Beer Birthday: Craig Cauwels

Today is the 49th birthday of Craig Cauwels, who started brewing at Schooner’s in 2003, when his longtime friend Shawn Burns needed his help, and he continuing brewing there until after Burns sold the brewpub to a new owner. For a time, he was also brewing at E.J. Phair brewing, and even went back to brewing at Schooner’s part-time, splitting his time between the two East Bay breweries. More recently, Schooner’s has a new owner, who shut down the brewpub, but moved the equipment to a production space in Tracy, and is rebranding the brewery as Morgan Territory, which Craig doing all of the brewing. They even brought home their first medal from GABF this year, for a beer Craig made at Schooner’s but under the Morgan Territory name since the BA allowed them to enter under the new name even though they haven’t opened yet, which is pretty cool. Originally a molecular biologist, Craig was running the core lab facility at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard University when he gave it all up to become a professional brewer. And that’s certainly been good news for people who love great beer, because he’s a very talented brewer. Join me in wishing Craig a very happy birthday.

Craig Cauwels, from Schooner's, with Vic Krajl
Craig with Vic Krajl at the 2009 Bistro Barrel Aged Fest.

Craig with Sam Calagione (from Dogfish Head) and Dave McLean (from Magnolia’s) at the Double IPA Festival at the Bistro a couple of years ago.

Craig with Steve Altimari, from High Water Brewing at the Celebrator’s 18th anniversary party in 2007.

Craig with Brian Yaeger, the Beer Chef Bruce Paton and me at a Schooner’s beer dinner at Cathedral Hotel in 2008.

Beer Birthday: John Tucci

Today is also the 48th birthday of John Tucci, who until it closed a few years ago, was the brewmaster for the San Francisco Gordon Biersch brewpub. John was one of Gordon Biersch’s best and most senior brewers, and especially with his one-offs that he brewed at that location. He’s also a great champion for beer in San Francisco and was very active with the local brewers guild and SF Beer Week. Since the San Francisco location’s closing, he’s been brewing at their Palo Alto brewpub, but after 16 years, recently left as he’s getting closer to opening his own new brewery, 47 Hills Brewing, which will be located at 137 South Linden Avenue in South San Francisco. Join me in wishing John a very happy birthday.

John behind the bar pouring some of his beer. (Note: this photo by Winnie Hsu and purloined from Facebook.)

At the Slow Beer Festival 2008, Ian Marks (from Hog Island Oyster Co.), Taylor Boetticher (from the Fatted Calf), Dave, John and Shaun O’Sullivan (from 21st Amendment).

John when I visited him last year at the Palo Alto Gordon Biersch.

Taking delivery of new brewing equipment at 47 Hills.

Beer Birthday: Kushal Hall

Today is the 32nd birthday of Kushal Hall, Director of Brewing Operations for Speakeasy Ales & Lagers. Kushal’s been brewing at Speakeasy since 2007, and has been working his way to the top job, which he was promoted to almost three years ago. While Kushal studied photography at UC Santa Cruz, I think we can all agree the world is a better place since he became a brewer. A terrific brewer and person, please join me in wishing Kushal a very happy birthday.

Kushal, second from the left, and the gang from Speakeasy at the opening gala for SF Beer Week in 2013.

Kush serving his beer
Kush serving his beer at Speakeasy 13th anniversary bash in 2010.

Kushal as mad scientist (photo by, I believe, Brian Stechschulte).

Kushal with Betsey and Jesse Friedman at the Anchor Christmas Party in 2012.

[Note: last two photos purloined from Facebook.]

Beer Birthday: Morgan Cox

Today is the 38th birthday of Morgan Cox, founder and brewmaster of Ale Industries in Concord, California. Morgan started homebrewing at an early age, and washed kegs for Dave Heist at HopTown, before brewing at E.J. Phair. AFter eight years there, he left to open his own brewery, Ale Industries, where he’s been making inventive, tasty beers very since. Join me in wishing Morgan a very happy birthday.

Morgan at the rainy Boonville Beer Festival in 2009.

Morgan with Annie, or Annie N Crew, at the opening gala for SF Beer Week earlier this year.

Morgan pouring at the Breastfest in 2012.

Note: the last two photos purloined from Facebook.

Beer Birthday: Don Gortemiller

Today is the 63rd birthday of Don Gortemiller, former brewmaster for Pacific Coast Brewing in Oakland, California. Don was making beer there since the very beginning, back in 1988, helping to put Oakland and the Bay Area on the beer map, but left under an odd set of circumstances. I believe he’s currently on the lookout for a new opportunity. Join me in wishing Don a very happy birthday.

Steve Wolfe & Don Gortemiller, a bit lighter
Pacific Coast founder Steve Wolfe with Don at their 2009 annual Holiday Beer Tasting.

Don toasting with his beer.

Bruce Joseph with Don at Anchor Brewing.

Don rockin’ out as a young man.

Note: the last three photos purloined from Facebook.

Beer Birthday: Bill Owens

Today is the 77th birthday of Bill Owens, who founded one of California (and America’s) earliest brewpubs, Buffalo Bill’s, in Hayward, California. The brewpub opened in 1983, but in 1994 he sold it to his then-brewer, Geoff Harries, who still owns and operates it today. Bill also founded American Brewer magazine, which today is part of Bill Metzger’s empire. Bill’s also an accomplished photographer, and has published several volumes of his photos, the most famous of which is Suburbia. More recently, he’s been involved in micro-distilling, in 2003 founding the American Distilling Institute. Please join me in wishing Bill a very happy birthday.

Bill and Fritz Maytag at an event for Maureen Ogle’s book “Ambitious Brew” in 2006.

Bill at Buffalo Bill’s in 1985.

A press shot from the 1980s.

Manning the mash paddile around 1985, the year he made his first batch of Pumpkin Ale, probably the first pumpkin beer in modern times.

Bill Owens’ early book — more of a pamphlet really — on How to Build a Small Brewery.

Dan Gordon To Re-Open Original Gordon Biersch Brewpub

You probably saw the news last week that CraftWorks Restaurants and Breweries was closing the Original Gordon Biersch Brewpub in Palo Alto. It turns out that was only half of the story, the half from CraftWorks who was looking at an underperforming location with no sense of its history. Much more interesting is the other half of the story, in which a partnership will be re-opening the brewpub in February of 2016 under the name “DG’s GB,” for “Dan Gordon’s Gordon Biersch.” The group includes Gordon Biersch co-founder Dan Gordon, Oliver Gordon — Dan’s son — along with one of Gordon Biersch’s earliest employees from the very beginning (in fact employee #2 after Dan and Dean on the founding team) Steve Sinchek and his wife Lisa Sinchek. Sinchek also owns and operates two successful restaurants in the area, and they’ll be extensively renovating the 27-year old brewpub, licensing the GB name from CraftWorks. DG’s GB will be unique to the brewpub chain and the plan is to offer a one-of-a-kind experience in Palo Alto where it all began.

The Palo Alto Gordon Biersch brewpub when it opened in 1988.

Dan gave me a call at home yesterday during halftime to get me up to speed on the rest of the story, that while the Palo Alto Gordon Biersch is closed now, it won’t be forever, and the grand re-opening should be in just five months, give or take, from now. They’re basically going to gut the inside, installing a new bar on the left-hand wall of the inside, with hightop tables and communal dining. The new menu will be farm to table, with locally sourced ingredients wherever possible. There will still be Dan’s signature garlic fries, of course, but I’m more excited about a new menu item they’ll be introducing: fresh-baked Bavarian pretzels that will be made in a special oven outside.

An early press shot of Dan and Dean taken at the San Jose brewpub circa 1990.

Brewer Tom Davis, who used to brew at Palo Alto in the early days, will use the smaller brewpub brewery as both a training brewery and for R&D, to create small batch experimental and seasonal beers that will be unique to DG’s GB. They’ll offer twelve beers, brewing four rotating ones there exclusively for the Palo Alto brewpub, with the rest of the lineup produced at the San Jose production brewery, which has been making their beer since it opened in 1997.

The brewers from the production brewery will take turns on the smaller brewhouse, and will be given an opportunity to come with their own experimental recipes. Each one of these will be a one-off, and the series will be known as “Tank 21,” since there are twenty tanks at the production brewery. If one proves popular enough, it may show up later as a new package in wider distribution.

But by far this is my favorite old shot from Palo Alto.
Dan: “Gee, opening a brewery restaurant… Do you think that’s a good idea?”
Dean: “I guess we’ll know if we’re still around in 10 years.”

27 years later, I guess we know.

Zwanze Day 2015

cantillon russian-river
Today was Zwanze Day, an annual holiday deliciously made up by Jean Van Roy of Brasserie Cantillon. Cantillon made the first Zwanze beer in 2008, which that year was a rhubarb beer. In subsequent years they’ve made beers with elderflowers, pineau d’aunis (a red wine grape) and a sour witbier, made with the traditional coriander and orange peel, and last year they made Cuvée Florian, essentially Iris Grand Cru blended with cherries. This year, the beer was Wild Brussels Stout


Each year, the beer is tapped at the very same time at locations around the world, regardless of times zone. Once again, this year the Zwanze Day beer was available at 56 beer bars or breweries in seventeen countries. One of those was Russian River Brewing, one of my local breweries, so I again spent the morning there with owners Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo.

But before we get to the beer, here’s a little history of Zwanze Day. Belgium has essentially two separate regions, with the northern half known as Flanders. The language spoken there is a dialect of Dutch, known by the same name as the people of Flanders: Flemish. The word “zwanze” is unique to Flemish, has its origins in Yiddish, and essentially means a self-deprecating type of humor that’s typified by sharp-edged, playful jokes, usually good-natured. It’s said that this type of humor has become “a characteristic, defining trait” of the Flemish themselves, and for some a way of life. A “zwanze” is a joke, a “zwanzer” a joker. It was with that same playful spirit that Cantillon approached the concept of making a Zwanze beer. The goal was to create a fun beer; something a little unusual, using non-traditional ingredients.

And here’s Jean Van Roy explaining this year’s Zwanze beer:

With its Zwanze 2015, in its own way Cantillon wanted to perpetuate this typically Belgian surrealist mindset. In doing so, a few changes were made to the recipe for a traditional stout. Specifically, I fermented some raw wheat to improve mellowness and enhance storage characteristics and did not use roasted barley to avoid further accentuating the dry aspect, which was already present as a result of spontaneous fermentation.

The recipe is that of a stout, the colour is that of a stout, and spontaneous fermentation followed by 28 months of maturing in a cask has given birth to a “surreal” stout.

The dry and tart notes of a spontaneous fermentation beer combine with the roasted, slightly burnt and delicate chocolate flavours sometimes found in certain stouts.

For the 28 months of maturing we used three types of casks: 50% of the casks had already contained lambic, 25% had already been used for Côtes du Rhône wine and 25% had already been used for Cognac. Beers that have matured in old Cognac casks take up the warmth of the alcohol while those from casks having contained red wine adopt winey and fruity characteristics.

This “wild” stout’s fruitiness and “cooked” side reveal rancio flavours that are characteristic of Madeira or Banyuls wines.

Having a little fun with one of Belgium’s best known artists, Rene Magritte, and one of his best known paintings, The treachery of images (a.k.a. Ceci n’est pas une pipe.)

People lined up to try the very limited release Zwanze, stretching about halfway down the block. So not as crazy as for Pliny the Younger, but a respectable number of people, and enough that not everyone in line could be guaranteed a sample by around an hour before opening time.

The doors to the brewpub opened at 11, an hour before the worldwide toast was to take place. Four other beers from Cantillon were available on draft — Gueuze, Iris, Kriek and Rose de Gambrinus — so people had something to enjoy while they waited. And Vinnie greeted people as he walked around while people were seated.

The first pour of this year’s Zwanze beer right at Noon.

Followed by the first trays of Zwanze ready to be served.

Vinnie and Natalie after giving the Zwanze Day toast.

Beer Birthday: Don Barkley

Today is the birthday of legendary brewer Don Barkley. Barkley’s first brewing job was as assistant brewer at New Albion Brewing in Sonoma, California, America’s first modern microbrewery back in the late 1970s. He went on to help found Mendocino Brewing, and created most of their iconic brands, like Red Tail Ale and Eye of the Hawk. In 2008, Don became the brewmaster for Napa Smith Brewery in — you guessed it — Napa, and he’s been making great beer there, too, ever since. Join me in wishing Don a very happy birthday.

Don Barkley
Don at the SF Beer Week Opening Gala in 2010.

Don, me and Ed Davis each with a 1979 bottle of New Albion beer, that Ed was kind enough to donate, when we did a vintage tasting of beer that Don helped brew over thirty years ago.

Albion Don at the Toronado during the launch of the first SF Beer Week in 2009.

Don at the Celebrator Best of the West Fest in 2009, pouring the official beer of SF Beer Week, which he created for us using the original recipe for New Albion Pale Ale.

Me and Don at the Breastfest at Fort Mason a couple of years ago (photo by Mario Rubio).

Gordon Biersch Closes Original Palo Alto Brewpub

When Dan Gordon and Dean Biersch opened the first brewpub in downtown Palo Alto in 1988, it was one of the few to focus on lagers, and one of the few to focus on fine dining, or at least a step up from the usual pub fare found at most brewpubs at the time. In 1999, two years after opening a production brewery in San Jose, the brewpubs were sold to a restaurant group which today is known as CraftWorks Restaurants and Breweries, headquartered in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and includes the Rock Bottom brewpubs as well as Gordon Biersch. Dean Biersch retired and went on to open the HopMonk Taverns in Sonoma County while Dan Gordon continues to run the production brewery in San Jose.

Today, September 16, CraftWorks announced that they had closed the brewpub on Emerson Street in Palo Alto, as of the close of business on Tuesday, September 15, and apparently “apologizing for short notice.” Unfortunately, there’s no additional information, or indeed any mention at all, about the closure on their Facebook page, website or on the parent company’s corporate website, which hasn’t updated their press releases since 2011.

The Gordon Biersch brewpub on Emerson Street in Palo Alto.

NOTE: It turns out this was just half of the story. Read the other half, Dan Gordon To Re-Open Original Gordon Biersch Brewpub.