Exploring Craft Beer and Homebrew in Peru (Country Code 51) and the USA (Country Code 1)

Category: Bay Area Beer Page 1 of 9

Anchor 2020 Holiday Ale

The holiday season is upon us and to add to the seasonal cheer, we have the arrival of Winter seasonal beers. For forty-six years Anchor has upheld that tradition with its Our Special Ale.

Their 2020 edition of Our Special Ale (sample bottles provided by Anchor Brewing) is a very dark, almost black, ale with a ruby translucence when held up to the light. It presents a moderate head, that subsides quickly to a ring around the edges of the glass. When swirled in the glass there is ample but short-lived lacing. I didn’t notice any “legs” or “tears”- the clear streams that alcoholic beverages sometimes leave on the sides of the glass.

It presents sweet notes in the nose: molasses, caramel, cloves, light cinnamon.  Overall, the aroma reminds me of gingerbread or spice cake.  I didn’t notice any hop aroma.

Sweetness is the most immediately noticeable flavor component.  It is not a particularly hoppy beer, but there is definitely a bitter backbone to support all that malty sweetness.   Some dark chocolate and coffee character, and graham cracker, too.  A few spice notes in there as well: cinnamon, black pepper, orange peel.  A little vanilla.

It has 7% alcohol by volume, but doesn’t come off as strong or alcoholey. And, despite the notable malt sweetness, it is a medium-bodied drink, with a dry finish, and a slightly bitter aftertaste, ending with a lingering dark roast coffee note.

It is smooth and easy to drink, and I think it would prove approachable even to those who say that they don’t usually like dark beers.

An aside on the packaging: You may have observed that rather than the usual single tree, this year’s label features three trees. According to the brewery’s literature, this is only the second time that multiple trees are shown on the label. In this case, the image represents The Three Graces, an iconic trio in Yosemite National Park’s Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. They are meant to evoke “togetherness and hope in a year when so much time has been spent apart”.

O Light Organic Light Beer

Today we are sharing our impressions of O Light Organic Light Beer. O Light Organic Light Beer is a 4.5% abv American light lager manufactured by O Light Organic in San Jose (CA).

As befits a light lager, it is a blonde beer, golden -tending toward straw- in color.  It raises a nice head upon pouring, which subsides quickly, to leave a ring of medium bubbles around the glass and a thin layer of tiny bubbles across the surface.

It has a light, slightly sweet aroma, with light caramel and honey notes. Hop aroma is low, almost obscured by the sweetness.

The flavor is quite nice. It has a pleasant toastyness, with a biscuity, almost graham-like flavor and hints of honey. Hop bitterness is light, with notes of pine and grapefruit.  It has a light, smooth, mouthfeel with medium carbonation and slightly dry finish.

O Light Organic Light Beer’s calling card, and the reason some may be drawn to it, is that it is a USDA and CCOF-certified organic non-GMO product. That’s great, but I think equally important is that it is a quite pleasant beer; refreshing and easy to drink.

Finishing Beer Week with PTY

After sampling some lovely offerings from breweries around the area, I finished out my SF Beer Week experience by making the pilgrimage to Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa from some of the celebrated Pliny the Younger.

First brewed in 2005, Pliny the Younger triple IPA has been released for two weeks only each year, in the month of February. People come for it from around the country, and further afield, and lines often snake around the block.

This year two developments conspired to make me decide to bite the bullet and make the trip for the first time: one, the opening last year of the larger production brewery and pub in Windsor, has reduced waiting times overall (even though they could still be ridiculously long!); and, secondly, that for the first time ever, Russian River had decided to bottle Pliny the Younger and each patron was entitled to purchase up to two bottles per visit.

The prospect of having one to take home, to extend the experience, and -more importantly- one to send to my daughter and son-in-law, beer lovers both, tipped the scales. So, off I went, to downtown Santa Rosa on Sunday evening of Presidents Day weekend.

The line was, to my relief, not too long. I got in line at 5:25 pm, and an hour and a half later, I was close enough to reach out and touch Russian River’s building. It took another hour and half to get in the door, though. More than I had hopped for, but three hours is generally regarded as a tolerable wait, indeed as a relatively short one–and besides, after a while one has put in enough minutes that one feels committed to seeing it through!

I had my first taste of Pliny the Younger last year, at an event at The Hop Grenade in Concord (CA), but to have it, fresh from the tap, where it was born, was something else.

Pliny the Younger is not just a triple IPA. It is the first triple IPA. Pliny the Younger is the standard by which the style was defined. Despite the insane amounts of malt that must go into it, it finishes dry, and is so drinkable. It is easily, the most drinkable triple IPA I’ve had.

Among a growing field of impressive triple IPAs -Heretic’s Evil 3, Danville Brewing’s Tres Diablos, Epidemic’s Cataclysm, to name just a few local regional examples- Pliny the Younger continues to stand out.

So, was standing in that line worth it? Yes, definitely. It was.

Would I do it again? I thought not, but yesterday, when I popped open my remaining bottle, my resolve on that kind of quavered …

SF Beer Week Opening Gala

Last Friday I got to attend the SF Beer Week Opening Gala again, courtesy of the SF Bay Area Brewers Guild. Once again, it was a blast; a true showcase of the greater Bay Area’s best brews and breweries, and a testament to why the Bay Area is a leader in the US craft beer scene.

Of course, every participating brewery strives to bring their biggest and best, often SF Beer Week -specific releases. One such is the excellent Tres Diablos triple IPA, from Danville Brewing Company, brewed by my friend Matt Sager.

Another awesome big beer was Cataclysm triple IPA by the good folk at Concord’s Epidemic Ales. The bitterness is balanced by a pleasant sweetness, and a surprising note of strawberry!

Another brewery I was pleased to run into was Ocean View Brew Works from Albany. I met them last year, when they were about to celebrate their first anniversary. Well, on Sunday they celebrated number two with a big party at the brewery. I’m happy to hear that things are going well for them.

As last year, I made an effort to get to know breweries I had not heard of before, and I was not disappointed. I had some lovely beers and met some awesome, passionate, dedicated brewers.

I’m sure that many have heard of East Brother Brewing, Barrel Brothers Brewing, and even of Asian Brothers Brewing. Well, now there is the other brother: Other Brewer Beer Co.! Other Brother is a 15-bbl brewery located in Seaside. They’ve been open just 3 months. They brought All That the Grain Promises (and More…), a tasty 6.8% abv red ale. As they told me, “Hoppy is in our blood!”

Another pleasant encounter was the 1-year old Kelly Brewing Co. from Morgan Hill. They are still relatively small, at 7bbl kettles, but they are putting out some nice beers. I quite liked their Kelly Light, an almost lager-like golden ale that would come really nicely on a warm day.

Since I left Santa Cruz in the mid-1990s, the then incipient craft beer scene has exploded, particularly in recent years. One of the newest additions, I discovered, is to be Woodhouse Blending & Brewing , on River St in downtown. Woodhouse is 10bbl brewery run by Mike Rodriguez, formerly of Lost Abbey Brewing in San Diego. Mike said their tap house is scheduled to open in March and that he is planning on starting a barrel program in the near future.

Not too far away, in Scotts Valley, is Steel Bonnet Brewing Co. They produce, they said, “about half and half” English and American styles. They brought along the tasty, and cleverly-named, Kiss Me, Hardy, a 7.7% English IPA made with malts from Alameda’s Admiral Maltings and, of course, British hops. They told me that though they are currently a 7bbl-capacity brewery, they will soon be expanding to 30bbl.

And, a special treat was hanging out and talking with the guys from Cloverdale’s upcoming Wolf House Brewing. They’ve been brewing quite a a bit, but are in the midst of putting in the hard work of getting their pub into shape for an opening in the next couple of months. Hopefully by the end of March, or April.

When the pub opens, Dwayne Moran, will run the kitchen. Kevin Lovett, who has been in the industry for years, including a stint at the Mendocino Brewing Company, is running the brewhouse and turning out some tasty beer, as evidenced by their Gala offerings.

And, of course, this year there was the added treat of seeing the original Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. brewhouse cobbled together by founders Ken Grosman and Paul Camusi back in 1980. That brewhouse was sold to Mad River Brewing in 1989. In 2018 Grosman bought it back from Mad River, moved it back to Chico, and had it reassembled on a truck bed. Having read Grosman’s book on the history of Sierra Nevada, Beyond the Pale (Wiley, 2013), seeing it was particularly cool.

SF Beer Week Preview

Last week I had the pleasure of attending an SF Beer Week media preview event in Berkeley. Present were Sierra Nevada, Fogbelt , Henhouse, East Brother, Third Street Aleworks, Almanac, Drake’s, Seismic, Original Pattern, The Rare Barrel, Cleophus Quealy, Trumer, Ghost Town.

There’s some exciting stuff brewing for Beer Week -figuratively and literally!

Santa Rosa’s Henhouse Brewing will, of course, be debuting this year’s edition of Big Chicken DIPA. In addition, one of their newest and more interesting additions is Juiced!, a gose with passion fruit. What makes Juiced! unique, though, is that it is made with that genetically-modified ale yeast that produces lactic acid, which you might have heard about. It was quite good, albeit a bit less salty and more sour than your typical gose.

Ghost Town Brewing debuted Geister Holz, the first beer to be fermented in their brand-new set of foeders. At the SF Beer Week Opening Gala, also look for their pouring of two barrel-aged versions of their Old Trepanner barley wine.

Seismic Brewing is planning to release a barrel-aged version of their Grounds for Termination coffee oatmeal stout. Look for that one at the Gala as well.

Almanac brought samples of two beers that they plan to release during Beer Week: Barrel-Aged Hypernova Volume II, and Bourbon Barrel Pêche. The Pêche is particularly nice. Look for those to be released at the brewery on Feb. 8th (though maybe also at the Gala?)

In addition, there will be the five one time-only collaborative beers brewed with malts from the Bay Area’s own Admiral Maltings, by each of the Bay Area’s beer regions. Those will be officially released at the Gala, but there was some of the East Bay’s offering, Rice Stratasphere IPA to be sampled at the preview.

Created by Original Pattern, Ghost Town and Shadow Puppet, and brewed at Drake’s, Rice Stratasphere was brewed with Admiral pilsner malt, rice, and Strata, Citra and Denali hops. It was rather tasty; light, clean, crisp, and with a dry mouthfeel thanks to the rice.

A special treat at the Opening Gala this year, I was informed by the Sierra Nevada rep, will be the appearance of the original brewhouse put together by Ken Grosman and Paul Camusi back in 1980. That brewhouse was sold to Mad River Brewing in 1989. In 2018 it was bought back from Mad River, moved back to Chico, and reassembled on a truck bed. Now it will make the trip to San Franciso to be displayed at the Gala on Feb. 7th.

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