Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival 2016

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On Saturday, the 5th annual Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival was held in Paso Robles, California. Although a relatively new festival, it has quickly become one of my favorite not-to-be-missed events of the season. The brewery describes it like this: “The Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest is an epic yet intimate gathering of 50 leading brewers from around the nation and world, celebrating craft beer in our hometown Paso Robles.” What sets it apart is great organization, a well-curated selection of brewers (who are each asked to bring a sesssionable beer and something special), lots of food, music (and perhaps more importantly, lots of areas that are quieter should you prefer that), along with many, many small details, diversions and things to do. This was another great year, with plenty of wonderful sensations to eat and drink. Here is a photo essay of the day.

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Our weekend started by picking up the teardrop camper we rented the night before.

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Which we set up in the camp set aside for brewers and media at the Paso Robles Event Center, on the grounds of where the festival would take place the next day.

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Two shots of the festival grounds before it began Saturday morning. The calm before the storm.

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This year, a separate tent housed all of the breweries from outside the U.S.

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For example, Pete Gillespie from New Zealand’s Garage Project Brewery, was pouring a very interesting beer, with a great presentation. Essentially a deconstructed Imperial Porter, Cherry Bomb, first they pour the cherry-based beer, and then on top of that is added chocolate foam from another tap that was drawn into a metal cop. It stayed fairly well separated until you drank it, then it began to mix together.
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In fact, Garage Project had well-deserved long lines all day long.

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Travis Smith and Mike Sardina, both from Societe Brewing of San Diego, with David Walker, co-founder of Firestone Walker.

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Rodger Davis, from Faction Brewing, and Kyle Smith, from Kern River Brewing, behind their respective booths.

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My wife Sarah with the great Jeremy Danner, from Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City.

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It was a fairly hot day, 100+ degrees, but we were prepared. I wore my Amish hat, and both Ken Weaver, from All About Beer, and I both brought spray bottle fans. When we posed with them, I sprayed Ken just as this photo, taken by Jon Page, was snapped.

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Firestone Walker brewmaster Matt Brynildson with Logan Plant, from Beavertown Brewery in London.

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As usual, the food was great, and even one of the vendors was serving frites, specifically truffle fries with parmesan, which I shared with Vinnie Cilurzo.

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Jeremy Danner again, this time with Boulevard brewmaster Steven Pauwels.

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With Chuck Silva (middle), former brewmaster for Green Flash Brewing, who’s working on his own place, Silva Brewing, which he’s hoping will be open by fall of this year.

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Terence Sullivan, from Sierra Nevada Brewing, beating up a buddy from Chico at Firestone Walker’s photo booth. And this is our own series of photos from the photo booth.
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The Russian River Brewing booth was also busy all day, which kept their staff busy.

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At precisely 2:23 PM, Russian River Brewing opened three seven-year-old bottles of Supplication.

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Then both Vinnie and Natalie each poured samples from each of their 6L bottles to people in the crowd, and continued pouring until they were empty.
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At the end of the festival, the voting for people’s choice was announced, and this year was one by Side Project Brewing from St. Louis.

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Me, Matt Brynildson, Logan Plant and another Firestone Walker brewer.

GABF Awards With Photographs 2015

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On Saturday, September 26, the winners of the 34th Great American Beer Festival were announced. A record 6,647 beers were judged in 92 categories by 242 judges, of which I was again privileged to be one. I was on hand at the awards ceremony and thought I’d share the results again, this time along with some of the photographs I took during the awards.

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Inside the back of the theater, about an hour before the award ceremony began.

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Justin Crossley, from The Brewing Network, on stage getting ready to simulcast the awards.

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After the theater filled up.

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A partial panorama view of the theater.

[Read more…]

Zwanze Day 2015

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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

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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.

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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.)


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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.

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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.

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

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

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Vinnie and Natalie after giving the Zwanze Day toast.

SF Beer Week Opening Gala 2015

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Friday night, the 7th annual SF Beer Week kicked off. This year’s gala was held at Fort Mason, and although I had some trepidation about the site, it actually worked fairly well. The acoustics were as bad as ever, and I think the decision to forgo live music was a good one. That also allowed two additional breweries over last year. We would have preferred to allow everyone who wanted to pour that opportunity, but the new space was much more limited than the concourse had been so we were sadly unable to accommodate every brewery. The concourse is being torn down to be replaced by a mixed use space, so we couldn’t return there this year. It’s an unfortunate truth of San Francisco that their simply aren’t a lot of spaces available to suit the needs of the opening gala, at least not and keep the price of a ticket within the reach of the average beer lover. But Brian and the San Francisco Brewers Guild did a great job of making the space work. Below are a few photos I took at this year’s gala, and for a lot more check out Gamma Nine, who took the official photos for beer week.

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The entrance at this year’s SF Beer Week opening Gala.

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Outside it was still raining, as the time to let everyone in approached.

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All of the glassware waiting for the arrival of everyone for the gala.

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Then the doors opened, and people streamed in.

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The hall filled up quickly, though it never really felt overcrowded.

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Ted Viviatson, from Eel River, and Daniel Del Grande, from Bison Brewing.

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J.J. from Petaluma Hills Brewing.

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John Martin and Kelsey Williams, sporting a six-pack hat, both from Drake’s and Triple Rock.

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San Francisco mayor Ed Lee also came to say a few words at the beginning of the gala. Before his remarks, we took him on a short tour of the hall, stopping by a couple of booths to sample a few beers. Here he’s sharing a laugh with SF Brewers Guild director Brian Stechschulte.

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Brian, mayor Lee and me at the front of the Gala. (Photo by Mike Condie.)

Bagby Beer Almost Open

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A little over a week ago I was in San Diego to take part on a panel at the Beer Bloggers Conference. After my participation was over, I was keen to see the progress Jeff and Dande Bagby were making on their new brewery, Bagby Beer Co., so I drove out to Oceanside to see the new space for myself. As I drove down the main thoroughfare in Oceanside — Coast Highway — parallel to the coast, the new brewery is on your left, making it oceanside, too. The first thing you notice is that it’s massive. I knew the space had previously been used as a car dealership, but that still didn’t prepare me for the size of it. It’s on the corner of Minnesota, a block away from Wisconsin, and takes up a sizable portion of the long block. The exterior is mostly finished, and it looks amazing.

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The view from across the street.

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Signage along the front of the building, visible from any angle.

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At the corner of the Coastal Highway and Minnesota Avenue.

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Inside, the brewery is finished, up and running, with six Bagby beers in the fermenters. It’s been 18 months since any Bagby-made beers have been available, and to my way of thinking, that’s far too long.

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The brewhouse.

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The entire restaurant side of the place will seat around 350, and there are wonderful nooks and crannies everywhere, including an upstairs open-air balcony and on the ground floor there’s this quiet sitting area for four with umbrellas tucked into a corner space.

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Downstairs, there’s another outdoor seating space, and these are not including what’s inside.

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Inside, several bars are nearing completion.

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Dandelian and Jeff Bagby in the upstairs loft dining area, with a separate small bar. The plaid back of the bench seating was inspired by Jeff’s winning plaid pants that he used to wear for GABF award ceremonies, as I detailed several years ago in Jeff “Lucky Pants” Bagby Wins Big.

So when will Bagby Beer Co. be open, with Bagby beer once flowing in the San Diego area? It should be any day now. Hell, for all I know, they might be open right now. Or maybe not. But it will be soon, and it will probably be done quietly. So if you find yourself in the area, drive by and see if the lights are on. You might get lucky, and get to be one of the first to drink some Bagby beer in a year and a half. At some point in the early fall, they’ll have a big grand opening, and that will be preceded by some pomp and ceremony. But until then, they’ll take the brewpub out for a test drive, working out the kinks, getting the food just right and pouring what I can only imagine will be some incredibly tasty beer. Frankly, I can’t wait until my next trip there.

Damaged Lagunitas Equipment In Petaluma

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When last we looked, the damaged Lagunitas brewing equipment was at the dock, at the Port of Stockton. Earlier today I stopped by the Lagunitas Brewery to pick up some samples for a tasting tomorrow for the Celebrator Beer News and, not surprisingly, the broken lauter tun was around the back of the brewery. Having traveled so far — the equipment, not me — I wanted to see it close up and snapped some photos, too.

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At the Lagunitas Brewery.

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The damaged brewhouse in Petaluma.

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Some of the damage, up close and personal.

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Close-up mayhem.

More From This Year’s Anchor Christmas Party

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If you saw my post from the Anchor Christmas Party a few days ago, my friend Mike Condie — who’s a much better photographer than I am — sent over some of the pictures he took at the party and I thought I’d share those, as well.

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The Celebrator crew.

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Alec Moss and Tom Dalldorf.

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Me with brewer Mike Lee and Bob Brewer.

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Bob Brewer showing me Anchor’s new bottling line.

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Ron Silberstein, from Thirsty Bear, and Anchor co-owner Keith Greggor.

Thanks for sharing, Mike.

Toronado Blunch 2011 Recap

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Last Sunday, the annual Toronado Belgian Beer Lunch took place, with the food again being done by Sean Paxton, the Homebrew Chef. The Belgian lunch — or Blunch, as I’ve taken to calling it — began promptly at 11:30 a.m. and went until nearly 5:30 p.m. Now that’s slow food, but really with twelve courses the pacing was just right. I had the pleasure of being seated at a table with Toronado owner Dave Keene, the beer chef Bruce Paton, and my favorite ne’er do well, Dave Suurballe. Here’s a recap of the meal.

2011 Toronado Blunch

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Before the Blunch began.

Pre-Lunch Reception:

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Handmade Toronado bread.

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Beer #1: Van Steenberge Ertveld’s Wit

First Course

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Belgian Sushi: Wit-flavored brioche infused with foie gras, roasted eel, Poperings Hommel Bier duck egg green aioli, pea shoots

Paired with DuPont Avril

Second Course

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Charcuturie Platter: Duck rillettes braised in Russian River Consecration with a Supplication gelee, duck pistachio apricot infused with Sanctification terrine, pork/duck liver and Orval beer pâté, cornichons, heirloom radishes, house-made Goulden Carolus Noel mustard, currant & Consecration compote

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Served with local The Bejkr breads

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Paired with Chimay Grand Reserve 3 Liter and Duvel Triple Hop

Third Course

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DuPont Avec Les Bons Voeux Poached Sole: On a bed of leek and turnip purée, topped with a lobster crawfish mussel Tripel Karmeliet waterzooi sauce

Paired with De Dolle Arabier and Moinette Blond

Fourth Course

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Goat Butter Poached Sea Scallop: Smoked in Mort Subite lambic barrel staves, De Ranke Guldenburg demi glaze, celery root purée infused with Affligem Noel, fennel pollen

Paired with Petrus Aged Pale

Fifth Course

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Seared Duck Breast with Sour Cherry Sauce: Sonoma County duck breasts cooked sous vide with shallots, thyme, with a dried sour cherries Hannsen Oude Kriek sauce on a bed of black barley simmer in Delirium Noel and TCHO cocoa nibs

Paired with Bocker Cuvee De Jacobins and Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek

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The Homebrew Chef, Sean Paxton.

Sixth Course

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Medium Rare Short Ribs: Cooked sous vide for 48 hours in Rochefort 8, caramelized shallots and thyme, served on a bed of Flemish-style mashed potatoes, with a fig, date Petrus Oud Bruin gravy

Paired with Echt Kriekenbier and Rochefort 10

Seventh Course

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Crepenette: Westmalle Dubbel infused Spring Sonoma lamb, mixed with creamed leeks, wrapped in caul fat topped with a sirop de Liége (pears, date simmered in a Chimay Red ale syrup) and Belgian endive salad

Paired with Rodenbach Grand Cru 2008 keg

Eighth Course

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Foie Gras: Lobes of foie gras poached in Boon Kriek, made into truffles and coated in Cantillon Rosé De Gambrinus gelee, garnished with hibiscus sea salt

Paired with Malheur Brut Reserve 2006

Ninth Course

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French Lentil Salad: Lentils simmered in Fantôme Saison, curry-scented green cauliflower, ‘wit’ candied cashews, mâche greens and toasted hemp seeds tossed in a Straus yogurt bergamot orange Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René dressing

Paired with Oud Beersal Oude Geueze Vieille

Tenth Course

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Assorted Belgian Cheeses: Grevenbroecker, Wavreumont, “St. Maure,” Charmoix, Meikaas, and Kriek Washed Fromage served with pomegranate Supplication honey, the Bejkr Biologlque bread, hazelnut fig crackers, dried fruit, honey blood orange peel candied pistachios

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Cheese Plate #2

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Paired with Liefmans Cuvee Brut and Orval, along with the bread and crackers.

Eleventh Course

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Crêpe: Boon Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait beer curd, Hanssens Oudbeitje rhubarb jam, Westmalle Tripel chamomile syrup wrapped in a Sara Buckwheat Ale crepe

Paired with De Struise T’sjeeses

Twelfth Course

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Chocolate Pot de Crème Deconstructed Pie: Speculoos cookie crust, Belgian dark chocolate infused custard, Chantilly cream

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Paired with De Struise Pannepot 2007, Scaldis Noel 1998 Magnums and De Struise Black Albert 2009, beers 18 through 20.

Okay, well that didn’t suck. Another spectacular meal. Thanks Sean and Dave.

Don Younger Memorial

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Sadly, the date chosen for Don Younger’s memorial last Sunday meant I could not attend. There were too many long-standing obligations with SF Beer Week. Happily the Bay Area was well-represented, with several friends in attendance, including Dave Keene and Jennifer Smith from the Toronado, Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo from Russian River Brewing, and Tom Dalldorf, publisher of the Celebrator Beer News. Tom took a lot of photos and was kind enough to write a guest post for me, giving his account of the day. He also has a great piece up on the Celebrator website entitled Don Remembered. Thanks Tom.

Don Younger Memorial, a Guest Post by Tom Dalldorf

A memorial for the late Don Younger, renowned publican and ultimate beer industry character, HAD to be held at his world famous Horse Brass Pub in Portland. The only question was how. Everyone even remotely connected to the beer industry knew him and respected his many contributions to brewing and beer culture and would want to be there.

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Tom Dalldorf posing with one of many Don Younger life-size stand-ups at the memorial.

Close family and HB staff decided to hold two gatherings on Sunday, February 13, to celebrate his life and times. One would be by invitation only and held inside the pub starting at 11 am and the other would be open to the public and start at 2 pm under tents erected in the parking lot behind the pub.

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Gary Fish (from Deschutes), Kurt Widmer (from Widmer Brothers) and beer writer Fred Eckhardt.

The usual Portland rain seemed to mercifully hold up while the set up and arrivals took place. Beer industry veterans and personal friends from as far away as England arrived to celebrate Don’s many accomplishments and tell outrageous Don stories late into the afternoon. The small but tightly knit PNC (Publican National Committee), of which Don was a founding member, gathered with Tom Peters, Monk’s Café in Philadelphia, having traveled furthest to be there. Others included Matt Bonny, Brouwer’s Café in Seattle; Chris Black, Falling Rock in Denver and David Keene, Toronado in San Francisco.

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Lisa Morrison, Chris and Cheryl Black (from the Falling Rock) and Tom Peters (from Monk’s Café).

Around 1 pm a toast to his memory was offered in the pub with an amazing number of shots of his favorite Macallum 12 year old Scotch distributed to the guests. Yet another toast took place inside and in the tent set up in the parking lot packed with Younger fans. This toast was picked up at pubs and beer joints all across the Pacific Coast time zone promptly at 3 pm. Jay Brooks led the toast at the Sour Beer Fest at Triple Rock in Berkeley. Others toasted at 3 pm in their own time zones.

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Lisa Morrison — a.k.a. The Beer Goddess — leading one of the many heartfelt toasts to Don.

Brookston Beer Bulletin is offering up some space for selected photos from the gathering in Portland. The beer world has lost a champion but his inspiration and dedication to the beer culture we all love will live on.

Tom Dalldorf

Below are a few more of Tom’s photos from the memorial. Thanks again, Tom.

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Natalie Ciurzo, John Maier (from Rogue) and Vinnie Cilurzo.

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Longtime friend Joy Campbell with Dave Keene’s wife Jennifer Smith.

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The crowd inside the Horse Brass pub.

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A collage of memories for the man of the hour: Don Younger 1941-2011 R.I.P.

Ken Grossman Presents The Sierra Nevada Story

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Our last day at Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp last Friday, we were invited to their last quarterly beer dinner at the Big Room at the Brewery. Executive Chef Micheal Iles created an impressive five-course dinner, which each course mimicking one meal of the day, so that in essence we ate a day’s worth in one meal. You can see a photo gallery of the beer dinner below.

And as cool as the dinner was, the real treat was a presentation given by Sierra Nevada co-founder Ken Grossman. Throughout the dinner, in between courses, he told the story of how Sierra Nevada Brewery began, complete with slides. By complete happenstance, I happened to be sitting on a riser directly in front of the presentation, so I set up my Flip camera and taped most of it. The talk is separated into 8 parts, since that’s how the presentation was given. It’s just over an hour, and part one is below.

To see the rest of Ken Grossman’s presentation, I set up a page with all 8 videos embedded, The Sierra Nevada Story. Enjoy.

Sierra Nevada Beer Dinner Photo Galley