Celebrator Party concludes SF Beer Week

San Francisco Beer Week staggered to the finish line on Sunday, but not before one last highly anticipated blowout: the 23rd Annual Celebrator Party at Trumer Brauerei in Berkeley. Trumer is a somewhat ironic venue for the event, which predominantly features strong ales, many of them well above the relatively modest 4.8% abv of Trumer's sole product, its underrated pils. Trumer is the American outpost of the Austrian brewer, which settled on Berkeley, reportedly, because the local water most closely resembled that of Salzburg.
For the party, sponsored by industry Bible Celebrator Magazine, Trumer was again overshadowed by some of the more extreme elements of today's craft beer scene: Imperial-strength IPAs and barleywines, many of them weighing in with double-digit alcohol counts and smelling boozy from whiskey barrels. Don't sell Trumer Pils short, though, it's an excellent beer.

Some of the breweries in attendence featured beers brewed especially for Beer Week, including Lagunitas, with its FusionSF, Drakes with atypical barleywines and sour beers, and Anchor Brewing with its Breckle's American Brown Ale. 2010 was a momentous year for Anchor, with craft beer pioneer Fritz Maytag stepping away from day-to-day responsibilities. If Brekle's is any indication, Anchor is in good hands with brewmaster Mark Carpenter. Brekle's hearkens back to the brewery's first brewmaster, Gottlieb Brekle, who in 1871 bought Golden City Brauerie, which eventually became Anchor.
Brekle's Brown is a rich, copper brew that derives most of its flavor from malt rather than its subtle American Citra hops. It was a delicious complement to the fine grilled tri-tip steak (marinated in Scotch ale) and sides provided by Emergenscy Barbecue. In the company of so many potent brews , Brekle's seemed downright sessionable at a relatively modest 6% abv. The best complementary beers with food seem to be the brews that don't call a lot of attention to themselves, and Brekle's stands out in a supporting role. Brekle's Brown is brewed in limited quantities, so if you see it on tap, have a taste. You won't regret it.
The Celebrator party celebrates the great folks who make beer as much as it does the beer itself. Heavy-hitters like Russian River Brewing drew a crowd throughout the evening. But lesser-known excellent local brewers like Denise Jones of Moylan's, Arne Johnson of Marin Brewing, Brian Thorson of Drakes and Dave McLean of Magnolia are the backbone of our local beer revolution. Next time you raise a glass, tip it in their direction; we beer drinkers owe them a debt of gratitude. And while you're at it, tip a glass in the direction of Celebrator Publisher Tom Daldorff, who celebrated craft beer before there was much to celebrate and worked the room like a proud papa.

Drakes goes whole hog, beer lovers pig out

Beer pairs well with a wide spectrum of foods, from hors d'oeuvres to dessert. But no protein matches up with beer better than our friend, the pig. Germans and other gourmands enjoy beer with just about every part of the pig, Schweinshaxn (pig’s knuckle) to Schweinschnitzel (breaded cutlets), pork loin, pulled pork, pork loin and on and on.
Drakes Brewing in San Leandro went whole hog at its SF Beerweek food fest on Wednesday. For its feast, dubbed "Sau and Brau," Drakes teamed up with Oakland's own Chop Bar, which made a dramatic entrance with a whole roasted pig, along with flat bread, a tasty potato side, greens, and a yummy chipotle sauce.
Sau and Brau kicked off with a congenial cocktail hour featuring three of Drakes standout brews: IPA, 1500 and the hop lover favorite, Hopocalypse. The arrival of the pig triggered the introduction of a host of barrel-aged and sour beers: Hooked on Drakonics, a bourbon-barrel aged imperial stout; Barrel Droop, Drakes 2008 barleywine aged in bourbon barrels; aged Brewers Droop, the same beer aged two years in steel barrels; Brett Butler, a Belgian triple aged in French oak and inoculated with brettanomyces; and Sauer Brauer, a sour blend of Belgian blonde beer and Drakes Amber, aged in a Merlot barrel, with some brett added.

Pork loves beer in general, but has a special affinity for dark, malty beers like stouts. Hooked on Drakonics was a real crowd-pleaser. Imperial stouts can be massive and awkward, but Drakes' version was well-balanced, smooth and even subtle--characteristics all too infrequently associated with the style. It was an ideal complement to the roasted pork, highlighting some of the dish's roastier flavors without overwhelming any of them. And the pork toned down a little of the beer's 10.5% abv booziness.
Beer can also pair well with dessert, and Drakes had the perfect brew to accompany Chop Bar's luscious red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. The brettanomyces in Sauer Brauer was just the thing to contrast with the red velvet cake, which was a little too sweet on its own. Again, the combination of the cake and beer created an experience that was greater than the sum of its parts, and a delicious punctuation to a well-conceived meal.
Sau and Brau also served to christen Drake's new facility across from the brewery.
The vast warehouse will be divided among offices, barrel and beer bottle storage, and a tasting room. This is a welcome development for Drakes' legion of followers, who will no longer need to shiver in the cold parking lot during the brewery's monthly parties. For Sau and Brau, guests were mostly seated at long tables, Oktoberfest style, which made for easy conversation with other diners. Under such circumstances and after a few potent ales, it's very easy to make friends with folks who a couple of hours before were complete strangers.

The new Drakes, under the ownership of John Martin of Triple Rock, is trying hard to build a business that is woven into the local East Bay fabric, and at Sau Brau it hit all the right notes of great quality food and beer in a casual, fun environment. Drakes was always good, but if it maintains the course its on, the brewery has a chance to hit new heights.


Drakes Brewing Company
1933 Davis St
Ste 177

Phillips Ln & Beecher St)
San Leandro, CA 94577
(510) 568-2739

Chop Bar
247 4th St
Ste 111
(between Jackson St & Alice St)
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 834-2467

Opening Gala for SF Beer Week Bigger and Better

The third annual San Francisco Beer Week is in full swing, and more popular than ever. The kickoff event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Performing Arts required an expansion into the greenery outside, and that still didn’t seem like enough, with long lines waiting to get into the hall and people jostling one another at every turn. But being a beer event, a little jostling comes with the territory.
The opening gala not only got bigger, it got better, with outstanding breweries trying to outdo one another with outrageously delicious and innovative beers. One of the most popular was newcomer Almanac Brewing, founded by Jessie Freeman and Damian Fagan with the intention of creating “farm-to-barrel seasonal ales to be enjoyed alongside the seasonal cuisine of the San Francisco Bay Area.” If the enthusiastic response from the gala is any indication, Fagan and Freeman are well on their way to joining the Bay Area brewing pantheon.
Also debuting at the gala was Steve Altimari’s new venture, High Water Brewing. Altimari’s IPA put his former employer, Valley Brewing in Stockton, on the beer map, and he hasn’t lost his touch. People were raving about his appropriately named IPA called Retribution. No hard feelings about Valley, eh Steve?
Some of the well-known breweries also came up with some surprises. None more so than John Tucci, brewmaster extraordinaire at Gordon Biersch. Whatever your feelings about GB’s beers, there’s no questioning the skill of the brewer. Tucci came up with an outstanding and unusual beer, a barrel-aged hefeweizen that tasted a little funky like a saison, with some bret, but with true hefeweizen yeast and flavor characteristics. Tucci introduced thisoutstanding beer last year at Sour Monday at Triple Rock, and its a treat to drink

Proving again that it never ever rests on its laurels, Sierra Nevada concocted yet another stunner, a Belgian-style quad called 2x4. It tasted a tad bitter at first, cold from the tap, but as it settled warmly into the glass revealed a bit of cotton candy in the nose. Brewer Steve Dressler said it will be available in short supply for a while in the Bay Area, but it won’t be bottled. If you see it on tap, have a sip. It’s a potent brew.
Firestone Walker is another well-established brewery that never ceases to amaze, and its latest double IPA, Double Jack, is an outstanding beer that was chosen best in show at the 11th annual Double IPA Festival at the Bistro in Hayward over the weekend. No mean feat that. 

Firestone Walker also poured its excellent oatmeal stout, Velvet Merlin, at the gala. Oatmeal stouts are very tasty with barbecue, and I enjoyed Velvet Merlin with a tasty pork belly BLT from Urban Style Barbecue.
SF Beer Week is definitely on, and for nine glorious days, the Bay Area is the center of the universe for great beer. Go forth and drink, and be amazed.   

Hoppy Valentine’s Day

Nothing says Hoppy Valentines like beer, and beer lovers have an extra reason to celebrate, since Valentine’s Day falls squarely in the midst of San Francisco Beer Week.
Barclay’s Restaurant and Pub is celebrating Valentine’s Day with more than eight beers from Sierra Nevada, including hop stars Hoptimum, Big Foot and Harvest, along with two surprise specialties, all paired with a special menu. The festivities start at 5 p.m. and go until midnight, and there’s no charge for admission.
Beer Revolution might not seem like the most romantic venue for Valentine’s Day (although proprietors Fraggle and Rebecca really are sweethearts, even though Fraggle might not admit it). Beer Rev will host an evening with De Proef Brewing of Lochristi, Belgium. De Proef rep. Alan Shapiro will be in-house at 6 p.m. to answer any and all your queries about this enigmatic Belgian brewery. Beer Revolution will offer a collection a De Proef beers, including collaborations with Bell's, Terrapin, and Allagash. Beer Revolution doesn’t serve food, but you can order out or bring in your own food.
For “An Imperial Kind of Love,” head over to Pyramid Alehouse in Berkeley, where you can “ignite a new spark on Valentine's Day with Pyramid’s Ignition Beer Series.” You’ll be able to sample Live Wire Imperial Hefeweizen and Outburst Imperial IPA side by side with Haywire Hefeweizen and Thunderhead IPA. $10 includes samples of all 4 beers, tokens for three pints of your choice, face time with Pyramid brewers and an optional brewery tour at 4 p.m.
What? You didn’t get her a rock for Valentine’s? How about a Triple Rock? For an extremely hoppy Valentine’s Day, Triple Rock is hosting a SoCal vs. NorCal gravity-fed Imperial IPA “hop throwdown” at 4:30 p.m. that pits its own IIMAX against Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point in San Diego. You can also meet the owners and brewers from
Ballast Point. While you’re waiting for the hop-off, you can try Triple Rock’s annual lovers day nitro "stout" and see what exactly a White Chocolate Milk Stout is. Triple Rock also says it will be making a “strange new beer.” There’s no charge and the festivities begin at 11:30 a.m.

Barclay's Restaurant and Pub
5940 College Ave.
Oakland, CA 94618

Pyramid Alehouse Berkeley
901 Gilman St.
Berkeley, CA 94710

Triple Rock
1920 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94704

Our Brewers Reserve from Sierra: Saving the Best for Last

According to the parable of the wedding feast at Cana (John: 2, 1-11), when informed that the host had prematurely run out of wine, Jesus reluctantly concocted a delicious beverage from water, prompting the chief waiter to mention to the host that he had reversed custom and had withheld the finest wine to be served last.
Something similar, it seems, has occurred with Sierra Nevada’s 2010 anniversary series. Although all of the collaborations—Fritz and Ken’s Stout, brewed with Fritz Maytag at Anchor Brewing; Charlie (Papazian), Fred (Eckhart) and Ken’s Bock; and Jack (McAuliffe) and Ken’s Ale, an American barleywine—resulted in fine beers, the final installment, Sierra Nevada’s own Our Brewers Reserve: Oak Aged Ale might be the best of the bunch. Brewers Reserve, pictured at Toronado this week, blends Sierra’s pale ale and seasonal Celebration with oak-aged Bigfoot. The result is a dry-hopped ale that smooths the rough edges of Bigfoot while sacrificing none of its fullness. If you’re in the mood for a Bigfoot minus a little of the intensity, this beer is a great sipper, albeit a potent one at around 9.2% abv. Sierra Nevada continues to impress with exceptional extreme beers that are challenging without being daunting.
Brewers Reserve is on tap now at Toronado and will be served next Wednesday, February 16, at Beer Revolution in Oakland. It’s also available in large bottles.