Berkeley Bar Proposes Not Serving Alcohol

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Talk about your non-story. A new Kava bar set to open in Berkeley is planning on not serving alcohol and you’d think they had re-invented the light bulb. Between the bar’s own application claiming it “aims to be Berkeley’s first and only alcohol-alternative bar” and Alcohol Justice tweeting the news with their characteristic glee assuming it must be anti-alcohol, there’s not a lot to the actual story. Not to mention the way in which the Bay Area BizTalk author is spinning it so that she claims it to be “innovative,” saying that “while the common thread is serving booze, one business that plans to open in Berkeley could change that.” Puh-leeze!

Okay, first let’s dispense with the innovation or that it’s Berkeley, or anywhere for that matter’s, “first and only alcohol-alternative bar.” Berkeley and the rest of the world has thousands, maybe millions of them. They’re called cafes, coffeehouse, tea bars, ice cream parlors, and on and on. Starbucks alone operates nearly 24,000 alcohol-alternative bars, not including the few that have been test-marketing alcohol sales in the evenings. As for Alcohol Justice’s churlish remark that “If this takes off, expect Bud Light Kava,” they’re displaying their usual cluelessness. Kava is a plant “used to produce a drink with sedative and anesthetic properties. Kava is consumed throughout the Pacific Ocean cultures of Polynesia, including Hawaii, Vanuatu, Melanesia and some parts of Micronesia. Kava is sedating and is primarily consumed to relax without disrupting mental clarity. Its active ingredients are called kavalactones. A Cochrane Collaboration systematic review of its evidence concluded it was likely to be more effective than placebo at treating short-term social anxiety.”

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The scientific name for the specific plant used to make the kava drink is known as “Piper methysticum,” which means “intoxicating pepper.” So essentially it’s a different, milder high, but is used in much the same way and for the same purposes as many people use alcohol and mood-altering drugs. You just missed celebrating the Feast of Papa-Lea, the God of Kava Drinking, on September 8. Still, it’s not exactly a health drink. “People taking certain kava-based drugs and dietary products have suffered liver damage or liver failure as a result of hepatotoxicity. Consequently, kava is regulated in a number of countries. In the EU it is strictly prohibited only in Poland.” So the bar may be not serving alcohol, but that’s because they’re focusing on another, somewhat similar product. If it were more popular in the U.S., and regulated like alcohol, you can bet Alcohol Justice would be against it, and singing a different tune.

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I want to be clear that I’m not against Kava. I’ve never had it but would try it in a heartbeat if offered a chance to sample it. But I do want to point out the incessant hypocrisy of prohibitionist groups like Alcohol Justice who are so against alcohol in our society that they’ll celebrate the fact that a bar is taking a different theme to reach a specialized clientele and choosing against serving alcohol in favor of a different mood-altering drink. One they’re against, and the other … well, they don’t really understand or care about so long as it’s not alcohol.

Personally, I hope the MeloMelo Kava Bar does open. It sounds interesting, and worth trying, but please let’s dispense with the notion that it’s going to start a wave of non-alcoholic places that will squash alcohol’s prominence as the beverage of choice at bars across the nation. And especially that they’ll be characterized as “alcohol-alternative bars.” According to the Bay Area BizTalk article, “Tea, yerba mate and kombucha will also be on the menu at MeloMelo, but the bar will not serve food or ‘coffee bean-related’ products.” And let’s not forget that MeloMelo is saving themselves thousands by not buying an expensive liquor license. So these are marketing decisions to differentiate themselves from coffeehouses, and their not serving alcohol is not exactly something that’s likely to “catch on” given that there are already thousands of places where alcohol is not served already. Hell, every time someone actually tries to sell alcohol in a place where it’s traditionally not sold — like Starbucks or Burger King — the hue and cry from the wingnut prohibitionists is deafening.

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But let’s review the real issue here, and the ridiculousness of the concept of being an alcohol-alternative establishment. I think I see a way out. When you’re at a bar, or restaurant or whatever and don’t want to order something alcoholic off of the menu; don’t. Now, was that so hard? There are all sorts of people in the world, and at any given time in any number of moods. Sometimes you want or need a drink, sometimes you don’t. I’m not a big fan of seafood, in fact hate most if it and could most likely live happily my remaining days if I never saw a fish on my plate again. But I’m not boycotting restaurants with seafood choices on the menu. I just don’t order any of them. But the prohibitionists would rather limit everybody’s choice and simply not have alcohol available for legal adults to enjoy because a minority of them might not be able to handle themselves, in effect punishing those of us who can. So how about we have alcohol-alternative people and give the rest of us the ability to choose for ourselves how we we want to live our lives?

Beer Birthday: Lars Larson

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Today is the 48th birthday of Lars Larson, brewmaster of Trumer Brauerei in Berkeley, California. Larsen studied brewing in Germany and was the prefect person to recreate Trumer Pils in the United States, one of the best pilsners made in California, or indeed anywhere, foreign or domestic. I got to know Lars much better a few years ago, when we were both invited to judge a beer competition in Santiago, Chile, and he’s a very thoughtful brewer, and great fun to hang out with. Join me in wishing Lars a very happy birthday.

Lars Larson (Trumer), Homer Smith (Oak Barrel) & Shaun O'Sullivan (21st Amendment)
Lars, with Homer Smith of the Oak Barrel & Shaun O’Sullivan from 21st Amendment, at the Celebrator’s 22nd anniversary party in 2010.

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Lars in Chile with two of the brewers from Cerveceria Berlina in Argentina.

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Lars, again at the Celebrator’s 22nd anniversary party in 2010, with Brenden Dobel, from Thirsty Bear.

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Lars’ former brewing school classmate Asbjorn Gerlach, Matt Brynildson and Lars at Kross Cerveza Independiente in Chile, which Gerlach co-founded.

Lagunitas Couch Trippin’ Winner Announced

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A few weeks ago Lagunitas Brewing, my local down the street, announced a contest to win a a party in your home, Couch Trippin’ party to your home. The Couch Trippin’ Contest ended on the last day of August, and they’ve just announced the winner in a new Lagunitas video showing some of the best entries and ending with the winner’s submission.

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Congratulations to Mel Gryllz (@Gryllzlee) for emerging victorious with this wonderful shot:

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Beer Birthday: Steve McDaniels

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Today is the 46th birthday of Steve McDaniels, a former brewer with 21st Amendment. These days McDaniels is hard at work building what will become the Oakland Brewing Co. on 22nd Avenue in Oakland, and brewing their beer at other locations until it’s finished, at least he was the last time I talked to him. Admittedly, it’s been a little while so hopefully it’s still in the works. He’s also working on the soon-to-be-opened Independent Brewing. Join me in wishing Steve a very happy birthday.

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Steve with OBC partner Bruce Paton and Arne Johnson, brewmaster at Marin Brewing.

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Steve with Drake’s brewer Josh Miner.

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Steve and his lovely wife Justine.

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Claudia Davis, Steve, Justine Nguyen, Gabrielle Chan, Adrienne McMullen, Shaun O’Sullivan and Roger Davis.

Beer Birthday: Geno Acevedo

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Today is the 53rd birthday of Geno Acevedo, head brewer and co-owner of El Toro Brewing in Morgan Hill, California. Geno makes one of my favorite Oatmeal Stouts, along with many other fine beers. Join me in wishing Geno a very happy birthday.

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Geno Acevedo, with his wife Cindy, at the Boonville Beer Festival a couple of years ago.

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Geno at the beginning of GABF’s Saturday evening session in 2007.

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Geno and Cindy Acevedo at GABF in 2006.

Beer Birthday: Porter

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Alright, you caught me again. It’s not the birthday of the beer style, Porter. Strictly speaking, this isn’t really a beer post but it’s my son’s 13th birthday today, but since his name is Porter I figured people wouldn’t feel too duped by the title. It is accurate, after all. In previous years, I’d written that “one day soon, we’ll brew a porter together.” Well that day finally came, and last year on his birthday weekend it was Porter’s Porter Day, when he made his first batch of homebrew, with a little help from our friends. Anyway, please join me in wishing Porter a very happy birthday!

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At Porter’s birthday party when he turned one, trying to get at a keg of Russian River. That’s my boy! NOTE: To those of you reaching for the phone to call child protective services, put down the receiver. He did NOT drink any beer. His mother got to him before he figured out how the tap worked.

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A beautiful memory at the Rogue Alehouse in San Francisco when Porter couldn’t have been more than two, if that. Much to my surprise, Porter utterly charmed Don Younger with his ability to swiftly climb a bar stool. Don was very impressed, as was I.

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Eight years ago, showing off a 5th-birthday present from Grandpa, a Union Pacific Challenger steam engine.

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Porter two years ago, when he came with me to visit Southern Pacific Brewing in San Francisco. He’s trying to emulate his hero Tim Lincecum, at least hair-wise, pitching-wise he’s more of a closer.

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Me, Porter and Vinnie Cilurzo, after Porter’s Porter Day last year.

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Also last year, Porter’s second batch, a version of Hair of the Dog’s Doggie Claws, made with the Homebrew Chef Sean Paxton, but mostly Alan Sprints, whose own birthday was just a few days ago.

Moonlighting At Moonlight: The Hop Harvest 2014

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For a number of years, the winding down of summer brings one of my favorite traditions: hop harvest. Brian Hunt, from nearby Moonlight Brewing — the best brewer you’ve probably never heard of unless you’re from the Bay Area — has a quarter-acre of hops planted on his brewery property, known as “The Abbey de St. Humulus,” which he uses each year to make his Fresh Hop Ale, Homegrown. As we do every year we’re able, the whole family, mother-in-law included, made our way to hop harvest, which Brian does 19th century-style. Which means that entire families get together for the day, and spend hours cutting down the bines, and hand-picking the hops and filling up buckets, which will be dumped into the beer without being kilned the same day, all the while eating, drinking and socializing. In a few weeks, Homegrown will be on draft at select bars around the Bay Area, along with plenty of other fresh hop beers as beerjolais nouveau season gets underway. Below is a little photo essay of our day picking hops.

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A row of hops, ready to be picked.

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My son Porter helping me with the first stages of harvesting, cutting the bines along the bottom.

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The next step will be cutting them at the top, so we can pull them down to pick the hop cones off of the bines.

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Brin Hunt working the long knife, bring down a bine for harvesting.

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A shady spot is made under multiple pop-up canopies with a tarp floor, where the hop bines are laid out for picking, then everybody sits around and carefully pulls off the hop flowers, discarding the leaves, stems, bines and other material so only the hops that flavor the beer are separated into buckets.

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Only the flowers go into the beer.

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My wife Sarah demonstrating how when one bucket is filled, you move on to the next empty one.

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While hops are not simply loaded into your beer glass, like bitter ice cubes, with some hoppy beers, it certainly seems that way.

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There’s nothing quite like being in a hop field at harvest time, the sights and smells are amazing, with the intense aromas of hops hanging thick in the air.

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My daughter Alice digging in an almost-full bucket of freshly picked hops, nearly ready to be added to the beer.

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A very fun day picking hops in the warm California sunshine. While it was great fun, we’re all exhausted and a little sore, with scratches all over our bodies. Thank goodness, tomorrow is Labor Day, and we can relax without doing much labor, apart from enjoying a few beers.

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In a few weeks time, keep an eye out for Moonlight Brewing’s Homegrown Fresh Hop Ale, along with many other fresh hop, or wet hop, beers. They’re only around for a very short time, and once they;re gone, that’s it until next year. These are beers with intense hop aromas and flavors, and the fresher they are, better they taste.

Beer Birthday: Mike “Tasty” McDole

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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.

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

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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.

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Tasty at last year’s GABF in Denver.

Beer Birthday: Pete Slosberg

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Today is my friend Pete Slosberg’s 64th 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. More recently, he’s doing a lot of traveling and was working on Mavericks, a new line of canned session beers, along with Half Moon Bay Brewing. While his son Alex is still working woth Mavericks, Pete;s just relaxing and looking for the next adventure. Join me wishing Pete a very happy birthday!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

Couch Trippin’ Contest

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Lagunitas Brewing, my local down the street, is having a fun contest to win a a party in your home. That is, they’ll bring the Lagunitas Couch Trippin’ party to your home. What could be simpler?

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So it is pretty simple, just do the following:

  1. Snap a photo of your couch & Lagunitas
  2. Tag it #couchtrippin on IInstagram and/or Twitter

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So what can you win? Here’s how Lagunitas explains it: “We’re gonna bring the Lagunitas CouchTrippin’ party to your house … A killer band, tasty munchies, and we’ll even bring our own couch… All for you and up to 30 of your friends (sorry, we can’t have the whole town showin’ up). Follow the super simple instructions above. Or see full legal fine freakin’ print.”

Here’s mine, on our new giant sofa. It’s supposed to be a sofa bed, but we just keep it open all the time and use it as a “snuggle sofa” that fits our family of four perfectly, making it great for watching movies, playing video games, or of course, snuggling.

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Let’s see yours. You have until the end of the month, specifically “August 31, 2014 at 11:59:59 PM PST” to post or upload your own Couch Trippin’ photo. But make sure you read the rules first to make sure you don’t disqualify yourself. For example, I’m not actually “drinking or consuming an alcohol product,” because that’s one of the restrictions. I’m just holding the beer, giving it a sniff.

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We’re looking for a house to bring our CouchTrippin’ party to — so show us a pic of your couch with Lagunitas and tag #couchtrippin on Instagram or Twitter.