Beer Birthday: Ken Weaver

Today is the birthday of fellow Bay Area beer writer Ken Weaver, who’s a neighbor in the next town over. If I’ve done my math correctly, today is his 32nd birthday. Ken used to work for Rate Beer, but more recently joined the staff of All About Beer magazine, and also wrote The Northern California Craft Beer Guide, with photographs by his lovely wife Anneliese Schmidt. Believe it or not, Ken has a degree in physics from Cornell but chucked it all to follow his heart and preference for writing and good beer. Physics’ loss is beer’s gain. Join me in wishing Ken a very happy birthday.

At Fred Abercrombie’s Craft Beerd’s book launch party at Taps. Left to right; Fred Abercrombie, Ken Weaver, Anneliese Schmidt, Joe and Ron Lindenbusch, from Lagunitas.

Ken and Sean Paxton at the Boonville Beer Festival in 2010 (purloined from Facebook).

At a North American Guild of Beer Writers meet-up at Breckenridge Brewing during GABF 2012, with Ken and me, dead center.

At Lagunitas for Tom Acitelli’s book release party a few years ago, with Joe Tucker, Jeremy Marshall, me, Tom and Ken.

Beer Birthday: Jim Woods

Today is the birthday of Jim Woods, founder of MateVeza, an organic brewer headquartered in San Francisco. I first met Jim when we were classmates at U.C. Davis for the brewing short course before he launched his unique business. All Jim’s beers are made with Yerba Mate, a South American herb that’s similar to tea. Technically, it’s part of the holly family, but contains caffeine and the leaves are used like tea. It works surprisingly well as a spice in beer. A couple of years ago, Jim opened the Cervecería de MateVeza, a small brewpub in San Francisco, right next to a corner of Dolores Park. Jim also puts on the Beerunch one morning (usually a Sunday) during SF Beer Week, the last few years at the Public House at the Giants’ stadium. Join me in wishing Jim a very happy birthday.

Jim at the new Cervecería de MateVeza in San Francisco.

Jim Woods, host of the Beerunch
Jim at his Beerunch during SF Beer Week in 2010.

Jim and Matt Coelho at GABF 2008.

Beer Birthday: Mike “Tasty” McDole

Today is also the birthday of living legend Mike “Tasty” McDole, homebrewer extraordinaire, and one time co-host of “The Jamil Show,” or “Can You Brew It?” and a regular still on the “Sunday Show” on The Brewing Network. Tasty would never refer to himself that way, and on Twitter he claims to be simply a “homebrewer and a craft beer enthusiast.” But most of us who know him would, as he also admits, “make [him] out to be much more.” And that is correct, I believe, as Tasty is one of the best. He’s a former Longshot winner, has given talks at the National Homebrew Convention and has won countless awards and has collaborated with numerous commercial breweries on beers. Join me in wishing Tasty a very happy birthday.

Justin Crossley & Mike McDole
With Justin Crossley at the Bistro Double IPA Festival in 2010.

With Shaun O’Sullivan at 21st Amendment in 2009.

Vic Krajl, from The Bistro, Award-Winning Homebrewer Mike McDole & Shaun O'Sullivan, from 21st Amendment
Vic Krajl, from The Bistro, Mike & Shaun O’Sullivan, from 21st Amendment at GABF in 2009.

Tasty at last year’s GABF in Denver.

Beer Birthday: Carolyn Smagalski

Today is Carolyn Smagalski’s birthday. Carolyn’s a beer writer from Pennsylvania — not sure what it is about Pennsylvania and beer writing — who writes for BellaOnline. Her nickname is the Beer Fox and she does a terrific job spreading he gospel of great beer. Join me in wishing Carolyn a very happy birthday.

Carolyn with Michael Jackson at GABF in 2006.

Don Russell, Carolyn and Curt Decker, from Nodding Head.

Don Feinberg with Carolyn.

Ralph Olson, from HopUnion, the Alpha King and Carolyn.

NOTE: Last three photos purloined from Facebook.

Beer Birthday: Fred Bowman

Today is Fred Bowman’s 71st birthday. Fred co-founded the Portland Brewing Co., which was bought a few years ago byPyramid Breweries, which in turn was bought by Magic Hat and then again by North American Breweries. Fred continues to be very active in the craft beer community, and has been supportive of the movement since the beginning. A couple of years ago, he dropped by and stayed with us during his drive ’round the country in a van, visiting old friends and family. Join me in wishing Fred a happy birthday.

By the Celebrator booth at OBF, from left, John Harris (head brewer at Full Sail Brewing), Tom Dalldorf, and Fred.

Dick Cantwell, co-owner of Elysian Brewing Co. in Seattle, with Fred at an after party at the Falling Rock during GABF.

Beer Birthday: Pete Reid

Today is Pete Reid’s 52nd birthday. Pete is the publisher of Modern Brewery Age. I first met Pete a number of years ago at a Craft Brewers Conference but finally got to know him much better during a trip to Bavaria a few years back, where the two of us took a side trip to Salzburg to visit the Austrian Trumer Brauerei. Join me in wishing Pete a very happy birthday.

At the Zotler Brauerei in Germany.

At the Bavarian Hop Museum, that’s Pete in the back row in the baseball cap.

Pete, me and Chris Rice, from All About Beer magazine, during a trip to Belgium last year.

Peter Reid, with Gary Ettelman, of Ettelman & Hochheiser at the NBWA convention in 2008.

Toasting with Horst Dornbusch at the Bamberg Brewing Museum.

Beer Birthday: Pete Slosberg

Today is my friend Pete Slosberg’s 65th birthday. Pete is, of course, best known for Pete’s Wicked Ales. After that he toyed with the idea of making barbecue but decided instead to make some incredible chocolates and had a small company, Cocoa Pete’s. A few years ago, I traveled to South America with Pete (where we took to calling him “El Pete“), where we both spoke and judged beer at a beer conference/competition in Argentina, the South Beer Cup, and then flew to Brazil to attend a pair of beer dinners Stephen Beaumont was hosting and for a while he was working on Mavericks, a newish line of canned session beers, along with Half Moon Bay Brewing, although his son Alex stayed on with Mavericks, Pete and his wife Amy are just doing a lot of traveling and looking for the next adventure … or sour beer. Join me wishing Pete a very happy birthday!

This was taken the first time I met Pete, over fifteen years ago at the KQED Beer and Food Festival in San Francisco, when I was more or less still a civilian. It was after I’d written a book on beer, but before I started working as the beer buyer for BevMo.

Pete & Amy Slosberg with Shaun O'Sullivan
Pete with his wife Amy and Shaun O’Sullivan, from 21st Amendment, at one of Sean Paxton’s beer dinners during SF Beer Week earlier this year.

Pete Slosberg, helping out for the day, shows off a finished bottle
Working the bottling line at Russian River Brewing, with a bottle of Consecration.

Matt Bonney, Stephen Beaumont, Sean Paxton, Pete Slosberg & Rick Sellers
Matt Bonney, from Brouwer’s, Stephen Beaumont, Sean Paxton, Pete and Rick Sellers, from Odonata at the Bistro Double IPA Festival.

Pete with his wife Amy and Celebrator publisher Tom Dalldorf at one of Bruce Paton’s beer dinners at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in February 2006.

Martin Boan, who organized and ran the South Beer Cup, with Pete in Buenos Aires.

Pete, with Edu Passarelli (owner of Melograno), Stephen Beaumont and me after a beer dinner at Edu’s place in Sao Paulo.

Pliny Buried By Vesuvius

While no one is sure when Pliny the Elder was born — it was sometime around 23 CE — we do know exactly when he died: it was August 25, 79 CE. How can we be so sure? Well, because the day before, August 24, Mount Vesuvius in the Gulf of Naples in southwest Italy, erupted, completely destroying the town of Pompeii. “Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was mostly destroyed and buried under 13 to 20 feet of ash and pumice in the eruption.” We know about this catastrophic event because of a letter by Pliny the Elder’s nephew, Pliny the Younger, “who saw the eruption from a distance and described the death of his uncle, an admiral of the Roman fleet, who tried to rescue citizens.” It’s sounds like it was a pretty awful event, here described on Wikipedia:

That eruption ejected a cloud of stones, ash and fumes to a height of 33 km (20.5 mi) [another source said 27 miles!], spewing molten rock and pulverized pumice at the rate of 1.5 million tons per second, ultimately releasing a hundred thousand times the thermal energy released by the Hiroshima bombing. An estimated 16,000 people died due to hydrothermal pyroclastic flows. The only surviving eyewitness account of the event consists of two letters by Pliny the Younger to the historian Tacitus.


Although known as Pliny the Elder, he was born Gaius Plinius Secundus and studied law and worked as a naval and army commander during the early Roman Empire. But he’s known today more for his writing, specifically “his encyclopedic work, Naturalis Historia, which became a model for all other encyclopedias.” Apparently he spent most of his time off “studying, writing or investigating natural and geographic phenomena in the field,” and the Naturalis Historia was his last work, and ran to 37 volumes, essentially the accumulation of everything he studied over his lifetime.

A page from a 1472 printing of Pliny’s Natural History.

This is the famous book where Pliny may have first mentioned wild hops, using his own term, “Lupus salictarius,” or “willow wolf,” to describe the plant. The brief mention of hops occurs in Book XXI, in Chapter 50.

Here’s the original Latin text of Pliny from the Teubner editions of the text:

secuntur herbae sponte nascentes, quibus pleraeque gentium utuntur in cibis maximeque Aegyptus, frugum quidem fertilissima, sed ut prope iis carere possit. tanta est ciborum ex herbis abundantia. in Italia paucissimas novimus, fraga, tamnum, ruscum, batim marinam, batim hortensiam, quas aliqui asparagum Gallicum vocant, praeter has pastinacam pratensem, lupum salictarium, eaque verius oblectamenta quam cibos.

This version is from the Second English translation, by John Bostock and Henry Thomas Riley, 1855:


We now come to the plants which grow spontaneously, and which are employed as an aliment by most nations, the people of Egypt in particular, where they abound in such vast quantities, that, extremely prolific as that country is in corn, it is perhaps the only one that could subsist without it: so abundant are its resources in the various kinds of food to be obtained from plants.
In Italy, however, we are acquainted with but very few of them; those few being the strawberry,1 the tamnus,2 the butcher’s broom,3 the sea4 batis, and the garden batis,5 known by some persons as Gallic asparagus; in addition to which we may mention the meadow parsnip6 and the hop,7 which may be rather termed amusements for the botanist than articles of food.

And here’s Note 7:

7 “Lupus salictarius,” the “willow wolf,” literally; the Humulus lupulus of Linnæus. It probably took its Latin name from the tenacity with which it clung to willows and osiers.

Here’s Book XXI, Chapter 50 translated from the 10 volume edition published by Harvard University Press, 1949-54.

L. There follow the plants that grow wild. Most peoples use these for food, especially the people of Egypt, a land very fruitful in crops, yet about the only one that could manage without them, so great an abundance of food does it get from plants. In Italy however we know few such, strawberries, wild vine, butcher’s broom, samphire, and garden fennel, which some call Gallic asparagus; besides these there are meadow parsnip and willow wolf, though these are delicacies rather than foods.

As you can see, what Pliny says is hardly definitive, and it seems not at all clear that what he’s mentioned in passing may or may not be the same thing as the hops used to make beer today. That’s been the conventional wisdom for a long time, but as we learn time and time again, that doesn’t make it true. Happily, Martyn Cornell looked at this question a few years ago, finding some of the answers to So what DID Pliny the Elder say about hops?

Here’s where the trouble begins:

The first person to identify Pliny’s lupus salictarius as the plant that Italians call lupulo, the Spanish lúpulo, Germans Hopfen and English-speakers hops seems to have been a 16th century Bavarian botanist called Leonhart Fuchs, in a book called De historia stirpium commentarii insignes, or Notable commentaries on the history of plants. But Fuchs (after whom, apparently, the fuchsia is named), had made a big effort to try to match up “modern” plants with those mentioned by classical authors, and may have made a mistake in deciding that lupulo was derived from, and identical with, Pliny’s lupus salictarius. At least one writer has suggested that the word lupulo, far from being derived from the earlier term, may simply be an Italian error for “l’upulo“, via the French for hop, houblon, and nothing to do with lupus salictarius.

Humulus lupulus (Cannabaceae) by Leonhart Fuchs,
published in “De historia stirpium commentarii insignes”, 1542

A lot has been made of Pliny’s mention of lupus salictarius, some of it reasonable, and some of quite a stretch. “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” observed Mark Twain. But this one is a bit trickier than some. It’s certainly seems possible that Pliny was talking about wild hops, and for all one knows just as likely as unlikely. It’s one of those things that you want to be true, though of course wishing for something doesn’t make it so. We may never know. Cornell concludes his article with his opinion on the matter:

I think it’s somewhere between possible and probable that lupus salictarius WAS the wild hop plant: Pliny puts it among other wild plants from which the fresh shoots were harvested for cooking, like asparagus, and hop shoots are still cooked today, while “willow wolf” is a good description of what hops are capable of in the wild as they grow up trees for support. But that’s a long way from “definite”, and to write as if Pliny’s lupus salictarius was unequivocally the hop plant is wrong.

When the great Swedish botanist Carl von Linné attached a scientific name to the hop in 1753 he gave it the genus name Humulus, from the Swedish for “hop”, humle, and the species name lupulus from the medieval Latin word for “hop”. Even if lupus salictarius WERE the origin of lupulus, therefore, it would be wrong to say, as many websites do, that Pliny “is credited with inventing the botanical name for hops.” He didn’t: Linnaeus did.

It looks like this, and many other great Strange Tales of Ale will be contained in Martyn’s latest book, which will be published in a few weeks, on September 19, 2015. Pre-order a copy on Amazon before you forget.

Luckily, true or not true, the beer Pliny the Elder tastes just as good. But on the anniversary of Pliny’s death at Pompeii, it seems as good a day as any to pour of bottle of hoppy beer. Vive la Pliny.


Beer Birthday: Carlos Sanchez

Today is the 57th birthday of Carlos Sanchez, brewmaster at Six Rivers Brewery in McKinleyville, behind the Redwood Curtain. Carlos is a veteran brewer of over 20 years, having originally interned at Humboldt Brewing Co., becoming assistant brewer there in 1990. He’s also worked at Mad River Brewing and attended Chicago’s Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology. In 1996, the opportunity to start brewing at a local start-up tempted Sanchez to become Six Rivers’ first, and only, brewmaster. He’s been there seventeen years, and counting, brewing an impressive stable of beers, including many sound interpretations of classic styles and a few others that are utterly unique. Join me in wishing Carlos a very happy birthday.

Carlos in his brewhouse.

Carlos between Six Rivers’ owners Meredith Maier Ripley and Talia Nachshon at their 11th anniversary party earlier this year.

Beer Birthday: Julian Shrago

Today is the 38th birthday of Julian Shrago, brewmaster at the Beachwood BBQ & Brewery in Long Beach, California. I can’t remember when I first ran into Julian, probably either one of the early Firestone Walker Invitational Festivals or possibly out at GABF, where in 2013, he won Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year and the following year, won big again as Large Brewpub of the Year. Julian is a great brewer and made his mark very quickly after turning pro in 2011. Join me in wishing Julian a very happy birthday.

My wife Sarah, Matt Brynildson and Julian at the Firestone Walker Invitational earlier this year.

Jamil Zainasheff, Julian and Mitch Steele in San Diego for the Stone/Heretic/Beachwood collaboration in 2014.

With Tom Nickel from O’Brien’s in San Diego.

Beachwood BBQ chef Gabe Gordon, Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo, and Julian at a beer dinner at Beachwood shortly after they added the brewery in 2011.

Julian with Charlie Papazian at GABF in 2006.

[Note: Last four photos purloined from Facebook.]