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

Toronado’s Dave Keene & Jennifer Smith Married Saturday At GABF

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Toronado owner Dave Keene and his longtime girlfriend Jennifer Smith tied the knot during the afternoon session at the Great American Beer Festival on Saturday, September 18. The impromptu ceremony took place in front of the Russian River Brewery booth, with Vinnie Cilurzo as best man and Natalie Cilurzo as Jennifer’s maid of honor. Brett Joyce, president of Rogue Ales, officiated the ceremony, Brett being a minister in the Universal Life Church.

The wedding ceremony
The wedding ceremony, with the bride on the left, the reverend Brett Joyce in the middle with the groom Dave Keene on the right, flanked by best man Vinnie Cilurzo.

The wedding came together organically and wasn’t planned. Apparently there had been another wedding at GABF and recently Marty and Lisa Jones renewed their vows in the hall, but as far as I know this is the first impromptu wedding at GABF. Once Dave and Jen made the decision, there was delay while we found where the best man and maid of honor were at. Eventually, Vinnie and Natalie were found behind the Brooklyn Brewery booth with Garrett Oliver. No one could hear in the hall, but inundated with people calling and texting, Natalie came over to find out what was going on. As soon as she realized what was happening, she sped back to grab Vinnie and Garrett so the ceremony could begin.

But the delay had a beneficial side, too. It allowed Gail Williams, from Beer by Bart, to run around the hall and find a suitable bouquet for the bride, a sprig of hops. It allowed Dave and a few of us to have a 5-minute bachelor party behind the booth. I had a Hopfather IPA. As people gathered to wait for the wedding to begin, it took on the look of something about to happen, and more and more people who knew the parties involved stopped to witness the event. Surrounded by dozens of people, perhaps as many as a hundred, Vinnie shut down his booth and the wedding ceremony began. I walked Jennifer down the aisle and gave her away, a great honor, and Brett began the vows.

Merriment ensues
After Brett declared them husband and wife, the newlyweds embraced for their first kiss as a married couple, as the crowd cheered them on.

The wedding party: Vinnie, Dave, Jennifer, Natalie, minister Brett Joyce and me, who gave the bride away
The wedding party: Vinnie, Dave, Jennifer, Natalie, minister Brett Joyce and me. I think Garrett Oliver summed it up best, when he said. “I’ve been coming to GABF for nineteen years, and this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Below is a slideshow of Dave & Jennifer’s wedding. This Flickr gallery is best viewed in full screen. To view it that way, after clicking on the arrow in the center to start the slideshow, click on the button on the bottom right with the four arrows pointing outward on it, to see the photos in glorious full screen. Once in full screen slideshow mode, click on “Show Info” to identify each photo.

Vinnie’s 40th Birthday Party

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This Sunday, Vinnie Cilurzo, founder and brewmaster at Russian River Brewing, turned forty. His wife Natalie pulled out all the stops and made it a two-day celebration, beginning with a barbecue at the production brewery.

Vinnie & Terrence Sullivan, from Sierra Nevada, filling barrels
We arrived a little early, and Vinnie and Terrence Sullivan, assistant brewer at Sierra Nevada Brewing was there with kegs of a beer that Vinnie brewed in Chico, and they were now filling into wine barrels to store in the barrel room for aging. The beer is for a special project for next year, and I can’t say more than that at this point.

My son Porter & Terrence's son Riley in Russian River's barrel room
We brought our kids along and happily so did Terrence and his wife. Their son Riley and Porter got along immediately and were thick as thieves playing in the barrel room and the rest of the brewery.

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We dropped the kids off at Grandma’s, put them to bed, and rejoined the party, which had moved to the brewpub, where we caught up again with Natalie and Vinnie.

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Natalie had a bunch of great cupcakes made, including several custom ones with a few logos you may recognize.

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The band playing was one of Vinnie’s favorites, The Famous, a San Francisco band. They even did a special song for the occasion, Pliny the Elder.

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Vinnie and me toward the end of the evening. The next day, we had brunch at Willie BIrds, near the brewery. After that, the party resumed back at the brewpub, but sadly without us. It was time to get the kids home.

Below is a slideshow of Vinnie’s 40t birthday party. This Flickr gallery is best viewed in full screen. To view it that way, after clicking on the arrow in the center to start the slideshow, click on the button on the bottom right with the four arrows pointing outward on it, to see the photos in glorious full screen. Once in full screen slideshow mode, click on “Show Info” to identify each photo.

Older Bud No Weiser

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The last event I attended during Philly Beer Week was the Older Bud No Wiser panel discussion at the World Cafe Live. Here’s how the event was promoted:

1996 was an historic year for Craft Brewing. It was in this year that Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head, Bill Covaleski from Victory, Mark Edelson of Iron Hill, Tom Kehoe of Yards, and Gene Muller of Flying Fish all took that epic leap of faith and started their own take on a craft brewery. Fourteen years later they’re all still in business and doing better then ever. Can you imagine what it would be like if they hadn’t? What a world it would be . . .

Host Greg Koch of Stone [which was also founded in 1996] will be your master of ceremonies as we turn back the clock to see what these monsters of craft brewing were doing and where their lives would have ended up, if not for hops.

Victory’s Blog also has a write-up on the event and you can watch the trailer below to see what was planned for the event.

Below is a video trailer for Older Bud No Weiser.

And it was also promoted with this hilarious fake class of ’96 yearbook, showing all of the brewery founders’ high school photos.

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I arrived from the Kite and Key event, where we met the rest of the brewers assembled there. We got beers at the back of the theater as people streamed in and founds seats.

Toasting the Class of '96: Greg Koch, Mark Edelson, Bill Covaleski, Tom Kehoe, Gene Muller & Sam Calagione
Toasting the Class of ’96: Greg Koch, Mark Edelson, Bill Covaleski, Tom Kehoe, Gene Muller & Sam Calagione.

Once the theater filled up and everyone was in their seat, the first beer was served and the five brewer/brewery founders took to the stage.

Greg Koch MC'd the Panel of 5 Philly Area Brewers

Greg Koch served as emcee for the evening (although I took over for a short time twice throughout the long night) and after a short introduction about what a bad year 1996 was for the craft brewing industry, he introduced each of the five and they told their own story about starting their individual breweries that same year.

The Panel: Tom Kehoe, Gene Muller, Mark Edelson, Bill Covaleski & Sam Covaleski
The Panel: Tom Kehoe, Gene Muller, Mark Edelson, Bill Covaleski & Sam Covaleski

The evening went by quickly with all participants taking questions from the crowd, as the beer flowed freely. For each question asked, each brewer brought along several bottles of their own beer to give to participants who asked question, which — not surprisingly — led to even more questions. Bill at Victory tells me that they filmed the entire show and that they’re editing it down to a more manageable size. It should be an interesting record. One hilarious part of the evening that deserves a wide audience is the video below, which is a spoof of what might have become of the five brewery founders if they had not been successful with their respective brewers entitled “Craft Beer Class of ’96: Where are they now?

Below is a slideshow of the World Cafe Live event. This Flickr gallery is best viewed in full screen. To view it that way, after clicking on the arrow in the center to start the slideshow, click on the button on the bottom right with the four arrows pointing outward on it, to see the photos in glorious full screen. Once in full screen slideshow mode, click on “Show Info” to identify each photo.

Hammer Time

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I arrived in Philadelphia on the train yesterday afternoon not sure what to expect. My first event wasn’t until Tuesday so I had a wide open evening. So I called a few people, including the wonderful Jennie Hatton — my agent — and also with the P.R. firm for Philly Beer Week. She was two blocks away at Misconduct with Eric Wallace from Left Hand Brewing and encouraged — no insisted — I join her there. It’s been my personal experience that nobody ever says no to Jennie Hatton, so there I went. Eric handed me his terrific barley wine and the evening began, not with a whimper but a bang. The bang, it turned out, was the now legendary “Hammer of Glory,” which Jennie had just retrieved from McGillin’s. I was even honored to carry the Hammer a time or two, which being an organizer of SF Beer Week, almost felt a little subversive. But as a Pennsylvania native and big supporter of PA beer, it also felt right at home in my hands.

Me with the Hammer of Glory
Me holding the legendary Hammer of Glory.

From there, we went to Local 44, scene of the scandalous PLCB raid by state troopers a few months back, where the fame of the Hammer of Glory spread and they were pouring more Lost Abbey beers than I’d ever seen in one place before.

Local 44 owner Brendan, the Hammer & Jennie
Local 44 owner Brendan Hartranft, the Hammer and Jennie.

After a quick stop at the City Tap House, we crawled over to Standard Tap, where their Bear Ninja Cowboy contest was about to get under way. In case you’re confused, essentially it’s beerchambeau: Bear beats Ninja, Ninja beats Cowboy and Cowboy beats Bear.

The Hammer at Standard Tap's Bear Ninja Cowboy beerchambeau
Bear Ninja Cowboys, refs the Hammer and Jennie.

Knowing (and apparently sharing) my love for all things fried and potato, Jennie took me to the North Bowl Lounge & Lanes, just a short walk from the Standard Tap for some tater tots. This very cool bowling alley also has an amazing menu of tater tot dishes, on the order of Totcho’s but with a dizzying variety of choices. We went with the Wakin’N Bacon, tots with cheddar, bacon and a hard fried egg. I also ordered a special hot dog that was also cheese, bacon and a fried egg. Holy moley, they were good, some of the best tots I’ve ever had.

Jennie w/tots & a dog at North Lanes Lounge
Tots, a dog, some eggs, bacon, cheese and Jennie.

The last stop of the night was Doobie’s, a wonderfully unpretentious neighborhood bar. It was great quiet spot to end such a great night. Plus, there was a number of people there I’d hadn’t seen in a while. They were also pouring some of the last of the elusive Standard Porter, a collaboration beer for Philly Beer Week.

Standard Tap owner Willam, Doobie's owner Patty, Suzy and Brian, both from Sly Fox Brewing and, of course, the Hammer
Standard Tap owner William Reed, Doobie’s owner Patty with the Hammer, Suzy Woods and Brian O’Reilly, both from Sly Fox Brewing.

Below is a slideshow of my Hammer Time evening. This Flickr gallery is best viewed in full screen. To view it that way, after clicking on the arrow in the center to start the slideshow, click on the button on the bottom right with the four arrows pointing outward on it, to see the photos in glorious full screen. Once in full screen slideshow mode, click on “Show Info” to identify each photo.

A Visit To Three Floyds

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Today, of course, is the annual Dark Lord Day at Three Floyds Brewery in Munster, Indiana. Since many people will not have a golden ticket and be waiting in line to buy this year’s Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout, here’s a little tour of the brewery I took the Sunday after CBC a couple of weeks ago. Three Floyds’ sales manager Lincoln Anderson was kind enough to drive Sean Paxton and me from our hotel in Chicago (and then dropped us off at the airport, thanks Lincoln) after we spent a thoroughly enjoyable few hours n Munster drinking and eating. I knew the beer would be good, I’d had plenty of it before, but I was blown away with how good the food was. Even the frites were top notch (look for a frites review soon) but everything else on the diverse menu we tried was spectacular. The walls were decorated with beer labels and cool original graffiti art. For a lazy Sunday afternoon, the brewpub filled up quickly with tourists, young couples and even families obviously just come from church.

We also had a chance to walk around in the brewery. It was fun to see the Lagunitas fermenters again that Tthree Floyds had bought from them, especially Kaboom. I also shot a short video tour of the brewery, which is below. Happy Dark Lord Day.

While we were there, preparations for Dark Lord Day were well under way, and Lincoln explained to us what else would be added, just for the day’s activities. One hiccup was that during a CBC tour it appears someone stole a bottle of Dark Lord 2010 and had put it up on eBay. Rawmar2 from Spring Grove, Illinois sold it for $12,800, though I suspect that was a false bid so no one could buy it. Even though an eBay win is a contract, it couldn’t be enforced if the goods being sold were stolen.

Three Floyds Entrance
At the entrance to the brewery.

Dark Lord Day banner from 2009
A Dark Lord Banner from 2009 hangs in the brewery.

Below is a slideshow of the Three Floyds Brewery. This Flickr gallery is best viewed in full screen. To view it that way, after clicking on the arrow in the center to start the slideshow, click on the button on the bottom right with the four arrows pointing outward on it, to see the photos in glorious full screen. Once in full screen slideshow mode, click on “Show Info” to identify each photo.

A here’s a short video of me walking through the brewery.

Beer In Ads #88: Budvar’s Ten Commandments

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Thursday’s ads are for Budějovický Budvar — one of two original Budweisers — known in the U.S. as Czechvar for reasons I’m sure you understand. The town of České Budějovice or Budweis inspired Anheuser-Busch to name their beer Budweiser, which essentially means beer from Budweis. It was today in 1895 that Budějovický Budvar was founded, which is why I decided to highlight one of their ad campaigns today.

In 2004, Budvar launched an ad campaign called the Ten Commandments, in which ten ads detailed what they considered good brewing practices, in part to distance themselves from larger European lager breweries that had made ingredient and process decisions that saved money but deviated from traditional brewing. The ads are meant to look intentionally old from the look of the paper, the text and the artwork. Each illustration shows the brewing practice and a possible punishment for breaking it. While I couldn’t find a full translation of them, I guessed as best I could.

Below is Commandment #2: Use Only Whole Hops.
Budvar Commandment #2: Use Only Whole Hops

You can see the rest of the Commandments below is a slideshow of Budvar’s Ten Beer Commandments. This Flickr gallery is best viewed in full screen. To view it that way, after clicking on the arrow in the center to start the slideshow, click on the button on the bottom right with the four arrows pointing outward on it, to see the photos in glorious full screen. Once in full screen slideshow mode, click on “Show Info” to identify each photo.

The World’s Biggest Beer Dinner

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Saturday night, the last night of the Craft Brewers Conference in Chicago — it being a World Beer Cup year — there was an awards banquet where the medals are handed out to a packed crowd of brewers and beer industry people. This year’s banquet, with 2,000 people, is believed to be the biggest beer dinner ever done — somebody call Guinness. At five courses, that’s 10,000 plates. The amount of food used reads like those lists you see for Oktoberfest. The dinner used 600 gallons of beer to pair with the courses, 200 gallons of beer to cook with, 400 pounds of butter, 300 loaves of bread, 500 pounds of onions, 600 pounds of pork belly, 160 pounds of mushrooms, 275 dozen eggs, 160 pounds of malt and 6 gallons of honey. The meal was created by Sean Paxton and Randy Mosher, with the recipes and cooking by Sean Paxton, a.k.a. the Homebrew Chef. It was impossible to capture the whole banquet space with a photo, so below is a short video of the beer dinner’s setting, shot shortly before it began.

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Randy Mosher and Sean Paxton.

Here, Sean and Randy explain the beer dinner we’re about to enjoy.

The five courses are detailed below in the slideshow. Despite the size of the dinner, the service was surprisingly swift and before we knew it, it was time for the World Beer Cup award ceremony to begin.

After the dinner; Matt Brynildson, Nancy Johnson and Sean Paxton
After the dinner; Matt Brynildson, Nancy Johnson and Sean Paxton.

Below is a slideshow of the World Beer Cup dinner. This Flickr gallery is best viewed in full screen. To view it that way, after clicking on the arrow in the center to start the slideshow, click on the button on the bottom right with the four arrows pointing outward on it, to see the photos in glorious full screen. Once in full screen slideshow mode, click on “Show Info” to identify each photo.

The Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Beer Dinner At Anchor Brewery

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Thursday night, April 1, I attended a five-course beer dinner at the Anchor Brewery in San Francisco celebrating Sierra Nevada Brewing‘s 30th anniversary and the release of their first collaboration of the year, Fritz & Ken’s Ale, which is a stout.

The evening began with Ken Grossman & Fritz Maytag

The evening was great fun with terrific company, food and, of course, beer. There was one feature of the evening I haven’t seen at a beer dinner before, but I fervently hope more will adopt. They served in-between-course beers so we had a new beer to sample while waiting for each course. That made the anticipation of each new course far more manageable. Also, between each course, both Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada, and Fritz Maytag, owner of Anchor Brewery, got up and told great stories from their early days. That may have been my favorite part of the night. Below is one round of tales, broken into two parts because of YouTube’s 10 minute max rule.

And here’s Part 2:

Having been at beer dinners and events at Anchor numerous times, they also made the space next to the brewhouse the most comfortable it’s ever been. They added sound-proof panels along the exterior wall, rented a carpet and hung banners of Anchor beer labels. It definitely worked.

Inside Anchor Brewery

But by far, this was my favorite story of the evening.

If you ever have an occasion to talk with Sam Calagione, ask him about a similar story where he had no trouble getting arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport with a brick of hops.

Ken Grossman, me and Fritz Maytag
Ken Grossman, me and Fritz Maytag and the end of the beer dinner.

Below is a slideshow of the Sierra Nevada beer dinner at Anchor. This Flickr gallery is best viewed in full screen. To view it that way, after clicking on the arrow in the center to start the slideshow, click on the button on the bottom right with the four arrows pointing outward on it, to see the photos in glorious full screen. Once in full screen slideshow mode, click on “Show Info” to identify each photo.

Knowing Your Limits

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I woke up again in Seattle, my second day here. Yesterday I helped to choose the winners of the Hard Liver Barleywine Fest at Brouwer’s Cafe. It’s the eighth year of the festival and it’s really grown into an impressive event in the several years I’ve been coming up for it.

But the weekend has got me thinking, not about barley wines, but tasting in general. At these types of festivals, people often try to taste every offering — in small quantities of course — of some very big beers. You see it at the Toronado Barleywine Festival and you see if at Brouwer’s Hard Liver, where this year 50 barley wines will be judged and something like 62 or 66 will be served, owing to multiple vintages of the same beers.

And as impressive as that is, it’s today that has me worried. Each Sunday, the day after the Hard Liver Fest, Matt Bonney hosts, with his business partner Matt Vandenberghe (a.k.a. Vern) and a cast of characters, the private, invitation-only Keene Tasting, named for Dave Keene, who owns the Toronado in San Francisco. With Dr. Bill now working at Stone and no longer doing as many of his legendary tastings, the Keene Tasting is one of the few that follow the format Dr. Bill (at least as far as I know) pioneered.

It’s a simple, if punishing format, where a new beer is opened roughly every five minutes over a period of several hours. So while you never get a large portion of any single beer, you do ultimately taste a lot of different beers. Still, it adds up. There are snack breaks and a lunch break, and those that stick with it can expect to be there eleven or twelve hours. Like many other types of marathons, very few actually reach the finish line, tasting every single beer.

At the beginning, the first beer
Last year something like 160 beers were tasted, beginning around 11:00 a.m. and going well into the evening. That year I made it to 110 beers before reaching my limit.

The year before, I only made it half-way, and dropped out at beer 75, owing to getting very, very sick — not from the beer, just a feverish flu — which I detailed then in Pride Goeth Before A Fall. And that brings me to my point. We all have our limits, and it’s not only good to know them, but also pay them heed.

Matt Bonney keeping things moving
Impressively, one of the improvements Bonney employs over the average Dr. Bill tasting is that a clean glass is used for every beer, a Herculean task if ever there was one.

There are, of course, myriad ways to taste from settling in to drink only one beer, exploring it thoroughly from start to finish, lingering over it as it changes when it warms, really letting it sink in to the very opposite, tasting as many beers as possible, very quickly, and everything in between. Generally, when judging beers in competition, you want no more than nine or ten in a flight and 30 or less for a single session. But that’s just one legitimate way in which beer can be sampled. That may be too many at a time for some people and too few for others.

I know there are people critical of the rapid fire Dr. Bill-style tasting, but I’m not. Is it my favorite way to sample beer? Not necessarily, but it is still quite enjoyable and while you can’t linger over every single beer, you can get a sense of it all the same. There’s a Danish proverb, “better thin beer than an empty jug.” And that’s the rub. I still prefer the opportunity to sample some truly rare beers, even if not under the most ideal circumstances, than not at all. So yes, I’m a relativist when it comes to the marathon tasting but I’m just fine with that. The important thing is to have a good time and know when to walk away. I already know there will be some spectacular beers poured later today and I’m looking forward to giving it another go. Will I make it to the end? Probably not. But that’s okay, there’s no shame in that as far as I’m concerned.

In the words of the immortal Kenny Rogers, equally applicable to drinking as gambling. “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run.” With any luck, I’ll know when to fold and can walk away. Stay tuned for details.

Below is a slideshow of the 2009 Keene Tasting. This Flickr gallery is best viewed in full screen. To view it that way, after clicking on the arrow in the center to start the slideshow, click on the button on the bottom right with the four arrows pointing outward on it, to see the photos in glorious full screen. Once in full screen slideshow mode, click on “Show Info” to identify each photo.