)

Friday 3/25

East Bay and North Bay Brewing Revolutionaries

Beer Revolution will turn over all 47 of its taps to beers created by brewers located in the East Bay and North Bay.  This is a great opportunity to taste the great varieties of beer being brewed in our back yard. 6:00PM-Close

Beer Revolution, 464 3rd St (Between Broadway & Washington), Oakland (12th Street Oakland BART Station)

Deschutes Beer Tasting at City Beer Store

City Beer Store will be serving up “…some small appetizers from Fatted Calf to bring out the flavors of the beer as we host a casual beer tasting evening for the Friday night crowd. We will be bringing in some favorites and specials such as The Abyss, Jubel 2010, Mirror Mirror, Hop Henge Experimental IPA and Red Chair NWPA. Meet Deschutes brewmaster, Larry Sidor, along with three other Deschutes brewers as they discuss this wide variety of beers.”  6pm to close

City Beer, 1168 Folsom St # 101 (Between 7th & 8th Sts.)  Near Civic Center BART.

Deschutes Brewery Day at Whole Foods in San Ramon featuring Woody 3-7 PM

Whole Foods, 100 Sunset Dr. (between Bollinger Canyon Rd. & Bishop Dr.), San Ramon

Marrón Acidifié Kick-Off

Celebrate collaboration!  “The Bruery and Cigar City Brewing are psyched to release the fruit of their collaborative efforts during the Craft Brewer’s Conference. Join the brewers at Rosamunde Sausage Grill’s Mission location for the first public tapping of Marrón Acidifié.  Over a year in barrels has left this 8.5% ABV “imperial oud bruin” layered with notes of cranberries, tropical fruits, leather and aged balsamic vinegar, balanced by wood tannins and roasted malt.”  7pm-close.

Rosamunde Sausage Grill, 2832 Mission Street (at 24th), San Francisco. Near 24th Street BART.

Shelton Brothers Presents: Citizens of the World Gathering at The Trappist

In attendance will be Jean Van Roy from Cantillon, Yvan de Baets from De La Senne, Jens from Haand Bryggeriet, Kjetil from Nogne-O, and Stephane, JP, and Luc from Dieu du Ciel! Your chance to meet some of the top brewers, innovators from five of the best breweries in the world!

Here is the preliminary tap list for this night:  From Cantillon: lou pepe, St. lamnivus, fou fone. 

From de La Senne: Zinnebir, Equinoxe. 

From Haand: Norwegian Wood. 

From Nogne-: NogneHavre stout, #500 Imperial IPA, Sunturnbrew. 

From Dieu Du Ciel: Corne du Diable, Rosee d’Hibiscus, Route d’Espices. 


From Pretty Things: Jack D’Or. 

From Russian River: Supplication, Mortification. 

From De Dolle: Oerbier, Mad Bitch.

The Trappist, 460 8th Street, Oakland  (12th Street Oakland BART Station)

Plus some special All Week  offerings:

Vintage Beers at The Monk’s Kettle

Throughout the week, The Monk’s Kettle will also be featuring a very special selection of beers on draft and on the vintage list.  The drafts will include Cantillon Fou Foune (August 2009), Haandbryggeriet Smoke Without Fire, Stone Brewing’s Lukcy Bastard, Abbaye de St Bon Chien, Dulle Teve and a few beers from our local favorite Moonlight Brewing; five beers on draft will be from 2009.  The vintage list will include selections from Cantillon, Allagash, Russian River, Stone, BFM (Abbaye de St Bon Chien), Orval and others, dating as far back as 2006.

Monk’s Kettle, 3141 16th Street (at Albion), San Francisco.  (16th Street BART)

East Bay Beers

Barclay’s Pub will be pouring beers made by East Bay breweries throughout the week.  A great opportunity to sample the great variety of locally brewed beer in one great beer-drinking location.

Barclay’s, 5940 College Ave. (at Harwood), Oakland.  Near Rockridge BART.

Whew!  We’ll see you out there.

Explore Beer By BART; use our list of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best beer places with detailed transit info for each pub or brewery, so you can get out there to enjoy without driving.

Brew Dog Comes To Monk’s Kettle

Brew Dog founder and brewer, James Watt, stopped by Monk’s Kettle on Tuesday afternoon to share some of his brews including  Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32% ABV) and Sink the Bismark (41% ABV). 

Brew Dog is located in Aberdeen, Scotland, in the heart of Scotch Whiskey country.  Watt had been homebrewing for about 4 years before “going pro.” “My goal is to make people in the U.K. as passionate about beer as we are,” stated Watt.  His passion was fueled after meeting the late beer writer, Michael Jackson at an event in 2004.  James had some of his homebrewed stout aged in a whiskey barrel and asked Jackson if he would taste it.  According to Watt, Jackson tasted it and told him he should quit his day job and brew professionally.  Brew Dog was born.

Those of you who have tasted their beer know that it is hard to describe within traditional beer-style terms.  That’s OK with Watt.  “I want to challenge perceptions of what beer is.”  You will notice that Sink the Bismark at 41% ABV is 1% higher than Scotland’s native adult beverage, Scotch Whiskey. This was not unintentional according to Watt.

While they are perhaps best known for their high-alcohol concoctions, Watt told me that they also are working at the other extreme.  Nanny State, an ale that comes in at .5% ABV and  a 2.7% ABV Mild are part of their beer portfolio.

At Monk’s, in addition to the above mentioned 2 “big boys,” they poured:

Devine Rebel – A Barleywine brewed in collaboration with Mikkeller

5 A.M. Saint – A 5% ABV hoppy amber ale, featuring Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand

Hardcore Imperial IPA –  9.2% ABV and claimed 150 IBU’s

Bashah – A black double IPA with a Belgian yeast strain brewed in collaboration with Stone Brewery

Like all their beers, these defy easy descriptions.  Like all their beers, they have character.  And true to their mission, tasting Brew Dog beers will help  you expand your perception of what beer is.

Things to do while counting down towards SF Beer Week

The beer holiday season is upon us!

There was a time when beer festivals were a fixture of the summer months, and a locus of mass-quantities guzzling.  Gatherings that come off like that do still exist, but in recent years several cool divergent trends have emerged:  Stronger, more esoteric, more adventurous and odder craft beers on the one hand, and culinary acceptance with a move to gastropubs and elite beer/food pairings on the other.  Not only does SF Beer Week, the glorious second week of February, offer multiple opportunities to begin or to continue enjoying these trends, but there are several excellent opportunities coming up before that time, while we count the hours.

First, on the indoor and sophisticated end of the spectrum, our favorite local beer educator and Certified Cicerone, Nicole Erny, has announced a guided Belgian beer dinner at the Lafayette Park Hotel on January 29th.  From their announcement:

The Duck Club Restaurant at the Lafayette Park Hotel & Spa invites you to celebrate some of the finest beers of Belgium at a special beer dinner on Friday, January 29th, 2010.  (For reservations call 925-283-7108).

The evening will be hosted by Nicole Erny from the Trappist Belgian & Specialty Beer Bar in Oakland, CA. Nicole is a certified “Cicerone” of beers, similar to a sommelier for wine, with expertise in selecting, acquiring and serving today’s wide range of beers, and she will guide us through this menu and the world of Belgian beers. Executive Chef Chuck Courtney has created a unique menu to pair with an exceptional selection of Belgian beers to demonstrate why this small country has its tremendous beer tradition.

But is it BARTable? Almost… if you arrived in time for a 1.4 mile walk from Lafayette Station, and then returned to the station via taxi, you could probably make this transit option work. We’ll reluctantly sit this one out (as non-meat-eaters) but heartily recommend this Friday evening to the Belgian beer experienced and curious alike. Nicole has a way with describing key flavor characteristics in ways that make beer tasting twice as fun, and she knows the stories behind these legendary old world beers, too.

Next on the list is a new winter festival, the BN Winter Brews Festival, just in case you think SF Beer Week is not soon enough. (BN? Ever seen those stunning hop grenade tee shirts? Those guys.) The intrepid gang of homebrewing podcasters from The Brewing Network is producing an exciting event on the Saturday of the same weekend, January 30, at Linden Street Brewery in Oakland. They promise “winter warmers and unique innovations …and barrels from breweries such as Russian River, Firestone Walker, the 21st Amendment, Speakeasy, Linden St., Moonlight Brewing, Magnolia, and many more.”

This festival includes food and music, from 1pm to 8pm at Linden St. Brewery, 95 Linden Street in Oakland. Sounds wonderful! We like the walk from West Oakland BART to Linden Street by day, but in the evening, calling a cab to get back to BART is recommended. There is a rumor that there will be a shuttle bus operating at least for part of the festival. The area is somewhat desolate at night, though by day the industrial cityscape around Linden Street Brewery is pretty cool. Priced at a modest $25 considering the special beers promised, this should be a worthwhile afternoon.

Linden Street Brewery has been open for less than a year, and has already produced some delicious beers featured at terrific East Bay restaurants and pubs. Linden Street beers explore the West Coast brewing tradition of “common lager” revived by Anchor Steam beer, with hoppy and roasty twists. Founding brewmaster Adam Lamoreaux has hosted homebrewers during the national conference last summer, a cicerone exam study class taught by Nicole Erny, and other special events benefiting the community. So it all ties together, with a big beer holiday bow.

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

Beer dinners

Beer dinners, beer sommeliers, cicerones, beer pairings… intelligent concern with good food and beer — both the quality and quantity and attention to pairing flavors — is booming. It sure looks like a trend from where we sit. We’ll be going to a Bruce Paton Beer Chef dinner featuring beers including rarities from Valley Brewing (Stockton) and Schooner’s Grille and Brewery (Antioch) this Friday July 10, partly because we’ve been paying more attention to food and beer lately, and partly because of our appreciation for Steve Altimari and Craig Cauwels,  two exceptional brewing talents we last caught up with during their landmark cheese and beer event during SF Beer Week in February.

Cicerone Beer Sommelier Class

Though we are not particularly “foodies,” we have been paying a lot of attention to beer-food pairings lately.   First there was the Cicerone class with Nicole Erny from The Trappist. She’s one of our favorite beer tasting leaders, so when she asked us who might be interested in such a class, we jumped at the chance. Her class covered all of the areas of beer styles, tasting and serving covered by Ray Daniels’ Cicerone program, the serious beer sommelier exam.  The course just ended with a beer and food pairing exercise in the form of a delicious dinner, each course thoughtfully paired with a complementary beer by a class member. One of the surprise delights was the Urban People’ Common Lager from Linden Street paired with a mixed-fruit tart, with the fresh peaches and berries pulling out sweet golden malt flavors and tangy, minty hops from this new local beer.  It was quite an eye-opener, among a whole sequence of delicious pairings which delighted us in different ways.

Millennium Vegetarian Beer Dinner

A couple of weeks ago we went to a terrific beer dinner at Millennium, one of SF’s favorite vegetarian restaurants and certainly the one with the best every day beer list, and enjoyed a sumptuous beer pairing evening where the complexity and variety flowed together from one combination to the next.

Here’s a description from a second-hand announcement adapted from the original: “Don’t miss out on Millennium’s 2nd Annual California Beer Dinner! Local brew gals Nicole Enry from The Trappist, Christmas Collins from Russian River Brewing & “Thirsty Hopster” Jessica Jones from Firestone-Walker will be coming back for the second year to entertain and educate attendees. The ladies will showcase some of the area’s finest brews, complimented by Chef Eric Tucker’s unparalleled lust for the union of food & beer.”

Christmas, Nicole and Jessica are friends of ours, and three of the most enjoyable beer tasting leaders we know, so we had to be there.  Happily the meal was incredible, the stories about the beers amazing, and Chef Eric Tucker was charming in his description of how the flavors were matched.  For example, the new batch of Russian River Sanctification met up with roasted wild morel mushroom stuffed with white bean sage puree, and a shaved fennel, ripe nectarines, wild arugala and walnut oil salad, calling out the nectarine notes in the complex beer. The guests included Millennium fans who go to many of their special events, beer community people there to see friends and enjoy pairings, and vegetarians interested in craft beers. Interestingly, there was a sizable minority who raised their hands when Christmas asked if there was anyone who’d never tasted a sour beer before. Or is it more noteworthy that the majority had had sour beers? (Russian River beers are sure a fun choice to start the exploration.) It appeared to be a success all around, and we were happy to be there to see friends and meet new fans of some of our favorite beers, as well as to savor the work of a beer-loving chef.

Rate Beer Summer Gathering 2009– Dinner and Tour This Weekend!!

The wonderfully crowd-sourced beer-evaluation ad trading website “RateBeer” is sponsoring their Summer Gathering this weekend and luckily enough for us it is in the Bay Area.

We are attending some of the events and are happily passing the invitation along. You can still sign up (as of Thursday) for tomorrow’s dinner on the Rate Beer site, and you don’t have to be a beer rater there to join in. “The Beer Chef” — Bruce Paton — will be working with some highly appreciated and rated rare beers, making Friday a don’t-miss event.  There is limited room to sign up for several of the events of the Rate Beer Summer Gathering, July 11 in San Francisco, including a particularly inexpensive bus tour of favorite Sonoma county destinations. It’s one of those extended virtual beer community holidays that offers a chance to meet people who know and care about fine beer, as they learn about the Bay Area beer community. And about our great food town, too.

(The photo is the dessert course at another epic Beer Chef pairing dinner at Cathedral Hill Hotel. Yum!)

P.S. We didn’t list Drakes (The Saturday night Grand Tasting’s location) as a BARTable destination — it’s more than a mile from the San Leandro Station — but here’s how you’d walk (by daylight please) Get info at 510-562-0866. Sometimes there are Friday afternoon open house hours, currently on hiatus.

The mysterious Uncle Fudd, another Moonlight caper

Uncle Fudd, a "Norwegian Farmhouse Beer" from Moonlight Brewing
Uncle Fudd, “Norwegian Farmhouse Ale” from Moonlight Brewing (photo by Gail, on draft at City Beer)

Brian Hunt has another original out on tap around the town, a improbable hopless beer with a new kind of balance and a whole new kind of tongue tingling. This is not a beer that is for everyone, though oddly enough the staff at Monk’s Kettle told me that it seems to please people who ask for “something light.”

Unce Fudd is a light colored beer with a good creamy body. The initial flavor is light grain, perhaps with a touch of very mild pear-like fruitiness. It’s a rye beer, and the rye tang seems to work with the creamy quality to give a very light cream cheese flavor. Sounds weird, but it is delicious. On the first sip there is not a lot going on in the finish, and I thought it was balanced towards the malt side. The trick is to have a glass, and then to notice the warm throat tingle.

The first time I had this beer I woke up hours later noticing that my throat and pallate were pleasantly warm. Warmth in beer is usually about strong alcohol, but this is a session beer, and the warmth was different. Very strange. Compelling. Something to repeat.

A week later I enjoyed a pint, followed with a sip of a very hoppy beer. The warm tingle on the tongue seemed mild while drinking the Fudd, but following it with a sip of IPA was an eye-opener. The strong hops were very irritating to the tongue following old Uncle Fudd. Next time the Uncle gets followed by a less hoppy Belgian, or another malt-forward beer.

Brian Hunt’s impish sense of humor comes through in the beer’s name, inspired by his mysterious ingredient, a new world cedar, the wood of the genus Thuja. Not a cedar barrel, Brian actually tossed the carefully selected Thuja branches into the stainless steel fermentation tank. Moonlight Brewing does it again.

Elmer Fudd would have loved saying that tree’s name. Evidently his Norwegian uncle would have asked for it in a beer. Try it if you want to taste something outside the beer flavors you know.


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Moonlight hop harvest

Where do fresh hopped beers come from? In the case of the elegant beers of Moonlight Brewing, these seasonal delights come from hand-picked estate-grown hops, added raw and fresh to fermenting beers. Brian Hunt’s Moonlight beers have always been one of the indicators for us of places in the San Francisco Bay Area that are worth taking BART to visit.

Hop happy Brian Hunt
Hop happy Brian Hunt

Last weekend we were fortunate enough to be part of a hop picking party for upcoming beer from this cherished craft brewery. (No, it is not on the BART system. It’s out in rural Sonoma County.) The textures and aromas of picking the hops were memorable, and the camaraderie was even better.

Here are a few pix and a little video, in our attempt to share some of the experience from last weekend. (A much better way to share in the harvest will be to keep an eye out for Moonlight harvest beers which may find their way to favorite places such as the Bistro, Toronado, Barclay’s, Amnesia and more.)

The estate hop fields
The estate hop fields

These curious migrant hop pickers got to work
Some curious migrant hop pickers got to work
Sean and Cindy collaborate on the ulimate IPA garnish
Sean and Cindy collaborate on the ulimate IPA garnish
Collecting the hop cones
Collecting the hop cones
Hop harvest companion
Hop harvest companion

(1 minute 16 second video with motion and yodeling)

Bucket of Love (photo and picking by Steve Shapiro)
Bucket of Love

We’re hoping to taste these tender ripe cones in another incarnation, soon!

Explore Beer By BART – a list of Bay Area good beer places with transit info, and get out there to enjoy without driving.