Beer Birthday: Natalie Cilurzo

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Today is the 46th birthday of Natalie Cilurzo, co-founder of Russian River Brewing, and the woman who makes everything run smoothly at both the brewpub and the production brewery. You’d be hard-pressed to find a nicer person in the beer world, and though she spent many years working with wine, the brewing industry is all the richer now that she’s left that all behind her. Join me in wishing Natalie a very happy birthday.

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Natalie with Vinnie at his 40th birthday party a few years ago.

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Jen Garris, from Pi Bar, Dave Keene’s wife Jen Smith, and Natalie at the Toronado 25th Anniversary Blending Dinner.

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Four out of Five, the Cilurzos and a Stan. From Left: Natalie, Stan Hieronymus, Vinnie’s mother and father, and Vinnie Cilurzo at the World Beer Cup gala dinner in 2008.

Best man Vinnie Cilurzo, Dave Keene, Jennifer Smith and maid of honor Natalie Cilurzo
Best man Vinnie Cilurzo, Dave Keene, Jennifer Smith and maid of honor Natalie at Dan & Jen’s wedding during GABF 2010.

Me, Natalie Cilurzo and Sean Paxton (and his daughter Olivia)
Me, Natalie and Sean Paxton (and his daughter Olivia) at the Pliny the Younger release in 2011. (photo by Mario Rubio.)

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Natalie last year for the 8th annual All Hopped Up for the Cure.

St. Nicholas: Patron Saint of Brewers

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While St. Nicholas is best known — in America, at least — for wearing red and white and giving presents to Children each December 25, he’s actually the patron saint for a number of professions, places and afflictions. His feast day is not actually Christmas Day, but almost three weeks earlier on December 6. That’s the reason why the holiday beer Samichlaus is brewed each year on this day. The person we associate with Christmas, Santa Claus, was based on Saint Nicholas, who was originally known (and still is in some places) as Bishop Nicholas of Myra.

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Nicholas is the patron saint of brewers, among many others. He’s also the patron saint against imprisonment, against robberies, against robbers. And Nick’s the patron for apothecaries, bakers, barrel makers, boatmen, boot blacks, boys, brewers, brides, captives, children, coopers, dock workers, druggists, fishermen, Greek Catholic Church in America, Greek Catholic Union, grooms, judges, lawsuits lost unjustly, longshoremen, maidens, mariners, merchants, penitent murderers, newlyweds, old maids, parish clerks, paupers, pawnbrokers, perfumeries, perfumers, pharmacists, pilgrims, poor people, prisoners, sailors, scholars, schoolchildren, shoe shiners, spinsters, students, penitent thieves, travellers, University of Paris, unmarried girls, and watermen. Places he’s the patron for are Apulia, Italy; Avolasca, Italy; Bardolino, Italy; Bari, Italy; Cammarata, Sicily, Italy; Cardinale, Italy; Cas Concos, Spain; Creazzo, Italy; Duronia, Italy; Fossalto, Italy; Gagliato, Italy; Greece; La Thuile, Italy; Lecco, Italy; Limerick, Ireland; Liptovský Mikulás, Slovakia; Lorraine; Mazzano Romano, Italy; Mentana, Italy; Miklavž na Dravskem polju, Slovenia; Naples, Italy; Portsmouth, England; Russia; Sassari, Italy; Sicily; Is-Siggiewi, and Malta.

He also has many names around the world, such as Baba Chaghaloo, Father Christmas, Joulupukki, Kanakaloka, Kris Kringle, Pere Noel, Papa Noël, Santa Claus, and Weihnachtsmann (“Christmas Man” or “Nikolaus”), to name just a few.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Saint Nicholas (March 15, 270 – December 6, 346) is the common name for Nicholas of Myra, a saint and Bishop of Myra (in Lycia, part of modern-day Turkey). Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and is now commonly identified with Santa Claus. His reputation evolved among the faithful, as was the custom in his time. In 1087, his relics were furtively translated to Bari, in southern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nicholas of Bari.

The historical Saint Nicholas is remembered and revered among Catholic and Orthodox Christians. He is also honoured by various Anglican and Lutheran churches. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, and children, and students in Greece, Belgium, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Slovakia, Serbia and Montenegro. He is also the patron saint of Barranquilla, Bari, Amsterdam, Beit Jala, and Liverpool. In 1809, the New-York Historical Society convened and retroactively named Sancte Claus the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam, the Dutch name for New York City. He was also a patron of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors, who protected his relics in Bari. So beloved is Saint Nicholas by Russians, one commonly heard saying is that “if God dies, at least we’ll still have St. Nicholas.”

The American image of Santa Claus in red and white has more to do with marketing than anything else. I wrote about this in The Santa Hypocrisy a couple of years ago when the Shelton Brothers were in hot water from several states who tried to tell them Santa Claus on a beer label threatened the American way of life and especially the impressionable young kiddies who would all be led down the path to underage drinking and alcoholism because Santa was depicted on a beer label. It was an utterly ridiculous position and they ultimately backed down, but it’s indicative of our puritan hang-ups as a culture and our general paternalism where we believe everyone needs to be protected. And in retrospect I can now see how the “institutionalized demonization of alcohol” creates the conditions for such decisions. Remember the message? “Alcohol is evil. No one can be trusted with it.” When that’s the underlying assumption, you create rules for what can and can’t be displayed on a label that are way beyond reason; standards no other products have to follow because they’re not seen as inherently evil.

But before the 20th century and in other parts of the world, Santa Claus was and still is depicted in many different ways and in various colors. Father Christmas, for example, is often seen wearing a green robe, as in the British Isles he’s more associated with nature and the old Celtic religions. The yule log, Christmas tree, wreaths, mistletoe and many other features we take for granted during the holidays do not have direct Christian origins, but were appropriated from pagan religions in order to make the transition to Christianity easier for the masses to make. Personally, I love a green Santa Claus because it reminds me of hops, and a Santa that stands for hops is one I can get behind.
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Few American beer labels show Santa precisely because of our peculiar brand of paternalism and the label laws spawned by our institutionalized demonization of alcohol. Santa’s Private Reserve, from Rogue in Oregon, is one of the few I can think of year after year. Most, not surprisingly, come from abroad, where people take a more reasonable approach to both the holidays and alcohol. There’s the famous Santa’s Butt from Ridgeway Brewing in England, but also Pickled Santa from the Hop Back Brewery and Austria’s Samichlaus is translated as “Santa Claus.”

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Why does it seem like we’re the only uptight nation on Earth when it comes to this silly issue. In Hong Kong, a giant Santa Claus is shown with a mug of beer, and no one seems to be that concerned. Try putting something like that up here, and all hell would break loose. We’re the only country complaining that there’s a “War on Christmas,” as stupid a notion as ever there was one, especially in a nation where those who celebrate Christmas constitute the vast majority.

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The point is if the church can have a patron saint of brewing, why do religious people object to St. Nicholas being on beer labels? Wouldn’t it make perfect sense for brewers to want to place their patron saint on their beer?

Throughout Europe, Monks not only kept alive the method of brewing beer but improved techniques for making it. A Benedictine nun in Germany, Hildegard von Bingen, is most likely responsible for the introduction of hops in beer. Religion and brewing are intertwined throughout history and, in every place except the United States, that continues to be the case. Why? What about our particular religiosity makes us incapable of seeing that and reconciling it? Why is it seemingly acceptable for Santa Claus to be used to sell everything under the sun … except alcohol. Santa sells cigarettes, soda pop, fast food and pretty much everything else with capitalistic glee yet alcohol is the corrupting influence? That’s going too far somehow? Please.

That Santa Claus only appeals to children is usually the rallying cry of the buffoons who complain about this sort of thing, but a survey of pop culture will reveal that St. Nick is used in all manner of adult contexts. Kris Kringle, like the spirit of Christmas itself, belongs to all of us, not just children. There’s no doubt that I love seeing Christmas through the fresh eyes of my children, their innocence and wonder adds a new dimension to my enjoyment of the season. But I loved the holidays as much before I was a father and after I was an adult, too.

That St. Nicholas appeals to wide array of people should be obvious from the huge number of groups and places that consider him their patron. When so many look to him for comfort in such a varied number of ways, how can anyone say what he is or what he isn’t, where he’s appropriate or where he’s not? They can’t of course, despite neo-prohibitionists and our government’s attempts to the contrary. As the patron saint of brewers, Santa Claus is, and ought to be, perfectly at home on a bottle of beer.

There’s also a wealth of information about the real Santa Claus at the Saint Nicholas Center online.

Did You Hear That? Only 2 Months Until SF Beer Week

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Remember hearing the music of the ice cream truck, and running outside to meet it so you didn’t miss out on getting a popsicle, or whatever your favorite frozen treat was? Well, it’s about two months until the kickoff of SF Beer Week, and they’ve created a hilarious teaser video, reimagining the ice cream truck, or in this case beer truck, as the clarion call for beer week. Enjoy.

Craft Beer Soccer Sponsorship Fantasies

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Given that many of the regional breweries continue to grow by leaps and bounds, it’s only a matter of time before they start considering some of the same types of sponsorships that in the past were usually reserved for the really big beer companies. But they certainly couldn’t afford baseball, football or even basketball prices. But what about soccer (football)? Backheel, a website and podcast devoted to American Soccer, wondered what MLS jerseys might look like if they were sponsored by local breweries. More than wondered really, as author Trevor Hayward worked with graphic designer Edward Gaug and Dan Wiersema, of the Free Beer Movement, and they created a mythical league where all the teams are sponsored by breweries, proudly displaying their logos on the jerseys. The entire project can be seen at Major League Soccer x Craft Beer Jerseys. Below are few of my favorites, but check out all of them either on Backheel or in a slideshow at Imgur.

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The San Jose Earthquakes, sponsored by Lagunitas.

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The Seattle Sounders FC, sponsored by Elysian.

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The LA Galaxy, sponsored by the Bruery.

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The Portland Timbers, sponsored by Hair of the Dog.

But that’s not quite the end of the story. SB Nation’s Center Line Soccer (part of a group of 307 sports blogs) took it one step father, wondering if Petaluma-based Lagunitas was the best choice for the Quakes, who after all are in San Jose, quite some distance from Sonoma County. While they’re both in the Bay Area, it’s roughly a one-and-a-half to two hour drive between the two, depending on the always unpredictable traffic. So they imagined a few other choices for the Earthquakes. Again, here’s a few of my faves, and you can see all of them at What craft brewery would you like to see on the San Jose Earthquakes jersey?

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The San Jose Earthquakes, sponsored by Russian River Brewing.

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The San Jose Earthquakes, sponsored by 21st Amendment Restaurant & Brewery.

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The San Jose Earthquakes, sponsored by Drake’s Brewing.

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The San Jose Earthquakes, sponsored by Bear Republic Brewing.

Beer In Ads #1394: Enjoy Good Old-Time Beer Flavor!


Thursday’s ad is for Pabst, from 1962. The ad is fairly simple, showing Pabst’s old-time character relaxes on a porch swing with a beer on his chest. I do love a good porch swing, though I don’t think I’ve ever laid on my back with a beer like that, it seems like it would be pretty to actually take a sip and not spill it all over the place.

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Beer Birthday: Bob Brewer

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Today is the 66th birthday of Bob Brewer, longtime brewery rep. for Anchor Brewing. For many years, he worked from southern California, circling the country with the entire nation his territory (the only exception being the Bay Area) representing Anchor beers. More recently, he’s moved back to the Bay Area, but you can find him at every nook and cranny of the beer world. Join me in wishing Bob a very happy birthday.

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Bob serving a festival-goer at the Mammoth Lakes Bluesapalooza in 2007.

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Bob giving a tour at Anchor.

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Bob serves up the then-new Anchor Bock to Portland beer sage Fred Eckhardt.

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Me, brewer Mike Lee and Bob at the 2011 Anchor Christmas party.

Beer Birthday: Christian DeBenedetti

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Today is the 41st birthday of fellow beer writer and aspiring brewery owner Christian DeBenedetti. In 2011, he wrote The Great American Ale Trail and you can check out a lot of his other work online. His latest project is building a brewery on his family’s property, Springbrook Farm, to be called the Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery. In fact, through CrowdBrewed, the dedicated beer crowd funding site, he’s in the process of raising funds to finish building the brewery, the majority of which is already in place. He’s getting close to reaching the necessary amount, around 80% there, with just one day to go. So perhaps everyone can give Christian an early birthday gift today so he can get the brewery finished and the beer flowing. There are all sorts of levels for donations and you can read all about the project and what the funds will be used for at CrowdBrewed. Join me in wishing Christian a very happy birthday.

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Christian with Stephen Beaumont at the Denver Rare Beer Tasting in 2013.

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With Vinnie Cilurzo in the barrel room during a visit to Russian River Brewing.

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With Charlie Papazian at GABF.

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With Jim Koch at Ale House at Amato’s for the book release party for the Great American Ale Trail, during GABF in 2011.

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In front of the brewhouse at Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery, his brewery under construction.

Beer In Ads #1392: Budweiser Welcomes America Back


Tuesday’s ad is for Budweiser, from 1933. The ad is celebrating the end of prohibition, which is what they’re referring to when they say America is back, saying both “liberty” and “Budweiser” have returned. But I love the tagline toward the bottom where they refer to Budweiser as “Something More Than Beer.” More how, I wonder?

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