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.
Today is also the birthday of Chuck Silva, brewmaster at Green Flash Brewing in San Diego. His West Coast IPA has taken the world by storm, and personally, I love his Tripel and Le Freak. The big, shiny new brewery they recently built is also pretty amazing. Join me in wishing Chuck a very happy birthday.
Today is also the 43rd birthday of Jay Sheveck, a beer writer and filmmaker in Los Angeles. In addition to writing for the Celebrator, Jay wrote the Beer Guppy’s Guide to Southern California . He’s also been working for many years on a documentary film about the early days of craft beer, Beer Pioneers. There’s a teaser trailer of it at the bottom of this page. Personally, I’m excited about his film (and not just because I may be in it, unless I end up on the cutting room floor, that is). Join me in wishing Jay a very happy birthday.
(Note: last three photos purloined from Facebook.)
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.
Today is the 51st birthday of Mitch Steele, production manager/head brewer at Stone Brewing. Mitch started out at the tiny San Andreas Brewery in Hollister, California but spent a number of years at one of the much larger Budweiser breweries when he brewed for Anheuser-Busch, before finding a home at Stone. He’s obviously a terrific brewer but is also a great person and close friend, too. He was also my roomie for GABF judging earlier this year and recently published IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. He’s a big advocate for craft beer and always willing to help out a fellow brewer or homebrewer. Join me in wishing Mitch a very happy birthday.
Mitch picking up his 3rd Place award on the floor of GABF 2009 for Stone’s Levitation Ale on cask at a special judging at the Great British Beer Festival in 2009 (and which I had the pleasure to judge).
And no birthday post is complete without a blast from the past. Here’s Mitch’s high school prom photo in all it’s living color glory. It’s from Northgate High School Class of 1980 in Walnut Creek, CA (special thanks to Mitch for updating the old black & white photo with the glorious color one!). Love the powder blue tux.
Today is the 47th birthday of Arlan Arnsten, Vice-President of Sales for Stone Brewing. He was born in 1965, the same year Fritz Maytag bought the Anchor Brewery, with whom he also shares a birthday. Coincidence? Maybe, but he doesn’t think so. Arlan’s been with Stone since 1997, and has been a huge part of their success. He’s a terrific person to share a beer with and an indefatigable poster boy for craft beer. Join me in wishing Arlan a very happy birthday.
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.
This weekend down in Paso Robles a new beer festival debuted. The Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest took place at the Mid-State Fairgrounds. I drove down Friday with Sean Paxton, the Homebrew Chef, who was scheduled to make cotton candy with sugar infused with Centennial hops. The festival was simply one of the best organized, best run, most enjoyable beer festivals I’ve been to in a long time, which was especially impressive given that it was a first time event. Here’s how Firestone Walker’s brewmaster Matt Brynildson described what he was going for with the FWIBF:
The Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest was born from a dream of creating a world class festival featuring not only the best brewers in the world, but brewers whom we feel are leaders in the craft beer revolution. These are folks of like mind and spirit, some new friends some of many years, who share our same passion for making craft beer and sharing it with the world. This is a day where we can all put down our sales and marketing pitches and simply commune and share our beers and stories with people who are truly interested in craft beer. The ground rules are simple. Bring a session beer and a special beer accompanied by the artisan who created it. Brewers, their beers, good music and folks who care.
In order to insure everyone could have a good time, many aspects of the festival were limited. There were only 40 breweries pouring their beer, 21 restaurants making their food and a limited number of tickets sold. I never heard the final head count, though throughout the day I heard estimates that ranged from 2,500 to around 3,200 but whatever the finally tally it never felt overly crowded and there was plenty of room in the Frontier Town area of the fairgrounds to stretch your legs and move about.
Interviewed by the Brewing Network during the event, Brynildson added that he simply put together a wish list of breweries he would like to have at his event — several that didn’t even distribute in California — and was overwhelmed by how many quickly accepted his invitation. But that was awesome for anyone attending, as the likes of Bell’s, Boulevard, Revolution, Southern Tier, Three Floyds and others were there pouring beer.
The festival opened Saturday at 1:00 p.m. At least an hour before, all of the ticket holders were checked in, had their wristbands on, glasses in hand and a program to study while they waited. When the gate opened promptly at one, everybody could just walk in and begin sampling their first beer. It was the first of many well-executed and well-planned aspects of the festival. Others included water stations throughout the festival grounds, ample ice, plenty of shade, abundant nibbles, and more substantial food available for purchase.
There were two excellent bands — and perhaps best of all — the music was segregated from most of the beer and food booths, in a separate arena right next to them so that you could hear the music no matter where you were, but it was never so loud that you couldn’t carry on a conversation. If you wanted to dance or just listen to the music, all you had to do was wander inside the music area where there was stadium seating and a stage.
Also, with a 2 to 1 ratio of breweries to food vendors, there was something to nibble on every other booth, such as this amazing dish by Chef Dallas of the Tenth Street Basque Cafe (author of Never Cook Bacon Naked).
It was also great seeing Noah Regney, who used to brew for Pizza Port, but recently moved to Hollister Brewing, along with his fiance Sarah Huska, who used to live in Chicago where she worked with Ray Daniels on the Cicerone program. They seemed so happy, I always love seeing people in that state of bliss.
Bay far, Masafumi Morita, from Yo-Ho Brewing in Japan, travelled the farthest.
Matt Brynildson toward the end of the day, enjoying the festival he conceived. The entire gang from Firestone Walker did an incredible job pulling off this festival and are to be congratulated. If you missed it this year, be sure to try and come next year. There’s no way this isn’t just going to get beter and better.
I know it’s a good thing when celebrities drink craft beer, because people tend to copy their behavior. So the more celeb’s drinking good beer, the more some people might pick it up, too. But I can’t help but find it a little sad, too. I just don’t find all the minutiae about famous people very interesting. It’s just not my thing, though I have friends and loved ones who feel otherwise, so I do tend to find out about these gossipy items anyway, sometimes whether I want to or not. Case in point, I just learned that actress Charlize Theron served Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA at her house in Los Angeles during the Super Bowl. And that’s great, don’t get me wrong. Charlize Theron was, at one time, on my list of five (married men will know what I’m talking about here) so I’m certainly glad to know she has good taste in beer.
The whole thing was captured in nauseating detail in the U.S. Showbiz section of the UK’s Daily Mail in an article titled — believe it or not — We’re in for a Super night: Charlize Theron hardly breaks a sweat as she carries a case of beer to a Super Bowl party. They have five, count ‘em five, photos of Theron carrying the beer from her car to the house. The running commentary is hilariously absurd, though I couldn’t help but hear it in my head as if being read by Robin Leach from Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous.
To be fair, I’ve posted a photo of television celebrity Nathan Fillion drinking a Drake’s IPA through a curly straw, that my wife took during an L.A. Browncoats convention a few years ago, but somehow that seems different. Or maybe I’m just fooling myself. What I really wanted to know from the article is why she chose that beer, and how she and her guests enjoyed it. Now that I’d find far more interesting than how she managed to carry it a few feet without breaking a sweat.