Beer Birthday: Dr. Bill

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Today is also the 53rd birthday of William Sysak, better known to the beer community as Dr. Bill. Dr. Bill’s massive tastings are the stuff of legends, and he’s now transported them — albeit on a smaller scale — to working at Stone Brewing’s World Bistro & Gardens. He has impeccable taste, be it in beer, wine, whisky, cigars, what have you, and is one of the most fun people to taste with. Join me in wishing Bill a very happy birthday.

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Dr. Bill and me sharing a plate of frites before the final judging at the Hard Liver Barleywine Festival in 2008.

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Dr. Bill with Matt Bonney, from Brouwer’s/Bottleworks in Seattle at Slow Food Nation 2008 at Fort Mason.

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Dr. Bill at Falling Rock, hosting one of his legendary tastings, during GABF in 2006.

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Dr. Bill’s player’s card when he joined Stone Brewing.

Beer Birthday: Mark Ruedrich

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Today is the 64th birthday of Mark Ruedrich, co-owner, and original brewer, of North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg. Mark was a marine biologist who discovered good beer while living in England. Looking for a spot to build a brewery in Northern California, he was drawn to the tidal pools around Fort Bragg, and built a mini-beer empire there beginning in 1988. His Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout was one of the first truly great world-class beers made by early American microbreweries and helped put the nascent industry on the map. Plus he’s great fun to share a pint with. Join me in wishing Mark a very happy birthday.

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Mark with North Coast co-owner Tom Allen at GABF in 2006.

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North Coast brewer Ken Kelley with Mark at the brewery last year.

Beer Birthday: Vinnie Cilurzo

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Today is the 45th birthday of Vinnie Cilurzo, founder and brewmaster at Russian River Brewing. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know Vinnie is one of the best brewers in America and is credited with having made the first Imperial IPA. Along with his partner Natalie, his Russian River Brewery in Santa Rosa, California won unprecedented back-to-back best brewpub (and brewmaster) awards at the World Beer Cups in 2006 and 2008, and their flagship Pliny the Elder has been picked as the best beer in America by AHA members seven years in a row. And Vinnie is one of the nicest people in the industry you’ll ever meet. Join me in wishing Vinnie a happy birthday.

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Vinnie and his wife Natalie from presented to Tom Dalldorf (middle), owner of the Celebrator, a Balthazar of their yummy Damnation Ale in honor of the magazine’s 17th anniversary. A Balthazar is 12 liters or contains about 16 normal bottles of beer.

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Dave Keene, owner of the Toronado, Natalie Cilurzo, Dave’s girlfriend Jennifer and Vinnie at CBC in Seattle.

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Garrett Oliver, brewer at Brooklyn Brewing Co., and Vinnie at the Brewer’s Dinner the night before GABF begins.

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Vinnie and Rich Norgrove from Bear Republic at the Summit Hop Festival a few years ago at Drake’s.

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Vinnie with his wife and Russian River co-owner Natalie at GABF in 2009.

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Vinnie and me his 40th birthday party at the brewpub a few years ago.

Beer Birthday: Travis Smith

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Today is also the 36th birthday of Travis Smith, who’s the founder of Societe Brewing Co. in San Diego. Before that, Travis brewed at Russian River Brewing for a number of years, before moving south, where he brewed at both The Bruery and the La Jolla Brewhouse. His brewery has quickly become one of the destination spots in San Diego, and his beers are especially tasty, standing out in the area surrounded by numerous great breweries. Join me in wishing Travis a very happy birthday.

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Travis “MacGyver” Smith showing off the cork gun he made with spare brewing parts lying around the Russian River brewpub. It shot a beer cork a pretty fair distance and would pierce cardboard at 100 feet.

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Travis with Patrick Rue, from The Bruery, at GABF in 2009.

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Agostino Arioli, from Birrificio Italiano in northern Italy, with Vinnie Cilurzo and Travis, at Russian River Brewing in 2008 working on a fun collaboration beer, La Fleuette.

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Travis behind the handmade redwood bar at Societe a few days before they opened.

Beer Birthday: Steve Grossman

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Today is the 63rd birthday of Steve Grossman, the Beer Ambassador at Sierra Nevada, and co-founder Ken Grossman’s older brother. “Steve grew up in Southern California, where he and his younger brother Ken learned about the art of home brewing. Steve continued to homebrew throughout college, and when Ken founded Sierra Nevada in 1980, Steve’s passion for craft beer was immediately put to good use. In the early years of the brewery, he helped establish the Southern California distribution network, and was involved in direct sales. Today, Steve works with Sierra Nevada’s international export program, and serves as an ambassador and spokesperson for the brewery both domestically and abroad. Steve also serves as a director of the brewery’s wildly popular Beer Camp, which brings people to Sierra Nevada for a unique and intensive hands-on beer education.” Steve is a terrific ambassador not just for Sierra Nevada but for craft beer more generally. Join me in wishing Steve a very happy birthday.

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Sierra Nevada head brewer Steve Dressler with Steve at GABF in 2006.

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Steve manning the Sierra Nevada bike bar at GABF in 2010.

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Steve checking out some hops at Beer Camp #93.

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Steve at an event at Four Point Sheraton in L.A. (purloined from Facebook)

Pyramid Closes Berkeley Brewery

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North American Breweries announced today that effective immediately, they’ve closed the Pyramid Brewery that’s been located in Berkeley, California since 1997. That leaves just the Walnut Creek alehouse remaining in California, after they closed the Sacramento brewpub in 2013.

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At Pyramid’s website, it offers only the following by way of explanation.

The Pyramid Berkeley Alehouse is now closed.

Thank you so much for your support and patronage over the years! We also want to thank our employees for their dedicated service. Our other locations remain open and available to provide great beers and a wonderful experience. We hope to see you there.

The East Bay Express has a bit more of the story, explaining “Berkeley’s Pyramid Alehouse (901 Gilman St.) is now permanently closed, according to a message on the restaurant and brewery’s answering machine.”

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Of course, the story isn’t complete without acknowledging that they haven’t been brewing at that location since 2013, when the brewers voted to unionize and shortly thereafter the company suspended brewing claiming it was to “fix a quality issue.” Which was obvious nonsense, especially now that the closure has gone from temporary to permanent. The original “temporary” period to “fix” the brewery was supposed to be 6-9 months, which meant it should have reopened and brought back the laid-off brewers sometime between March and June of 2014, or a little over one year ago.

This is, at least in part, what happens when breweries become part of larger businesses like equity firms, who only care about profit and bottom lines, and not the businesses themselves. Pyramid is part of North American Breweries (NAB), and was created in 2009 when equity firm KPS Capital Partners (KPS) bought it along with Magic Hat, Portland Brewing, Labatt’s USA, Genesee and a couple of other brands. In 2012, KPS sold NAB to Cerveceria Costa Rica, a subsidiary of Florida Ice & Farm Co., for $388 million.

East Bay Express later added this update, apparently from a press release from NAB:

The company decided to close its Berkeley facility in order to prepare the building for sale — “after an extensive evaluation process. “We have made the decision to focus our West Coast production in our Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington locations,” said CEO Kris Sirchio.

Frankly, that’s about as believable as the celebrity or political figure embroiled in scandal who retires “to spend more time with his family.” I’m sorry to see the brewery go, but frankly NAB has become a difficult company with many layers to get through before finding an actual live person who can, or will, answer questions about the company’s brands. When Sacramento closed, I spent hours on websites and phones just trying to find someone who would comment or answer questions, and this time I’m not even going to try, given how awful it was last time. One commenter on the EBE piece said, “[w]ord on the street is that another brewery is looking to purchase the property,” so perhaps we’ll have good news about the location soon.

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R.I.P. Pyramid Berkeley 1997-2015.

Beer Birthday: Alec Moss

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Today is Alec Moss’ 71st birthday, which is quite frankly still hard to believe. Alec doesn’t look a day over 40! Must be the beer and motorcycles. I first got to know Alec when I worked with him on some private label contract beers I did for BevMo when he was head brewer at the now-defunct Golden Pacific Brewery in Berkeley. Alec then spent some time at Redbird Brewing before moving to the coast to be head brewer at the picturesque Half Moon Bay Brewing, but he retired a few years ago. Every time I see him now he seems to be enjoying his retirement enormously, especially now that he’s also been working part time for Anchor Brewing, building them a pilot system and working on it, too. Join me in wishing Alec a very happy birthday.

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Alec and me yesterday at his 70th birthday party at the Tornado.

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Alec in the brewhouse at Half Moon Bay Brewing Co.

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At the Toronado for He’Brew’s release party. From left: Alec, Pete Slosberg, formerly of Pete’s Wicked Ales, Jeremy Cowan of Shmaltz Brewing and Rodger Davis, now with Triple Rock Brewing.

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Alec with Tom Dalldorf at the 2011 Anchor Christmas party.

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Last year at the Breastfest in San Francisco, from left: Alec, Jeff Botz, Arne Johnson, Betsey Hensley, Vinnie & Natalie Cilurzo and Abalone Rob Mika.

Beer Birthday: Arne Johnson

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Today is my friend Arne Johnson’s 50th birthday. Arne is the head brewer at Marin Brewing in Larkspur, California. Arne makes some great beers and is a terrific person to boot. Join me in wishing Arne a very happy birthday.

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Arne and me earlier today at a birthday party for a mutual friend at the Toronado.

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Arne and me at the Brewer’s Dinner at GABF in 2006.

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Arne relaxing with a few barleywines at the Toronado Barleywine Festival.

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Rodger Davis of Triple Rock and Arne enjoy a beer out front in the warm sunshine at the Bistro’s Double IPA Festival.

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Arne Johnson and Melissa Myers, formerly with Drake’s Brewing, at the Boonville Beer Festival.

Breastfest Returns To Marin This Saturday

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This Saturday, the Breastfest moves back to Marin, and will be held this year at the Fairground Island at the Marin Civic center in San Rafael. The fest starts at Noon tomorrow, and tickets are $55 in advance and $65 at the door. Either way, it’s supporting a great cause. Over 60 breweries and 10 wineries coming together in hopes of raising money for a cancer clinic offering alternative treatments for low-income women with cancer. The new location is awesome When I first moved to Marin, we lived near the Civic Center and spent a lot of time there. It’s a great spot for a festival.

The Breastfest is a unique fundraiser in that it is organized 100% by volunteers and 100% of the proceeds goes directly to low-income women who are battling cancer right now. These women are our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and friends and they are truly grateful for your support. This cause is particularly personal to me, as I lost my mother to breast cancer when I was only 21 years old.

For its 15th year of fundraising, The Breastfest beer festival has a new location back in beautiful Marin County at the Marin Center on the Fairground Island. The fundraiser will feature endless eats and bottomless cups at no additional charge. Sip beers from 38 of the best California Breweries while listening to live music and supporting a great charitable cause.

All the Proceeds from the popular event will benefit Oakland’s Charlotte Maxwell Clinic, an award-winning non-profit women’s health provider. A pillar of low-income medical care in the Bay Area, Charlotte Maxwell has supported and saved thousands of lives by providing complementary integrative treatments for low-income women with cancer for 25 years. To date, the Breast Fest is the largest fundraiser for the clinic, which does not receive public funds.

A free-of-charge clinic that specializes in complete care for those who need it most, the clinic’s innovative comprehensive care model supports women medically and financially during treatment, giving a safety net that allows for full recovery.

The festival has also partnered with Lyft to get you to and from the Breastest safely. Get affordable rides within minutes after downloading the mobile app.If you’re new to Lyft, sign up with the promo code BREASTFEST for a free first ride up to $20. Once you download the app, create an account and enter the code in the ‘Payment’ section.Drink responsively and designate a drive or arrange a lift with LYFT!

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Duvel Invests In Firestone Walker

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Earlier today Firestone Walker Brewing — in a carefully worded press release — announced that Duvel Moortgat and Firestone Walker “will combine their two companies in the USA.”

Here’s they said it on their website, at Firestone Walker news:

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And this was the press release sent out:

July 16, 2015 – Kansas City, Mo., & Paso Robles, Ca. – In an agreement signed earlier this week, Firestone Walker Brewing Company and Duvel Moortgat will combine their two companies in the USA. The California brewery will continue to operate independently in Paso Robles under its current leadership of David Walker and Adam Firestone.

David Walker and Adam Firestone, joint founders of Firestone Walker said: “The Firestone Walker and Duvel Moortgat families have combined forces to broaden their capacity and scope as brewers. Long admirers of each other’s beers, culture and breweries, the two teams saw the perfect fit for an alliance. The partnership will allow Firestone Walker to develop our capacity across the US in a conservative and thoughtful way by consummating a life long tie with this family-owned international craft brewer, who continue their commitment to participating in the American Craft Revolution.”

“The relationship I have built with David and Adam made Firestone Walker the perfect fit for future growth,” said Michel Moortgat, CEO of Duvel Moortgat. “We share the same values; have a great mutual respect for each other’s achievements and a deeply-held belief in exceptional quality as a platform for long-term success. Bringing Firestone Walker together with Boulevard, Ommegang, Duvel and the other craft breweries in our family creates a stronger platform in the USA for us both and allows us to collaborate on brewing in different locations across the USA”

“The most important thing that we can do for Firestone Walker is to help David and Adam manage the exponential growth that their team and their brewery is experiencing right now by providing financial and production capacity to support them,” said Simon Thorpe, President of Duvel Moortgat USA. “We are not integrating our organizations. Both Boulevard and Ommegang are also enjoying tremendous success and we still have much to do in realizing our dream for both these breweries.”

The transaction between Duvel Moortgat and Firestone Walker is expected to close later this year. It is an agreement between two private, family-owned companies, so no financial or contractual details will be disclosed.

It will be interesting to see how this is the same or different from the deal Duvel did with Boulevard Brewing almost two years ago, from which Boulevard seems to have emerged unscathed and doing well, both in terms of quality and public perception. At this point, it appears it may be similar, with very little changing in terms of day to day operations of the brewery and with all the key people remaining in place.

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