Today is also the 51st 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.
Today is the 45th birthday of Chris White. Chris founded the yeast company White Labs in 1995 and he’s also on the faculty of the Siebel Institute. He’s also a fixture at virtually every brewing industry and homebrewing conference. Join me in wishing Chris a very happy birthday.
Chris and his brother Mike bookending Chuck, from Green Fash Brewing, Natalie Cilurzo, from Russian River Brewing, John Harris, from Full Sail Brewing, and Vinnie Cilurzo, also from Russian River, at CBC in Austin, Texas in 2007.
[Note: last two photos purloined from Facebook.]
Today is the 39th birthday of Jeff Bagby, who until a year or so ago was the head brewer extraordinaire at Pizza Port in Carlsbad. There, you can read the entire biography of Jeff “Extra Spicy” Bagby. I’m not sure when it was written, but it definitely needs to be updated, as it ends with the following sentence. “Jeff has his sights set on winning a GABF Brewpub of the Year award and we most definitely believe it is in his future as well.” Three years ago at GABF, Jeff won an amazing seven medals and Pizza Port Carlsbad was awarded the Large Brewpub and Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year. That means his plaid pants got to go up on stage a record eight times! You can see a retrospective of Jeff’s plaid choices over the years, too, at Jeff “Lucky Pants” Babgy Wins Big. Once he started working on opening his own brewery, I suggested he should consider “Plaid Brewing” or some variation of that idea, like “Plaid Pants Brewing” or “Lucky Plaid Brewing.” Unfortunately, he went with a more sensible Bagby Beer Co. All, well some, kidding aside, Jeff is a terrific brewer and a hell of a washoes player, though I still think Dave Keene and I could beat him and Tomme again. Join me at wishing Jeff a very happy birthday.
Jeff with his then-girlfriend, now wife, Dande at GABF a few years ago. And yes, those are his lucky pants.
Today is the 59th birthday of Pat McIllhenney, brewmaster and owner Alpine Beer Co. near San Diego. Pat makes some amazing hoppy beers. Unfortunately, his beers are hard to find up our way, but rumor has it he’s building a bigger brewery to solve that problem. Join me in wishing Pat a very happy birthday.
Today is the 39th birthday of Drew Beechum, who’s a past president of the Maltose Falcons homebrewing club and its current webmeister. He’s also the author of The Everything Homebrewing Book: All you need to brew the best beer at home! and writes a regular column for Beer Advocate magazine. Join me in wishing Drew a very happy birthday.
NOTE: All photos purloined from Facebook.
Today is Steve Wagner’s 55th birthday. Steve is a co-founder of Stone Brewing and the president of the California Craft Brewers Association. In the late 1980s, Steve was a member of the band “The Balancing Act,” who put out several albums on I.R.S. Records. Now he just presides over one of the most successful microbreweries in the U.S. Join me in wishing Steve a very happy birthday.
Today is the birthday of filmmaker Anat Baron, whose Beer Wars movie started people writing and talking about the beer business, from all sorts of angles, three years ago, and while it’s slowed down, the discussion has yet to have completely gone away. Or as Alan from A Good Beer Blog puts it, “joined to the long standing discussion about the beer business and added an interesting interpretation.” Love it or loathe it, it has certainly managed to capture people’s attention, and if that’s all it’s done, that’s still a huge positive to my way of thinking. But it’s also opened quite a few minds to what those of us who’ve been embedded in the beer business have known forever, which is how the business operates, where it’s fair and unfair, and what you can do as a consumer to support the beers and breweries you love. Join me in wishing Anat a very happy birthday.
Wow, Jesse Houck, who used to brew at 21st Amendment, and most recently was at Drake’s, is moving to Los Angeles to become the new brewmaster at Golden Road Brewing. According to the press release:
Houck and Golden Road President, Meg Gill, first met at 21st Amendment Brewery in 2008, where they bonded over their mutual love for canned beers and California IPAs.
Golden Road has experienced a rapid expansion since opening in October of 2011, doubling the size of their brew house and brewing capacity, releasing four canned beers and over fifteen specialty brews, opening over 500 draft accounts throughout the greater LA area. Says Golden Road President Meg Gill: “As we look forward to 2013, we have big plans for the direction we want our beers to go. We’re thrilled to bring Jesse’s leadership and dry, hoppy, clean-beer loving palate to LA.”
Adds Houck, “I am looking forward to sharing Meg and Tony’s vision of crafting quality beers for LA, and excited to be part of one of the fastest growing craft beer scenes on the West Coast.” A long time bay-area brewer, Houck brings a blend of chemistry and artistry to his brewing, having studied Chemical Engineering before becoming fascinated — and later obsessed — with home-brewing and beer.
Co-founder Tony Yanow has also been a fan of Houck’s for years, commenting, “Jesse has created some of my favorite beers, and we’re excited to bring his creativity and brewing expertise to our team.”
That’s awesome news for Jesse. He’s a terrific brewer and should be a good fit at Golden Road.
Two weeks ago I flew to San Diego to take part in a fun tasting of all the Vertical Epics from Stone Brewing. The event was Livecast, but if pacing that was described as just below the excitement level of watching paint dry is not your idea of a fun way to spend a couple of hours, you’ll be happy to learn that it’s also been distilled down to a 4 and a half minute video.
For those of us who were there, of course, it was anything but dull, and trying all eleven of the beers was a rare treat. None were completely off or undrinkable, remarkable in and of itself, though as you’d expect a few had started showing their age. Both 02.02.02 (a Witbier) and 03.03.03 (a Belgian Strong Dark Ale) had started to show some papery, sherry-like notes from oxidation. Given that a witbier is not a beer you think of for aging, it was perhaps most surprising, not that it was oxidized, but that it was still drinkable at all. The 03.03.03 — a more personal one for me, since March 3 is my birthday — had the more desirable aged characteristics you might expect in a strong (8.5%) Belgian-style beer. The 04.04.04 (a Belgian Strong Pale Ale) aged a little better but was unremarkable to me, just a decent strong beer starting to show some complexity, though I must say it was surprising that the kaffir lime was still evident in the flavors, among other yeasty notes.
05.05.05 (another Belgian Strong Dark Ale) on the other hand, was the star of the show. An everlasting gobstopper of a beer, it had complexity to spare and kept changing considerably as it warmed. It was just a beautiful beer that showed the unmistakeable benefits of aging. The first four were all done by Lee Chase, who was Stone’s head brewing during that time period.
06.06.06 (also a Belgian Strong Dark Ale) was the first one done by Mitch Steele, who’s been the head brewer at Stone since that year. It was a close second to the previous year, and was made with the same yeast. It was almost as complex and was certainly very tasty so it’s hard to put into words exactly why I found the 05.05.05 preferable. They were both great beers, aged beautifully, but the older one just seemed to have more layers and was ultimately more of a joy to drink.
The 07.07.07 (a sort of mix between a Saison and a Tripel) was one I was also hoping to really enjoy, since it’s also my daughter Alice’s birthday every July 7th and so I have several bottles squirreled away until she turns 21, which won’t be until 2025. I don’t think the beer will make it that far, though it’s still tasting pretty good right now. The spices — ginger, cardamom and a “blend of grapefruit, lemon and orange peel — are still there, especially the ginger, were soft and round, making it a fun one to drink, even though I’m not sure I could finish a pint of it. But give me a snifter of it, and I could comfortably sip on this one with my daughter.
Next, Stone tried a Belgian IPA with 08.08.08, which was essentially a “Strong Golden Belgian style ale highly hopped with American hops (Ahtanum, Amarillo and Simcoe).” As you’d expect, the hops had begun to hide in the folds, but what was more surprising was how bright they still were, actually. My memory of this beer when it was fresh (always a dangerous assumption to make) was that they were over the top, so that my impression is that their mellowing with age has had a positive effect on the beer today, though I shouldn’t think it should be aged much longer, if you happen to still have an unopened bottle of this beer.
For the 09.09.09, they finally went dark, with an Imperial Belgian Porter brewed with vanilla beans and aged on French oak chips. Though to be fair, the color wasn’t particularly Porterish, more of a dark copper or mahogany. But it was the vanilla that really spoke loudly in this beer, though I must confess I’m particularly sensitive to vanilla so a very little goes a long way for me. The 10.10.10 (a Strong Belgian Golden Ale with chamomile and mostly Muscat grapes) was an unusual beer. The grape character was definitely evident, but seemed more to mirror a beer aged in wine barrels rather than one that had grapes added during fermentation. Perhaps that what the aging had done to their character. But it was still a nice beer, with interesting notes, although it wasn’t one of my favorites of the group. I’d like to try it again in a few more years.
Last year’s Vertical Epic was spiced with Hatch green chiles. Though I’m not at all a fan of chili beers, the 11.11.11 was one of the best two chili beers I’ve had (the other was at a New Mexico brewpub). That being said, it still is not my cup of tea, so it’s hard to judge this beer objectively since it grabs hold of my taste buds, wrestles them to the ground and all but ruins me for the next few hours. I’m also a spice wuss, it must be said. So no matter how you slice it, this beer is not for me, no matter how good is seems to be.
The new release, 12.12.12, is obviously not an aged beer so we’re tasting the only fresh beer of the bunch. The aromas remind one more of a Christmas beer or winter warmer, with spices like cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg along with banana and clove notes from the yeast. It’s a melange of wonderful smells and tastes, and seems best fresh right now, as I suspect that these spices will drop out over time. If you’re not a fan of big, spicy Christmas beers that may be a positive for you, so how long you want to age this beer is probably directly proportional to how much you enjoy holiday spices in your beer. If you love them, drink it now. Don’t wait, the world may be over in a couple of weeks. You never know.
A big thanks to Greg Koch, Mitch Steele and Brandon Hernandez for allowing me to be a part of this epic tasting. For Mitch’s tasting notes on these beers, see the Final Chapter and all of the homebrew recipes (except for 12.12.12) along with tasting notes from previous tastings can also be found at the Stone Vertical Epic Ale page.
Today is Tom Nickel’s birthday, who turns the big 4-0 this year. Tom was a brewer at Oggi’s in San Diego and now owns O’Brien’s, one of the best beer bars in San Diego. Join me in wishing Tom a very happy birthday.
Tom (third from the left) at OBF with John Harris from Full Sail to his left and Tom’s former girlfriend Becky on his arm. I don’t recall who the fellow is on the far left.