Bud Going To The Dark Side?

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Maybe it’s Deschutes’ Black Butte Porter or Guinness that’s making Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) come over to the dark side? But whatever the reason, ABI is apparently poised to release at least five, possibly six, new beers which, if not actually black, have significantly more color than your average ABI beer. And apparently they’re also more extreme beers — which for ABI means 6% a.b.v. (it’s all relative). The first of these, Bud Black Crown, is described as a “golden amber lager” so it would appear “Black Crown” is more of a ceremonial title than a beer descriptor. According to one label I saw, there’s apparently a website set up — www.budweiser.com/blackcrown — though so far there’s nothing set up there yet. The Black Crown came from the Budweiser Project 12, specifically the Los Angeles entry. According to AdAge, there will most likely be a big marketing push behind this release, which may include a Super Bowl ad, and — ooh boy — a specially designed bow-tie can. The Black Crown is expected to be launched in early February.

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Next up is Michelob Black Lager, a “Special Dark Lager” and advertised as a “German-style Doppelbock.” There’s not much information I could find on this one, so it’s anybody’s guess what this will be like.

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Then, from the Busch family comes Busch Black Light. So either they’re going after the old hippies with their black light posters or having a bit of oxymoronic fun like “jumbo shrimp” or “black gold.” This one’s also something of a head-scratcher. It, too, is 6% a.b.v. — high for a light — and also mentions being “ice-brewed.” It couldn’t be a “black light,” like a black IPA, could it? That seems way too far-fetched, doesn’t it? So what is it? I’m stumped.

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And let’s not forget the Newark, New Jersey (née Latrobe, Pennsylvania) brand Rolling Rock. They’re coming out with Rolling Rock Black Rock, an “Extra Dark,” which presumably means it’s as “extra dark” as their regular beer is “extra pale ale.”

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Lastly, there’s ABI’s German brand, Beck’s, which is brewed here in the states. Beck’s will apparently be launching two brand extensions, presumably hoping to squeeze more shelf space out of Bud-friendly retailers. The first of these is Beck’s Black Jewel. It appears that it was also be 6% a.b.v. — which I’m starting to think is a magic number — and is brewed with Liberty hops, and could possibly be a single-hop beer. No world, however, on the beer’s color.

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Lastly, this one’s more of a stretch, darkside-wise. Beck’s Sapphire looks like it will either be a single hop beer or at least feature the German hop Sapphire (a.k.a. Saphir). But it does have a dark green and black label, so who knows? It, too, will be 6% a.b.v. (so that’s four out of six). Also, I always thought sapphires were blue and my understanding is that if impurities like chromium get into the gem, then it’s called “red corundum,” or more commonly a “ruby.” So who knows what the deal is with the red sapphire?

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So why is ABI suddenly going over to the dark side with beer color, labels and in their naming strategies? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s not as if dark beers have suddenly started taking off last week. Guinness has been around for a very long time, and most craft breweries have included a porter or stout in their portfolios for decades. Although we don’t even know if these will even be black in color. It seems doubtful, more likely they’ll just be darker in relation to Bud’s other offerings, in much the same way the original pale ales weren’t really pale, just paler than the popular dark beers at the time of their introduction. Again, it’s all relative. Plus, calling beers “black” this or that just sounds cooler, especially to the hipster millennials they’re obviously targeting with these beers. Some have speculated that it’s in response to the recent success that Yuengling has enjoyed with their (slightly) darker beers, but I don’t know. It certainly will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the coming months.

Russian River Toronado 25th Anniversary Beer

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Today Russian River Brewing‘s newest beer is being released, and it’s been some time in the making. It’s a blended beer made with six beers, only two of which are actual finished beers made before, with the other four being brewed just for blending purposes. Some of the beers had been aging for many months before finally being blended and bottled in April of this year, with additional yeast added to referment in the bottle. The beer, if you haven’t guessed, is the Toronado 25th Anniversary, made for the San Francisco pub’s silver anniversary which takes place next week, though the celebrating has already begun.

Tuesday night there was an intimate beer dinner in the back room of the Toronado, to introduce the new beer for their 25th anniversary, which was called the “Toronado 25th Anniversary Dinner and Blending Session.” Homebrew Chef Sean Paxton did the food but was told he could only use one plate. In typical crazy Paxton bizarro world, he did exactly as he was told, but found the biggest plate any one of us had ever seen. The ginormous plate of many foods was paired with all six of the base beers used to create the beer.

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Known as “The Plate,” it included 547 Pate (Willie Bird turkey thighs, Liberty Duck — breasts, hearts, livers — and Sonoma County pork, marinated in Toronado 25th Anniversary, mixed with bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, thyme and pistachios), Haight Street Sausage (Sonoma County pork — shoulder, jowl and belly meat — cold smoked in Russian River Consecration barrel staves and mixed with currants soaked in Toronado 20th Anniversary, caramelized shallots and lemon thyme), Egg Head Customers (quail eggs pickled in malt vinegar infused with coriander, bay leaves, chilies and salt with red beets and sugar, garnished with a mushroom flaked sale), Fungi Dave (Petaluma chicken sous vide in Russian River Beatification, chopped and mixed with fennel, candied lemon peel and a Beatification aioli with paper thin mushroom slices, garnished with fennel pollen and truffle salt), Duck Duck Canapé (Liberty Duck confit in Toronado 25th Anniversary, made into rillettes infused with dried sour cherries topped with confit duck hearts on a hemp chia and sesame seed cracker), Riff Riff Salad (Mixed marble potatoes, green bean, yellow wax bean, apple smoked bacon and hydroponic watercress salad tossed with a Beatification funkigrette), Bejkr Bread, Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese, Beatification Jelly, Fatted Calf European-style Ham, and a slice of ripe melon.

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The six base beers were:

  1. Sonambic
  2. Blonde Ale
  3. Strong Pale Ale
  4. Ale Aged with Currants
  5. Strong Dark Ale
  6. Baltic Porter

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Around 60-70 people in the back room of the Toronado for the Toronado 25th Anniversary Dinner and Blending Session.

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I was fortunate enough to be seated at the table with my friend (and Washoes partner), Toronado owner Dave Keene, along with ….

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Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River Brewing.

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Each table setting included a pipette and an empty tulip glass so that everyone could use the six base beers to blend their own beer.

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Arne Johnson, from Marin Brewing, working on his own blend.

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Jen Garris, from Pi Bar, Dave’s wife Jen Smith, and Natalie Cilurzo.

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All six base beers with the finished product in the middle, the Toronado 25th Anniversary. If you look closely in the center, you can see the proportions for my two attempts at blending my own beers. Both of them turned out pretty well, with the second being more sour than the first (which was what I was going for).

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There was also extra pate and the Toronado 25th Anniversary along with a taste of the Toronado 20th Anniversary beer, too.

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Sean slipped in a second plate, with a dessert on it, a Toronado ‘Bar’ Cookie (a dark chocolate brownie topped with grafitti composed of oats, pistachios, dried cherries and ribbons of malt syrup).

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Dave Keene showing off the special bread Sean Paxton made for him.

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At the end of the evening, Vinnie revealed the actual blend percentages for the base beers used to create the Toronado 25th Anniversary, which were:

  1. Sonambic = 4%
  2. Blonde Ale = 16%
  3. Strong Pale Ale = 36%
  4. Ale Aged with Currants = 28%
  5. Strong Dark Ale = 12%
  6. Baltic Porter = 4%

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Dave Keene and Vinnie Cilurzo at the end of a great evening, holding a bottle of the Toronado 25th Anniversary.

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After which, the stogies came out and the evening began, with Matt Bonney, from Brouwers in Seattle, and Dave Keene getting things started. Thanks Dave, Jen, Sean, Vinnie and Natalie for spectacular evening. As of today, the new beer is available for sale. Pick up some as soon as you can, because when it’s gone, it’s gone. There’s more details on the Russian River Blog on how to get a bottle of your very own. Basically it’s $25 per bottle with a limit of two bottles per day, and it’s very limited. But stop by Russian River’s brewpub tonight for a taste of it on draft.

New Albion Beer Coming Back

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Here’s some terrific news that I can finally talk about. I was there when discussions began during last year’s Great American Beer Festival. At the annual Samuel Adams media brunch — where the Longshot winners are announced — Jim Koch started talking with Jack McAuliffe, founder of the New Albion Brewery in 1977, America’s first modern microbrewery. A idea was hatched, and I was sworn to secrecy. But thanks to my friend John Holl, the cat is out of the bag. He’s got the full story at All About Beer, entitled The Return of New Albion: America’s First Craft Brewery Gets a Revival.

After talking and negotiating since last year, on July 3, Jack McAuliffe and Jim Koch mashed in the first New Albion beer Jack has made in many years. They’re making his pale ale, or at least as best Jack can recall it.

First, he had to hash out details with Koch and brewer Dean Gianocostas. The memories came mostly easy to McAuliffe who recalled temperatures, ingredients, and processes. While the brewers had sketched out a plan in advanced, but much was changed.
“We should do it Jack’s way,” said Koch with wide eyes as he listened to McAuliffe recall the recipe.

What they settled on was New Albion Ale, a pale ale “as faithfully” as McAuliffe could recall. Malt variations that replaced strains used in the 1970s were substituted, for example.

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Jack McAuliffe and Jim Koch at the Boston brewery in Jamaica Plain.

The beer itself will debut at this year’s GABF. “Then, additional batches of New Albion Ale will be brewed at” one of the Sam Adams breweries and “distributed nationwide in 12-ounce 6-packs starting in January 2013. This is designed to be a one-shot deal so when it’s gone, it’s gone.” That will definitely be one to pick up.

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It appears the new label will be very similar to the original.

Anchor Releases California Lager

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Although SF Beer Week doesn’t officially launch until later tonight, there’s already been one event that took place at Anchor Brewing on Wednesday. Three weeks ago, they announced their new Zymaster Series and later revealed that the first beer in the series would be a pre-prohibition California Lager. Wednesday night, Anchor held an event to launch the new beer.

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The new Anchor Zymaster Series No. 1: California Lager

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Anchor co-owner Keith Gregor, Barb Condie, Steve Shapiro and me at Anchor Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Mike Condie.)

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As I wrote before, Anchor based the beer on a lager from Boca Brewing, who is believed to have made the first one in the state, around 1875. The town of Boca was located in northeast California, roughy 6.5 miles from Truckee. In 1880 it had a population of around 200 people, though today it’s literally a ghost town. The brewery was founded in 1875 and closed in 1892, four years before the Anchor Brewery opened.

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Me, Brenden Dobbel (from Thirsty Bear) and Shaun O’Sullivan (from 21st Amendment). (Photo courtesy of Mike Condie.)

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An old ad featuring the Boca Lager, the inspiration for Anchor’s California Lager.

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In addition to the California Lager, Anchor was also serving the latest batch of O.B.A. (Our Barrel Ale) which this time used a different blend and also the recent Brekle’s Brown.

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There were plenty of other local brewers in attendance to try out the new beer. Here, from the left, is John Tucci (from the San Francisco Gordon Biersch), Aron Deorsey (from Beach Chalet) and Zambo (from 21st Amendment).

So how’d the beer taste? Consensus was that it was pretty good, an interesting beer. Having had several other pre-prohibition lagers, it tasted better than most of the others. In fact, I can’t think of one I enjoyed more. A lot of the others used corn, which was common then, but I believe Anchor’s is all-malt, and the taste seems to reflect that. It’s only slightly sweet, but smooth, and the Cluster hops are fairly muted and restrained. They never overpower the flavor of the beer, they’re just there for balance. The overall flavors are similarly mild, making the beer very sessionable.

Anchor Zymaster #1 To Be A California Lager

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Yesterday Anchor Brewing announced their new line of beers under the “Zymaster Series,” with the first to debut during SF Beer Week in February.

This morning I spoke to the Zymaster himself — Mark Carpenter — who told me a bit more about the beer. It sounds like it will be a pretty interesting beer, and one I’m definitely looking forward to trying.

Carpenter told me they wanted to do something distinctly Californian, and they searched brewing logs and records that they could find from early California brewers. Reasoning that as soon as brewers had the technological ability to brew lagers, that’s what they did, so they turned their attention to lagers. In California, Boca Brewing is believed to have made the first lager in the state, around 1875 (according to American Breweries II). The town of Boca was located in northeast California, roughy 6.5 miles from Truckee. In 1880 it had a population of around 200 people, though today it’s literally a ghost town. The brewery was founded in 1875 and closed in 1892, four years before the Anchor Brewery opened.

So Anchor set about to recreate the first lager brewed in California. They used California-grown malt and California cluster hops. Clusters were the first hop variety grown in the United States. Though their origin is unknown, it has been “suggested that they arose from hybridization of varieties, imported by Dutch and English settlers and indigenous male hops.” They weren’t able to find enough cluster hops actually grown commercially in the state, but they did find cluster hops growing in Washington using the same bines that used to grow in California, before the hop-growing family took their rhizomes with them when they moved north from California to Washington.

So the first Zymaster Series beer from Anchor is also the first true lager they’ve made (with Steam beer being essentially a hybrid) and was brewed to try as best they could to replicate the first lagers brewed in California. It’s 5% a.b.v. and is a single-hop beer, using only Cluster hops. Because of quality issues in the late 19th century, lagers here tended to be more highly hopped then they are today, and Anchor’s new beer will also reflect that, though they have not yet calculated the IBUs, so no one can yet how hoppy the lager will be. Only one thing is certain, I can’t wait to see what it tastes like.

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Anchor Announces New Zymaster Series

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As promised on Friday, Anchor Brewing announced today a new series of beers they’ll be debuting during SF Beer Week. The new beers will be under the series designation “Zymaster,” which Anchor describes like this:

Zymaster n [Gk zyme leaven + master – more at ZYMURGY]
1: a new word coined by Anchor Brewing to describe a brewmaster with hands-on experience throughout the a-to-z process of creating a new beer, from the research and selection of the raw materials and development of a recipe to brewing, fermentation, cellaring, and finishing
2: a unique series of beers from Anchor Brewing, rooted in its exceptional respect for the ancient art and noble traditions of brewing and featuring extraordinary ingredients, innovative techniques, and unusual flavors

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The first Zymaster Series beer will be released at select events during SF Beer Week, which this year is February 10-19. The initial offering will be “available on draught only in 13.2 gallon and 5.16 gallon kegs,” and “[i]nitial distribution will be focused in California.”

No word yet on what the first beer will taste like, whether it will hew closely to any recognizable style, what ingredients were used to brew it, or how often we can expect subsequent offerings in the Zymaster series. Updates as they emerge.

Anchor Teases About New Beer Series

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Anchor Brewery is teasing us. Earlier today they tweeted this enigmatic photo that vaguely hints at a new series of beers from the oldest craft brewery in America. All the tweet says is that we have to wait until Monday. “We’re brewing up a special announcement for Monday, January 23. Here’s a little taste…” Can’t wait.

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High Alcohol, Low Calories: Bud Light Platinum

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This is a bit of a head scratcher. Though it’s been rumored for a while now, apparently it is coming, as AdAge is reporting that the TTB has given label approval for Bud Light Platinum. Though thought to be somewhere between 6% and 8% a.b.v., AdAge indicated the new low-calorie beer will weigh in at 6% and have 137 calories. Regular Bud Light is 4.2% a.b.v. and has 110 calories. And as regular Budweiser is 5% and 145 calories, it’s hard to see the point. Apparently, the idea is “to tap into the rising popularity of craft beers, which tend to be fuller bodied with more alcohol.” Sure, just throw in some alcohol, that should fool people. Apparently they’re missing the point that craft beer drinkers want flavor, not just higher octane. But given how successful the big brewers have been at convincing people to drink low-calorie light beers, I have little doubt this couldn’t work, too, however illogical I find the very notion of light beer.

ABI has also apparently registered the domain name budlightplatinum.com, but it’s not yet an active website. There’s not even a placeholder there so it may be some time before we see the actual beer. ABI has also not yet made an official announcement or sent out a press release.

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Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale

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No, that’s not a judgment call on my part. I love Lagunitas. But that is the name of their new seasonal ale for 2011; Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale. They’re calling it that because the new beer is a temporary replacement for their popular — and usual holiday seasonal — Brown Shugga’, which they won’t be able to brew this year due to the installation of their new 250-barrel brewhouse.

From the press release:

It is a sad day at Lagunitas when we have to tell you that our favorite seasonal — Brown Shugga — will take a year off and come back in full force in the fall of 2012 after the installation of our new brewhouse.

A brand new beer that’s sure to please is our “Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale”….. it’s our BrownShugga’ substitute.

This beer is a Dry-Hopped ‘Cereal Medley’ of Barley, Rye, Wheat, and Oats…. full of complexishness from the 4 grains, and weighing in at 7.6% abv, it is mondo-dry-hopped for that big aroma and resinous hop flavor.

The entire project has a self-deprecating air about it, including the label notes, which are always written by Lagunitas founder Tony Magee. To wit:

This sad holiday season we didn’t have the brewing capacity to make our favorite seasonal brew, the widely feared BrownShugga’ Ale. You see, we had a couple of good years (thank you very much) and so heading into this season while we are awaiting a January delivery of a new brewhouse we are jammin’ along brewing 80 barrels of IPA and PILS and such every 3 hours. A couple of months back we realized that since we can only brew a mere 60 barrels of Shugga every 5 hours, that we were seriously screwed. For every case of Shugga’ brewed, we’d short 3 cases of our daily brews. The new brewhouse will help insure that this kind of failure never happens again. It’s a mess that we can not brew our BrownShugga’ this year and we suck for not doing it. There is nothing cool about screwing up this badly and we know it. Maybe we can sue our sorry selves. There is no joy in our hearts this holiday and the best we can hope for is a quick and merciful end. F*@& us. This totally blows. Whatever. We freaking munch moldy donkey butt and we just want it all to be over ….

My guess is that the new Lagunitas Suck Holiday Ale will be so good that we’ll all forgive them and Santa will not bring them all a lump of coal this Christmas. They do seem to be appealing to Santa’s better nature but putting a yummy-looking Santa cookie on the label. Perhaps they’ll leave some of them out on Christmas Eve so when Santa comes down the brewhouse chimney, he can eat himself.

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No Beer At Royal Wedding?

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Another royal wedding’s coming up this Friday. I care about it as much as the last one in 1981 — not one whit. In deference to my British colleagues and friends who cling to the notion that the royal family matters, I’ll spare you my usual diatribe. But it was announced recently that no beer will be served at the The Royal Wedding (with it’s own “official” website, how klassy) between Prince William and commoner — could there be a more insulting term to call someone to their face? — Kate Middleton.

That’s right, no beer at a British wedding. The reason, according to the Daily Mail, is that “while the younger royals enjoy a pint from time to time, neither Kate nor William is a big beer drinker so they decided to leave it off the menu.” Which is, of course, all well and good if you take the position that it’s their wedding, they can — and should — do as they like. Personally, I had my wedding reception in a brewery. And as British clergyman Sydney Smith quipped in 1934, “what two ideas are more inseparable than beer and Britannia?” So perhaps that makes more British than the man second in line to be king.

But, unlike my wedding or your wedding, this one hardly counts as a private affair, it’s a national event and should, I suspect, reflect the nation. At a time when British beer is suffering, pub closings are epidemic and neo-prohibitionists have their attack dogs out, you would think this might be a perfect time to celebrate the wedding with that most British of drinks, cask ale. But, no, apparently champagne is more to the liking of the royals, or at least the ones who planned the wedding. But here’s the part that should have every red-blooded Brit up in arms. This is the “official” reason given for the ban on beer at the wedding. “It is thought that guests knocking back pints of ale was considered rather unseemly for such a regal affair attended by royals and heads of state from around the world” or put even more bluntly by a Daily Mail source, “[l]et’s face it, it isn’t really an appropriate drink to be serving in the Queen’s presence at such an occasion.” Really, that’s the problem? That the Queen might object to the drink her people should be most proud of, that contributes greatly to her nation’s economy, and is enjoyed by the majority of her subjects being served at her grandson’s wedding? If the royal family was truly in touch with “their people,” I should think they’d come to a very different conclusion.

Their source added. “It was always their intention to give their guests a sophisticated experience and they have chosen the food and drink with this in mind.” And there the other shoe drops. Beer isn’t “sophisticated” enough for a royal wedding. Wow.

UPDATE: Pete Brown had a similar reaction to this news and wrote a post, Beer ‘Not Appropriate’ For Royal Wedding that made some similar points and then a great many more of them, all spot on. Though hilariously, you can see in the comments, there are many people who do think the royals are still above criticism and even that no one should use “bad” language when discussing them. Oh, dear, and we’re considered the provincial ones. Hilarious.

Luckily, Scotland’s BrewDog has just the thing for this sort of nonsense, a beer entitled Royal Virility Performance. With only 1,000 bottles to be released the day before the wedding, here’s how it’s described:

A limited-edition beer containing herbal viagra to mark the forthcoming royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29th. Brewed using various well known aphrodisiacs, the limited edition artisanal beer will only be available to buy from the BrewDog.com website.

According to the specially commissioned label, the Royal Virility Performance contains herbal viagra, chocolate, Goat Weed and ‘a healthy dose of sarcasm’. The beer is a 7.5% ABV India Pale Ale and has been brewed at BrewDog’s brewery in Fraserburgh.

With this beer we want to take the wheels off the royal wedding bandwagon being jumped on by dozens of breweries; The Royal Virility Performance is the perfect antidote to all the hype. A beer should be brewed with a purpose, not just because some toffs are getting married, so we created something at our brewery that will undermine those special edition beers and other assorted seaside tat, whilst at the same time actually give the happy couple something extra on their big day.

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